December 17, 2018

Iran Engaged in Fake News Campaign on Facebook

Photo from Max Pixel.

Facebook has announced that they have removed several pages, accounts and groups connected to Iran that they say promulgated disinformation of United States politics leading up to the upcoming midterm elections.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, stated that Facebook has taken down 82 pages, accounts and groups that engaged in “inauthentic behavior,” which included posts “about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the President, and immigration.”

Examples of such posts included a fake Time magazine cover of President Trump that stated, “The worst, most hated president in American history!” as well as a photo of UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn attributing the following quote to him: “The idea that somehow or other you can deal with all the problems in the world by banning a religious group from entering the U.S.A. is offensive and absurd.”

While Gleicher said they could tie some of the removed accounts, groups and pages to Iran’s state media, they could not establish a concrete connection between them and the Iranian government.

“Free and fair elections are the heart of every democracy and we’re committed to doing everything we can to prevent misuse of Facebook at this critical time for our country,” Gleicher said.

Ben Nimmo of The Atlantic Research Council’s Digital Lab said that the propaganda disseminated from the Iranian accounts resembled “left-leaning Americans to amplify divisions over politically charged issues in the U.S.” and they followed a similar playbook that the Russians used in the 2016 elections, according to USA Today.

Facebook also removed accounts for spreading Iranian disinformation in August. There was some overlap between those accounts and the ones removed in October.

Letters to the Editor: Fake News, #MeToo, Table for Five, Larry Greenfield and Ruth Ziegler

Truth, ‘Fake News’ and American Politics

Regarding the Journal’s cover story “Can Truth Survive?” (Feb. 9): Reporter Shmuel Rosner probably doesn’t believe it can. His story is devoted mostly to a critique of a Rand Corp. study called “Truth Decay.” I confess I have not read the study and therefore am unable to comment on it.

Rosner recounts many of President Donald Trump’s falsehoods, the intentional conflation of opinion with fact, the tedium of cable news and even the cost of the decay of truth. It wasn’t until the end of his story that he disclosed his opinion: that truth decay “stems not just from the evil doers but also from the do-gooders who drown us in so much information that we no longer know what’s true and what’s not.”

Is he kidding? Because if he is serious, he believes that we do not have the ability to understand, to judge, to evaluate, to choose, to be capable of rational thought, or simply that we are just too lazy and don’t care. For our collective sake, I hope he is dead wrong.

Louis Lipofsky via email

Shmuel Rosner laments the decay of truth and writes, “Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.” But Rosner doesn’t state the obvious: Republicans voted this compulsive liar into office and Republicans have long had an enormous problem with truth.

Why do so many Republicans believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim, that he was born in Kenya, that global warming is a hoax, that there is widespread voter fraud, that the Russia investigation is a hoax? Because too many of them self-censor and listen only to conservative media like Fox News and conservative talk radio, so they are easily duped.

And why do they self-censor? Because they have bought into the argument that the mainstream media are biased. Yes, the mainstream media have a liberal bias. But it doesn’t invent outright lies like the ones listed above.

Trump doesn’t care about the truth because he knows his supporters don’t care about the truth. That’s why he calls everything “fake news” and gets away with it.

Michael Asher via email

Hysteria, Obscurity and the #MeToo Movement

Having just read Danielle Berrin’s column on male hysteria (“Male Hysteria,” Feb. 9), I’m now even more convinced of the female hysteria of the #MeToo movement, a movement that will quickly be hoisted by its own petard.

She claims that a few of these powerful and predatory men have actually been charged with a crime. I haven’t heard of any of these powerful men being charged with a crime, notwithstanding the fact that being charged with a crime is not the same as being found guilty of a crime.

Berrin complained that far too many female artists live and continue to live in obscurity. This might be true, but there are undoubtedly far too many talented male artists who also continue to live in obscurity.

Giuseppe Mirelli, Los Angeles

Table for Five Is Weekly Food for Thought

In your “Table for Five” section for Parashat Mishpatim (Feb. 9), Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, of Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice, argues for “the ethical imperative to protect and secure the needs of the stranger,” and “make the marginalized — rather than the elite  — our priority.”

I am a Conservative convert to Judaism, having embraced Judaism more than 50 years ago. I am a dues-paying member at an Orthodox synagogue near my home, where I go daily to minyan. I am also a member of four other non-Orthodox synagogues, where I regularly go and lead services in Hebrew, and am a cantor at one during the High Holy Days. While I can fully participate in those other synagogues, I am not permitted to get an aliyah to the Torah or be counted for a minyan at the Orthodox one. If I were to go to Israel, I could not be married there or be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Non-Orthodox convert women also know that their children will not be counted as Jews in parts of the Jewish world. Yet Jews born of a Jewish mother are considered fully Jewish even if they repudiate their Judaism, castigate it and couldn’t care less about being counted for a minyan or getting an aliyah.

Our people were made to feel like invisible outsiders when we were slaves in Egypt. Why should those of us who turned our lives around to incorporate Judaism into it now be made to feel like we are invisible outsiders in some Jewish circles? I call on Rabbi Yanklowitz and his fellow Orthodox of conscience and morality to work to change what I feel is an unjust standard, so that those of us who have transformed our lives to embrace the Jewish people and God’s Torah are not made to feel like marginalized strangers within the Jewish world.

Peter Robinson, Woodland Hills

I was delighted at Rabbi Mordecai Finley’s teaching on the Torah portion in your Tu B’Shevat issue (“Table for Five: B’Shalach,” Jan. 26). He admonished the Israelis for their sarcasm. Indeed, rightfully so; such humor can be a sign of contempt.

Irony or sarcasm is indeed biting. Hurt people hurt people. The conclusion of Rabbi Finley’s commentary made the greatest impression: Because you have been done wrong does not give you license to do someone else wrong.

Thanks to your wonderful newspaper and your knowledgeable contributors and staff.

Daniel Kirwan via email

Remembering Ruth Ziegler, a True Community Supporter

We join the Jewish community in mourning the loss of Ruth Ziegler, a dear friend, supporter and member of Jews for Judaism’s board of governors (“Philanthropist Ruth Ziegler, 98,” Feb. 9).

For two decades, Ziegler supported our innovative educational services. After being honored at our 2005 gala, she funded a major endowment to ensure that Jews for Judaism’s life-saving counseling services would be available in perpetuity.

When I asked Ziegler what motivated her to make such a generous gift, she responded, “At the gala, I heard a mother share her pain after losing her daughter to another religion, and how you rescued her. I want to make sure no one else experiences that pain.”

Ziegler believed in saving a Jewish life and saving the world. Jews for Judaism is honored to play a role in perpetuating her legacy.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder and executive director of Jews for Judaism, International

Polish Law Demonstrates Dangers of Altering History

When any government, including Poland, attempts to whitewash its history, it usually ends up with paint stains on its hands (editorial cartoon, Feb. 9). Although we can’t compare the two, Americans should not be so quick to condemn others for their behavior without first checking our history. This month it will be 76 years since Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his executive order to intern Japanese-Americans after the U.S. entered World War II. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court avoided answering whether these people’s constitutional rights were violated.

Barry Bereskin via email

Write, Larry Greenfield, Keep on Writing

I love reading Larry Greenfield’s work. If I was not married happily, I would want to marry his brain! Keep his writing coming!

Allyson Rowen Taylor, Valley Glen

Letter to the Editor Overlooks Certain Facts

In last week’s letter from Reuben Gordon, he completely misunderstood the media coverage regarding President Donald Trump’s comment that there were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville, Va., march. Gordon states that it was in regard to the Confederate monument debate and that there were good people in support of keeping Confederate statues. The people he is referring to were Neo-Nazis; there are no good people on that side and I guess Gordon did not hear or did not want to hear their continual shouts of “Jews will not replace us.”

Edward A. Sussman, Fountain Valley

Reuben Gordon’s letter supporting President Donald Trump just because Trump supports Israel is a sad example of tunnel vision. Trump is an aggressive, ignoramus racist who is in the process of inflicting severe harm on Americans (Jews included), … so to excuse his arrogant, narcissistic self because of his support of Israel is foolish and perhaps even dangerous.

Rick Edelstein via email

He Asked and He Received a Small Change in Journal

When I ran into my friend David Suissa a couple of months ago while strolling down Pico Boulevard, I congratulated him on his new position at the Jewish Journal and the upgraded look of the paper. I then told him that Rhina, my elderly parents’ non-Jewish caregiver, noticed that the time Shabbat ends was no longer listed. As their caregiver, she needs to know when Shabbat concludes, and she wants to consult the Jewish Journal for that information. Suissa promised to correct it. Sure enough, in the next week’s edition, the time of Havdalah was once again listed! So thank you, David, for magnificently upgrading the paper, and on behalf of Jews and non-Jews who care when Shabbat ends, thanks for the weekly notice! Keep on publishing a great newspaper. Kol ha-kavod!

Mark Goldenberg, Beverly Hills


The Feb. 9 edition of Moving and Shaking misreported the venue for the L.A. Jewish Home’s Celebration of Life: Reflections 2018 gala. The event took place at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.

In a Feb. 2 Calendar item, visiting scholar Andrew Porwancher was misidentified.

TRUTH DECAY: Should you believe a study that documents the fast erosion of Americans’ belief in documented studies?

There is an irony inherent to a scholarly attempt to convince you that we live in an era of “Truth Decay.” The phrase is the catchy title of a new Rand Corp. study that delves into “an initial exploration of the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life.”

The paradox is that the thesis — that we no longer trust facts — undermines the means — a study built on facts.

If this, as the study suggests, is an era in which “Americans are placing less faith in institutions that were once trusted sources of information,” then why would the same Americans trust the Rand Corp. and its findings?

If this is, as the authors argue, an era in which there is “increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data,” then why would they expect the readers to accept their interpretations of facts and data?

The authors, Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich, clearly do have such expectations, maybe because they understand that there is no alternative to data and analysis. They also acknowledge that, alongside this decay, there is a tendency “in many areas of American society” to rely on “facts and data” today more than ever.

In other words, this is a time of both fake news and big data. It is a time of growing reliance on populist punditry “and opinion-based news,” but also a time in which “even baseball, football, and basketball teams increasingly rely on data to determine which players to draft.”

So, is Truth Decay just a polite way to describe the era of Donald Trump, whose long list of misstatements includes repeating more than 50 times the falsehood that his tax cut was the biggest ever (even after Treasury Department data showed it ranked eighth)?

It is and it isn’t. Complaints about the weakening of truth in public life intensified with the rise of Trump, and are clearly linked to it. But Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.

There is hardly a shortage of articles lamenting the end of a supposed era of truth. Roger Cohen, writing in The New York Times two years ago, dated the beginning of this era to 2014, and to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he wrote, “a pure Soviet product, traffics in lies.” Putin was there before Trump, so “Trump is not alone. There is a global movement of minds,” Cohen wrote.

And Cohen was not alone. Last March, the cover of Time magazine presented the question “Is Truth Dead?” At about the same time, the magazine Democracy held a symposium to consider the question: “Can truth survive Trump?” No wonder that just last week, a political fact-checking website crashed during Trump’s State of the Union address.

The scholars of the Rand Corp. are clearly worried. It is hard not to agree with them that “Truth Decay and its many manifestations pose a direct threat to democracy and have real costs and consequences — economic, political, and diplomatic.”

In analyzing this situation, they identify four trends that together contribute to this time of decay: increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; the increasing relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.

Some of these trends hardly need to be proven. A brief glance at the polls reveals the public’s growing distrust in institutions. And just watch cable news for a few hours and you’ll see how much time is filled with conversations that blur the line between opinion and fact.

Of course, this trend of mistrust in the media and nonstop punditry did not begin with Trump. Rather, it made Trump a credible presidential candidate. And now it haunts him. He is both an instigator and a victim of American’s distrust.

Other trends are more difficult to pinpoint. But the authors still make a decent effort to prove their case — by showing, for example, “the recent rise in skepticism about the safety of vaccines.”

The vaccine case reminded me of “The Influential Mind,” a book published in 2017 by Tali Sharot, a professor of cognitive neuroscience. (Full disclosure: I was the editor overseeing the Hebrew edition.) Sharot describes the September 2015 Republican presidential primary debate in which the moderator challenged then-candidate Trump’s assertions — contrary to scientific evidence — that childhood vaccines were linked to autism.

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who was then a candidate (now Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development), replied that numerous studies “have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism.”

Not hesitating to respond, Trump asserted that, “Autism has become an epidemic … it has gotten totally out of control. … You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child.” He went on to describe a colleague’s young child who became ill after being vaccinated, and, he alleged, “now is autistic.”

Sharot writes about this moment with a sense of awe. “My response was immediate and visceral. An image of a nurse inserting a horse-sized syringe into my tiny baby emerged inside my head and would not fade away. It did not matter that I knew perfectly well that the syringe used for immunization was a normal size — I panicked.”

She recounts this moment to make a point she illustrates time and again in her book: Evidence does not work. In fact, as she later explains, “presenting people with information that contradicts their opinion can cause them to come up with altogether new counterarguments that further strengthen their original view.”

Sharot is not listed as a source in “Truth Decay,” but her sobering argument should serve as a warning. The Rand scholars portray our current era as different from previous times: Once, we were more prone to listen to evidence; now, we are less prone to do this. But is that really true? Were people really more rational in the past, making decisions based on evidence more than we do today?

The authors do not argue that today’s trend is unprecedented. In a chapter on past Truth Decays, they count three earlier periods in which truth diminished to make room for non-truths: the 1880s-90s, the 1920s-30s, and the 1960s-70s. Their aim is to provide these parallels to help explain what we see today.

In all three examples, the authors note, the media were changing. Yellow Journalism thrived in the Gilded Age; radio and tabloids emerged in the ’20s and ’30s; and New Journalism and the era of television were hallmarks of the ’60s and ’70s. As they compare these three periods to today’s supposed Truth Decay period, they carefully conclude: “Perhaps the clearest similarity across the four periods is that each offers examples of the erosion of the line between opinion and fact and of ways in which the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion over fact seems to have increased.”

And yet, historical parallels are a tricky tool, and the authors readily admit that “although each of the periods … exhibited a significant rise in disagreement over social, economic, and political policies and norms, there is little evidence that agreement about the veracity and legitimacy of basic facts declined in previous eras.”

What are “basic facts”? Americans, by and large, agree that the earth is spherical, that the sun rises in the east, and that water boils at a certain temperature. They disagree — and this is nothing new — on evolution, on global warming, on UFOs. In 2008, not all of them were convinced that Barack Obama was an American citizen. That was years before Trump’s election, and before Russia’s invasion of the Crimea.

Watch cable news for a few hours and you’ll see how much time is filled with conversations that blur the line between opinion and fact.

Today, they can’t agree on the facts — or “facts” — detailed in the memo released last week by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Was the FBI trying to assist Hillary Clinton? Was it trying to sabotage the election of Trump? The memo contains some facts that are indisputable and some that mean little without context. The context is often what makes facts more elusive than the Rand report tends to admit.

In analyzing the factors behind Truth Decay, the authors, to their credit, attempt to put these causes on a scale of those having more and less impact on how people debate truth and facts. Their conclusion: It is Facebook, Twitter and the other social media phenomena that make us easy prey for falsehoods: “Changes in the information system play an outsize role in the challenges presented by Truth Decay because those changes affect the supply of both fact-based information and disinformation.”

It’s not an earth-shattering conclusion, but it is an interesting comment on the human condition and on the human ability to process information.

Yes, our leaders tend to lie from time to time — some more than others. Yes, the current leader of the United States is especially flexible with the facts and especially bold in making unfounded statements. This boldness, it is worth saying, occasionally also gives him the ability to cut through vagueness and expose simple truths.

But leaving Trump aside for a moment, and reading carefully through the long Rand study, one realizes that Truth Decay — if you accept this analysis, and look at the historical parallels — is as much about too much information as too little. In other words, it stems not just from evildoers who deliberately hide the truth from us, but also from do-gooders who drown us in so much information that we no longer know what’s true and what’s not.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

Apologies and non-apologies in the year of our Trump 5777

President Donald Trump has issued few apologies and asked for many in the past year. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

There are apologies, there are non-apologies and there are apologies that never were.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are approaching: We are in the season of repentance and its most apt expression, apologizing to our fellow women and men.

The Trump presidency presents special challenges to apology trackers: Donald just doesn’t do them, but he loves them when he gets them. And sometimes he insists he got them when he didn’t.

To be fair to Trump, his ambivalence, if not hostility, toward self-reproach is not unique, and certainly not among presidents. It took Bill Clinton months — until just days before Rosh Hashanah of 1998 — to fully apologize for embarking on, and lying about, his affair with Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush still blames the Iraq War on bad intelligence. Barack Obama took his time before eventually apologizing to Americans who lost their health insurance despite his repeated promises that they wouldn’t.

Clinton’s apology, at least, included a direct apology to Lewinsky for having called her a liar, and thus met the conditions for “teshuvah,” or genuine repentance, laid out by the Jewish sage Maimonides 900 years ago in his Mishnah Torah: One must seek forgiveness for sins against one’s fellows not from God, and directly from the wounded party. Beg forgiveness directly, Maimonides prescribed, resolve to not repeat your transgression and do what you can to make it up to the victim. Anything less is not a real apology.

In that regard, 5777 wasn’t a great year for Maimonidean apologies. Take a look:

The failing, if not sorry, New York Times

The New York Times

The Midtown Manhattan building that houses what Trump calls “the failing @nytimes,” July 2017. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Trump very much wants to believe The New York Times apologized for its coverage of the election last year. But the Times insists it never apologized.

Trump’s hopes for an apology lie buried in a letter the newspaper posted five days after the election.

“After such an erratic and unpredictable election,” the editors wrote to readers, “there are inevitable questions: Did Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters?”

Trump read that sentence as a mea culpa.

“The failing @nytimes, which has made every wrong prediction about me including my big election win (apologized), is totally inept!” Trump tweeted as recently as Aug. 7.

The Times has responded by tweeting, “We stand by our coverage,” and pointing to the language of the original letter, “We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same level of fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.”

In a fiery speech in Phoenix last month, Trump still hoped to shake out the nugget of an apology in the Times letter.

“How about this?” Trump said. “The New York Times essentially apologized after I won the election because their coverage was so bad, and it was so wrong, and they were losing so many subscribers that they practically apologized. I would say they did.”

A sorry state of affairs

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski speaking in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 7, 2012. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Becoming the most powerful man on earth has barely slaked Trump’s thirst for deference.

“Fake News is at an all time high,” he said on Twitter in June. “Where is their apology to me for all of the incorrect stories???

Michelle Cottle, writing in the Atlantic in February, compiled a partial list of the people from whom Trump and his surrogates had demanded apologies during and since the campaign. They included Sen. John McCain, the cast of “Hamilton,” CNN’s Jim Acosta, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Megyn Kelly and Hillary Clinton.

“If anything, a grudging, coerced apology seems to delight him even more than a wholly voluntary one,” Cottle wrote.

Failing to extract an apology, by contrast, seems to enrage Trump. In June, New York magazine reported that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner failed in his bid to get MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to apologize to Trump for his show’s critical coverage of the president. The exchange culminated with the president’s attack on Scarborough’s fiancé and co-host, Mika Brzezinski, as “bleeding from the face” from a facelift.

Sorry, not sorry

Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, giving an apology message about remarks made in a released “Access Hollywood” tape, Oct. 7, 2016. (Screenshot from Facebook)

Trump’s best-known apology, delivered Oct. 8 between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was a classic of the sorry, not sorry genre.

It came after the “Access Hollywood” tape showed Trump boasting about sexual assault in 2005.

“I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more-than-a-decade-old video are one of them,” Trump, then a candidate, said in his videotaped apology.

Translation: It was over a decade old, when I was a mere child of 59. Why bother with it now?

“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologize,” he said.

Better; even Maimonides might approve. But Trump wasn’t done.

“Let’s be honest: We are living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today,” he said.

Uh-oh. Sounds like he is diminishing the significance of the thing he just apologized for. But at least Trump didn’t say that others have done things that are far worse.

Wait, there’s this:

“Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground. I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” he said. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”

Trump, moreover, did not apologize to his direct targets: the actress he was lusting over in the audio or the married friend he claimed he had hoped to seduce. Melania Trump, who was already married to Trump at the time the tape was made, said her husband apologized to her. Trump has said he did not.

His daughter Ivanka Trump, the evening the tape emerged, reportedly pleaded for him to make a real apology. He refused. She left the room in tears, according to The New York Times.

Trump recorded his apology on Oct. 8. He won election on Nov. 8.

Atonement for the Day of Atonement

Marchers in Los Angeles protesting President Trump’s order to end the DACA immigrant program, Sept. 5, 2017. (David McNew/Getty Images)

There have been plenty of other apologies in the Trump era.

Jewish social justice activists were miffed when they learned that the March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C., was scheduled for Sept. 30, which happens to be Yom Kippur. The organizers dithered for a bit, but on Aug. 16 issued a statement saying the scheduling “was a grave and hurtful oversight on our part. It was unintentional and we are sorry for this pain as well as for the time it has taken for us to respond. Our mistake highlights the need for our communities to form stronger relationships.”

The date of the march will not be changed, but related events may be held on that Saturday night or the next day.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, welcomed the apology, saying the organizers “have modeled teshuvah in the past few days.”

Swiss miss

A photo of the pool at the Paradies Arosa hotel in Switzerland. (Screenshot from Paradies Arosa)

A Swiss hotel owner made all the wrong kinds of headlines when she posted signs at her place urging Jews to shower before entering the pool and telling them they could only access a hotel refrigerator at set times. Even Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, chimed in, saying the incident reflected the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

But the story was somewhat more complicated. Ruth Thomann, who runs the hotel, tearfully told JTA that she meant no offense to Jews and that she merely sought to convey information relevant only to the Jewish guests (who, she said, store their kosher food in the hotel fridge and tend to swim wearing T-shirts and other outerwear, presumably out of modesty).

“I may have selected the wrong words; the signs should have been addressed to all the guests instead of Jewish ones,” she said, adding, “My God, if I had something against Jews, I wouldn’t take them as guests!”

On Target

A Target store in Novato, Calif. (Getty Images)

Target apologized to Israelis when it couldn’t make good on orders after a shipping company offered a brief free-shipping promotion. The U.S. retail giant said it was overwhelmed by the orders from Aug. 18 to 20.

“Due to the much higher than anticipated response to the Borderfree Free Shipping promotion, we are unable to deliver order [number] and had to cancel it. We apologize for this inconvenience,” read the letter sent to  Israeli customers.

‘It’s over for me’

Kevin Myers (Screenshot from YouTube)

An Irish journalist, fired for writing what critics called an anti-Semitic newspaper column, apologized to those he offended — although he insisted his intentions were good.

“I am very very sorry to them, I really mean it, I’m not rescuing anything as far as I can see, it’s over for me,” Kevin Myers said, referring to the two Jewish female BBC broadcasters who were described in his column as hard-bargainers. “I am issuing an apology for no other reason than contrition of the hurt I have caused them.”

Jews, he had written in July, “are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price.”

Said Myers: “I said those words out of respect for their religion.”

Um, thank you?

Flag politics

A Palestinian flag flying in Gaza City in 2015. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Also in July, a Jewish camp in Washington state apologized after flying a Palestinian flag “as a sign of friendship and acceptance” to visiting Palestinian Muslim and Christian students. Critics of the flag said it was offensive and represented a regime that still incites violence against Jews. Supporters said welcoming Palestinian students on a peace mission was the menschy thing to do.

The critics won the debate.

“We sincerely apologize that we upset some in our CSS and larger Jewish community by introducing the Palestinian flag into our educational program,” Camp Solomon Schechter wrote in a letter to parents and supports. “Camp Solomon Schechter reiterates our unwavering support for the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland.”

The camp’s executive director and co-board president also issued a statement.

“Camp Solomon Schechter regrets raising the Palestinian flag alongside US, Canadian and Israeli flags on Thursday and Friday mornings …,” the statement said. “We neglected to foresee in such actions the serious political implications and for that lapse in judgment, we are deeply sorry.”

Netanyahu slams ‘fake news,’ calls investigations a ‘witch hunt’

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

Embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently the subject of multiple corruption investigations, lashed out at the “fake news” media at a rally attended by thousands of Likud Party supporters.

Held Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, the rally was organized by coalition chairman and Likud lawmaker David Bitan, who told Israeli media he organized the rally because Netanyahu is being “persecuted” by the media and the opposition. Supporters were bussed in from around the country for the rally.

In his speech, Netanyahu slammed the “fake news” media, echoing a sign at the rally that said “Fake news is f***ing news.” Some journalists said they were verbally abused by rally participants.

Netanyahu called the corruption investigations “an obsessive witch-hunt against me and my family.”

“They don’t want to just take me down, they want to take us all down. They know that they can’t beat us at the ballots, so they are trying to circumvent democracy and topple us in other ways,” Netanyahu said.

“We know that the left and the media — and we know that it’s the same thing — is on an unprecedented hunt against me and my family to bring down the government. They are putting unrelenting pressure on the legal system in order for them to present an indictment without any proof,” he said.

Netanyahu is currently the subject of two corruption investigations. In the first, called Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving expensive gifts from billionaires and then taking action on their behalf. In the second, called Case 2000, he is accused of striking a deal with a newspaper publisher in order to receive favorable coverage at the expense of a competitor, Israel Hayom, owned by the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Two other corruption scandals target close associates of Netanyahu and both his wife and older son also are targets of investigations.

Who Heckled Ivanka Trump at the Berlin W20?

I had an interesting, even disturbing experience covering the W20 Summit in Berlin for The Jerusalem Post, focusing on the “Inspiring Women” panel headlined by “First Daughter” Ivanka Trump.

She made this otherwise academic summit into a paparazzi affair, and it seemed like the press was eager for that click-bait story (like when President Trump apparently refused to shake Chancellor Merkel’s hand last month in Washington). They got their headline when Ivanka mentioned her father’s family advocacy to the “crowd’s” heckles.

“Ivanka Trump Booed….”

Sitting in the back, I didn’t hear “boos.” I certainly heard hissing, a few groans, which weren’t so loud, but audible. The women conference participants sat up front. The headline-hungry media clustered to the side. I heard the hissing from the newly packed media section, not the female participants up front, who overall kept the event classy.


Did the media heckle Ivanka Trump for headlines?

But with the “hissing” and maybe a boo or two, the media got their sensational headline. “Ivanka Trump Booed!” One outlet started it, perhaps CNN or Reuters, and then the headline went viral, and the story became not the challenges facing women, but the supposed humiliation of “booed” Ivanka.

I’m sorry that people in my profession may have stooped this low. I’m skeptical of tagging “fake news” to stories, but I think I saw it in action. I think members of the media did the heckling. I will always seek to be objective in news coverage. It’s almost impossible for any journalist to be fully clean of bias in reporting, but we must strive for accuracy. We are not tabloids or activists, unless stated.

We are journalists with an important function. Ivanka handled herself, as a guest to Germany, with poise and eloquence, and I think she emerged as a role model promoting female camaraderie. I wish I could say the same for some of my colleagues.


The nature of rubbish

Photo from Pexels

In the morning, we sat around the dining room table, on the second floor of the house on Shah Reza Street, and listened to the man on the radio announce the day’s news with religious solemnity. My father, always in a suit and tie, ready to drive us to school on his way to work, sat at the top of the table, directly across from the French doors that opened onto the round balcony, and shook his head in disapproval every few minutes.

In his early 20s and with three young children, he spoke little and explained even less about what he objected to or why. To my mother, he muttered only that the news was “pure rubbish”; to us, he said, “Don’t say a word about the shah in school, not even in praise, not even if your friends or teacher bring it up.”

My mother, only a year younger than him, moved about in her long, red, organza and lace Scarlett O’Hara dressing gown, and chided him for “saying such things.” Below the balcony in the yard for as far as the eye could see, the seasons marched in Technicolor as my sisters and I drank sweet tea, ate bread and jam, and tried to make sense of the merry-go-round — the voice of God booming from the radio, our parents’ mixed messages, the nature of “rubbish” and the meaning of “such things.”

Iranians then, and perhaps still now, were a nation of news junkies with very firm opinions they knew better than to express in public. Politics was the most discussed and debated subject no one ever talked about. The daily papers, the nightly news on television, the morning radio broadcast were, I came to realize in time, broadly recognized as moonshine, yet religiously followed. The adults tracked the news not for what it contained, but for what was left out of it, or masked in half-truths, or simply, boldly, lied about. They knew from experience how to translate the fiction created by the kings and the generals, or interpret the facts deleted by government sensors, or glean the truths modified and implied, instead of stated, out of deference to the clergy.   

They did this all day, every day, but never in public or within earshot of anyone who might be a secret police informer. Mostly, they also spared the children. They wanted to allow us a few years of innocence before we became cynics like our parents. They also wanted to avoid being “disappeared” by the secret police and their informers. Teachers, parents of other children, even some children served as the government’s eyes and ears.

My mother, intensely loyal to the shah as were nearly all Jews in Iran, did not believe in questioning his word. It didn’t matter if the “news” was real or invented as long as it served His Majesty and, by extension, all the good things he did for the country. My father, also loyal and equally appreciative of the positive aspects of the shah’s rule, nevertheless believed in the importance of truth for its own sake. He liked the shah but not his institutional fabrications, believed in God but not His “agents,” respected authority until it betrayed his trust. He knew there was such a thing as the lesser of two (or more) evils; that most of the time, most nations don’t have the luxury of choosing between good and bad, but the better and the less bad. He knew a secular monarchy, however oppressive, was less bad than a religious dictatorship, but he couldn’t stomach the price we were all asked to pay for keeping that monarchy in place.

For us in Iran then, and for much of the world still today, the price of having a state-controlled media, of a press that served authority and a government that silenced the press — for us, the price was a kind of emotional and intellectual subservience that slowly crushed the soul, made some of us bombastic imbeciles and others professional skeptics, kept us all in a constant state of fear and confusion, second-guessing our own powers of discernment, everyone else’s hidden motives.

We all felt this, I am sure. The shah’s die-hard fans and his most ardent opponents and anyone in between — we felt the diminishing, dehumanizing effects of having to be told what to think and believe. Some of us reacted by becoming little dictators and mindless autocrats. Some gave up entirely on trying to discern the veracity of things. The rest of us became professional skeptics who value, above all, having access to the facts, the alternative facts, and every possible spin and rendition of facts.

The rest of us go around every day thanking the stars and kissing the ground we walk on for the blessing of a free and independent press. Because when it comes to “fake news,” let me tell you, we’ve been there and done that.

Gina Nahai’s most recent novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

In attacking the media, Trump is reaching the limit

President Donald Trump on Feb. 24. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Over the last two years, President Donald Trump didn’t make any attempt to disguise his disdain of the media. The paradox is that Trump is a creation of the media. He understood the importance of free media attention when he moved from Brooklyn to New York in the late 1970s. In “The Art of the Deal,” for example, he extols the value of The New York Times in helping him get noticed and stand out from the crowd.

 It is only recently that we hear Trump use the term “fake news”. Indeed, there is branch of journalism, the satirical media (Charlie Hebdo was part of it), that creates fake news to criticize the actions of Governments or any other authority. This has been a long tradition in democracies and it is part of what makes a free press. The terror attack on Charlie Hebdo demonstrates how a free and tolerant press threatens intolerance. I doubt this is what Mr Trump refers to when he accuses the press of spreading “fake news.” 

 What I think Trump refers to is a new trend that has emerged in recent months. Some individuals invent stories out of whole cloth and disseminate them over the Internet for the sole purpose of misinforming. You could argue that it is a fine line between satiric stories and fake news, but in my opinion, this is a thick line. When reading satire, you know immediately that the author is mocking and twisting reality for the purpose of making a point. When reading a fake news article, such as the one on Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump, there are no signs that what you are reading is false. It is presented as a credible account and is specifically designed to mislead the reader.

Calling CNN “fake news” is cynical and destructive. As much as I was a critic of President Obama, he never accused Fox News of spreading “fake news”. Both media outlets scrutinize the powers that be, and each can be somewhat biased. In a mature democracy, it is up to the viewer to make up his own mind and account for that bias. But even though an issue is presented through the human lens of a journalist, it is not designed with the intention to mislead.

The great irony, of course, is that Trump himself is the king of fake news. To cite just a few examples, during his campaign, he said time and again that American Muslims were dancing in the streets of New Jersey after the 9/11 attack. He doubled and triple down on this fake story. There are no records of such dances. He accused Obama of being a Kenyan Muslim who never attended Columbia University. He accused Ted Cruise’s father of being involved in a plot to assassinate President Kennedy. During one of the debates he said that vaccine causes Autism …and on and on.

Of course, he never called his own fake news “fake news” because he saw it as helpful to his agenda. Now that the actual news is not helpful to his agenda, it’s a logical step in his narcissistic mind to demean it as “fake news.” In other words, any news that he doesn’t see as helpful automatically becomes fake. This is not just reckless, it’s dangerous.

Trump is trying to blur the lines between honest reporting, commentary, satire and normal bias. By calling it all fake, he is painting the whole media enterprise with a dark and cynical brush and undermining one of the main pillars of democracy.

As Karl Popper wrote, the ability of a free media to scrutinize the powers that be is the principle tenet of all open societies. Weakening the media ensures less scrutiny, and, ultimately, less transparency and a greater likelihood of corruption, intolerance and injustice.

One month into his presidency, Trump has reached a crossroad. Either he finds a constructive way to deal with the media, in which case he joins the long tradition of American presidents as a champion of the democratic free world, or he continues in his present approach and becomes the first U.S. President who can longer claim to be the leader of the “free” world. That would be a lot worse than fake news.

Albert Dadon  is an Australian businessman, philanthropist and musician.

As president battles press, public loses

President Donald Trump takes questions during a news conference at the White House on Feb. 16. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Journalism is no place for the sensitive. So when President Donald Trump said the press “is the enemy of the American people,” I didn’t retreat to a crying couch or whine.

I saw it as a warning from one enemy to another. We’re not the enemy of the American people. Rather, the press is the enemy of Trump, just as he is the enemy of journalists.

The press wants to know about his secretive dealings with Russia, his plan to dismantle Obamacare, what he intends to do about immigrants and other matters.  This isn’t idle curiosity or an effort to take down Trump. It’s the job of journalists to tell the American people what’s going on.

Trump opposes that. He is trying to silence reporters with the powerful tools he has at hand, possibly even prosecuting reporters and their sources in the manner of dictator-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. To Trump, news is what he spews out, as he did at his interminable press conference earlier in the month.

Thus there is no chance of détente between the enemy camps. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to readers to explain what reporters do and why it is important to people.

My workweek is divided between writing for the Jewish Journal, the websites Truthdig and LAObserved and the UCLA quarterly Blueprint. I am also working on a memoir, “An American Journalist.” I’ll give you a few examples of what I do.

My columns for the Journal deal mostly with Jewish community news; I try to dig into the community and find good works that have been ignored. I discover them through a web of contacts built up over the years. For example, during the recession, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles led me to the new Jewish unemployed, often professional people who had been donors to charities but now depended on them. This gave me a view of the recession not seen in most mainstream publications. A column on rising rents facing elderly Jewish tenants took me to three Jewish social service agencies and to the representative of a developer seeking a rent increase.

Truthdig is different. It is a progressive website featuring national and international news. I express my liberal opinions but try to back them up with reporting. When Bernie Sanders’ national campaign staff did not return calls, I looked up the local campaign operation on Facebook, finding events and people who told me what was happening in the campaign. To write about the recent Women’s March, I pushed my way into a packed Metrorail train and through downtown crowds, interviewing people and shooting pictures with my iPhone, an effort I thought was pretty good for an 82-year-old.

This is conventional newsgathering. Reporters, if they stay in the business, enjoy the challenge. And they know the skills and determination developed in finding and writing about recipients of a Jewish charity are the same ones required in finding praiseworthy public-spirited citizens and officials — and nailing crooked campaign donors at city halls and the Capitol in Sacramento. Reporters are put to their greatest test in penetrating the maze of elected officials and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., experts in obfuscating.

Documents help penetrate the maze. So do interviews with officials, elected and non-elected. Part of a reporter’s skill is getting such people to talk — and to tell the truth. But sometimes it is too dangerous for these sources to risk their jobs. Yet the information is too important to remain hidden. So the official leaks it to a reporter with the promise of confidentiality.

The promise isn’t given lightly. The reporter must find out if the source is truthful — not an easy task. The source must trust the reporter enough to believe he or she will go to jail to protect his or her confidentiality.

Some leaks are self-serving. They are a great way to sideline a career rival. And that seems to be at the heart of some of the leaks from this unruly administration. But a growing number of news accounts indicate that many leaks come from intelligence officials and others concerned with dealings Trump and his staff had with the Russians before and after the inauguration. That’s serious. It’s the reason, I think, Trump has labeled the press an enemy of the American people.

But here’s my point: Turning the public against the press is a threat to democracy.  “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.  “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictatorships get started.”

The public, if one poll is to be believed, narrowly says the Trump administration is more believable than the press. The survey, by Fox News, also showed a sharp partisan split with Republicans trusting Trump over the media by a wide margin, and Democrats similarly backing the press over Trump.

Hopefully, more McCains will emerge among the Republican majority in Congress. Until that happens, reporters had better remain insensitive to Trump and his talk of enemies as they push ahead in a search for the truth.

BILL BOYARSKY is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Is Trump worse than a liar?

President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 16.

Midway through the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last week on “Maintaining Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump,” Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens tried to summarize his in-depth analysis of President Trump’s dicey relationship with the truth.

“If I had to sum it up in a single sentence,” he said, “this would be it: Truth is what you can get away with.”

When I heard that, a light bulb went off. I thought of a book I read years ago, “On Bullshit,” by former Princeton professor and moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt.

One of the key insights in the book is that bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,” Frankfurt writes. “Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”

In other words, for the bullshitter, the truth is not just what he gets away with, but what he gets away from. A person who lies, Frankfurt writes, is “responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it.” For the bullshitter, however, “all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all…”

Trump’s dismissal of facts has been so blatant that the media has had no compunction calling out his lies. In his lecture, Stephens noted that the term “lies” is so serious that his paper prefers less loaded, more factual terms like “falsehoods.”

And yet, as serious as lying is, when I reflect on Frankfurt’s insights, I can see how a bullshit artist like Trump could be even worse than a liar– and more dangerous.

Liars are rational. They lie deliberately, parsing their words carefully, knowing what they’re hiding. A bullshitter, Frankfurt writes, “does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

Why is this so dangerous? Because when you are so untethered from facts, you create your own reality. In Trump’s reality, there is no sense of proportion, no possibility of shame, no need for knowledge. There is only the need to feel like a winner, to be on top, to intimidate your opponent. For this purpose, bullshit is the blunt instrument of choice.

Liars are rational. They lie deliberately, parsing their words carefully, knowing what they’re hiding.

Think back to Trump’s now infamous White House press conference of Feb. 16. He’s toying with the press, insulting and mocking them. He’s not slyly dissembling, as liars do. He’s unleashing one piece of bullshit after another. When he bullshits about his chaotic administration being “a fine-tuned machine” or CNN being “very fake news,” it’s as if he’s crushing a winner down the line in a tense tennis match.

When you crave the ecstasy of winning, the stronger the enemy, the greater the ecstasy. After vanquishing 16 Republican rivals and the formidable Clinton machine, Trump is now aiming his bullshit artillery at the mainstream media. The fact that he may be undermining a pillar of civil society in the process does not really register in his “I’m winning” reality.

In Trump’s mind, he already has won the ultimate contest of becoming the most important person on earth. That means he can call his own rules and his own truth. It means he can get away from the facts and get away with it.

The danger going forward is that Trump will continue to wallow in this alternate reality, drifting even further from the tedious and demanding responsibility of running the country.

We’re already seeing the signs. Instead of engaging with Congress to prepare for the complex task of shaping legislation, Trump is signing executive orders he hardly reads, having loud phone calls with world leaders, jousting with the “opposition” press and appearing at campaign-type rallies, all marks of a happy-go-lucky bullshitter in chief.

It’s still possible, of course, that despite all the bullshit, some good can come out. Trump may deter evil regimes, support key allies, negotiate better deals, destroy ISIS and add millions of jobs. If he gets out of the way, some members of his team may score a few policy victories.

But let’s be frank – for any initiative that will demand deep and grounded thinking from the man on top, it will be touch and go. Trump’s style, which was ideal for the drama of campaigning, is poorly suited for the taxing work of governing.

Trump has brought his bullshit ways into the White House, creating a chaotic reality show that chronicles his alternate reality. As long as he keeps believing in this reality, and getting away with it, all we can expect is that, for better or for worse, the show will go on.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Searching for truth in an age of lies

Donald Trump speaks at a press conference. Photo by Reuters

Let’s give it up for truth. C’mon, a nice hand. It gave us a lot of good years.

Back in the day, Truth began with a capital T, and it came straight from God. Then science had a long run with it. The Enlightenment. Good times. But modernity was no piece of cake for truth. All that everything-is-relative business was shattering. As for post-modernity, let’s just say that everything-is-politics hasn’t been pretty, either. In a few thousand years, we’ve gone from Truth, to truth, to your truth and my truth, and now to the so-called truth, when everything is entertainment and the capital T goes on Twitter. No wonder truth is taking the buyout.  Let’s wish it all the best.

Last week, old school truth had its last hurrah — three hurrahs, actually: one in the East Room, one at Fox and one on Facebook. Each was prompted by an existential threat to truth, and all were ultimately about attention.

At the White House, the event was President Donald Trump’s 77-minute news conference. It was irresistible theater with the press providing the conflict, the technology feeding the spectacle to our screens and the infotainment industry monetizing our eyeballs.

At 20th Century Fox, the event was the viral marketing campaign for “A Cure for Wellness,” a movie about a fake cure that the studio promoted by faking a fake news controversy, which became a real controversy when real news hammered the campaign as an assault on journalism.

On Facebook, the event was the release of “Building Global Community,” a 5,800-word open letter from Mark Zuckerberg about the responsibility of one of the planet’s largest publishers for distributing and profiting from sensational, delicious, dangerously polarizing and totally fabricated stories.

At his news conference, Trump stated yet again that his 304-vote Electoral College tally was the biggest since Ronald Reagan. The reporters, many of whom had had it up to here with Trump’s factual negligence, were determined to answer his attack on the media by challenging his credibility. That’s what NBC’s Peter Alexander did when he respectfully ripped the president a new one. He reeled off the 365 electoral votes that Barack Obama got in 2008, and the 332 in 2012, and he mentioned the 426 that George H.W. Bush got in 1988.

“Why should Americans trust you when you have accused the information they receive of being fake,” Alexander asked, “when you’re providing information that’s fake?”

I would have loved it if Alexander had triggered a “Perry Mason” turn from Trump: “I admit it! I killed the truth! It had it coming!” If Alexander wasn’t expecting that, perhaps he anticipated that the notoriously thin-skinned president would lash out, which he did — but not until the next day, when he tweeted that the “FAKE NEWS media” — he identified them as The New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS and CNN — “is the enemy of the American People!”

What Alexander got from Trump in the East Room was this: “Well, I don’t know. I was given that information. I was given — actually, I’ve seen that information around.”

Throwing his staff under the bus, Trump brushed off his credibility problem by taking his own accountability off the table. You can’t call him a liar for trusting those “best people” he’s surrounded himself with. Worse, with five words, Trump put the journalistic norms of verification and attribution in play. “I’ve seen that information around” amounts to, “It must be true — I saw it on the internet.” It also means, “Believe me.” Forget the assessment of evidence; forget weighing the independence and the track record of sources. For Trump, extreme vetting of information consists of watching Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, reading Breitbart and Infowars and basking in the buzz in the Mar-a-Lago dining room.

In that world, the old sorting categories are toast. Instead of true and false, there’s true and alt-true; there’s facts and (in Kellyanne Conway’s creepy coinage) alternate facts. Fox News is good news; bad news is fake news. Trump knows the currency of news isn’t accuracy — it’s attention. The more he tweets, the more the echo chamber uncritically amplifies him, and the more unearned gravitas his falsehoods acquire. Virality is the new veracity.

Which takes us to the Fox lot. The studio that marketed “A Cure for Wellness” by manufacturing fake fake news — you read that right — is part of the same corporation responsible for Fox News’ “fair and balanced” fakery. (If this kinship is a coincidence, randomness has a droll sense of humor.) The movie’s social media strategy was to disguise ads for the film as editorial content and post them on fabricated websites with names like the New York Morning Post and the Houston Leader.

This scam was inspired by other scammers like the Macedonian teenagers who created and to propagate fake stories like “Clinton Indicted” as aggregation bait for alt-right sites, as link bait for the Facebook pages of Hillary haters and as a cash cow courtesy of Google’s AdSense. Talk about meta: The movie’s fake news sites carried fake stories like “Trump Orders CDC to Remove all Vaccination Related Information from Website,” which included real Trump tweets drawing a fake connection between vaccinations and autism.

The New York Times — “enemy of the American People” — ran two big negative stories within two days about the Fox campaign, which was yanked. But the idea that Facebook is a breeding ground for untruths was a motive for Zuckerberg, leapfrogging over Twitter’s dithering on the issue, to address a problem increasingly faced by its users: With universal access to unlimited content, how can you tell what’s true?

Most of us inhabit filter bubbles. Generally, we consume news whose framing and viewpoints we believe to be fair. At the same time, we’re suckers for sensationalism; stories arousing emotions like fear and disgust are great at grabbing our attention. But democracy is strongest and community is most robust when we’re exposed to quality information from a variety of different perspectives. To protect its users, should Facebook more aggressively screen out fake news? If “Pope Endorses Trump” gets banned, why shouldn’t “Trump’s Margin Biggest Since Reagan”?  Even when a story is accurate, showing someone an article whose perspective is opposite their own only makes them dig their heels in deeper. Should Facebook push back against polarization?

Zuckerberg answers these questions not by calling for new codes of conduct, but by promising new software code. In a world of inconceivable diversity, algorithms are more practical than ethics. Let the platform’s news feed show you a range of perspectives, not just the poles, so you can see where you fit on the spectrum. When stories spread, couple them with what fact-checking sites say about them, so text carries a context along with content. Let the analytics discover which stories are most shared without being read, most driven by attention-hijacking headlines; see if the data point to publishers who are gaming the system; and nail them.

None of this affects Facebook’s raid on the struggling news business’ bottom line. But what appeals to me about this approach is its reliance on intelligence more than on morality. Ever since Truth became truths, people have been searching for common values that don’t depend on divine authority. “The best life is not the moral life, but the life based on the use of reason” — that’s Israel Drazin’s gloss on Moses Maimonides.

Give truth a gold watch for its long service to civilization, but don’t leave the adjudicator position vacant. Education, media literacy, critical thinking, breadth of sources, caliber of intelligence, quality of craft — there’s no shortcut to information you can rely on.

Thinking is hard. Truth is complicated. Focus is fragile. No question: Tweets are superb at stealing our attention, but it’s no accident that birdbrain is not a compliment.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

Trump doubles down on ‘Nazi’ tweet at news conference

President-elect Donald Trump defended a tweet he posted comparing the leak of a dossier containing allegations about him to the actions of Nazi Germany.

At a news conference Wednesday, Trump said leaking such intelligence “is something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”

Reports came out Tuesday claiming Russia has a dossier with compromising personal and financial information about Trump. A two-page summary of the dossier was attached to a U.S. intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The summary was first reported by CNN.

The dossier reportedly includes memos — their credibility has not been substantiated — describing sex videos of Trump and prostitutes at a Moscow hotel in 2013, allegedly recorded for use as leverage against the new U.S. president.

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that the reports were “fake news” and blamed intelligence agencies for the leak of the documents.

Critics pounced on Trump following the tweet. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement that “it is not only a ridiculous comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust.”

Trump attacked the report throughout his news conference Wednesday, his first since being elected. He called publications that published the dossier “disgraceful.”

“That should never have been written, never been had and never been released,” Trump said. “It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen.”

Trump also discussed his vision of relations with Russia, his plans to keep manufacturing in the United States, and his intention to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. An attorney for Trump unveiled the president-elect’s plans to relinquish management of his businesses, but not his ownership, to his sons.