Thursday, December 16th, 2021


Afflecks and Balances

Today, I want to briefly explain how a recent Ben Affleck interview with Howard Stern explains everything about today's media challenges. On the show, Affleck spent a lot of time talking about his alcoholism and the poor way he's handled stress in the past. He also described his ex-wife Jennifer Garner as someone he loved and respected and explained that while their divorce was painful and disappointing, the marriage ended amicably. A marriage breaking up, while not uncommon, is a big, painful deal. Affleck described how that stress and pain led him to drink more. "I'd probably still be drinking. It's part of why I started drinking … because I was trapped ... I was like 'I can't leave 'cause of my kids, but I'm not happy, what do I do?' What I did was drink a bottle of scotch and fall asleep on the couch, which turned out not to be the solution." The comment was part of an interview that lasted more than an hour. By the next day, led by sites like Buzzfeed and People, there were endless headlines like this: Ben Affleck Says He'd Still Be Drinking If He Was Married To Jennifer Garner, suggesting that Garner somehow caused the drinking. I listened to the whole interview and those headlines do not represent the spirit of what Affleck said. Once those headlines were out, the internet went crazy, and more news and entertainment sites reported the comments and included that social media users were coming to Garner's defense—because what a throng of uninformed people say on social media is news these days. The following day, Affleck responded to the controversy on Jimmy Kimmel by saying the focus on one sentence in his interview made him out to be "the exact opposite of who I am." So then the headlines returned and the internet started arguing again. But the topic of the argument was still the false story that Affleck blamed Garner for his drinking and threw her under the bus. Why would I waste this space on a salacious Hollywood story? Because this is the exact same pattern we've seen play out on much more important stories from the beginning of the Trump era through the present. A false statement gets made. The headlines feature that false statement. That statement spreads. Social media chimes in. The false statement is challenged. And the headlines change to account for that challenge. But the focus of the story, and the social media discussion around it, is still on the initial falsehood. An example: Back in 2018, Trump tossed out the idea that maybe the Russians meddled in our elections in favor of the Democrats. The suggestion was based on nothing. But that day, Jake Tapper spent the first 12 minutes of his CNN show with a guest who shot down the notion Trump floated. But the time was still spent on the question of whether Russians meddled in favor of the Dems. That scenario is a win for the liar because it gets the false idea out there, confuses the average news consumer, and achieves the goal Steve Bannon so eloquently described as flooding the zone with shit. When I mentioned this on Twitter at the time, I was retweeted by Debra Messing which got Jake Tapper's attention. He advised her not to "accept nonsense from randos on the twitters." Of course, that's the exact advice I'd give news orgs covering Ben Affleck or anything else. Besides, I'm not just some rando on Twitter. I'm the rando on Twitter.


Brothers in Arms

"Nangyal and Noori did everything together when they were younger. The brothers played in the same football team, slept in the same room, studied in the same school, and read religious texts in the same mosque. Then Nangyal joined the Afghan National Army and Noori joined the Taliban." Vice: The Afghan Brothers Who Have Spent 9 Years Trying To Kill Each Other. (My kids achieve this level of discord in a nation at peace.)


There’s No Aye in We

"Will the new and rapidly spreading variant overwhelm the U.S. health-care system? The question is moot because the system is already overwhelmed, in a way that is affecting all patients, COVID or otherwise. 'The level of care that we've come to expect in our hospitals no longer exists.'" Omicron is coming. It's coming fast. And as The Atlantic's Ed Yong explains, America Is Not Ready for Omicron.

+ Yong's analysis matches up with this piece from Umair Irfan in Vox: Omicron may be less risky for each of us — but more risky for all of us.

+ Colleges are moving exams online, France restricts travel from the UK, and more of the latest.


The Energizer Money

"The real attraction was in plain sight: a giant chalky sea of brine high in the Andes called the Salar de Uyuni, which is rich in lithium, among several minerals with growing value worldwide because they are needed in batteries used in electric cars and on the power grid." The NYT (Gift Article) takes you to Bolivia, a "country long riddled with coups and racial, ideological and regional divisions," that is also the new front in the battle over who owns the future of energy. Green-Energy Race Draws an American Underdog to Bolivia's Lithium.


Satan’s Little Helpers

"They didn't realize they were amplifying a QAnon propaganda artist trying to convince the masses that President Donald Trump was saving the country from a ring of Satanic pedophiles. And they didn't know how dangerous child sex trafficking myths were about to become. That actual victims would be blocked from getting help. That women fearing traffickers would be driven to violence. And that the real children whose pictures were used in this ploy would have their lives upended." WaPo (Gift Article) with an interesting look at how lies start, spread, and hurt. A QAnon con: How the viral Wayfair sex trafficking lie hurt real kids.


A U.S.ER Friendly Interface?

"A new executive order from President Joe Biden hopes to cut down on the amount of time people spend accessing all kinds of government services, like scheduling a call back time with the IRS, applying for Social Security and Medicare benefits online and yes, renewing a passport." You may soon be able to renew your passport online.


Urban Legend

"After deliberation over many weeks and a thorough analysis of the entirety of Urban's tenure with our team, I am bitterly disappointed to arrive at the conclusion that an immediate change is imperative for everyone." That was Jacksonville Jags owner owner Shad Khan using very gentle language to announce that coach Urban Meyer has been fired after less than one season. Given his performance on and off the field, it's a miracle he lasted this long.

+ On the opposite end of the football spectrum: How Deion Sanders Turned Jackson State Into the Best Story in College Football. In addition to winning, "Sanders pulled off one of the most remarkable recruiting feats in recent college football history."

+ Tom Brady signs NIL (name, image, likeness) deals with college athletes for new apparel line. (The athletes include Sanders' son Shedeur.) It's a whole new ballgame, folks.


The Next Manchin/Sinema Pothole on the Democracy Express

"Senate Democrats, eager to salvage a victory as they lose hope of finishing the Build Back Better Act before Christmas, have turned their attention to voting rights legislation." It's probably the most important legislation in recent memory. But don't get your hopes up.


The Bo$$

"Said to be one of the biggest transactions ever made for a single artist's work, the value of the deal could exceed $500 million and includes the rights to the 72-year-old's entire music catalog and his work as a songwriter, giving Sony ownership to nearly 50 years of work." Bruce Springsteen Sells Music Catalog to Sony for $500 Million. (I paid nearly that much for my Springsteen on Broadway tickets.)


Bottom of the News

"A teacher in South Florida has been fired for repeatedly refusing to wear a mask." In Florida, this could end up with him being out of work and named the teacher of the year.

+ Are you into audiobooks? Peter Coyote, the best voice in narration, narrates much of Please Scream Inside Your Heart. I didn't realize how good I was until I heard Peter reading me. :-)