Monday, May 29, 2017

Fake News and the War on Journalism

Montana held a special election for a house seat last week and the night before the election, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, allegedly body slammed and punched Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian.

Most would think the loss of composure for a public official would cost Gianforte the election, but Montana has a wide voting window and something like 300,000 votes had been cast before this explosion happened.

The side effect that disgusts me is the amount of people that applaud him for body slamming the reporter for grilling him about the Republican health care bill that universally is panned by medical groups.

Reporters report. Part of running for public office is that everything in your life will be under scrutiny. Reporters are just another check and balance on our policy makers. Can you imagine if the Washington Post didn't report on Watergate? Or the Boston Globe didn't investigate the priest molestation case?

So why the war on journalism?

Editorializing the News

Cable created a new problem for television networks. There were now 40 channels that needed content quickly. The advent of the 24 hour news network was created as a relatively cheap but reliably watchable channel.

The goal was to keep people informed of more than just their local news, do special reports and investigative journalism, change the world while making money.

Unfortunately there's not 24 hours worth of news to cover per day. The channels had a hard time filling time with with entertaining enough content.

Then the OJ Simpson trial happened. People couldn't get enough. News channels would follow OJ from the court room to the jail cell, bringing in special guests and experts in various fields just to talk about what they thought was going to happen and ratings went through the roof. Once the trial was over, the news networks were addicted to the ratings.

So 24 hour news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox spend most of the day creating drama on what used to be small news and editorializing.

Sensationalized Headlines

The Washington Post reported that only six in 10 people acknowledge that they have read past the headline of a news article.

So to get those clicks, the farther a site has a bias, the more sensationalized a headline is.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Tweeted out a few months back that they had Donald Trump's tax returns. People started flipping out. Other news sites picked up the story. Everyone tuned into Maddow's 9 pm show.

What did she have? 2 pages from a 10 year old tax return that told us nothing but Donald Trump is rich as hell. She spent 20 minutes talking about the ramifications of him not turning his tax returns over and how it could lead to tax evasion charges or Russian links. Basically everything we already knew.

I know a lot of police officers, so my Facebook feed is filled with headlines from a site called It obviously caters to Police Officers and tends to skew a little right.

When Pepsi cancelled their Kendall Jenner Ad, they ran the following headline: "Pepsi Cancels Kendall Jenner Ad for Being Too Police Friendly, Apologized to Black Lives Matter."

The real reason Pepsi pulled the add is because the entire world started making fun of them for white washing the increased protest movements across the entire world. It had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter and they didn't apologize to anyone in Black Lives Matter. They apologized to everyone. They were hoping to spread a message of unity and delicious cola and instead got burned.
Or let's look at the left, Mother Jones is one of the worst offenders. Guess what, Republican's are actually Sith Lords that collude with those damn dirty Russians... or at least that's what these two headlines make it seem like

Here, I'll rewrite those headlines to not be sensationlized.
  • Pepsi Cancels Ad After Early Viewers Criticize the Content
  • New Healthcare Bill Introduces Additional Penalties for Lapses In Coverage
  • Russian Hackers Have Spread Deceitful News Worldwide
Hmmm... those headlines just aren't as sexy are they? Much less shareable.

Reporting to the Echo Chamber

It's hard to make money on news. One of the ways you keep people coming back is confirmation bias.

Tell them what they want to hear.

Need an example?

When James Comey was fired a few weeks ago, the headlines among newsites, how the stories were written, and how certain stories were promoted were completely different. (See the Comey Test for more information)

The New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, and NPR all discussed possible Russian ties within the first sentence of their stories. They focused on who within the Trump administration have known ties, who is likely to have ties, and what it means for the American people.

Other sites like NBC and ABS news, downplayed Russia connections, but did discuss them after talking about Clinton's emails.

And then Breitbart didn't mention Russia until the 14th paragraph, of their story. Daily Caller didn't mention Russia at all. And Fox News briefly had a story from AP discussing the Russian ties, but then pushed it down the page instead reporting on the White Houses's official statements on the situation.

So none of the resources actually lied, they just chose what to push toward the top and promote.

How to know if there is a bias

This chart below went viral. I shared it on Twitter. You can argue some of them might be more left or right or center, but generally, this chart comes close to showing editorial biases.

Part of what has torn us apart as a country is the inability to admit our echo chamber might be wrong. When this chart went viral, far right sites like Infowars and Breitbart immediately went on the offensive. They whipped the echo chamber into a frenzy, talking about the supposed Deep State and Liberal Media Bias as a way to justify talking to the echo chamber. Infowars even went as far as creating their own chart where everyone but them and Breitbart were skewed left of the middle and labeled as unreliable. 

Liberal leaning media love to point out how conservative's are in the pockets of major corporations and only care about enhancing their wealth. 

In reality, it's somewhere in between. Both sides think they are the good guys, which creates this huge gap because if I'm the good guy, then you must be the bad guy. 

If your news source spends time talking smack on other media outlets, it's probably a warning that you need to research why they are spending so much effort convincing you they are correct. 


The internet is our greatest resource and our greatest downfall.

Don't stop at just the headline. Read an entire article. And if you feel an emotional response to an article, it's best to search for a few other sources before you look like an idiot and fall into these media conglomerate's traps.

And don't hate the journalists. Hate the businessmen that run these giant publicly traded companies, that will do anything to squeeze a few more dollars out of their empires.

The reporters are and have been an integral part of keeping our country free and protecting free speech. They are the ones to topple tyrants and corruption.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Oh the Places You Will Go

Since April 7th, I have driven 3084 miles, visited 7 cities, spent 47 hours and 18 minutes in a car, and spent 20 out of 44 days away from my bed.

I've fit a lot of life into that time, but at a certain point all the beer starts tasting the same, you just order fries because it's easy, you lose track of days and weeks and dates, and your body goes into autopilot.

But in all the exhaustion, lost days, and autopilot, I'm trying to see what was good in each place.

St. Charles, MO

I was booted out of the house for Lizzie's bachelorette party and stayed out with Cory.

It's always a relaxing time. Sort of shirk off responsibility and get to live with with the reckless abandon we did in college. It's usually a weekend filled with beers, jokes, and video games.

This time we did something I've never done before. We went to a gun show. It still feels weird to type that out. It was an eye opening experience. A look into this sub-culture that I have no interest in joining and one that you rarely see gathered in such numbers.

I felt uncomfortable with how loose the rules were followed. Teenage kids walked around the parking lot with assault rifles trying to sell them to people coming in. People had laws written out about how they couldn't sell a rifle with a suppressor and extended mag, but had each part laying on the table next to each other, totally legal to sell at the same time. There were the racist t-shirts. And there was the father buying his 7-year-old daughter pink butterfly shaped knuckles.

Madison, WI

I had a customer on-site where I spent a week up in Madison.

Working so remotely with a company that works mostly in house adds about 20% more work to my day. But I'm succeeding. And people like me. I know this because every night I had some sort of company wanting to have a few drinks and appetizers.

The highlight was getting to watch the Blues beat the Wild on our 40 foot projection screen.

Louisville / Lexington, KY

We spent 4 days on the bourbon trail for Matt's bachelor party.

It was maybe a little long, but it was good to get away from everything happening to our house.

And really, it was a great group of guys all really needing a break. It's something I forget about, how important male bonding can be sometimes. Something my generation lost by eliminating camping trips and float trips.

It's hard to justify a few days out of town, drinking bourbon, eating Nashville hot chicken with just the guys. But it was good for all of us.

Chicago, IL

We spent a few days visiting a college friend and her husband. There wasn't an itinerary. We didn't want to do the touristy things like see a Cubs game or go up in the Sears tower.

We wanted what we generally want in every trip. We wanted the local perspective on the best places. We wanted good company.

We went to this Tiki bar that had been around since the 60s. It was one of those places with the bamboo shoot walls, the drink stirs hanging from the ceiling, classic surf music playing at the perfect volume over the speakers.

I was incredibly relaxed. It took me back to my grandpa's basement, one of my favorite places to adventure in and discover.

We sat at the Tiki bar, drinking pineapple juice drinks out of goblets, and I think we all felt this little haven away from the world's troubles. It was one of the first times in months that the conversation didn't drift to politics, or the water coming into our house, or the body pains felt when growing old. Cell phones were in pockets and purses.

It was just four people, around a table, listening to Elvis, really being in the moment.

Nashville / Knoxville, KY

Unfortunately Sal and I got caught up at work and by the insurance adjusters. Our hope was to get to Nashville by 7 pm, get a late dinner and drinks downtown, listen to some good music. But we didn't get into town until almost 9:30. We were beaten down and tired and just didn't want to leave the airport area we were staying in.

We drank at the airport Ruby Tuesdays and had an overpriced, over-salted appetizer.

Luckily Knoxville and Friday went much better.

Knoxville is a college town that I had never been to before, but one I instantly fell in love with. It was filled with the local shops and bars like Columbia but had a bigger city vibe like Chicago. I only wish I had more time there.

And I should say the highlight was Matt's wedding, but I feel like you get so caught up in making sure everything goes right, every possible combination of people in pictures is captured, every ounce of food and drink paid for consumed, that you forget to look around and really just take in the event.

Friday night though... Friday was a good night. We drifted up and down the Tennessee River on a boat, having drinks and laughs, spilling back into a hotel party, where the only emotion everyone knew was love. Everyone hugged, laughed, and told stories and jokes that outside of that room would make no sense, but inside that room it was the only entertainment we ever needed again.

I get to be home for a few weeks before I travel to Cincinnati. I'm happy for the things I've done in the past few weeks, but I'm also beyond excited to sleep on my little couch bed, curled up in the familiar.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

That Pesky FBI

People mark their lives with events that will be remembered and taught in history classes. Where were you for victory in Europe, Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, JFK's assassination, Challenger disaster, or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Some events in my life seem like huge milestones that likely won't be discussed outside of a few generations like the flood of '93 or the O.J. Simpson trial.

And then there's events 911 which is going to be the focal point of so many conflicts, the fall and rise of new empires, and the reason the global economy has gone the way it has.

As someone who is enthralled with history, the firing of F.B.I. director James Comey feels like part of one of those events that is taught in American History classes for generations to come.

Who is James Comey

The short story, he was a very high-profile and successful US Attorney. He took over the investigation of Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich. He was the prosecutor on one of the largest identify theft cases in history. He's taken on multiple high-profile corporate fraud cases and we even the guy to take down Martha Stewart.

He was Deputy Attorney General under George W. Bush and made F.B.I. Director under Barack Obama.

The Clinton Emails

You might first remember Comey's name attached to the election last year.

Essentially, in July 2015, the FBI opened a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton because she used a family email server to conduct Secretary of State business. At first, there were 110 emails sent from these private servers that were considered some form of classified. After the FBI went through them, they retroactively classified 2100 emails as Secret or Top Secret.

However, Comey and the FBI did not find a solid case to bring charges against Clinton. He called her careless and reprimanded her publicly, but ultimately closed the investigation.

In October, while investigating Anthony Weiner and his sexting to an underage girl, the FBI found additional emails to a Clinton staffer that were relevant to the original investigation.

Comey decided to inform congress that the investigation was re-opened, a move that was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats and the Justice Department because of how close it was to the election (violating FBI policies and procedures of not interfering so close to an election).

Comey's intention was just to inform Congress, but once he sent his letter to Congress, it immediately leaked to the media.

Essentially the conclusion to the investigation was that none of the emails were relevant or they were duplicates of emails the FBI had already read. Trump made this one of his campaign cornerstones toward the end of the election.

Famous statistician Nate Silver said Comey's announcement and the earlier Wikileaks cost Clinton the election.

The Russian Investigation

In July 2016, the FBI started an investigation into the Trump Campaign and links to many Russian officials after receiving a dossier with evidence.

In October 2016, it was announced that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked by two Russian groups and they leaked DNC emails to Wikileaks.

Outside of the Trump campaign's ties, it was found that Russian groups created fake news (second story) and spread it across social media platforms to influence the election.

In the coming months many people close to Trump were found to have Russian ties: Paul Manafort (campaign chairman) had alleged contact with Russian intelligence officials, Jared Kushner (Trump's son-in-law) failed to disclose contact with a Russian ambassador and head of a Russian bank, Micheal Flynn (National Security Adviser) met with Russian ambassador to discuss sanctions and then allegedly met with two other Russian officials to open up lines of communication for the Trump cabinet, Jess Sessions (US Senator, Attorney General) denied having any contact with Russian officials during confirmations hearings but didn't bring up meeting with several Russian officials in July and October of 2016, Carter Page (former foreign policy adviser) met with several Russian ambassadors at the Republican National Committee he admitted after first denying, and Roger Stone (former adviser) admitted to being in contact with Russian hackers involved in the DNC hacking and having insider knowledge of the hacking.

In January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released their findings that Russia did interfere in the US election and that they favored Trump over Clinton.

In March, FBI Director Comey admitted there was an investigation into the Trump campaign and collusion with Russia in the same speech where he told Trump there was no wiretapping evidence by Obama.

In May, Comey made a statement saying Russia is "the greatest threat to any nation on Earth..." and asked for further funding into the Russian / Trump investigation and daily briefings on progress.

Less than a week later, and only two days before Comey was supposed to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he found out that he was fired... via a TV... behind the crowd that he was speaking to. President Trump fired Comey at the behest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions (the guy that had to recuse himself from the Russian probe because of his Russian ties) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

What does it all mean?

We're not sure right now.

Everyone is assuming and making allegations. Many representatives, both Republican and Democratic have called for an independence inquiry.

There's a lot of smoke and everyone is trying to find out if there's fire.

The second paragraph of President Trump's letter seems damning as to any personal involvement he may have with the Russians.

The timing of Comey's dismissal after asking for more funds and manpower, Trumps meeting with Russian diplomats, and Comey's scheduled hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee all seem suspect considering Trump has wanted this Russian monkey off his back for months now.

Either way, Comey is being asked to testify as a private citizen now. Meaning, he can inject his own opinions into his statements rather than just sticking to the facts. This will be the most interesting and possibly the most watched testimony since Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky or the hearings on the Weapon's of Mass Destruction.

And one thing I keep seeing pop up on websites over and over again is, "Why do you care about Trump but you didn't seem to care about Hillary?"

  1. I did. Unfortunately we had two main candidates and they both had serious allegations against them during the election. 
  2. I care much less now. Clinton is a private citizen. Sure, if she did wrong, nail her. Capture all criminals. But when it comes down to it, she is much less in my life than President Trump.
The one thing we do know is Russian's played a huge role in our election. And beyond the US, Russians are alleged to be involved in other populist campaigns such as Brexit and the French Election. (Thank God that turned out for the best)

This is a war against our democracy. And while we're fighting left vs right, snowflakes vs bible thumpers, Democrats vs Republicans on our social media pulpits, there's an old foe waging a war we thought we were done with and they are winning.