The Packer postpostseason

Assuming the Packers do not end up in the Super Bowl (and they won’t, Monday night’s win notwithstanding), next year’s Packers might look different at the top, reports Tom Silverstein:

No matter what happens this offseason, the Green Bay Packers organization owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to general manager Ted Thompson.

Since former president Bob Harlan chose him to run the football operation in January of 2005, the Packers are 116-68-1, have made the playoffs eight times, played in three NFC championship games and won a Super Bowl.

Thompson’s winning percentage over 11-plus years (.630) is a sliver behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Ron Wolf’s over nine years (.639). Thompson will go into the Packers Hall of Fame having presided over one of the most successful eras in team history.

It would be hard to fire him because of one bad stretch of football.

But there are many factors at work that could lead to changes in the front office and they aren’t all related to the Packers’ disappointing 4-6 season. Some are the reality that the NFL is a young man’s game and if president Mark Murphy waits too long to bring in fresh leadership, he could be left empty-handed.

Thompson, who will turn 64 in January and reportedly has two years left on his contract after this season, said in an interview in August he would stay on as long as he felt he was contributing positively to the organization.

The Packers have hit hard times and their streak of seven straight postseason appearances – tied with New England for the active lead – is perilously close to ending. The Packers are 9-13 over their last 22 games and in danger of finishing below .500 for the first time since 2008.

This extended period of mediocrity and the embarrassing performances during a four-game losing streak have brought to light the weakness of the roster, the questionable distribution of players by position and the lack of veteran leadership.

Murphy, and the executive committee he serves, are at a crossroads. They have invested millions of dollars in the development of their so-called “Titletown District” and it would be disastrous for them if the team suddenly slid into a 1980s-style funk.

Thompson’s conservative style, his unwavering commitment to building the team only through the draft, may have run its course. The teams that have won Super Bowls over the past decade, including his own, have used free agency, the draft and in some cases trades to stock their rosters.

Among them, Denver (Peyton Manning, Aqib Talib), New England (LaGarrette Blount, Darrelle Revis), Seattle (Michael Bennett, Percy Harvin), Baltimore (Matt Birk, Anquan Boldin), the New York Giants (Chris Canty, Antrell Rolle) and Green Bay (Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett) all received huge lifts from players not acquired through the draft.

Murphy did not hire Thompson and if he has tired of the draft-only approach, he and the executive committee might be thinking this is their chance to bring in their own man. Murphy has given Thompson free rein to run the football operation, rarely sticking his nose into his general manager’s business, but not since 2008 has the team been this bad.

There is only one member of the executive committee, John Bergstrom, who was around when Harlan hired Thompson. Everyone else has retired and been replaced. The new committee has focused on building the Packers into a corporate powerhouse with interests way beyond fielding a great football team.

They may feel empowered to gut the front office and start over.

It would then be on Murphy to pick the right man for the job. If he stayed in house, his top two options for filling Thompson’s spot would be vice president of football administration/ player finance Russ Ball or director of football operations Eliot Wolf.

If he chose to go outside the organization and start anew, he’d risk losing both of those talented employees along with many of Thompson’s excellent scouts if he didn’t hire someone from Ron Wolf’s scouting tree. Maybe he could get Seattle GM John Schneider to return, but that’s not a guarantee. Such a hire would allow the scouting system to remain intact, but Schneider might not feel comfortable taking a job from which one of his mentors was fired.

If Murphy decides that he’d like Thompson to stick around, he has another problem. There is continued frustration within the personnel department over Thompson’s unwillingness to take a chance on free agents and his devotion to draft picks.

This isn’t anything new.

All you have to do is see what former Thompson underlings did when they landed general manager jobs of their own. Schneider has made Wolf look like a nickel slots player with all the chances he’s taken in building a Super Bowl-contending roster in Seattle.

Reggie McKenzie played it Thompson’s way until he got the Oakland Raiders out of salary-cap purgatory and then laid out big bucks to help supplement his success in the draft. John Dorsey hasn’t hesitated to spend money on free agents during his run in Kansas City, although he hasn’t really needed to.

All of the scouts who come out of the Wolf-Thompson tree believe in building teams through the draft and have accepted that Thompson refuses to spend in free agency unless it’s a blue-light special. But frustration gets highest when teams lose and that’s what the Packers are doing right now.

Thompson allowed Schneider and McKenzie, in particular, to pursue free agents and see what they could come up with. They persuaded him to sign Woodson and Pickett and it resulted in the team winning a Super Bowl.

Since Schneider, McKenzie and Dorsey left, Thompson has ignored unrestricted free agency completely: He hasn’t signed one since 2012. He did invest in Letroy Guion, Julius Peppers and Jared Cook, but only after they were cut and the price was reasonable.

The Packers are always one of the youngest teams in the NFL and two non-productive drafts have meant devastating consequences for the current team’s depth. They have not created a free-agent safety net for their draft selections.

Murphy and the executive committee probably have an appetite for a free-agent splash or two since a Super Bowl would greatly enhance the chances of their playland succeeding. Time is running out with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the higher ups might be getting antsy.

Murphy’s toughest decision is whether to tab Eliot Wolf, Ron’s son, to lead the football operation into a new era. At age 34, Wolf would be the youngest general manager in the NFL, a year younger than Philadelphia’s Howie Roseman was when he became the youngest general manager in the NFL in 2010.

But Wolf is talented, has learned under some of the best in the business and his reputation continues to grow in NFL circles.

Last season, a surrogate for the Detroit Lions inquired about Wolf’s interest in the Lions job after general manager Martin Mayhew was fired at mid-season. An NFL source said the Lions wanted to interview Wolf during the season, but NFL rules state that no executive can interview for a job in the middle of a season when he is under contract.

Once the Lions were made aware they were overstepping their bounds they backed off. After the regular season ended, they turned their focus to New England director of pro scouting Bob Quinn, who took the job. But they thought enough of Wolf to seek an interview.

If Murphy wants Wolf to wait two years before succeeding Thompson, he’ll have to risk the possibility that Wolf will leave to take a general manager’s job somewhere else . There aren’t expected to be a lot of general manager jobs open this offseason and the ones that are open probably aren’t that attractive.

San Francisco has meddling owners; Chicago doesn’t have strong ownership; New Orleans had a dispute between owner Tom Benson and his children over Benson’s mental competency. But Los Angeles has a strong, bold owner and might be a suitor.

Wolf is young enough that he can wait for the right job to open.

But if Murphy is convinced Wolf is the future, he’s going to have to commit to him soon, probably this offseason.

One way he could keep Wolf is to do what the Milwaukee Brewers did when they hired 30-year-old David Stearns to replace Doug Melvin as general manager. Stearns was given full authority on personnel moves, but Melvin was kept on in an advisory role as president of baseball operations.

The Packers could do the same thing with Wolf and Thompson. Wolf would get all the authority a general manager normally gets and have one of his mentors, Thompson, there to advise him. Wolf would be able to open new doors in player acquisition and still have Thompson there to be the voice of conservatism.

Wolf would want the authority to decide on the fate of coach Mike McCarthy and his staff – any general manager would. This has not been McCarthy’s best year, but if Wolf were able to deliver him a few more impact players, McCarthy might be reinvigorated and able to revive this moribund team.

Wolf may turn out be as conservative as Thompson when it comes to building through the draft, but he has grown up in a system in which people like Schneider, McKenzie and Dorsey have examined every avenue for building a team. It’s unlikely anyone could match Thompson’s stubbornness when it comes to a draft-only policy.

Even if the Packers find a way to turn things around this season, it does not change the fact the front office needs to modernize its approach to acquiring talent. It seems unlikely that Thompson is capable of doing that and so Murphy is headed toward the toughest decision of his tenure.

That certainly reads like an argument to replace Thompson with the younger Wolf, if only for what the calendar says. Replacing Thompson and McCarthy would seem like an overreaction were it not for the underwhelming on-the-field results of the past two seasons. Remember that this team before the season was favored by the oddsmakers in every game (for what it’s worth) and was a popular Super Bowl pick.

McCarthy’s relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers is strained, or maybe Rodgers himself is nearing his sell-by date. As it is, similar to when Rodgers was drafted as Brett Favre’s eventual replacement, the Packers have to find their next quarterback sooner rather than later. McCarthy himself may have reached the inevitable time when players stop listening to him and it’s time for him to move on.

 

Can’t we all just get along?

Some people went to a Harvard University symposium on the presidential election, and a hockey fight nearly broke out, the Washington Post reports:

The raw, lingering emotion of the 2016 presidential campaign erupted into a shouting match here Thursday as top strategists of Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused their Republican counterparts of fueling and legitimizing racism to elect Donald Trump.

The extraordinary exchange came at a postmortem session sponsored by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where top operatives from both campaigns sat across a conference table from each other.

As Trump’s team basked in the glow of its victory and singled out for praise its campaign’s chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, who was absent, the row of grim-faced Clinton aides who sat opposite them bristled.

Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views.

“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” she said. “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”“You did, Kellyanne. You did,” interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.“Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?” Conway continued. “How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?”

Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist, piled on: “There were dog whistles sent out to people.. . .Look at your rallies. He delivered it.”

At which point, Conway accused Clinton’s team of being sore losers.

“Guys, I can tell you are angry, but wow,” she said. “Hashtag he’s your president. How’s that? Will you ever accept the election results? Will you tell your protesters that he’s their president, too?”

The session was part of a two-day forum that the school’s Institute of Politics has sponsored in the wake of every presidential election since 1972. It gathers operatives from nearly all of the primary and general election campaigns, as well as a large contingent of journalists, with the stated goal of beginning to compile ahistorical record.

Generally, the quadrennial gatherings are frank but civil ones, in which political operatives at the top of their game accord each other a measure of professional respect.

This year, in the wake of a brutal campaign with a surprise outcome, it was clear that the wounds have not yet begun to heal. The animosity of the campaign aides mirrors the broader feelings of millions of voters on both sides.

Campaign officials lashed out at each other, and also against the media — which neither side believed had treated it fairly.

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook also acknowledged that her operation had made a number of mistakes and miscalculations, while being buffeted by what he repeatedly described as a “headwind” of being an establishment candidate in a season where voters were anxious for change.

He noted, for example, that younger voters, perhaps assuming that Clinton was going to win, migrated to third-party candidates in the final days of the race.

Where the campaign needed to win upwards of 60 percent of young voters, it was able to garner something “in the high 50s at the end of the day,” Mook said. “That’s why we lost.”

He and others also faulted FBI Director James Comey for deciding in the waning days before the election to revive the controversy over Clinton’s use of a private email system.

Trump officials said Clinton’s problems went beyond tactics to her weaknesses as a candidate and the deficits of a message that consisted largely of trying to make Trump unacceptable.

David Bossie, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, taunted Mook: “You call it “headwinds,’ I call it self-inflicted wounds.”

Conway added, “There’s a difference for voters between what offends you and what affects you,” arguing that Trump was speaking more directly to people’s anxieties and needs.

Strategists for Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who waged a strong challenge against Clinton for the Democratic nomination, agreed. “There was a large part of the Democratic primary electorate who had concerns about the secretary’s veracity and forthrightness,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s campaign manager.

Clinton’s campaign insisted, again and again, that their candidate had been held to a different standard than the other contenders — as evidenced by the controversy over her use of a private email system while secretary of state.

Palmieri contended that many political journalists had a personal dislike for the Democratic nominee, and predicted that the email issue will go down in history as “the most grossly overrated, over-covered and most destructive story in all of presidential politics.”

“If I made one mistake, it was legitimizing the way the press covered this storyline,” Palmieri said.

Mook added that Trump deftly used his rally speeches to “switch up the news cycle.”

“The media by and large was not covering what Hillary Clinton was choosing to say,” Mook said. “They were treating her like the likely winner and they were constantly trying to unearth secrets and expose.”

For instance, Mook posited the media did not scrutinize Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns as intensively as Clinton’s private email server.

Conway retorted: “Oh, my God, that question was vomited to me every day on TV.”

The strangest criticism of the media, however, was by Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

His complaint: Journalists accurately reported what Trump said.

“This is the problem with the media. You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally,” Lewandowski said. “The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”

At a dinner the previous evening, CNN chief executive Jeff Zucker was heckled during a panel discussion about the media by operatives from several losing Republican campaigns, who accused the network of showering Trump with free publicity.

To win the GOP nomination, Trump vanquished a highly credentialed field of 16 other Republicans, some of whom were backed up by tens of millions of dollars in outside spending. What his opponents failed to recognize, until it was too late, was that 2016 would be an year unlike any other, in which the standard rules would not apply.

“The uniqueness of this cycle made it such that some of those traditional kind of avenues became less effective,” said Danny Diaz, who managed the campaign of the presumed early frontrunner, former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

“Money and mechanics matter, but passion about a candidate matters more,” added Mike DuHaime, a strategist for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), another establishment figure in the race.

Barry Bennett, the campaign manager for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, said of voters: “What they wanted more than anything else was strength, and Donald Trump was supplying it every day.”

Clinton consultant Mandy Grunwald had a darker interpretation, which she expressed in an icy backhanded compliment to the Trump team: “I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for the negative campaign you ran”

She noted that the murky corners of the internet were rife with false stories that Clinton was in dire health, and on the verge of going to prison. “I hear this heroic story of him connecting with voters,” Grunwald said. “But there was a very impressive gassing of her.”

Benenson, meanwhile, served notice that the election may be over but that the battles it spawned are not.

“You guys won, that’s clear,” Benenson said. “But let’s be honest. Don’t act as if you have a popular mandate for your message. The fact of the matter is that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump.”

At which point Conway turned to her side and said: “Hey, guys, we won. You don’t have to respond. He was the better candidate. That’s why he won.”

This can’t be surprising for those who read stories about how family members have been disinvited to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner over the election results. Not only does that make you wonder how committed that family is to each other, it also proves, as this does, that government is far, far, far, far, far too large and powerful, if the stakes in the election result in this kind of juvenile behavior.

The flag-burning flip-flopper

The Washington Post reports unsurprising news:

President-elect Donald Trump, who on Tuesday suggested jailing or stripping the citizenship of those who burn the American flag, offered a different view less than six months before joining the presidential race.

During a Jan. 8, 2015, appearance on CBS’s “The Late Show,” Trump told then-host David Letterman that he was “100 percent right” when Letterman said that flag burning represented freedom of expression and that people should be allowed to do so.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” Trump told Letterman.

Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Trump’s appearance with Letterman came as the businessman and reality television star was still contemplating a presidential bid. He would formally join the crowded Republican field in June 2015.

The first segment of the interview touched on Trump’s political ambitions, his disdain for Obamacare and his hair.

During the second segment of the interview, Letterman and Trump started talking about the then-recent terrorist attacks at the office of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The publication was well-known for publishing material that mocked Islam.

As the conversation turned to freedom of expression, Letterman brought up flag burning.

“Here’s the example that I’m always proud of as an American,” the host told Trump. “People, to demonstrate, they think, we’re really gonna stick it the United States. ‘We’re going to set fire to the flag.’ ”

“Yeah, right,” Trump said.

“And people get — ‘Oh my God!’ ” Letterman said. “Well, no. If that’s how you feel, go ahead and burn the flag. Because this country is far greater than that symbol, and that symbol is standing for freedom of expression.”

“Sure. You’re 100 percent right,” Trump said, noting that Letterman seemed worked up about the issue. “I understand where you’re coming from. It’s terrific.”

On Tuesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to say that “nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag.”

If they do, Trump wrote, “there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail.”

The president-elect’s tweet appeared to have been inspired by news coverage of an episode at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., where students burned a flag in protest of Trump’s election victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Well, Eugene Volokh reports …

Contrary to President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet, even if flag-burning weren’t protected by the First Amendment (and it is), you couldn’t strip people of their citizenship for it.

Let’s begin with the constitutional text, here from section 1 of the 14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Once you have American citizenship, you have a constitutional entitlement to it. If you like your American citizenship, you can keep your American citizenship — and that’s with the Supreme Court’s guarantee, see Afroyim v. Rusk (1967):

There is no indication in these words of a fleeting citizenship, good at the moment it is acquired but subject to destruction by the Government at any time. Rather the Amendment can most reasonably be read as defining a citizenship which a citizen keeps unless he voluntarily relinquishes it. Once acquired, this Fourteenth Amendment citizenship was not to be shifted, canceled, or diluted at the will of the Federal Government, the States, or any other governmental unit.

(Special bonus in Afroyim: a cameo appearance by a Representative Van Trump in 1868, who said, among other things, “To enforce expatriation or exile against a citizen without his consent is not a power anywhere belonging to this Government. No conservative-minded statesman, no intelligent legislator, no sound lawyer has ever maintained any such power in any branch of the Government.”) In Vance v. Terrazas (1980), all the justices agreed with this principle.

Now, as with almost all things in law — and in life — there are some twists. Naturalized citizens can lose their citizenship if they procured their citizenship by lying on their citizenship applications; the premise there is that legal rights have traditionally been voided by fraud in procuring those rights. And citizens can voluntarily surrender their citizenship, just as people can generally waive many of their legal rights; this surrender can sometimes be inferred from conduct (such as voluntary service in an enemy nation’s army), if the government can show that the conduct was engaged in with the intent to surrender citizenship.

But flag-burning, whether or not it is intended to express contempt for the United States (and burning an American flag, like flying the Confederate flag, can have many possible intentions), is generally not accompanied by an intent to renounce U.S. citizenship, nor is it generally evidence of any such intent. A college student’s expression of contempt for the college’s administration, or the college as a whole, doesn’t mean an intent to drop out of the college — it’s entirely consistent with an intent to make the best of a bad situation, or even to take advantage of the benefits provided by an institution that one despises. One might consider such an attitude dishonorable, depending on the circumstances, but it’s very plausible that the contemptuous student would have that attitude. That is even more clearly so as to a citizen’s expression of contempt for the current American administration, or even America as a whole (if that’s the flag-burner’s attitude), given how costly surrender of citizenship would be, especially when one lacks another country that will take one in.

So even if flag-burning could be made criminal (and, I note again, it can’t be), the 14th Amendment protects the flag-burner’s citizenship, just as it protects other criminals’ citizenship.

So what (beyond Trump’s usual position change of the moment on the issue of the moment) is going on? The Post also reports:

The Republican president-elect’s tweet rattled civil liberties and legal experts, who were quick to note that the Supreme Court ruled long ago that flag desecration is considered free speech and that it is unconstitutional to punish someone by stripping their citizenship.

But whatever Trump had in mind, the president-elect’s outburst underscored a key aspect of his three-week-old transition: He is continuing to cater to his base — the largely white, working-class voters that propelled him to the White House — with relatively few overtures to the majority of voters who cast ballots against him.

“Trump won rural America, where support of the flag is a big issue,” said Scott Reed, a longtime Republican strategist who served as Bob Dole’s campaign manager in 1996. “A lot of those homes that had Trump signs out front were also flying American flags. This is clearly part of his base politics.”

The same dynamic will play out Thursday when Trump kicks off a “Thank You Tour” with a campaign-style rally of supporters in Ohio. Aides have suggested the tour will include other states where the Republican prevailed, including some traditionally Democratic ones where he won in part by driving up the rural white vote.

Since defeating Hillary Clinton in electoral college votes on Nov. 8, Trump has made some efforts to reach out beyond his base with Cabinet picks that have pleased the GOP establishment. Those include Elaine Chao, a former labor secretary and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom Trump announced as his transportation secretary on Tuesday.

But there has been little in Trump’s actions so far to suggest that he is courting the Democrats who voted against him, nor working to shore up an approval ranking still in negative territory. He has instead spent recent days making unfounded claims about illegal votes costing him the popular vote against Clinton and attacking CNN and other media for how they cover him — the kind of rhetoric that fired up his supporters during a bruising campaign season in which he also rallied on illegal immigration and lost manufacturing jobs.

“This is going to be one of the new dynamics of this incoming administration,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “It speaks to how Trump is able to generate a national conversation in 140 characters. . . . The polite society part of Washington is going to be scratching their heads and sometimes flat on their backs.”

Tuesday was also not the first time Trump has suggested a narrower view of the First Amendment and the rights it affords. During the campaign, he also blacklisted reporters from The Washington Post and other news outlets who fell out of his favor and suggested that he would “open up” libel laws to make it easier to sue the news media.

In 1989, the Supreme Court struck down on First Amendment grounds a Texas statute banning flag-burning. Congress responded swiftly by passing the Flag Protection Act of 1989 — a law that was invalidated a year later by another Supreme Court ruling.

Among the justices who supported the right burn a flag in both cases was the late Antonin Scalia, whom Trump has said is “in the mold” of those he’d like to appoint to the court.

“If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag,” Scalia said an event last year. But, he said: “I am not king.”

Nearly a half-century ago, in 1967, the court also ruled that citizens cannot be deprived of their citizenship involuntarily.

Aware of those rulings, Republican leaders in Washington were loath to offer support for Trump’s view. McConnell said the Supreme Court had spoken on the subject of flag-burning, adding that the Constitution protects even “unpleasant speech.”

During a television appearance shortly after Trump’s tweet, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested that Congress is unlikely to revisit the issue of a constitutional amendment to overturn the court’s rulings.

“We have a First Amendment right, but where I come from, you honor the flag,” McCarthy said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “If someone wanted to show their First Amendment right, I’d be afraid for their safety, but we’ll protect our First Amendment.”

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller defended his boss’s position during an appearance on CNN.

“Flag-burning should be illegal,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

The issue appeared to be an uncomfortable one for some in Trump’s party, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McCain initially told reporters on Capitol Hill that he thinks there should be “some punishment” for flag-burning despite his respect for the court rulings. But McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, grew testy as reporters continued to pepper him with questions about Trump’s tweet.

“My time is devoted to trying to make sure this nation is secured, not to comment on every comment of Mr. Trump,” McCain said.

The flag-burning debate has been rekindled a number of times in the past quarter-century. A 2005 bill sponsored by Clinton, then a senator from New York, would have outlawed flag desecration when the intent was found to be a threat to public safety. Violations would have been punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

A year later, the Senate narrowly failed to approve a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning, with McConnell among those voting in opposition.

On Tuesday, several liberal advocacy groups voiced dismay that Trump was seeking to revisit those debates.

“One of the founding principles of our nation is tolerance of peaceful protest,” said Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 2011, a State of the First Amendment survey found that 39 percent supported a constitutional amendment to make flag-burning illegal while 58 percent opposed it. The survey presented brief arguments for both positions before posing the question.

Earlier polls that did not explicitly mention First Amendment issues found more support for making flag-burning illegal. In a 2006 Gallup-USA Today poll, 56 percent said they would favor a constitutional amendment, while 41 percent said they were opposed.

Reed, the longtime Republican consultant who now works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Trump was reflecting the views of his base on the issue.

“This guy’s got his finger on the pulse of the country more than most,” Reed said.

Here’s an interesting rejoinder to Rowland: Is burning the flag peaceful protest? Since at minimum burning the flag is destruction of property, is burning the flag a protest or the equivalent of throwing a brick into an offending organization’s window?

Reed may be correct that Trump is playing to his base. That is why we have a Constitution and Bill of Rights, to protect political minorities from the majority.

i’m not a constitutional scholar, so I don’t know how a bill to ban flag-burning could pass constitutional muster. Scalia knew more about the Constitution than Trump does and certainly respected it more than Trump does.

The New York Times vs. gun control

Dan Mitchell:

When I write about gun control, I generally make two arguments.

  • First, criminals are lawbreakers, so the notion that they will be disarmed because of gun control is a fantasy. Crooks and thugs who really want a gun will always have access to black-market weapons.
  • Second, to the extent that good people obey bad gun-control laws (and hopefully they won’t), that will encourage more criminal activity since bad people will be less worried about armed resistance.

These points are common sense, but they doesn’t seem to convince many leftists, who have a religious-type faith that good intentions will produce good results (they need to read Bastiat!).

Every so often, however, the other side accidentally messes up.

As part of its never-ending, ideologically driven campaign to undermine gun rights, the New York Times ran a big 5,000-plus word story last month about mass shootings. Creating hostility to guns was the obvious goal of this “news” report.

But buried in all that verbiage was a remarkable admission. A big majority of shooters already are in violation of gun laws.

The New York Times examined all 130 shootings last year in which four or more people were shot, at least one fatally, and investigators identified at least one attacker. …64 percent of the shootings involved at least one attacker who violated an existing gun law.

And for the 36 percent of the nutjobs in the story who purchased or obtained guns legally, almost all of them presumably would have gotten their hands on weapons even if they had to violate minor laws on guns prior to violating major laws against murder.

So what the New York Times and other anti-second amendment activists are really saying is that honest people should be defenseless even though bad guys always will have the ability to arm themselves. And by making such a preposterous claim, they actually provided ammo (pun intended) for those of us who defend the Second Amendment.

Presty the DJ for Dec. 1

The number one single today in 1958:

The number one British single today in 1966:

The number one single today in 1973:

Today in 1987, a Kentucky teacher lost her U.S. Supreme Court appeal over her firing for showing Pink Floyd’s movie “The Wall” to her class over its language and sexual content.

The school board that fired the teacher apparently figured that they don’t need her education.

<!–more–>

Birthdays begin with one-hit wonder Billy Paul:

Lou Rawls:

Drummer Sandy Nelson (who played drums on the aforementioned 1958 single):

Eric Bloom of Blue Öyster Cult …

… was born the same day John Densmore, the Doors drummer:

It’s Recountarama!

Starting Thursday, every county will have to recount the presidential election votes, thanks to two third-party candidates who insisted for reasons known only to themselves on a recount.

The $3.5 million recount is at the behest of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who got 31,000 Wisconsinites to vote for her.

What is this about? Kevin Binversie has one theory:

If Federal Elections Commissions records are to be believed, Jill Stein and her campaign raised more money to finance recounts for Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania than they did during her entire presidential campaign . It’s hard not to look at that kind of quick cash grab and believe that what’s about to take place over the next two week is one part con, one part scam, and three parts psychological exercise in overcoming denial.

They’ve actually done this before In 2004, they fed on the panic of Democrats supporting John Kerry and staged a one-state recount of Ohio. The result, according to the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel was a minimal change to the end result.

In 2004, when many Democrats asked whether Ohio had been lost to voter suppression, the Green Party teamed up with the Libertarian Party to pay for a recount. David Cobb, the then-presidential candidate for the Green Party, had not even appeared on Ohio’s ballot, but he helped raise $150,000 to start the recount process. “Due to widespread reports of irregularities in the Ohio voting process,” said Cobb and Michael Badnarik, the then-presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, “we are compelled to demand a recount of the Ohio presidential vote. Voting is the heart of the democratic process in which we as a nation put our faith.”

The result: Democrat John F. Kerry gained a bit less than 300 votes on George W. Bush, making virtually no difference in the margin.

Expect a similar result in the recount planned for Wisconsin; with the likelihood of  500 or so votes moving around by the time it’s all said and done.

Simply put, if there was going to be any sort of vast change to the margin between Trump and Clinton in Wisconsin, it would have already happened during the statewide canvass. In fact, it did. In addition to announcing the recount challenge by Stein, the state Election Board announced the “certified, official results.” They put Trump’s margin of victory at 22,177 votes.

The “unofficial tally” from the Associated Press on Election Day was 27,257 .

Now before conspiracy mongers on both sides of the aisle start thinking something is going on, realize that since elections are run by people they’re prone to error. The likelihood of these errors increase as county and municipal clerks rush to get results out to a feverishly waiting media and public.

This doesn’t mean anything scandalous or foul is underway as some believe happened in Outagamie County . It just means that mistakes happen from time to time. Numbers and tallies get written down wrong and reported as such. Votes which were counted and reported by one media outlet, may not get reported by the rest. (Brookfield 2011, anyone? )

As for any reports about the system being hacked either statewide or in certain counties of Wisconsin, that continues to be rumors and theories without much proof. The folks at 538.com  have been doing all they can to debunk it.

We found no apparent correlation between voting method and outcome in six of the eight states, and a thin possible link between voting method and results in Wisconsin and Texas. However, the two states showed opposite results: The use of any machine voting in a county was associated with a 5.6-percentage-point reduction in Democratic two-party vote share in Wisconsin but a 2.7-point increase in Texas, both of which were statistically significant. Even if we focus only on Wisconsin, the effect disappears when we weight our results by population. More than 75 percent of Wisconsin’s population lives in the 23 most populous counties, which don’t appear to show any evidence for an effect driven by voting systems. To have effectively manipulated the statewide vote total, hackers probably would have needed to target some of these larger counties. When we included all counties but weighted the regression by the number of people living in each county, the statistical significance of the opposite effects in Wisconsin and Texas both evaporated.Even if the borderline significant result for Wisconsin didn’t vanish when weighting by population, it would be doubtful, for a few reasons. You’re more likely to find a significant result when you make multiple tests, as we did by looking at eight states with and without weighting by population. Also, different places in Wisconsin and Texas use different kinds of voting machines; presumably if someone really did figure out how to hack certain machines, we’d see different results depending on which type of machines were used in a county, but we don’t. And Nate Cohn of The New York Times found that when he added another control variable to race and education — density of the population — the effect of paper ballots vanished.

Sadly, in our new “Post-Truth America,” facts, figures, and data don’t matter as much as feelings, instincts, and rumor. Otherwise, how else would Jill Stein and the Green Party been able to scam enough people willing to give her $5 million for recounts which might not even happen or change the outcome?

And now, the (fake) news

A. Barton Hinkle:

Fake news on social media has gotten so bad that it threatens democracy itself, according to President Obama and a host of other deep thinkers. Why, a recent study by Buzzfeed concludes that fake news beat out real news during the past three months of the election. And we all know how that turned out.

There are at least two problems with this. First, the epidemic of fake news is overstated. Second, fake news is far from new.

The Washington Examiner‘s Tim Carney took the trouble to look beyond the headlineabout the Buzzfeed analysis. Turns out the “analysis” was not at all rigorous. It compared only the Facebook engagement metrics—the number of shares, reactions, and comments—for a small handful of stories.

The top fake story—about Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump—got 960,000 engagements. The top real story, comparing Trump’s level of corruption to Clinton’s, got 849,000 engagements. If Facebook were the only source for news, that could be alarming—although it’s worth noting that engagement does not equal acceptance. How many of the comments on the Pope Francis story amounted to “Yeah, right!”?

But Facebook isn’t the only source of news. Consider: The pope story comes from EndtheFed.org. According to Alexa, which monitors internet traffic, EndtheFed.org is the 2,488,992nd most popular website in the world. In the U.S. alone, more than 363,000 websites are more popular. Compare that to the Washington Post, which is the source for Facebook’s second-most-engaged story. It ranks 195th in the world and 40th in the United States. In one month, the Post can rack up 770 million page views. Last October it had seven stories that topped more than 1 million page views each.

So: “Fake News Beats Real News” turns out to be… fake news.

In any event, the concern-trolling about fake news likely has more to do with the fact that Trump won—and the top five fake-news stories cited by Buzzfeed all were slanted heavily against Hillary Clinton. This has led to some hand-wringing in the media, which is a bit rich. Most of the media despise Trump, for a simple reason: Much about him is despicable. Yet the hands being wrung in this case are far from clean.

If the fake-news epidemic were real, then Patient Zero wouldn’t be Facebook, it would be The New York Times. The Times‘ record for disseminating agitprop dates back at least to the early 1930s, when Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer for his reporting that denied the existence of famines in Soviet Russia—during a period when millions were dying of starvation.

More recently, The Times has given the nation the Jayson Blair fabrications—which it followed up with the infamous 2004 story, “Memos on Bush Are Fake But Accurate, Typist Says.” It followed that up four years later with a story implying that GOP presidential candidate John McCain had had an affair with a lobbyist. (The lobbyist sued, and reached a settlement with the paper.)

Over the years other pillars of the media also have fallen on their faces. NBC News had to confess that it rigged GM trucks with incendiary devices for an explosive Dateline segment. The Washington Postgave up a Pulitzer after learning that Janet Cooke’s reporting about an 8-year-old heroin addict was false. In 1998 the Cincinnati Enquirer renounced its own series alleging dark doings by the Chiquita banana company. That same year, CNN retracted its story alleging “that the U.S. military used nerve gas in a mission to kill American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam War.” The San Jose Mercury News had to denounce its own series alleging that the CIA was to blame for the crack cocaine epidemic. Rolling Stone just got hit with a big libel judgment for its now-retracted story about a rape at U.Va. And so on.

Then there are the broader deceptions, such as the wide reporting on a church-burning epidemic—a rash of racially motivated arsons targeting black churches in the 1990s. There was just one problem: It was mostly false. Many of the fires were accidental, and those that were not were often started by African-Americans. Made a heck of a story, though.

More recently, many news organizations attacked Mitt Romney’s claims that the Obama administration had “gutted” welfare reform. The claim was backed by lots (and lots) of evidence, but media types were not content to call it debatable; they insisted it had been “debunked”—because that’s what the Obama White House insisted.

Oh—and many news outlets also reported Buzzfeed‘s misleading story about fake news. Kind of ironic, that.

To be fair, professional news organizations that discover flaws in their own reporting admit the mistakes in public and do whatever they can to correct the record. That sometimes entails exhaustive forensic investigations into suspect articles, with full disclosure of the results. Purveyors of fake news, obviously, do nothing of the sort.

Yes, it’s troubling to see the circulation of false right-wing narratives on the internet. But that doesn’t mean the purveyors of false left-wing narratives should get veto power over what the rest of us read.

As pointed out, the problem is that the mainstream news media has reported false news before, and not just during confusing breaking news (for instance, Lyndon Johnson’s shooting and heart attack following John F. Kennedy’s assassination), but, as Breitbart is happy to list:

Walter Duranty and the Holodomor: The mother of all fake news stories must be New York Times reporter Walter Duranty helping Stalin’s Russia conceal the Holodomor from the world. Duranty helped the communists cover up one of the worst crimes against humanity ever perpetrated, the forced starvation of over 1.5 million people in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933.

This was the worst of many lies Duranty told in the service of Soviet communism. His fake news helped sell communism to impressionable people around the world and changed the course of history. It’s one of two fake news items on this list sanctified with a Pulitzer Prize, which has not been revoked despite strong calls to do so. (In essence, the Pulitzer committee insists Duranty deserves his prize for everything he wrote that wasn’t an outrageous lie.)

The New York Times institutionally refuses to condemn Duranty or acknowledge the depths of his deception, portraying him as the victim of Stalin’s “powerful and omnipresent” propaganda machine – an excuse heard again from the mainstream media in other settings over the years, when they explain how they had to play ball with horrible dictatorships in order to gain access. CNN executive Eason Jordan’s 2003 explanation for why his network concealed so much grisly news from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is a prime example.

Saturday Night Fever: Not many people realize that one of the most celebrated movies of the Seventies was based on a fake news story. The script for Saturday Night Fever was supposedly a fictionalized account of a real disco dancer’s life and times, but the author of the 1976 New York magazine story that launched the movie, Nik Cohn, eventually admitted he made it all up.

Cohn claims that he did see someone similar to the character John Travolta made famous at a disco in New York, but when he was unable to track the man down for an interview, he “conjured up the story” and “presented it as fact.” Given how popular the movie and disco culture became, this has to be counted as one of the most influential fake news stories.

Janet Cooke’s imaginary 8-year-old heroin addict: The fake news manufactured by Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke received a Pulitzer Prize, but unlike Duranty’s, it was revoked after her deception was uncovered.

In a meticulous 2016 account of Cooke’s story, Mike Sager at the Columbia Journalism Review dubbed her “the fabulist who changed journalism,” and made a compelling case for her 1980 story about “Jimmy’s World” as one of the first examples of “viral” journalism. The Post wanted a superstar young black female journalist, and Cooke delivered with a searing story about an 8-year-old heroin addict in Washington, D.C. named Jimmy, a “precious little boy” who had “needle marks freckling the baby-smooth skin of his thin, brown arms.”

The story was so widely repeated, so influential, that Mayor Marion Barry’s administration began scouring the city to rescue Jimmy from his hideous guardians. They couldn’t find the boy because he didn’t exist. Cooke made the whole thing up. (When city officials asked Cooke to tell them where they could find Jimmy, she refused, and the Washington Post invoked her First Amendment right to protect her sources.)

The hoax was exposed when the Pulitzer board bent its rules to nudge Cooke’s local-news story into the national-news category, eager to bestow the very first Pulitzer Prize upon an African-American woman. Cooke submitted a resume to the Pulitzer board which included suspicious discrepancies from the resume she gave to her former employers at the Toledo Blade. When her Washington Post editors questioned her about these discrepancies, she finally confessed, “There is no Jimmy and no family. It was a fabrication. I want to give the prize back.”

Retrospectives on “Jimmy’s World” routinely describe it as a pivotal moment when journalism changed forever… except, as you’ll see below, it didn’t. Janet Cooke was just the first in a line of superstar Big Media fabulists, and her successors were much worse than she was – they fabricated more than one story, and they should have been easier to catch, given the electronic information resources available to their editors.

Another common observation about “Jimmy’s World” is that it slipped past the fact-checking and editorial layers of a major publication because everyone wanted to believe it. Cooke was given not just credit, but credibility for meaning well. The mainstream media keeps making that mistake, with both its own reporters and the political figures it covers.

Dateline NBC rigs a truck to explode: In 1993, NBC News delivered a historic public apology for staging the test crash of a General Motors pickup truck for the Dateline NBC program. The reporters wanted to demonstrate that gas could leak from the truck’s fuel tank and cause a dangerous fire after a crash, so they rigged it with explosives.

“We deeply regret we included the inappropriate demonstration in our ‘Dateline’ report. We apologize to our viewers and to General Motors. We have also concluded that unscientific demonstrations should have no place in hard news stories at NBC. That’s our new policy,” the statement declared, leading viewers with some unresolved questions about why it wasn’t their old policy, too.

Dateline NBC was far from the only example of dubious product-safety reporting. It wasn’t even the first time a vehicle was rigged to explode for a major network consumer report.

Stephen Glass: The enduring icon of fake news is Stephen Glass, whose fall from grace was chronicled in a major motion picture, Shattered Glass. The truth caught up with him in 1998, when it was discovered a great deal of the content he produced for The New Republic and other publications was wholly or partially falsified. In recent times, Glass hasrevealed that he repaid The New Republic, Rolling Stone, and Policy Review at least $200,000 for over forty fabricated stories.

There has been considerable soul-searching over the years about why Glass was able to fool so many editors for so long. The story that brought him down was such a ridiculous fraud – a piece about a major software firm supposedly hiring a teenage hacker who penetrated its payroll system, in which virtually every detail was invented, including the non-existent software company – that it became obvious no one was editing or fact-checking Glass in any meaningful way.

Some speculated Glass fooled so many editors because he had “wonder boy” star power and great personal charisma. Others thought it was because he understood and flattered the biases and expectations of the publications he worked for – he sold them stories they wanted to publish, surfing the early wave of “narrative” obsession that has completely consumed mainstream journalism over the past two decades. Glass invented people, organizations, and events that lived down to his publishers’ darkest expectations of every social group and profession except their own.

He was so productive, and so good at fabricating “evidence” to back up his claims, that it simply didn’t occur to his marks that he might be faking so much of his work. (A fascinating 1998 Vanity Fair account of Glass’ downfall noted that he instantly whipped up a phony website for the software company he invented for his final phony article, and drafted his brother to leave phone voice mails in the role of an imaginary company executive, when he learned fact-checkers were digging into the story.) Why generate fraudulent stories when honest reporting would have been less work?

Those are blind spots that broadly affect news consumers, and producers, to this day. Detail implies veracity, we incorrectly assume that only lazy writers would fabricate stories, and too many stories are “too good to check.”

Jayson Blair: New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was investigated by his newspaper in 2003 and accused of inventing numerous reports. He was especially prone to inventing news reports supposedly filed from other cities, while he was in fact working from his apartment in Brooklyn. However, the scandal that ultimately prompted his resignation involved accusations of plagiarism in a story he filed about the family of a soldier missing in Iraq.

The NYT conceded that Blair’s career of fabulism was a “profound betrayal of trust, and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.” Tough questions were asked about how the paper missed so many obvious signs of Blair’s mendacity, including the troubling detail that he never filed travel expenses for all the cities he was supposedly visiting.

As with Glass, it seemed as if Blair only got caught because he was trying to get caught, pushing the boundaries of trust until his deceptions could no longer be ignored – and even then, it was accusations of deception and plagiarism from other news outlets that brought him down, even though the New York Times knew his work was problematic, and he had already been given several warnings. (And, of course, everyone involved should have remembered the story of Stephen Glass, which was only five years old at the time.)

The Times’ internal investigation concluded Blair’s deceit was able to continue for so long due to “a failure of communication among senior editors; few complaints from the subjects of his articles; his savviness and his ingenious ways of covering his tracks,” and most importantly, the fact that “no one saw his carelessness as a sign that he was capable of systematic fraud.”

The latter judgment seems unfair to the editors who did see signs of systematic fraud, but were unable to get Blair terminated before his work led to one of the biggest scandals in the newspaper’s history. Other post-mortems of the Blair affair put more blame on top management for creating a toxic environment where editors were afraid to voice serious concerns.

Blair resurfaced recently with an op-ed chastising the media for… failing to fact-check Donald Trump aggressively enough during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Rathergate: The pivotal scandal of the New Media era was the pitiful end of Dan Rather’s career at CBS News – a debacle so devastating to legacy media that liberals still try to rewrite its history, every time they think nobody’s looking. Rather and his producer Mary Mapes tried to throw the 2004 election (and, in the minds of the strongest critics, America’s war effort in Iraq) with a phony story about George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service, complete with falsified documents from the 1960s that were demonstrably generated using 2004-era word processing software.

Rathergate was a tremendous blow to the credibility of CBS News, which generated a fresh tidal wave of fake news stories to protect Rather after his report on Bush was detonated by bloggers. The cover-up was bigger than the original crime, and the original crime against journalism was shocking, because even the CBS internal investigation – which many critics found redolent of whitewash – found that several production and management people allowed the story to air, even though they knew the documents could not be authenticated.

The Rathergate disaster gave us one of the most enduring phrases for discussions of media bias: “fake, but accurate.” There were some spirited arguments in 2004 and 2005 about whether falsified reporting was acceptable, provided the story held Deeper Truth.

The proto-Tea Party gun scare: There was a lot of fake reporting surrounding the Tea Party movement. One of the most memorable examples was MSNBC breathlessly warning about “white people showing up with guns” at the 2009 health care reform rallies that were precursors to the Tea Party. The segment included a great deal of hyperventilation about the alleged anger of white people over “a black person being president,” and the commensurate rise of “hate groups.”

MSNBC illustrated its claim with footage of an armed man at a rally after President Obama’s speech to the VFW in Phoenix, Arizona. The footage was edited to conceal that the man was, in fact, black.

Oceans of ink were spilled over the following years about how the health care protesters, and later the Tea Party, were dangerous. Assertions about armed racists stalking the fringes of the movement were a common element of this caricature.

George Zimmerman’s edited 911 call: The media was very interested in keeping the George Zimmerman – Trayvon Martin story hot, fresh, and outrageous, eagerly stirring a bubbling pot of racial paranoia for political and ratings reasons. A great deal of the early reporting about the Trayvon Martin shooting could be classified as “fake news.” Who can forget the widely circulated images of Martin as a baby-faced child, even though reporters knew that wasn’t what he looked like at the time of his death?

The nadir of fake news in the Zimmerman-Martin story was reached when NBC News deliberately, maliciously edited a recording of the call Zimmerman placed to 911 on the night of the February 2012 shooting, to make it sound as if Zimmerman was obsessed with Martin’s race. NBC reporters even tried to convince viewers Zimmerman used a racial epthet.

The adventures of Brian Williams: Brian Williams’ anchorman career at NBC News came to an end in 2015 after he was accused of lying about taking enemy fire while helicoptering into Iraq in 2003. The accusation came from soldiers who were aboard the helicopter. Williams told the story repeatedly, over a span of years, before he was called out.

NBC executives recalled having a great deal of difficulty getting Williams to admit he lied, and offer an unqualified apology. Amazingly, Williams still has a career in broadcast journalism.

The Rolling Stone rape hoax: The biggest recent fake news story is the appallingRolling Stone rape hoax, which led to a successful defamation suit against the magazine, its publisher, and reporter Sabrina Erdely by an administrator at the University of Virginia.

Erdely claims she was deceived by the subject of her story, a young woman known as “Jackie” who claimed to have been gang-raped by a University of Virginia fraternity. Attorneys for U-Va. administrator Nicole Eramo argued that Erdely and Rolling Stonepushed ahead with the story even though it had numerous inconsistencies that could not be resolved, and none of the crucial details could be corroborated.

Critics saw the Rolling Stone saga as a paramount example of media narrative obsession run amok, a story the magazine wanted to be true so much that they ignored substantial evidence it wasn’t. Those critics also point to the vitriolic response leveled at anyone who correctly questioned the story after it was published. The campus rape epidemic was a story the media and its favorite politicians were very interested in covering; the presumptive victim was given endless benefit of the doubt, while the accused fraternity and its administrative enablers were granted none.

Another interesting aspect of the Rolling Stone hoax is the way details were accepted as evidence of veracity. Just as Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair made their fake stories look plausible by peppering them with plenty of little details, so Jackie impressed Erdely and her magazine’s fact-checkers by providing highly detailed answers to their questions. The fact that none of those details could actually be confirmed did nothing to derail the Fake News Express.

Glenn Kessler has some help:

Determine whether the article is from a legitimate website

There’s ABC News, the television network, with the Web address of abcnews.go.com. And there’s ABC News, the fake news website, with the Web address of abcnews.com.co.

The use of “.co” at the end of the URL is a strong clue you are looking at a fake news website. (It signifies the Internet country code domain assigned to the country of Colombia.) But there are other signs as well.

Check the ‘contact us’ page

Some fake news sites don’t have any contact information, which easily demonstrates it’s phony. The fake “ABC News” does have a “contact us” page — but it shows a picture of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. (An inside joke?) The real television network is based in New York City, housed in a 13-story building on 66th Street.

Examine the byline of the reporter and see whether it makes sense

On the fake ABC News site there is an article claiming a protester was paid $3,500 to protest Trump. It’s supposedly written by Jimmy Rustling. “Dr. Jimmy Rustling has won many awards for excellence in writing including fourteen Peabody awards and a handful of Pulitzer Prizes,” the author biography claims. If that doesn’t seem absurd, then how about the fact that he claims to have a Russian mail order bride of almost two months and “also spends 12-15 hours each day teaching their adopted 8-year-old Syrian refugee daughter how to read and write.”

All of the details are signs that “Dr. Rustling” is not a real person.

Read the article closely

Many fake articles have made-up quotes that do not pass the laugh test. About midway through the article on the protest, the founder of Snopes.com — which debunks fakes news on the Internet — is suddenly “quoted,” saying he approves of the article. It also goes on to describe Snopes as “a website known for its biased opinions and inaccurate information they write about stories on the internet.” It’s like a weird inside joke, and in the readers’ minds it should raise immediate red flags.

Scrutinize the sources

Sometimes fake articles are based on merely a tweet. The New York Times documented how the fake news that anti-Trump protesters were bused in started with a single, ill-informed tweet by a man with just 40 followers. Another apparently fake story, that Trump fed police officers working protests in Chicago, also started with a tweet — by a man who wasn’t even there but was passing along a claim made by “friends.” The tweeter also has a locked account, making the “news” highly dubious. Few real news stories are based on a single tweet, with no additional confirmation.

If the article has no links to legitimate sources — or links at all — that’s another telltale sign that you are reading fake news.

Look at the ads

A profusion of pop-up ads or other advertising indicates you should handle the story with care. Another sign is a bunch of sexy ads or links, designed to be clicked — “Celebs who did Porn Movies” or “Naughty Walmart Shoppers Who have no Shame at All” — which you generally do not find on legitimate news sites.

Use search engines to double-check

A simple Google search often will quickly tell you if the news you are reading is fake. Our friends at Snopes have also compiled a Field Guide to Fake News Sites, allowing you to check whether the article comes from a fraudster. There is also a website called RealorSatire.com that allows you to post the URL of any article and it will quickly tell you if the article comes from a fake or biased news website.

In a way, describing Assistant Professor Melissa Zimdars’ list of online outlets to be wary of as a list of “fake news” sites is itself a little misleading. But that is how the non-fake news outlets are describing her work. Zimdars, a communications professor at Merrimaack College in Massachusetts, put together a list of what she calls “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources.'”

Only two of those modifiers suggest actual faked news—”false” and “satirical.” The other two words are judgment calls that we make ourselves as readers. Nevertheless, reporting is describing Zimdars’ work as a list of “fake news” sites. And there are now web browser extensions that create pop-ups to warn visitors when they’re looking at stories from one of these sites. This one by Brian and Feldman at New York Magazine uses Zimdars’ list as a foundation.

But Zimdars’ list is awful. It includes not just fake or parody sites; it includes sites with heavily ideological slants like Breitbart, LewRockwell.com, Liberty Unyielding, and Red State. These are not “fake news” sites. They are blogs that—much like Reason—have a mix of opinion and news content designed to advance a particular point of view. Red State has linked to pieces from Reason on multiple occasions, and years ago I wrote a guest commentary for Breitbart attempting to make a conservative case to support gay marriage recognition.

So what happens if Facebook staff were to look at Zimdars’ list and accept it and decide to censor the sharing of headlines from these sites? It’s within Facebook’s power and right to do so, but it would be a terrible decision on their end. They wouldn’t just be preventing the spreading of factually incorrect, fabricated stories. They would be blocking a lot of opinionated analysis from sites on the basis of their ideologies. The company would face a backlash for such a decision that could impact their bottom line.

So in an environment where “fake news” is policed by third parties that rely on expert analysis, we could see ideologically driven posts from outlets censored entirely because they’re lesser known or smaller, while larger news sites get a pass on spreading heavily ideological opinion pieces. So a decision by Facebook to censor “fake news” would heavily weigh in favor of the more mainstream and “powerful” traditional media outlets.

The lack of having a voice in the media is what caused smaller online ideology-based sites to crop up in the first place. Feldman noted that he’s already removed some sites that he believes have been included “unfairly” in Zimdars’ list. His extension also doesn’t block access to any sites in any event. It just produces a pop-up warning.

But Zimdars’ list is a very important reminder that once we start talking of trying to stop the spread of “fake” news, what’s actually going to happen is going to bad very quickly. These decisions of what is and is not fake will not stay defined to factual accuracy. And it will be based on somebody else’s idea of what is and isn’t fake, and the biases that come from such analysis.

Ultimately, the reader must decide whether or not news is impartial (if any news actually is), slanted beyond what is reasonable, or “fake.”

 

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