Chinese media lavish praise on Trump and his tweet

By Lu Fan

The People’s Daily overseas edition compared the meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi to the historical visit of President Nixon to China 45 years ago.

That hyperbolic comparison was in line with the rosy evaluations of the trip from the government-influenced Chinese media, which complained U.S. mainstream media had deceived the Chinese people with ridiculous anti-Trump reporting during last year’s election.

The Chinese media reports emphasized how the Trump visit contributed to the Sino-U.S. relationship and suggested Xi took the initiative in shaping the good relationship between China and the U.S.

A commentary in Global Times — a newspaper run by People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party — reported that China is the most important country among those Trump have visited.

“Japan and South Korea, where Trump visited before he went to Beijing, are the allies of the U.S. But China is not…. President Trump only entered Asia when he arrived in Beijing. Japan and South Korea are mostly ‘controlled’ by the U.S…. But Beijing is the second power in the world, and independent. It is real ‘diplomacy’ between Washington D.C. and Beijing. The wisdom of both sides is critical….”

“For a long time, some U.S. elites have taken the attitude of allies as that of the world toward the U.S., they are always wrong.”

Some articles emphasized how Xi had managed to redefine Sino-U.S. relationship during the past five years and especially since Trump has been president.

Inviting heads of another country to the Forbidden City has been unusual in China after 1949. A commentary on — the official website of People’s Daily — reported that cultural element of Trump’s trip to the Forbidden City was the starting point of further communication between him and Xi.

The People’s Daily overseas edition, which compared the meeting to Nixon’s opening to China, said it demonstrated “the friendship between heads of countries is the key in diplomacy.” It noted that Trump changed his Twitter banner to the photo of him and Melania Trump with Xi and his wife, and a group of Peking Opera actors and actresses.

While many Chinese media used the screen shot of Trump’s Twitter to illustrate his positive impression about this visit, none of them discussed how Trump was able to access Twitter in China where it is banned.

Western media paid more attention to this issue, but none could confirm the method Trump used. BBC points out that although Chinese public cannot access Twitter, the authorities and top media agencies such as Xinhua News Agency — the official news agency of Chinese Communist Party — is excluded from the ban.

One commentary on the visit was titled “What does Chinese public like about Trump.” In this commentary, Global Times listed these virtues.

  •       Trump’s straightforward expression;
  • Although he’s stubborn, he’s not as hypocritical as Hilary Clinton;
  • He is pragmatic and focuses on improving the U.S. economy;
  • He doesn’t care to bother China with issues such as human rights, which helps concentrate Sino-American relationship on concrete issues.
  • He respects China;
  • He pays attention to the U.S. economy and cares about people’s living.

This was the second article of Global Times praising Trump. The first one was published during the U.S. presidential election. The difference is that the first one praised Trump mostly because it criticized Hilary Clinton’s performance and previous policies on China. The second was a piece written to cater the consistent tone of positive reporting on this visit.

Articles on Ivanka Trump are posted on social media as they were after Trump won the election last year. She is depicted as a wonder woman who defends feminism, successfully runs a business, takes care of her children, helps her father in and after the election and keeps herself attractive. Some articles call her the future U.S. president but do not mention her positions on politics or business. Some people on Chinese social media say such articles build a superficial model of a perfect woman, encouraging Chinese women to emulate her.

U.S. election: the view from China

Disinformation, distraction & diversion

By William H. Freivogel


President Donald Trump, together with eager sycophants in the right-wing media and the Republican Congress, is using the oldest trick in the book to fool the American people — blame the other guy and get people to look the other way.

Everyone has seen it on the playground when the bully diverts attention from his bad behavior by blaming someone else. Trump figures if he is being blamed for his campaign’s connections to the Russians, he’ll distract attention by claiming Hillary Clinton is the actual colluder.

As Trump prepared for Monday’s indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he was busy manufacturing distractions on Twitter. Think of the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain making up diversions for Dorothy.

“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?)… the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia….”

Once Mueller’s indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates was announced along with the surprise guilty plea for George Papadopoulos, Sarah Huckabee Sanders took over the disinformation campaign from the White House podium.

Mueller’s legal actions had “nothing to do with the president” or “the activities of the campaign,” she said. Manafort only “was hired to manage the delegate process and was dismissed after that.” Papadopoulos was merely “a volunteer on an advisory council that met one.”

Fact checkers had a heyday. Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager from June through August and is accused of having laundered money and lied about it during his tenure as campaign manager. Papadopoulos was one of the few foreign policy advisers Trump mentioned during the campaign, and his interactions with a professor with ties to Russia were communicated to campaign officials.

Early on Monday, Trump tweeted Papadopoulos was a “liar.” Sanders said later the White House and campaign actually deserved credit for helping Mueller build the case against Papadopoulos by turning over emails. “Papadopoulos is an example of actually somebody doing the wrong thing while the president’s campaign did the right thing,” she said.

What is astonishing is the willingness of the right-wing press to parrot the president’s transparently false claims. Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Fox, Breitbart and Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post all dismissed or ridiculed Mueller’s actions.

“None of this is real,” Limbaugh opined, adding that Mueller had “gone rogue” and might be planning a “coup.”

“This is a nothing burger,” said Ingraham.

Breitbart and the New York Post were more interested in Kevin Spacey’s sexual misconduct, than Mueller, although Breitbart’s Steve Bannon was trying to persuade Trump to defund Mueller.

In Congress, just days after the profiles in courage from Republicans Jeff Flake,

Bob Corker and John McCain, Republicans were falling in line with the Trump disinformation campaign. Discredited House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who recused himself from the Russia probe after carrying water for the White House, launched one of two new House investigations into the Uranium One deal.

During the presidential campaign Trump repeatedly claimed Clinton gave 20 percent of U.S. uranium to the Russians in exchange for big donations to the Clinton Foundation. All sorts of fact-checking organizations have found the claim to be false. A thin story in The Hill provides an excuse for Trump and Trumpites such as Nunes to try again, but Snopes fact-checkers say nothing in the new information changes its evaluation of the claim.

The bottom line: The State Department was one of nine agencies — plus President Obama — who had to approve the sale of the Canadian firm with the U.S. uranium deposits to Russia. There is no indication Clinton herself was involved in the State Department approval. In addition, under the deal, none of the U.S. uranium could be shipped to Russia. And the big contribution to the Clinton foundation was from a previous owner of the company who had sold the firm three years before the Russian transaction and 18 months before Clinton became Secretary of State.

Nor does Trump’s claim about the “dossier” make sense. It is true the Clinton campaign and DNC paid some $10 million for Fusion GPS to compile the dossier about Trump-Russian ties. And critics are right in saying the Clinton camp should have disclosed a long time ago that it took over paying for the dossier after the original source of funding — billionaire Paul Singer, funder of the conservative Washington Free Beacon — pulled out.

But paying a retired British spy to pay Russian sources for negative information that hurts Trump and Vladimir Putin is not colluding with the Russian government. It is the opposite.

Meanwhile, the evidence of actual collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin grows. In April of 2016 Papadopoulos was talking to the professor in London about Kremlin connections that “have dirt on her (Clinton)…. They have thousands of emails.”

Papadopoulos told top Trump campaign officials about the professor, got encouragement from a campaign official and continued to try to arrange a meeting through August.

This was happening around the time that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort were meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower after have similarly been promised dirt on Clinton as part of a Kremlin effort to elect Trump. “I love it,” Trump Jr. had said at the prospect of getting negative information about Clinton.

Thousands of embarrassing emails, which Western intelligence say were hacked by the Russians, were released in October, although there is no proof to this point that the discussions Papadapoulos and Trump had with the Russians led to that release.

In the Wizard of Oz, it took a dog to pull back the curtain on the Wizard’s diversions. Today it is the watchdog press, not the lapdog press, that is helping to reveal to the American people the findings of the quiet, professional special prosecutor who won’t be bullied.

The kids on the schoolyard seem to be figuring out this bully. Trump’s approval rating dipped to 33 percent in one recent day’s Gallup tracking and a NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed him losing 7 percent of his support among independents in a month, from 41 percent approval in September to 34 in October. A Public Policy Polling survey found 49 percent of the people favor impeachment, while 42 percent oppose it.

Months of diversions, distractions and disinformation lie ahead, but the erosion of support for the president may be irreversible, despite the yapping from Trump’s lapdogs in the media and Congress.

Trump’s media attacks threaten America’s fundamentals

By William H. Freivogel


Most respondents — 46-37 percent — think “major news organizations fabricate” stories about President Donald Trump, a Politico-Morning Consult poll found this week.

The disheartening result brings to mind the saying, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.” Nearly every week Trump repeats his lie about the “failing New York Times” and “Amazon Washington Post” publishing “Fake news,” even as those news organizations report devastating details of chaos within the Trump White House.

Trump’s attack on the media is central to his aberrant presidency. Trump recently threatened the broadcast licenses of networks airing “false” stories, after earlier calling the media the “enemy of the American people” and advocating weaker legal protections for the press in libel cases.

His attempt to weaken the press, one of the constitutional checks on his power, is part of a broad assault on the core values that hold Americans together.

Decency, civility, human rights, freedom, equality, the dynamism of a nation of immigrants, the strength of a people overcoming petty differences of race, religion and ethnicity.

Pointed critiques from Republicans — Sens. Jeff Flake, Ariz., Bob Corker, Tenn., John McCain, Ariz., Ben Sasse, Neb., former Sen. John Danforth, Mo. and former President George W. Bush — zero in on Trump’s threat to common understandings about what it is to be an American and America’s place in the world.

In what may be the most extraordinary of the extraordinary critiques of this extraordinarily damaging presidency, Flake criticized the “reckless, outrageous, undignified” behavior of the president who shall not be named. He said:

We must never regard as ‘normal’ the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions; the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal.

The recent run of eloquent Republican critiques began with, McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, at a speech this month upon receiving the Liberty Medal. He said:

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of Earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

Then the last Republican president, George W. Bush, broadened the criticism saying, “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication…. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgetting the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.

“Our identity as a nation – unlike many other nations – is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood.… This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”

On the same day Bush spoke, former President Barack Obama made some of the same points. “Some of the politics we see now, we thought we had put that to bed,” he said. “That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st Century, not the 19th Century…We’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry — to demonize people who have different ideas….”

None of these criticisms is “fake” news.

Nor can they be written off as politics as usual. Not in our lifetimes have so many leaders of the president’s party delivered such stinging criticism so early in a presidency. The closest comparisons are Democrats’ break with Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War in the months just before Johnson decided not to run for re-election and the Republicans’ abandonment of Richard M. Nixon just before he was forced to resign during Watergate.

Both historical analogies offer Trump scant comfort.

In fact, even though Trump was quick to tweet out the Politico-Morning Consult poll backing him over the media, the rest of the poll offered devastating news for the president. Majorities found Trump to be:

Racist, sexist, dishonest, untrustworthy, unreliable, thin-skinned, unstable, lacking in compassion and a weak leader.

Even if Americans think the national media are fabricating stories about Trump, the truth seems to be sinking in.

The most stirring line of Flake’s speech on the Senate floor speaks to America’s future.

“It is often said that children are watching,” he said. “Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something?’   ‘Why didn’t you speak up?’

“…I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit.”

Xi and the media: strange bedfellows

By William A. Babcock


China’s 19th Party Congress has concluded. As expected, Xi Jinping was confirmed for a second five-year term.

But just as his re-election was expected, China’s media coverage of the event was predictable. Not only was China Daily News’ English-language coverage of the Conference predictably positive, but all other media here, including CCTV, carried only “good news” reports of the event. Any critical analysis was not available.

And not only was political news coming from the Middle Kingdom glowing with praise for Xi and his leadership, but the ability of Chinese people to access foreign news — never easy on a good day — was severely limited as the government shut down access to nearly all virtual private networks, or VPNs, a technology creating safe and encrypted connections over a less secure network, such as the Internet.

New York Times and Wall Street Journal access is always all but blocked in China and their coverage of the Conference also was unavailable in China. Conference coverage was available in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times newspapers and in New Yorker magazine.

President Xi is a graduate of Peking University, China’s Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities rolled into one. As a student during the turbulent times of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, leading Western Sinologists had early predicted he would have a more flexible, liberalizing influence on China when he became president. That prediction did not materialize, especially when it came to any hopes of his freeing up China’s media and opening up his nation to news of the outside world, especially the West.

Too, there has been concern in Beijing that this nation might have its own Arab Spring, which, especially during sensitive times surrounding a Party Congress, has led to greater fortification of the great internet wall of China and thus greater limits on access to international news and information. Even encouraging Chinese students and academics here and in the U.S. to write about such media censorship is nearly impossible given their fear — usually justifiable — of retaliation from Beijing.

China has for centuries been influenced by Confucian harmony, a cultural and political focus on considering what might be the greater good for the nation. In contrast, the U.S. focus has been on freedom, stemming from America’s breaking away from English rule. Unfortunately, an overzealous desire for harmony justifies media censorship. By the same token, unlimited media freedom results in harmful, debilitating sensationalism.

One can only hope that with increased business dealings between the U.S. and China, including the latest news of Tesla’s plan to build electric cars in Shanghai, Xi might see that China would be truly more secure and harmonious were its media more free, and technological walls might eventually recede into history, as has its own Great Wall – a 2,000-year-old structure never all that effective in turning back outsiders.

Sinclair’s right-wing agenda troubling


By Don Corrigan

Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s plan to buy Chicago-based Tribune Media Co. for $3.9 billion has come under fire and there’s no shortage of local and national critics.

Criticism is also being directed at the FCC, which will violate its own rules for reining in monopoly media growth if commissioners seal the deal for Sinclair. In the St. Louis market, KDNL (Channel 30) is now owned by Sinclair and the purchase of Tribune would add KTVI (Channel 2) and KPLR (Channel 11) to its media stable.

On the national level, Sinclair’s plan would provide it with 233 television stations reaching 72 percent of American households. While the FCC has rules allowing a single company to reach no more than 39 percent of the nation’s households, the FCC is cutting corners with a “UHF discount.” This permits stations broadcasting on higher UHF frequencies to count only one-half their audience against the previous cap of 39 percent.

Opponents of the FCC action argue that the Trump FCC is disposed to bend the rules as a payback for Sinclair’s unflinching support of candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 election. They note that Sinclair provided its affiliates with admiring coverage of Republican Trump and critical coverage of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Among the national critics of the Sinclair takeover of Tribune are industry rivals such as cable companies, T-Mobile USA, American Cable Association and Dish Network LLC.

The American Television Alliance issued a statement noting that the FCC “giving Sinclair a pass on local ownership limits in cities like Seattle, St. Louis and Oklahoma City would all but guarantee more blackouts and higher prices for consumers in those markets.”

Dish Network followed suit with its own statement noting that “Sinclair’s pattern and practice have become a matter of record: buy a station, cut the local staff, move resources and decision-making to corporate headquarters, and let localism suffer… Sinclair’s recent earnings remove any lingering doubt over whether that pattern and practice will somehow abate with this acquisition.”

Industry opponents of the buyout also note that in markets such as Seattle, St. Louis, Portland, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, the new arrangement would give Sinclair an unfair advantage in courting advertisers. It could offer local advertisers discounted “multi-station buys” while punishing advertisers who place their messages with a local TV rival.

Politicizing News

As media industry opponents focus on monopoly practices, other critics are upset by an expansion of Sinclair with its propensity to use biased and fake news. Among these national critics are Common Cause, United Church of Christ, Free Press and well-known pundits and comedians from Robert Reed at the Chicago Tribune to John Oliver at HBO.

According to Free Press, liberal media watchdog, “Sinclair’s practice of forcing stations to promote an extreme conservative perspective and distorts local news actively threatens the well-being of marginalized communities across the nation, specifically communities of color and immigrants.”

Free Press added that the appearance of a quid pro quo arrangement between the Trump administration and Sinclair also raises concerns Sinclair is trading positive coverage for regulatory favors.  While Sinclair is welcome to an editorial viewpoint, it is not entitled to distort news coverage to those ends, or to extract tailor-made changes to FCC rules, according to Free Press.

Comedian John Oliver demolished the Sinclair deal and its news practices in a recent 19-minute segment of “Last Week Tonight.” Oliver took aim at a little-known company coming up with $4 billion to buy television outlets to politicize them, like FOX News. Oliver showed several examples of typical Sinclair broadcasts, which lean “noticeably conservative” and which are often conspiratorial in nature.

“If the opinions were confined to just the commentary or the ad breaks, that would be one thing,” said Oliver. “But Sinclair can sometimes dictate the content of your local newscasts as well, and in contrast to FOX News, a conservative outlet where you basically know what you’re getting, with Sinclair, they’re injecting FOX-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors, the two people who you know, and who you trust… You may not realize it’s happening,” Oliver warned, “because Sinclair and its digital news subsidiary, Circa, not only produce and send packages to their stations; they even write scripts that local anchors use to introduce the pieces.”

Oliver then showed local anchor after local anchor, across the country, using the exact same words to introduce a story about Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Although Flynn is one of the Trump associates caught up in the so-called “Russian collusion probe,” the Sinclair piece made it look as if he were the victim of a “personal vendetta” by a misguided FBI.

Oliver asked: Why is this being carried on local news? Why is the content so biased? Why is there no context about Flynn’s activities with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign?

Local Reaction

St. Louis County media activist Tom Flanagan said he fears no one is paying attention to what is about to happen in the Gateway City’s media market. He said clergy, unions and progressives need to raise their voices against a right-wing media machine that will come to dwarf the influence of FOX Cable News.

“I don’t think many in St. Louis are aware it’s happening,” said Flanagan. “There are so many attacks on rules and regulations which protect people and the environment now, it is just hard to keep up with it all.

“It is also happening so often that I see a feeling of apathy on issues like who controls the news media,” added Flanagan. “Issues of the day that seem to be more intensely felt are social ones like immigration, persecution of Muslims, race relations, LGBTQ discrimination and health-care coverage.”

Flanagan pointed out that fairness in reporting on any and all of these issues would be compromised by a Sinclair takeover with three of its 233 TV stations owned in St. Louis. This is why media ownership constitutes a sort of umbrella issue that all progressives should be concerned about, Flanagan said.

St. Louis area native Jeffrey Blevins, who now heads the journalism department at the University of Cincinnati, noted that Sinclair is known to be heavy-handed in its selection of news content, telling stations that certain segments (with a rightward bent) are “must runs” which takes the editorial decisions out of the hands of local station managers.

“Essentially, Sinclair promises to be a localized, and more insidious form of Fox Cable News after its acquisition of Tribune,” according to Blevins, and he added: “Consider the impact that Clear Channel had on radio broadcasting after it began gobbling up stations and replacing locally-produced public affairs programming with syndicated conservative talk shows, such as Rush Limbaugh.”

The issue of media monopoly in St. Louis and nationwide has long been a concern of Jessica Brown, founder of the Gateway Media Literacy Partners. She has taught media literacy at the university level for 14 years. She said the Sinclair takeover will result in fewer opportunities to bring new voices and diversity to television in the metro St. Louis market.

“Media literacy is a survival skill; a skill essential to the survival of democracy,” said Brown. “People need to study and to act. People underestimate the power of one, and the power of constant communication with station managers, producers, reporters. Speak up about missing voices in stories; or misinformation in news broadcasts.

“Get in touch with advertisers as well,” said Brown. “A good advertiser boycott campaign can work, especially via social media. I believe we need to talk to a variety of stakeholders: our neighbors; the groups we belong to; our local, state and national political representatives. Demand that our media environment remains open to the public and that a local community’s myriad voices be heard.  And, we also need to support alternative media.”


Algorithms monitor marketplace of ideas

By Fu Tao and William A. Babcock

Algorithms are pervasive in our daily lives. Every action we accomplish online could not be achieved without them.

As evidence, simply quickly thumb through New York Times articles from this year and you will easily find coverage on how algorithms are designed to complete tasks that had not been under our radar before. Using algorithms, cosmetics are customized to each consumer’s skin tone. Algorithm-driven chatbots, an application of artificial intelligence at a low-level, are used by customer companies such as Domino’s for customers’ orders or inquiries. Sensors, equipped with algorithms, detect the change of heart beat, eye movement and body temperature of drivers to provide “drowsy” warnings.

And of course there are other more well-known applications of algorithms such as those used by search engines to make ranking decisions.

Algorithms have also been used in journalism and the media industry. Konstantin Dörr, a media researcher at the University of Zurich, refers to the former as Algorithmic Journalism. The task of generating automated reports is realized by bots. An Internet bot, or simply “bot,” as a nickname for a software robot, is a software application doing automated, sometimes repetitive, jobs based on artificial intelligence. Some also call this software-generated, no-human-intervention stories robo-journalism.

In early 2014, the Los Angeles Times ran a story online of an earthquake that hit the Los Angeles area eight minutes after it had happened. But the story contained a footnote — “This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author,” according to Atlantic magazine. This early report about earthquakes was automatically generated based on a pre-written template by a bot designed by Ken Schwencke, a Los Angeles Times journalist and database producer.

In 2014, the Associated Press announced its use of a news-writing bot called Wordsmith, for short U.S. corporate earnings stories. Wordsmith’s algorithm could spot trends in data and choose appropriate words to formulate reports featuring the AP style. Last year, the AP expanded its use of artificial intelligence to its coverage of Minor League Baseball games.

The AP is not alone in journalistic automation. According to Nieman Reports, the New York Times, ProPublica, Forbes, Yahoo, and Oregon Public Broadcasting all use algorithms to generate reports on business, sports, education, public safety, and earthquake impacts, to be exact.

The New York Times also developed a content marketing bot called Blossom to help its social media editors decide which stories might be trending on Facebook among the 300 stories it publishes everyday. In 2016, Heliograf, the Washington Post’s bot, made its first debut at the Rio Olympics churning out scores and schedules of the matches.

The list of writing bots by some major U.S. news organizations includes:

News Organization Launched in Bot’s Name Purpose Developer
Los Angeles Times 2014 Quakebot Earthquake Ken Schwencke
 Associated Press 2014 Wordsmith Business Automated Insights
New York Times 2015 Blossom Content marketing The NYT
 Washington Post 2016 Heliograf Sports The Post

Algorithms per se are supposedly neutral as they are the specified sequences of logical operations based on mathematics and statistics, designed to offer solutions. That said, last year saw algorithms for social media go out of control.

Tay, Microsoft’s chatbot, cutely designed to engage American millenials, was expected to learn from conversations over time. Trolls at 4chan, however, deliberately took advantage of Tay’s vulnerability in design and taught her to tweet racist and genocidal slurs hours after launching, according to Microsoft’s blog. Microsoft thus had to shut her down, made a public apology, and promised to keep her offline till algorithmic problems are solved.

Facebook, which had some 1.94 billion monthly active users worldwide as of the first quarter of this year, has received criticism on its algorithm for Trending, a service added in 2014 providing users a personalized list of popular topics. A National Public Radio report showed some Facebook users complained the Women’s March, a protest involving about 1 million people, did not show up in their Trending topics.

Monitoring claims of fake news

But the most disastrous criticism Facebook received during last year’s presidential election was trending fake news. A most recent Guardian report stated even after Facebook adopted the initiative to flag possible fake news with the help of users and third-party fact-checkers, it proved ineffective. Facebook’s news feed algorithm was also cast in doubt for possibly suppressing news representing conservative views, though Facebook denied the algorithm bias.

News aggregators such as Google News and Reddit use algorithms for customized news recommendations. In Reddit, factors affecting whether a post will appear on the front page include shares, keywords, number of up-votes or down-votes received, timing of submission and the amount of contacts.

Still, there are concerns algorithms may result in trending polarized opinions that create filter bubbles, a concept raised by Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy, a website for “meaningful” viral content, to refer to the “personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms.”

While one of the goals of journalism is to provide a marketplace of ideas, it appears the door to this marketplace increasingly is being guarded by an algorithm doorkeeper. But this begs the question: Since human beings have created algorithms, isn’t it disingenuous to place blame on the technology itself and not on its creators?

Who’s watching the watchdog?

In his article, “Bias in algorithmic filtering and personalization”, Engin Bozdag, Privacy by Design Lead at Philips, the Netherlands, writes human beings are the designers of algorithms and they can manually affect results of algorithms. When Facebook fired its human editors whose duties had been writing descriptions for Trending stories and manually adding news to Trending to ensure diversity and inclusiveness, fake news about Fox News host Megyn Kelly was kicked out for endorsing Hillary Clinton immediately trended.

But as GJR has reported in the past, there are fewer media watchdogs any longer monitoring the marketplace of ideas. The New York Times recently terminated the position of public editor (also called readers’ representative or ombudsman), claiming the position is now superfluous. Other U.S. newspapers had also eliminated this position. Nor are there any longer any news or press councils, citywide or national, left in America. Few news organizations have media reporters or editors, and most “media critics” have gone the way of the dodo bird. And media organizations that even still have media ethics codes are hard pressed to even find them.

With the media’s ethics toolbox all but empty, algorithms, and those who create and monitor them, have become one of the very few arbiters of what’s any longer right or truthful or responsible or fair in the media. That’s scary.

Last year the National Science and Technology Council released the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, providing the guide for future artificial intelligence research and design. One of the strategies is to understand and address the ethical, legal and societal implications of AI. The Plan warns that “many concerns have been voiced about the susceptibility of data-intensive AI algorithms to error and misuse, and the possible ramifications for gender, age, racial, or economic classes.”

Algorithm-driven AI clearly is the trend, and journalism and the media industry are following — and often leading — this trend. Accordingly, it is time to add more ethical reconsideration to the design and use of algorithms in the news and mass media industry.

Trump’s attack on black athletes in light of St. Louis’ civil rights protests


by William H. Freivogel

President Trump says his insistence NFL players stand for the national anthem brings Americans together. He claims race has nothing to do with his criticism of the black athletes.

Yet Trump’s Twitter tirade has divided Americans on what the flag and national anthem represent and what constitutes true patriotism. Moreover, race has everything to do with the president’s singling out black athletes and his insistence that team owners fire them for their uppity behavior.

Trump is not the first president to use the American flag or race as wedge issues. But he is the first president to regularly use his bully pulpit to bully American citizens who displease him.

Trump’s “Twitter War” on black athletes is occurring at a time when St. Louisans are protesting police brutality, when the nation is celebrating the Little Rock 9 and when PBS is broadcasting a definitive history of the Vietnam War. Echoes of strife and racial injustice from half a century ago reverberate through today’s events.

Today’s civil rights protests are reminders of protests and police abuse during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when most Americans approved of police beating demonstrators with nightsticks.

They’re reminders of a time when veteran white journalists and politicians admonished Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. against the March on Washington, predicting mayhem in the streets would damage prospects for the Civil Rights Act.

They’re reminders of times when journalists and politicians failed to differentiate between violent and non-violent protests.

They’re reminders of a time when a white woman with a kindly face could spit in the face of a young black student seeking an education in Little Rock.

They’re reminders of a time when another president used patriotism and flag-waving to mobilize his Hard Hat supporters in the Silent Majority against young anti-war protesters.

They’re reminders of a time when those who opposed the Vietnam War were viewed as unpatriotic, even though they thought patriotism required them to challenge their country when it was wrong.

Who owns the flag and patriotism?

Trump says a football player taking a knee during the national anthem makes that athlete a “son of a bitch,” unpatriotic and disrespectful of the military.

But since when do the flag and the National Anthem belong only to flag-wavers and the military? Since when do they represent only those Americans who salute? Don’t these national symbols also represent the dissenters, the protesters, the war critics, and, yes, even those who burn the flag in protest?

Bob Costas, the sports broadcaster who got a start in St. Louis, put it well.

“This is no disrespect to the military,” he said. “Martin Luther King was a patriot. Susan B. Anthony was a patriot. Dissidents are patriots. School teachers and social workers are patriots. Patriotism comes in many forms and what has happened is that it’s been conflated with a bumper sticker-style kind of flag-waving and with the military only, so that people cannot see that in his own way Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing. And so too are some of these other players.”

Nothing to do with race?

Despite the White House claim the president’s tweets have nothing to do with race, Kaepernick has explicitly said he is protesting the mistreatment of African-Americans and people of color by predominantly white police forces.

Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions may think there is no problem with the way police treat minority communities, but events in St. Louis show otherwise.

For almost two weeks protesters have demonstrated against a judge’s decision to acquit former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley of murder in the death of African-American suspect Anthony Lamar Smith. They also have demonstrated against the larger issues of racial injustice that have long persisted in this land of Dred Scott.

The judge may have been legally justified in concluding there was “reasonable doubt” of Stockley’s guilt on the murder charge, just as a grand jury may have been legally correct in deciding not to prosecute Officer Darren Wilson for the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. After all, it is a victory for civil rights when the judicial system protects the liberty of someone scorned in the streets.

Still, both police killings and the way the militarized police violated the First Amendment rights of citizens and journalists during the ensuing protests show there are much bigger civil rights issues at stake — that St. Louis and the nation have a long way before achieving equality.

Too many times police escalate confrontations with suspects as Stockley did during the high-speed chase through St. Louis streets, as Wilson did in stopping Brown for jaywalking, as New York police did with the deadly choke-hold on Eric Garner for selling illegal cigarettes and as Cleveland police did when they killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice as he held a starter pistol in a park.

And too many times police, in responding to mostly peaceful civil-rights protests, ignore the rights of people to protest in public places. The “kettling,” or herding of protesters in downtown St. Louis on the Sunday after the not-guilty verdict, was a blatant example of St. Louis police officers defiantly violating the constitutional rights of protesters. Police failed to warn non-violent demonstrators they were involved in an illegal assembly, instead surrounding them, refusing to let them leave the area and then using chemical agents while arresting them.

If the Justice Department were doing its job — as it did during the Obama administration — it would have launched a “pattern or practice” investigation of St. Louis police practices. The Obama Justice Department’s investigation of Ferguson police and municipal courts found long-standing and egregiously unconstitutional practices.

The Justice Department has the power and responsibility to conduct this kind of police investigation as a result of a law passed because of the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991. But Sessions and Trump are not enforcing the law.

The pattern and practice of the Trump presidency is undeniable: From the Obama birther claim, to branding illegal immigrants as rapists, to pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to equivocation in the face of Nazis and white supremacists, to a demand that ESPN fire a black commentator, to the weekend war on black athletes.

Perhaps Colin Kaepernick has a patriotic point to make when he kneels on the field to bring attention to America’s unfulfilled promise.

The view from China

By Lu Fan

Chinese media think that U.S. and South Korean media are inaccurately framing relations between China and North Korea as China acting as big brother to the North. This inaccurate framing results in an expectation that China will take an important role in controlling North Korea’s nuclear program. It’s called “China’s responsibility theory.”

The basis for reasons for the theory is:

  • Korea even pledged allegiance to some feudal dynasties in China in history
  • In 1950s, China sent troops to the Korean peninsula to support Pyongyang against the United States Army.
  • China remains North Korea’s biggest trading partner. According to Observatory of Economic Complexity, 85 percent of North Korea’s imported commodities come from China.

However, this is not what Chinese government or its official media think. A commentary in Global Times on Sept. 7, a newspaper launched and published by People’s Daily, the official newspaper of Chinese Communist Party, said the influence China has on North Korea has been mistakenly exaggerated, and that playing a leading role in the Korean Peninsula issues is beyond China’s capability.

“North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapon is the result of the abnormal politics of the whole Northeastern Asian. North Korea itself and the U.S. are responsible for this result. Some Chinese overestimate the power of China…” However, a reader commented below the article: “Since China has chosen to let North Korea be independent on how to develop, then China has to accept the consequence of doing so.”

Another commentary in this newspaper published in July said “the U.S. and South Korea always try to frame the complicated situation based on their own logic, ” so “China’s responsibility theory” prevails. The commentary also called for official guidance on public opinions to eliminate “China’s responsibility theory” as Chinese government usually guide and shape public opinion by publishing information and reporting on official media.

A program called Chinese Perspective (Shendu Guoji) of CCTV, the state-run TV station in China, also made a similar point in March when South Korea and the U.S. were conducting joint military exercises. The program blamed the U.S. for forcing North Korea to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and later prepare for war.   The editor of the program said, “The more pressure the U.S. puts on North Korea, the more North Korea develops nuclear weapons. The Korean nuclear crisis has entered a vicious cycle,” and cited Hua Chunying, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The cause and crux of the North Korean nuclear issue lies not with China, but with America. The nature of the North Korean nuclear issue is a North Korea/U.S. conflict… and the one who caused the problem should solve it.”

The editor of Chinese Perspective also says the current situation is a result of “extreme mutual distrust between the U.S. and North Korea.” The initiative to solve the problems is in the hand of the U.S., according to Teng Jianqun, director of the Institute of U.S. Studies at the China Institute of International Studies.   According to Teng, the U.S. wouldn’t sign the peace treaty because “it would not have the excuse to cause chaos, stir up trouble and create tensions” on the Korean peninsula.

There were a few dissents to this consensus view. Qiu Zhenhai, an analyst of Hong Kong Phoenix TV Station, said on Sept. 7 that the U.S. and China need to take responsibility for solving the nuclear issue as they are the two largest economic powers in the world.

To respond to North Korea’s possessing and launching nuclear weapons, South Korea deployed its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system. China has opposed deployment of Thadd in South Korea from the very beginning, saying it threatened the safety of China and Chinese people. China News Live, a program of Hong Kong Phoenix TV Station, reported that China regards North Korea developing nuclear weapons as extreme, but the deployment of Thaad is as extreme as North Korea because it threatens the peace of Korean Peninsula. Yang Xiyu, a member of China Institute of International Studies, said in an interview in China New Live that Thaad gives North Korea an excuse to launch missiles, which is a security threat to China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. as well as the Sino-U.S. cooperation on North Korea nuclear issue.

A commentary of Global Times in August refers the action of South Korea deploying Thaad as reckless and stupid because Thaad isn’t going to solve nuclear problem. It also says that Western countries always bear moral arrogance towards non-Western world, which needs to be restrained because the situation is not as simple as only NK did something wrong.

Social media in—entertainment, fear and censorship

Before North Korea’s missile launch Sept. 3, Chinese social media users considered Kim Jung-un’s missile launch a threat only in words. Many social media users had joked that such news about Trump and Kim fighting in words should be moved to entertainment section.

However, things changed Sept. 3. At first, most mainstream media reported that an earthquake happened in North Korea. About nine hours later, CCTV published on Weibo, a Twitter-like social networking site in China, that North Koreans were conducting nuclear missile test according to Chinese government’s preliminary judgment.

According to the BBC, the popular social networking site Weibo and mobile APP Wechat (Chinese version of WhatsApp) were highly censored after the launch. Weibo users still cannot see any results if searching for the word “hydrogen bomb” on Weibo until this GJR newsletter is posted. Instead, they see a notice of “according to relative law, regulation and policy, the search results of ‘’ are not shown.”

But Weibo users still find a way to express their feelings. One of the users “Yaoguangxiao_wayne” posted on Sept. 5: “As a Chinese, one of the surviving skills is to sort out the truth from various life-concerning but paradox information from authoritative sources. Since the day before yesterday (Sept 3), (the official media) have been deleting posts and announce that the test has no influence on China while publishing such information via the Weather Bureau…” The information this user refers to is that Chinese Weather Bureau announced they had started an emergency security alert and warned of a burst of nuclear environment pollution, suggesting an emergency plan for members of the public to protect themselves.

Chinese Weather Bureau announced on Sept. 10 they had withdrawn such an alert after they had tested the air and found nothing dangerous.   However, many users left comments below this post that they do not believe the Weather Bureau’s claim that there was nothing dangerous.