August 21, 2017

On Technology: How Hate Groups Forced Online Platforms to Reveal Their True Nature

The recent rise of all-encompassing internet platforms promised something unprecedented and invigorating: venues that unite all manner of actors — politicians, media, lobbyists, citizens, experts, corporations — under one roof. These companies promised something that no previous vision of the public sphere could offer: real, billion-strong mass participation; a means for affinity groups to find one another and mobilize, gain visibility and influence. This felt and functioned like freedom, but it was always a commercial simulation. This contradiction is foundational to what these internet companies are. Nowhere was this tension more evident than in the case of Cloudflare, a web-infrastructure company. Under sustained pressure to drop The Daily Stormer as a client, the company’s chief executive, Matthew Prince, eventually assented. It was an arbitrary decision, and one that was out of step with the company’s stated policies. This troubled Prince. ‘‘I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the internet,’’ he wrote in an email to his staff. ‘‘No one should have that power.’’

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Online platforms offered unprecedented freedoms for their users — but these freedoms could be taken away at any moment, for any reason. Credit Illustration by Jon Han

Social platforms tend to refer to their customers in euphemistic, almost democratic terms: as ‘‘users’’ or ‘‘members of a community.’’ Their leaders are prone to statesmanlike posturing, and some, like Mark Zuckerberg, even seem to have statesmanlike ambitions. Content moderation and behavioral guidelines are likewise rendered in the terms of legal governance, as are their systems for dispute and recourse (as in the ubiquitous post-ban ‘‘appeal’’). Questions about how platforms like Twitter and Reddit deal with disruptive users and offensive content tend to be met with defensive language invoking free speech.

In the process of building private communities, these companies had put on the costumes of liberal democracies. They borrowed the language of rights to legitimize arbitrary rules, creating what the technology lawyer Kendra Albert calls ‘‘legal talismans.’’ This was first and foremost operationally convenient or even necessary: What better way to avoid liability and responsibility for how customers use your product? It was also good marketing. It’s easier to entrust increasingly large portions of your private and public life to an advertising and data-mining firm if you’re led to believe it’s something more. But as major internet platforms have grown to compose a greater share of the public sphere, playing host to consequential political organization — not to mention media — their internal contradictions have become harder to ignore. Far before Charlottesville, they had already become acute.

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In a bracing Vice documentary about the rally, a man identified as a writer for The Daily Stormer told the reporter Elle Reeve, ‘‘As you can see, we’re stepping off the internet in a big way.’’ He saw the turnout as confirmation that what he’d been a part of online was real. ‘‘We have been spreading our memes, we’ve been organizing on the internet, and so now they’re coming out,’’ he said, before digressing into a rant about ‘‘anti-white, anti-American filth.’’ This sentiment was echoed in active and longstanding far-right communities on Reddit and 4chan and adjacent communities on Facebook and Twitter.

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It is worth noting that the platforms most flamboyantly dedicated to a borrowed idea of free speech and assembly are the same ones that have struggled most intensely with groups of users who seek to organize and disrupt their platforms. A community of trolls on an internet platform is, in political terms, not totally unlike a fascist movement in a weak liberal democracy: It engages with and uses the rules and protections of the system it inhabits with the intent of subverting it and eventually remaking it in their image or, if that fails, merely destroying it.

But what gave these trolls power on platforms wasn’t just their willingness to act in bad faith and to break the rules and norms of their environment. It was their understanding that the rules and norms of platforms were self-serving and cynical in the first place. After all, these platforms draw arbitrary boundaries constantly and with much less controversy — against spammers, concerning profanity or in response to government demands. These fringe groups saw an opportunity in the gap between the platforms’ strained public dedication to discourse stewardship and their actual existence as profit-driven entities, free to do as they please. Despite their participatory rhetoric, social platforms are closer to authoritarian spaces than democratic ones. It makes some sense that people with authoritarian tendencies would have an intuitive understanding of how they work and how to take advantage of them.

This was also a moment these hate groups were anticipating; getting banned in an opaque, unilateral fashion was always the way out and, to some degree, it suits them. In the last year, hard-right communities on social platforms have cultivated a pre-emptive identity as platform refugees and victims of censorship. They’ve also been preparing for this moment or one like it: There are hard-right alternatives to Twitter, to Reddit and even to the still-mostly-lawless 4chan. There are alternative fund-raising sites in the mold of GoFundMe or Kickstarter; there’s an alternative to Patreon called Hatreon. Like most of these new alternatives, it has cynically borrowed a cause — it calls itself a site that ‘‘stands for free speech absolutism’’ — that the more mainstream platforms borrowed first. Their persecution narrative, which is the most useful narrative they have, and one that will help spread their cause beyond the fringes, was written for them years ago by the same companies that helped give them a voice.

John Herrman is a David Carr Fellow at The New York Times.

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A version of this article appears in print on August 27, 2017, on Page MM18 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Online platforms annexed much of our public sphere, playacting as little democracies — until extremists made them reveal their true nature. .

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/magazine/how-hate-groups-forced-online-platforms-to-reveal-their-true-nature.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Crowded TV Marketplace Gets Ready for Three Tech Giants

Scripted television is enormously expensive, so any commitment to it must be sincere. From shooting on location to taking out insurance to paying actors, crew members, directors and writers, it is impossible to dive in without allocating plenty of cash, while also being patient enough to weather blows at a time when it is increasingly difficult to land a signature hit.

The moves also come amid a fierce arms race for content. Netflix recently poached Shonda Rhimes from ABC, whose parent company, Disney, is preparing its own stand-alone streaming services.

But Apple’s wealth and its willingness to commit resources have sent shock waves through the industry. Two months ago, the company chose Sony’s television studio heads, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, to lead its programming efforts.

Mr. Erlicht and Mr. Van Amburg were certainly regarded in Hollywood as talented studio executives, having shepherded hit series like “The Crown,” “The Goldbergs” and “Breaking Bad.” But their move to Apple, and their programming budget of a little more than $1 billion, has suddenly made them among the most powerful executives in television.

That budget also puts them on a par with the most elite programmers in television. FX, which makes shows like “American Horror Story” and “Fargo,” has a programming budget of around $1 billion. HBO’s budget is believed to be around $3 billion, and Netflix will spend about $6 billion on content this year.

FX’s chief executive, John Landgraf, has been outspoken about his uneasiness with the amount of money now pouring into the industry and what it will mean for competitors with smaller budgets.

“It’s like getting shot in the face with money every day,” he said at a news media event this month. “And I have no idea how much capital Apple is going to deploy, how many shows they’re going to buy.”

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A still from “The Bachelor.” Facebook has indicated that it wants frothy shows like this that appeal to younger viewers. Credit Rick Rowell/ABC

Mr. Erlicht and Mr. Van Amburg started at Apple a few weeks ago. In the coming months, they are expected to hire a few dozen people as they staff up at the Culver City, Calif., offices they share with Beats Electronics, which Apple acquired for about $3 billion in 2014.

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It is not clear how people will be able to watch or pay for Apple’s original programs. Without any current acquisitions, it will take at least a year for any of the company’s projects to be ready for the viewing public. The entertainment drive is also unique from Apple Music — programs like “Planet of the Apps” and “Carpool Karaoke” are currently available on the service — and it is possible that a new app will be made to stream the new original series.

Apple declined to comment for this article, but it should not be long before Mr. Erlicht and Mr. Van Amburg begin competing for projects, most likely to be made by outside studios at first. (And there are already are plenty of projects on the market, including a highly coveted new series about morning TV shows starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.) With the amount of money at its disposal, Apple could easily have more than a dozen original series.

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But as Apple starts to gear up, Facebook is already well on its way.

The company’s Hollywood development team is led by Mina Lefevre, previously of MTV. Facebook has told people in the industry that it is willing to spend $3 million to $4 million an episode on new programming, according to a person familiar with their plans. That kind of spending would put the company on an equal footing with many broadcast and cable networks.

And while many new entrants into scripted television want big shows with mass appeal like “Game of Thrones” or Emmy-bait like “Homeland,” Facebook has a more targeted plan.

It has indicated it wants shows that are attractive to people in their midteens up to those in their mid-30s, along the lines of frothy fare like “The Bachelor,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Scandal.” Those shows generate plenty of talk on social media platforms, and Facebook executives are apparently dedicated to programming that they believe will ignite conversation on the social network.

Unlike Netflix, which releases all episodes of its series at once so that they can be binge-watched, Facebook is expected to release episodes on a more traditional schedule (it is unclear whether that will be once a week). Facebook also plans to have so-called mid-roll ads, or brief commercials, during episodes.

A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment.

Facebook will soon unveil a Watch tab, where users can find the original series and other video content that will be less expensive to make.

YouTube is in the process of green-lighting series. Like Facebook, the Google-owned video site is focused mainly on series that appeal to 16- to 35-year-olds, according to a person briefed on the plans. YouTube executives have said they will spend up to $2 million an episode on a comedy, and more than $3 million on a drama, this person said.

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Although Mr. Kyncl would not discuss budgets, he said the company’s efforts in scripted television were genuine. Originally, YouTube and its subscription YouTube Red channel were largely focused on creating bigger budget shows for YouTube stars.

YouTube’s ambitions are now pointed toward creating more traditional TV fare. Mr. Kyncl said the company was drawing lessons from what users on its platform search for. (The tactic is not new. Netflix has long used its vast supply of subscriber data to help inform its original programming choices). YouTube plans to put some of its shows behind a paywall, while others will be free.

YouTube recently began development on “Cobra Kai,” a “Karate Kid” comedy spinoff that got the go-ahead after executives saw how often people were searching for clips from the original movie, Mr. Kyncl said. The company gave a green light last year to the scripted dance series “Step Up” after it saw how popular dancing videos were with users.

Data searches, Mr. Kyncl said, provided a “window into the demand of Hollywood product on YouTube.”

“Why not fulfill this demand?” he said. “It makes absolute sense. It’s in the service of our users.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/business/media/tv-marketplace-apple-facebook-google.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Tarnished by Charlottesville, Tiki Torch Company Tries to Move On

A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment further.

Still, marketing specialists and risk management consultants predicted that it would be difficult for Tiki to move past the perception that it had been embraced by racist organizations.

Andrew D. Gilman, who has consulted with companies like Johnson Johnson, General Motors and Pepsi during crises, described Tiki as essentially “minding its own business” when it found itself caught up in the Charlottesville demonstrations.

“You hope that people are rational enough not to blame the innocent with the association that others are taking for it,” Mr. Gilman said. “But you cannot sit back passively and let this happen.”

He added, “When you have these things happen, it just hits you in the tummy and in the heart. You say, ‘We weren’t doing anything wrong.’ ”

This is not the first time that white nationalists and other members of the so-called alt-right have chosen particular products to co-opt or endorse. For years, the British clothing line Fred Perry has been dogged by its affiliation with skinheads, who seemed to favor its polo shirts as a sort of uniform, along with Dr. Martens, the makers of steel-toed boots. Fred Perry has denounced racist groups.

When an advertising campaign by the skin care brand Nivea this spring used the tagline “White is purity” to promote its line of streak-proof deodorants, it became widely circulated on social media accounts for white supremacists, prompting the company to pull the ad.

Even the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League issued a statement after an adaptation of its team logo appeared on posters in the Charlottesville rally, reportedly wielded by members of a Michigan white nationalist group calling itself the Detroit Right Wings.

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“The Detroit Red Wings vehemently disagree with and are not associated in any way with the event taking place today in Charlottesville, Va.,” the team said in a statement. “We are exploring every possible legal action as it pertains to the misuse of our logo in this disturbing demonstration.”

The Tiki torches were probably just a matter of convenience, said Joan Donovan, lead researcher in media manipulation at the research institute Data Society, who studies hate groups and white supremacists. Torches have long been associated with the Ku Klux Klan, but those used in the past were far more likely to be homemade.

In many cases, though, these extremists and other members of the far-right will latch onto brands that are already stirring controversy as a way to ride the wave of publicity. Late last year, the hate website Daily Stormer referred to New Balance as the “official shoes of white people” after a company vice president made a flattering comment about then-candidate Donald J. Trump. The company issued forceful statements distancing itself from white supremacists.

Ms. Donovan said that the best way to counter any perception of being embraced by extremist groups is for brands to avoid even mentioning the people or groups that are trying to use their products.

“If you acknowledge and promote their existence and validate their actions in a way that even says ‘We disavow you,’ then it doesn’t give room to talk about the things you do support or find to be positive ways forward,” she said.

However, Scott Farrell, a specialist in crisis management and the president of Golin Corporate Communications, said that the use of the Tiki torches by racist groups in Charlottesville was so egregious and antithetical to the product’s good-natured image that “a swift and decisive response is the only way to go.”

“I think they did absolutely the right thing,” Mr. Farrell said. “Their messaging came out fast on Saturday, it had the right tone and tenor. It’s a page of the playbook that other people should be looking at right now.”

That playbook is rapidly being rewritten, forcing chief marketing officers to remain abnormally vigilant about how their products are being perceived and adopted in the marketplace.

“Historically, risk management centered on two questions: what’s possible and what’s probable,” Mr. Farrell said. “Today, to answer what’s possible, marketers have to push themselves to the extreme margins of reality.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/business/media/charlottesville-tiki-torch-company.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

They’re Trying to Sue a White Supremacist. First He Must Be Found.

Since April, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy and civil rights group, has tried to track down Mr. Anglin for a lawsuit claiming that he used his website to inflict emotional distress on Tanya Gersh, a Jewish real estate agent in Montana. The fruitless search for him exemplifies the challenges that online harassment cases sometimes encounter.

The lawsuit is one of several against Mr. Anglin. On Tuesday, two women who say they were injured in the Charlottesville neo-Nazi protest sued him and other organizers. A day later, the SiriusXM radio host Dean Obeidallah sued Mr. Anglin for calling him the “mastermind” behind a deadly bombing.

Mr. Anglin is considered a “prestige figure” in the white nationalist movement and is most likely hiding among his community, said Keegan Hankes, an analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Mr. Anglin’s lawyer, Marc Randazza, said that the editor should be easy to find and that no one had looked hard enough. Mr. Anglin has written on The Daily Stormer that he is in Nigeria.

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Marc Randazza, the lawyer defending Mr. Anglin in several lawsuits, says his client isn’t hiding. Credit Isaac Brekken for The New York Times

Asked in an email about Ms. Gersh’s lawsuit, Mr. Anglin wrote: “I’m a serious person and I only deal with serious reporters,” adding an anti-Semitic epithet to describe The New York Times.

Mr. Anglin is facing troubles other than the lawsuits. GoDaddy and Google kicked The Daily Stormer off their platforms last week for violating their terms of service. The site re-emerged on Tor, a browser for anonymous web surfing, and within a day found a new home on a Russian server before again being booted. The website appeared to be offline late Friday, days after it was expelled from CloudFlare, a service that provides protection from online attacks.

Ms. Gersh’s lawsuit stems from events last spring in Whitefish, Mont. There, Ms. Gersh, a real estate agent, encouraged Sherry Spencer, to disavow her son, Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, and donate to human rights causes. As tensions in the community grew, Ms. Gersh offered to sell a building in town owned by Ms. Spencer.

Mr. Anglin told his followers that Ms. Gersh was extorting Ms. Spencer and encouraged them to write anti-Semitic messages to Ms. Gersh. She and her son, who was 12, soon received thousands of phone calls and emails, including a message encouraging her son to crawl into an oven.

In April, Ms. Gersh and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued The Daily Stormer, accusing it of orchestrating a “troll storm.” The case could set a precedent on how online harassment is treated under the law.

But the suit has stalled. The four-person team at Encore Process Service in Columbus, Ohio, visited seven addresses to find Mr. Anglin and returned some 15 times. To Jeffrey A. Cremeans, who runs Encore Process Service and has served notice of lawsuits for 25 years, Mr. Anglin became a case that still haunts him.

“Sometimes you take it personal,” Mr. Cremeans said.

Ms. Ploesser, who specializes in investigations for the firm, added: “We found fictitious offices. Things were always closed.”

Ms. Ploesser believes Mr. Anglin barricaded himself in one of his Ohio addresses. But after a little over a week of searching in April, the team had exhausted its options.

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Afterward, the Southern Poverty Law Center began the byzantine process of trying to move the lawsuit forward without Mr. Anglin. The court clerk sent papers to his known addresses through certified mail; those were returned undeliverable. Then the papers were sent through regular mail; they were also returned undeliverable.

If Mr. Anglin cannot be served notice in person, the last step is to put a public notice for six consecutive weeks in a local newspaper. Ms. Gersh’s lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center, David Dinielli, expects to do so this month.

“The circumstances in which these steps are normally taken is someone owed $7,000 on their credit card bill,” Mr. Dinielli said. “This is not what happens in nationally prominent civil rights litigation.”

When Mr. Randazza, Mr. Anglin’s lawyer and a First Amendment advocate, was asked whether his client was avoiding being served, he said: “Would you say that touchdowns are avoiding being scored in a shutout football game? Or would you say that the offense is not scoring them?”

Mr. Randazza said that what Mr. Anglin wrote was protected speech, and he connected the lawsuit with the broader political climate. “There’s this belief among the modern left that free speech is for me but not for thee,” he said.

Mr. Dinielli called Mr. Anglin a “coward.” He said Mr. Randazza had been avoiding his calls and emails. Mr. Randazza said he did not know Mr. Dinielli and had not ignored any calls or messages from him.

For Ms. Gersh, Mr. Anglin’s failure to respond to the suit is a display of hypocrisy. “I don’t know how long he’s allowed to hide,” she said. “The fact that he won’t stand up for himself now after being so willing to blast people and steal their lives and hurt them is shameful.”

Ms. Gersh said the violence in Charlottesville also reminded her of what Mr. Anglin’s movement was capable of doing.

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“People didn’t know my story was real because it was just online, as if online isn’t real,” Ms. Gersh said. “I want the world to know this is a very, very important site.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/technology/theyre-trying-to-sue-a-white-supremacist-first-he-must-be-found.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

‘Hitman’s Bodyguard’ Is No. 1, as ‘Logan Lucky’ Disappoints

“Logan Lucky,” which Mr. Soderbergh released through Bleecker Street Media, cost about $29 million to make and was financed by preselling foreign distribution rights. The cast and crew worked for scale to keep the budget down, with profit participation if the film succeeds. Mr. Soderbergh raised the marketing funds by selling a portion of nontheatrical rights.

“This weekend’s number is not a problem; we were in profit as soon as someone bought a ticket,” Mr. Soderbergh said, noting that 46 percent of total domestic ticket sales “will go into a pool shared by the cast and crew.”

He added, “The entire experience has been a blast, which was also one of my goals.”

Dan Fellman, a “Logan Lucky” producer and film distribution consultant, said by phone that turnout was strong on the coasts. “Where we didn’t connect was in the South and Midwest, which is frustrating because the movie was made for that audience,” he said.

In other box office news, “Girls Trip” (Universal) crossed into certified blockbuster territory, taking in $3.8 million for a five-week total of about $104 million — by far the best result for a live-action comedy this year. (“Baywatch,” with $58.1 million in domestic ticket sales, ranks second.) Now the question is whether the R-rated film, about the adventures of four women at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, can perform in a similar way overseas, where comedies often get lost in translation.

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Tiffany Haddish in “Girls Trip,” which is beginning to be released in some overseas markets. Credit Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures

So far, Universal has only released the film in Britain and a handful of small markets, like South Africa and Trinidad, leading to some questions in Hollywood about the studio’s plans. Niels Swinkels, Universal’s executive vice president for international distribution, said in an interview that “Girls Trip” will be released in Australia in the coming weeks and Germany in November, with more markets to follow.

“We’re super encouraged by our first toe dip,” Mr. Swinkels said by phone, noting strong ticket sales in Britain and Ireland, where “Girls Trip” has collected $8.9 million in 24 days of release. “We’re going to take it as far as we absolutely can. With all of our comedies, from ‘Ride Along’ to ‘Bridesmaids,’ we go slow overseas to find the optimal dates.”

Movies like “Girls Trip,” which has a primarily black cast, sometimes suffer in Hollywood because of a belief, however invalid, that they “don’t travel” — that movies with white leads stand a better chance of attracting audiences overseas. Is that a concern here?

“No,” Mr. Swinkels said flatly. “It’s a universal story.”

Tracy Oliver, who wrote the screenplay for “Girls Trip” with Kenya Barris, said in an email that she recently participated in a workshop at the University of California, Los Angeles where visiting students from Germany went to see the film and then participated in a discussion. “Given the entire class was white and were from Germany, I didn’t know what to expect,” Ms. Oliver said. “Not only did they understand it, they loved it.”

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She added, “I’m hopeful that people won’t assume certain countries and territories won’t support it and not even play the movie there. I saw firsthand how well this movie translates to an audience that shares very little in common culturally with the cast.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/movies/hitmans-bodyguard-logan-lucky-box-office.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Stephen Bannon’s Path From Breitbart to the West Wing, and Back

For an in-depth look at Mr. Bannon’s life, here is a profile.

Making it official

Mr. Bannon had never worked for a national political campaign before Mr. Trump appointed him campaign chief on Aug. 17, 2016.

It was a shake-up — one that critics said was a sign of the campaign’s lack of cohesion. It also raised questions about Mr. Bannon’s apparent support for “alt-right” movements and white nationalist ideas.

Eight days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Mr. Bannon, who was serving as chief strategist, was given a seat on the principals committee of the National Security Council, a position customarily reserved for military generals.

Ebbs and flows

On April 5, Mr. Trump removed Mr. Bannon from the committee.

There were signs of schisms in the White House, including what appeared to be growing rifts between Mr. Bannon and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and trusted adviser; Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council; and Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser.

Mr. Trump seemed to be going out of his way to tell reporters that he, and not Mr. Bannon, was in charge of the West Wing, raising questions as to whether Mr. Bannon could hold onto his job for much longer.

Hitting the exit ramp

Seeking to impose discipline on a turbulent White House staff, Mr. Trump named John F. Kelly, a retired four-star general who was secretary of homeland security, as the new chief of staff on July 28.

After Mr. Trump was criticized for saying “many sides” were responsible for violence at an Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, Va., Mr. Bannon defended the president and the rally. “Just give me more,” he said. “Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”

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On Wednesday, The American Prospect published comments from Mr. Bannon that included jabs at his West Wing colleagues.

And on Friday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Kelly and Mr. Bannon “have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day.”

Back where he started

Mr. Bannon is now resuming his work as the head of Breitbart News, where he intends to continue to pursue the kind of coverage that helped propel Mr. Trump to the White House.

“I think I can be more effective fighting from the outside for the agenda President Trump ran on,” Mr. Bannon said on Friday. “And anyone who stands in our way, we will go to war with.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/19/us/politics/steve-bannon-fired-breitbart.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Steve Bannon, Back on the Outside, Prepares His Enemies List

“The president was buoyed to election by capturing the hearts and minds of a populist, nationalist movement,” Alex Marlow, Breitbart’s editor in chief, said Friday evening. “A lot of it was anti-Wall Street, anti-corporatist, anti-establishment. And now we’re seeing that a lot of these guys remaining inside the White House are exactly the opposite of what we told you you were going to get.”

Mr. Bannon’s long enemies list will include anyone he deems hostile to the nationalist, conservative agenda that he viewed himself as the guardian of the White House. And his most personal causes will involve some the biggest fights that lie ahead between President Trump and Congress.

Most immediately, he has told associates that he wants to ensure that any spending resolution approved next month by Congress includes money to begin construction on the wall that Mr. Trump has promised to build on the southern border.

If Congress balks, Mr. Bannon has advised the president to issue a veto, which would trigger a government shutdown.

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Bannon Ousted: Inside His Controversial Tenure

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s outgoing chief strategist, has been criticized as being emblematic of the far-right nationalism that turned violent in Virginia last weekend.

By A.J. CHAVAR and CHRIS CIRILLO on Publish Date August 14, 2017. Photo by Al Drago/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

“You can’t play by the Marquess Queensberry’s rules,” he often tells colleagues, using a characteristically colorful historical analogy, in this case to the 19th-century code of conduct for boxing.

Whether he punches hard is not in doubt. The question that he and other like-minded conservatives see as fundamental for their cause is whether their efforts will have any effect on a White House that they fear is now dominated by people whose worldview is decidedly more moderate than Mr. Bannon’s.

Mr. Kushner; Ms. Trump; Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser; and Mr. Cohn have all been the target of unrelenting attacks by Breitbart and others on the right for their efforts to draw Mr. Trump to the political center. The site has routinely dismissed Mr. Cohn as a “globalist” and a “swamp creature”; in headlines, his name would sometimes appear bracketed by globe emojis, to underscore the point — also an allusion to the triple parentheses that anti-Semites on social media use to denote Jewish names.

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Breitbart has mocked Ms. Powell and Mr. Kushner for partying together in the Hamptons with members of the “fake news” media and Democratic politicians.

“We’re going to have a keen eye to see if Trump is able to continue connecting with his base, as the numbers just become more overwhelmingly globalist, centrist, establishment Democrat, all of those in the mix, and a lot less populist-nationalists,” Mr. Marlow said.

Now the scenario that many conservatives long feared is reality: The centrist aides are going to be largely unchecked.

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“With Bannon gone, who is left to help the president shepherd his agenda through the establishment morass that wants to sink it?” said Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host and author, who is among the most vocal proponents of the tighter immigration and trade policies the president campaigned on. “Conventional Wall Street Republicans didn’t elect Donald Trump, and they won’t save him. A laser beam focus on advancing his policies on trade, tax reform, immigration and infrastructure will.”

The veteran conservative activist Richard Viguerie questioned on Friday whether Mr. Bannon’s ouster was part of a looming “purge of conservatives on the White House staff.”

With Mr. Bannon no longer under any obligation to feign interest in working with Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell — whom he privately denigrated to Mr. Trump as backstabbers who would inevitably sell him out — the likelihood of a deepening and potentially paralyzing rift between the Republican Party’s hard-line conservatives and its leadership has only grown.

Congressional Republicans have never been very enthusiastic about the pieces of Mr. Trump’s agenda that most animated his core supporters. The president’s proposal to cut legal immigration by half over the next 10 years fell flat on Capitol Hill.

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Stephen K. Bannon interviewing Donald Trump Jr. for SiriusXM Broadcasts’ New Hampshire primary coverage in February of last year. Credit Paul Marotta/Getty Images

He is still waiting for approval of funding to build the border wall — perhaps the central promise of his campaign. And talks to move forward with a major infrastructure improvement package have stalled.

In one bit of parting advice to the president, Mr. Bannon urged Mr. Trump not to sign any government funding agreement that does not contain funding for the wall. But others in the White House have counseled the president not to pick that fight, which would lead to a government shutdown that could have disastrous political consequences. Republicans, in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, would have no one to blame but themselves.

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Breitbart is expected to be unsparing in its coverage of the issue. And Mr. Marlow said the absence of conservatives like Mr. Bannon was not a good sign.

“At Breitbart, our thoughts are that the president can certainly do a great job despite that, but we don’t think that is working for him all that well at the moment,” Mr. Marlow said.

Few who know Mr. Bannon believe he will waste much time before commencing the messy business of turning against the people he had spent the past seven months trying to work with.

“He will use Breitbart as a battering ram,” said Ben Shapiro, a conservative writer and commentator who used to work for Mr. Bannon when he was the executive chairman of the website, before he went to work for Mr. Trump. “Steve and subtlety have never shaken hands.”

In recent days, Mr. Bannon has been an isolated figure, keeping to his temporary office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the West Wing while the White House undergoes renovations. Mr. Bannon stayed behind in Washington while Mr. Trump and other senior aides traveled to the president’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Unable to talk face-to-face with the president and sensing that his days were numbered, Mr. Bannon began to speak more openly with associates about how effective he could be if he returned to Breitbart and led a campaign-style assault against the Washington interests that he believed were preventing Mr. Trump from being the “America First” president he promised to be.

Representative Steve King of Iowa, a conservative Republican and antagonist to his party’s leadership, described Mr. Bannon as closest to the ideology that elected the president. And if Mr. Bannon is able to be a stronger advocate for that ideology outside the White House than he was within, all the better, Mr. King added.

“I want to see him effective in public life,” he said. “And I want to hear his voice, and I want it to have leverage.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/18/business/media/bannon-said-to-be-planning-his-return-to-breitbart-news.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

For Murdoch Empire, Perhaps a Decisive Point in Relationship to Trump

But Mr. Murdoch is not just any chief executive, and the company he runs, especially its cable news network, has enormous influence over the country’s politics and media.

Rupert Murdoch, 86, who has long pursued power rather than a specific ideology, has served as an informal adviser to Mr. Trump and repeatedly urged him to fire Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist and nationalist who exited the White House on Friday.

At the same time, the Murdoch family controls both News Corporation, the owner of The Journal and The Post, as well as 21st Century Fox, home to a sprawling collection of movie studios and television networks. While there have been some cracks in the conservative wall, with the newspapers publishing more commentary critical of Mr. Trump, Fox News is known as Mr. Trump’s preferred outlet.

That creates an uneasy balance for James Murdoch, 44, who is known to lean more toward the center than his father, but rarely expresses political views publicly. A fiscal conservative, James and his progressive-minded wife, Kathryn, have long advocated for the environment and expressed embarrassment by certain elements of Fox News, associates have said. Kathryn Murdoch has expressed contempt for Mr. Trump on her Twitter feed.

The response from other Twitter users is often critical.

“Well Kathryn it would help if your family’s business #FoxNews wasn’t a synchophantic state media arm of the Trump regime #WednesdayWisdom,” one user said. “Some in your orbit have potential to alter the media ecosystem within which his parasitic organism self thrives,” said another.

Despite all that, the Murdoch sons have said repeatedly that they didn’t plan to significantly change the formula for Fox News, which fuels the company’s business. Analysts estimate that the division generated 25 percent of 21st Century Fox’s operating income last year, which was $6.6 billion.

“He is trying to straddle a recognition that there are a lot of problems out there, and whether Fox News has contributed to them or not, the problems exist,” said Brian Wieser, a media analyst with Pivotal Research. “Even though James is technically the C.E.O., he’s somewhere between can’t and won’t do anything that would cause changes to Fox News. This is a tricky divide.”

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Mr. Wieser, who has a buy rating on 21st Century Fox, said that the most common pushback he received from investors involves their concerns about the future of Fox News, calling James Murdoch a “liberal” who will “ruin Fox News,” he said.

“James has to be mindful that the health of the overall enterprise is dependent on Fox News holding up,” Mr. Wieser said.

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Through a spokesman, the Murdochs declined to comment.

In the email sent Thursday, Mr. Murdoch acknowledged that he rarely offers “running commentary on current affairs.”

Since he assumed the role of chief executive of 21st Century Fox two years ago, James Murdoch and his brother have pushed to modernize the company. They introduced additional benefits, including more paid vacation, vastly enhanced reproductive coverage for women and “expanded coverage for our transgender colleagues.” And in January, they spoke out about President Trump’s travel ban, stating in a memo to employees that they “deeply value diversity and believe immigration is an essential part of America’s strength.”

While there are some examples of the brothers moving to shake up the business, it is not clear how far they will go. In the face of the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News, it was James Murdoch who moved most aggressively against Roger Ailes, the founding chairman of Fox News, and Bill O’Reilly.

Still, some critics and employees said the Murdochs ousted Mr. Ailes and Mr. O’Reilly only because of public scrutiny, and that the work environment had not been completely reformed.

Some business associates and observers on Friday lauded Mr. Murdoch for taking a stand and making a donation to a charitable organization. Yet others questioned the sincerity behind his motives.

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog, said that Mr. Trump repeated several Fox News talking points during the news conference earlier this week when he responded to questions about what happened in Charlottesville.

“Much of what Donald Trump said this week that James Murdoch is condemning actually came directly from Fox News,” Mr. Carusone said. “So if James Murdoch really believes what he wrote in that email, then he needs to start with Fox News, the network that he runs.’’

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It is not clear whether James Murdoch cleared the note with his father before sending it, although business associates said that it would be surprising if Rupert Murdoch hadn’t signed off on it.

The elder Mr. Murdoch has long supported the Anti-Defamation League, and accepted an award from the organization in 2010 for his “commitment to promoting respect and speaking out against anti-Semitism.”

For James Murdoch, his memo underscores that, at least for him, speaking out against racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis exists outside political ideology.

“But what we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the president of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people,” Mr. Murdoch said in the email.

“The presence of hate in our society was appallingly laid bare as we watched swastikas brandished on the streets of Charlottesville and acts of brutal terrorism and violence perpetrated by a racist mob,” he added. “I can’t even believe I have to write this: Standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/18/business/media/murdoch-trump-charlottesville.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Feature: Down the Breitbart Hole

If you visited Breitbart regularly in recent months, you could see a shift underway. On any given afternoon, you were still likely to encounter headlines about ‘‘illegal aliens’’ invading the country, but if you clicked on the link, you landed on an article that was extraordinarily dry — usually just a rundown of some politician’s speech, or a dry recitation of governmental statistics. Not to say the site was no longer right wing — the act of choosing what to cover and how to position it with a headline is a powerful bias unto itself — but weeks could pass in which few of the articles on Breitbart had anything like the attitude and opinion baked into dozens of mainstream sites.

In my conversations with Alex, he was careful not to broadcast this change too vigorously. If I asked whether he would still hire a bomb thrower like Yiannopoulos, he immediately insisted that he would. ‘‘I’d love to hire another Milo,’’ he would say, going into a spiel about how the right needs to ‘‘get under the skin of the left just like you’ve been getting under our skin forever.’’ At a certain level, this seemed true. Alex edited Yiannopoulos for three years, and they remain in touch. But a lot of the Breitbart staff were relieved to see Yiannopoulos go, and the most notable hire of the last seven months was the financial reporter John Carney, from The Wall Street Journal. At the same time, the site was increasingly willing to challenge the Trump administration. After Shapiro’s departure, he accused Breitbart of becoming ‘‘Trump’s personal Pravda’’ and speculated that if Trump won, the site would function as state media. When I first began spending time with Alex, he was fond of saying ‘‘We won the election,’’ with little separation between himself and the administration. But as the spring turned into summer, it became clear that many of his battles remained. The site has fought against every significant Republican health care bill, challenged the president’s missile strikes on Syria and gone after myriad administration officials who depart from Breitbart’s worldview — including not only McMaster and Kushner but also Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, and his former chief of staff and press secretary, Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer.

How much of this comes at Bannon’s direction is hard to say. Bannon received an ethics waiver that allows him to remain in contact with Breitbart staff, and it would seem pretty obvious that some conspiring must go on. No writer on earth would allow a colleague to decamp for a job in the White House without pestering the daylights out of him for leads and scoops; what’s harder to explain is why so few of those leads and scoops turn up on Breitbart. When a White House leak does surface on the right, it’s far more likely to appear in a competitor, like Shapiro’s The Daily Wire or the blog of Mike Cernovich. Shapiro told me that he doesn’t think Bannon gives much to Breitbart at all. ‘‘The way Steve plays the game, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense,’’ he said. ‘‘If he’s going after Jared Kushner, he’s not going to do that through Breitbart, because it’s too obvious.’’ Charlie Spiering has yet to land an interview with the president, and in early June, Alex traveled to Sicily for the G-7 meeting, hoping to interview Trump himself — but Trump declined to see him. ‘‘It’s starting to become a pattern,’’ Alex told me recently. ‘‘They’re keeping us out of reach.’’

We were sitting at a Mexican restaurant sipping mezcal, and I asked whether he felt he was trying to make Breitbart legitimate. At first, he scowled, but then he nodded. ‘‘Are we trying to become a legitimate news site?’’ he said. ‘‘Yes. The question is why. I don’t think we have a choice. We are so high-profile now, we get so much scrutiny, we have no choice but to get it right. That’s something that has changed over the past year. People read our stuff and pay attention. We don’t need to be outraged and hysterical anymore. We don’t need to wave our arms around, flailing madly because we don’t feel like we are being listened to.’’

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I mentioned that I didn’t really believe he would hire another Milo Yiannopoulos.

‘‘You may be right,’’ he said. ‘‘It was getting to a point where Milo was limiting Breitbart, and Breit­bart was limiting Milo. Our stories should look like they could appear in any other publication. The bias now comes in story selection. We’re not going to cover the Russia scandal as much as we’re covering the cartels coming over the border.’’

The problems with trying to legitimize Breit­bart are, of course, abundant. One is that conventional news organizations are themselves in a fight for economic survival; another is that the whole concept of news is in the midst of a revision. Most reporters these days think of objectivity as a laudable but abstract goal. Trying to verify facts and elide opinion may push a writer to higher standards, but the overall thrust of journalism these days has been a move away from the construct of objectivity, not toward it.

It’s also not clear how many of Breitbart’s readers want a toned-down site. Alex has hired his sister to moderate comments, and his refusal to embrace the wild conspiracy theory that Russian hacking never happened is a sharp departure from a core conviction of many Breitbart readers. This is what Lee Stranahan meant when he described Alex as a ‘‘traitor’’ who ‘‘does not get basic narratives.’’ How many readers will accept a new narrative remains to be seen. Earlier this year, the tracking company Alexa reported that the site had plummeted on the list of most popular websites to No. 281 from No. 45; after an inquiry from Breitbart, the ranking shot back up to No. 59. Alex insisted that traffic is up 60 percent from this point last year, but even if that’s true and the readership remains loyal, another problem remains. Since the election, activists from a group called Sleeping Giants have begun pressuring advertisers to withdraw from Breit­bart, and as of this writing, the group claims 2,484 companies have pulled out. Alex acknowledged that the impact of the boycott has been severe. ‘‘It’s a fight,’’ he told me quietly one night. ‘‘That’s all I can really say.’’

In moments like this, it was possible to feel sympathy for a man in his predicament. He confided to me on another night that like so many people he has tried to hire, he knows that working for Breitbart will occlude his future. ‘‘I don’t have a lot of security,’’ he said. ‘‘I think I’m the best person to be editor of Breitbart, but what does that mean to the rest of the job market? I don’t have a lot of outs.’’ I sometimes had the sense of him as a figure trapped in a myth — a man adrift on a rudderless ship, reeling from the tempest of Trump’s election, surrounded by the deck fires of incendiary staff members and trying to pull down the pirate flag in order to steer a new course, past the sirens of click-bait outrage, between the Scylla and Charybdis of Bannon and Breitbart, and he could feel the sea of global resentments beneath him, tossing him this way and that, a riotous current that he partly understood and partly rued but mostly just wanted to leave behind.

Correction: August 18, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the religious affiliation of a British anti-extremist activist named Maajid Nawaz. He is a former Islamist, not an ex-Muslim.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/magazine/breitbart-alt-right-steve-bannon.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Sunday Routine: How Michael Strahan, Television Host, Spends His Sundays


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Working out at his home gym, Michael Strahan tends to take it easy on Sundays. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Michael Strahan, the Hall of Fame defensive end who played 15 seasons with the New York Giants before retiring in 2008 after helping the team win the Super Bowl, probably changed a lot of Sundays for a lot of people. These days, however, Sundays tend to change him. Now a sought-after television host, Mr. Strahan, 45, who is currently appearing on both ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “The $100,000 Pyramid,” has a chance to catch his breath on the weekends. That will soon change, however, when he returns to his third gig, “Fox N.F.L. Sunday,” in September. Mr. Strahan lives in a townhouse on the Upper West Side.

NOSTALGIA I miss getting ready for the game on Sundays — driving to a stadium, seeing the people with jerseys on, the flags waving. Something inside of you, physically, you felt perfect. The injuries, and the stiffness and soreness, were gone. It is a focus that I learned from football, which I think in turn helps me now in everything I do. But to have a Sunday where I don’t have to turn on that focus on is awesome. You almost realize that there’s a life out there that you never had a chance to live when you were an athlete, and now I get a chance to live it.

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Mr. Strahan leaving his townhouse on the Upper West Side. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times

EASY If I sleep in till 8:30 or 9, I’m lucky. My alarm is usually set to “Lovely Day.” I shower, and as I get dressed, it’s always music. Something inspiring, something energetic. Sunday songs are laid back. Like Lionel Richie, “Easy like Sunday morning.”

HOMEWORK I’ll watch the news, then George Stephanopoulos comes on at 10. The only way to be successful here is to be informed. Because if not, you’re going to be scared to death when that camera light hits you and you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

Michael Strahan’s Sunday Playlist

PROTEIN AND GRAINS I have scrambled egg whites with spinach and chicken-apple sausage, with a slice of Ezekiel toast with peanut butter and jam. I have a little backyard, open the doors, sit out there and have breakfast or just let the sunlight and the warmth come in.

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BODY WORK Sometimes I work out so much I think, “When’s the last time I took a break?” Sundays are the one day that I allow myself to go, “You know, if I don’t work out, it’s not a big deal.” I have a gym in my house, too, in case I can’t make it to Equinox.

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Cafe Clover is one of Mr. Strahan’s favorite brunch places. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times

PUPPY PLAY DATE I walk Enzo, my boy. He is a miniature golden doodle, 12 months. He has, like, a Harvard education. He’s been learning to clean up, pick up his toys. He walks right next to you. You stop and he stops. He sits, he waits. We want to be able to take him to hospitals, as a service dog, so that’s why he’s being trained like that. It’s important. He’s actually the half brother to Mario Batali’s dog, Willie. So we’ve had play dates.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/18/nyregion/how-michael-strahan-television-host-spends-his-sundays.html?partner=rss&emc=rss