Decapitating Kim Kardashian, Paul McCartney drives his daughter insane, and cat litter beauty treatments, in this week’s tabloids

What do Jesus Christ, Herman Munster, TinkerBell and Elvis Presley have in common? Readers of this week’s Globe magazine can choose between life-like statuettes of all four, and I can’t help wondering which will be the biggest seller, and what that might tell us about those tabloid lovers.

The bronze Jesus lights up as a “radiant testimony to faith,” while Elvis sings, Herman Munster plays his TV show’s theme song, and TinkerBell . . . well, she just stands there looking cute, inviting you to “put your faith in pixie dust,” which is probably not dissimilar to what Jesus is offering.

Who are these tabloid readers, who are also met with ads offering a mirrored music box to present to “My Granddaughter,” a KISS decanter set, liver cleanse pills, a walk-in bathtub, compression socks and a no-collateral $35,000 loan? Is their target audience really aging diabetic grandmother glam rock fans with a nostalgia for ‘50s pop music and ‘60s TV?

The tabloids certainly continue to linger nostalgically over ancient stories, re-telling them as if new again. “Got Him!” screams the cover of the National Enquirer, now accusing actor Robert Wagner of the “premeditated murder” of wife Natalie Wood, and promising that “new evidence” means the actor “will die in jail.” No, he won’t. The “new evidence” is yet another rehash of old information, whipped up by the co-author of a 2011 book about Wood’s death. Don’t expect to see Wagner doing a perp walk any time soon.

O.J. Simpson has vowed to “decapitate” Kim Kardashian, claims the Enquirer, which will come as no surprise to its readers who last year were told that O.J. Read the rest

How a killer fled the FBI with a condom and hair remover, in this week’s tabloids

Tabloid stories usually have some vague, distant relationship with the smallest sliver of a fact, but some are such ludicrous fantasies that they deserve special attention.

“Inside Versace Killer’s Bag of Death!” is one such a gem. The National Enquirer tells us, in its trademark ungrammatical style, that the backpack belonging to the fashion designer’s killer Andrew Cunanan “holds key to shocking slaughter!” As the bag’s contents are “unveiled for the first time,” we learn of the “explosive evidence” inside “the killer’s sack that contained everything he needed for a quick escape” as the assassin “planned to flee the country.” Fighting back our excitement, barely able to breathe, we learn that Cunanan’s getaway kit comprised “a brochure for a hotel on Catalina Island, Calif., a bottle of Nair hair remover, a lubricated condom and an X-Acto knife without the blade.”

No passport (which the Enquirer fails to mention was found near the crime scene inside a red Chevy truck Cunanan had stolen.) No giant wad of cash. And no weapon (though perhaps a bladeless X-Acto knife could be used to poke people pretty hard). An empty envelope, and a receipt for sliced meat, cheese and crackers, completed Cunanan’s supposed “bag of death.” One can see how the Enquirer believes that Cunanan planned to flee the country, because he had a brochure for an island in the Pacific (albeit 26 miles off the coast from Los Angeles). But the clincher is the Bottle of Nair: if Cunanan could use depilatory cream to make unsightly hair disappear, it’s a short step to making himself disappear. Read the rest

The future of computational propaganda

On January 17, 2017, Girl 4 Trump USA joined Twitter. She was silent for a week, but on January 24, she suddenly got busy, posting an average of 1,289 tweets a day, many of which were in support of U.S. President Donald Trump. By the time Twitter figured out that Girl 4 Trump USA was a bot, “she” had tweeted 34,800 times. Twitter deleted the account, along with a large number of other Twitter bots with “MAGA,” “deplorable,” and “trump” in the handle and avatar images of young women in bikinis or halter tops, all posting the same headlines from sources like the Kremlin broadcaster RT. But Twitter can’t stop the flood of bots on its platform, and the botmakers are getting smarter about escaping detection.

What’s going on? That’s what Sam Woolley is finding out. Woolley, who recently joined Institute for the Future as a Research Director, was the Director of Research at the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University. In this episode of For Future Reference, we asked Sam to share highlights of his research showing how political botnets — what he calls computational propaganda — are being used to influence public opinion.

Listen to the podcast interview with Sam Woolley here. Subscribe to the IFTF podcast on iTunes | RSS | Download MP3 Read the rest

Celebrity UFO sightings, secret witnesses, and cold cases solved in this week’s tabloids

What’s old is new again in this week’s tabloids, which plunder the past for today’s headlines.

Child pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in 1996, but the National Enquirer claims that its "investigation finally solves” the slaying. The magazine, which has in the past alternately blamed JonBenet’s mother, father, brother, and various strangers for the slaying, insists it has now “cracked the cold case after 21 years,” under the headline: “This Evil Monster Murdered JonBenet.”

The killer? A now-dead neighbor who was thoroughly scrutinized by police during their investigation, and dismissed as a suspect. Why is Glenn Meyer now fingered as the murderer? Because his ex-wife, Charlotte Hey, claims: “When I asked him if he murdered her, he would just smile at me. He wouldn’t deny it.” Sounds like a confession to me.

“Queen Survives Assassin’s Bullet!” screams the Globe cover, failing to mention that the incident – alleged by a former New Zealand police officer – occurred 36 years ago, in 1981. British police are reportedly stepping up security, which seems appropriate 36 years after the event.

Equally ancient is the National Examiner cover story claiming to finally solve the Natalie Wood “murder.” The actress drowned in 1981, and the tabloids have spent decades trying – and failing – to pin the blame on her husband, actor Robert Wagner. The Examiner claims that “new testimony could put Wagner away!” But we’ve seen this supposedly new evidence before. Marilyn Wayne, who allegedly heard a woman’s voice shouting: “Help me, I’m drowning!” on the night of Wood’s death, is not a “secret witness” as the Examiner claims. Read the rest

A Royal werewolf, embattled Clintons, and vampires coming, in this week’s tabloids

Prince Charles fears he’s becoming a werewolf, the KGB tried to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, and Meryl Streep is going blind, according to this week’s reality-challenged tabloids.

It’s the rare week when the Trump-loving tabloids don’t indulge in paeans of praise for the president, but they still gleefully hurl incendiary allegations at the Clintons.

The feds’ probe into the Clinton Foundation “explodes,” claims the Globe cover, with the “secret arrest” of Bill Clinton's brother Roger. Is Roger Clinton’s 2016 DUI arrest truly “secret” when it was reported on at the time by The Washington Post, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, TMZ . . and the National Enquirer?

Roger was sentenced to two days in jail, ordered to take an alcohol education program, and given three years probation. Yet the Globe claims that federal prosecutors are now threatening to revoke Roger Clinton’s probation if he doesn’t “turn stool pigeon and spill whatever he knows about any illegal actions” by the Clintons. Can somebody please explain to the Globe that the feds can’t revoke Roger Clinton's probation for saying he knows nothing about his brother’s charity. And why would he know anything anyway? Sheer wishful thinking.

The National Enquirer cover promises “never-before-seen crime scene photos inside California’s house of horrors!” The headline warns readers of a “chilling look inside putrid hellhole.” And what do the photos show? A scattering of brightly colored trash bags strewn across the family’s front yard (outside, not inside the “putrid hellhole”) and a shot taken through a glass door revealing an unremarkable table and some shelves. Read the rest

Facebook helped consolidate power for Cambodia's dictator and his attack-dog media, then killed the independent press's platform

In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen has held power since 1998, a reign characterized by systematic looting, political patronage and violent suppression of human rights; when opposition parties used Facebook to organize a strong showing in the 2013 elections, Hun Sen turned to the tool to consolidate his slipping hold on power. Read the rest

Clintons confess, Obama to blame, and Trump triumphs in this week’s tabloids

The White House Press Office in Exile, otherwise known as the tabloids, is in full Trump-boosting, Clinton-bashing, Obama-blaming mode this week.

The president, who has previously lamented the injustice of the National Enquirer being deprived of the Pulitzer Prize it so richly deserves, should be pleased with the rag’s immolation of Michael Wolff’s political bestseller Fire and Fury, with a cover headline branding it a “Book of Lies!”

“Staffers think prez is dumb. FALSE!” screams the Enquirer's front page. “His ego is out of control. FALSE! He’s hated by his own family. FALSE!”

Not satisfied with demolishing Wolff’s reporting, the Enquirer claims that the book is part of an attack on Trump “orchestrated by Puppet Master-in-Chief Barack Obama!” Wolff is “part of the Obama hit team” chosen by America's last president to undermine Trump, claims the magazine. And to prove its point, the Enquirer sent audio and video tapes of Wolff for stress analysis, and concluded “Michael Wolff is lying throughout.” Well, you can’t argue with science.

Sister publication the Globe dances like it’s 2016 all over again, with its cover story about Bill and Hillary Clinton's alleged "$365 million bribery scandal” at the Clinton Foundation under the headline: "We’re Guilty!" Inside, the story reveals: “Crooked Clintons Confess!"

But it’s not just Bill & Hill freely admitting their life of lies – “Trump nails Clinton confession,” the Globe crows. Did Trump grill the Clintons in interrogation rooms under bright lights? Hardly.

As the FBI mounts a new probe into possible pay-to-play politics by the Clintons and their Foundation, the Globe claims that the Clintons sought a plea deal to make the whole ugly business go away – and that Trump ordered the Justice Department to make no sweetheart deals, “making good on his promise to lock up the crooked Clintons.”

Two quick points: (1) discussing a plea deal is far from a confession, and (2) since the probe is only days old it’s unlikely that the Clintons would consider a plea deal before knowing whether the investigation has even dug up any incriminating evidence. Read the rest

Even though Trump supporters are impervious to fact-checks on most subjects, they still know that the GOP tax plan is a giveaway to the super-rich

Shortly after the election of Donald Trump, Russian exile Masha Gessen's essay Autocracy: Rules for Survival swept the internet, offering both hope and caution for the years to come. Read the rest

World War III, Trump, and proof Princess Diana was murdered, in this week’s tabloids

It’s a new year, but it’s sex, fat-shaming and politics as usual in this week’s tabloids.

Meghan Markle is a “shameless sexpot,” rages the National Enquirer, positively shocked – shocked, I tell you – that Prince Harry’s betrothed wore a “daring sheer top” in official photographs. The hussy. An allegedly “stunned” Queen has decreed a makeover, and “called in tutors to spend several hours a day teaching Meghan how to be a real-life Princess.” Sounds like some reporters have been watching too many reruns of The Princess Diaries.

Cameron Diaz is pregnant with a “baby miracle” claims the Enquirer, with photographic proof of her baby bump. Oh, no she isn’t, reports Us magazine, using the same set of photos to demonstrate “Cameron’s heartbreak” at not getting pregnant after her “secret IVF struggle.”

The Globe offers “New Proof Diana Was Murdered!” This word, “proof” – I do not think it means what you think it means. A paramedic who helped transfer the Princess from her wrecked car into an ambulance says “. . . when she was put in the ambulance she was alive – and I expected her to live.” Given the inability of even the best-trained doctor to assess internal injuries, these words of French firefighter Sgt. Xavier Gourmelon hardly count as proof of anything, except his optimism in the face of a horrific car crash.

The tabloids continue aspiring to be a sexed-up version of The Washington Post with further forays into politics. “What Trump’s Tax Cut Means For You!” screams the Globe cover, seemingly oblivious that its low-paid working class demographic are those being screwed the hardest by the president’s gift to America’s top one per cent. Read the rest

The Most Annoying People of 2017, in this week’s tabloids

It’s rare, but once in a while the tabloids just get a story right. While Us magazine bores us with the “most fascinating people of 2017” (Melania Trump? Meghan Markle?) and the National Enquirer tells us “What shocked and rocked in 2017” (branding Hollywood’s sex harassment scandals “Pervnado"), it is the Globe that hits the pitch-perfect end-of-year note with its “50 Most Annoying People of 2017.”

Its catalogue of “whiners, losers and lamebrains” is hard to argue with: Kim Kardashian, Bill O’Reilly, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Harvey Weinstein, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow . . . the list goes on. Caitlyn Jenner, Megyn Kelly, Anthony Scaramucci, Johnny Depp . . . there’s ten pages of this, and I’ll bet they could have filled the entire magazine with names if they wanted to.

Yet the Globe inexplicably omits the year's unquestionably most annoying person: Donald Trump. It’s another week when the Trump-toadying tabloids become the mouthpiece of the White House, with highly debatable information that appears spoon-fed from the West Wing.

“Clintons Rigged Trump Investigation!” screams the grammatically-challenged cover of the Enquirer, which claims to have exposed “Bill & Hillary’s dirty tricks” in loading special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team with Clinton supporters. But while Mueller’s law firm WilmerHale indeed made contributions to Democrats as the Enquirer alleges, it also made substantial contributions to Republicans, in fact donating almost twice as much to Republicans from 1996 to 2002, though favoring Democrats in recent years.

Prince Harry’s betrothed Meghan Markle’s father Tom “won’t live to see wedding,” predicts the Enquirer, based solely on a photo that shows the 73-year-old appearing rather portly. Read the rest

Kim Jong-Un "climbs" Mt Paektu

A press release from the DPRK announced that leader Kim Jong-Un and aides hiked up Mt. Paektu, on the Korea-Chinese border, to celebrate the 2,744m mountain's significance in the republic's history. Nice shoes, Jong-Un!

Read the rest

JFK’s killer, Michael Jackson’s ghost, and Meghan Markle’s halibut, in this week’s tabloids

“This Cop Killed Kennedy!” screams the National Enquirer cover, boasting a photo of a gun-wielding assassin. “Killer posed as Dallas cop,” says the report. His real job? A Dallas cop. Note to Enquirer: If you’re a real cop, you can’t really pose as one.

British secret agents are erasing Royal bride-to-be Meghan Markle’s “wild past,” claims the Enquirer, aiming to “bury scandals before the wedding.”

What scandals? As a student at Northwestern University, Markle “got a fake ID to go drinking,” and gained 15 pounds “binge eating,” the Enquirer reveals. Apparently an unidentified British man was asking questions of Markle’s old friends. I don’t suppose that could be what’s known in the spy trade as a “British tabloid reporter”?

Michael Jackson is haunting Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s New York home, reports the Enquirer. After all, if you had an after-life, who wouldn’t want to be a spirit in Nicole and Keith’s home? It sounds like the culmination of Jackson's lifelong ambition to be as white as a ghost. His only disappointment: the couple have two young girls, not boys.

The Enquirer digs into “sleazy” NBC host Matt Lauer’s sex harassment scandal, warning: “It’s worse than you think!” But how does the Enquirer know what I think? What if I’m thinking: bestiality? Is it really worse than that?

America’s C-List actress-turned-Royal bride-to-be Meghan Markle gets the full-court press from this week’s tabloids. “Camilla Attacks Harry’s Bride!” yells the Globe cover, claiming that Prince Charles’ “evil . . . Read the rest

Trump hiding DC sex scandals, Bill & Hillary’s $350m divorce, and ”you can fly,” in this week’s tabloids

Donald Trump deliberately hides the sex scandals and indiscretions of Washington, D.C. lawmakers, keeping the shameful information as potential blackmail material, reveals the National Enquirer this week. The president has amassed Nixon-style “dirt files containing damaging information on roguish elected officials, top military officials, top military officers and high-level bureaucrats,” claims the report. Trump’s “little black book” is “filled with the dirty sex secrets of top politicos – and he’s not afraid to use it.”

It’s an extraordinarily damning report from the Enquirer, which has been one of Trump’s staunchest supporters, fed inside information from the White House, and whose reporting has been lavishly praised by Trump.

Of course, they don’t openly call him a “blackmailer” who is immorally keeping sex scandals secret to manipulate powerful lawmakers, though that’s clearly what the story suggests. Rather, the Enquirer seems to be praising Trump for having power over sleazy politicians. Sure sounds like he’s protecting scumbags with a view to blackmail, however.

Pregnant Princess Kate “takes off her ring in war with William,” reports the Globe, claiming that the British royal is battling her husband over potential kidnap threats to their children. Why else would a pregnant woman take off her engagement ring? With all the rent-a-quote doctors, psychologists, private eyes and voice-stress analysts at their disposal, could the Globe not find a physician to explain that a pregnant woman’s hands can swell and she may need to remove rings when they feel too tight?

No such problems for this week’s thin brigade, those unfortunates targeted by the Enquirer Guess Your Weight team who this week attack 93 lb “skeletal” Sharknado star Tara Reid, allegedly so thin she is "facing jaws of death" (Sharknado! Read the rest

Dead aliens, a Royal curse, and Trump’s war on Scientology, in this week’s tabloids

What is the world coming to when the most implausible tabloid stories are actually almost true? An Arizona ranch for sale with alien visitors included, an angry parrot whose cries for help brought police running, and a charity Santa Claus arrested high on crack are among this week’s tabloid offerings ripped from the headlines (though you still have to take the ranch owner’s word for it that his home has been repeatedly plagued by aliens).

Less plausible are the rags’ big exclusives this week. The “Curse of Diana” is “destroying the Royals!” screams the Globe cover, as if Princess Di was stabbing pins in voodoo dolls before she died in a car crash. “Prince Charles hires witches to remove curse his dying wife put on royal family,” claims its “world exclusive.” Right. Why hire just one witch, when you can rent a whole coven of them?

“Trump’s Secret War on Scientology!” is the National Enquirer cover story, claiming that the president is outraged after finding that a cult “spy” has “infiltrated the Department of Justice.” While it’s true that the president has questioned Scientology's tax-free status, and equally true that the Bureau of Justice Assistance director nominee Jon Adler has pushed a highly dubious cult-backed drug detox program, he can hardly be called a “spy," and there’s little evidence that Trump knows what day of the week it is, let alone the religious affiliations of his appointees.

The tabloid weight police are gunning this week for singer Aretha Franklin, whose “drastic weight loss is killing her,” reports the Globe, while the Enquirer claims that John Mellencamp has issued an ultimatum to lover Meg Ryan: “Eat or else!” Or else what? Read the rest

Bible predictions: talking pets, the Mark of the Beast, and an exploding pop star, in this week’s tabloids

The stars are "just like us," we’re told every week by the delusionists at Us magazine. But this week the National Examiner goes a step further: “Queen Elizabeth: She’s Just Like Us!”

QEII is reportedly “addicted to McDonald’s,” loves to gamble, and “clips coupons to save cash.” That’s the level of accuracy we’re seeing in much of this week’s tabloids, offering readers the chance to lose brain weight with a nearly fact-free diet.

“Proof!” screams the National Enquirer cover. “J. Edgar Hoover Ordered JFK Murder!” Coming a mere two weeks after the Enquirer claimed that it was the CIA who killed President Kennedy, while sister rag the Globe assured us it was the KGB behind the shooting, the report is based on a “top-secret memo” leaked after 54 years.

Only a couple of minor problems with this claim: 1) The Enquirer doesn’t have any memo; it’s supposedly “a copy of the missing telex . . . reproduced from memory” by a former FBI agent. 2) The alleged memo from FBI chief Hoover, sent five days before JFK’s assassination, warns of a “threat to assassinate President Kennedy in Dallas Texas . . . “But that’s not proof of Hoover ordering JFK’s murder – it’s an FBI chief advising field officers of a threat, at a time when the president was repeatedly being threatened. The Enquirer story is all smoke and broken mirrors.

Singer Olivia Newton-John’s fiancé Patrick McDermott went missing while on a fishing trip off the California coast in 2005, and the tabloids repeatedly claim to have found him alive, joined this week by the Enquirer, which reports that McDermott is “Back From The Dead!” Their evidence: a photo of a silver-haired shirtless man sitting at a park bench - an image supposedly found “hanging on a notice board at a rundown beach campsite” in Sayulita, Mexico. Read the rest

Where ISIS will strike next, FBI grills Malia Obama, and Prince Charles is a Killer, in this week’s dubious tabloids

This week’s tabloids feel like a fact-free zone more than ever.

Val Kilmer will be “dead before Christmas!” reveals the National Enquirer, whose team of psychic actuaries are never wrong. Let’s just try to forget the Enquirer headline in February 2015 warning that Kilmer “may have just months to live.” Or the June 2015 headline that Kilmer will be “Dead by the End of the Summer.” Or the December 2015 headline stating that Kilmer has “3 Months to Live.”

Sooner or later they’ll be right, of course, and will congratulate themselves, just as the latest Enquirer cover brags “WE TOLD YOU terrorists would attack New York.” Well, three weeks ago they did predict that, along with attacks on Mt Rushmore, Hoover Dam, Disney World, Dollywood, The Grand Ole Opry, the Statue of Liberty, New Orleans, Wrigley Field and a host more sites. Sooner or later, they were bound to be right.

This week the Enquirer cover gives us the identical story it gave us last month – a list of obvious potential terrorist targets – under the headline: “Where ISIS Will Strike Next!” It’s lazy, self-aggrandizing nonsense. “Destinations like Las Vegas and New Orleans are considered ‘dens of debauchery’ by fundamentalist terror cells and are also ‘hot targets,’” the Enquirer adds gleefully.

Equally fact-challenged is the Globe cover story reporting that President Obama’s daughter Malia was “Questioned in FBI Probe!” after working as a summer intern for the sex-abuse-beleaguered Weinstein Company. But when you read the story, you learn that the FBI hasn’t questioned Malia at all. Read the rest

Facebook anti-fake news algorithm fails

Facebook tried to fix its fake news problem by putting comments that included the word "fake" at the top. Software-engineering genius! Sadly it didn't work out, reports the BBC.

The trial, which Facebook says has now concluded, aimed to prioritise "comments that indicate disbelief".

It meant feeds from the BBC, the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian all began with a comment mentioning the word fake.The test, which was visible only to some users, left many frustrated.The comments appeared on a wide range of stories, from ones that could be fake to ones that were clearly legitimate. The remarks, which would appear at the top of the comments section, came from a variety of people but the one thing that they had in common was the word fake.

The thing Facebook will never understand is that their smartest algorithm is still dumber than the dumbest Nazi. Read the rest

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