Washington Post

President Obama blames the media for, well, everything

President Barack Obama didn't get terribly animated during his annual year-end news conference Dec 16. Except, that is, when talking about how the media covered the 2016 election.

Asked about the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and some top operatives in Hillary Clinton's campaign, President Obama offered up a media critique: "This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage. So I do think it is worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks." President Obama was then asked about Clinton and whether her loss could be laid at the feet of the Russian hack. Again, he turned to a media-focused answer: "I couldn't be prouder of Secretary Clinton, her outstanding service, and she's worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people, and I don't think she was treated fairly during the election. I think the coverage of her and the issues was troubling."

FBI in agreement with CIA that Russia aimed to help Trump win White House

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed , as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation. New revelations about Comey’s position could put to rest suggestions by some lawmakers that the CIA and the FBI weren’t on the same page on Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s intentions. The positions of Comey and Clapper were revealed in a message that CIA Director John Brennan sent to the agency’s workforce.

Aggressive sales goals pressure T-Mobile workers to sell unwanted services, labor group alleges

T-Mobile employees under pressure to meet sales goals are sometimes driven to mislead customers or to enroll them in services they didn’t ask for, alleges a report from a labor coalition.

In a complaint that Change to Win said they filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the labor group claimed that T-Mobile sets “unrealistic sales targets” that encourage workers to act in ways that may not benefit consumers. The group found that some workers said they felt pressure to add insurance, phone lines and other services that customers didn’t explicitly ask for to meet sales targets and earn commission payments. The findings were based on a review of consumer complaints collected by the Federal Trade Commission, a consumer protection agency, interviews with workers and online surveys of people who identified themselves as T-Mobile employees and customers.

FBI backs CIA view that Russia intervened to help Trump win election

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the presidency, according to US officials. Director Comey’s support for the CIA’s conclusion — and officials say that he never changed his position — suggests that the leaders of the three agencies are in agreement on Russian intentions, contrary to suggestions by some lawmakers that the FBI disagreed with the CIA.

“Earlier this week, I met separately with (Director) FBI James Comey and DNI Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a message to the agency’s workforce, according to U.S. officials who have seen the message. “The three of us also agree that our organizations, along with others, need to focus on completing the thorough review of this issue that has been directed by President Obama and which is being led by the DNI,” Brennan’s message read.

Did the media become a ‘de facto instrument of Russian intelligence’?

Toward the end of its extensive dive into the Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the New York Times included this potent little sentence: Every major publication, including The Times, published multiple stories citing the Democratic National Committee and [Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta e-mails posted by WikiLeaks, becoming a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.

The questions are: What if we don't immediately know where the e-mails came from? Do we ignore hacked e-mails until we can determine their origins? Do we ignore them completely, regardless of origin? And even if many of us agree to either approach, do we all agree to hold off together? How do we formalize that process? And what if some outlets decline to join us? The simplest solution probably would be a blanket ban on publicizing any hacked e-mails, but again, that would be easier said than done, and the information would still be out there for anybody to disseminate — again, without fact-checking and proper context. That's a recipe for plenty of additional misinformation after an election already plagued by “fake news.”

Why you should want Donald Trump to do press conferences, regardless of how you feel about him

Press conferences are a chance for the media to work together to wring information out of a recalcitrant politician, to give as full a picture to the public as possible. Donald Trump knows, though, that he doesn't have to do them if he doesn't want to and, what's more, that the media is flummoxed when he is dishonest on those occasions that he answers our questions.

Propaganda used to be a source of shame. Now governments take pride in it.

[Commentary] Censorship and propaganda were once regarded as sources of shame, even in authoritarian settings, and the officials who carried out these shabby projects were shadowy figures unknown to the outside world. In the 21st century, however, things have changed.

Ironically, elements of democratic culture have contributed to the rise in modern propaganda. Propositions that there is no such thing as objective truth and that history is nothing more than a contest between competing narratives owe their popularity to radical theorists and even some journalists. While accusations that the press is biased are common fodder in American political campaigns, the exaggerated and repeated charges of media bias expressed during the presidential campaign reinforced the propagandist’s depiction of a world in which truth is determined by which side argues the loudest and formulates the cleverest lies. Others have cynically made use of the too-trusting model of Western journalism, which, in an effort to see both sides, has treated patently false assertions as symmetrical with legitimate views or facts. The struggle over the future of global democracy is still in its early stage. Right now, unfortunately, it is democracy’s adversaries who are advancing the tawdry case for propaganda and censorship with self-assurance, and freedom’s champions whose response is mired in bewilderment and hesitation.

[Arch Puddington is distinguished fellow in democracy studies at Freedom House.]

A big change to US broadcasting is coming — and it’s one Putin might admire

[Commentary] For years, members of Congress have fumed about what they regard as ineffective US public diplomacy, including the failure of broadcasting operations such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to match the reach and apparent influence of networks such as Russia’s RT and Qatar’s al Jazeera. A frequent and arguably fair focus of criticism has been the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the body created to supervise government-funded media outlets while serving as a firewall between them and the political administration of the day.

A radical change to that system is now coming — and it looks like one that Vladi­mir Putin and Qatar’s emir might well admire. An amendment quietly inserted into the annual National Defense Authorization Act by Republican House leaders would abolish the broadcasting board and place VOA, RFE/RL and other international news and information operations under the direct control of a chief executive appointed by the president. The new executive would hire and fire senior media personnel and manage their budgets. The damage to US interests could be considerable.

When ‘Miranda’ violations lead to passwords

A new decision, United States v. Ashmore (W.D. Ark. December 7, 2016), raises an interesting question at the intersection of new technology and constitutional rights: If the government violates a suspect’s Miranda rights, interrogating him without reading Miranda warnings, and during the interrogation obtains the suspect’s passwords that are then used to access his phone and computer, are the phone and computer admissible in court?

The district court held that the passwords themselves must be suppressed but that, on the specific facts of this case, the evidence on the devices should not be suppressed. I think that’s the right result, although the court reached that result for the wrong reason. And I think that the government should win on much broader grounds than the court realized.

CBS and Viacom’s parent company doesn’t want them to merge, after all

The parent company of CBS and Viacom is urging the two companies not to merge, reversing course on a major proposal that had been portrayed as a potential boon to both companies. In a letter to the boards of CBS and Viacom on Dec 12, National Amusements — a privately held entertainment firm that owns controlling shares of both subsidiaries — said that now was “not the right time” to merge the companies.

Pointing to recent changes in Viacom's management, NAI said it was convinced that the struggling cable and film company boasted “forward-looking thinking” and had a compelling strategic plan. Since 2014, Viacom's stock has fallen roughly 60 percent, while shares of CBS are at about the same level they were two years ago. “CBS continues to perform exceptionally well under Les Moonves,” NAI's letter read, “and we have every reason to believe that momentum will continue on a stand-alone basis.”