The Man Who Creates the Truth

Tomorrow’s headlines today! Before he did all those famous old west drawings and paintings and bronze cowboys and all that, the artist Frederic Remington did sketches for magazines and newspapers, back when photography was still cumbersome and slow and expensive. He was the “cameraman” on the scene. Joseph Pulitzer purchased the New York World in 1883 and he had his illustrators, and made a ton of money. News is better with pictures. William Randolph Hearst began looking for a New York newspaper to purchase and bought the New York Journal in 1895, and hired Remington. Hire the best – and from 1895 to about 1898, Hearst and Pulitzer tried to outdo each other with sensational stuff, much of which was nonsense. That was the golden age of yellow journalism – long before Drudge and Breitbart and the National Inquirer – but the Spanish-American War presented a problem. It didn’t look like there was going to be one. At one point Remington telegrammed Hearst to tell him all was quiet in Cuba and “There will be no war.” Hearst responded “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Hearst denied it all. There’s no evidence of any such telegrams – but it’s a good story. Hearst was going to publish tomorrow’s headlines today! Joseph Pulitzer would be left in the dust.

That epic battle is at the core of Citizen Kane – Orson Welles was the perfect hyper-aggressive Hearst, the man who would create the truth, damn it! And he would get damned rich doing it! Pierce Brosnan as James Bond stops a modern William Randolph Hearst – or maybe it’s Rupert Murdoch – in Tomorrow Never Dies – and it was to be thermonuclear war this time, to increase circulation, to create the truth and rule the world. The bad guy, a clearly psychopathic media mogul, even quotes William Randolph Hearst. It’s a hoot, even if all the echoes of Fox News are a bit disquieting. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes probably didn’t like the movie.

Tomorrow’s headlines today should be confined to satire, like this from Andy Borowitz:

In his most stunning deal yet with Democratic leaders, Donald Trump agreed on Friday to be impeached by the end of 2017.

Emerging from an Oval Office meeting with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a beaming Trump touted the deal for his imminent removal from office.

“Chuck and Nancy and I got a deal done on impeachment,” Trump said. “It was a good deal and it was a fast deal.”

And he had his reasons:

Trump said that the Democrats had convinced him that agreeing to be impeached would make him soar in popularity. “People are going to love me for doing this,” Trump said. “They’re going to love it on all the channels.”

In a barb aimed at House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump said that the impeachment agreement was something he “never could have gotten done” with the Republican leadership.

“I went around and around with the Republicans for months on health care,” he said. “This meeting with Chuck and Nancy took, what, five minutes, and I could get back to watching TV.”

Somehow that could happen, but not really. Donald Trump doesn’t need the love of the American public THAT much. Or does he? Satire raises that question, but satire is not tomorrow’s headlines today. Leave that to William Randolph Hearst, or leave that to Facebook.

Seth Fiegerman and Dylan Byers run down the basics:

Facebook has yet another major controversy from its impact on the 2016 election, and this one cuts to the heart of how it makes money.

On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that it sold approximately $100,000 worth of ads during the presidential election cycle from inauthentic accounts and pages “likely operated out of Russia.”

The news comes amid ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. Facebook, in particular, has spent much of this year trying to crack down on the spread of fake news after being heavily criticized for the role it may have played in influencing the U.S. election.

Cracking down on the spread of fake news is fine, but there’s this:

Who was behind the accounts that bought these ads? The accounts are said to have been created by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company or “troll farm” known for engaging in propaganda campaigns.

What exactly did the Russian-linked accounts buy on Facebook? Facebook says it found “roughly” 3,000 ads connected to 470 fake accounts and Facebook Pages. It was a mix of traditional ads and sponsored articles focused on divisive subjects for U.S. voters, including immigration, gun rights and LGBT issues.

How were these ads targeted? About 25% of the 3,000 ads were geographically targeted, according to Facebook. The company hasn’t revealed which areas were targeted.

Have we seen any of the ads yet? No, Facebook has not shared copies of the advertisements. Some tech leaders are calling on Facebook to release the ads.

Those are the basics, and this is Facebook’s dilemma:

First, it’s important to understand how Facebook sells ads. It has a self-service ad model: Businesses and individuals can easily select the type of ad, how much they want to spend on it, and which audience they want to target.

Facebook may work directly with big companies, media organizations and presidential campaigns on targeting certain ad purchases. But it does not work directly with each and every one of its millions of advertisers.

Facebook took in nearly $27 billion in ad revenue last year.

That’s a big chunk of change for an automated process:

On its website, Facebook says it typically reviews ads within 24 hours. It may ban ads for a long list of reasons, including promoting illegal products, adult content, profanity or engaging in discriminatory practices.

This doesn’t always work as intended. Facebook came under fire last year after a report found that an “ethnic affinities” targeting option could be used to discriminate against users in housing-related ads.

That’s because an algorithm reviews the ads – set it and forget it – and that’s the problem:

The ads placed by the Russian-linked accounts may not have violated those guidelines. But the use of a network of fraudulent accounts certainly breaks Facebook’s rules. Facebook says it continues to develop technical solutions for detecting fake accounts and pages.

They’ll review their algorithms. That’s it, but this is a problem:

Days after the U.S. election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he thought the idea that fake news stories on the social network influenced the election was “crazy.” But his company has spent much of this year trying to curb the spread of fake news.

They know they’re in trouble, and the New York Times’ Scott Shane gets specific about this:

The notice went out on Facebook last year, calling citizens of Twin Falls, Idaho, to an urgent meeting about the “huge upsurge of violence toward American citizens” by Muslim refugees who had settled there.

The inflammatory post, however, originated not in Idaho but in Russia. The meeting’s sponsor, an anti-immigrant page called “Secured Borders,” was one of hundreds of fake Facebook accounts created by a Russian company with Kremlin ties to spread vitriolic messages on divisive issues.

It was tomorrow’s headline today:

A report by the Russian media outlet RBC last March identified the Secured Borders page as the work of the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg firm that employs hundreds of so-called trolls to post material in support of Russian government policies. A Facebook official confirmed that Secured Borders was removed in the purge of Russian fakes.

The Secured Borders page, a search for archived images shows, spent months posing as an American activist group and spreading provocative messages on Facebook calling immigrants “scum” and “freeloaders,” linking refugees to crime and praising President Trump’s tough line on immigration. The page attracted more than 133,000 followers before it was shut down.

It also promoted the Aug. 27, 2016, meeting in Twin Falls, called “Citizens before refugees,” which was first reported by The Daily Beast. The call came amid incendiary claims linking Muslim refugees in Twin Falls to crime that circulated on far-right websites last year. In May, Alex Jones, of the conspiracy site Infowars.com, retracted a claim that the Twin Falls yogurt company Chobani, which had made a point of hiring refugees, had been “caught importing migrant rapists.”

Shawn Barigar, the mayor of Twin Falls, said that the City Council Chambers, where the supposed meeting was called on a Saturday, were closed that day and that officials did not recall any gathering.

The meeting wasn’t the point. The idea behind the meeting was more important. The 133,000 “followers” were more important. No one had to meet anywhere. They just had to vote.

Now add this:

A Russia-linked Facebook group attempted to organize a series of anti-immigrant, anti-Hillary Clinton rallies across Texas last November, three days before the election and months after Russian operatives used the social-media platform to organize an anti-refugee-resettlement protest in rural Idaho.

The group, called Heart of Texas, had over 225,000 followers as of last summer. It was shut down last week as part of Facebook’s takedown of accounts and pages “affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” a Facebook spokesman told Business Insider on Wednesday.

They attempted to organize secessionist rallies too, but managed to misspell “Texas” so often that didn’t work out. English isn’t their first language, but people will click on anything:

Russian-funded covert propaganda posts on Facebook were likely seen by a minimum of 23 million people and might have reached as many as 70 million, according to analysis by an expert on the social-media giant’s complex advertising systems. That means up to 28 percent of American adults were swept in by the campaign.

They might have been no more than curious, but the clicks were there. That’s how William Randolph Hearst sold newspapers. People are curious. Buy his newspaper. He’d provide the war. These guys would provide a win for Donald Trump.

These guys, however, couldn’t even spell Texas. They were amateurs. This shouldn’t have mattered, but they may have had help. At Vanity Fair, Chris Smith covers that very real possibility:

The headlines were about Facebook admitting it had sold ad space to Russian groups trying to sway the 2016 presidential campaign. But investigators shrugged: they’d known or assumed for months that Facebook, as well as Twitter and other social-media platforms, were a tool used in the Kremlin’s campaign. “The only thing that’s surprising is that more revelations like this haven’t come out sooner,” said Congressman Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “And I expect that more will.”

Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics? “By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh.

Someone smells a rat, one very specific rat:

Probers are intrigued by the role of Jared Kushner, the now-president’s son-in-law, who eagerly took credit for crafting the Trump campaign’s online efforts in a rare interview right after the 2016 election. “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner told Steven Bertoni of Forbes. “We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff… We basically had to build a $400 million operation with 1,500 people operating in 50 states, in five months to then be taken apart. We started really from scratch.”

Someone should have warned young Jared about boasting:

Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.”

Jared, Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer his patron and the billionaire who funds Breitbart News, all connected to Cambridge Analytica? It all falls into place, and there’s that other guy too:

Senator Martin Heinrich is leading the charge to update American election laws so that the origins of political ads on social media are at least as transparent as those on TV and in print. Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is also part of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is tracing Russia’s 2016 tactics. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich said, referring to a mid-2000s proposal Manafort pitched to a Russian oligarch. “Suddenly he finds himself in the middle of this campaign. If there is a person who I think is very sophisticated in this stuff, and runs in pretty dicey circles, that is the place where I would dig.”

This was not amateur hour:

Analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”

That’s the question:

“Are we connecting the dots? I’m finding more dots,” said Quigley, who recently traveled to Prague and Budapest to learn more about the history of Russian influence campaigns. “I believe there was coordination, and I’m going to leave it at that for now.”

Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer his patron and the billionaire who funds Breitbart News, and Paul Manafort, should be worried now. Perhaps Donald Trump should be worried too – unless Andy Borowitz is right and he has agreed to be impeached, and then go back to watching television shows about himself and tweeting about Rosie O’Donnell. He does find her repulsive.

It may be time for that:

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are now in possession of Russian-linked ads run on Facebook during the presidential election, after they obtained a search warrant for the information.

Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.

The walls are closing in:

Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

In those briefings, Facebook spoke only in generalities about the ad buys, leaving some committee members feeling frustrated with Facebook’s level of cooperation.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN last week that Facebook had not turned over the ads to Congress. Warner has also called Facebook’s review “the tip of the iceberg,” and suggested that more work needs to be done in order to ascertain the full scope of Russia’s use of social media.

When a senator talks about the “the tip of the iceberg” Jared Kushner should worry, and so should his father-in-law.

That might explain this:

A small group of White House lawyers this summer urged that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner step down from his White House role amid a broadening probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians in the 2016 election, according to multiple people familiar with the discussion.

Some of the lawyers worried that the presence of Kushner, a senior adviser with a broad domestic and foreign policy portfolio, created potential legal complications for Trump, while the probe threatened to limit Kushner’s ability to perform his job, these people said.

Kushner had several interactions with Russian officials in the campaign and transition that have drawn interest from investigators, and some White House lawyers warned that even casual discussions between him and Trump could spark additional scrutiny.

That additional scrutiny just arrived, as they knew it would:

Other people familiar with the Trump lawyers’ debate said Kushner’s presence in the White House created risks that were logical discussion topics for the legal team as it sought to minimize risks for Trump amid a widening investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The lawyers “would have been dummies” not to consider walling the president off from another person who would become a major subject for the special counsel’s investigation, said one person briefed on the discussion.

Donald Trump would have none of that and Kushner is still there. Who’s the dummy?

That’s obvious, but young Jared Kushner knew exactly what William Randolph Hearst knew. Publish tomorrow’s headlines today! Create the truth and rule the world! And that’s far easier now. One need not be a psychopathic media mogul with lots of newspapers, or these days a cable news channel of one’s own. Facebook will do and the Russians will do the grunt-work. “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

That seems to be what happened here, again.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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