The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Minneapolis police "inadvertently" arrest reporter live on air

As CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew asked riot police where they would like them to move early this morning, the police abruptly arrested the group:

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz spoke with CNN president Jeffrey Zucker shortly after:

Mr. Walz told Mr. Zucker that the arrest was “inadvertent” and “unacceptable,” according to CNN’s account of the call. By about 6:30 a.m. local time, the crew had been released and was back on television.

“Everyone, to their credit, was pretty cordial,” Mr. Jimenez said of his interaction with the police officers after his arrest. “As far as the people that were leading me away, there was no animosity there. They weren’t violent with me. We were having a conversation about just how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city.”

At a news conference on Friday, Mr. Walz issued what he called “a very public apology” to CNN for the morning’s events, saying, “I take full responsibility; there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen.”

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, wrote on Twitter that “arresting journalists is the kind of thing that happens in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. We live in a democracy.” Bret Baier of Fox News wrote that “this should never have happened. Period.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., weighed in on the incident in a Twitter post on Friday. “This is not abstract: a black reporter was arrested while doing his job this morning, while the white police officer who killed George Floyd remains free,” Mr. Biden wrote. “I am glad swift action was taken, but this, to me, says everything.”

Exactly. I expect that someone in the Minnesota State Patrol will get fired over this, but probably not the person who ordered the arrest. I find it shocking that this happened in Minneapolis, one of the most progressive cities in the country.

But police killings have not declined despite years of attempted reforms. As Radley Balko wrote today, "White people can compartmentalize police brutality. Black people don't have the luxury."

Did someone call "lunch?"

I think today is Tuesday, the first day of my 10th week working from home. That would make today...March 80th? April 49th? Who knows.

It is, however, just past lunchtime, and today I had shawarma and mixed news:

Earlier, I mentioned that the state's unemployment office accidentally revealed thousands of records in an own goal. Turns out, Deloitte Consulting did the work, so I am no longer surprised. Note to anyone who needs software written: don't hire a big consulting firm. They don't attract the best developers because they use manager-driven development patterns that irritate the hell out of anyone with talent.

Loyalty above all else

The President continues to fire anyone suspected of disloyalty despite the ongoing national emergency:

The president’s under-cover-of-darkness decision late the night before to fire Michael K. Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general who insisted last year on forwarding a whistle-blower complaint to Congress, swept away one more official deemed insufficiently loyal as part of a larger purge that has already rid the administration of many key figures in the impeachment drama.

Mr. Trump made no effort at a news briefing on Saturday to pretend that the dismissal was anything other than retribution for Mr. Atkinson’s action under a law requiring such complaints be disclosed to lawmakers. “I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible,” Mr. Trump said. “He took a fake report and he brought it to Congress.” Capping a long, angry denunciation of the impeachment, he added, “The man is a disgrace to I.G.s. He’s a total disgrace.”

At his briefing on Saturday, Mr. Trump likewise endorsed the firing of Capt. Brett E. Crozier of the Navy, who was removed from command of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt after sending his superiors a letter pleading for help for his virus-stricken crew. “He shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter,” the president said. “I thought it was terrible what he did.”

Note that acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly got his job after former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer got the sack after resisting Trump's interference in the Gallagher case. For more, even though it will make you so angry you might cry, I recommend George Packer's description of how Trump has almost destroyed the civic institutions our country depends on.

Meanwhile, Charlie Warzel makes the case that "what we pretend to know about the coronavirus could kill us."

It's a wonderful time to be alive.

Busy day links

I had a lot going on at work today, so all I have left is a lame-ass "read these later" post:

I'd say "back to the mines," but I believe I have a date with Kristen Bell presently.

Someone call lunch

Today in Chicago we have seen more sun than in the past several weeks, and yet here I toil in my cube. But a lot is going on outside it:

And we now return to our regular JSON debugging session, already in progress.

Mid-day link roundup

As I try to understand why a 3rd-party API accepts one JSON document but not another, nearly-identical one, who could fault me for taking a short break?

Back to JSON and my miserable cold.

False equivalence and journalistic malfeasance

It has become a lot more likely in the last two weeks that my party will nominate Elizabeth Warren for President. (Note: I am a financial contributor to the Warren campaign.) One way you can tell is that journalists have started writing misleading stories about her:

It is certainly true, as CBS noted, that some people have questioned Warren’s account [of being fired because she was pregnant in 1971]. A story in the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, did so, as did a writer for Jacobin, a socialist publication. But to say that stories have raised questions is not the same thing as saying the questions are good ones.

Over the years, people have also “raised questions” about whether the earth rotates around the sun, the moon landing happened, Communism was fatally flawed, Elvis died and Barack Obama is an American. But I wouldn’t recommend putting any of those questions in a headline.

A good rule: Whenever you see the phrase “raises questions” in a story, you should be deeply skeptical of its assertions. The phrase is a crutch that journalists too often use to make implicit accusations they can’t support.

Regardless of who gets the nomination for either party, the next election (389 days away), we can all to to bed each night knowing the next day will have even worse coverage of the election than the day before. If Warren runs against President Trump, I can scarcely imagine the sexist and anti-intellectual campaigning and journalism we'll get.

Meanwhile, in the same newspaper, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman puts into words something I've thought for years: we're actually lucky that Trump is an unstable moron.

False equivalence again, because of course

James Fallows calls out the press for, once again, treating two different scandals as the same:

Under normal circumstances, the press’s strong preference is for procedural balance. The program’s supporters say this, its critics say that, so we’ll quote both sides of it to you, the public, to decide who is right.

This approach has the obvious virtue of seeming fair, as a judge is fair in letting the prosecution and defense each make its case. It has a less obvious but very important advantage for news organizations, that of sparing reporters the burden of having to say, “Actually, we think this particular side is right.” By definition, most reporters most of the time are covering subjects in which we’re not expert. Is the latest prime-rate move by the Fed a good idea? Or a bad one? I personally couldn’t tell you. So if I am covering the story, especially on a deadline, I’ll want to give you quotes from people “on both sides,” and leave it there.

As an Atlantic colleague puts it: Journalism is hard; criticizing journalism is easy. In this business we’re all doing our best, and we all make mistakes in real time. But the very difficulty of these calls is why it’s worth noting a similar, as-if-we’d-learned-nothing-from-2016 case of false equivalence, which is unfolding before our eyes. This is “the Ukraine problem.”

Patient Zero of the next false-equivalence epidemic has appeared this weekend. No one can be sure of the cure, but the time to recognize the symptoms, and their source, is now.

The "scandal" of whatever Hunter Biden might have done in Ukraine a few years ago is nothing compared to the illegality of having the president's personal lawyer demand of a foreign government that Biden be investigated.

A tale of two periodicals

This morning I pointed to William Langewische's essay the New York Times Magazine published this morning about the 737-MAX airplane crashes last year. Lagnewische has flown airplanes professionally and covers aviation as part of his regular beat. He has written, among other things, analyses of the Egypt Air Flight 990 suicide-murder in 1999; an entire book about the USAirways 1549 Hudson River ditching in 2009; and numerous other articles and essays of varying lengths about aviation. His father, Wolfgang, wrote one of the most widely-read books about aviation of the 20th Century.

Langewishce's essay takes a sober, in-depth approach to disentangling the public perception of Boeing and its management from the actual context of both 737-MAX crashes. While he doesn't absolve Boeing entirely, he explains how the regulatory, training, and safety mindsets (or lack thereof) in Indonesia and Ethiopia probably contributed much more to the accidents.

This afternoon comes a different perspective from the New Republic. In her first article for the magazine, New York-based writer Maureen Tkacik takes aim squarely at Boeing's management. Her tone seems a bit different than Langewische's:

In the now infamous debacle of the Boeing 737 MAX, the company produced a plane outfitted with a half-assed bit of software programmed to override all pilot input and nosedive when a little vane on the side of the fuselage told it the nose was pitching up. The vane was also not terribly reliable, possibly due to assembly line lapses reported by a whistle-blower, and when the plane processed the bad data it received, it promptly dove into the sea.

[T]here was something unsettlingly familiar when the world first learned of MCAS in November, about two weeks after the system’s unthinkable stupidity drove the two-month-old plane and all 189 people on it to a horrific death. It smacked of the sort of screwup a 23-year-old intern might have made—and indeed, much of the software on the MAX had been engineered by recent grads of Indian software-coding academies making as little as $9 an hour, part of Boeing management’s endless war on the unions that once represented more than half its employees.

But not everyone viewed the crash with such a jaundiced eye—it was, after all, the world’s first self-hijacking plane. Pilots were particularly stunned, because MCAS had been a big secret, largely kept from Boeing’s own test pilots, mentioned only once in the glossary of the plane’s 1,600-page manual, left entirely out of the 56-minute iPad refresher course that some 737-certified pilots took for MAX certification, and—in a last-minute edit—removed from the November 7 emergency airworthiness directive the Federal Aviation Administration had issued two weeks after the Lion Air crash, ostensibly to “remind” pilots of the protocol for responding to a “runaway stabilizer.”

She does mention the reputation of Indonesian aviation about mid-way through: "And so all the early hot takes about the crash concerned Indonesia’s spotty safety record and Lion Air’s even-less-distinguished one."

I searched for a few minutes to find out what experience Tkacik has flying airplanes or reporting on aviation, and while no results don't necessarily mean she has none, I would conclude from what I found that she has many different experiences.

Tkacik's take isn't entirely wrong; Boeing has some responsibility here. But the contrast between Langewische's sober, fact-based reporting and Tkacik's damn-them-all-to-hell point-of-view piece really surprised me today, as did Tkacik's choice not to report more deeply on why Boeing made certain choices, and what I find to be an over-reliance on a single source who seems to have a bone to pick with his former employer.

Of course, her article it's completely in line with the New Republic's anti-corporate editorial philosophy. Yet I found myself rolling my eyes after the first couple of paragraphs because it's so anti-corporate, and frustratingly shrill. It's why I stopped reading The Nation, another outlet Tkacik has written for, and why I find myself fact-checking Mother Jones. If everything is an outrage, and all corporations are evil, where does that leave us?

How to combat influence operations

Bruce Schneier has an eight-step plan—though he recognizes Step 1 might not be possible:

Since the 2016 US presidential election, there have been an endless series of ideas about how countries can defend themselves. It's time to pull those together into a comprehensive approach to defending the public sphere and the institutions of democracy.

Influence operations don't come out of nowhere. They exploit a series of predictable weaknesses -- and fixing those holes should be the first step in fighting them. In cybersecurity, this is known as a "kill chain." That can work in fighting influence operations, too­ -- laying out the steps of an attack and building the taxonomy of countermeasures.

Step 1: Find the cracks in the fabric of society­ -- the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions. For campaigns that just try to weaken collective trust in government's institutions, lots of cracks will do. But for influence operations that are more directly focused on a particular policy outcome, only those related to that issue will be effective.

Countermeasures: There will always be open disagreements in a democratic society, but one defense is to shore up the institutions that make that society possible. Elsewhere I have written about the "common political knowledge" necessary for democracies to function. That shared knowledge has to be strengthened, thereby making it harder to exploit the inevitable cracks. It needs to be made unacceptable -- or at least costly -- for domestic actors to use these same disinformation techniques in their own rhetoric and political maneuvering, and to highlight and encourage cooperation when politicians honestly work across party lines. The public must learn to become reflexively suspicious of information that makes them angry at fellow citizens. These cracks can't be entirely sealed, as they emerge from the diversity that makes democracies strong, but they can be made harder to exploit. Much of the work in "norms" falls here, although this is essentially an unfixable problem. This makes the countermeasures in the later steps even more important.

Also unfortunately, most of the countermeasures require informed and conscientious political leaders. Good luck with that.