Category: media


Rick Esenberg dares to write in The Cap Times following this published, then depublished, cartoon:

If the American people reach a consensus on anything, it is our politics are too polarized. We falsely believe that every election is existential and while we all say that we love America, many of us seem to hate that half of the America who are on “the other side.”

How does this happen?

Neither side is free of blame, but a recent political cartoon by Mike Konopacki accompanying a column by Dave Zweifel in the Capital Times is instructive. Their target is a lawsuit filed by my organization, The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which seeks to force the Wisconsin Elections Commission to take certain steps to deactivate outdated registrations of people who have moved from — and are no longer eligible to vote at — addresses at which they are registered. I am depicted as a hangman holding and surrounded by nooses. You can vote, I say, but only if you jump through some hoops. The unmistakable subtext is a lynching.

Our case does not seek to deny anyone the opportunity to vote. It is possible that a relatively small number of people who have not actually moved will have to return a prepaid postcard saying so or, if they fail to do that, re-register to vote online, by mail or at the polls on Election Day. But they will all get to vote. To say that what we are doing is somehow the moral or metaphorical equivalent of having a mob pull you from your home and hang you from a tree is fever swamp insanity. It turns a relatively technical disagreement about the trade-offs between the ease of voting and election integrity into an overwrought drama about voter suppression and the future of “democracy.” It trivializes real evil and portrays everyday political opponents as monsters.

It is this type of vile and disgusting hyperbole — far more than Russian bots or inscrutable “dog whistles” — that has us at each other’s throats. Before people like Zweifel and Konopacki engage in unctuous and performative throat clearing about social justice, they need — to paraphrase the left — to check their own hatred. It may just be that their enemy can be found in the mirror.

Let me explain what our case is about. Wisconsin participates in a consortium called the Elections Registration Information Center established in association with the Pew Charitable Trusts. ERIC, as it is known, uses data matching techniques to identify persons who appear to have moved from the addresses at which they are registered. Voters get on the ERIC “movers” list by providing an address other than the one they are registered at in an official government transaction. In other words, the source of the information is the voter.

The Wisconsin Elections Commissions agrees that the ERIC movers list is largely accurate. The overwhelming majority of voters who it identifies as having moved have, in fact, moved. As a result, they are no longer eligible to vote at their old addresses. Removing their outdated registrations does not “purge” voters; it is an effort to comply with federal and state requirements to maintain accurate voter rolls in the interest of election efficiency and to reduce the opportunity for fraud.

The movers list is not perfect. No method of maintaining ballot integrity and accurate voter rolls ever will be. A small percentage of persons on the list may not have moved. No one knows what that percentage is, but we think, based on past experience, that the percentage of voters listed as movers who have actually moved is on the order of 94-96%.

We do not argue that anyone listed as a mover be automatically stricken from the rolls. State law provides a number of safeguards for those who may not have moved. It requires that voters identified as movers be informed of the fact and given an opportunity to continue their registrations. If they fail to do so, they may re-register by mail or online prior to the election. If they forget to do that (or overlook the notice), they can re-register when they go to vote on Election Day.
When it comes to ballot integrity, voter rights are on both sides of the balance. Even isolated voter fraud cancels lawful votes. When it comes to convenience at the polls, having multiple people registered at the same address is a bad idea. We can disagree about how best to deal with these issues. We can argue about what the law requires.

But to treat the other side as criminals, fascists, Jim Crow-racists or deplorables generates all heat and no light. It is a perfect example of what is wrong with us today.

David Blaska adds:

The Capital Times gave up persuasion long ago in favor of reinforcing the ignorance of its readers. 

Not until after he left office did “Dane County’s progressive voice” have a good word to say about Tommy Thompson, four times elected by the people of Wisconsin. History is recording Tommy as the most consequential governor of the last half of the 20th Century — and much the beloved. 

So it came as a surprise that the publication actually yanked a political cartoon after conservatives complained.

Perhaps this was Esenberg’s first exposure to The Capital Times. Cartoonist Mike Konopacki is nasty and ignorant for breakfast and hateful the rest of the time. Blood-drenched capitalist fat cats (always men) press their wingtips onto the necks of the proletariat in Konopacki world. As subtle as a May Day parade in Red Square. …

In other words, no different from your average Capital Times editorial. In the same edition this headline brays over a name-calling editorial:

“Trump and his toadies fear Wisconsin voters”

Here is how that editorial seeks to persuade:

Donald Trump is a pathetic shell of a man who fears a fair fight … [a] sad story of a son of privilege who could never succeed on his own.

Does getting elected President of the United States count as succeeding? If so, that pathetic shell of a man can thank the deplorable toadies who swung Wisconsin his way over Hillary Clinton in 2016. (And who still leads, or is within a few percentage points, of the top Democratic challengers this time around, according to the Marquette Law School poll.) …

Blaska’s Bottom Line: Political cartoons are supposed to be offensive. But kudos to conservatives for turning the tables on the perpetually grieved. A dose of their own snake oil.

Great moments in opinion journalism … not

James Wigderson:

The Madison-based Capital Times posted on Wednesday, then pulled, a cartoon depicting the president of a conservative legal organization as a hangman lynching people wanting to vote in Wisconsin.

The cartoon by artist Mike Konopacki accompanied an op-ed by Cap Times Editor Emeritus Dave Zweifel, “Don’t let the vote suppressors win in Wisconsin,” complaining about a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) against the Wisconsin Election Commission. The lawsuit seeks to force the Election Commission to follow state law and remove the voter registrations of people who have been identified as moving from the residence where they are currently registered.

The op-ed never cites the actual law, and the one example given by Zweifel of a person’s voter registration being cancelled has nothing to do with the lawsuit by WILL.

WILL President Rick Esenberg is depicted in the accompanying cartoon as a hangman with a blue hood over his head while holding a noose. Several other nooses are shown in the cartoon. Esenberg is shown saying, “The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty WILL let you vote, but first you gotta jump through some hoops.” The word “WILL” is the organization’s logo.

The cartoon is clearly indicating that voters will be lynched by WILL. The symbolism of the cartoon is especially strong given the history of actual lynchings in America over voter rights, especially of African Americans in the South during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow eras.

After the cartoon appeared, a number of conservatives objected on social media, including Collin Roth of WILL, and the Cap Times pulled the cartoon from its website by 3:00 PM. However, the cartoon remained on the Cap Times’ Twitter posts until 10:00 PM when Opinion Editor Jessie Opoien was able to complete the cartoon’s removal.

An editor’s note now accompanies the op-ed online: “A cartoon previously published with this column was determined to be in poor taste and has been removed.”

Esenberg and Opoien will be discussing the cartoon and the decision to pull it down on the Steve Scaffidi show on 620 WTMJ AM on Thursday.

Opoien responded in an email to inquiries from RightWisconsin about the decision to pull down the cartoon. She explained that Konopacki and Zweifel work together on cartoons to accompany his op-eds for the Cap Times.

Cartoonist Mike Konopacki has a long history with the Cap Times, and a long history working with Cap Times editor emeritus Dave Zweifel to illustrate his columns. As a relative newcomer to the Cap Times opinion section, and as a person who deeply values ideological diversity, I’ve tried to balance a great number of competing interests in my role as opinion editor. I’ve taken a lot of flak from readers for publishing conservative perspectives – perspectives I believe should be shared with our traditional, deeply progressive audience – and I’ve certainly taken some flak from conservative friends who disagree with the liberal and/or progressive perspectives published in our section. What I always aim to do is stay away from undeserved personal attacks, and to keep the conversation smart and fair. In my opinion, the cartoon in question failed to meet those marks, and I take responsibility for not having raised concerns before it was published. I appreciate the conversations I’ve had with the folks at WILL and I look forward to publishing a response from them, and to talking about this more on air with Rick on WTMJ tomorrow morning.

Esenberg released a statement on Facebook, calling the cartoon “offensive” and “nasty and ignorant.” He also commended the decision by Opoien to pull the cartoon down.

Some of you may know that the Capital Times published an offensive cartoon that depicted me as a hangman (and I oppose capital punishment!) and pushed a clumsy implication that our case governing outdated voter registrations was somehow akin to lynching. It was accompanied by an op-ed by Dave Zweifel who complained about his barber’s voter registration not being on file. He admitted that this was a huge non sequitur since it had nothing to do with our case but nevertheless discerned some unfathomable truthiness in the story. We did not ask the Cap Times to take the cartoon down but it did so anyway, recognizing that it was in poor taste. I give them credit for that and commend Jessie Opoien for recognizing that we can disagree without mistreating each other. I will be on Stephen Scaffidi‘s show tomorrow morning at 10:20 to discuss this. I don’t mind if someone criticizes what we do but it’s best done with civility and an appropriate regard for the facts. The First Amendment allows people to be nasty and ignorant if they want. It doesn’t require them to be that way.

RightWisconsin will not be posting the cartoon due to its inflammatory and offensive nature.

Well, Empower Wisconsin did:

Esenberg posted on Facebook:

Some of you may know that the Capital Times published an offensive cartoon that depicted me as a hangman (and I oppose capital punishment!) and pushed a clumsy implication that our case governing outdated voter registrations was somehow akin to lynching. It was accompanied by an op-ed by Dave Zweifel who complained about his barber’s voter registration not being on file. He admitted that this was a huge non sequitur since it had nothing to do with our case but nevertheless discerned some unfathomable truthiness in the story. We did not ask the Cap Times to take the cartoon down but it did so anyway, recognizing that it was in poor taste. I give them credit for that and commend Jessie Opoien for recognizing that we can disagree without mistreating each other. … I don’t mind if someone criticizes what we do but it’s best done with civility and an appropriate regard for the facts. The First Amendment allows people to be nasty and ignorant if they want. It doesn’t require them to be that way.

Nothing says First Amendment, or for that matter sticking to your guns, quite like posting something controversial, and then pulling it off the Internet. This also makes you wonder who makes editorial decisions at The Cap Times, given that the way to avoid having to backtrack on something is to have enough judgment to not do it in the first place.

Why people hate the media

I posted last week about the movie “Richard Jewell,” hated by the news media, and posted yesterday about CNN’s undisclosed settlement with a Covington, Ky., high school student who sued CNN for defamation.

With more than three decades (or parts of five decades) in this line of work, I know more than most where the media does its job less than adequately. And I think I’ve figured out why my line of work is below politicians and used car salesmen as portrayed the movie “Used Cars” in the public’s eye, not merely for things like this:

Proving how to be your own worst enemy is the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Bill Torpy:

In the newspaper business, they say nothing beats shoe leather reporting. That means getting out there on the scene. Knocking on doors. Pulling documents from the courthouse. Getting reluctant people in the know to talk.

A classic case of such shoe leather was my AJC colleague Bill Rankin’s four-minute-and-45-second walk in August 1996 from a row of pay phones in downtown Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park. In that hike, Rankin traced the path from where a bomb threat was called in to 911 to the site of the deadly explosion that occurred in the early morning hours of July 27, 1996.

Rankin’s reporting, his five-block walk, and his basic understanding of physics — that a person can’t be in two places at once — ended with him writing a front-page story headlined, “Timing indicates Jewell didn’t make bomb threat.”

It was the first public break in the case that went Richard Jewell’s way. And it gave Jewell’s defense team an opening to fight back against federal authorities who were investigating the security guard as the possible Olympic Park bomber.

Jewell’s story is well known and tragic, a cautionary tale for both law enforcement and the media. Jewell was famously made infamous by this newspaper after we reported that he, the man who found the pipe-bomb-filled backpack at the crowded park, was being investigated as the one who planted it. The feds believed he fit “the profile of a lone bomber” and was a wannabe cop who longed to be a hero.

The story set off a media feeding frenzy that placed Jewell in a crucible where in the space of a few weeks, he went from unknown guy to modest hero to suspected villain to wronged man. He died in 2007 at age 44.

Now there’s a new movie, “Richard Jewell,” directed by Clint Eastwood that takes to task both the feds and the media. This newspaper in particular has been much criticized for breaking the story that the FBI was investigating Jewell, and for not revealing its sources. After 15 years in court, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution prevailed because it printed the truth, as ugly and as messy as it all was.

Eastwood’s movie has been disparaged by some for portraying AJC reporter Kathy Scruggs as a stop-at-nothing journalist who’ll even have sex with a source to get a story. The movie, however, does a great job of portraying Jewell as a salt-of-the-earth fellow who just wanted to do his job. It is wonderful to see him get his due.

The newspaper? We’re the bad guys who will roll over anyone for an exclusive. The movie is heavy-handed on that end, and I sort of get it. Movies based on the truth usually synthesize characters and invent scenes for dramatic effect. It’s playing to the cheap seats. Nuance and fact get in the way of a two-hour celluloid romp.

But the thing that’s really irksome (apart from the portrayal of Scruggs) is that the movie goes all out to stick to its cartoonish notion that this newspaper went all out to stick it to Jewell. Any sense that we can be fair, forget it. It doesn’t work with the script.

In the movie, it is defense attorney Watson Bryant who walks from the park to the phone booth, looks at his watch and says, “He couldn’t have done it,” realizing that Jewell would’ve had to make the nearly five-minute walk in one minute. It’s a turning point in the film that changes the momentum of the case in favor of Jewell.

One thing is true. It was a turning point for Jewell. But it was brought about by an AJC reporter, not a defense lawyer. I know, I know. We’re the bad guys in bed with the feds. It runs counter to Eastwood’s preconceived ideas to show the paper breaking stories that help prove Jewell’s innocence.
Here’s how it really went down. Rankin, who’s about as square a fellow as you’d ever want to meet, was assigned to the AJC’s ongoing coverage of the park bombing after the Olympics ended. He had wondered about the timing of the 911 call and the timing of when Jewell found the backpack. As Rankin started his assignment, he says he got a mailer from his pastor, Larry Burgess, who then headed Clairmont Hills Baptist Church. Burgess talked about how Jewell couldn’t have done anything like that.

“I’m always skeptical,” Rankin recalled. “But this was the first account from someone I know who had talked to him (Jewell). It had a profound effect.”

In fact, Jewell’s mother, Bobi, watched kids at Sunday school, including Rankin’s.

A couple of days into his stint, on Thursday, Aug. 8, authorities released documents saying the 911 call was made at 12:58 a.m. at a pay phone at Baker and Spring streets. “There is a bomb in Centennial Park, you have 30 minutes,” said the caller.

The pipe bombs in the knapsack exploded at 1:20 a.m.

So, Rankin needed the other piece of the puzzle: Where was Jewell at that time?

He knew that GBI Agent Tom Davis, who was stationed in the area, had said that Jewell pointed out the suspicious green knapsack near a sound tower during a concert.

Rankin was hoping Davis would talk. So on Friday, Aug. 9, he called. And called. And called. Rankin avoided the official channels — calling the GBI spokesman — because he figured he’d get brushed off with a “no comment.”

Finally, on the seventh or eighth call, Davis picked up.

“It was clear he knew exactly what I wanted. He knew how important it was,” Rankin recalled. “It was like he wanted to tell me. I suppose he knew Jewell didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Davis told Rankin he called the bomb squad right after Jewell pointed out the knapsack. “The log says that call was made at three minutes to 1,” Davis told him. That’s 12:57 a.m. Remember, the 911 call five blocks away came at 12:58 a.m.

Rankin asked Davis if he had waited several minutes before making the call. “No way,” the GBI agent said.

“I hung up the phone and said, ‘Holy crap,’” Rankin recalled.

He then did the walk from the phones to the park. It was a brisk walk on uncrowded streets, certainly far less jammed than they were during the night of the bombing.

Rankin’s story was a life preserver to a drowning man.

“The next morning the Jewell camp was thrilled. They finally had a truly positive news break,” according to a new book, “The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle,” written by former U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander and journalist Kevin Salwen.

According to the book, Jewell’s criminal defense lawyer Jack Martin (who was cut out of the movie) decided to “use the AJC story to create good theater and flip the narrative. On August 13, he summoned the media to the bomb site. Then, in a perfect made-for-TV moment, Martin led the journalists to the bank of pay phones outside the Days Inn, while dramatically timing the walk. …”

“News organizations finally had a galvanizing event that portrayed Jewell as the possible victim.”

I called Martin on Thursday. Rankin’s story “was the first big break for us,” he said. “That was the first definitive fact that would have reflected the investigators were onto the wrong man.”

Early on, investigators knew the timing meant that Jewell couldn’t have been at both places at once and that he wasn’t a “lone bomber.” They then trotted out a theory that he had an accomplice. But the tide had turned for Richard Jewell. The public started to believe he wasn’t the terrorist. A couple of months later, Alexander delivered a letter to Martin clearing Jewell of anything to do with the crime.

Years later, Eric Rudolph was arrested for a string of deadly bombings, including the one at Centennial Olympic Park. He is serving life imprisonment.

Rankin, who was taking care of his 100-year-old mom when I spoke with him, remains extremely proud of his Jewell story. He has been The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s lead legal affairs reporter for decades, writing 4,674 stories over 30 years. He takes on both prosecutors and defenders, not to mention judges, investigators and all others who play a part in this thing called justice. He tells it straight, and goes wherever the story leads. He once had to flee his home under guard after getting death threats from a prisoner’s family. It’s a tough business sometimes. But it’s in his DNA: His father was a longtime editor at the paper.

“This is a story where the pressure was intense,” Rankin said. “We didn’t want to get beat. But we wanted to be fair.”

He continued, “You don’t get to write stories like that very often.”

He’s so glad he did. Almost as glad as Richard Jewell’s team.

All of which might be persuasive were it not for this:

The newspaper congratulating itself is the same newspaper that turned Jewell into a terrorist by reporting that the FBI suspected Jewell was the bomber. That front page was posted on Torpy’s column, which makes you wonder if Torpy reads his own newspaper. The AJC also congratulated itself on winning a lawsuit, which means that the AJC accurately reported an inaccuracy that destroyed Jewell’s life. And neither winning a lawsuit nor Rankin’s later story eliminated that front page. Just as you can’t unring a bell, you can’t unreport something you reported that was wrong.

Atlanta Magazine:

When the Atlanta Journal broke the story late that following Tuesday afternoon, it set off an avalanche of attention. Under the hypothetical FBI scenario, Jewell had planted the knapsack and then rushed to a bank of pay phones a couple of blocks away from Centennial Olympic Park and placed a 911 call to warn police of the bomb. He then raced back to the light and sound tower, “discovered” the bomb and heroically moved people out of harm’s way.

The media quickly all but pronounced him guilty.

“Richard Jewell, 33, a former law enforcement officer, fits the profile of the lone bomber,” wrote Kathy Scruggs and Ron Martz in the second paragraph of a story in an “Extra” edition of The Atlanta Journal on July 30, 1996. “This profile generally includes a frustrated white man who is a former police officer, member of the military or police ‘wanna-be’ who seeks to become a hero.

“Jewell has become a celebrity in the wake of the bombing, making an appearance this morning at the reopened park with Katie Couric on the Today show. He also has approached newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, seeking publicity for his actions.”

NBC’s Tom Brokaw told viewers, “The speculation is that the FBI is close to ‘making the case,’ in their language. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case.” …

AJC columnist Dave Kindred, in his second column on Jewell in two days,compared the scene to the time law enforcement officers sought evidence against Wayne Williams, the man convicted of two murders in Atlanta’s missing children case when “federal agents came to this town to deal with another suspect who lived with his mother. Like this one, that suspect was drawn to the blue lights and sirens of police work. Like this one, he became famous in the aftermath of murder.”

Kindred later offered a spirited defense of his column, saying he was comparing scenes, not characters. «The column was a comparison of the media frenzy more than it was a comparison of Richard Jewell and Wayne Williams,” he says. “Also, I quoted a neighbor in the column, saying Jewell is a good fellow,and I said the FBI has done this before and come up empty.”

Meanwhile, Jewell’s past was quickly put under a microscope; Jewell was villainized and vilified. Even Jay Leno joked about him on The Tonight Show, calling him the “Una-doofus.”

Then, as the weeks passed with no arrest, a debate ignited within the journalistic community. Had everyone overreacted? Had the FBI used them to put pressure on their main suspect in the hope of breaking him into a confession? Should they have more vigorously challenged the FBI to produce evidence before trumpeting Jewell’s name and his past? Many thought the answers were all yes.

“I think the media’s performance has been downright embarrassing,” says Howard Kurtz, a media critic for The Washington Post. “Every news organization in the country has contributed to ruining this guy’s life without the faintest idea of whether he’s guilty or innocent.”

At particular issue was the original Atlanta Journal article printed in the “Extra” edition, with the big, bold headline on Page 1, FBI SUSPECTS ‘HERO’ GUARD MAY HAVE PLANTED BOMB. The article contained no attribution and quoted no sources, leaving the reader to wonder whether the claims came from a legitimate law enforcement official or from a proclamation of God.

“I find it appalling, quite frankly, at how quickly everybody leapt to finger this guy,” says David Shaw, the media writer at the Los Angeles Times. “To write about it in the context of a larger story about the explosion, down in the sixth or eighth paragraph —that’s one thing. But to bring out a special edition and start leading your newscast and putting out Page 1 stories on it — that’s over the top.”

Earl Casey, CNN’s domestic managing editor, defends the overall coverage. CNN quickly followed the AJC in naming Jewell as a suspect, and Casey says remembering the context of the event is important. A TWA jet had just crashed near Long Island, and a bomb was suspected. There was an extreme fear of terrorism at the Olympic Games. The international media was gathered in Atlanta. Then the bomb exploded in the park intended as the center of the Olympic celebration.

And by that point Jewell was already famous. “Had this been some anonymous bloke, would his name have emerged? Maybe not,” says Casey. “Maybe the stories that day would have read that law enforcement are considering a security guard without the identity. But I think it’s difficult for journalists at a distance or on the academic level to really make value judgments on this thing. They’re often right in theory,but when you get down to the application, something in that theory falls apart.”

Well, if reporters can’t make value judgments, their bosses are supposed to. And didn’t in this case. (Which should also prove that reporters should be skeptical of law enforcement as well, yet they usually are unless they’re pushing their own agendas of blanket condemnations of law enforcement.)

Vanity Fair wrote about the movie’s script writer Billy Ray:

Marie Brenner, who wrote the Vanity Fair feature on which the film is based, hopes that Richard Jewell might impact audiences the way the story affected her in 1996. “Reporting what happened to Richard Jewell and his mother profoundly changed me as a reporter and caused me to rethink many of the assumptions and quick judgments we can all unwittingly make under deadline pressure without attempting to find out a larger truth that lurks behind breaking news,” Brenner told Vanity Fair. …

“This movie is about a hero whose life was completely destroyed by myths created by the FBI and the media, specifically the AJC,” Ray told Deadline. “The AJC hung Richard Jewell, in public…. They editorialized wildly and printed assumptions as facts. They compared him to noted mass murderer Wayne Williams. And this was after he had saved hundreds of lives. Now a movie comes along 23 years later, a perfect chance for the AJC to atone for what they did to Richard and to admit to their misdeeds. And what do they decide to do? They launch a distraction campaign. They deflect and distort…opting to challenge one assertion in the movie rather than accepting their own role in destroying the life of a good man. The movie isn’t about Kathy Scruggs; it’s about the heroism and hounding of Richard Jewell, and what rushed reporting can do to an innocent man. And by the way, I will stand by every word and assertion in the script.”

Said Brenner, “I was appalled by the reflexive snobberies and obliviousness of consequences that the AJC never addressed. The most important rule of reporting is never to reveal a suspect’s name without corroborating evidence. They had none—and neither did the FBI. I am sorry, but it is not enough to say, “law enforcement thinks.” And they didn’t even say that.” Citing the paper that reported there was no evidence against Jewell, Brenner said, “The New York Times and its editor Joe Lelyveld knew better.”

[Former AJC editor Mike] King acknowledged that the Richard Jewell case “was a turning point in a lot of newspaper discussions about where to draw the line when on identifying suspects. … And I think those are good lessons to share with a movie-going audience, that there are people who are the subject of newspaper stories and of government investigations who look as guilty as Richard appeared to look in those initial stories but who ultimately are totally innocent and whose reputations are dragged through the mud for all the wrong reasons.”

Well, congratulations to the news media who learned lessons. Jewell suffered a premature death as a result of this, but hey, sacrifices have to be made. (Apparently something got messed up when I got hired in this line of work since I have a conscience.)

And there’s this postscript that proves that part about maybe some in the media should be compared to weasels:

And even though the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is engaged in a full-blown battle with Warner Bros., King said that a group of his colleagues from the newspaper have plans to see the movie, covertly, on Saturday: “They don’t want to give Clint the benefit of movie ticket sales, so they’ve cut a deal with movie theaters to buy tickets for another movie.”

A media loss, which may be a public win

Jack Crowe:

CNN agreed Tuesday to settle a lawsuit brought by Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann.

Sandmann sought $275 million from CNN over their coverage of the confrontation he and his classmates had with an elderly Native American man while visiting Washington, D.C. on a school trip in January of last year. The amount of the settlement was not made public during a hearing at the federal courthouse in Covington on Tuesday, according to a local Fox affiliate.

“CNN brought down the full force of its corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child,” reads the suit, which was filed in March.

Sandmann and his family still have lawsuits pending against NBC Universal and the Washington Post over their coverage of the incident. The Sandmann family sought a combined $800 million in damages from CNN, the Post, and NBC Universal.

“This case will be tried not one minute earlier or later than when it is ready,” Sandmann’s attorney Lin Wood said of the remaining lawsuits.

Numerous national media outlets painted Sandmann and his classmates as menacing — and in some cases, racist — after an edited video emerged of Sandmann smiling inches away from the face of Nathan Phillips, an elderly Native American man, while attending the March for Life on the National Mall. A more complete video of the encounter, which emerged later, showed that Phillips had approached the Covington Students and began drumming in their faces, prompting them to respond with school chants.

The lawsuit filed by Sandmann’s attorneys in the Eastern District of Kentucky identified 53 statements included in CNN’s coverage of the incident as defamatory. One such statement, included in a CNN opinion piece, accused the students of acting with “racist disrespect” towards Phillips. Meanwhile, Bakari Sellers, a CNN contributor, publicly mused about assaulting the 16-year-old Sandmann while HBO host Bill Maher called him a “little prick.”

CNN filed a motion to dismiss the suit in May on the grounds that accusations of racism are not actionable in defamation cases because the allegation can’t be proven true or false. They similarly argued they could not be held liable for uncorroborated claims that Sandmann and his classmates chanted “build the wall” during the encounter.

It is not defamatory to say the Covington students “expressed support for the President or that he echoed a signature slogan of a major political party,” CNN’s motion to dismiss states.

An investigation conducted by an outside firm contracted by the Diocese of Covington found “no evidence that the students performed a ‘Build the wall’ chant” and further found that Phillips’s account of the incident “contain some inconsistencies” that could not be explored because investigators were unable to reach him.

Phillips initially claimed that the boys approached him but later admitted that he walked into their group after a video emerged debunking his initial claim. According to his second account, Phillips was attempting to defuse a confrontation between the students and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, who can be heard on video shouting racial and homophobic slurs at the boys.

Roger J. Foys, the bishop of Covington, celebrated the report as a vindication of the students.

“Our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening,” he said in a statement. “Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory.”

The settlement most likely won’t include a publicly reported monetary amount (because legally civil lawsuits settlements are a contract between the winner and the loser), nor will, I’m sure, it include an admission of guilt, fault or wrongdoing on CNN’s part. But the fact a settlement exists and is being reported indicates that the monetary amount is more than zero and that either CNN decided it was going to lose, or settled for some amount to make the lawsuit go away.

Maybe, though, it will give national media a reason to rethink, or think over more closely, its news coverage if they start not just getting sued, but losing, and regardless of what mealymouthed lawyers want you to believe, CNN obviously lost. The media is neither perfect nor infallible.


This is #fakenews

David Harsanyi:

Did you know that CNN has a reporter on the “disinformation” beat?

I’ll skip the cheap joke about his never having to leave the office, and note that the network is now grousing about the Christian conservative satire site the Babylon Bee, which has earned the ire of a number of liberals for making jokes at their expense.

The story drawing CNN’s outrage — “Democrats Call For Flags To Be Flown At Half-Mast To Grieve Death Of Soleimani” — is good satire. It slightly exaggerates the reaction many on the left have had to the killing of the Iranian mass murderer. Anyone who read the Washington Post’s headline calling Soleimani a “most revered military leader,” watched ABC’s Martha Raddatz offering adulatory treatment of the terrorist from Iran, or listened to Elizabeth Warren struggle to call him a murderer after her initial statement is in on the joke.

That some people believe the Babylon Bee piece is also a sign that it is good satire. How many Americans, after all, still believe that Sarah Palin, rather than Tina Fey, said, “I can see Russia from my house?” Satire relies on a level of plausibility. If the only brand of political humor permitted is vapid enough for even the dumbest or most humorless person to comprehend, we’re going to end up in a world with a lot more Andy Borowitzes.

CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan offers only three examples of gullible conservatives buying the satire — the Babylon Bee piece has over 500,000 shares on Facebook — but he’s alarmed that too many Americans have been hoodwinked. “To put this in perspective,” he writes, “this is the same number of engagements the top NY Times and CNN stories on Facebook had over the past week. A lot of people sharing this ‘satirical’ story on Facebook don’t know it is satire.”

There will always be chumps who fall for bogus news stories — in particular, bogus news stories that comport with their preconceived notions about the world. Yet media coverage of “disinformation” is a highly specialized concern. In 2006, more than half of Democrats still thought it likely, or somewhat likely, that George W. Bush had had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. I don’t remember panicky reporters signing up for the disinformation beat back then. Last I looked, 67 percent of Democrats believed it was “definitely true” or “probably true” that the Russkies had altered votes to get Donald Trump elected. Why no concern over this dangerous falsehood? Perhaps because the call is coming from inside the house.

You might recall the decade-long love affair with The Daily Show. If not, a recent piece in the Washington Post — headlined “Jon Stewart’s ‘Daily Show’ changed how we consume news. His political influence still endures” — is here to remind you that the show

made Stewart a household name, trusted implicitly by the left and respected, if grudgingly, by many on the right. Twenty years after he began hosting the satirical show that changed how we consume news, Stewart remains a uniquely influential figure in politics. The comedian doesn’t just fight the system — he understands how it works.

Years ago, a producer from The Daily Show called me to discuss the possibility of being interviewed about a book I’d written. In this case, the producer claimed to be supportive of my positions. One thing was certain, though: If The Daily Show disagreed with you, it was going to edit the interview to make you look like a simpering idiot. Why? Because Stewart’s satirical show, often funny, featured jokes almost exclusively mocking conservatives. The widely celebrated Colbert Report’s satirical conceit was to paint conservatives as cartoonishly irrational buffoons. Stewart was the most trusted source of political news for Millennials. How many young liberals  had their worldview formed by these “selectively edited” segments?

The Babylon Bee’s real crime, of course, is that it mocks all the wrong people. Many of the people it mocks, incidentally, are now part of a concerted effort to inhibit political speech — or to shame tech companies into inhibiting political speech. As always, a lot of this effort is nothing but cynical partisanship. But some of it taps into a longstanding anxiety about conservative susceptibility to deception. I mean, how else could these people possibly believe the dumb things they do — right?

“Having a disclaimer buried somewhere on your site that says it’s ‘satire’ seems like a good way to get around a lot of the changes Facebook has made to reduce the spread of clickbait and misinformation,” O’Sullivan notes. I’m certain there was a good reason that Juvenal didn’t slap a “THIS IS SATIRE” warning on his poems. Notifying people of impending satire is the most effective way to kill the mood.

The gravest contention O’Sullivan makes — and he’s not the only one — is that the Babylon Bee isn’t merely in the business of being a funny conservative site, but that it also exists to spread misinformation about Democrats. Where is his evidence? Did the Babylon Bee once put “satire” on all its headlines, and change that policy to circumvent Facebook’s ridiculous policing of speech?

What’s most annoying about all this situational and insincere freakout about the veracity of social-media news feeds is that the people who claim to be most concerned about it have done far more damage to the public’s trust than has any satirical site — not only by spreading half-truths and stoking political hysteria, but by undermining their reputation and leaving millions of Americans without any reliable mainstream news organizations to count on.

On your Madison rabbit ears

Long-time (or perhaps long-suffering) readers know that I’m from Madison,  I watched a lot of TV as a youth, and I have an interest in media history, including Madison media history.

All of that came together when I was as usual looking for something else and came upon a bunch of TV Guide ads from Madison TV stations that apparently are for sale on eBay. The possible irony here is that my parents never subscribed to TV Guide, though my grandparents (who were able to get both Wisconsin and Iowa TV stations due to living in Southwest Wisconsin) did.

First, some Madison TV history. WKOW-TV, an offshoot of WKOW radio (now WTSO)

It appears that WKOW may have been a country station based on this 1952 Wisconsin Historical Society photo. So perhaps things went full circle when what became WTSO went back to country in the mid-1970s.


… was Madison’s first commercial TV station after the Federal Communications Commission lifted its Korean War-era moratorium on new TV station licenses.

The owners of WKOW ended up creating their own statewide network, starting WAOW-TV in Wausau in 1965, then WXOW-TV in La Crosse, and then WQOW-TV in Eau Claire. (There is also WYOW-TV in Eagle River and WMOW-TV in Crandon.) The TV stations were sold to one company in 1978, another in 1978, and another in 1985, around the time that I was sitting in UW–Madison journalism classes listening to the School of Journalism director say that TV stations were “licenses to print money.” Six years later, WKOW’s owner filed for bankruptcy, meaning either that my prof was wrong or that TV stations were not always licenses to print enough money. WKOW was then purchased by its previous owner, who had purchased a “beautiful music” FM station in Baraboo with a freakishly large FM signal, changed its format to oldies, and made enough from one radio station to repurchase four TV stations.

WKOW was originally a CBS station because WKOW radio was a CBS affiliate. Station number two was WMTV, originally at channel 33, which went on the air about a week after WKOW.

WMTV also originally carried NBC, ABC and Dumont, a practice that in some TV markets continued into the 1980s.

The Dumont network died in 1956.

WISC-TV arrived in 1956 as Madison’s only VHF station, on channel 3. WISC-TV was started by WISC radio, which became WISM radio, which was Madison’s top 40 radio station, and thus the station most non-adults listened to.


CBS decided that being on channel 3 (more coverage for less power) beat being on channel 27 and moved to WISC, which left WKOW without a network until it got ABC from WMTV, which moved from channel 33 to channel 15 in 1960.

That, however, isn’t the whole story about WISC. My source is the late John Digman, former WISC reporter and weatherman (not “meteorologist”) who talked to my high school journalism class while working in Madison radio, and sadly died of a heart attack at 40. (His daughter went to La Follette.)

This has to be some sort of put-on by Digman. How can it be 110 in Chicago and 27 in St. Louis?)

Digman told the class (and I may have been the only student listening to this) that WISC was supposed to be on channel 21 while WHA-TV, the state’s first noncommercial TV station, was supposed to have channel 3, but WHA went on the air in 1954 not on channel 3 and WISC went on the air in 1956 not on channel 21.

Speaking of WISC …
Bill Dyke had one of southern Wisconsin’s most interesting careers. He was a disc jockey at WISC and WISM and did sports (at least in 1959 here) and other things on channel 3. Dyke was credited by Vilas Craig, who created southern Wisconsin’s first rock and roll band, for playing Vicounts records (with, as you know, my father on piano) on the radio. 

Dyke parlayed his broadcast career into two two-year terms as mayor of Madison. Then he was defeated by Paul Soglin in 1973. Then after Soglin left the first time (voluntarily, as opposed to the other two times), Dyke, who as a side thing was a producer of the movie “The Giant Spider Invasion,” …

… and Soglin did a weekly point/counterpoint appearance on WISC’s Live at Five. Dyke ended up as Iowa County circuit judge before he died.

This is from 1964, when apparently ABC’s and WKOW’s evening news were 15 minutes each. Cochran was a former FBI agent who got to announce John F. Kennedy’s assassination on ABC’s glitch-filled newscast. Russell later became WTSO’s station manager.

That same year …

Jerry Deane (real last name Druckenrod) did the news. Bill Brown did weather before moving to news when Deane was moved to “The Farm Hour,” where he read not just the news but farm prices. I remember watching Deane reading farm prices and having no idea what any of them meant. (My first Boy Scout Scoutmaster, who worked for Oscar Mayer, told me what “canners and cutters” were.) Mader was better known in Madison for being the morning DJ on WIBA radio and for narrating Zimbrick Buick commercials.

Schermerhorn started in sports, and then apparently moved to sales, but was best known for hosting “Dairyland Jubilee,” a Sunday morning polka show.

By 1969, Bob Miller was the sports guy on WKOW TV and radio and its Wausau station, WAOW-TV. Miller’s radio duties included Wisconsin Badger hockey, which meant Miller got to announce the Badgers’ first national championship. That proved good for Miller’s career, because on the recommendation (following pestering, the story goes) of Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, the Lakers’ owner hired Miller to announce the Kings hockey team.

Miller’s replacement was Paul Braun, who had been announcing hockey (and, one assumes, other sports) at WMAD radio. While Miller got to announce UW’s first hockey championship, Braun got to announce the next four (on WTSO and then WIBA), and did cable TV for national championship number six.

This is from 1977, back when WKOW’s month of state tournament coverage began with a tape-delayed broadcast of state swimming from the UW–Madison Natatorium and then live coverage of the state wrestling finals. (Which I got to cover on radio last year for the first time.) One week later was state hockey, followed by girls basketball and then boys basketball — in this case, my alma mater’s first state title.

After Miller and before this, WKOW employed Gary Bender, who went to college with the eventual owner of the station. Bender was a busy guy, doing the sports in Madison, announcing Badger football on Saturdays and then announcing Packer football on Sundays, both with Jim Irwin.

WKOW’s news anchor for most of the 1970s was Milwaukee native (or so I’m told) Roger Mann, who came to Madison, left and then came back.

After and before Mann was John Lindgren, who went to WKOW from WISC when in-market moves were hardly ever done (and it’s still rare in the Madison market).

Lindgren then went to Kentucky and was on two TV stations there. Then he contracted colon cancer, but continued to work while fighting the disease, which ended up killing him at 55 in 2001.

The weather was done by …

… Terry Kelly, who was the first in Madison to have the cool weather gadgets, most of them developed by his company, Weather Central. Kelly also was known for horrible puns just before going to commercial.

Kelly’s predecessor was Tom Skilling, who worked at WKOW and WTSO while he was a student at UW–Madison. Skilling then spent three years at WITI-TV in Milwaukee, where he did forecasts with Albert the Alley Cat. Those were the days.

This next photo almost needs no introduction …

… Marsh Shapiro, sportscaster, and before that “Marshall the Marshal,” and along with that owner of the Nitty Gritty bar, along with …

This apparently is also from 1977. WISC was the first station in the market to do news besides noon, 6 and 10. Before that WISC ran a one-hour “Eyewitness News” at 6 p.m. starting in 1971. (According to Digman it was because WISC was having license problems. Also according to Digman the news was a little thin at times.) “Eyewitness News” was replaced by “Action News,” with a 5 p.m. newscast that became “Live at 5,” which is still on.

By 1980, Mann was gone, replaced by two people, Paul Pitas and Suzanne Bates. The last time I saw Pitas, he was doing public relations for Culver’s, which is probably not a bad gig.

Finally, here is something you never see from radio or TV stations anymore:

It’s a radio- and TV-station-sponsored bake-off, which was cosponsored by a TV station that, I assume, didn’t have a strong enough signal to get to any of the counties whose cooking women were eligible for the contest. (I wonder how Wausau viewers felt about that.) Click here for the recipes.


If the media and critics hate it …

T.R. Clancy:

Not every mainstream movie critic hates Clint Eastwood’s highly affecting Richard Jewell.  But the critics who hate it hate it an awful lot.

The story of how an out-of-control FBI and a “completely irresponsible press” ruined the life of the heroic security guard whose quick action saved many lives during the 1996 Centennial Park bombing is legitimately viewed as Eastwood’s take on what’s happening in America right now.  The irony that the movie was released the same week as the I.G. report exposing the FBI’s lawlessness in Crossfire Hurricane must be particularly galling for mainstream journos who staked their reputations on the Russia collusion hoax.

Just how timely Eastwood’s morality tale about government abuse may turn out to be is proved in the abysmal disconnect of NPR reviewer Chris Klimek’s question: “Why might he have chosen, at this perilous moment in our history, to make a movie that depicts not just the press but also the FBI as fundamentally corrupt and uninterested in the truth?”  Why, indeed.

The negative reviews of Jewell cite Olivia Wilde’s portrayal of Kathy Scruggs, the real-life Atlanta Journal-Constitution police-beat reporter who broke the story that the Feds were targeting Jewell.  In the movie, Scruggs trades sex for a tip from an FBI agent (played by Jon Hamm), who divulges that they suspect the good-old-boy security guard of planting the bomb just so he could play the hero by discovering it.  The film’s detractors say the idea that Scruggs would trade sex for a scoop is unimaginable.  Katie Walsh at The Morning Call fumes that “[screenwriter Billy] Ray and Eastwood lean into the ugly stereotype that female journalists are drunken floozies who get their tips through sex.”  Vox grumbles that the character was “written as an over-the-top bitch in heels.”

This isn’t altogether fair.  The person Olivia Wilde greatly admired and tried to capture was, at minimum, flamboyant.  In a 2003 Atlanta Magazine requiem written two years after the reporter’s death, former AJC colleague Doug Monroe recalled fondly how the “bigger-than-life” Scruggs “wore mini skirts and gaudy stockings …  smoked … drank … [c]ursed … flaunted her sexuality … dated cops[.]”  Another Atlanta workmate, who hated Wilde’s portrayal, also said Scruggs “knew the impression she made, and she used it when she hung out at police stations and made herself one of the guys — the pretty one — as she worked leads on crime stories.”  Her writer friend Robert Coram used her as his model for reporter Kitty O’Hara in the novel Atlanta Heat; the cops in the book say of Kitty, “You can tell how badly she needs a story by how short her skirt is that day.”  Scruggs thought that was hilarious.  Wilde’s own intuition about what another woman, ambitious and brazenly using her looks to get what she wants from men, might do may not be as inconceivable as Scruggs’s defenders insist.

Others charge that Eastwood made his picture too political.  Pittsburgh Magazine condemns the film outright as “nothing but the salty and hateful ranting of a bitter misanthrope.”  David Edelstein says Eastwood “twisted the story to suit his ends.”  Jewell is “so mired in conspiracy theories and boogeyman fantasies,” carps Adam Graham at The Detroit Newsthat it’s nothing but “an anti-authoritarian screed.”  A WaPo critic admits that Eastwood’s account of Jewell’s tragedy is scary, but, “coming as it does in 2019, its vilification of reporters and the feds is even scarier.”

On top of being anti-authoritarian (an even scarier thing, perhaps?), Graham thinks Jewell gets the nuts and bolts of journalism all wrong, a “tabloid fantasy gone unchecked, informed by the current administration’s views of the industry as the ‘enemy of the people,’ [leading] this supposedly fact-based account into the realm of fantasy land.”

This goes too far, especially considering that no one’s seriously challenging that the main elements of the plot are faithful to what happened.  Besides, if political bias in a movie is a fault, why didn’t Graham think so last December when he was reviewing the vitriolic attack on Dick Cheney — director Adam McKay’s Vice  — whose clear bias the critic found a positive feature?  “There’s no doubt,” Graham wrote, that “‘Vice’ is biased politically.  McKay was never out to make a fair and balanced film.  Instead it’s a story of power, and the way history unfolds slowly, often when no one is paying attention.”  The thing is, Richard Jewell is also a story of power.  Sam Rockwell, playing Jewell’s lawyer, says at one point his client’s being accused by “two of the most powerful forces in the world: the United States government and the media.”

The gripe that Jewell‘s reporters don’t behave like real journalists is nitpicking for the sake of finding fault.  Dramatic productions have rarely been judged by how closely they stick to absolute vérité.  At any rate, this isn’t a movie about how highly trained journalists report the news.  It’s about how veteran reporters, chastity intact or not, did report a false tip that was ultimately never attributed to any source, that the hero of the Olympic bombing matched the FBI’s profile of “the lone bomber.”  The AJC’s reckless headline, over Scruggs’s and Ron Martz’s byline, did boom, “FBI SUSPECTS ‘HERO’ GUARD’ MAY HAVE PLANTED BOMB.”  That article, stating bluntly that the profile “generally includes a frustrated white man who is a former police officer, member of the military or police ‘wanna-be’ who seeks to become a hero,” was the lit match that burned down Jewell’s life.  The New York Times later recounted how the AJC’s editors, “proud of the staff’s work, alerted The Associated Press and CNN.  These organizations alerted the world.”  Within 24 hours, the AJC ran five more headlines suggesting Jewell’s guilt, like, “Security Guard Had Reputation as Zealot,” and “Motive? Could Be Sociopath, Attention Seeker.”  Before long, Jewell’s mother had to see her favorite newscaster, Tom Brokaw, telling the country “[t]hey probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him[.]”  Months later, CNN’s Bill Press was still broadcasting lies, saying, “The guy was seen with a homemade bomb at his home a few days before.”

Richard Jewell isn’t a documentary on news-gathering procedure or a biography of Kathy Scruggs; it’s not even a biography of Richard Jewell.  It’s a parable of what happens when news organizations are willing to ditch their principles to become enablers of powerful people with police powers who’ve misplaced theirs, too.  Characters in parables are types, and in Eastwood’s parable, Scruggs represents the AJC and the news business at large, who, in her ambition, engages in something sordid and shameful.  Whether or not a particular Atlanta police reporter had sex with some cop in exchange for information avoids the point.  We’re living through a time when mainstream newsgatherers show up each day determined to avoid the point.  Richard Jewell succeeds in making it impossible not to see how the ruin of a heroic American’s life was the fault of a reckless press and unethical lawmen coming together in something sordid, shameful, even whorish.

Watch the movie, and you’ll want to wring the female reporter’s neck.  But for three years, Americans have watched a growing mountain of evidence that crooked politicians and high government officials connived to destroy a president and undo an election — evidence all brought to light without any assistance from the fourth estate, and in many cases in spite of their active resistance.  So acute is the self-deception of journalists about their abandonment of standards, just so they can abet scoundrels like James Comey and Adam Schiff, they’ve hardened into what they’re forever accusing unwoke America of being: impermeable to facts, evidence, or reason.  That’s why a parable is called for.  Nathan told a parable to make King David grasp the enormity of his sins.  Jesus insisted on speaking to the Pharisees in parables.  They were enraged, too, when they figured out that His parables were “speaking about them.”

Those critics hating on Richard Jewell say it’s because of its bias, its inaccuracies, and for being an intentional “hit piece” against one of their own.  Maybe.  Or are they provoked at realizing it’s “speaking about them”?  If so, then Eastwood succeeded.

More from Anthony d’Alessandro:

In his first comments addressing the controversy surrounding Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewellwhich has culminated in a threatened defamation lawsuit by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the film’s screenwriter Billy Ray assailed the newspaper for failing to own up to its role in destroying the life of the security guard who spotted a suspicious backpack under a bench at an outdoor concert in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics and helped move bystanders away before an explosion left two dead and more than 100 injured.

The newspaper, in turn, has criticized the film’s depiction of Kathy Scruggs — who broke the story with Ron Martz that the FBI was eyeing Jewell as its prime suspect — as a promiscuous crime reporter who essentially traded a sexual encounter with an FBI agent for the tip. The film asserts that tip, and pressure from Scruggs, led the newspaper to tear up its front page to run a story under the headline, “FBI Suspects ‘Hero’ Guard May Have Planted Bomb.” That created the media maelstrom that upended Jewell’s life, as depicted in the Eastwood-directed drama that Warner Bros opens Friday.

“This movie is about a hero whose life was completely destroyed by myths created by the FBI and the media, specifically the AJC,” Ray told Deadline. “The AJC hung Richard Jewell, in public.”

Several of the key characters in the film have died. That includes not only Jewell but Scruggs, who likely would have sued were she still alive. Olivia Wilde plays her as a steely and sexy reporter who wasn’t above flirting with sources to get tips. She’s seen in a bar with FBI agent Tom Shaw (played by Jon Hamm in an amalgamation of several law enforcement officers involved in the investigation). As the hand she has placed on his leg moves upward, the agent whispers the tip about Jewell in her ear. They next are seen leaving the bar together, presumably to complete what comes off as a quid pro quo transaction.“They editorialized wildly and printed assumptions as facts,” Ray said. “They compared him to noted mass murderer Wayne Williams. And this was after he had saved hundreds of lives. Now a movie comes along 23 years later, a perfect chance for the AJC to atone for what they did to Richard and to admit to their misdeeds. And what do they decide to do? They launch a distraction campaign. They deflect and distort. They focus solely on one single minute in a movie that’s 129 minutes long, opting to challenge one assertion in the movie rather than accepting their own role in destroying the life of a good man. The movie isn’t about Kathy Scruggs; it’s about the heroism and hounding of Richard Jewell, and what rushed reporting can do to an innocent man. And by the way, I will stand by every word and assertion in the script,” he added.

Ray isn’t inexperienced or shortsighted when it comes to the dance between truth and dramatic license that is present in every retelling of narrative historical story on the big screen; it’s an area into which he has submerged himself many times before. He received an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of Richard Phillip and Stephen Talty’s book A Captain’s Duty, which became another untold-hero story in Captain Phillips. He wrote and directed Shattered Glass, a drama about a hotshot journalist caught fabricating magazine articles, and Ray also adapted and right now is directing a star-studded miniseries adaptation of former FBI director James Comey’s bestselling memoir A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership for CBS Television Studios.

Since Richard Jewell‘s world premiere, current AJC editor-in-chief Kevin Riley – who wasn’t at the paper back then – has proactively challenged the depiction of Scruggs’ promiscuity and the AJC‘s hasty decision to blast a front-page headline that Jewell was being looked at as a suspect by the FBI, just days after he was hailed for heroism for reporting the suspicious backpack he found under a bench, and for helping to divert the crowd away from the blast range. Suddenly, he was considered the prime suspect based on a theory the FBI investigated that Jewell was a frustrated wannabe lawman who planted the bomb to make himself a hero and gain favorable attention. It was more a hunch than anything ground in theory, and there wasn’t a shred of real evidence to pin Jewell to the crime. Still, the newspaper technically was accurate in its reporting that the FBI was investigating Jewell.Ray based Richard Jewell on Marie Brenner’s February 1997 Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell.” Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen’s book Suspect: An Oympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle was also used as source material.

Deadline was hard-pressed to find specifics to verify that Scruggs traded a sexual favor for what initially seemed like the biggest story of her career, until it blew up on the newspaper when the FBI cleared Jewell and someone else, Eric Rudolph, confessed to the bombing. Deadline secured a deposition that Scruggs gave from May 23, 1997, when she was questioned by L. Lin Wood, Jewell’s libel and defamation attorney, who would later represent JonBenet Ramsay’s parents John and Patsy Ramsey and their son Burke in their battle against defamation claims against St. Martin’s Press, Time Inc., The Fox News Channel, American Media, Inc., StarThe Globe, Court TV and The New York Post.Riley said he objects primarily to what he called falsehoods about Scruggs, who isn’t around to defend her honor. “You can’t take someone who died and portray them as an immoral character,” Riley told Deadline. “No one ever said this happened (with Kathy); it’s a horrible trope that Hollywood seems to fall into about female journalists.”

The book Suspect details Scruggs’ questioning by Wood:

The reporter had never been sued or even deposed. Beforehand, she spent a full day and a half with Canfield and his team gearing up for the questioning; the lawyers girded her for Wood’s ultra-aggressive tactics. As one colleague at the paper put it: “Strap it on and tie it on tight, because he’s coming after you.”

The deposition began at 9:55 A.M., and Wood delivered as advertised. Within minutes, in a zigzag pattern to keep her off balance, he grilled Scruggs on topics ranging from profiling to libel to her personal life.

In the deposition examined by Deadline, Wood asked the following:

Wood: You have close ties to the Atlanta Police Department, don’t you?

Scruggs: I guess so, yes.

Wood: Have you ever had a social relationship or dated or had a boyfriend that works for the Atlanta Police Department?

Scruggs: Yes, I have.

Scruggs named the officer and said the relationship had run its course. Perhaps that was the kernel that empowered the dramatic license that became part of the scripted narrative? No one was saying, specifically.

While Scruggs’ counsel objects to the line of questioning, the reporter answers that the relationship “ended in ’93 or ’94” well before the Olympic bombing. Later on in the deposition (on pages 370-371), Wood questions Scruggs how her reputation would stack up if she was the focus of an investigation like Jewell had been. “I suspect there are quite a number of people that could call in and say quite a few seamy things about you,” Wood says in the deposition. Scruggs answers, “I am sure there are.”

Deadline reached Wood, who said he was never approached by anyone connected to the Eastwood film in their preparation. While he has not seen the movie, Wood said: “I do not recall any testimony or evidence that supports the specific storyline as you described it…I have no evidence to suggest that those rumors were true or that she ever engaged in any sexual act in exchange for information or tips, and I never made or asserted such a damning and unprovable claim,” said the attorney. “That is the full extent of my knowledge and it is based solely on sworn testimony — not rumor and not rank sensationalized speculation. I deal in facts. Hollywood is not so limited,” Wood added.

In a November 26 AJC piece, Scruggs family friend and attorney Edward Tolley exclaims “That is complete horse (expletive)” about the quid pro quo scene in the film. “If she’s being portrayed as some floozy, it’s just not true.”

In other testimony in the deposition, Scruggs discussed how the newspaper excised an allegation that Jewell allegedly said that if anything happens at the Olympics, he wants to be right in the middle of it, and that some FBI sources believed Jewell was a voice match to the anonymous call to police that a bomb was placed in the park and would explode in half an hour. Scruggs said the paper didn’t publish those assertions because they couldn’t get enough corroboration.

Wilde vouched for Ray’s research in the script and said she devoured everything she could get her hands on to inform her portrayal of Scruggs.

“She was incredibly successful as a cop reporter,” Wilde told Deadline last week. “She had a very close relationship with the cops and the FBI helping to tell their story, and yes, by all accounts she had relationships with different people in that field. But what I resented was this character being boiled down to one inferred scene and I don’t hear anyone complaining about Jon Hamm’s character as being inferred that he also had a relationship with a reporter. It feels unfair that Kathy has been minimized in this way.”

Ray said he believes in the film’s premise, and argues that the newspaper didn’t consider enough what might happen to Jewell when its front-page story established him as the FBI’s prime suspect, at a time when the investigation was nascent and the bureau was still gathering leads. In her deposition, Scruggs said she did consider that as the paper was deciding whether to publish that first story she co-wrote Ron Martz.

To Ray, the newspaper chose to seize on the opportunity for a big scoop, for which Jewell paid a high price. Jewell died of serious complications relating to diabetes at age 44, and is depicted as having heart trouble as the stress of the FBI and media maelstrom mounted.

“In subsequent headlines they said his possible motivation was that he could be a sociopath. Then of course, they compared him to Wayne Williams. How was Richard going to get a fair trial in the court of public opinion if the only paper that mattered was destroying him?” he added.“They profiled Richard Jewell as a wannabe cop and lone bomber, but they did so in the “voice of God,” without quoting anyone — thereby stating their assumptions as facts,” Ray said.

While Scruggs did not reveal her source, Brenner in her Vanity Fair profile reported that the journalist “had allegedly gotten a tip from a close friend in the F.B.I., got a confirmation from someone in the Atlanta police.” In Brenner’s conversation with then-managing editor John Walter, he defended the paper’s voice-of-God, declarative-sentence style that included the statement that “Richard Jewell . . . fits the profile of the lone bomber.” Another editor told Brenner, “The whole story is voice-of-God. . . . Because we see this event taking place, the need to attribute it to sources — F.B.I. or law enforcement — is less than if there is no public acknowledgment.” Walter admitted to Brenner he had not seen any documentation that validated the existence of an actual lone-bomber profile theory used by the FBI.

“I believe the AJC’s current motivation is to protect itself from the harsh light that this is movie is shedding on their behavior. I think the paper is trying to sully our movie in an effort to spare itself a justified embarrassment. That’s journalistic cowardice,” Ray said. “What is so appalling is that this is corporate ass-covering disguised as an effort to protect Kathy Scruggs.”

Some detractors speculated that Eastwood’s conservative political views might have informed a negative depiction of media here. Ray is having none of that, and onstage last week at Deadline’s The Contenders New York event told the crowd how sacrosanct the director was about the words in his screenplay.

“Some will try to paint this movie as being anti-FBI or anti-media,” Ray told Deadline. “It’s neither. It’s about speaking truth to power. You have to stop thinking about the FBI and the media as institutions. The FBI and the media are groups of people who are stewards of institutions. And those people can have good or bad judgement, good or bad intentions. In this particular case, the FBI and the AJC, in their pursuit of truth, rushed to judgment and destroyed an innocent man who had saved lives. Richard then had to develop a whole new kind of courage so he could defend himself from them,” said Ray.

While Jewell settled libel lawsuits against major media outlets including CNN, NBC and the New York Post, the AJC continued to fight for itself and eventually won a summary judgment that was upheld on appeal. The newspaper maintained it was law enforcement that rushed to judgment about Jewell, and the paper served its obligation to report what law enforcement was doing. AJC’s Reilly maintains the newspaper did its job in reporting that Jewell was the lead suspect at that moment in 1996.

Bert Roughton was the editor on duty whom Scruggs phoned after a source informed her that investigators were looking into Jewell as a potential suspect. In September, after reading Ray’s script, he wrote in AJC the column “Drama shouldn’t recast this truth,” detailing that he’d “been in the newsroom for a few years by the time Kathy Scruggs arrived. Until then — 1986 — it had been a stodgy and drab, shirt-and-tie kind of place”; and that she was “an explosion of color, energy and expletives.” Roughton was upset by the depiction of his former colleague.

“Kathy was pretty, and she knew it,” Roughton wrote. “She had a raspy voice and wore short skirts and revealing tops. She used bawdy banter as a weapon. Even so, it would be wrong to reduce Kathy to a sex kitten with a notebook. She was so much more.”

The AJC set up a special newsroom during the 1996 Olympics. While Roughton as a reporter had covered Atlanta’s Olympics bid, he was appointed as editor during the Summer Games to oversee all non-sports stories. The team included police beat reporter Scruggs, who was covering security at the Olympics with Martz, reporting into Roughton.

“(In the deposition) they don’t make the leap from her social relationships to she had sex (with a source or sources). There’s no basis in the testimony that suggests that,” Roughton told Deadline.

What is whispered into Wilde’s ear by Hamm in the movie “was actually a long complicated conversation” from multiple sources that Scruggs pieced together from various pieces of intel,” Roughton said.

“We held the story for a day or so to do a pretty tough verification; there’s no way in the process that she managed to have sex with a source,” said Roughton, who worked closely with Scruggs for more than a year.

“She heard Richard was a suspect before she talked to a primary source. She alerted me that she was hearing something. She called me on the phone in an extremely profane way, much in the way she does in the movie. We knew that the FBI was looking into Richard Jewell because of the history he had at Piedmont College and his strange police career.” Roughton was referring to an early chapter depicted in the film, when Jewell is let go for pulling over students suspected of drinking and driving before they entered the college campus.

“When a reporter trades sexual favors for a story, their career is over. If I ever thought for one second that Kathy did anything inappropriate, I would have seen to it that she was fired in 24 hours,” Roughton said.

“To defame a dead woman and to accuse her of doing the worst thing in her profession is just cruel,”  the former editor added. “To convict her of the mortal sin of trading sex for a story, it’s the worst thing conceivable you can do to a journalist. It’s one thing to debate the journalist, but to destroy someone’s reputation eternally — because for the rest of time, this movie will be out.”

Countered Ray: “The only creative license taken in the movie is actually in the redeeming of Kathy Scruggs. In the end she realizes the error of her ways. She never publicly atoned for her reporting.”
The AJC’s position — we reported accurately who the FBI thought was its suspect, and who cares if we ruined Jewell’s life? — explains why people hate the news media.

The last sportscast (for now?)

I am, I must say, opposed to Jay Wilson’s retirement from WISC-TV in Madison.

I’m opposed because I remember when WKOW-TV in Madison hired Wilson to do weekend sports. Then he left for WISN-TV in Milwaukee, and then he came back as WKOW’s sports director when I was a sports intern there, working mostly with Paul Rudy, now found in San Diego.

One of my highlights was when he sent me (and my then-girlfriend) to Green Bay to pick up videotape from the Packers–Chicago Bears game:

I also interviewed then-New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora and UW hockey players after their 1988 WCHA Final Four title (where I played for the UW Band).

I went into print instead of TV largely because I got my first job offer from a weekly newspaper instead of a radio or TV station. But working at 27 was an interesting experience, including answering the phone and hearing someone say “somebody’s going to blow up your fucking TV station” because the station chose to run informercials instead of Formula 1 racing that Sunday.

He has always presented himself as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously and has fun doing what he’s doing, but is always informative and insightful. The first piece of advice in broadcasting is to “be yourself,” but if I were showing a college student how to be a TV sportscaster, I’d show him Jay Wilson video. The reason he was called the dean of Madison sportscasters was not just because of his longevity, but because his work was good enough for much larger markets.

My favorite work of his was in 1993, when Wisconsin needed Michigan to beat Ohio State to give the Badgers a chance at the Rose Bowl. All Wilson did was show highlights of the game with no narration, but the Michigan fight song, “The Victors,” which the Wolverines were that day. That came a few weeks after the Camp Randall Stampede, when the Badgers’ win over Michigan was concluded by students’ trying to rush the field and getting crushed against a nonmovable fence, resulting in 70 injuries. Wilson demonstarted that he could report news as well that day.

One perk of being WKOW’s sports director is getting to announce the state basketball tournaments on TV. That is one thing I’ve wanted to do and have never been able to do since I’m not on the air for one of  WKOW’s owner’s stations. (That, though, comes with its own challenges due to the WIAA, from what announcers have told me.) Wilson got to announce state games, and I was always impressed at how well he did on play-by-play for someone who didn’t do play-by-play on a regular basis. Most people get good at it only by seasons’ worth of games.

For a few years Jay and I would run into each other at the WIAA state football championships, where he called games for Fox Sports North. I have been privileged to announce a state game for four years in a row on the radio. (Including, this year, the game that had the first two replays in WIAA history.) Since WISC’s parent company also owns the stations where I broadcast, I guess that made us coworkers of a sort.

Wilson calls his departure a “resignation, not a retirement.” Let’s hope we see him on the air around us.


For a lively drive to work

Of the big four of car magazines when I started reading them — Road & Track, Car & Driver, Motor Trend and Automobile — R&T was the most Eurocentric and most skeptical of American cars.

I wonder, though, where R&T writers work when they came up with this list of 23 Sports Cars That Make Great Daily Drivers considering where I live (too close to the Great White North) and work (a place where the auto mechanics don’t seem to deal with anything foreign beyond Toyota, Honda and Subaru). The list includes:

McLaren GT

The GT is McLaren’s latest attempt at a grand-tourer, packing a handful of luxury features you’d normally wouldn’t see in something with its engine in the middle. There’s even room to pack a set of golf clubs in the back. Here’s one for sale on eBay now.


The Z4 has always been a great choice for those looking for a comfortable luxury experience with the ability to drop the top. This newest one is no different. And with nearly 400 horsepower on tap in the six-cylinder model, you’ll be having a blast behind the wheel. This brand new one is painted in a lovely shade of blue, and you can own it.

Toyota Supra

While it wears a Toyota badge, the Supra is basically just a hardtop version of the BMW Z4. So it makes sense to see it on this list. It has all the same comfort features, plus a good amount of storage space out back thanks to the hatchback styling. Here’s one you can own today.

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

Aston’s newest production car is an even faster, more capable DB11. With stunning looks and a 715-horsepower twin-turbo V-12, it’ll have no problem getting out of its own way. It’s just as well-appointed inside as the DB11, meaning you won’t worry about spending a lot of time in the cabin. Here’s one with 70 miles on the clock for sale now.

Aston Martins are about as exotic as it gets in this list, and they’re British, with everything that implies. Still, it would give the driver a chance to channel his inner Bond, James Bond on his trip to the office.

Ferrari 812 Superfast
Though it may look (and sound) like a no-compromise supercar, the 812 Superfast is actually pretty livable day-to-day. It’s designed as a grand tourer, meant to carry two people along with all their luggage in relative comfort for great distances. Here’s one painted in blue with less than 800 miles on the clock that you can buy right now.

I have had two previous Ferrari experiences, as some readers know. The first was in September 1986, when upon arrival in Las Vegas I decided to try to win a Ferrari, and was one 7 away from becoming probably the youngest Ferrari owner in at least the U.S. Missing that seven meant I didn’t have to figure out (1) how to pay the taxes to take the car, (2) how to get the car back from Vegas to Madison, and (3) how I was going to deal with ownership of the second manual-transmission car I had ever driven as a college student in Madison, a town with both bad parking and perpetual winter.
Before that I saw a group of Ferraris on my first trip to Road America. There is a photo of myself somewhere acting like I’m trying to break into the car, which upon further reflection may have been owned by a prominent Wisconsin car dealer. (There is not, I believe, a photo of the sunburn I got that day that matched the Ferrari.)

Chevrolet Camaro SS

Though it retains the muscular profile from past Camaros, the newest version is pretty good at pulling off the daily commuter thing. Sure, visibility isn’t the best, but with a torquey V-8 and four seats, you won’t be wanting for much. This used one has low miles, and it can be yours today.

Maserati GranTurismo

The GranTurismo is great because unlike many other 2+2s, people in the rear two seats actually have somewhere to put their legs. Pair that extra space with the car’s magnificent V-8 soundtrack, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a daily driver. This used one can be yours for just under $30,000.

As with Ferraris, mechanic on retainer not included.

Lotus Evora GT
If our torture test of the Evora 400 taught us anything, it’s that Lotus sure knows how to build a versatile car. The latest version, the GT, brings more power and an even lighter curb weight. Here’s one you can own right now. …
Jaguar F-Type
The F-Type’s crackle-filled soundtrack and drop-dead gorgeous looks aren’t the only things it’s known for. It’s also luxurious inside, and plenty fast. Here’s one with the now-discontinued manual transmission on eBay for sale.

Porsche Cayman / Boxster

Can’t afford a 911? Looking for a great mid-engine experience? The Porsche Cayman or Boxster are the cars for you. They’re just as nice as the 911 inside, and whether you get a turbocharged 718 model or an older flat-six powered car, you’ll be having the time of your life behind the wheel. This low-mile GTS variant is painted in red, and you can own it.

Ford Mustang GT
The new Mustang makes a great all-rounder, with plenty of modern tech and comfort-minded features. We’d recommend going for the Performance Pack 1—it has enough capability for track use, and isn’t as hardcore as the more expensive Performance Pack 2. If you’re into special editions, this Bullitt Mustang is up for grabs right now.

Did someone say “Bullitt”?

Acura NSX

The entire R&T staff can attest to the NSX’s ability as a great daily driver. We had a long-term tester for more than 20,000 miles in 2017, and can confidently say you’ll have no issue commuting to work every day in one. Here’s one with 3000 miles on the clock you can own for tens of thousands off the original price.

Nissan GT-R

The R35-generation GT-R was one of the first of a new breed of sports cars, and includes a bunch of different features to make sure you’re comfortable behind the wheel. It even has four seats, so you can take the whole family along, if you desire. This 2013 model is painted in a deep blue color, and it’s for sale right now. …

Mercedes-AMG GT

AMG’s newest flagship is a hit among enthusiasts everywhere, and it’s easy to see why. The comfort and poise of a Mercedes combined with that fantastic 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 and stunning looks make for one hell of a car—one you can start up a drive to work in without any sort of fuss. Here’s a GT S model painted in red you can own today.

Honda S2000

While the S2000 is known mainly as a great sports car, it makes for a great daily too. That Honda reliability and great visibility mean an easy care-free drive to work, plus the fun of driving one of Honda’s greatest cars. This white one with relatively low miles is for sale right now.

Subaru BRZ / Scion FR-S / Toyota 86

The Subaru-Toyota sports car trio is a popular choice among enthusiasts looking for a fun ride they can also use everyday. With four seats, a sizable trunk, and a gas-sipping boxer-four, the BRZ, FR-S, and Toyota 86 check all the boxes necessary for a fun daily. This used one is listed for under $20,000.

Chevrolet Corvette

The Chevy Corvette is a beast of a car no matter what trim you get, but thanks to a big trunk, tons of convenience features, and solid GM reliability, it makes for a solid daily as well. Here’s one you can buy now.

Well, finally.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

There’s no arguing the versatility of the Mazda Miata. It’s one of the greatest sports cars on the planet, but also does well as a daily driver. The simplicity, good gas mileage, and small costs the Miata has to offer mean people will be commuting in them for years to come. This low-mile RF model is up for sale on eBay.

Audi R8
The R8 is for those looking for the daily-driving capabilities of a 911, but want something more exotic. The car’s Audi roots mean it’s a great place to spend time in, and that Lamborghini V-10 makes for a great substitute for your morning coffee. Here’s a used Plus model you can own today.

Porsche 911
There isn’t much the Porsche 911 can’t do. Any trim in the 911 range can be abused on the track, then turn around and bring you to work with no issue whatsoever. Visibility is great, as is interior comfort. If you need a fun daily, the 911 is the way to go. This one is brand new, and you can buy it now.

That was a suggestion of a former boss of mine. He, however, did not take up his own suggestion.

Journalists against … free speech?

Edward Jay Epstein:

Suppose you’re the editorial-page editor of a college newspaper, contemplating the big news on campus: protesters have silenced an invited speaker and gone on a violent rampage. Should you, as a journalist whose profession depends on the First Amendment, write an editorial reaffirming the right to free speech?

If that seems like a no-brainer, you’re behind the times. The question stumped the staff of the Middlebury Campus after protesters silenced conservative social thinker Charles Murray and injured the professor who’d invited him. The prospect of taking a stand on the First Amendment was so daunting that the paper dispensed with its usual weekly editorial, devoting the space instead to a range of opinions from others—most of whom defended the protesters. When a larger and more violent mob at the University of California at Berkeley prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus, students at the Daily Californian did write a forceful editorial—but not in favor of his right to speak. Instead, they reviled Yiannopoulos and denounced those who “invited chaos” by offering a platform to “someone who never belonged here.”

Free speech is no longer sacred among young journalists who have absorbed the campus lessons about “hate speech”—defined more and more broadly—and they’re breaking long-standing taboos as they bring “cancel culture” into professional newsrooms. They’re not yet in charge, but many of their editors are reacting like beleaguered college presidents, terrified of seeming insufficiently “woke.” Most professional journalists, young and old, still pay lip service to the First Amendment, and they certainly believe that it protects their work, but they’re increasingly eager for others to be “de-platformed” or “no-platformed,” as today’s censors like to put it—effectively silenced.

These mostly younger progressive journalists lead campaigns to get conservative journalists fired, banned from Twitter, and “de-monetized” on YouTube. They don’t burn books, but they’ve successfully pressured Amazon to stop selling titles that they deem offensive. They encourage advertising boycotts designed to put ideological rivals out of business. They’re loath to report forthrightly on left-wing censorship and violence, even when fellow journalists get attacked. They equate conservatives’ speech with violence and rationalize leftists’ actual violence as . . . speech.

It’s a strange new world for those who remember liberal journalists like Nat Hentoff, the Village Voice writer who stood with the ACLU in defending the free-speech rights of Nazis, Klansmen, and others whose views he deplored—or who recall the days when the Columbia Journalism Review stood as an unswerving advocate for press freedom. While America has seen its share of politicians eager to limit speech, from John Adams and Woodrow Wilson (who both had journalists prosecuted for “sedition”) to Donald Trump (who has made various unconstitutional threats), journalists on the left and the right have long shared a reverence for the First Amendment, if only out of self-interest. When liberals supported campaign-finance laws restricting corporations’ political messages during election campaigns, they insisted on exemptions for news organizations. One could fault them for being self-serving in this selective censorship, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in its Citizens United decision, but at least they stood up for their profession’s freedom.

Today, though, journalists are becoming zealous to silence their ideological rivals—and the fervor is mainly on the left. During the 1960s, the left-wing activists leading Berkeley’s Free Speech movement fought for the rights of conservatives to speak on campus, but today’s activists embrace the New Left’s intellectual rationalizations for censorship. To justify the protection of an ever-expanding array of victimized groups, theorists of intersectionality—the idea that subgroup identities, such as race, gender, and sexuality, overlap to make people more oppressed—have adapted Herbert Marcuse’s neo-Marxist notion of “repressive tolerance.” Marcuse propounded that Orwellian oxymoron in the 1960s to justify government censorship of right-wing groups that were supposedly oppressing the powerless.

Greg Lukianoff, who has fought free-speech wars on campus for two decades as the head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), dates the ascendancy of the new censors to 2013, when student protesters at Brown University forced the cancellation of a speech by Raymond Kelly, the New York City police commissioner. “For the first time, rather than being ashamed of this assault on free speech, most people on campus seemed to rally around the protesters,” says Lukianoff, coauthor of The Coddling of the American Mind. “That’s when we started hearing the language of medicalization, that free speech would cause medical harm. Outsiders dismissed this as a college phenomenon and predicted that these intolerant fragile kids would have to change when they hit the real world. But instead, they’re changing the world.”

This change can be seen at the once-stalwart ACLU, which has retreated to a new policy of rejecting First Amendment cases when the speech in question “can inflict serious harms” on “marginalized communities.” That’s the paternalistic rationale for campus speech codes, which have repeatedly been declared unconstitutional but remain popular, especially among Democrats and young people. In a national survey in 2017 by the Cato Institute, a majority of Democrats (versus a quarter of Republicans) said that the government should prohibit hate speech, and 60 percent of respondents under age 30 agreed that hate speech constitutes an act of violence.

Even journalists are adopting these attitudes, as Robby Soave observed while reporting on young radicals in his book Panic Attack. A decade ago, when Soave was an undergraduate on the University of Michigan’s student paper, his fellow editors stood in the Hentoff tradition: devout leftists but also free-speech absolutists. Starting around 2013, though, Soave saw a change at Michigan and other schools. “The power dynamic switched on campus so that the anti-speech activists began dominating the discourse while those who believed in free speech became afraid to speak up,” says Soave, now a writer for Reason. “Campus newspapers, especially at elite institutions, have become increasingly sympathetic to the notion that speech isn’t protected if it makes students feel unsafe. And now you’re seeing these graduates going into professional journalism and demanding that their editors provide a safe workplace by not employing people whose views make them uncomfortable.”

The result is what Dean Baquet, the New York Times executive editor, recently called a “generational divide” in newsrooms. The progressive activism of younger journalists often leaves their older colleagues exasperated. “The paper is now written by 25-year-old gender studies majors,” said one Washington Post veteran. She wouldn’t speak for the record, though: as fragile and marginalized as these young progressives claim to be, they know how to make life miserable for unwoke colleagues.

If their publication is considering hiring a conservative, or if a colleague writes or tweets something that offends them, young progressives express their outrage on social media—sometimes publicly on Twitter, sometimes in internal chat rooms. The internal chat is supposed to be confidential, but comments often get leaked, stoking online outrage. It takes remarkably little to start the cycle, as Times opinion writer Bari Weiss discovered last year. Weiss, already in disfavor among progressives for criticizing aspects of the #MeToo movement, got into trouble for celebrating the Olympic performance of gymnast Mirai Nagasu, the American-born daughter of Japanese immigrants. Weiss adapted a line from the Hamilton musical to tweet: “Immigrants: They get the job done.” Weiss was promptly attacked for describing Nagasu as an immigrant, making her guilty of a progressive offense known as “othering.”

HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg, who did her own version of othering by labeling Weiss a “feminist apostate” and “troll,” published the leaked transcript of an internal chat among Times staffers in which Weiss’s tweet was compared to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The staffers called for an expansion of the company’s program in implicit-bias training to combat the paper’s “microaggressions” and “hostile work environment.” Weiss tried explaining that she’d been aware of the gymnast’s family background and had been using poetic license, but eventually she tweeted her surrender: “I am being told that I am a racist, a ghoul and that I deserve to die. So I deleted the tweet. That’s where we are.”

Ian Buruma, the editor of The New York Review of Books, was fired for publishing an article by a man accused of sexual assault (a Canadian journalist who’d been acquitted of the charges in court but saw his career ruined). Buruma was doomed by online outrage, a staff revolt, and threats from university presses to withdraw advertising. Harper’s was similarly roiled by internal rebellion and online fury for publishing articles by John Hockenberry, the NPR host who lost his job over sexual harassment accusations, and by Katie Roiphe, whose criticism of #MeToo was controversial even before the magazine published it. Rumors about the pending article prompted Nicole Cliffe, a columnist at Slate, to call for freelance writers to boycott Harper’s unless it killed Roiphe’s piece; Cliffe even offered to compensate them for any money they lost by withdrawing their articles. Her preemptive strike didn’t stop publication of the Roiphe article, but it did inspire at least one company to withdraw an ad from Harper’s.

The Atlantic faced a campaign to fire Kevin Williamson shortly after he was hired away from National Review. Writers at theNew Republic, the New York Times, Slate, Vox, the Daily Beast, and other outlets called him unfit for the job. They were particularly appalled by an earlier podcast in which Williamson, in a spirit of provocation, said that women who have abortions deserved the same punishment as those who commit first-degree murder, even if that meant hanging. The Atlanticinitially stood by him, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of its star progressive writers, even praised Williamson’s work and said that he’d advised hiring him. But the online dragging and internal discontent soon led to his exit. At a staff meeting (a video of which was leaked to HuffPost) after Williamson’s firing, Coates apologized to his colleagues. “I feel like I kind of failed you guys,” he said.

The online outrage against Williamson was fanned by Media Matters for America, the nonprofit that employs dozens of researchers to dig up damaging material on conservatives—or, at least, material that will sound especially bad if it’s quoted without context. (Williamson, for instance, had also expressed reservations about imposing the death penalty for any crime.) One Media Matters researcher, heroically profiled in the Washington Post, spent ten hours a day listening to recordings from 2006 to 2011 of Tucker Carlson’s conversations with Bubba the Love Sponge, a shock-jock radio host. Media Matters published some of Carlson’s cruder comments and followed up with new ones on subsequent days to keep the story alive and provide ammunition for activists demanding that corporations stop advertising on Carlson’s Fox News show. The campaign succeeded in pressuring advertisers like Land Rover and IHOP to abandon the program, which runs fewer commercials than it did last year.

It’s easy to see why progressive activists have made advertising boycotts one of their chief weapons against Fox, Breitbart, and other conservative outlets. What’s harder to fathom is why so many journalists have cheered a tactic that’s bad for their profession. This kind of boycott is different from the traditional ones against companies accused of bad behavior like mistreating their workers or polluting the environment. In this case, companies are targeted not for the way they run their businesses but simply for advertising their wares. Jack Shafer, the longtime media critic, has been a lonely libertarian voice warning of the threat that this poses to journalism and public discourse. “I barely trust IHOP to make my breakfast,” he wrote in Politico. “Why would I expect it to vet my cable news content for me?”

Journalists have traditionally prided themselves on their independence from advertisers. Now the boycotters want to end that independence. If advertisers start being held accountable for content, their aversion to controversy will put pressure on media companies to churn out bland fare that won’t risk offending anyone. “It’s easy to imagine today’s boycotts turning into tomorrow’s blacklist,” wrote Shafer.

Instead of worrying about this threat to their autonomy, journalists at progressive and mainstream publications have promoted it. Activists announce boycotts regularly, but these rarely make an impact unless they get widespread public attention. Sleeping Giants, an activist group leading the boycotts, has gotten lots of publicity (and web traffic) from largely uncritical articles heralding its leaders’ pure motives. Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist, acknowledged that there might be a problem if boycotters aimed at a provocative outlet like Gawker—a left-leaning site that meets her approval—but she couldn’t bring herself to condemn the tactic. Quite the reverse: “To those who sympathize with Sleeping Giants’ objections to online racism, sexism and hate-mongering—count me in this number—their efforts seem worthwhile, sometimes even noble.”

Other journalists have explicitly endorsed the Carlson boycott, including Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, and Michelangelo Signorile of HuffPost. Some have even pitched in to pressure the advertisers directly. Jenna Amatulli, a reporter at HuffPost, published a list of the show’s advertisers, complete with links to their contact information, and wrote that she had “reached out” for statements from each company—meaning, in effect, that she had personally threatened them with bad publicity. No one wants to be named in a story accusing an advertiser of supporting “racism,” “white nationalism,” and “misogyny,” Carlson’s alleged sins, reported as established facts in HuffPost articles.

Other HuffPost reporters used similar tactics against Daryush Valizadeh, known as Roosh, a male critic of feminism who ran a website called Return of Kings. After the reporters “reached out” to Amazon, YouTube, and other companies that enabled Roosh to collect online revenue, Amazon removed some of his books, and YouTube banned him from livestreaming. HuffPost triumphantly reported the campaign’s outcome: “Rape Apologist ‘Roosh’ Shutting Down Website After Running Out of Money.”

How would the management of HuffPostreact if conservative journalists similarly “reached out” to its advertisers? I put that question to Lydia Polgreen, the editor-in-chief, noting that it would be easy to find articles (like one by Jesse Been defending violence against Trump supporters) that could scare off corporations. She dodged the question, referring me to a spokesperson’s bland statement about HuffPost being trusted by advertisers because of its “factual insights.”

A few conservatives have tried these censorious tactics against liberals, with little success. They’ve hired researchers to dig up damaging social-media posts by liberal reporters—a move that Polgreen called an “extremely alarming” threat to “independent journalism,” though it’s precisely what her HuffPost staff and Media Matters do to conservative journalists. Some conservatives responded to the Fox boycotts by announcing counter-boycotts against MSNBC, but these efforts got virtually no press coverage. Conservative journalists eagerly criticize the bias of their progressive colleagues, but they don’t have the same power to censor—or the same zeal.

To get an idea of the imbalance, consider the cases of Quinn Norton, a libertarian technology writer, and Sarah Jeong, a progressive technology writer. After the Times announced that it was hiring Norton for its editorial page, it took just seven hours for progressives to get her fired. On Twitter and in an internal Times chat room (as HuffPost reported), Norton was attacked for having tweeted that she was friends with a neo-Nazi hacker whom she had covered. She had always repudiated his ideology, calling him a “terrible person,” but that wasn’t enough to save her job. Six months later, in August 2018, when the Times hired Jeong for the editorial page, conservative activists unearthed tweets from Jeong, an Asian-American, denigrating white men as well as whites as a race. One used a hashtag “#CancelWhitePeople”; another predicted that whites would soon go extinct and said, “This was my plan all along.” The Times stuck with its decision to hire her. (The paper recently announced that Jeong would no longer be part of its editorial board, though she will continue as a contributing writer.)

Conservative journalists criticized the Times for its double standard, but they didn’t unite with the online activists demanding that Jeong be fired. The Times’s Bret Stephens wrote a column urging the paper to overlook the offensive tweets. In New York, Andrew Sullivan lambasted Jeong’s bigotry and the progressive dogma that it’s impossible to be racist against whites, but he, too, urged the Times not to fire her because media companies should not succumb to online mobs. You might think that Sullivan’s forbearance would win him some points with progressives, and perhaps even make them question their own enthusiasm for purges, but the column didn’t play well even with Sullivan’s colleagues at New York. Brian Feldman, an associate editor, tweeted: “Andrew Sullivan’s newest column is complete garbage and I’m embarrassed to be even tangentially associated with it.” Not exactly collegial, but again, that’s where we are.

Another thought experiment: suppose, after a small organization announces a march in support of abortion rights, that an alliance of antiabortion protesters vows to shut it down. As the marchers proceed, they’re confronted by a much larger group of counterprotesters wearing masks, carrying clubs, and chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” The counterprotesters block the marchers’ progress and throw eggs, milk shakes, and rocks at them. Fights break out, inspiring a news article: “Six people were injured today in clashes between anti-murder demonstrators and a far-left group linked to infanticide. Leaders of the anti-murder protesters blamed the left-wing group for provoking the violence and vowed to ‘continue defending ourselves and the most vulnerable members of our society.’ ”

Are there any right-wing journalists capable of misreporting a story so dishonestly? They haven’t had a chance to try. There’s no group of right-wing masked thugs who regularly try to stop left-wing speeches and marches. The “no-platforming” strategy is a specialty of Antifa, the left-wing network whose members have brawled at conservative and Republican events in Berkeley, San Jose, Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., Boston, Portland, Vancouver, and other cities. They describe themselves as “anti-fascist,” a ludicrous term for a masked mob suppressing free speech, but journalists respectfully use it anyway.

Media coverage obscures Antifa’s aggression by vaguely reporting “clashes” between antifascists who claim to be acting in “self-defense” (though they typically outnumber their enemies by at least four to one) against the violence of “racists” and “white supremacists” of the “alt-right.” It doesn’t matter if the conservative group is rallying to support free speech—hardly a traditional priority for fascists—and has specifically banned white supremacists from participating. Enterprising journalists can always find someone at the rally somehow linked to what some left-wing organization has designated a dangerous “hate group.” And journalists can turn to the much-quoted Mark Bray, a historian at Dartmouth, to provide a rationale for the masked mob’s tactics. In his Anti-Fascist Handbook, Bray acknowledges that Antifa’s no-platforming strategy infringes on others’ free speech but maintains that it is “justified for its role in the political struggle against fascism” and approvingly describes violence as “a small though vital sliver of anti-fascist activity.”

This coverage jibes with the media narrative that the great threat to civil liberties comes from the right, a rationale used for censoring conservatives. If a lone sociopath with right-wing leanings turns violent, commentators rush to blame it on the “climate” created by President Trump and Fox News, which makes no more sense than blaming Elizabeth Warren for the recent killing spree in Dayton by a supporter of hers, or blaming MSNBC for the Rachel Maddow fan who opened fire on Republican members of Congress in Alexandria, Virginia. Violent young men certainly exist on the right, but no conservative academic or journalist tries to rationalize their attacks as “self-defense.” They can post online threats and domination fantasies, but they don’t have the numbers or the institutional power to silence their opponents.

Yet most journalists obsess over right-wing dangers while ignoring or downplaying the actual violence on the left. There are exceptions, like Peter Beinart of TheAtlantic, who has warned about Antifa and criticized The Nation and Slate for celebrating one of its assaults (the punching of white nationalist Richard Spencer). But few others have paid much heed to Antifa. Some, like Carlos Maza and the New Republic’s Matt Ford, have praised its milk-shaking tactic. While working at Vox, Maza tweeted, “Milkshake them all. Humiliate them at every turn. Make them dread public organizing.” He has also tweeted, “Deplatform the bigots,” and put that idea into practice with the outspoken support of Vox’s executives. His pressure on YouTube triggered the “Vox Adpocalypse,” in which YouTube cut off advertising revenue to Steven Crowder and other conservative commentators.

Outside of conservative and libertarian outlets, Antifa hasn’t attracted much scrutiny, even as its followers have assaulted journalists. (They also stood outside Carlson’s home, chanting, “Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!”) The latest victim is Andy Ngo, a writer for Quillette, City Journal, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications, whose coverage of Antifa’s violence led to threats and harassment from the group’s members over the last two years. In June, Ngo was attacked at a rally in Portland for men’s rights that attracted two dozen supporters. They were opposed by 400 protesters who blocked streets and threw milk shakes handed out by organizers. As Ngo was reporting, masked Antifa protesters rushed him, stole his camera, showered him with milk shakes and eggs, kicked him, and pummeled his head, cutting his face and tearing his earlobe. He was hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage.

Any attack on a journalist for reporting usually inspires displays of professional solidarity, but the Wall Street Journal was the only major newspaper to editorialize in support of Ngo. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which issues frequent news bulletins on threats to the press, published nothing on the assault. Last year, the committee ran a detailed report on American journalists who felt threatened by the far right (none of whom had been physically injured), but it seems uninterested in Antifa.

Some progressive journalists condemned the assault on Ngo but faulted him and the conservative organizers of the rally for inviting violence, as in a HuffPost article headlined “Far-Right Extremists Wanted Blood in Portland’s Streets. Once Again, They Got It.” Aymann Ismail, a staff writer at Slate, tweeted, “This is bad, but Ngo has done worse.” The Portland Mercury tried discrediting Ngo by claiming that he previously had been complicit in an attack by right-wingers on Antifa—a baseless claim debunked by Reason’s Soave but nonetheless repeated by the Daily Beast, Vice, and Rolling Stone. Zack Beauchamp of Vox condemned the physical assault on Ngo but offered excruciating rationalizations for Antifa’s rage. “The mere fact that Ngo was assaulted doesn’t say what the meaning of that assault is, or what the broader context is that’s necessary to understand it,” he wrote, explaining that the controversy “isn’t really a debate about press freedoms” but rather about “two divergent visions of where American politics is.” One of those visions just happens to require silencing the other side.

Free speech should be of special interest to the Columbia Journalism Review, which calls itself “the leading global voice on journalism news and commentary.” But CJR sees the issue through a progressive filter. It not only criticized The New York Review of Books and Harper’s for publishing articles by journalists fired for sexual harassment but also essentially advocated a blacklist: “The men who feel they have been unfairly treated following accusations of harassment or abuse are entitled to their perspective, but nothing demands that editors turn over the pages of their publications to these figures.” CJRapplauded Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for “stemming the flow of toxic ideas” by banning “hate-mongers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones.” After the violence at Berkeley and Middlebury, CJRurged reporters covering campus unrest to “be wary of amplifying flashpoints that match Trump’s own ‘intolerant left’ narrative,” and it has been following its own advice.

CJR showed little interest in Antifa’s censorious tactics until prompted recently by Quillette, the online magazine devoted to “dangerous ideas,” which has run articles by journalists and academics on the culture wars over free speech. Eoin Lenihan, a researcher in online extremism, reported in May on an analysis of the Twitter users who interact most heavily with Antifa sites. Most turned out to be journalists, including writers for the Guardian, the New Republic, and HuffPostas well for pro-Antifa publications. Following a group closely on Twitter, of course, doesn’t mean that one endorses its activity; journalists do need to track the subjects they cover. But these journalists seemed more devoted to promoting the cause than covering it impartially. “Of all 15 verified national-level journalists in our subset, we couldn’t find a single article, by any of them, that was markedly critical of Antifa in any way,” Lenihan wrote. “In all cases, their work in this area consisted primarily of downplaying Antifa violence while advancing Antifa talking points, and in some cases quoting Antifa extremists as if they were impartial experts.”

CJR responded to Lenihan’s article—but not by analyzing the press coverage of Antifa. Instead, it ran an article, “Right-Wing Publications Launder an Anti-Journalist Smear Campaign,” by Jared Holt of Right Wing Watch, a project of the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way. Holt’s article was a mix of ad hominem attacks, irrelevancies, and inaccuracies. Cathy Young, who wrote about the controversy for Arc Digital, concluded that every key point in his argument was wrong. Even worse was what Holt omitted. He didn’t even address Lenihan’s main conclusion: that press coverage of Antifa was biased—the issue that should have been most relevant to a journalism review.

Yet CJR remained uninterested in Antifa even after the subsequent assault on Andy Ngo. This past summer, it ran an article about rightists attacking journalists in Greece, but Ngo’s assault didn’t even rate a mention in CJR’s daily digest of journalism news. The only reference to the Portland melee was a summary of a Media Matters article criticizing Fox News for its coverage. Fox, like other outlets, had quoted a report from the Portland police that some of the milk shakes handed out by Antifa contained quick-drying cement, but no other evidence existed that this was true. To the nation’s leading journalism review, that was apparently the most important lesson of the episode for reporters: be careful not to exaggerate the violence of leftists opposed to free speech. And never mind that a journalist is in the hospital as a result of that violence.

Is there any hope of reviving the spirit of Nat Hentoff on the left? The zeal for banning “hate speech” doesn’t seem to be abating, though some progressives are developing a new appreciation for the First Amendment, thanks to Trump’s incoherent comments about it, like his offhand remark that “bad” speech is not “free speech” because it is “dangerous.” While the dangers of Trump’s “war on the press” have been exaggerated—no matter how much he’d like to silence “fake news CNN” or the “failing New York Times,” the courts won’t suspend the First Amendment to please him—there is a danger of the federal government stifling speech on social media.

There’s some bipartisan support in Congress and even among journalists for removing what’s been called the Internet’s First Amendment: the exemption that allows social media platforms to publish controversial material without being held legally liable for it. Removing the exemption appeals to some Democrats who want to restrict “hate speech,” and to some Republicans, too, angry at the platforms for censoring right-wing voices. This censorship is often blamed on social media companies’ progressive bias, which may well exist, but it’s due at least in part simply to the greater external pressure from progressive activists and journalists. If progressives keep trying to de-platform their opponents—and if Twitter and Facebook and YouTube keep caving to the pressure—there’ll be more bipartisan enthusiasm to restrict all speech on social media.

A more immediate danger is self-censorship by writers fearful of being fired or blacklisted and by editors fearful of online rage, staff revolts, and advertising boycotts. After the firing of Williamson, The Atlantic (to its credit) published a dissent from that decision by Conor Friedersdorf, in which he worried about the chilling effect it would have on the magazine’s writers and editors, and how their fear of taking chances would ultimately hurt readers. That’s the danger at every publication that bows to the new censors. Resisting them won’t be easy if journalism keeps going the way of academia.

But all editors and publishers can take a couple of basic steps. One is to concentrate on hiring journalists committed to the most important kind of diversity: a wide range of ideas open for vigorous debate. The other step is even simpler: stop capitulating. Ignore the online speech police, and don’t reward the staff censors, either. Instead of feeling their pain or acceding to their demands, give them a copy of Nat Hentoff’s Free Speech for Me—but Not for Thee. If they still don’t get it—if they still don’t see that free speech is their profession’s paramount principle—tactfully suggest that their talents would be better suited to another line of work.

This is unfortunately not surprising, given that people now appear to be entering journalism to, in their words, change the world, not to just report the world.