May 28, 2023

Michael Tomasky of The New Republic reminds us that the Fox News settlement is on top of the $1 billion judgment Alex Jones was forced to pay the families of the murdered victims of Sandy Hook for defamation.

However you rank them, the plain truth is that Alex Jones and Fox News are vastly influential right-wing “media” voices. And now one has been assigned to pay history’s largest defamation award and the other to pay history’s largest defamation settlement.

This is not a coincidence. This is how they roll. Lying is what these people do. Why? A few reasons. Money, mostly, as the Fox-Dominion depositions showed (“It is not red or blue, it’s green,” Rupert Murdoch said). Also, to shock and upset conventional liberal opinion (which is tied to money, of course, because the more shocking they are, the higher the ratings, and the greater the profit).


The record would seem to indicate that Fox executives and anchors had no ideological motivation, because said record suggests that they knew Donald Trump was lying about the 2020 election. But their choice to go along with the Big Lie was partly an ideological choice too, and for this reason: They understood the stakes of going along with the lie. They knew very well that if Trump got his way, and states tried to put in substitute slates of electors or Mike Pence refused to certify the electoral votes on January 6, 2021, that would have been the end of more than 240 consecutive years of democratic rule in the U.S. The end! And they went along. It was driven by ratings in the first instance—which is hardly an excuse, by the way—but it was also revealing of the ideology of the place, where democracy takes a distant second to power.

What Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian describes as the relationship between Fox News and its viewers sounds like a codependent relationship.

It’s small comfort, but there’s no guarantee that even if the Dominion case had gone to trial, and Fox had lost, it would have changed the calculus much. For what has been revealed most starkly by this saga is the extent to which Fox News now lives in fear of the monster it has created. Running through those emails and texts is terror of an audience that demanded to be told what it wanted to hear – namely, that Democrats could only have beaten the mighty Trump by cheating. If Fox was not prepared to tell that soothing bedtime story, the Fox tribe was ready to turn to alternative rightwing networks – the likes of Newsmax and One America News – who would.

In an absorbing essay on the Dominion case in Prospect magazine, Matthew d’Ancona likens the Murdochs to the Sacklers of Purdue Pharma and Oxycontin, encouraging a section of the American public “to become addicted to the opioid of an unyielding conservatism that often strayed into conspiracy theories and outright lies”. We might fantasise about taking down the first and most powerful supplier, but it’s gone beyond that now. The problem that needs treating is the addiction.

Sounds like more of a contagion than an addiction.

Speaking of addiction, Jessie Hellmann of Roll Call writes that there are an increasing number of older adults drinking excessively and dying of alcohol-related deaths because of limited treatment options.

Older adults are increasingly drinking excessively and dying of alcohol-related deaths, and the problem has been compounded by ageism, stigma, a lack of interest from policymakers and health care providers and few age-appropriate treatment options, experts say.  […]

According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.6 percent of adults 50 and older had an alcohol use disorder in the past year — a lower rate than other adult age groups, but one that, like other adult age groups, has increased in recent years.

Older adults are more likely to die from alcohol-related causes, mostly from chronic diseases associated with years of drinking. In 2020, the rate of alcohol-induced deaths among 55- to 64-year-old men was higher than in any other age group, according to the CDC, and was second highest among men aged 65-74. Rates among older women are also increasing.


But with fewer medical professionals specializing in geriatrics, and even fewer of those professionals specializing in addiction training, the U.S. is not prepared to treat this growing need, experts say.

As a sober alcoholic for some time, now, I’ve noticed the uptick in older adults that abuse alcohol in recent years. (In fact, I’ve been affected by it very recently.) I have a few of my own views on the subject but since I am not a certified addictions counselor, I will remain silent other than to say that it’s not often that anyone above the age of 55 goes into a “sober living house” for alcoholic treatment aftercare unless they have no other place to go.

Paul Kane of The Washington Post notes that after all of the talking that Republicans did about an open and transparent House, the GQP has not had even one committee hearing about their bill to raise the debt-ceiling.

For almost two months, Republicans of all stripes filed into House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office to cobble together a sweeping 320-page bill that would touch many aspects of domestic policy while also allowing the Treasury to continue borrowing another $1.5 trillion to fund the federal government.

Not a single committee held a hearing on a bill that would slash trillions of dollars from federal agency budgets and revoke clean climate tax credits. Not one committee held the traditional legislative markup to consider amendments and further debate on the measure. Not one Democrat had input into the measure.

And a surprising thing happened along the way. The Republicans, even the most conservative antagonists who decried this type of legislating, learned to like backroom dealmaking despite their demands in early January for McCarthy (R-Calif.) to promise a more open legislative process in exchange for their votes for speaker.

Kyle Chayka of The New Yorker writes about the implosions of Buzzfeed News and Twitter. 

Just a decade ago, Twitter and BuzzFeed were the popular poles of a nascent social Internet. Twitter, where the hive mind of social media congregated, was faster and more fun than Facebook, more news-obsessed than the niche cultural fandoms of Tumblr. BuzzFeed was one of the first media companies to wholly embrace social media. Founded in 2006 by Jonah Peretti, who also co-founded the Huffington Post, it both observed online trends and memes and created them. The site constructed entire articles out of aggregating amusing tweets, and it pioneered digital personality quizzes in the vein of “Which Harry Potter Character Are You?” In 2011, Peretti brought on the journalist Ben Smith as its editor-in-chief. Though the site carried out investigative reporting on American election campaigns and international affairs, its most famous accomplishment might be a post about a photograph of a dress that looked either blue and black or white and gold depending on the viewer’s perception. It got more than twenty-eight million views in a day. Watching both Web sites crumble at once adds to an already burgeoning sense that a certain era of the Internet has ended, and that the rules under which they once thrived have fundamentally changed. […]

Ultimately, BuzzFeed relied on social media too much. Its news division lacked an independent business model, and its ability to grant virality was more conducive to revenue streams like Tasty, a food-content channel that now produces a line of cookware with Walmart. In a note to staff about the shutdown, Peretti wrote that he as the C.E.O. was to blame for being “slow to accept that the big platforms wouldn’t provide the distribution or financial support required to support premium, free journalism purpose-built for social media.” In other words, Facebook wasn’t going to make external content production profitable; why would it, when it had so many users willing to fill its feed for free and fuel the platform’s own advertising sales in turn?

Twitter survived because of its chaotic energy. Over time, Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, turned away from news stories, particularly in the wake of the 2016 election, to focus on fostering social interactions and shopping opportunities. Twitter, meanwhile, remained a heated, relatively unfiltered arena for discourse. In 2020, the platform was an invigorating space for the Black Lives Matter movement, urging people out of pandemic isolation and into the streets for protests. Twitter was never the largest or most efficient social network, but it played an outsized role. Musk’s acquisition of the company last year, and his tumultuous attempt to reform it, has instead badly undermined that role. Musk gutted Twitter’s content-moderation staff, which once provided a safeguard against bots, misinformation, and hate speech. Before, Twitter was dysfunctional; now it hardly seems to function.

Finally today, a cautionary tale from Margarita Liutova of the independent Russian media outlet Meduza about the transformation of “Russia’s most liberal university,” the Higher School of Economics (HSE), from an independent university to “a Soviet-type research institute controlled by the Kremlin”

Before Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it had already become routine to hear of teachers considered “undesirable” be dismissed for political reasons — even before Yaroslav Kuzminov, the head of HSE, quit.

In June 2021, Kuzminov, who had worked in the role for 29 years, suddenly resigned his position as rector, three years before his contract was up. At the time, he said that he didn’t “wish to grow old as a rector.” The publication iStories later wrote that Kuzminov’s resignation “was carried out as part of a special operation.” The rector was supposedly given just one day to resign. […]

Throughout 2022, HSE employees started to experience more and more pressure from the university. Even those who left Russia without making any sort of political statements faced pressure, according to the publication Proekt. If an instructor wants to conduct an online class, they are now required to send applications to a special committee. Without the committee’s approval, it remains impossible to issue the documents necessary to work remotely. One of the committee’s members is Vice-Rector Aleksey Koshel, a former assistant to United Russia deputies in the State Duma. Koshel is described as Anisimov’s “eyes and ears” and “special vice-rector” responsible for “liasing with external organizations.” Koshel’s official duties include HR matters.

And the public university system in, say, Floridais only a step or two behind HSE.

Have the best possible day, everyone!

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