As falsehoods grow, so do threats against journalists in the U.S. and abroad

September 14, 2018
Category: Newsletters

The center of a massive-but-weakened Hurricane Florence made landfall today, but journalists have been buffeted the last 24 hours by different bands of another storm.

Today, after hurricane developments, I'm focusing on assaults on the truth, threats and more against journalists, and the harassment and misogyny that have hampered news-gathering efforts. There's also Time magazine's spotlight on teachers, a homegrown effort to allow "the right to be forgotten," and recognition — a half century late — for a larger-than-life nurse turned spy. 

First, Florence

Truth and journalism under attack

5,000 FALSEHOODS: President Donald Trump has broken that barrier for documented false or misleading statements in public, Washington Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler, Sal Rizzo and Meg Kelly wrote early Thursday. The total includes 125 whoppers in 120 minutes on Sept. 7. (Here’s my profile of Kessler, who in June had predicted 10,000 Trump falsehoods by the end of the first term.)

SPEAKING OF: Hours after the report, Trump claimed that Puerto Ricans who died after Hurricane Maria, many needlessly after a hapless and indifferent U.S. aid operation, didn’t really die. The estimated toll of at least 2,975 “excess deaths” in the six months after the storm, accepted by Puerto Rico, academics and health officials, was drastically overstated, Trump said. Fact-checkers and politicians from both parties reacted to the president in disbelief. “What kind of mind twists that statistic into ‘Oh, fake news is trying to hurt my image,’” said GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. “How can you be so self-centered and try to distort the truth so much? It’s mind-boggling.” Trump’s tweets “are missing a few digits,” concluded Kessler, the Post fact-checker, after analyzing the death count reports.

THREATS RISE AGAINST JOURNALISTS: U.S. law-enforcement officials and security leaders say the targeting of journalists has steadily intensified in the Trump era, from organized campaigns of personal harassment to bomb threats and vows of assault, rape and mass shootings. “It’s very troubling,” a senior US law enforcement agent with expertise in threats against public figures told Mother Jones’ Mark Follman. “I do think it’s dangerous for the president to walk this line of basically inciting violence.” In an interview with Norah O'Donnell, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau has half a dozen active investigations into threats against journalists right now.

PROTECTION FOR JOURNALISTS: Brazil has expanded its legal coverage for media professionals, now including them categorically in protections under its Ministry of Human Rights, along with environmentalists and civil rights workers. Before, threatened reporters and academics had to prove their work was related to human rights. Via the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas.

THE COST OF MISOGYNY: We may never be able to calculate the negative impact of a string of abusive, sexist men in media on the 2016 election or American culture. So writes media columnist Margaret Sullivan after the departure of Leslie Moonves and Jeff Fager from CBS.  

THE DANGER: A survey of nearly 600 women journalists and media workers around the world shows that 7 in 10 women experienced more than one type of harassment, threat, or attack in the past year. The survey, for the International Women’s Media Foundation, covered online and other threats and attacks, adding that a third of those surveyed said the aggression has made them consider leaving the field. Half of the respondents were American; about 60 percent of respondents lived abroad.

Quick hits

RECOGNIZED, BELATEDLY: She spied on the Germans undercover as a nurse. Her work was daring, dangerous and invaluable. Marthe McKenna’s story became a best-selling book, a movie and on Thursday — more than a half-century after her death — an obituary in The New York Times. It’s part of a series of obituaries of distinguished women overlooked in the newspaper’s past. Here's how the project came to be.

THE RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN: At least two U.S. news sites have begun a voluntary process to excise stories about certain individuals who have complained that they have done their time — and don’t want a past indiscretion living forever on search engines. Should news organizations start deleting those stories altogether? Is it caring? A slippery, history-erasing slope that could create future, uninformed victims? An ethically questionable revenue stream, cutting out the middleman? Here’s the "pro" argument from Chris Quinn, president and editor of Advance/Ohio and, one of the sites working on a process to delete such stories: “We don’t want to be a vehicle for the needless suffering of people who long ago made a mistake, paid for it and tried to move ahead.”

COVERING THE RAINFORESTS: The Pulitzer Center has launched a $5.5 million initiative to support coverage of the world's rainforest regions. The Rainforest Journalism Fund, begun with a grant from the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment, assist local reporters on the ground in the Amazon/South America, Africa and Asia, along with international reporters with specific expertise in covering rainforests. The Washington-based Pulitzer Center will have full control and editorial independence in administrating the fund.

WHAT ABOUT US?: New Census data from the past year show wide spreads in health coverage across the nation, with Bostonians at 97 percent and Houston residents at 81.8 percent. Other findings include declines in poverty and rises in income. By Gary Price at Infodocket.

GETTING OUT: Jim Nelson, editor of GQ for the past 15 years, is leaving, the New York Post reports. "Now feels like a good time for me to figure out the next chapter of my life," Nelson wrote in a memo to staff, obtained by the newspaper. That language is akin to that used Wednesday by Slate chief Jacob Weisberg when he said he was stepping down. Nelson will be replaced by Will Welch, who now edits the high-end quarterly GQ Style.

A TEACHER IN AMERICA: How do you tell the story of a respected but often vastly underpaid profession in the nation? Time magazine used three covers:

The latest Time cover(s)

THE READ: An abandoned bowling alley in Santa Fe has become a tourist magnet, drawing 500,000 people and grossing $9 million last year. The "House of Eternal Return" is run by Meow Wolf, a once-ragtag group of artists with 350 employees and $30 million to open mind-blowing permanent exhibitions in Denver and Las Vegas. It's more awe than art, "equal parts art pageant, labyrinth of curiosities and interactive storytelling experience," writes Taylor Clark for the California Sunday magazine. "This future isn’t quietly intellectual, hands-off, or overseen by frowning, blue-haired docents. It’s immersive, broadly appealing, Instagrammable — and primed for expansion."


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Have a good Friday and weekend ahead. See you on Monday.