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Justin McLachlan

This Week’s WTF Moments In the News

How much crazy did you guys dredge up this week? A lot. Here’s our list of the most WTF moments in the news from the last few days:

WaPo: NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds

We’re not sure what’s more alarming about this story, that the NSA gets to determine all on its own which of its “errors” regarding privacy rules are actually errors and therefore reportable to overseers, or that much of these problems could be prevented with better employees. Almost 60 percent of FISA violations at the NSA in just Q1 of 2012 were due to “operator error” like not following standard operating procedures, training issues and typos.

Guess who’s getting more viewers than Bill O’Reilly…

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Intern To Investigate Unpaid Interns

Earlier this summer, ProPublica raised nearly $24,000 to investigate internships, with a focus on “documenting the emerging intern economy in the United States – a story hidden in plain sight.”

Yesterday, USA Today reported that ProPublica has hired recent-grad Casey McDermott to take on the task—but as an intern herself. As far as we can tell, that should probably just be a title only.

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MoJo Smacks Down Examiner Writer ‘Investigating’ Michael Hastings’ Death

A Mother Jones story today by Gavin Aronsen comes out swinging at Kimberly Dvorak—the so-called journalist “investigating” Michael Hastings death—and for good reason.

Dvorak has been pushing unsourced and, in some cases, debunked conspiracy theories about Hastings’ death at Examiner.com (most notably that he was assassinated, but she’s also open to the idea that he could’ve faked his death, too). Being that we’re talking about Examiner.com, this would make her only mildly annoying. Except that now, a San Diego TV station has started giving her airtime. That’s only led to papers like Britain’s Independent, Fox News (of course), Reason.com and others citing her work.

When asked for comment by Mother Jones, she says, “I’m going out on a limb reporting this. Journalists are becoming so irrelevant right now.” San Diego’s TV station refused to comment for the story.

An excerpt from Mother Jones:

“Dvorak’s reporting—and mainstream media outlets’ embrace of it—is ongoing. On Monday, Dvorak reported that she had ‘confirmed’ a claim made last week by Hastings’ widow, Elise Jordan, that Hastings was working on a profile of CIA Director John Brennan at the time of his death. (The news that Hastings had been investigating Brennan first appeared in the Los Angeles Times the day after Hastings’ death in June.) ‘It’s curious how his wife came out and talked about [Hastings' death] and kind of had a smile on her face and didn’t seem like a grieving widow,’ Dvorak says.”

This isn’t the first time someone has taken issue with Dvorak. Huffington Post writers Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim pointed out way back in 2010 that not only had she fabricated a story about the Mexican Los Zetas gang seizing ranches in Texas (Dvorak claims border security as one of her areas of expertise), but also ripped off a legitimate story about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement informant who played both sides of the drug war.

So why do legit outlets keep giving Dvorak a pedestal to shout from? Maybe they just don’t have time to use Google to check her bona fides, or lack thereof?

NPR’s New Homepage Offers Ease, Options and Primo Real Estate for Sponsors

NPR updated its homepage yesterday and at first glance, it looks pretty traditional—like a simple blog layout with posts lined down a central column. There’s more too it than that, the design is “responsive” which means it shifts itself around automatically depending on the size of the display on your device (incidentally, NPR‘s native app still remains the best way to get its content on a mobile device, but it’s nice to have the browser option, too).

They’ve also added infinite scrolling, with a twist. Unlike say, Pinterest, new content doesn’t automatically pop up when you reach the bottom. Instead, you’re presented with a couple buttons asking you what type of stories you’d like to load. News or Arts & Life or Books, for example. You don’t have to click through to another page like on most sites, but you still have to click.

What really caught our eye, though, was a bold choice about how to highlight NPR‘s sponsors…

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Does Media Matter’s Fever Pitch on Megyn Kelly Play Into Fox’s Hands?

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, according to Media Matters For America’s John Whitehouse. That might just be what Fox News Channel execs were hoping to hear.

“But the new face of Fox News primetime, Megyn Kelly, is a much more pernicious purveyor of political propaganda. Kelly has the unique ability to pluck misinformation and imbue it with a veneer of legitimacy that Sean Hannity has long since lost, if he ever had it at all.”

To be clear, we’re still just talking about rumors floated by The Drudge Report that Kelly might take over Sean Hannity‘s 9 p.m. slot on the network. No one has confirmed this, but as Whitehouse notes, key players haven’t denied it. Speculation about Kelly’s future on the network has been brewing for some time.

It’s an old PR trick to leak big news like this to gauge public reaction ahead of an official decision, so this kind of foaming at the mouth might actually be exactly what Fox was looking for. (So way to go Whitehouse! Aren’t you supposed to be pissing these people off?) The network thrives not just on a riled up base, but also on a riled up opposition who, through wall-to-wall coverage of every move they make gives them a measure of legitimacy (much the same way MSNBC benefits from similar watchdogs on the right).

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Jeff Bezos Watch Continues, Day 11

We were keeping track of the number of stories about WaPo’s sale to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, but lost count somewhere around 17 billion. Is it safe yet to call a state-of-emergency over the level of journalistically-induced hysteria this has caused? If we don’t reach the peak coverage soon, This Town might just implode in on itself.

Here are a few of the latest pieces:

Tim Carmondy, for Neiman Lab: Talk about some foresight, Carmody is already looking to Bezos’ death in this piece: “The Washington Post offers Bezos the chance to reinvent a newspaper during turbulent times, and in the process leave something to his family beyond Amazon.” Because the $25 billion he was already leaving them wasn’t enough?

WaPo’s Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane: Yesterday Cillizza published what he said were real emails between himself and Kane, though they’ve been edited for grammar. Side Note: if this is how they generally email, maybe they’re doing it wrong? It seems so… staged? Can we please have some filthy cussing in the next series? Anyway, Cillizza makes at least one good point: “Local newspapers were struggling long before the Bezoses of the world decided to get into the journalism industry.” And Kane: “…if this experiment ends well, does it mean the ‘Benevolent Billionaire’ is the only path to success for newspapers and their successors?” If the answer is yes, then that is bad, bad news folks.
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All Hail Jeff Bezos?

Our national what-will-Jeff-Bezos-do-with-WaPo watch continues, this time as PBS’ Media Shift blog imagines—as so many others have already done–what an Amazoned newspaper might look like.

You can dissect their thoughts for yourself, but it has to do with Amazon’s suggestion algorithms—the bits of code that tell you since you bought books X, Y and Z you’re going to love books A, B and C—and how those ideas can translate to customized news products for every reader.

The thing is, what Amazon and many other websites such as Netflix or Facebook or Google do in terms of surfacing relevant content aren’t new ideas. We’ve known how to statistically measure the strength of correlation between two things (saying, for example, if you like this then you’ll probably also like that) since at least as early as the 1880s, when Pearson’s correlation coefficient was developed. Though Amazon and Google and Facebook and all the others have expanded on the concept since then with troves of data Pearson probably never imagined, super fast computer, elaborate, custom code and newer formulas, the basic ideas are the same as they’ve always been. They’re not magic. They’re just math.

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CBS News’ O’Donnell’s ‘Typical’ Week of Work and Training

Norah O’Donnell, CBS News anchor, is training for her first half-marathon (a little over 13 miles) and today she shared a typical week of training with the readers at Self, where she’s just started blogging.

Her biggest challenge? Fitting in training time while sometimes pulling 12 and 14 hour days at work (she should probably check in with Ariana Huffington to get some life/work balance perspective). Twice in her “typical” week she had to take rest days that seemed as much about accommodating her schedule as they were an actual need for rest. Though sometimes those things go hand-in-hand.

And still, O’Donnell logged, by our count, an impressive 20-some miles and even strength training to top it all off. Not bad for such a busy anchorwoman.

Best of luck to O’Donnell. We’ll be waiting to hear the race results.

Journos Get Trumped

Maybe someone needs to introduce @realDonaldTrump to Twitter’s reply button, because apparently he’s been responding to reporters’ tweets with handwritten notes.

The latest came last night to Huffington Post’s Sam Stein after he wondered on Twitter if a This Week interview with Trump was “performance art.” Trump’s note in response, which Stein posted to Twitter (of course) said, “Perhaps Sam – But it sure gave them good ratings! Best Wishes Donald Trump.”

Stein isn’t the only who’s received a handwritten Trump note, either.

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Douthat Clarifies That He Really, Really Doesn’t Care For Politico

Yesterday, we pointed out how NYT columnist Ross Douthat feels about Politico.

He was blunt in his distaste: “I say this as someone who doesn’t particularly like the Politico style or the role it plays in our gilded capital,” he wrote in his Sunday column the New York Times, all while noting he misses the WaPo that could’ve been, if only WaPo hadn’t stopped being a good newspaper.

Just in case you had doubt though, Douthat goes a step further today and tells us how he really feels about Politico.

“…the founders of Politico created a publication that can often feel as solipsistic,  trivial, and insufferable as the cloistered world it’s writing about…”

Solipsistic, trivial and insufferable.

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