March 22, 2017 Last Updated 9:43 am

AP ties former DJT campaign manager to proposal to promote Putin; McClatchy DC on FBI probe into Breitbart-InfoWars coordination with bot drops

Morning Brief: Apple drops iTunes 12.6 update ahead of expected updates for iOS and tvOS, allows movie rentals and viewing across Apple branded devices

The next few days promise to be big news days. So big, in fact, that stories that have broken in the past 24 hours might get lost in the crowd. On Thursday, for instance, the House will vote on Trumpcare, and though the vote count currently appears to be against the replacement for the ACA, Republicans have a way of toeing the line when their leadership demands it.

Meanwhile, the story about Russian involvement in the US election continues to grow, with news organizations tripping over each other to get in on the game.

I have long suspected that the story of Russian involvement in the US election, and the Trump campaign’s participation in it will boil down to a simple story of money – who needs it, and who wants it.

The AP advanced this theory this morning with their story about Paul Manafort’s proposals to the Russians. Like all elements of this Russia-Trumps story, it cannot connect the dots directly to DJT, but like a jigsaw puzzle, the overall picture is becoming clearer.

Associated Press, Jeff Horowitz and Chad Day:

AP Exclusive: Manafort had plan to benefit Putin government

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Esquire, Charles P. Pierce:

Paul Manafort Is Just the Latest Guy to Fall. There Will Be More.

Anybody who’s spent five minutes covering a state capital can recognize the basic infrastructure of the shady dealings under examination. Rich guy of dubious provenance needs a political power player to get richer. Political power player needs rich clients to acquire more power. Guys in expensive suits up in the Commonwealth (God save it!) have been operating this way literally for centuries. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a contract to build a new highway or a deal to subcontract the nation’s foreign policy. The fundamental human venality doesn’t change. Only the stakes do, and the size of the collateral damage.

This story, from McClatchy’s DC Bureau, really is tied to the one above. What we saw all summer was a massive campaign of disinformation, one that I tried to track with TNM’s now shuttered second website That is likely why the site was often the target of DDoS attacks.

For publishers, all this gets to an important issue, one that newspapers like the WaPo don’t seem to want to address: that much of their traffic comes from players looking to influence US public opinion. Any major news site that does not monitor the IP addresses of their reader comments is doing their paid subscribers a massive disservice.

McClatchy DC Bureau, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon:

FBI’s Russian-influence probe includes a look at Breitbart, InfoWars news sites

Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as “bots,” to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said…

The investigation of the bot-engineered traffic, which appears to be in its early stages, is being driven by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, whose inquiries rarely result in criminal charges and whose main task has been to reconstruct the nature of the Kremlin’s cyber attack and determine ways to prevent another.

A bunch of updates are due to be dropped by Apple – either today or later this week or early next week. The first of these came through this morning, an update for iTunes which brings the software up to version 12.6.

The big feature change is that with iOS 10.3 and tvOS 10.2 you will be able to rent movies and watch them across devices. Currently iOS 10.3 is in beta, but with iPad pre-orders to begin on Friday one assumes Apple has coordinated things well enough to make sure the new software is available when the new hardware is, as well.

Google continues to try defuse its own scandal (or at least controversy) which seems to have grown over the past week. Advertisers, who hand over a huge portion of their digital ad dollars to the search giant, are unhappy that they cannot be sure just where their ads will show up, often in places they would certainly not have scheduled if placing the ads directly.

Most often the fact that an ad make appear on an inappropriate website is not that big a deal. For instance, yesterday I noticed an ad for a high-end BBQ appearing on TNM. I have no idea why it would have shown up here, and I am sure the BBQ maker would wonder why their fire-burning, $25K BBQ should be marketing itself through a digital publishing industry website, but things like that happen with Google placed ads.

But what if you are a food brand and your ads are showing up on alt-right websites, it could lead to a brand boycott, especially if the content on that site that day is especially controversial.

The Wall Street Journal, Jack Nicas:

Google Steps Up Effort to Keep Ads Away From Controversial Content

Google sought to tamp down a growing controversy over its placement of ads on inappropriate content with a promise to better police the millions of websites and videos across its platforms.

The company has faced a powerful backlash from advertisers over the past several days. HSBC Holdings PLC and L’Oréal SA reduced spending with the technology giant after news reports that Google regularly placed their ads on controversial websites or YouTube videos, including some made by supporters of terrorist groups such as Islamic State and a violent pro-Nazi faction…

…Google had long said existing controls guard against marketers’ spots appearing alongside controversial content. The speed with which Google announced the additional measures—following an apology on Friday—suggests the tools were already at its disposal. Google said Tuesday the changes would roll out gradually.

Yet enforcing the new policies could be tricky. Google must screen a sea of content that every day adds thousands of websites and nearly 600,000 hours of new YouTube footage. And while some controversial content, such as pornography or neo-Nazi sites, clearly violates its standards for advertising, other cases are nuanced and require human review.

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