How Big Tobacco invented Donald Trump and Brexit (and what to do about it)

Economist Tim Harford (previously) traces the history of denialism and "fake news" back to Big Tobacco's cancer denial playbook, which invented the tactics used by both the Brexit and Trump campaigns to ride to victory -- a playbook that dismisses individual harms as "anaecdotal" and wide-ranging evidence as "statistical," and works in concert with peoples' biases (smokers don't want cigarettes to cause cancer, Brexiteers want the UK to be viable without the EU, Trump supporters want simple, cruel policies to punish others and help them) to make emprically wrong things feel right. Read the rest

National Enquirer succeeds where FBI and White House have failed, finding “Proof Obama Wiretapped Trump!"

Just when it seemed that the White House was backing away from Trump's "wiretap" allegations, when evidence seemed non-existent, and spin doctors desperately claimed that Trump simply meant he was under electronic surveillance or being spied on by cameras secreted in microwave ovens, the 'Enquirer' uncovers a farrago of "lies, leaks and illegal bugging."

What shocking new evidence does the 'Enquirer' expose? It explains that the National Security Agency's "Stellar Wind" data mining program, revealed in 2008 and detailed by Edward Snowden in 2013, "taps every American citizen's calls on a daily basis." Therefore Trump's calls were wiretapped. QED.

But not so fast - there's a huge difference between a program that scans massive amounts of data for patterns and irregularities, and an order to eavesdrop on a presidential candidate's private line. A FISA court's approved collection of metadata was halted in 2011 - long before Trump announced his candidacy - though massive American data collection continues. And the government has long argued that it collected phone metadata - toll records and phone numbers, rather than content - which again, is hardly "wire-tapping."

The 'Globe' also gets political with its cover story "FBI Find Clinton Secret Payoff Files!" Investigators seized incriminating financial documents during a grand jury-ordered search of the Clinton's homes in upstate New York and Washington, D.C., claims the 'Globe.' But there is no evidence that such a grand jury search warrant was ever issued, or that the Clinton homes were searched. The alleged "smoking gun" documents, which allegedly name "205 Wall Street execs, foreign leaders and Hollywood fat cats caught up in a $216 million pay-for-play scam" may simply not exist. Read the rest

Punctuation inflation has infected the tabloids!

Extraordinary!!!

Exclamation points have over-run the tabloids like Macaques monkeys swarming the streets of New Delhi - and with much the same effect.

Every story on the cover of the 'Globe' merits its own angry exclamation point: "Hillary Caught Taking Bribes!" "Barack okayed the shady deal!" "Scandal: Her ties to Russia exposed!" "Now they'll both go to jail!" "Priscilla Elopes With Tom!" "Now they're raising Lisa Marie's twins, 8!" "Travolta secret sex swap!"

The 'National Enquirer' is no better: "Prez Trump Tell-All: How I'm Cleaning Up Obama's Mess!" "Making Medicine Cheap Again!" "25 Million New High Paying Jobs!" "$3 Trillion Economic Jump-Start!" "Jackson's Diary Proves He Was Murdered!" "Daughter Paris Is Right!" So many exclamation points! It's exhausting!

Exclamation marks are intended to emphasize something of major interest, but punctuation inflation has infected the tabloids, so that every story is screaming for attention, and as a result nothing seems shocking any more.

"Judy Garland Was Murdered!" screams the cover to the 'National Examiner.' Yawn. "Tom Selleck Secret Medical Crisis!" Okay - he reportedly has arthritis. Shocking. And the exclamation points keep coming: "Warren Beatty Turns 80! Inside His Amazing Life!" "Judge Judy's $200 million Garage Sale!" "Cruise Ship Murders!"

Virtually every story in this week's 'Enquirer' is cursed with an exclamation point, with only a handful of notable exceptions: the "Ask The Vet" column offering pet advice, the so-dubious-we-don't-believe-it-for-a-minute headline about country singer Blake Shelton: "Blake Back On The Bottle?" and the photo of Caroline Kennedy in a swimsuit under the headline: "Camelot Comes to the Caribbean," for which I assume a sub-editor will be fired for failing to add the obligatory exclamation point. Read the rest

Newspaper hoax about the gruesome results of a mass breakout at the Central Park Zoo

A new episode of Nate DiMeo's Memory Palace podcast is out and it's a good one. It's about a newspaper hoax about the gruesome results of a mass breakout at the Central Park Zoo, which Nate "turns into a comment on Fake News/Pizza Gate/etc by way of an Edward Gorey story." Nate is a terrific storyteller, and I highly recommend every episode of the Memory Palace. Read the rest

Tabloid tale of man crushed by porn collection was fake

Gareth Davies' viral yarn about a Japanese man crushed to death by his porn collection has been proven false. Gizmodo's Matt Novak reports that it's about time Americans—and especially American media—realized that a lot of what the Daily Mail publishes is fabricated.

But almost nothing about that headline is correct. The Daily Mail seems to have taken a sad story of a man’s death in Japan and added a few lies to make it more sensational. And from there it went viral, getting picked up by the likes of The Mirror, The Toronto Sun, CBS Philly, and Sky News Australia, among a host of others.

So what really happened? Recently a Japanese man was found dead in his apartment. The man lived alone and had been dead for a month before he was discovered. The coroner ruled that he’d died of a heart attack. How do we know the real story? It was reported in Nikkan Spa in Japan on February 28, 2017. The Daily Mail story was published on March 3, 2017.

Read the rest

Breitbart was a unique driver of hyper-partisan, trumpist news that shifted the 2016 election

A team of esteemed scholars including Yochai "Wealth of Networks" Benkler and Ethan Zuckerman (co-founder of Global Voices) analyzed 1.25 million media stories published between April 1, 2015 and election day, finding "a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world." Read the rest

Advanced de-faking: using public sources to trace the true age of a suspected propaganda video

Henk van Ess teaches workshops in online investigative techniques; he worked with colleagues and a team of students from Axel Springer Academie to analyze a viral news video that purported to show a discarded missile launcher that had been discovered near Cairo's international airport in 2011, but only published last month. Read the rest

National Enquirer thinks Trump is almost too smart for his own good

He’s been called psychotic, narcissistic and dangerously unbalanced, but finally we have the ‘National Enquirer’ dig its notoriously sharp teeth into President Donald Trump this week with its revelatory cover story: “The Secret Psych Evaluation!”

Read the rest

Three kinds of propaganda, and what to do about them

Jonathan Stray summarizes three different strains of propaganda, analyzing why they work, and suggesting counter-tactics: in Russia, it's about flooding the channel with a mix of lies and truth, crowding out other stories; in China, it's about suffocating arguments with happy-talk distractions, and for trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos, it's weaponizing hate, outraging people so they spread your message to the small, diffused minority of broken people who welcome your message and would otherwise be uneconomical to reach. Read the rest

National Enquirer's "Special investigation" exposes the truth within the Trump White House

At last, the darkest scandals of the Trump family are revealed.

"Melania and Ivanka Trump's private lives!" promises the cover of this week's 'National Enquirer' in a "special investigation."

The standard 'Enquirer' exposé would dig up old boyfriends to dish the dirt, scour criminal records, probe Melania's murky Eastern European origins and revel in Ivanka's lap-of-luxury childhood of spoiled excess.

What scandal does the 'Enquirer' dig up?

"The pain and persecution they overcame to finally stand beside the seat of American power!" As if.

The 'Enquirer' claims that its two-month investigation "in a manner never accomplished before" concluded, in the words of an unnamed source, that Melania and Ivanka "will restore grace to the White House and guide this president in a way that likely has never been seen before!" That must have been one heck of an investigation.

Despite its headline, the 'Enquirer' can't come up with any way in which Melania was ever persecuted, though it reveals that a pre-teen Ivanka had to endure questions from reporters (most likely 'Enquirer' reporters) about her father's extra-marital affair with Marla Maples.

Shocking.

It's an astonishingly sycophantic propaganda piece, quite different from 'Us' magazine's cover this week revealing "Melania's Struggle - A Life She Never Wanted." As the story explains, "feeling isolated and unprepared, the reluctant first lady is secretly miserable."

As is anyone who felt that the tabloids once served a use as the slumdog scavengers of news others were too respectable or reluctant to research, exposing O.J. Simpson's incriminating Bruno Magli shoes, John Edwards' love child, Gary Hart pictured aboard 'Monkey Business' with model Donna Rice, and Rush Limbaugh's OxyContin addiction. Read the rest

Wikipedia policy declares the Daily Mail to be "unreliable" and not suited for citation

The notorious, Hitler-endorsing, Brexit-backing, anti-vaxx, cancer-scare-promoting, compulsively lying, photoshop failing, plagiarizing, M15-creating, hateful, lethally transphobic, Creative Commons misunderstanding, evil, teacher-demonizing, royal-wedding-lying, Melania Trump distressing, racist, grandstanding, pig-fuckery-promoting tabloid will no longer qualify as a "reliable source" for the purposes of Wikipedia citation. Read the rest

Puppet-master Obama’s plot to undermine Trump, and other tabloid stunners

There are lies, damn lies (AKA Trump statements) and tabloid news.

"Michael Jackson exhumed!" screams this week's 'Globe.' Inside, a two-page spread sits under the headline: "Jackson crypt opened for new autopsy!"

Lies, plain and simple, as the 'Globe' article itself attests, if one bothers to read it. The gloved one's daughter Paris recently told 'Rolling Stone' magazine that she thought her father may have been murdered, which supposedly prompted the 'Globe' to initiate an "exhaustive investigation." This amounts to asking a bunch of rent-a-quote "experts" if Jackson could have been murdered. Their conclusion: "Michael Jackson's body must be exhumed for a new autopsy."

In other words, there's nothing new to the story, and Jackson's body is still six feet under.

Prince Charles' wife is the target of the 'Globe' cover headline: "Alcoholic Camilla Thrown Into Rehab!" Seasoned tabloid readers will fondly remember the 'Globe' cover of November 25, 2013, with the headline: "Queen Orders Drunken Camilla Into Detox!" Both stories rely on the Royal Family's reluctance to sue for libel, and seem to be based on nothing coming close to resembling a fact. Of course, the latest 'Globe' report doesn't suggest that Camilla is in an actual rehab clinic, but "has been confined to her quarters in Highgrove House."

Which was easily disproved when Camilla was seen with Prince Charles on February 8 happily mingling with crowds as they visited an art show in the British town of Hull, and appeared earlier this week at a charity dinner in London. Read the rest

Behold the horrors of Future CNN

On Twitter, @FutureCNN provides glimpses into the grim future of Trump's america, as depicted as inane CNN roundtables and wry chyron operators.

Read the rest

Vampire corpses, Obama’s plot to steal back the White House, and other tabloid stunners

O.J. Simpson's "murder knife" has been found, Barack Obama plans to "steal back" the White House, and James Dean "didn't die" in his 1955 car crash but went into hiding.

It's yet another embarrassment of factually-challenged riches brought to us by this week's tabloids.

"O.J. Murder Knife Found!" scrams the 'National Enquirer,' which enterprisingly searched the grounds of Simpson's former Florida home with a metal detector, and claims to have dug up a blade "nearly 4 inches long" buried under two feet of earth near the perimeter of the two-acre property.

The 'Enquirer' shouldn't need reminding that Los Angeles County chief medical examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran told the trial jury that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed in 1994 with a weapon believed to be "about six inches long." Not what the 'Enquirer' dug up. End of story. Put it back in the ground.

Is Obama engaged in a "Secret Plot to Steal Back White House," as the grammatically-challenged 'Enquirer' claims? An "in-depth National Enquirer investigation" has found that Obama "is working with Dems to undermine Trump." Wow, that must have taken a lot of digging. Who would have thought it?  "Obama is grooming Michelle to run for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020," claims the report. How does the 'Enquirer' know that's his aim? "The first step in Obama's plan was moving into a mansion just TWO MILES from the White House so he'd remain close to the D.C. political scene." Brilliant investigative work by the 'Enquirer.' What more proof is needed that Michelle Obama is running in 2020? Read the rest

The future of fake news is real-time video manipulation

Nick Bilton reports on the next round of fake news tools that allow users to manipulate audio and video to change what's being said, a sort of real-time Photoshop for moving images and audio. Want to make it look like a celebrity used a taboo word, or misquote a politician? No problem! Read the rest

Google has banned 200 publishers since it passed a new policy against fake news

Google recently stopped serving ads to 200 fake news sites.

From Recode:

Publishers were banned in November and December and included sites that impersonate real news organizations through shortened top-level domains, according to Google’s 2016 “bad ads” report, normally released at the beginning of each year.

So-called fake news publishers will sometimes take advantage of “.co” domains by appearing similar to legitimate news sites that would normally end in “.com.”

Google declined to provide a listing of the banned sites.

Read the rest

Forget “alternative facts.” This week’s tabloids shoot for an entire alternate universe

What does it take to be a tabloid reporter?

Bare minimum requirements demand a Harvard medical degree, five years of psychic training, and a mandatory year spent working at an "I Guess Your Weight' midway booth at Coney Island.

It's this impressive level of training that allows this week's tabloids to bring their impressive diagnostic powers to bear on the burning issues of the day: how much do Angelina Jolie and Bill Clinton weigh?

"Dying Angie" is a sylph-like "76 lbs" - way down from the 87 lbs the tabloids put her at a few weeks ago - and on "hunger strike" after "divorce pushed her to breaking point!" claims the grammatically-challenged 'National Enquirer.'

"Skeletal and near death, Angelina Jolie could survive only by having liquid food suctioned through her nose - and then stuffed down to her stomach," it reports. A mere layman might assume she could just pick up a fork and eat something, but the medically-trained experts at the 'Enquirer' know when force-feeding a liquid diet is a patient's only hope.

Apparently in years past Angie would sometimes leave food untouched outside her bedroom door, and now "if she's really skinny, she must be doing it again," says a source. Must she? Who is that informed insider? It's "a source close to Brad's longtime psychic," the 'Enquirer' reveals. That's what qualifies as an unimpeachable source: someone acquainted with Jolie's estranged husband's psychic? Perhaps that's who's been telling President Trump that attendance at his inauguration broke all crowd records? Read the rest

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