‘You’re the opposition party’ president’s strategist proclaims; the future of fake news
Morning Brief: Several states are looking to end the practice of publishing public notices and meeting minutes in local newspapers, often as a cost saving measure, sometimes to take revenge against what they have consider unfair coverage
The pro-Trump side of the political spectrum will have its say for the first time since the inaugural as the annual March for Life rally takes place in Washington DC. Organizers have a permit from the National Park Service for a rally of up to 50,000, and 95 buses are registered, according to reports. By way of comparison, 1,800 buses were registered for the Women’s March that took place last Saturday.
Being Friday, I think I can speak for many when I say it feels like a very good thing that the week is ending. Yesterday was very much like other days this week, with news breaking seemingly ever hour, and those news items evolving as the day progressed.
The Washington Post broke the news that top State Department managers had resigned. But quickly others reported that, in fact, they had been fired. Both things can actually be true as government agency officials are expected to submit their resignations at the beginning of a new term for the president – both when a new administration is coming in, and even when the same one has won a new four year term. This allows the president, or new agency head, to decide on whether new leadership will be required. It is possible, therefore, that the state department heads did really resign, but that those resignations were accepted rather than denied. In any case, the State Department is now woefully understaffed with veteran leadership and staffers are concerned that the department will be rudderless for quite some time.
Meanwhile, the war between the new administration and the White House reached a fever pitch yesterday, with Trump’s chief White House strategist Steve Bannon forcefully calling the press “the opposition party” – a claim that has been made before, but never is such an unhinged and hysterical way. It portends more weeks like this one, with the administration obsessed with seemingly minor things the press had pointed out.
Trump Strategist Steve Bannon Says Media Should ‘Keep Its Mouth Shut’
The conversation was initiated by Mr. Bannon to offer praise for Mr. Spicer, who has been criticized this week for making false claims at the White House podium about the attendance of Mr. Trump’s inaugural crowd, for calling reporters dishonest and lecturing them about what stories to write and for failing to disavow Mr. Trump’s lie about widespread voter fraud in the election.
Asked if he was concerned that Mr. Spicer had lost credibility with the news media, Mr. Bannon chortled. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “We think that’s a badge of honor. ‘Questioning his integrity’ — are you kidding me? The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work.”
“You’re the opposition party,” Mr. Bannon said. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”
Fake News Is About to Get Even Scarier than You Ever Dreamed
At corporations and universities across the country, incipient technologies appear likely to soon obliterate the line between real and fake. Or, in the simplest of terms, advancements in audio and video technology are becoming so sophisticated that they will be able to replicate real news—real TV broadcasts, for instance, or radio interviews—in unprecedented, and truly indecipherable, ways. One research paper published last year by professors at Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg demonstrated how technologists can record video of someone talking and then change their facial expressions in real time. The professors’ technology could take a news clip of, say, Vladimir Putin, and alter his facial expressions in real time in hard-to-detect ways. In fact, in this video demonstrating the technology, the researchers show how they did manipulate Putin’s facial expressions and responses, among those of other people, too.
This is eerie, to say the least. But it’s only one part of the future fake-news menace. Other similar technologies have been in the works in universities and research labs for years, but they have never really pulled off what computers can do today. Take for example “The Digital Emily Project,” a study in which researchers created digital actors that could be used in lieu of real people. For the past several years, the results have been crude and easily detectable as digital re-creations. But technologies that are now used by Hollywood and the video-game industry have largely rendered digital avatars almost indecipherable from real people.
Washington Post chief: “We will expose falsehoods coming out of the White House”
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post:
“I try not to make forecasts, but the reality is that we live in a digital era, that’s obvious. Everybody has a smartphone and everybody is on social media. So, we live in a mobile and social environment. Print is not going to be around forever and it’s going to become a smaller and smaller part of what we do. I don’t know whether it’s five or 10 years or something longer than that, but I do know it’s not going to be the future of our business.
Newspapers have for years had certain revenue drivers sort of built into their models. For many years, the classified sections were places where some official notices would be published, and with no alternative available, where many private citizens would list their garage sales, etc. Obviously, times have changed.
One requirement that exists in many communities and states is that local governments are required to advertise their official notices and their meeting minutes in their local papers. These notices were required in order to have a more open government – but today, of course, there is the Internet, where governments can, for free, post anything they like.
Still, there are laws still on the books, and newspapers, fearing yet another loss of revenue, fear the elected officials will want to overturn these rules in order to save money.
In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, who has had his battles with the press, is seen to be pushing to end the publishing practice, with many seeing it as a revenge mood. But in Wisconsin, where there is also a Republican governor, it appears that the move to end the publishing practice is supported by both sides of the aisle.
Wisconsin newspapers fight bill to eliminate meeting minute publication
A group of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers announced they were circulating a bill to do away with the requirement that summaries of meetings by school districts, municipalities, counties and technical colleges be printed in the newspaper.
Instead, the meeting minutes, or summary of what occurred at a public meeting, would instead be posted on the government entity’s website.
Supportive lawmakers pitched the proposal as a way for cash-strapped governments to save money and a way to increase access to the information.
“I don’t know anyone who keeps a stack of newspapers at home to reference minutes of proceedings,” said Rep. Jason Fields, D-Glendale, in a prepared statement. “It is better to allow taxpayers to save money and have better and easier access to minutes.”
Finally, back to fake news.
Honestly, I don’t know how my British friends can deal with their press. I have asked friends “does it drive you crazy that the leading papers in your country are tabloids?” The answer I get back is usually the same: ‘that’s the way it has always been, we just ignore it and read what we want to read.”
It’s because of this that discussions of newspapers in the UK usually involve terms we never use in the US, breaking out the industry into the “quality” press and the “tabs” – nonetheless, it is still true that the tabs dominate.
BuzzFeed News, Jim Waterson:
In countries such as the US and Italy, completely fake stories with no basis in fact have come to dominate political debate on social networks such as Facebook. Such material – with headlines such as the infamous “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President” – is usually produced for political or financial purposes by websites that have little pre-existing online footprint.
BuzzFeed News has revealed how Macedonian teenagers could make tens of thousands of dollars fabricating stories about Donald Trump, how fake news is spreading to Germany and Italy, and how fake news stories outperformed real news outlets during the US election.
But equivalent analysis of UK social media habits reveals the most popular dubious stories on British politics were almost always the work of long-established news outlets and relied at most on exaggeration rather than fakery. The evidence suggests that rather than reading complete lies, British audiences appear to prefer stories that contain at least a kernel of truth, even if the facts are polluted or distorted.
“We have always had a partisan press that people enjoy and have become acclimatised to,” said Charlie Beckett, professor of journalism at the London School of Economics. “Hyperpartisan news has always been part of our audience’s culture – and we do it better in some ways than fake news.”