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)
Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat
Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.
Schools in no fewer than 10 states either canceled classes or increased their police presence on Friday after a series of TikToks warned of imminent shooting and bombs threats.
Despite that, officials said they found little evidence to suggest the threats are credible. It’s possible no real threat was actually ever made as it’s unclear if the supposed threats originated on TikTok, another social media platform, or elsewhere.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” TikTok’s Communications team tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Still, given the uptick of school shootings in the U.S. in recent years, many school districts across the country decided to respond to the rumors. According to The Verge, some districts in California, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas shut down Friday.
“Based on law enforcement interviews, Little Falls Community Schools was specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” one school district in Minnesota said in a letter Thursday. “In conversations with local law enforcement, the origins of this threat remain unknown. Therefore, school throughout the district is canceled tomorrow, Friday, December 17.”
In Gilroy, California, one high school that closed its doors Friday said it would reschedule final exams that were expected to take place the same day to January.
According to the Associated Press, several other districts in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania stationed more police officers at their schools Friday.
Viral Misinformation or Legitimate Warnings?
As The Verge notes, “The reports of threats on TikTok may be self-perpetuating.”
For example, many of the videos online may have been created in response to initial warnings as more people hopped onto the trend. Amid school cancellations, videos have continued to sprout up — many awash with both rumors and factual information.
“I’m scared off my ass, what do I do???” one TikTok user said in a now-deleted video, according to People.
“The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country,” Chicago Public Schools said in a letter, though it did not identify any specific post. “Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media.”
According to Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network, “This is not 2021 phenomenon.”
Instead, she told The Today Show that her network has been tracking school shooting threats since 2013, and she noted that in recent years, they’ve become more prominent on social media.
“It’s not just somebody in a classroom of 15 people hearing someone make a threat,” she said. “It’s 15,000 people on social media, because it gets passed around and it becomes larger and larger and larger.”
Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer
The controversial YouTuber opened up about what it has been like to go from online fame to professional boxing.
The New Yorker Profiles Jake Paul
YouTuber and boxer Jake Paul talked about his career switch, reputation, and cancel culture in a profile published Monday in The New Yorker.
While Paul rose to fame as the Internet’s troublemaker, he now spends most of his time in the ring. He told the outlet that one difference between YouTube and boxing is that his often controversial reputation lends better to his new career.
“One thing that is great about being a fighter is, like, you can’t get cancelled,” Paul said. The profile noted that the sport often rewards and even encourages some degree of bad behavior.
“I’m not a saint,” Paul later continued. “I’m also not a bad guy, but I can very easily play the role.”
Paul also said the other difference between his time online and his time in boxing is the level of work. While he says he trains hard, he confessed that there was something more challenging about making regular YouTube content.
“Being an influencer was almost harder than being a boxer,” he told The New Yorker. “You wake up in the morning and you’re, like, Damn, I have to create fifteen minutes of amazing content, and I have twelve hours of sunlight.”
Jake Paul Vs. Tommy Fury
The New Yorker profile came just after it was announced over the weekend Paul will be fighting boxer Tommy Fury in an 8-round cruiserweight fight on Showtime in December.
“It’s time to kiss ur last name and ur family’s boxing legacy goodbye,” Paul tweeted. “DEC 18th I’m changing this wankers name to Tommy Fumbles and celebrating with Tom Brady.”
Both Paul and Fury are undefeated, according to ESPN. Like Paul, Fury has found fame outside of the sport. He has become a reality TV star in the U.K. after appearing on the hit show “Love Island.”
See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (Dexerto) (ESPN)
Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos
The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.
Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws.
For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform.
The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.
It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end.
The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions.
First Twitch Hack
Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.
That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already.