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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

On the final night of the Republican National Convention, Peter Thiel, one of the wealthiest men in Silicon Valley, will make his own very peculiar contribution to this bizarre spectacle. A gay libertarian who professes to abhor war, he will endorse the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump, the GOP’s war-mongering authoritarian nominee who chose a homophobic running mate.

Among his peers in the tech industry, who reportedly consider Thiel eccentric and mysterious as well as brilliant, few claim to understand why he has made a political choice that most of them consider mad and potentially dangerous. He is said to despise democracy, so perhaps he hopes to undermine our constitutional system.

But whatever Thiel’s motivation may be, he knows from personal experience that one of the principal lines of attack on Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is false — because a premier technology firm that he founded and still chairs has vindicated the work of the Clinton Global Initiative.

In 2004, Thiel was one of the five co-founders of Palantir Technologies, an innovator in data analysis that has grown into one of the most respected and valuable corporations in its field, with such heavyweight clients as the Pentagon, the FBI, the NSA, and the CIA (indeed, the intelligence agency’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, reportedly invested $2 million to start Palantir, and much of its success, ironically for the libertarian Thiel, has derived from its patronage by government). After several rounds of financing, Thiel remains the largest shareholder of the privately held Palantir, which was valued last year at $20 billion — making it the third most valuable tech startup in the U.S., behind Uber and AirBnB.

Ten years after its founding, Palantir’s chief executive Alex Karp — one of the firm’s co-founders with Thiel — agreed to perform a highly sophisticated and costly feat of data analysis for the Clinton Global Initiative, at no charge.

The task was to evaluate over 3,000 “commitments to action” made by nonprofits, corporations, unions, and other organizations at CGI’s annual meetings in New York City, hosted by its founder, former President Bill Clinton. Those commitments represent CGI’s central purpose, by transforming the typical conference on global problems, which usually began and ended with talk, into an opportunity for participants to act. To remain active in Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), every member must make a commitment, and those commitments must be “new, specific, and measurable” in their positive impact on a global problem.

Over the history of Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) since its founding conference in September 2005, the projects undertaken by its thousands of members are estimated to have improved the lives of more than 400 million people, at a cost of at least $85 billion, in areas ranging from education, job creation, and women’s empowerment to water, sanitation, and climate change. As CGI’s tenth anniversary approached in 2013, its leadership and management, including Bill and Chelsea Clinton, decided that rigorous evaluation of its commitments was overdue. Such analysis required the kind of software and analysis that Palantir routinely provides to its government and corporate clients.

Released in 2014, the Palantir report found that nearly 42 percent of all the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitments made between 2005 and 2013 had been completed successfully, while 40 percent were continuing to work toward their objectives. Only five percent were unsuccessful. Just under two percent were deemed to be stalled, while 11 percent were marked “unresponsive” for failing to report any progress for two years (and were removed from the list of active commitments). More than two-thirds of the successful commitments had exceeded their original goals.

The report went into far greater detail on a wide range of metrics and topics, and noted carefully that all the data on success and failure had been self-reported. The bottom line, however, as Forbes magazine columnist Tom Watson noted, was not only that CGI’s wide-ranging projects had achieved a far higher rate of success than most business startups — but that its candor about its failures promised to provide important lessons for the future of philanthropy.

As for Palantir, its decision to provide pro bono services was a strong indicator of its confidence in the reality of CGI’s own commitment to a better world — confidence that the firm’s tech wizards confirmed in 2013 with their own CGI commitment, an ambitious effort to improve global response to natural and other disasters by providing “software and analytical support to better mobilize responders and resources.”

So while Republicans may hurl myths, lies, and insults at the Clinton Foundation, during their convention and into the fall campaign, Peter Thiel’s own company crunched the data that proves them wrong.

 

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Rep. Bennie Thompson

Photo by Customs and Border Protection (Public domain)

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) Friday afternoon announced the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack has issued subpoenas to 14 Republicans from seven states who submitted the forged and "bogus" Electoral College certificates falsely claiming Donald Trump and not Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election in their states.

The Chairman appeared to suggest the existence of a conspiracy as well, noting the "the planning and coordination of efforts," saying "these so-called alternate electors met," and may know "who was behind that scheme."

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Chris Cuomo

News Literacy Week 2022, an annual awareness event started by the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making everyone “smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy” has closed out. From January 24 to 28, classes, webinars, and Twitter chats taught students and adults how to root out misinformation when consuming news media.
There’s no downplaying the importance of understanding what is accurate in the media. These days, news literacy is a survival tactic. One study estimated that at least 800 people died because they embraced a COVID falsehood — and that inquiry was conducted in the earliest months of the pandemic. About 67 percent of the unvaccinated believe at least one COVID-19 myth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s not that accurate information isn’t available; people are rejecting reports of vaccine efficacy and safety because they distrust the news media. A third of Americans polled by Gallup said they have no trust at all in mass media; another 27 percent don’t have much at all.
Getting people to believe information presented to them depends more on trust than it does on the actual data being shared. That is, improving trust isn’t an issue of improving reporting. It’s an issue of improving relationships with one’s audience.
And that’s the real news problem right now; some celebrity anchors at cable news outlets are doing little to strengthen their relationships with their audiences and a lot to strengthen their relationships with government officials.
The most obvious example is how CNN terminated Prime Time anchor Chris Cuomo last month for his failure to disclose the entirety of his role in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the sexual harassment accusation that unfolded in Albany, a scandal that eventually led to Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.
But there are others. Just this month, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealed that another anchor on another cable news network, Laura Ingraham of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, texted then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last January, advising Meadows how Trump should react to reports of possible armed protests at state capitols around the country. This revelation followed the story that Sean Hannity, host of the eponymous news hour at Fox News, also texted Meadows with advice last year.
And while he didn't advise a government official, CNN anchor Don Lemon revealed information not available to the public when he texted embattled Empire actor Jussie Smollett to tip him off about the Chicago Police Department’s wavering faith in his story about an assault. That’s from Smollett’s own sworn testimony.
When English philosopher Edmund Burke joked about the press being the Fourth Estate — in addition to the First, Second and Third (the clergy, nobility and commoners, respectively) — his point was that, despite their influence on each other, these “estates” — bastions of power — are supposed to be separate.
The Fourth Estate will always be an essential counterweight to government. But, since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, we’ve been so focused on stopping an executive branch from pressing the press to support an administration's agenda — either by belittling journalists or threatening to arrest them for doing their jobs — that we’ve ignored the ways that it affects and influences other Estates, and not necessarily through its reporting.
That is, we have news personalities-cum-reporters who are influencing government policy — and not telling us about it until it’s too late.
The United States has fostered an incredible closeness between the Second Estate — which in 2021 and 2022 would be political leaders — and the Fourth Estate. About a year ago, an Axios reporter had to be reassigned because she was dating one of President Biden’s press secretaries. Last year, James Bennet, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times and brother of Colorado Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Michael Bennet, had to recuse himself publicly from the Gray Lady’s endorsement process. In 2013, the Washington Post reported at least eight marriages between Obama officials and established journalists.
To be clear, there aren’t any accusations that anyone just mentioned engaged in anything other than ethical behavior. But I, for one, don’t believe that James and Michael Bennet didn’t discuss Michael’s campaign. I don’t think the Axios reporter and her West Wing-employed boyfriend — or any journalists and their federally employed spouses, for that matter — didn’t share facts that the public will never know. Such is the nature of family and intimacy.
And as long as those conversations don’t affect the coverage of any news events, there’s nothing specifically, technically wrong with them. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t damaging.
As these stories show, when we don’t know about these advisor roles, at least not until someone other than the journalist in question exposes them, it causes a further erosion of trust in news media.
What’s foolish about the Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon improprieties is that they don't necessarily need to be the problem they’ve become. Cuomo’s show contained opinion content like 46 percent of CNN’s programming. An active debate rages on as to whether Fox News is all opinion and whether or not it can rightly even be called opinion journalism since its shows are so studded with inaccuracies and lies.
What that means is that Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon are allowed to take a stand as opinion journalists; Cuomo and Lemon never really worked under a mandate of objectivity and Ingraham and Hannity likely wouldn’t honor it if they did. Indeed, a certain subjectivity — and explaining how it developed for the journalist — is part of an opinion journalist’s craft. To me, little of these consulting roles would be problematic if any of these anchors had just disclosed them and the ways they advised the people they cover.
But they didn’t. Instead, the advice they dispensed to government employees and celebrities was disclosed by a third party and news of it contributes to the public’s distrust in the media. While personal PR advisory connections between journalists and politicians haven’t been pinpointed as a source of distrust, they may have an effect. Almost two-thirds of respondents in a Pew Research poll said they attributed what they deemed unfair coverage to a political agenda on the part of the news organization. No one has rigorously examined the ways in which individual journalists can swing institutional opinion so it may be part of the reason why consumers are suspicious of news.
Cleaning up ex post facto is both a violation of journalistic ethics and ineffective. Apologies and corrections after the fact don't always improve media trust. In other credibility contests, like courtroom battles, statements against one’s interests enhance a person’s believability. But that’s not necessarily true of news; a 2015 study found that corrections don’t automatically enhance a news outlet’s credibility.
It’s a new adage for the 21st century: It’s not the consulting; it’s the cover-up. Journalists need to disclose their connections to government officials — up front — to help maintain trust in news media. Lives depend on it.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.


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