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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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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Says Trump Ban Was the “Right Decision” But Sets “Dangerous” Precedent

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  • While defending Twitter’s decision to permanently ban President Donald Trump, CEO Jack Dorsey noted the “dangerous” precedent such a move set.
  • “Having to take these actions fragment the public conversation,” Dorsey said in a lengthy Twitter thread on Wednesday. “They divide us. They limit the potential for clarification, redemption, and learning.”
  • Dorsey’s message came the same day Twitter fully reinstated Rep. Lauren Boebert’s (R-Co.) account, hours after locking it for violating Twitter rules. A Twitter spokesperson later described the lock as an “incorrect enforcement action.”

Dorsey Describes Trump Ban as a Double-Edged Sword

In a lengthy Twitter thread published Wednesday, CEO Jack Dorsey defended his platform’s decision to permanently ban President Donald Trump, while also noting the “dangerous” precedent such a unilateral move sets.

Twitter made the decision to ban Trump on Jan. 8, two days after pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol complex in an assault that left multiple dead.

“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban [Trump] from Twitter, or how we got here,” Dorsey said in the first of 13 tweets. 

Nonetheless, Dorsey described Trump’s ban as “the right decision for Twitter.”

“Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all,” he added.

“That said, having to ban an account has real and significant ramifications,” Dorsey continued.

“[It] sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

Dorsey described most bans as a failure of Twitter to “promote healthy conversation,” though he noted that exceptions to such a mindset also exist. Among other failures, Dorsey said extreme actions like a ban can “fragment public conversation,” divide people, and limit “clarification, redemption, and learning.”

Dorsey: Trump Bans Were Not Coordinated

Dorsey continued his thread by addressing claims and criticism that Trump’s ban on Twitter violated free speech.

“A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same,” he said.

Indeed, multiple legal experts have stated that Trump’s ban on social media does not amount to First Amendment violations, as the First Amendment only addresses government censorship. 

“If folks do not agree with our rules and enforcement, they can simply go to another internet service,” Dorsey added. However, Dorsey noted that such a concept has been challenged over the past week. 

Trump has now been banned or suspended from a number of platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. On Wednesday, Snapchat announced plans to terminate Trump’s account in the “interest of public safety.” Previously, Snapchat had only suspended his account, but as of Jan. 20, it will be permanently banned. 

Addressing criticism of the swift bans handed down by these platforms in the wake of the Capitol attack, Dorsey said he doesn’t believe Trump’s bans on social media were coordinated.

“More likely: companies came to their own conclusions or were emboldened by the actions of others,” he said.

Twitter Reverses Course of Locking Rep. Lauren Boebert’s Account

Dorsey’s thread regarding the fragile nature of regulating users’ privileges on the platform seemed to play out earlier the same day.

On Wednesday, newly-elected Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) posted a screenshot to Instagram showing that her Twitter account had been locked for six days. The screenshot stated that she had violated Twitter’s rules and would be unable to tweet, retweet, or like until her account was unlocked. 

Hours later, Twitter reversed course and fully reinstated her account. 

“In this instance, our teams took the incorrect enforcement action. The Tweet in question is now labeled in accordance with our Civic Integrity Policy. The Tweet will not be required to be removed and the account will not be temporarily locked,” a spokesperson for the platform told Insider.

It is unknown what tweet caused that initial ban, as Twitter refused to say. 

The latest tweet from Boebert’s account to be tagged with a fact check warning is from Sunday. In that tweet, she baselessly and falsely accuses the DNC of rigging the 2020 Election, a claim that largely inspired the Capitol attacks. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CNN) (Associated Press)

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Uber and Lyft Drivers Sue To Overturn California’s Prop 22

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  • A group of Uber and Lyft drivers filed a lawsuit Tuesday against California’s controversial Prop 22, a ballot measure that was approved by nearly 59% of state voters in the 2020 election. 
  • While Prop 22 does promise drivers wage guarantees and health insurance stipends, it also eliminated some protections as well as benefits like sick pay and workers’ compensation.
  • In their lawsuit, the drivers argue that Prop 22 “illegally” prevents them from being able to access the state’s workers’ compensation program. 

What’s in the Lawsuit?

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, a group of Uber and Lyft drivers asked California’s Supreme Court to overturn the state’s controversial Prop 22 ballot measure.

The drivers behind the lawsuit, along with Service Employees International Union, allege that Prop 22 “illegally” bars them from being able to participate in the state’s workers’ compensation program. 

Additionally, they argue that the measure violates California’s constitution by“stripping” the state legislature of its ability to protect who unionize. 

“Every day, rideshare drivers like me struggle to make ends meet because companies like Uber and Lyft prioritize corporate profits over our wellbeing,” Plaintiff Saori Okawa said in a statement. 

Conversely, Uber driver and Prop 22 activist Jim Pyatt denounced the lawsuit, saying,“Voters across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear, passing Prop 22 in a landslide. Meritless lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people do not stand up to scrutiny in the courts.”

California ballot measures have been occasionally repealed in the past; however, most of the time, they’ve only been repealed following subsequent ballot measures. If this lawsuit fails, such an initiative would likely be the last option for overturning Prop 22.

What is Prop 22?

Prop 22, which was approved by 59% of state voters in the 2020 Election, exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from having to classify their drivers as employees. Rather, those drivers are listed as “independent contractors,” also known as gig workers. 

Notably, Prop 22 was supported by major industry players like DoorDash, Uber, Lyft, and Instacart, which launched a massive $200 million lobbying and advertising campaign.

While those companies did promise wage guarantees and health insurance stipends for drivers, Prop 22 also eliminated a number of protections and benefits drivers would have seen under an “employee” status, including sick pay and workers’ compensation. 

Because of that, many opponents have argued that the measure incentivizes companies to lay off their employees in favor of cheaper labor options.

Last week, it was reported that grocery stores like Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions began laying off their delivery workers in favor of switching to ”third-party logistics providers.” According to Albertson’s, unionized delivery workers were not included in the layoffs. 

In recent coverage from KPBS, one San Diego Vons delivery worker detailed a situation in which he and delivery workers were called into a meeting with management. 

“I thought they were going to give us a bonus or a raise or something like that,” he said. 

Ultimately, that employee was told he would be losing his job in late February, even though he had been with the company for two-and-a-half years. 

“I didn’t want to tell them,” the employee said of his parents, one of whom is disabled. “I’m the breadwinner for the family.”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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Daniel Silva Blames Cory La Barrie for His Own Death in New Legal Filing

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  • Popular Tattoo artist Daniel Silva said the death of YouTuber Cory La Barrie was due to La Barrie’s “own negligence,” in response to a wrongful death lawsuit from his family.
  • La Barrie died last May after Silva lost control of the sports car they were in, crashing into a street sign and tree. 
  • La Barrie’s family has accused Silva of negligence, saying his excessive speeding caused the crash. They also claim he was under the influence, though he was never formally charged with a DUI. 
  • According to TMZ, Silva filed documents saying La Barrie “assumed the risk of death when he jumped into Daniel’s car that fateful night back in May.”

Corey La Barrie’s Death

Popular tattoo artist Daniel Silva has blamed YouTuber Corey La Barrie for his own death in response to a wrongful death lawsuit from La Barrie’s family, according to TMZ.

The tabloid says he filed legal documents saying, “the car crash that led to Corey’s death was due to his own negligence, and he assumed the risk of death when he jumped into Daniel’s car that fateful night back in May.”

La Barrie died on May 10, his 25th birthday, after Silva was speeding and lost control of the sports car they were in, crashing into a street sign and tree.

Police say Silva tried to leave the scene but was stopped by witnesses. He was later arrested and charged with murder. Silva eventually reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead no contest to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

In August, Silva was sentenced to 364 days in jail, with credit for 216 days served because of California sentencing guidelines, even though it had only been 108 days since the crash at the time.

He also earned five years of probation, 250 hours of community service, and a suspended prison sentence of four years, which would be imposed if he violates the terms of his probation.

Wrongful Death Suit

Silva still faces the family’s lawsuit, which they filed the same month their son died.

In it, La Barrie’s family has accused Silva of negligence, saying his excessive speeding caused the crash. They also claim he was driving under the influence.

It’s worth noting that people close to Silva have disputed that claim and he was never charged with a DUI. However, the first police statement about the crash labeled it aDUI Fatal Traffic Collision.” Witnesses have said the two were partying earlier that night, though

See what others are saying: (TMZ) (USA Today) (Variety)

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