Columbia Journalism Review
Questions about the staying power of the #MeToo movement—triggered by reporting on Harvey Weinstein from The New York Times and The New Yorker—began circulating almost as soon as the watershed moment began. Reactions to reports of sexual harassment in the West have largely been met by positive, if not horrified, reactions from readers, celebrities, and politicians. And in many cases, they have come with tangible consequences for badly behaving men. But in Russia, where a senior lawmaker is accused of having groped and forcibly kissed female journalists, the government response has largely been mocking.
Yesterday, nearly two dozen Russian news outlets declared boycotts on the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, after an ethics committee cleared a lawmaker accused of sexually harassing female journalists of any wrongdoing. Some outlets announced that its reporters would no longer professionally interact with Leonid E. Slutsky, a member of a right-wing nationalist group called the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, while others, such as radio outlet Ekho Moskvy, withdrew its reporters from the chamber entirely. The station’s editor in chief told The New York Times that it no longer considered the chamber safe for journalists of any sex. At least three other outlets will also remove its reporters from the chamber. The boycott is a notable show of unity among journalists, and one that actively makes their jobs more difficult. In the US, as women stepped forward in the swell of #MeToo, prominent journalists were investigated and in many cases suspended and fired. Calls and commitments to making newsrooms safer were plentiful. But such radical opposition as a boycott in response to gender-based harassment and violence has yet to take hold here—in any industry.
Accusations against Slutsky made by two unnamed journalists were first reported in February by an independent broadcaster called TV Rain. Ekaterina Kotrikadze, deputy chief editor of the New York-based, Russian language outlet RTVI, came forward later that month publicly accusing Slutsky. In all, three female journalists eventually stepped forward with allegations against Slutsky. Kotrikadze recounted her experience to CNN, saying that Slutsky invited her into his office and without provocation pushed her against a wall, attempting to kiss her. At the time, she worked for a Georgian television outlet. In another case caught on tape last March, Slutsky asked Farida Rustamova, a reporter with the BBC’s Russian service, to be his mistress.
Slutsky has denied all allegations, and took to Facebook to mock the women, accusing them of painting him as a Russian Weinstein and calling their testimonies “cheap” and a “provocation.” The ethics committee concluded its investigation, finding that Slutsky had not violated any behavioral norms and noted that the women had not come forward immediately after the incidents, suggesting their timing was suspicious given the upcoming presidential election. A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin declined to comment Thursday during a call with reporters.
Whether the #MeToo moment will translate into lasting, structural changes in journalism remains to be seen. But it’s worth paying attention to—and connecting—the progress (or lack of it) women are making in other countries. Problems of sexual harassment cross industries, mediums, and borders—and the fight to eradicate it must necessarily be global. Below, more on the Russian media boycott and other #MeToo developments:
- Canceled media credentials: Bloomberg’s Ksenia Galouchko and Stepan Kravchenko look at the Russian parliament’s response to the women’s allegations—and threats from lawmakers to revoke the media credentials of outlets who have pledged to boycott the State Duma.
- Find a new job: Newsweek reported earlier this month on a crude suggestion from Russian lawmaker Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of Russia’s parliament. When the women who say Slutsky sexually harassed them first came forward, Volodin told them that if working at the State Duma was dangerous, they should “change jobs.”
- Earlier this year, CJR’s Jon Allsop reported on efforts from female journalists in France to win equal pay for equal work. The so-called “Weinstein effect” has had global consequences, and includes not just sexual harassment, but the larger undercurrents of sexism that dictate women’s experience in workplaces all over the world.
Other notable stories
- The New York Times’s visual investigations team used surveillance videos to piece together an eerie, weeklong timeline showing how Stephen Paddock amassed an arsenal of weapons in a room at Las Vegas’s Mandalay Bay hotel in the days before he killed 58 people and injured hundreds more last year. The black and white videos, which have no sound, show the killer wheeling more than 20 suitcases and bags into the hotel room, taking breaks to gamble in the hotel’s casino.
- For CJR, Jonathan Peters analyzes the unusual legal footing at the center of a lawsuit filed against Fox News by the parents of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer who was murdered in 2016. Fox News ran a deeply flawed story positing that Rich was the source of the DNC emails famously leaked by WikiLeaks and that he’d been killed in retaliation. That story, later retracted, was parroted by Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and other Fox hosts. Rich’s family is suing for the harder-to-prove emotional distress rather than libel, which isn’t an option post-death.
- The Daily Beast dropped a big scoop last night, revealing that Guccifier 2.0, the hacker who claimed responsibility for the DNC email leak, is a Russian military intelligence officer. The news moves the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election closer to Putin—and closer to Trump.
- MarketWatch reported on a recent spike in journalism school applications, an ironic Trump Bump given the president’s fondness for attacks on the press. But in Chicago, cuts to high school journalism programs in schools serving minority students could disrupt this new pipeline and blow a much-needed opportunity for more racial diversity among our ranks. In 1991, nearly all Chicago Public Schools had a school newspaper. By 2006, just 60 percent did. Southside Weekly’s Ashvini Kartik-Narayan reports on how high school teachers working on the South Side of Chicago with limited resources are pushing to get students of color interested in journalism. In Washington, student journalists celebrated a new law that bans prior review of articles as a condition of publication in public schools, granting them the same editorial independence professional journalists enjoy.
- And student journalists from Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will guest edit the US edition of The Guardian for 48 hours, ahead of the student-organized March for Our Lives tomorrow in Washington, DC.
- In a special report for CJR, Simona Foltyn writes about the tragic death of British-American journalist Christopher Allen, who was killed last summer while on assignment in South Sudan. Foltyn writes about the dangerous precedent set by the South Sudanese government in the wake of Allen’s death: “In calling him a “white rebel,” the government denied Allen the status of a civilian he deserved under international law, thus absolving its soldiers of responsibility.” It’s a cautionary tale worth considering as outlets continue to wrestle with balancing fast-moving American political coverage with the important, but sometimes overlooked, international coverage of conflicts that has become harder and more dangerous to report on.
- For the Texas Observer, Gus Bova looks at how well the media covered the Austin serial bombings, examining how news outlets and social media users sometimes made a mess of the fast-changing developments.
- Former Playboy model Karen McDougal gave an exclusive interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night, discussing her alleged 10-month sexual affair with the president.
Related: Sexual harassment in the newsroom
“This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” Mark Zuckerberg told CNN’s Laurie Segall. “Our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.” Speaking on camera for the first time since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke over the weekend, Zuckerberg’s appearance on AC360 capped a whirlwind media blitz that included several print interviews and a personal post on his social media platform.
Throughout the day, Zuckerberg repeatedly apologized for Facebook’s failures and promised that changes were already underway. He stressed his willingness to testify before lawmakers, and acknowledged that some level of regulation may be necessary. In many ways, he said all the right things. But after five days that saw serious concerns raised and the company’s stock plummet, while Zuckerberg and other Facebook top execs remained silent, it’s fair to ask why it took so long.
In addition to CNN, Zuckerberg spoke with The New York Times, Wired, and Recode, making plenty of news along the way. He told the Times that Facebook had used new technology to identify and eliminate a significant number of accounts based in Macedonia spreading fake news during the Alabama special election. He told Recode that Facebook needs to develop standards for content that reflect the values of various communities, adding “I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California at an office, making content policy decisions for people around the world.” And he acknowledged to Wired that he couldn’t say whether the personal data of American voters had made its way into the hands of Russian operatives.
RELATED: The Facebook Armageddon
Facebook’s post-election fumbling was already a major story before reports on Cambridge Analytica’s use of the platform by the Observer and The New York Times dropped. Wired’s most recent cover featured a bruised headshot of Zuckerberg over a story about the tech giant’s “two years of hell.”
With each new revelation about manipulation on its platform, it becomes increasingly clear that Facebook has, at least to some extent, lost control of its technology. It’s also apparent that users, by and large, aren’t aware the privacies they’re forfeiting when they sign up for the service or click through any number of third-party apps. Zuckerberg’s openness to oversight is welcomed, but it comes as legislators in the US, and especially in Europe, are already circling. If Facebook is to rebuild any of the trust it has squandered, yesterday can’t be a one-off.
Below, more on Zuckerberg’s media tour and the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica controversy.
- Changes underway: The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes breaks out the news from Zuckerberg’s Wednesday afternoon post, noting that Facebook will further restrict the personal information that third-party apps receive.
- The big picture: The New Yorker’s Adrian Chen looks at our lives inside the surveillance machine. “You don’t need to believe Cambridge Analytica’s own hype about the persuasive power of its methods to worry about how data-obsessed political marketing can undermine democracy,” Chen writes.
- A whistleblower’s story: The Washington Post’s Craig Timberg and Karla Adam speak with Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower whose revelations launched the Cambridge Analytica reports. “I didn’t set out to attack Facebook. Facebook has just been incredibly uncooperative,” Wylie tells them. “It hasn’t respected the role of the media and scrutiny and embraced this scrutiny and worked to improve itself.”
- A familiar script: Last fall, The New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo explained the Zuckerberg apology playbook. “Scandals involving Facebook tend to follow a well-worn pattern,” Manjoo wrote at the time. Though Zuckerberg’s media blitz on Wednesday seemed to signal that the company is taking this controversy seriously, it’s worth looking back at how it has handled issues in the past.
- Trust issues: “Facebook is staring down the barrel of impending regulation….People are describing its algorithm-driving News Feed as a Frankenstein-like monster that even its creators can’t control.” Those words could have been written at any point in the past five days, but they actually come from last fall, when Wired’s Jessi Hempel wrote about Zuckerberg’s trust problem.
Other notable stories
- In an expected decision, Meredith officially acknowledged that Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Money are up for sale. “Our main portfolio that we built over time at Meredith has been focused on a different audience type, company CEO Tom Harty told The New York Times’s Sydney Ember. Ember also reports that the company plans to immediately lay off around 200 employees, with about 1,000 about more cuts coming over the next 10 months.
- “As traditional media have scaled back coverage of the country’s conflicts abroad, a new crop of online publications gives voice to veterans and military journalists,” reports Jack Crosbie for CJR. Sites like The War Horse and Task and Purpose join The New York Times’s recently relaunched “At War” blog in providing coverage of America’s wars and the people who fight them “with an unvarnished blend of personal experience and investigative reporting,” Crosbie writes.
- Breitbart’s readership has plunged, reports Politico’s Jason Schwartz. The right-wing site that saw its profile skyrocket during the 2016 campaign and early months of the Trump presidency garnered just 7.8 million unique visitors in February, down 49 percent from the same period a year earlier. “It’s no surprise that Breitbart’s influence is waning as the country grapples with the harsh realities of a Trump presidency, particularly when Fox News already fills the Trump-can-do-no-wrong niche,” writes Splinter’s David Uberti. “It turns out that shilling for someone in power offers only so many opportunities for good content.”
- Longtime Fox News analyst Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters left the network in a blaze of glory on Tuesday, writing that he felt the channel had “degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.” CNN’s Oliver Darcy spoke with employees at Fox News, who he reports were “rattled” by the charges Peters levied. “The thing hit like a bombshell,” one staffer told him.
As some media companies question their commitment to Facebook, in the wake of changes to the News Feed and what some see as lackluster revenue from the platform, Google appears to be making a concerted effort to replace the social network as the news media’s best friend. On Tuesday, it announced the Google News Initiative at an event held in New York City. The new venture involves a range of different projects the company says are designed to help support media companies and quality journalism, and it comes with a commitment from Google to spend a total of $300 million over the next three years.
The new entity is similar in name to the Digital News Initiative, which Google set up in 2015 to help European publishers figure out how to become more web savvy. That venture included a $150 million fund that anyone could apply to access. It has financed research (including the annual Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute) but mostly gives out grants every year to journalists and media companies to fund digital projects. The Digital News Initiative now becomes part of the new, broader project Google announced yesterday.
Google says on a new site that the News Initiative is aimed at “building a stronger future for journalism,” and that the company wants to “work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age.” Parts of that effort—including training for newsrooms, or partnerships with organizations like First Draft and the Local Media Consortium—have been underway for some time, either as part of the Digital News Initiative or Google’s News Lab, which helps media companies do research and develop prototypes for new products.
But Tuesday’s announcement did include some new plans. There’s the expansion of a pilot project called Subscribe With Google, in which Google partners with publishers to make it easier for users to sign up and log into news sites. As reported before the announcement by Bloomberg, Google will also highlight content from outlets that users pay for when they do a search, and will share data that could help publishers figure out how to boost subscription revenue. Google also announced a new tool called Outline, which will allow media companies to create VPNs (virtual private networks) for their journalists, and said it plans to spend $10 million on a media literacy project through its nonprofit Google.org arm.
Here’s more on Google and its relationship with the media:
- A Disinfo Lab: Google is helping launch a lab based at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, in partnership with First Draft, where journalists will monitor disinformation in advance of and during elections around the world. And starting on April 2 (which is International Fact-Checking Day), Google says it will offer more than 20,000 students advanced training on how to distinguish misinformation online, through a partnership with the International Fact Check Network.
- News Lab changes: As part of the new project, the Google News Lab is expanding its efforts, according to a post from head Steve Grove. It is adding full-time staff in Australia and Argentina (the lab already has employees in 13 other countries), hiring new Teaching Fellows and expanding its News Lab Fellowships program, which funds the hiring of journalists by newsrooms. But the News Lab’s previously standalone website has been absorbed into the broader GNI site.
- More search fixes: In addition to all of the new announcements about funding, Google’s VP of news Richard Gingras also said the company is rolling out tweaks to its algorithm in order to “put more emphasis on authoritative results over factors like freshness or relevancy.” How exactly it defines the term “authoritative” is unclear, but Google is probably hoping it will stop conspiracy theories from turning up in YouTube results after school shootings.
- Sour grapes? Amid all the good news about the things it wants to do for media outlets, Google is still getting criticism about its desire for control in some of the things it already does, including the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project. Although it is an open-source effort and Google says anyone can add to it, some complain that AMP, as designed, gives the web giant too much of a say in the process.
Other notable stories:
- Many journalists mourned the loss of Les Payne, who died unexpectedly at his home in Harlem on Tuesday, according to his family. The 76-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor at Newsday founded the National Association of Black Journalists, and had a journalism career that spanned almost four decades. The New York Times Magazine’s Nikole Hannah-Jones called him “a fearless trailblazer, a door opener, and a fierce champion for black & brown journalists.”
- The fallout from the Cambridge Analytica affair continues to roil Facebook, and could lead to sanctions against the company, whose stock price has already dropped. So far, however, there has been radio silence from co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. According to a report from The Daily Beast, the company held a Q&A with staff about the incident, but Zuckerberg didn’t show.
- Speaking of Cambridge Analytica, CJR spoke with NYC professor David Carroll about the lawsuit he launched in Britain to force the company to give him all the data it has on him. Carroll filed the claim under the UK’s Data Protection Act.
- Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Donald Trump, is suing the publisher of the National Enquirer, trying to force the company to release her from a legal agreement she signed in 2016 that barred her from talking about the affair. Adult entertainment star Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels, is also trying to break a similar agreement she signed that required her to remain silent about the affair she claims to have had with Trump.
- The TV news program 60 Minutes is under fire for what some see as an overly friendly segment on Mohammed bin Salman, the new ruler of Saudi Arabia. The Intercept said the piece, which praised bin Salman for cracking down on corruption but never mentioned allegations of torture or other criticisms, was “more of an infomercial for the Saudi regime than a serious or hard-hitting interview.” CJR writer Jon Allsop wrote recently about the challenges of reporting on Saudi Arabia.
Monday began with the surprise news that Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro, one of the most powerful figures in newspaper publishing, was stepping down from his position after two years on the job. Hours later, Fortune published a report detailing allegations of Ferro’s inappropriate sexual advances.
Ferro’s spokesman initially told The New York Times that the 51-year-old executive wanted to “go out on a win,” a reference to Tronc’s recent $500 million sale of the Los Angeles Times. The deeply reported story by Fortune’s Kristen Bellstrom and Beth Kowitt ensured that his legacy will also include allegations of sexual misconduct. Their story contains on-the-record descriptions from two women about Ferro’s unwanted advances, as well as details about questionable behavior in front of his employees. His surprise retirement comes after Fortune reached out to Ferro last week about the details in their story, which he declined to address directly.
Fortune’s story included a comment from Ferro’s spokesman, who asserted that there had never been a claim filed against him nor a settlement made on his behalf, and added, “Mr. Ferro has retired back to private life after leading a financial turnaround of Tronc as the non-executive chairman. There will, therefore, be no other comment.”
While Tronc’s bottom line improved under Ferro’s leadership, his tenure was marked by upheaval and layoffs at the company’s newspapers, including a bruising year of management turnover, a unionization battle, and—ultimately—a sale at the LA Times. The Chicago Tribune went through a round of layoffs just last week. Ferro talked a big game about global expansion, but he never developed a coherent strategy for the company that controls iconic newspapers including the Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, and the New York Daily News.
Justin Dearborn, Tronc’s chief executive, will replace Ferro as chairman, but Ferro will remain the company’s largest shareholder and will continue to be paid $5 million per year through 2020 as a consultant. The shake-up comes two months after LA Times publisher Ross Levinsohn was accused of repeated sexual harassment. After an investigation, Levinsohn was cleared of wrongdoing and moved to a new role at Tronc.
Longtime Chicago media-watcher Robert Feder, a frequent Ferro critic, pulled no punches in his analysis of the executive’s departure. “For a man who had done so much to undermine two Chicago news organizations (including the elimination of more than 1,125 newspaper jobs companywide in the last two years),” Feder writes, “it seemed fitting that Ferro would be brought down by the power of journalism.”
Below, more on the fallout from Ferro’s retirement and Fortune’s reporting.
- What’s next?: NeimanLab’s Ken Doctor considers future options for Tronc. After the sale of the LA Times closes, the company will be much diminished in scale. Might it merge with Gannett? Will Ferro take it private? Doctor explores those possibilities.
- Journalists celebrate: CNN’s Brian Stelter writes that “Even before the Fortune story was published, some journalists at Tronc’s papers were saying good riddance to Ferro.” While the company’s shareholders may be happy with Ferro’s leadership, Stelter notes that his reign was marked by cutbacks and turmoil at the newspapers he ran.
- Ferro’s controversial legacy: Splinter’s David Uberti has a critical view of Ferro’s time at the top, detailing his many questionable initiatives and calling him “a human spigot of poorly conceived ideas.”
- From the homefront: Always interesting to read the internal reporting on issues like this. The Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick plays it straight, laying out the allegations against Ferro in detail.
Other notable stories
- Following up on yesterday’s newsletter: The UK’s Channel 4 went undercover to film senior executives at Cambridge Analytica claiming they could entrap politicians using underhanded methods like bribes or Ukrainian sex workers.
- The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian writes about increasing press crackdowns by the Iranian regime. The government has long suppressed local media and made things difficult for foreign reporters in the country, but it is expanding its reach by “attempting to intimidate journalists living and working [in] a foreign country.”
- As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits the US, CJR’s Jon Allsop looks at the state of media coverage of Saudi Arabia. As the newly elevated leader consolidates his power, Allsop writes that “coverage of MBS’s reforms could be improved if foreign correspondents got out into the country and folded ordinary Saudi voices into their stories.”
- Poynter ethics chair Indira Lakshmanan uses last week’s reports by Axios and The Daily Beast about a meeting between John Kelly and reporters to tackle the issue of off-the-record meetings. “Being told something that’s off-the-record puts [journalists] in a terrible bind. We can’t un-know something,” she writes. “What if we are told something that could be as big as Watergate? If we sit on such information, we’re derelict in our duty to inform.”
- For CJR, Amanda Palleschi profiles New York magazine’s The Cut. “The Cut stands out in a crowded women’s media world in both editorial gravitas and reach,” she writes.
- A week after criticizing reports that he was looking for new counsel, President Trump added a lawyer to his team. Joseph E. diGenova, who has appeared on television pushing outlandish theories about an FBI conspiracy against the president, will “serve as an outspoken player for the president as Mr. Trump has increased his attacks on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III,” write The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt.