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NYT Critique of Ronan Farrow’s Reporting Practices Faces Backlash

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Photo by Mary Inhea Kang for The Washington Post

  • The New York Times published a piece criticizing investigative journalist Ronan Farrow for sourcing ethics and other potential errors.
  • Both Farrow and his employer, the New Yorker, defended his work and said the claims made by writer Ben Smith were untrue.
  • An editor for the New Yorker also said they gave a defense of Farrow to Smith for the piece, but it was not included.
  • While some thought the piece had interesting points about what Smith called “resistance journalism,” others thought Smith made the same mistakes he accused Farrow of making and called his attack unsubstantiated. 

Ben Smith’s Story

In his latest piece, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith took aim at investigative reporter Ronan Farrow, accusing him of poor sourcing ethics. 

Farrow, who has become a household name in modern journalism, has gained praise for his of #MeToo era exposés. He even won a Pulitzer Prize for helping unearth allegations of sexual assault against media mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein. 

Because of this, the column, titled “Is Ronan Farrow Too Good to Be True?” made waves throughout Twitter on Monday, one day after it was published.

Smith first starts calling Farrow’s practices into question with a piece he wrote for the New Yorker in 2018. The article discussed the potential that records about Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s lawyer, had vanished from a government database. 

“Two years after publication, little of Mr. Farrow’s article holds up, according to prosecutors and court documents,” Smith wrote. “The Treasury Department records on Michael Cohen never went ‘missing.’”

“The records were simply put on restricted access, a longstanding practice to prevent leaks, a possibility Mr. Farrow briefly allows for in his story, but minimizes,” he continues. 

Smith adds that the source, John Fry, an IRS analyst, later pleaded guilty to illegally leaking confidential information. He claims that now-disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti had been encouraging Fry to share the story, but was not mentioned frequently in Farrow’s piece. 

Smith also analyzed Farrow’s Weinstein coverage and alleged that not enough was done to corroborate a rape accusation from a source named Lucia Evans. The story claims that Evans told her friends what happened but was largely unable to talk about it. Smith, however, says that one of her friends later told a prosecutor that she did not confirm a rape accusation, and only that “something innapropriate happened.”

Evans ended up telling NYPD detectives her encounter with Weinstein was consensual, which led to charges being dismissed. Weinstein was found guilty in other cases and is scheduled to be tried in more. 

Smith also tackled another alleged sourcing issue in Farrow’s book Catch and Kill, which recounts the obstacles he has faced in reporting on sexual assault in the media industry. Much of it details his Weinstein investigation, including claims that NBC News tried to suppress it. Smith’s column takes issue with a source used in Farrow’s coverage of Matt Lauer, the former TODAY Show host who was fired after allegations of sexual assault. 

In Catch and Kill, Farrow says an NBC employee assaulted by Lauer told a producer what happened after the alleged incident. The book’s fact-checker told Smith that this producer was not called for the story. The producer also told Smith that the book did not layout that moment the way he remembers it happening. Farrow stood his ground.

“I am confident that the conversation took place as described and it was verified in multiple ways,” he said to Smith.

Criticisms About Journalistic Themes

In addition to critiquing specific sources and examples throughout Farrow’s catalog of work, Smith also analyzed the core of Farrow’s reporting, and the themes portrayed in his stories. 

“But Mr. Farrow brings that same inclination to the other big theme that shapes his work: conspiracy,” Smith writes. “His stories are built and sold on his belief — which he rarely proves — that powerful forces and people are conspiring against those trying to do good, especially Mr. Farrow himself.”

Here, Smith is specifically saying that a major theme in Catch and Kill suggests that Weinstein blackmailed NBC executives to kill Farrow’s story about him with threats to expose Lauer. Smith says this is a “conspiracy” that threads the book’s narrative, and he alludes to conspiracies numerous times when discussing Farrow’s work. 

“He delivers narratives that are irresistibly cinematic — with unmistakable heroes and villains — and often omits the complicating facts and inconvenient details that may make them less dramatic,” Smith also added. 

One of the most talked-about segments of the piece says Farrow’s work “reveals the weakness of a kind of resistance journalism that has thrived in the age of Donald Trump.”

“That if reporters swim ably along with the tides of social media and produce damaging reporting about public figures most disliked by the loudest voices, the old rules of fairness and open-mindedness can seem more like impediments than essential journalistic imperatives,” Smith continues. 

Farrow and The New Yorker Respond

On Monday, some jumped to Farrow’s defense. Michael Luo, the New Yorker’s digital editor posted a thread on Twitter supporting Farrow.

Luo said that Smith makes the same errors he accuses Farrow of: “sanding the inconvenient edges off of facts in order to suit the narrative he wants to deliver.”

“We provided detailed responses to Ben that contradict the narrative he wants to tell. They didn’t make it into the column, so I’ll outline some of them here,” Luo added before defending Farrow’s report on the missing documents about Michael Cohen.

Luo said the story “accurately reflects what was known at the time. And, after reviewing the records that are now available, it still holds up. We continue to stand by it.”

He said Smiths claim that Farrow “minimized” the idea that the missing documents may have been restricted was untrue, as seven government sources were interviewed on the matter, and the notion of restriction is mentioned at the top of the fourth paragraph.

Luo also stood by Farrow’s Weinstein reporting and use of Evans as a source. He claimed that Evans’ friend never contradicted her account, and that in the piece, the New Yorker notes that some aspects could not be confirmed. 

“That the friend later said something different to prosecutors does not make our reporting any less diligent,” Luo stated.

“We take corrections seriously and would be happy to correct something if it were shown to be wrong. But Ben has not done that here,” Luo said, closing his thread. “We are proud of @ronanfarrow’s reporting, and we stand by it.

Farrow retweeted this thread and shared some thoughts of his own. He took issue with  Smith’s claim that Catch And Kill focuses on a conspiracy that Weinstein blackmailed NBC out of reporting on allegations against him.

“Ben claims a central theme was whether Weinstein threatened NBC with Lauer info. Not central, and not what the book says,” Farrow wrote. “The book establishes a pressure campaign against NBC, including talks between Weinstein and executives as they told me and my producer to stop reporting.”

He also says that in terms of information on Lauer being a factor, he did not go beyond what sources told him. 

Story Sparks Conversation About Journalism

In other corners of the internet, Smith’s column for the Times was met with mixed reactions. Some journalists sang praises of Smith’s work. NBC News’ Dylan Byers said it might be the most important media column he has ever read. 

The Times’ Jonathan Martin said every reporter and aspiring reporter should read it. 

On the other hand, much of the internet slammed the piece, accusing both the Times and Smith of hypocrisy. Farrow was a top trend on Twitter on Monday as many were quick to share their thoughts on Smith and the piece.

Smith has been the subject of journalistic controversy himself. As the former Editor in Chief of BuzzFeed News, he published the unverified Steele Dossier in January of 2017. Some thought he should not be the person to criticize Farrow’s journalistic integrity.

Others thought Smith’s column did not arrive at his point. Emily Birnbaum, a reporter for Protocol, referenced the section where Smith accuses Farrow of going after disliked voices, and asked if any of the people Farrow has exposed actually meet that definition.

Smith’s remarks about “resistance journalism” struck a particular chord among many writers, with many disagreeing with the use of the phrase here. 

“But let’s not allow a story like this distract us from the fearless, risk-taking take-no-prisoners journalism we need in 2020,” said Will Bunch, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquire. If “resistance journalism” exists, then let’s have more of it, not less.” 

Others believed that the notion of resistance journalism is worth criticism and analytical thought, but that Farrow is the wrong example. 

Others also questioned the Times’ motivation in publishing this story. Some Twitter users had a field day speculating that Farrow could be working on a piece about someone the paper wants to protect. 

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Vanity Fair) (The Wrap)

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TikTok and Twitter Are Now Deleting Videos That Expose Closeted Olympians on Grindr

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On top of outing people who may not be ready to have their sexuality revealed to the world, these videos could have endangered LGBTQ+ athletes from countries where homosexuality is illegal.


Closeted Olympians Being Doxxed

Openly LGBTQ+ Olympians are currently more visible than they have ever been before, but unfortunately, so are closeted ones.

That’s because some people have been using the LGBTQ+ dating app Grindr to try and find Olympians. They’ve been doing so by using the app’s “Explore” feature, which allows people to search and see users in specific locations (ie. Olympic Village).

But some aren’t content with just discovering which athletes belong to the LGBTQ+ community. They’re also sharing that information on platforms like TikTok and Twitter. 

“I used Grindr’s explore feature to find myself [an] Olympian boyfriend,” one TikTok user said in a post that had been viewed 140,000 times, according to Insider

That video reportedly went on to show the poster scrolling through Grindr to expose over 30 users’ full faces. 

As many have argued, not only does this potentially out already-stressed Olympians who may not yet be comfortable sharing their sexuality, it also could put some users at serious risk if they live in countries where being LGBTQ+ is illegal. 

In fact, the video cited by Insider seemingly did just that, as it reportedly shows the face of a user who appears to be from a country “known for its anti-LGBTQ policies.”

Grindr Responds, TikTok and Twitter Take Action

In response, Grindr said the posts violate its rules against “publicly displaying, publishing, or otherwise distributing any content or information” from the app. It then asked the posters to remove the content.

Ultimately, it was TikTok and Twitter themselves that largely took action, with the two deleting at least 14 posts scattered across their platforms.

A Highly-Visible LGBTQ+ Presence at the Games 

According to Outsports, at least 172 of around 11,000 Olympians are openly LGBTQ+. While that number is still well below the statistical average, it’s triple the number of LGBTQ+ athletes that attended Rio’s 2016 Games.

In fact, if they were their own country, openly LGBTQ+ athletes would reportedly rank 11th in medals, according to an Outsports report published Tuesday. 

Among those winners is British diver Tom Daley, who secured his first gold medal on Monday and used his platform to send a hopeful message to LGBTQ+ youth by telling them, “You are not alone.”

After winning a silver medal on Wednesday, U.S. swimmer Erica Sullivan talked about her experience as both a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a person of color. 

Still, the Olympics has faced criticism for its exclusion of intersex individuals, particularly those like South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, who won gold medals in both 2012 and 2016. Rules implemented in 2019 now prevent Semenya from competing as a woman without the use of medication to suppress her testosterone levels. 

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Pink News) (Out)

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Jake Paul Launches Anti-Bullying Charity

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The charity, called Boxing Bullies, aims to use the sport to give kids confidence and courage.


Jake Paul Launches Boxing Bullies Foundation

YouTuber Jake Paul — best known as the platform’s boxer, wreckless partier, and general troublemaker — has seemingly launched a non-profit to combat bullying.  

The charity is called Boxing Bullies. According to a mission statement posted on Instagram, it aims to “instill self confidence, leadership, and courage within the youth through the sport of boxing while using our platform, voice, and social media to fight back against bullying.”

If the notion of a Paul-founded anti-bullying charity called “Boxing Bullies” was not already begging to be compared to former First Lady Melania Trump’s “Best Best” initiative, maybe the group’s “Boxing Bullies Commandments” will help connect the dots. Those commandments use an acronym for the word “BOX” to spell out the charity’s golden rules.

Be kind to everyone; Only defend, never initiate; X-out bullying.” 

Paul Hopes To “Inspire” Kids To Stand Up For Themselves

Paul first said he was launching Boxing Bullies during a July 13 interview following a press conference for his upcoming fight against Tyron Woodley.

“I know who I am at the end of the day, which is a good person,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to change this sport, bring more eyeballs. I’m trying to support other fighters, increase fighter pay. I’m starting my charity, I’m launching that in 12 days here called Boxing Bullies and we’re helping to fight against cyberbullying.”

It has not been quite 12 days since the interview, so it’s likely that more information about the organization will be coming soon. Currently, the group has been the most active on Instagram, where it boasts a following of just around 1,200 followers. It has posted once to Twitter, where it has 32 followers; and has a TikTok account that has yet to publish any content. It also has a website, though there is not too much on it as of yet.

On its Instagram, one post introducing Paul as the founder claims the rowdy YouTuber started this charity because he has been on the receiving end of bullying.

Having been a victim of bullying himself, Jake experienced firsthand the impact it has on a person’s life,” the post says. “Jake believes that this is a prevailing issue in society that isn’t talked about enough. Boxing gave Jake the confidence to not care about what others think and he wants to share the sport and the welfare it‘s had on him with as many kids as possible.”

It adds that he hopes his group can“inspire the next generation of kids to be leaders, be athletes, and to fight back against bullying.”

Paul Previously Accused of Being a Bully

While fighting against bullying is a noble cause, it is an ironic project for Paul to start, as he has faced no shortage of bullying accusations. While Paul previously sang about “stopping kids from getting bullied” in the lunchroom, some have alleged he himself was actually a classic high school bully who threw kids’ backpacks into garbage cans. 

This behavior allegedly continued into his adulthood, as a New York Times report from earlier this year claimed he ran his Team 10 house with a culture of toxicity and bullying. Among other things, sources said he involved others in violent pranks, pressured people into doing dangerous stunts, and destroyed peoples’ personal property to make content.

Earlier this year, Paul was also accused of sexual assault, though he denied those allegations.

See what others are saying: (Dexerto)

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Director Defends Recreating Anthony Bourdain’s Voice With AI in New Documentary

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The film’s director claims he received permission from Bourdain’s estate and literary agent, but on Thursday, Bourdain’s widow publicly denied ever giving that permission. 


Bourdain’s Voice Recreated

“You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” Anthony Bourdain says in a voiceover featured in “Roadrunnner,” a newly released documentary about the late chef — except Bourdain never actually said those words aloud.

Instead, it’s one of three lines in the film, which features frequent voiceovers from Bourdain, that were created through the use of artificial intelligence technology.

That said, the words are Bourdain’s own. In fact, they come from an email Bourdain reportedly wrote to a friend prior to his 2018 suicide. Nonetheless, many have now questioned whether recreating Bourdain’s voice was ethical, especially since documentaries are meant to reflect reality.

Director Defends Use of AI Voice

The film’s director, Academy Award winner Morgan Neville, has defended his use of the synthetic voice, telling Variety that he received permission from Bourdain’s estate and literary agent before inserting the lines into the film. 

“There were a few sentences that Tony wrote that he never spoke aloud,” Neville said. “It was a modern storytelling technique that I used in a few places where I thought it was important to make Tony’s words come alive.” 

Bourdain’s widow — Ottavia Bourdain, who is the executor of his estate — later denied Neville’s claim on Twitter, saying, “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.”

In another interview with GQ, Neville described the process, saying the film’s creators “fed more than ten hours of Tony’s voice into an AI model.”

“The bigger the quantity, the better the result,” he added. “We worked with four companies before settling on the best.”

“If you watch the film,” Neville told The New Yorker, “you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know. We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.” 

The Ethics Debate Isn’t Being Tabled

But many want to have that discussion now.

Boston-based film critic Sean Burns, who gave the film a rare negative review, later criticized it again for its unannounced use of AI, saying he wasn’t aware that Bourdain’s voice had been recreated until after he watched the documentary.  

Meanwhile, The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner wrote that the “seamlessness of the effect is eerie.”

“If it had been a human voice double I think the reaction would be “huh, ok,” but there’s something truly unsettling about the idea of it coming from a computer,” Rosner later tweeted. 

Online, many others have criticized the film’s use of AI, with some labeling it as a “deepfake.”

Others have offered more mixed criticism, saying that while the documentary highlights the need for posthumous AI use to be disclosed, it should not be ruled out altogether. 

“In a world where the living could consent to using AI to reproduce their voices posthumously, and where people were made aware that such a technology was being used, up front and in advance, one could envision that this kind of application might serve useful documentary purposes,” David Leslie, ethics lead at the Alan Turing Institute, told the BBC.

Celebrities Recreated After Death

The posthumous use of celebrity likeness in media is not a new debate. In 2012, a hologram of Tupac took the stage 15 years after his death. In 2014, the Billboard Music Awards brought a hologram of Michael Jackson onstage five years after his death. Meanwhile, the Star Wars franchise digitally recreated actor Peter Cushing in 2016’s “Rogue One,” and unused footage of actress Carrie Fisher was later translated into “The Rise of Skywalker,” though a digital version of Fisher was never used.

In recent years, it has become almost standard for filmmakers to say that they will not create digital versions of characters whose actors die unexpectedly. For example, several months after Chadwick Boseman’s death last year, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” executive producer Victoria Alonso confirmed Boseman would not be digitally recreated for his iconic role as King T’Challa.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Yahoo! News) (Variety)

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