March 9, 2018

“It’s sort of like the Virginia Woolf quote, ‘Anonymous was a woman.’”

That’s Jessica Bennett of the New York Times, explaining the paper’s hard light on its own gender bias in obituaries since 1851 — and a first, small step taken Thursday to rectify that. Bennett helped start the “Overlooked” project, which launched with the obituaries of 15 women who should have had been recognized when they died. The Times is asking its readers for more suggestions.

Bennett’s goal: Anonymous no more.

These women “didn’t get their due in the cultural framework, the cultural record,” she told the WNYC-hosted public radio show, “The Takeaway.” Many of their accomplishments, she said, were wrongly attributed to men.

The disparity in gender in obituaries has long been criticized — and it’s a long road to ending that gap. This chart, based on a Mother Jones study, showed the obituary gender gap in 2012. “If a notable woman dies and a major national newspaper doesn’t report it,” writer Dana Liebelson asked, “did it actually happen?”


NYT Obits editor Bill McDonald, writing separately about why most obits have been about white men, admits: “Perhaps the paper’s selection standards in eras past unfairly valued the achievements of the white, male mainstream over those of minorities and women who may have been more on the margins.”

Take a moment to bookmark the Overlooked page — or check out its “new” obits of Ida B. WellsQiu Jin or Diane Arbus. The Overlooked project will be growing.

Now, pardon the interruption, here are other stories, some of them overlooked, that you may need to know today.

Quick hits

WHEN TRUTH DOESN’T PREVAIL: False news moved through Twitter “farther, faster, deeper and more broadly” than the truth, according to a study of tweets from 2006 to 2017. The basis of the MIT study? The Twitter rumor mill. Even the farthest-reaching true rumors rarely spread to more than 1,000 people. But the top 1 percent of falsehoods routinely had audiences of 1,000 to 100,000 people, the study authors reported.

LOCAL SCOOP GOES NATIONWIDE: Last week, The Citizen Times, the local newspaper in Asheville, North Carolina, obtained and published online the bodycam video of police beating a black man on his way home from work. It created an uproar. One police officer has quit, the police chief has offered to resign and the FBI is now investigating the attack, which began as a purported jaywalking stop. In last week’s story, the Gannett newspaper knocked down the whole jaywalking angle, noting the “stop” took place near a ballpark where “hundreds of pedestrians cross Biltmore Avenue without using a crosswalk before and after baseball games.”

‘THE NEWS FORGETS, VERY QUICKLY’: How Parkland students moved beyond talk to action — on protests in Tallahassee, marches to Washington and calls to boycott some of America’s biggest companies.

UNHOLY ALLIANCE: Why do blue-collar voters like self-dealing billionaires who think of public service as a profit center? Is there any consequence of greed in the Trump coalition? Amy Chua examines the connection between “the traditional, deeply rooted American dream and the glitziest, celebrity-obsessed aspects of modern culture.”

UNHOLY EDITORIALIST: He was, as Quartz once put it, “the Russian oligarch who paid Trump’s former campaign manager to help Putin.” Oleg Deripaska, who agreed in 2006 to pay Paul Manafort $10 million a year, seems an unlikely candidate to gain an op-ed perch to criticize special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Yet the conservative Daily Caller gave the foreign agent and close associate of Vladimir Putin his own mouthpiece for Mueller bashing. Both sides?

WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: Deripaska’s former employee, Paul Manafort, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to tax and fraud charges in the second Russia case brought against him by Mueller. Manafort must wear a GPS monitor and be confined to his home until trial this summer. His business partner, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty in D.C. to conspiracy and lying to the FBI.

IN RELATED NEWS: Russian trolls flooded social media in America to try to stop Trump from appointing Mitt Romney as secretary of state, the Wall Street Journal reported.Moscow also organized a protest of Romney outside Trump Tower to persuade the president-elect to choose someone friendlier to Putin’s ambitions, such as Rex Tillerson. // Also, mainstream media unwittingly amplified comments from Russian propagandists, believing they were merely Americans who supported Trump, CJR reports.


THE NOTTING HILL MOVE: Everybody wants to talk to Peter Thiel, a supporter of Trump in his 2016 campaign and Facebook board member during the Russia controversy. Recode’s Kara Swisher tried the Julia Roberts approach in inviting the Silicon Valley icon her tech conference in May. Adapting the actress’s key scene in the 1990s Hugh Grant romcom, Swisher tweeted:” I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to outdebate her at a fancy confab.” She pledged “frank hardball,” not this NYT “softball” or“knitting circle.” No word from Swisher nor from Thiel, who has tweeted once.

HAHA: Now we know why Amazon’s Alexa is creeping out owners by a jarring cackling at seemingly random moments. The voice-activated streaming speaker device mistakenly “hears” an audio command it interprets as “Alexa, laugh,” the company said. The solution? Changing the audio prompt to “Alexa, can you laugh?) Slightly related fact: Alexa’s creator,” Amazon chief and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, also has an unsettling laugh. His biographer, Brad Stone, calls it “a startling, pulse-pounding bray that he leans into while craning his neck back, closing his eyes, and letting loose with a guttural roar that sounds like a cross between a mating elephant seal and a power tool.”

FOUNDING FATHER TWITTER ISSUES: How can President Trump not be bothered by troublesome Twitter followers but still be in the good graces of the First Amendment? A judge has a suggestion: Mute, don’t block, those tweets. Constitutional scholars: Is it really that easy?

What we’re reading

LOCALIZE THIS: America is 50 percent overbuilt on retail, and Amazon, Walmart and CVS may be the main players in delivering goods to your doorstep instead. That’s bad news for suburban malls, particularly in states like Nevada, Arizona, Virginia, Ohio and New Jersey, writes CityLab’s Laura Bliss.

HOW TO RAISE A BOY?: The Cut has a series dealing with issues like how to talk to your sons about race, emotionsMinecraftguns and respecting women. “It’s true,” says one essayist, “that you can tell a lot by about a man by the way he treats his mother.”

CENSORSHIP OR SMART STEWARDSHIP?: At first blush, it sounds authoritarian. Sri Lankan officials are blocking Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp. Here’s why, they say: social media is exacerbating a wave of violence against the Muslim minority in the nation. “Hate speech on Facebook is increasing beyond acceptable levels,” said the nation’s deputy minister on national policies and economic affairs, Harsha de Silva. “Government will have to act immediately to save lives.” Here’s the Guardian’s report.

THAT SELFIE: Yes, it’s two penguins in Antarctica. Yes, they stumbled upon a camera left by a human. Here’s the full story, by the Washington Post’s Amy B. Wang. And, oh yeah, an image from the 38-second video. Have a good day!

Screengrab / Australian Antarctic Division

New on

  • Late to the game, Tronc is remaking its digital efforts.
  • The idea of arming teachers is a predictable cycle in the news.
  • This week in fact-checking: A cease and desist email from Olive Garden on spreading rumors about the restaurant chain is, in fact, a hoax.

Poynter in action

Indira Lakshmanan, the Newmark Chair for Journalism Ethics at the Poynter Institute, will be at South by Southwest in Austin to moderate a panel on the Future of Media with top legacy media executives: Sara Just, executive producer of PBS NewsHour; Bob Cohn, president of the Atlantic; and Dan Colarusso, executive editor of Reuters digital.

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