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John Whitehouse

Author ››› John Whitehouse
  • This Viral Lie About Denzel Washington Is The Perfect Illustration Of Facebook's Fake News Crisis

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Facebook does not just have a fake news problem; Facebook has a fake news crisis.

    The popular social network where tens of millions of Americans get their news is overridden with blatantly, completely fake news articles. And since Facebook fired its human editors in the wake of conservatives throwing a hissy fit earlier this year, the site’s trending topics section is similarly overridden. Facebook is actively helping put misinformation into its users’ news feeds.

    This is reflected perfectly in this Denzel Washington fake news article that Daily Beast editor Ben Collins noted was trending:

    Sam Biddle, a reporter at The Intercept, similarly noted a fake article peddling the same made-up story from “”:

    The Washington Post’s Philip Bump listed numerous more:

    As Snopes has documented, this completely bogus meme began in August but was still circulating on Facebook -- with Facebook’s explicit stamp of approval -- nearly three months later.  

    In a New York Times opinion piece, University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci explained how Facebook founder and head Mark Zuckerberg was in denial about the impact of fake news:

    I encountered thousands of such fake stories last year on social media — and so did American voters, 44 percent of whom use Facebook to get news.

    Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, believes that it is “a pretty crazy idea” that “fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of content, influenced the election in any way.” In holding fast to the claim that his company has little effect on how people make up their minds, Mr. Zuckerberg is doing real damage to American democracy — and to the world.

    He is also contradicting Facebook’s own research.

    In 2010, researchers working with Facebook conducted an experiment on 61 million users in the United States right before the midterm elections. One group was shown a “go vote” message as a plain box, while another group saw the same message with a tiny addition: thumbnail pictures of their Facebook friends who had clicked on “I voted.” Using public voter rolls to compare the groups after the election, the researchers concluded that the second post had turned out hundreds of thousands of voters.

    In 2012, Facebook researchers again secretly tweaked the newsfeed for an experiment: Some people were shown slightly more positive posts, while others were shown slightly more negative posts. Those shown more upbeat posts in turn posted significantly more of their own upbeat posts; those shown more downbeat posts responded in kind. Decades of other research concurs that people are influenced by their peers and social networks.

    All of this renders preposterous Mr. Zuckerberg’s claim that Facebook, a major conduit for information in our society, has “no influence.”

    Terrifyingly, there is no indication that Facebook is prepared to address this fake news proliferation at the scale it demands. Snopes has a list of some fake news sites, but as BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman has documented, these sites are so easy to set up that by the time you read this dozens more may have been created.

    When Google announced yesterday that it would no longer allow fake news sites access to its advertiser database, Facebook quickly followed suit. This may work for Google, but Facebook’s infection is much deeper than that. These websites aren’t simply paying Facebook for promotion -- they’re gaming Facebook’s algorithm using blatant lies to get promotion in users’ feeds for free.

    The Wall Street Journal’s tech reporter Scott Austin explained as such:

    The time for denialism and hand-wringing is over. It’s time for Facebook to act. Add your name to our open letter to Mark Zuckerberg here.

  • Donald Trump Complains That CNN's Excessive Coverage Of Him Is Not Enough

    Despite Having Two Surrogates On Staff At CNN And Receiving Nearly Three Hours Of Airtime So Far In March, Trump Threatens To Skip CNN Town Hall

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Citing "one-sided and unfair reporting," Donald Trump has threatened to skip tonight's CNN town hall. In reality, Trump has been interviewed for nearly three hours this month on CNN, which regularly airs the candidate's events live and also has two Trump surrogates on staff who routinely push his talking points.

    A Media Matters review of CNN's coverage found that Trump has been interviewed 11 times, constituting 2 hours and 55 minutes, in March alone -- not counting debates.

    Additionally, CNN employs Trump surrogates Jeffrey Lord (who is under fire for saying is the "new Ku Klux Klan") and Kayleigh McEnany. Since March 22 alone, Lord has appeared six times and McEnany 13 times. Furthermore, as reported by BuzzFeed's Kyle Blaine, asked days ago about why the network regularly aired Trump events live and in their entirety, CNN's Washington bureau chief Sam Feist said that the network was providing a "valuable service" by airing events by all candidates. Blaine also previously reported that CNN participated in a conference call where the Trump campaign dictated how Trump could be shot in his events.

    Just hours after Trump's complaint, when news broke of Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski being charged with battery, CNN interviewed both McEnany and Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes, with McEnany calling Lewandowski's charge "a side story."

    CNN's oceans of Trump coverage have come despite protests on air at CNN and by CNN personalities. As Blaine noted, former CNN analyst and network news correspondent Jeff Greenfield complained on CNN earlier this month about the network's repeated airing of Trump's rallies. Just yesterday, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour noted the huge advantage that Trump enjoys because interviewers allow him to call in to their shows rather than appearing on camera. And earlier this month, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo noted to Seth Meyers that phone interviews provide an advantage to Trump.

    Hours after that interview aired, Cuomo interviewed Trump by phone.

    This post has been updated for clarity.

  • How Geraldo Rivera And Fox News Botched The Story In Baltimore

    Fox News Senior Correspondent Ignored Local Protester, Instead Gave Time To Former Leader Of A Hate Group


    Following his death as a result of injuries sustained in police custody, Baltimore resident Freddie Gray was buried on April 27. While protests in the city had previously been peaceful, that night violence broke out. The following day, national media descended on the city to report, and none did a worse job than Geraldo Rivera and Fox News. When Rivera was not giving credence to a former leader of a hate group with no local ties, he was insulting protester Kwame Rose - who merely explained what Geraldo and Fox News were missing (and showed no interest in reporting).

    Time and time again, Geraldo Rivera missed the real story and instead pushed a false narrative that played into Fox News' pre-existing conservative biases.

    Oh, and Rivera also confused Kevin Liles for Russell Simmons. That really happened.

    Video by John Kerr, additional research by Liv Kittel and Nicholas Rogers.

  • Watch A Local Anchorwoman Destroy Conservative Misinformation About Multilingual Super Bowl Ad

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Many conservatives lashed out at Coca-Cola for their Super Bowl advertisement featuring a multilingual rendition of "America the Beautiful." Fox contributor Allen West declared that America is "on the road to perdition," Fox host Eric Bolling complained that it was wrong to use America the Beautiful, and someone at Breitbart News even wrote that the ad shows America is "no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution." And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    But anchorwoman Brenda Wood of WXIA in Atlanta demolished these myths in her segment 'Brenda's Last Word.' Wood explained how diversity is what America is built on, citing Emma Lazarus' sonnet 'The New Colossus' on the Statue of Liberty. Wood also touched on the absurdity of nativists rallying around a language from another country, and she pointed out the identity of the woman who wrote the words to 'America the Beautiful.'


  • Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity, And What Fox News' "Course Correction" Really Means

    Whatever Primetime Slot Megyn Kelly Settles Into, Fox News Might Be About To Get More Dangerous

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Roger Ailes, Megyn Kelly, Sean HannityMegyn Kelly's move to primetime will mark a shift in the very essence of Fox News, away from the hate of right-wing radio and towards something more effective at shilling conservative misinformation.

    Recent rumors indicate that Megyn Kelly may take over Sean Hannity's 9 p.m. time slot on Fox News. But the factors in play are much bigger than one hour a night. The imminent Fox News primetime shakeup is more about Fox News' own brand of misinformation being set to surpass the blunter approach of Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio hosts.

    For a brief bit of historical context before we get to the rumor itself, Fox News' approach in many ways grew out of Rush Limbaugh's short-lived television show. Roger Ailes famously produced the show and would take lessons from there to Fox News where he is still the CEO. (As well as taking lessons from his time as a Republican operative, which are well-documented.) And the further back you look at Fox, the more it resembles the worst aspects of Limbaugh's show. But as Fox has grown, it's adapted, allowing it to more effectively advance a political agenda.

    This adaptation was on full display in Roger Ailes' 2011 admission to Howard Kurtz, who has since moved to Fox, that Fox News needed to make a "course correction." The big picture result of this is Fox still pushing demonstrable misinformation, but doing so in a way other news networks will be more likely to pick up rather than mock. Their audience might not have had a problem with the old Fox News (at least, Roger Ailes gave no indication that they did), but the network's reputation was in tatters. (As an aside, CNN's recent pushing of right-wing Benghazi myths only emphasize the risk of Fox's revised approach.)

    Sean Hannity is in many ways a product of an iteration of Fox News that is slowly fading away. His willingness to push any argument any Republican ever once had has eroded Hannity's credibility over time. The Republican congressman who coined the term "terror baby" recently guest-hosted Hannity's radio show. Cumulus reportedly isn't even bothering to renew his radio syndication contract. Hannity declared himself as birther-curious, went all-in during the 2012 election on the story that President Obama once hugged a guy that right-wingers didn't like, and even dabbles in secession.

    But the new face of Fox News primetime, Megyn Kelly, is a much more pernicious purveyor of political propaganda. Kelly has the unique ability to pluck misinformation and imbue it with a veneer of legitimacy that Sean Hannity has long since lost, if he ever had it at all. She can have a great moment chiding Fox colleagues Erick Erickson and Lou Dobbs for sexism, only to turn around and push the New Black Panthers scandal as something serious. Megyn Kelly can cover gay rights in a way that is occasionally not abominable, and then push Benghazi falsehoods that have long been debunked. Megyn Kelly will rebuke Dick Morris and Karl Rove, but then hosts a climate change denier during the president's climate address. Kelly smacked down Mike Gallagher on family leave, but she also defended Newt Gingrich's bizarre suggestion that schools should use children as janitors. The examples go on and on -- but the key for Fox is that her positive moments always get more press than her more dishonest moments. It's no surprise that Howard Kurtz declared her future bright.

  • Stephen Moore, Rush Limbaugh, And The Right-Wing War On Science

    Zack Kopplin Educates Senior WSJ Writer About Science

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    On the April 5th edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, science education activist Zack Kopplin confronted The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore over myths about science funding, pointing out that Moore, who questioned the need for funding research on "snail mating habits," is "not a scientist":

    As it turns out, the reason actual scientists are conducting this type of research is because snails carry parasitic worms that kill children:

  • Megan McArdle calls for children to be trained to run at active shooters

    Megan McArdle: People, including children, should be trained to "gang rush" active shooters

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    In an attempt to distract from an emerging debate over how much to strengthen gun laws, Newsweek and Daily Beast special correspondent Megan McArdle called for people, even children, to be trained to "gang rush" active shooters. The Department of Homeland Security, however, recommends that people evacuate or hide in response to an active shooter, and to take direct action only as a last resort and when your life is in "imminent" danger.

    McArdle's essay on how to prevent mass shootings in the wake of the tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, begins with a libertarian defense of congressional inaction on gun issues, even sneering that it is "easy and satisfying to be for 'gun control' in the abstract, but we cannot pass gun control, in the abstract." You might well have seen most of this essay after any mass shooting in recent decades.

    McArdle is so resigned to any gun laws failing to prevent gun violence that she concludes that people should be encouraged to "gang rush" shooters rather than hide: 

    I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.

    So, in sum: the chances of achieving anything with any gun legislation are so low that in these circumstances, people should resign themselves to probable death by running at the person firing a gun in the hope that enough people will follow that their likely death will not be in vain. 

    As Jonathan Chait points out at NY Magazine, this is an absurd proposition: 

    Are you kidding me? You think gun control is impractical, so your plan is to turn the entire national population, including young children, into a standby suicide squad? Through private initiative, of course. It's way more feasible than gun control!


    Unless I am missing a very subtle parody of libertarianism, McArdle's plan to teach children to launch banzai charges against mass murderers is the single worst solution to any problem I have ever seen offered in a major publication. Newsweek, I award this essay no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security has specific guidelines on how to act when one's life is threatened in a shooting situation. Objective 1 is to evacuate, and if you cannot evacuate, objective 2 is find a hiding place: "If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you." DHS recommends that people take action against an active shooter only as a last resort and when your life is in imminent danger. 

  • #MuslimRage: Newsweek And The Future Of News

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    The most recent issue of Newsweek features on the cover stereotypically angry Arab men, presumably from inside a recent anti-American protest, with the headline "MUSLIM RAGE." The pushback against the cover was immediate and strong. Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, described the cover in an interview with Politico as "extremely unhelpful" and "playing to Islamophobic stereotypes."

    In promoting their cover story by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Newsweek attempted to engage with those outraged at the cover image by promoting the hashtag #MuslimRage on twitter:

    Want to discuss our latest cover? Let's hear it with the hashtag: #MuslimRage.

    -- Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 17, 2012

    This has led to some genuinely humorous responses that effectively illuminate the problem with Newsweek's cover story on their own, but the situation is deeper than that.

  • Newsweek, Niall Ferguson, And The Conservative Echo Chamber

    Newsweek's Admission Illustrates Exploitable Vulnerability In The Media

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Niall Ferguson's Newsweek cover story on President Obama exemplifies a deficiency in today's media. As criticism of Ferguson's shoddy work mounted -- both from outside and inside of Newsweek/The Daily Beast -- Newsweek explained to Politico's Dylan Byers that Newsweek "rel[ies] on our writers to submit factually accurate material." Indeed, Byers also noted that Newsweek does not even have a fact-checking department.

    Niall FergusonThis admission is disturbing on face. Newsweek wants to sell you stories and news about the world but can't even be bothered to check the claims it publishes. Even worse, they didn't seem all that uncomfortable with the admission. Newsweek's defense is that others are this lackadaisical at journalism, which is to say Newsweek has no defense. In a media environment without fact-checkers, it's no wonder we have fabulists and problems with facts and the media. But there's a more pernicious ramification of Newsweek's abdication of journalistic practices: This is what the predatory conservative echo-chamber and Fox News count on.

    Fox and the right-wing echo chamber exploit these vulnerabilities in the media. When the media process seems shoddy (regardless of whether it actually is) and the result produces news that is inconsistent with conservative ideology, right-wing media pounce and attack the outlet as part of some left-wing media cabal. We've seen Fox do this from Dan Rather to Politico to ABC News to MSNBC and more. On the other hand, when they find the argument useful, the right-wing echo chamber can herald the piece and ignore inaccuracies within.

    It's no surprise that while discussing Ferguson's article across multiple programs, Fox never discussed the myriad factual problems in Ferguson's piece that one could find with a rudimentary Google search. This is even as Ferguson's self-professed friend who writes for the same outlet called the piece "absurd propaganda."