In Trump Piñata Case, Greeley Tribune Shamefully Blames Victim for Threats

What’s crazy is not that a Colorado teacher let his students smash a piñata with pictures of Donald Trump and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto on it; that was merely foolish. What’s crazy is what happened after that, culminating in a local newspaper blaming the woman who publicly complained about the incident for threats of violence made against her and her daughter. Continue reading “In Trump Piñata Case, Greeley Tribune Shamefully Blames Victim for Threats”

Defining Fake News

What is “fake news?” According to Colorado Senator Ray Scott, “We all have our own definitions” of it; “it’s a subjective, eye-of-the-beholder thing.” But calling fake news a matter of subjective opinion is dangerous. It undermines the very idea of objectivity, and it excuses those who put bogus claims and dubious sources on the same level as proven facts and credible reporting. For the sake of rational civic discourse on which the health of our civilization largely depends, we need to to better. So what is fake news? Continue reading “Defining Fake News”

Fake News, Open Records, and the Spat between a Colorado Senator and Newspaper

How do responsible citizens interact with news media? What does good journalism look like? Is it ever fair to apply the term “fake news” to stories from otherwise reputable media outlets?

These are some of the questions that a panel of media experts addressed March 15 at a forum hosted by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFOIC) and moderated by Kyle Clark of Denver’s 9News. The half-hour event, in which I participated, is available through 9News’s Facebook feed, and I encourage people to listen to the discussion.

Here my goal is to touch on some of the issues we discussed, focusing on a dispute between Colorado Senator Ray Scott and the Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction. Continue reading “Fake News, Open Records, and the Spat between a Colorado Senator and Newspaper”

Fake News, Partisan News, and the Wiretapping Story

I don’t know why I’m surprised anymore, given how many crazy things Donald Trump has said and done. But I was surprised when I read about Trump’s claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump’s communications at Trump Tower prior to the election. Even if we imagine that there’s anything to these accusations, the manner in which Trump made them—in the same early-morning stream-of-consciousness Tweeting in which he discussed rumors about The Apprentice television show—is astonishing.

In tracking down details about the wiretapping story, we can also learn some lessons about fake news, partisan spin, and the difficulty of learning the relevant facts of such a story. Continue reading “Fake News, Partisan News, and the Wiretapping Story”

How Partisans Can Help Fight Fake News

Just how big of a problem is fake news? As one indication, consider that Americans currently are debating the extent to which the Russian government used “classical propaganda, disinformation, [and] fake news” (in addition to outright hacking) in an effort to influence the outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election. Glenn Greenwald argues that the Washington Post (among others) exaggerated the scope of such activities. Regardless, the fact that we’re discussing whether news about fake news is fake suggests that fake news is a real problem.

What can we do about fake news? Continue reading “How Partisans Can Help Fight Fake News”

BREAKING: Jim Hoft Flubs Story about “Deny Trump” Flyer

A lone Colorado Republican with nearly zero influence within the party handed out anti-Trump flyers at various Colorado Republican conventions, and, according to the intimations of Jim Hoft and some of Donald Trump’s supporters, this somehow counts as evidence of party corruption. Continue reading “BREAKING: Jim Hoft Flubs Story about “Deny Trump” Flyer”

How Various Media Botched an Abortion Story and Defamed GOP Rep. Barbieri

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

No one can reasonably question my pro-choice credentials—I’ve been a vocal opponent of the so-called “personhood” measures in Colorado; I’ve coauthored a paper defending a woman’s right to seek an abortion; and I’ve coauthored the article, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.” So, as a matter of policy, on this issue I stand opposed to Idaho’s Republican state representative Vito Barbieri, who is anti-abortion and who advocates legal restrictions of abortion.

But just because Barbieri is wrong on the issues, doesn’t mean he deserves to be lied about and defamed—yet what various media outlets have done precisely is lie about Barbieri, take his remarks grossly out of context, and defame him.

I advocate legal abortion, but I do not advocate only that; among many other things, I also advocate honesty in media and basic human decency.  The media outlets in question have failed both those tests. Because initially I was suckered by their dishonest reports, and because I published a Tweet mocking Barbieri (which I subsequently corrected), I now feel some responsibility to help set the record straight.

The context, according to an Associated Press article by Kimberlee Kruesi, was that the Idaho legislature was hearing “testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.” A doctor who testified against the bill, Julie Madsen, drew a comparison to a camera swallowed for a colonoscopy, which can be useful in telemedicine. To this, Barbieri sensibly inquired whether a camera might also be useful for a chemically-induced abortion—the topic at hand—and Madsen admitted it cannot be useful for that, because, she said, “swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.” In other words, Madsen is the one who brought up swallowed cameras, and Barbieri is the one who pointed out that swallowed cameras are useless when it comes to investigating a pregnancy. As Kuesi reports, “Barbieri later said that the question was rhetorical and intended to make a point.” By any reasonable interpretation of the events, that is obviously what happened.

Yet numerous media outlets completely reversed the facts to make it seem as though Barbieri thought a swallowed camera might be useful for pregnancy, and that Madsen was “educating” him that the digestive tract is not connected to the vagina. But that was precisely the fact of which Barbieri was reminding Madsen, to point out that that portion of her testimony was, in his view, off-topic.

To get the flavor of the defamatory remarks that various “journalists” made about Barbieri, see articles published by the Washington Post, MSNBCSlate, Huffington Post, People, and Jezebel.

As soon as I read Barbieri’s remarks in context, it was pretty clear that various media reports about those remarks were flatly wrong. So I did something that is apparently unusual in the world of journalism today: I actually contacted Barbieri to get his side of the story. His comments square perfectly with the account I’ve given; here is what he emailed me, in full:

Thank you for contacting me in regard to my comments in the House State Affairs committee. Unfortunately, this is an example of the media taking an issue and warping it to fulfill their own agenda.

Please review the remarks made in context.

While discussing the efficacy of long-distance ‘telemedicine’, the doctor testifying was making an invalid comparison between two vastly different medical procedures, citing a colonoscopy was many times more dangerous than a chemical abortion. I was highlighting the absurdity of this comparison by taking her example of a patient swallowing a camera capsule to ascertain the condition of that patient’s digestive tract “from thousands of miles away” (her words) and, by asking my question, emphasizing that such technology could not be used in the case of a pregnant woman.

With respect to the issue at hand: It is a paramount responsibility of the Legislature to act for the benefit of the health and safety of all its citizens. To that end, and to protect the expectant mother, this bill proposed a physician must first physically examine her prior to dispensing these powerful chemicals. The first chemical will deprive the baby of nutrients which of course starves her/him to death and then, the second chemical, induces hemorrhaging thereby expelling the fetus. The expectant mother is home, alone, having no idea whether the amount of bleeding she is experiencing is normal for this procedure or is the product of a serious complication. This bill merely requires a doctor to physically examine the woman and should be at hand and available in the latter case.

Here is a transcript of the full exchange (with thanks to Betsy Russell, from the Spokesman Review, you can link to a copy of her blog “Eye on Boise” here):

Barbieri: “You mentioned the risk of colonoscopy , can that be done by drugs?”

Dr. Julie Madsen: “It cannot be done by drugs. It can, however, be done remotely where you swallow a pill and this pill has a little camera, and it makes its way through your intestines and those images are uploaded to a doctor who’s often thousands of miles away, who then interprets that.”

Barbieri: “Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?”

Madsen: “It cannot be done in pregnancy, simply because when you swallow a pill, it would not end up in the vagina.” (Hoots of laughter from the audience)

Barbieri: “Fascinating. That certainly makes sense, doctor.”

Again, thanks for sharing your perspective on this very important issue and know I will continue to be steadfast in protecting woman’s health as well as the unborn.

Rep. Vito Barbieri
District 2

Now, as a matter of policy, I think Barbieri is clearly wrong. Doctors are more than competent to determine whether telemedicine is safe and appropriate regarding chemically-induced abortions. (Further, doctors’ insurance providers will take steps to ensure they are competent; otherwise, the doctors would get sued.) Further, I think Barbieri’s concerns about bleeding are a mere rationalization to mask his deeper, anti-abortion agenda. On that point, Madsen’s comments are on-topic, for they show that Barbieri (apparently) wants to restrict telemedicine only with respect to abortion, not with respect to other medical conditions.

Barbieri’s policy position is, in my view, unjustifiable—which means that it can be defeated based on facts and logic. Defaming Barbieri, as various media outlets have done, only distracts attention away from the important issues at hand and makes Barbieri’s supporters quite legitimately feel persecuted by a dishonest media.

I will hold out hope that the journalists who defamed Barbieri are in fact journalists, and that they have enough journalistic integrity to publish corrections and apologize to Barbieri.

The Denver Post’s Ridiculously Biased Story on Bob Beauprez and IUDs

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

If there’s one thing that makes me more angry than politicians endorsing stupid policies, it’s journalists writing biased and fact-distorting “news” stories. Frankly I usually don’t expect any better from politicians. But I do expect better from journalists, who are supposed to be the defenders of truth, justice, and America’s constitutional republic.

John Frank’s recent article in the Denver Post, “Bob Beauprez’s IUD Remark in Debate Generates Controversy,” represents the worst kind of biased (and frankly partisan) “reporting.”

By way of background, it is no secret that I advocate a woman’s right to get an abortion and that I strongly oppose the so-called “personhood” ballot measure. Indeed, I’ve spent many hours researching and writing about the “personhood” efforts over the years (see the paper I coauthored with Diana Hsieh). In 2006, the last time Beauprez ran for governor, I endorsed Democrat Bill Ritter over Beauprez, largely over “Beauprez’s religious stand against abortion.” This year, I have (tentatively) endorsed Beauprez over incumbent John Hickenlooper, partly because Beauprez has substantially run away from his efforts to outlaw abortion, and largely because I’m sick of Hickenlooper’s antics.

But whatever my personal positions, and whatever Frank’s personal position may be, intellectually honest people can at least be open and candid about the facts. On that score Frank has failed, miserably.

Frank correctly notes that, in a recent debate, “Beauprez suggested that intrauterine devices, known as IUDs, cause abortion.” Specifically, he said, “IUD is an abortifacient.”

Then Frank writes,

Beauprez drew a rebuke from experts in the medical community who called his assertion false. . . . The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and 10 other physician organizations, as well as the Federal Drug Administration, define IUDs as contraceptives that prevent a pregnancy. . . . Dr. Daniel Grossman, an ob/gyn who does reproductive research and who practices in San Francisco, said the definition of a pregnancy as the implantation of a fertilized egg is an established scientific standard. He said IUDs are not abortifacient.

But the relevant debate is not whether an IUD can kill a zygote once it has implanted in the uterus; rather, it is whether an IUD can kill a zygote before it implants in the uterus—and for Frank to ignore that issue is journalistic incompetence (or else intentional fraud). Basically, Frank is trying to trip up Beauprez on a definition, rather than address the substantive underlying issues.

So what are the facts? In 2012, Pam Belluck wrote for the New York Times:

By contrast [to hormonal birth control pills], scientists say, research suggests that the only other officially approved form of emergency contraception, the copper intrauterine device (also a daily birth control method), can work to prevent pregnancy after an egg has been fertilized.

A web site for Paragard, a brand of copper IUD, states, “The copper in Paragard . . . interferes with sperm movement and egg fertilization. Paragard may prevent implantation.” Implantation of what, you may ask? Obviously, of a zygote. And what happens if a zygote does not implant in the uterus? It dies. The FDA-approved prescription information for Paragard states, “Mechanism(s) by which copper enhances contraceptive efficacy include interference with sperm transport and fertilization of an egg, and possibly prevention of implantation.”

In other words, the copper IUD can work by preventing fertilization, and it can work by preventing the implantation of a (fertilized) zygote. If it works by the first means, it is a “contraceptive,” meaning that it prevents conception. But if it works by the second means, calling it a “contraceptive” is misleading, which is why the so-called “pro-life” crowd calls it “abortifacient.” But, by the definition of Frank’s “experts,” it’s not an abortion if it kills a zygote before it implants in the uterus. Well, they can define it that way if they want, but the definition used does not alter the underlying facts.

Let’s use another example to illustrate the point. I could define a “journalist” as a writer of news stories who gets his facts straight and who does not omit relevant facts. By that definition, John Frank is not a “journalist” (“hack” might be a better descriptive, at least in this case). But another common meaning of “journalist” is simply anyone who gets paid to write for a news organization. By that definition, Frank is a “journalist.” But real journalists (in the first sense of the term) do not play “gotcha” games with definitions as a way to obscure the relevant issues.

I believe the editors of the Denver Post do have integrity and do try to publish good, factually complete stories, so I call on them to issue a correction to Frank’s story.

Of course, as a matter of policy, it should matter not at all whether an IUD can act to prevent the implantation of a zygote. Women have a moral right to use the birth control methods of their choice and to seek an abortion if they wish to do so. A zygote is not a “person” and does not have rights. Frank does helpfully report that Beauprez said “in an interview after the debate” that “the use of IUDs [is] a ‘personal choice.'” Indeed it is—and it should continue to be.

Gage Skidmore on Photography, Creative Commons, and Rand Paul

Image: Gage Skidmore
Image: Gage Skidmore

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Gage Skidmore, a semi-professional photographer from Arizona. —Ari Armstrong

Armstrong: According to your Facebook bio, you started out as a photographer in 2009, when you documented Rand Paul’s Senate run. Your work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, Wired, and Reason. Do you work as a full-time photographer now, or is that a part-time occupation? Do you mean to make photography your long-term career? What is the scope of your photographic work presently?

Skidmore: I started doing political photography with Paul when I was sixteen years old. I had been involved in the liberty movement since the end of 2007 when his father ran for the 2008 presidency, but I didn’t get involved with his campaign as a photographer until 2011 when he ran for President again.

I’ve never seen photography as a job; I have always seen it as a hobby, something that I do on the side for personal enjoyment or just to make a little money. Recently I’ve done some freelance work for various candidates for office in Arizona, where I live now, and for other organizations like the Western Center for Journalism, as well as Reason magazine, which ran a cover image of mine of Gary Johnson for its 2012 election issue.

I really am not sure where my photography will take me, but I’m always looking to continue my photography adventure as long as I find it to be something that is worthwhile to share with people, and is still fun for me as well.

Armstrong: Every time I need an image of a libertarian or conservative politician or intellectual, I find that the best image is almost always one of yours. Then I discovered that you’ve also photographed celebrities such as Tom Cruise at ComicCon. What prompted you to start releasing so many of your photographs through Flickr under the Creative Commons license?

Skidmore: The scope of my work involves for the most part two things that I enjoy the most—politics and pop culture conventions.

I originally bought my first professional camera for the purpose of going to the San Diego ComicCon in 2009, because I wanted to take somewhat professional photos for the purpose of releasing them under the Creative Commons license, and also because I wanted to see my photos used to illustrate celebrities on Wikipedia on pages where photos didn’t exist.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing my work used in a positive way, and especially enjoy when I’m actually credited for taking the photo. And as far as Flickr goes, I think that is just the most mainstream photography website at the moment, besides Facebook (which isn’t known for its photo quality). But I would really hope for Flickr to make some changes to its business model that would allow its content creators to gain the ability to make money by selling prints, or something of that nature, in the same way that YouTube rewards its content creators for providing content there.

Armstrong: I’ve released a few CC images (my best is of Christopher Hitchens), but nowhere near as many as you’ve released. I find the CC community interesting; I feel grateful, as a blogger, that I have access to so many great images, and I feel a sense of responsibility to contribute my own CC images when I can. What are your thoughts on the Creative Commons?

Skidmore: I can understand people’s reasoning about wanting to tightly control their content, especially if that is how they make their living, primarily by selling photos. I’ve never gotten that serious about it, to the point where I need to sell a photo to eat the next day. I’m not pursuing photography as a college student, either, so I basically see the Creative Commons as a way to release my photos for public consumption, and have them used in the most wide ranging way possible. I have gotten some criticism for this, but I think with the expansion of literally everyone having a cell phone camera, and the fact that someone can easily go to the store and buy a semi-professional camera, the world of photography is constantly changing. These changes will likely have a detrimental effect on the professional photography business as a whole. Depending on one’s perspective, this may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing, but I tend not to consume myself with that type of stuff.

Armstrong: Which shot or shots of yours do you find particularly interesting, or which have a fun backstory?

Skidmore: I had a hard time thinking about a good photo back story, but I thought about when I first started doing political photography and documenting some of the early campaign events with Rand Paul. One of the first events I went to was a Tea Party event in Hawesville, Kentucky. I can vividly remember arriving at the event, and standing out in the cold November or December climate in front of this towering court house. Back then, the Tea Party was really at its peak, but standing among the crowd was Dr. Paul himself, then just a small town ophthalmologist. There was no other media, no other person taking any photos, at least semi-professionally, and hardly anyone even bothered to introduce themselves to Rand except every now and then between speakers at the event. This was actually also the first time I got to shake Rand’s hand, and his campaign handler at the time introduced us to each other.

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a true grassroots movement of liberty-minded individuals who have come to embrace this one time small town doctor as one of the serious contenders for President of the United States. I am so glad to have been able to participate in some way when he first came on the scene, and am especially grateful for the kindness he has shown to me over the years, especially in the beginning when I was just some teenage fan following him around and taking photos.

Armstrong: If someone wanted to hire you to photograph an event, would you be open to that? If so, what’s the best way to reach you, and what sort of processes and costs should a client expect?

Skidmore: If someone would like to hire me for an event, I absolutely would be open to doing so, and the best way to reach me is through email, which I’ve made publicly available on pretty much all my personal websites. I like to make things as easy as possible for potential clients, so they name a price, and I’ll usually accept it, as long as it’s within reason.

Newspaper Ad Revenue Dropped from $66 to $24 Billion

Image: Knowtex
Image: Knowtex

In 2013 dollars, American newspaper ad revenue grew from around $20 billion in 1950 to $65.8 billion in 2000—then dropped to $23.6 billion as of last year (including digital and “other” ad revenue). This is from Mark J. Perry of AEI, hat tip to Conrad Hackett. Perry writes, “The dramatic decline in newspaper ad revenues since 2000 has to be one of the most significant and profound Schumpeterian gales of creative destruction in the last decade, maybe in a generation.” Of course, this doesn’t account for all the ad revenue generated by America’s independent bloggers and publishers, who have to some extent displaced the work once done by newspapers. Still, it is a breathtaking change.