How disinformation could sway the 2020 election

What people read online could really disrupt society and politics.

Paul M. Barrett, New York University

In 2016, Russian operatives used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to sow division among American voters and boost Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

What the Russians used to accomplish this is called “disinformation,” which is false or misleading content intended to deceive or promote discord. Now, with the first presidential primary vote only five months away, the public should be aware of the sources and types of online disinformation likely to surface during the 2020 election.

First, the Russians will be back. Don’t be reassured by the notorious Russian Internet Research Agency’s relatively negligible presence during last year’s midterm elections. The agency might have been keeping its powder dry in anticipation of the 2020 presidential race. And it helped that U.S. Cyber Command, an arm of the military, reportedly blocked the agency’s internet access for a few days right before the election in November 2018.

Temporarily shutting down the Internet Research Agency won’t be enough to stop the flow of harmful content. Lee Foster, who leads the disinformation team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye, told me in an interview that the agency is “a small component of the overall Russian operation,” which also includes Moscow’s military intelligence service and possibly other organizations. Over time, Foster said, “All of these actors rework their approaches and tactics.”

And there’s more to fear than just the Russians. I’m the author of a new report on disinformation and the 2020 election published by the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. In the report, I predict that the Russians won’t be alone in spreading disinformation in 2020. Their most likely imitator will be Iran, especially if hostility between Tehran and Washington continues to mount.

Disinformation isn’t just Russian

In May, acting on a tip from FireEye, Facebook took down nearly 100 Iranian-related accounts, pages and groups. The Iranian network had used fake American identities to espouse both conservative and liberal political views, while also promoting extremely divisive anti-Saudi, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian themes.

As Senate Intelligence Committee co-chair Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, has said, “The Iranians are now following the Kremlin’s playbook.”

While foreign election interference has dominated discussion of disinformation, most intentionally false content targeting U.S. social media is generated by domestic sources.

I believe that will continue to be the case in 2020. President Trump often uses Twitter to circulate conspiracy theories and cast his foes as corrupt. One story line he pushes is that Facebook, Twitter and Google are colluding with Democrats to undermine him. Introducing a right-wing “social media summit” at the White House in July, he tweeted about the “tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination, and suppression practiced by certain companies.”

Supporters of Democrats also have trafficked in disinformation. In December 2017, a group of liberal activists created fake Facebook pages designed to mislead conservative voters in a special U.S. Senate race in Alabama. Matt Osborne, who has acknowledged being involved in the Alabama scheme, told me that in 2020, “you’re going to see a movement toward [political spending from undisclosed sources] on digital campaigns in the closing days of the race.” He suggests there could be an effort to discourage Republicans from voting with “an image of a red wave with a triumphal statement that imbues them with a sense of inevitable victory: ‘No need to bother voting. Trump has got it in the bag.’”

Spreading fake videos

Also likely to surface next year: “deepfake” videos. This technique produces highly convincing – but false – images and audio. In a recent letter to the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, wrote: “A timely, convincing deepfake video of a candidate” that goes viral on a platform “could hijack a race – and even alter the course of history. … The consequences for our democracy could be devastating.”

Just one example of a deepfake video.

Instagram could be a vehicle for deepfakes. Owned by Facebook, the photo and video platform played a much bigger role in Russia’s manipulation of the 2016 U.S. election than most people realize, and it could be exploited again in 2020. The Russian Internet Research Agency enjoyed more user engagement on Instagram than it did on any other platform, according to a December 2018 report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Instagram is likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis,” the report added.

Companies could step up

The social media companies are responding to the problem of disinformation by improving their artificial intelligence filters and hiring thousands of additional employees devoted to safety and security. “The companies are getting much better at detection and removal of fake accounts,” Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Platform Accountability Project, told me.

But the companies do not completely remove much of the content they pinpoint as false; they merely reduce how often it appears for users, and sometimes post a message noting that it’s false.

In my view, provably false material should be eliminated from feeds and recommendations, with a copy retained in a cordoned-off archive available for research purposes to scholars, journalists and others.

Another problem is that responsibility for content decisions now tends to be scattered among different teams within each of the social media companies. Our report recommends that to streamline and centralize, each company should hire a senior official who reports to the CEO and is responsible for overseeing the fight against disinformation. Such executives could marshal resources more easily within each company and more effectively coordinate efforts across social media companies.

Finally, the platforms could also cooperate more than they currently do to stamp out disinformation. They’ve collaborated effectively to root out child pornography and terrorist incitement. I believe they now have a collective responsibility to rid the coming election of as much disinformation as possible. An electorate that has been fed lies about candidates and issues can’t make informed decisions. Votes will be based on falsehoods. And that means the future of American democracy – in 2020 and beyond – depends on dealing effectively with disinformation.

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Paul M. Barrett, Deputy Director, Center for Business and Human Rights, Stern School of Business; Adjunct Professor of Law, New York University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Yet Another One Bites the Dust

It may be hard to believe but President Trump has fired another one of his National Security Advisors, John Bolton. This is either the third or fourth, but who’s counting. The seat of the Director of National Intelligence is also vacant as well as that of the Secretary for Homeland Security. In addition, many of the top security and intelligence personnel have abandoned the Trump ship, since he did not listen to them or follow accepted protocol on intelligence.

John Bolton was a hawk as far as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran were concerned and Trump was unwilling to accept his advice. So now it appears as if Trump will have to keep America secure by himself with the intelligence he gets from Fox News. Oh, I forgot. They are starting to abandon him as well. So where will Trump get intelligence and information on the nation’s adversaries.

Well, maybe he can get his information about Russia’s actions from his buddy Vlady Putin, as Trump seems willing to give him plenty of info. And since he and Kim are in love, maybe Kim will tell him what North Korea has in store in terms of its nukes and missiles. In general, it seems as if Trump (and America) is at a severe disadvantage in dealing with national security threats.

Russia, our main adversary, has been able to have its way with Trump, even though Congress and the EU insisted on sanctioning Russia for its actions in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Trump wants to go easy on Russia and invite Putin to the G7 meetings next year at Trump’s Doral Resort in Miami. He’d like Russia to be a member again and to ease up on the sanctions. Bolton was a Russia hawk and could not understand Trump’s affinity for Putin. Something is driving that connection which is unclear, but Trump is willing to do the Russian leader’s bidding.

China is another strong adversary that Bolton wanted us to confront in the China Sea and over Taiwan. Trump is using the security conflicts with China to try and get some victories in the trade war that he can boast about to the electorate before the 2020 election. Remember, he told Americans that trade wars were easy to win, but now he’s discovering it ain’t so easy. He has to find some way to convince his base that America is winning, even though citizens are paying more for consumer goods.

And for all the love and sweet words between Kim and Trump, Kim is eating Trump’s breakfast. The talks between Trump and Kim have gone nowhere, while Kim is developing new missiles and building nuclear weapons. Kim has totally outsmarted Trump who was supposed to be the master of the art of the deal. Ha!

In getting out of the Iran Compact, Trump seemed to be doing Netanyahu’s bidding, abandoning our European allies. One crook helping another. Except Trump and Netanyahu overplayed their hands. Iran had agreed to halt nuclear development for at least a decade and now it’s back working on its nukes again. There are sanctions in place but Trump and Netanyahu have nothing to show for the broken agreement. Trump has offered to meet with the Iranian president but what does he have to offer him besides dropping the sanctions. It’ll be like Trump telling his base that Mexico will pay for the wall. For those who believe Trump, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell.

Anyway, Bolton’s gone and Trump has to find another security advisor willing to take Trump’s sh-t. It may not be so easy this time around. Resurrecting Democracy

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“It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life.”- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

TRIGGER WARNING: This essay is about feminism. Any reader feeling under attack should seek shelter in the 1950s.

I’m a wife of a man. I’m a mother of two boys, and a sister of two brothers. When I was 19 and a college student, I burned my bra – an impulsive decision of magnificent proportions. A bolt of lightning had struck me, my friends, and all the women on campus as we suddenly realized that in a patriarchy: women are second-class citizens; socially engineered female traits are considered proof of female inferiority; and equal status with men means that women must man up, grow impressive biceps, get hairy, and enjoy football if they want to have standing in a society that had been ironically founded on the notion of egalitarianism. We found ourselves trapped in the never-ending teleology of the intelligent design crafted by men. We were the weaker sex; a gender reduced to its component parts: its orifices, its soft skin, its place in history as merely an embellished rib.

Some of us struggled to figure things out. I majored in everything. Others became the reification of Stockholm Syndrome – and remained Republicans like their parents. And some emerged as the Torquemadas of the Right – women like the vulturine Phyllis Schlafly.

It was a maelstrom of change. And then it stopped. Manly men took back the reins, and under the rubric of law and order and a dollop of avuncular Reaganisms, feminism died an ignominious death. And women took one in the gut as wages stagnated and America de-industrialized. Two incomes were now required to support a family instead of one. And even though women got to wear white collars to work, their collars were still a bubblegum pink at payday.

But the #MeToo movement has brought it all back because the seas have parted once again, and we are now in a similar moment of change. Finally, we have the chance to revisit the sexual revolution of the 70s. As Bari Weiss, a columnist and opinion editor at the New York Times, noted in an interview with Bill Maher a year ago, the feminist movement “is really a fight between factions of women”. Weiss goes on to say that the debate “is between the hard-left and liberals”. The liberals to whom I believe she refers are those Madeleine Albright so famously spoke to when she said, “We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and how a lot of you younger women think it’s done. It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”

You can agree with Weiss, or Albright, or neither, but buried like a tick within this debate righteously sits another Phyllis Schlafly, albeit a more nuanced thinker than Schlafly was, and one with all her tickets punched. Christine Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and troll of contemporary feminism, was on Bill Maher’s show last week as the interviewee, and she came down like a hammer on the hard-left in the feminist debate. With comments like these:

“Getting back feminism is proving impossible…. One young woman at the University of Pennsylvania said to me, “Oh, I was mini-raped when he walked by and said, ‘Nice legs’”; “Male privilege is a conspiracy theory – men have privileges, but so do women.” “Women work, most of the pay gap is explained by the fact that men are willing to work just punishing hours, weekends – women don’t do it as much – that’s because men and women behave different in private life.” And, “If you want to make a lot of money, petroleum engineering, metallurgy, naval engineering [are the way to go] – women are in early childhood education; it’s complicated.”

This new style of glib nonsense deserves the gimlet eye of a grizzled old feminist. Though Sommers’s argument was breezily peppered with unsupported data and a boatload of anecdotal nonsense, the general thrust was that today’s young women are snowflakes, helicoptered into reality by their lotus-eating parents. They lack the “Right Stuff”, a characteristic claimed exclusively by the American Right Wing. They are “timid”, “ungrateful”, “spoiled”, and wont to “hysteria”. And this, notwithstanding the fact that women are expected to determine the outcome of the 2020 election; that they’re demonstrating all over the world for equality under the law, and that they’re real mad.

This nonsense is redolent of the bad old days when relegating masses of people to second-class lives through the use of logical fallacies was routine. African Americans were “dirty and ineducable”, while they were forcibly denied access to sanitation and education.

But if you look closely, Sommers’s words are also the current talking points of the Republican Right. Liberals are “cowards”, liberals are “coddled children unwilling to stand up to major threats”, liberals are “grazers who live off the fruits of the wealthy”. Sommers’s talking points are Republican talking points dressed up in a corset. She is the dinner guest from hell, the incoherent bloviator at America’s stupidest Tea Party.

A Millennial asked me the most consequential question of this debate about the new feminism. He asked, “How can I be a man who respects the rights of women – of their right to dignity and equality with men – while still being a primate steered by the volatility of testosterone and the desire to blow things up? As a wife, a mother, and as a sister, I know that this evolutionary paradox is where we really need to be looking. I reminded him that as a 19-year-old, I had to reimagine what it was to be a woman – and that this time around, it will be time for young men to reimagine what they must be in order to be a man.


Deborah Long is a Principal at Development Management Group, Inc. and founder of several non-profit charitable organizations.  If you find her perspectives interesting, provocative, or controversial, follow her at:

image:  wikimedia commons




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Great Music – Chapter 48

There has been a lot of great music written specifically for movies and Movie Producers know that the right music for their scenes can make or break a movie. People who write music for movies can make a lot of money, just ask John Williams of Star Wars fame and other movies. Two of my former piano students live in Los Angeles writing music for TV and movies. It is a tough business to break into and the competition is really tough. Many times success is dependent on who you know and who are your friends in the industry.

As if the competition is not stiff enough among the hundreds of composers vying for the chance to write the music for a potential blockbuster, the Producers always have the option of reaching into the library of Classical music for something that will fit their images.

In all the years I’ve been seeing movies, there has been one piece of music that fit a movie scene so perfectly that it actually dominated what was showing on the movie screen. It was for Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie – 2001, A Space Odyssey. which premiered in 1968. The music was from Classical composer, Richard Strauss called “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. I am sure everyone has heard this music at least once in their life even if they did not see the actual movie. The name of the music may be unfamiliar, even to music snobs, but once you hear the music you will recognize it and probably never forget it. The music plays as alien Monoliths are discovered on the moon, Jupiter, and early Earth with apes. The Monolith represents the emergence of real intelligence among those who view it. Without further ado, here is a link to the music.

Also Sprach Zarathustra

This music was composed in 1896 by Richard Strauss based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s novel by the same name. The part of the music used in the movie and shown in the YouTube above is the
small beginning of the piece, called Sunrise. Strauss was born in 1864 to a musical family in Munich, Germany and as a result haad all the musical training he would ever need in his youth. He was a prolific composer turning out large orchestral works, operas and chamber music works.

Strauss lived thru the Nazi era in Germany but was not favored by Hitler or any of the high German command – they much preferred the music of Richard Wagner, Life during this period was difficult as he had a Jewish daughter-in-law to protect. Since Strauss was world famous for his music, the Nazis left him alone for the most part rather than incur bad publicity. He finally died in 1949 of heart failure.

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‘Honeyland’ Does Not Feel Like A Documentary, Which Is Great

Courtesy of NEON - Photo by Samir Ljuma

Courtesy of NEON – Photo by Samir Ljuma

Winning three awards at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and entered as North Macedonia’s official entry for the Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Film) in the upcoming 92nd Academy Awards, Honeyland has been on the radar of many cinephiles this year as it has slowly made its way into theaters across the country. To my pleasure, it finally arrived in Salt Lake City in August, but I couldn’t anticipate the exciting ride I was buckling in for.

Honeyland is the story, and struggle, of Hatidze, a beekeeper in a remote part of Macedonia who follows tradition and practices responsible stewardship of the environment around her. Hatidze, now in her mid-50s, cares for her ill mother and harvests honey to bring in money for both of them to survive and eat. Having never married or had children, she is alone in this venture as she tries to do what’s right.

Soon, however, new neighbors settle down right next to where Hatidze and her mother had been living all these years. A film that started out as peaceful, and even tranquil, as we first got to know the mother-daughter duo, has now been disrupted by a loud and assuming family. This presents a dramatic change in tone as the family comes in with their cows, chickens, and children. This immediately feels like an invasion of territory, and you feel bad for Hatidze and the dilemma she is being put in.

What ensues is this family’s own struggle to survive and support themselves, and the patriarch is continuously finding ways to make money. When what he’s doing proves to not be enough, he takes an interest in Hatidze’s beekeeping, and she teaches him her ways. Unfortunately, he doesn’t express the same care and attention to her methods, and he will threaten everything Hatidze has worked for.

Honeyland is beautiful, and there are many moments throughout the film that make you question whether it’s actually a documentary. Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska take a more cinematic approach in their directing. Hatidze, her mother, and neighbors never acknowledge the camera, and they’re not explaining their thoughts to anybody offscreen. Everything we see is what these people are experiencing in their lives.

The cinematography, too, is what you’d expect with a feature film, as opposed to a traditional documentary. There are regular pans over the desolate landscape, climbs up the rocky cliff face above Hatidze’s home, and extended shots in the dark of night lit up only by campfire or furnace.

Hatidze is presented as being harsh at times, particularly in some interactions with her mother, but she inevitably comes off as somebody who enjoys life, is humorous, and is kind.

While not as explicit in its message, Honeyland touches on the same ideas as expressed in another documentary that came out in theaters earlier this year, The Biggest Little Farm. There’s a balance in nature, and it’s incumbent on us to maintain that balance, to not abuse its resources, and to responsibly cultivate the environment around us so it can not only survive but flourish. Honeyland and The Biggest Little Farm, while the two films are very different, are a complementary pairing.

If you have the opportunity to watch Honeyland in a theater, take it. Just shy of ninety minutes long, there’s a lot that is packed into this story, and you’ll leave the theater having a newfound appreciation for strong individuals like Hatdize.

This review originally appeared on Salt Lake Film Review

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Sorry, but Thursday’s debate is about electability

WASHINGTON — It has become a habit to scold Democratic voters who say that electability is their standard in deciding whom to support for their party’s presidential nomination. Forecasts made hours before Election Day three years ago went spectacularly awry, so who can know what will happen in November 2020?

Yet like it or not, the most important watchers of the Democratic debate on Thursday will be electability voters, who happen to constitute a majority of the party. And they are right to believe that the priority in 2020 is defeating President Trump. A man who invents the trajectory of a hurricane is not exactly someone whom we should entrust with four more years of power.

Still if the question of who can win is a constant, the dynamic going into this encounter is very different from that of July’s faceoffs — and not just because 10 candidates who were there before will be missing. Rather quickly, the Democratic presidential race has come down to three candidates, and then everyone else.

The battle for supremacy is between former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders holding on to his loyalists but having trouble reaching beyond them. The seven others will have to decide which of these three they most want to bring down.

Warren has had by far the best year of anyone. This makes her a target in a way she wasn’t before. She profited from not sharing the stage with Biden in the first two debate rounds, insulating her from the fractiousness that was directed initially toward the front-runner but eventually engulfed nearly everyone in the vicinity. Warren thus had the freedom to highlight her impressive list of policy proposals and to look — to use another much-debated word — “presidential.”

Warren’s supporters have been the sharpest critics of the electability test because it is often used against her. The doubts about whether she can beat Trump are sometimes expressed in ideological terms (“she’s too left”) and, much more guardedly, about who she is. Can a Harvard professor win Pennsylvania or Wisconsin? Could the sexism that helped undermine Hillary Clinton also undercut Warren?

Please hold your fire. I know that bringing up the issue of sexism risks engaging in it. There are multiple reasons Clinton lost, and putting all women candidates in the same category (BEG ITAL)is(END ITAL) sexism. Nonetheless, anyone who has discussed the campaign with Democratic voters knows they are asking this question, almost always guiltily.

Warren therefore has one big, if amorphous, task: to persuade doubters that she can beat Trump. How do we know this? A fascinating poll in June by the Democratic data firm Avalanche found Biden ahead with 29% to 17% for Sanders and 16% for Warren. But when the same voters were asked who they would make president with a “magic wand,” 21% picked Warren, with Biden and Sanders getting 19% each. The bottom line: If Democrats think she can win next November, she can win primary and caucus contests in February and March.

Biden’s 10-point gap on these two questions underscores why he needs a commanding performance this week. His key assets are the fact that he continues to enjoy the biggest leads in polling matchups with Trump and the sense that he is well-placed to carry Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. But Biden’s less-than-stellar debate outings (particularly in June) and various missteps that inevitably get a lot of media attention have raised questions about his general-election prospects. Easing those doubts is his one and only job.

For Sanders, the question is whether he can break out beyond his seemingly rock-solid base of loyalists. A “New Bernie” is both an impossibility and a bad idea for his brand as a conviction politician. But he won’t win unless he can expand his market share, a phrase I use with apologies to all democratic socialists.

The take I have offered leaves out “everyone else,” which is in one sense unfair. California Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are within striking distance of getting into the top three, and someone among Thursday’s remaining five could catch a break if one of the current leaders falters.

But that is the point: For now, nearly two-thirds of Democrats support one of the three leaders. And things are likely to stay that way if Sanders’ devoted band keeps the faith — and if Biden and Warren persuade Democrats that they can, indeed, throw the world’s most inept meteorologist out of the White House.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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The strange connection between Bobby Kennedy’s death and Scooby-Doo

‘Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!’ was a funky, lighthearted alternative to the action cartoons that, for years, had dominated Saturday morning lineups.

Kevin Sandler, Arizona State University

Scooby-Doo, one of the most enduring animated characters ever to emerge from U.S. television, celebrates his 50th birthday this month.

Created by Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1969 for CBS Saturday morning, the original series “Scooby-Doo, Where are You!” premiered on Sept. 13, 1969, ran for two seasons and spun off 15 subsequent series. The formula of four mystery-solving teenagers – Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy along with the titular talking Great Dane – remained mostly intact as the group stumbled their way into pop-culture history.

But as I explain in my forthcoming book on the franchise, Scooby-Doo’s creation was no happy accident; it was a strategic move in response to cultural shifts and political exigencies. The genesis of the series was inextricably bound up with the societal upheavals of 1968 – in particular, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

More horror, better ratings

In the late 1960s, the television and film studio Hanna-Barbera was the largest producer of animated television programming.

For years, Hanna-Barbera had created slapstick comedy cartoons – “Tom and Jerry” in the 1940s and 1950s, followed by television series like “The Yogi Bear Show” and “The Flintstones.” But by the 1960s, the most popular cartoons were those that capitalized on the secret agent craze, the space race and the popularity of superheroes.

In what would serve as a turning point in television animation, the three broadcast networks – CBS, ABC and NBC – launched nine new action-adventure cartoons on Saturday morning in the fall of 1966. In particular, Hanna-Barbera’s “Space Ghost and Dino Boy” and Filmation’s “The New Adventures of Superman” were hits with kids. These and other action-adventure series featured non-stop action and violence, with the heroes working to defeat, even kill, a menace or monster by any means necessary.

So for the 1967-1968 Saturday morning lineup, Hanna-Barbera supplied the networks with six new action-adventure cartoons, including “The Herculoids” and “Birdman and the Galaxy Trio.” Gone were the days of funny human and animal hijinks; in their place: terror, peril, jeopardy and child endangerment.

The networks, wrote The New York Times’ Sam Blum, “had instructed its cartoon suppliers to turn out more of the same – in fact, to go ‘stronger’ – on the theory, which proved correct, that the more horror, the higher the Saturday morning ratings.”

Such horror generally took the form of “fantasy violence” – what Joe Barbera called “out-of-this-world hard action.” The studio churned out these grim series “not out of choice,” Barbera explained. “It’s the only thing we can sell to the networks, and we have to stay in business.”

Hanna-Barbera co-founder Joe Barbera poses with three of his studio’s most popular animated characters, Scooby-Doo, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, in this 1996 photograph.
AP Photo/Reed Saxon

Barbera’s remarks highlighted the immense authority then held by the broadcast networks in dictating the content of Saturday morning television.

In his book “Entertainment, Education and the Hard Sell,” communication scholar Joseph Turow studied the first three decades of network children’s programming. He notes the fading influence of government bodies and public pressure groups on children’s programming in the mid-1960s – a shift that enabled the networks to serve their own commercial needs and those of their advertisers.

The decline in regulation of children’s television spurred criticism over violence, commercialism and the lack of diversity in children’s programming. No doubt sparked by the oversaturation of action-adventure cartoons on Saturday morning, the nonprofit corporation National Association for Better Broadcasting declared that year’s children’s television programming in March 1968 to be the “worst in the history of TV.”

Political upheaval spurs moral panic

Cultural anxieties about the effects of media violence on children had increased significantly after March 1968, concurrent with television coverage of the Vietnam War, student protests and riots incited by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. As historian Charles Kaiser wrote in his book about that pivotal year, the upheaval fueled moral crusades.

“For the first time since their invention, he wrote, “televised pictures made the possibility of anarchy in America feel real.”

But it was the assassination of Robert. F. Kennedy Jr. in June 1968 that would end up lead to the exile of action-adventure cartoons from the Saturday morning lineup for nearly a decade.

Kennedy’s role as a father to 11 was intertwined with his political identity, and he had long championed causes that helped children. Alongside his commitment to ending child hunger and poverty, he had, as attorney general, worked with the Federal Communications Commission to improve the “vast wasteland” of children’s television programming.

Robert Kennedy and his wife and kids go for a walk near their home in McLean, Va.
AP Photo/Henry Griffin

Just hours after Kennedy was shot, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the appointment of a National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. While the commission’s formal findings wouldn’t be shared until late 1969, demands for greater social control and regulation of media violence surged directly following Johnson’s announcement, contributing to what sociologists call a “moral panic.”

Media studies scholar Heather Hendershot explained that even those critical of Kennedy’s liberal causes supported these efforts; censoring television violence “in his name” for the good of children “was like a tribute.”

Civic groups like the National Parent Teacher Association, which had been condemning violent cartoons at its last three conventions, were emboldened. The editors of McCall’s, a popular women’s magazine, provided steps for readers to pressure the broadcast networks to discontinue violent programming. And a Christian Science Monitor report in July of that year – which found 162 acts of violence or threats of violence on one Saturday morning alone – was widely circulated.

The moral panic in the summer of 1968 caused a permanent change in the landscape of Saturday morning. The networks announced that they would be turning away from science-fiction adventure and pivoting toward comedy for its cartoon programming.

All of this paved the way for the creation of a softer, gentler animated hero: Scooby-Doo.

However, the premiere of the 1968-1969 Saturday morning season was just around the corner. Many episodes of new action-adventure series were still in various stages of production. Animation was a lengthy process, taking anywhere from four to six months to go from idea to airing. ABC, CBS and NBC stood to lose millions of dollars in licensing fees and advertising revenue by canceling a series before it even aired or before it finished its contracted run.

So in the fall of 1968 with many action-adventure cartoons still on the air, CBS and Hanna-Barbera began work on a series – one eventually titled “Scooby-Doo, Where are You!” – for the 1969-1970 Saturday morning season.

“Scooby-Doo, Where are You!” still supplies a dose of action and adventure. But the characters are never in real peril or face serious jeopardy. There are no superheroes saving the world from aliens and monsters. Instead, a gang of goofy kids and their dog in a groovy van solve mysteries. The monsters they encounter are just humans in disguise.

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Kevin Sandler, Associate Professor of English, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Trump’s Taliban plans leave us wondering: What else is unbeknownst to us?

President Trump at the White House on Monday. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Photo by: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post
Copyright: The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — There are many things to fear about the Trump presidency. Scariest of all may be those things we don’t even know we have to worry about — such as President Trump preparing to surrender to the Taliban at Camp David on the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Few could have dreamed that such an outrage to American pride was even possible before seeing Trump’s Saturday tweet. “Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight,” he wrote, but because of recent violence, “I immediately canceled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

While it’s a relief to learn that Trump isn’t planning to insult the 9/11 victims on the anniversary of their deaths, it raises the question: What else could he be planning?

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, I was going to award the presidential medal of freedom posthumously to Jeffrey Epstein on Sunday, but I immediately canceled the ceremony.”

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, I was going to name Kanye West as White House spokesman and Alex Jones as head of the National Weather Service on Sunday, but I immediately called off the announcement.”

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, I was going to attack Denmark and annex Greenland on Sunday, but I immediately canceled the invasion and called off the bombers.”

Trump seems to enjoy the theatrics of canceling things he had (supposedly) planned to do. He canceled a retaliatory attack on Iran after ordering one up. He canceled, then reinstated, a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. He stormed into a meeting with Democrats for the sole purpose of canceling it. He canceled his Denmark trip after the prime minister panned his Greenland scheme. He said he canceled the Air Force One contract with Boeing because of high costs (then wound up paying even more). He cancels meetings with reporters as punishment. He’s constantly scheduling and canceling his talks with China. He has canceled dozens of proposed nominations.

But why did he cancel the Taliban sleepover party at Camp David? The stated reason — another Taliban attack in Afghanistan — doesn’t make much sense, because Taliban violence in Afghanistan happens all the time. I suspect it’s because he read a draft of the proposed peace agreement, and it went something like this:

CAMP DAVID, Sept. 11, 2019: Taliban Peace Treaty (Great Deal!)

Section A: Background

The Taliban sheltered and coddled the terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11; has never renounced the attack or its role in it; continues to have an alliance with al-Qaeda; was the main enemy in an 18-year war that killed 2,400 Americans; has killed countless thousands of Afghan civilians, many children, women and the elderly; has targeted schools, hospitals and aid workers in attacks; has closed girls’ schools, denied health care and employment to women and subjected thousands of women to beatings, killings, acid attacks, gang rapes, public lashings and stoning for suspected infidelity or failure to cover themselves from head to toe; has conscripted young boys as suicide bombers, bans polio vaccines and blocks food aid.

Section B: United States Concessions

In recognition of the foregoing, the United States proposes immediately to pull 5,000 and eventually all 14,000 troops out of Afghanistan; to give the fledgling Afghan government, which the Taliban calls a “stooge government,” no say in the matter; and to provide no meaningful deterrent to continued Taliban atrocities and oppression.

Section C: Taliban Concessions

In exchange for U.S. withdrawal under Section B, Taliban leaders agree to ask very nicely if the terrorists they work with might please consider refraining from attacking the United States, if it isn’t too much trouble. The Taliban delegation also agrees as part of this treaty to stay at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland while refueling on the way home from Camp David.

Section D: Enforcement Mechanism

In the event the Taliban does not fulfill its obligations under Section C, the United States reserves the right to issue a sternly worded (written) statement of protest. But it promises to pull all troops out anyway.

Belatedly, Trump evidently realized that he was surrendering to America’s enemies on U.S. soil, desecrating the memory of the most solemn day in modern U.S. history and insulting those who have fought and died in a worthy cause. Should we be relieved? Or terrified as we await the next cockamamie idea, “unbeknownst” to all, to tumble from his disorganized brain?

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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GOOFY SCIENCE (Cartoon, Column and Video)

Fake news is not news and fake science is not science. And now, a future administration will have to repair the credibility of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with other scientific agencies within the government.

Science used to be non-partisan. But over the last few years, Republicans have made climate change a political issue. Somewhere along the way, facts became liberal. But even previous Republican administrations, while often quarreling with government scientists, did not blatantly try to change scientific fact, like the location of a hurricane.

Donald Trump doesn’t care about facts and he doesn’t put any priority into science. He’s a man who believes climate change is a hoax created by China. He once lied about the rain and claimed it stopped raining when he started a speech when it didn’t. He claimed the noise from windmills cause cancer.

The NOAA hasn’t had a confirmed leader since the Obama administration. On Friday, the NOAA, which oversees the National Weather Service, took the very unusual steps of issuing a statement criticizing one of their own meteorologists for contradicting Donald Trump and issuing an accurate weather report.

The NOAA isn’t backing up Trump to advance hard science, but only to coddle his ego and narcissism. Last week, Donald Trump doctored a weather map with a Sharpie after being criticized for warning Alabama about being impacted by Hurricane Dorian when that state wasn’t in its path. Trump has spent over a week defending a wrong tweet. Most people would say “oops” and move on with their lives. Trump, being a narcissist, can’t admit a little mistake. But now, this little mistake is destroying the credibility of the government’s science agencies.

First, the agency warned its scientists not issue any statements correcting or contradicting Donald Trump. After their bureau in Alabama did just that and Trump lost his shit, the NOAA backed up Trump with an official statement despite provable facts.

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has ordered its agencies and government employees to contradict facts.

Shortly after lying about having the largest crowd size of any inauguration in U.S. history, Trump ordered the National Park Service to hunt for photographs that would support his claim. They didn’t find any.

Donald Trump created a commission to prove his claim about voter fraud. After the commission failed and disbanded, a member claimed its creation was rooted in Trump’s rage at losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

When Trump claimed Middle Easterners were part of the migrant caravans headed to the border, he tried to get government agencies to support his lie. They failed.

Trump ordered agencies to create an impression that there would be a middle-class tax cut before the midterm elections (even though Congress wasn’t in session), which he had lied about. The tax cuts never happened.

The White House press office issued a doctored video to make CNN reporter Jim Acosta appear physically abusive to a White House aide.

After Trump created a bogus story about migrant women being blindfolded and gagged by drug traffickers, a top border official went on an internal hunt for information to make the story true. He failed.

The Department of Homeland Security released a slick presentation to support Trump’s lie that 4,000 known terrorists were prevented from crossing the border with Mexico.

Donald Trump is inflicting damage to this nation that will take years to repair. Our allies can’t trust us. A new report came out this morning that the CIA snuck a spy out of Moscow out of fear Trump would disclose him to Vladimir Putin. The Justice Department has become a lackey for Trump’s crimes. The entire Republican Party in Congress has become a cult. The State Department has to explain why we can trust promises from Kim Jong Un and the Taliban. The Defense Department has to publicly support losing funding to Trump’s racist, useless border wall. The military has to justify spending money at Trump’s resorts. The White House sends out lackeys to tell us the free press is an enemy to the United States. Now, the government’s science agencies have to sell us debunked science.

The only good thing is that we still have eyes, ears, and logic on our side. Unfortunately for Trump cultists, they’ve been told not to believe what they see and hear and they’re complying.

Maybe you and I can argue over the differences between Pluto and Goofy, but we should all know the difference between being rained on and pissed on.

Watch me draw.

Email Clay Jones at

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Reflections of the Day We Will Never Forget

Credit: Quinn Dombrowski, via

On Wednesday, the 18th anniversary of a day “We Will Never Forget,” all of us remembered exactly where we were, exactly what we were doing, whom we were with at the hour, the minute, when the “impossible” occurred.

Many of those accounts have now been told, but on every anniversary, we remember yet another detail, we hear yet another story, we relive it again.

Those of us who watched from afar, who did not lose any loved ones or dear friends “relive” it in a different way.

But, nevertheless, we remember it all too well.

Even those who were children on that fateful day, even those who do not know anyone who was killed in the dastardly attacks remember the day.

Ashley Nelson, who was 6 years old on 9/11, in a touching article in the New York Times says, “It helps me put things into perspective…The importance of remembering the people that lost their lives and who sacrificed, that’s important to me.”

The same article, noting how so many New Yorkers thought 9/11 was going to be “just another day,” recounts:

At the trade center that morning, people picked up coffee and walked across the plaza, the way they always did. No one going through the revolving doors or stepping into the elevators knew then that it was the last time they would ever do that.

Yesterday, I received an email sharing the reflections of a friend’s relative who — as so many other people on that day, just before the attack — “picked up coffee…”

These are Stephen Young’s reflections through the prism of yet another anniversary:

“I drove to work very early that morning parking my car in the company private garage directly across the street from the South Tower.

Traffic was surprisingly light so, with plenty of extra time, I strolled across to the World Trade Center for coffee and a snack at my favorite cafe before heading down into the subway for my 9:00 meeting in Brooklyn. The time was exactly 8:35 am.

The first strike was 8:44. I shall always be grateful for those 9 minutes that allowed me to safely dodge a fatal bullet.

About two weeks later, public traffic was once again allowed to flow in lower Manhattan. At the end of the work day, I went to the lot to retrieve my car.

I was stunned. I barely recognized it. After nearly two weeks of sitting idle, it was covered with 2-3 inches of that infamous grey soot we all watched, on repeat, billowing through the streets at the base of the collapse; followed by several days of airborne remnants of smoldering debris.

It was a striking image. I imagined encasing the car in a glass tomb as a sort of homage.

I left the surface untouched, climbed in and drove home.

Alex, my daughter, was in the driveway as I arrived. What a great opportunity, I thought, for a powerful learning experience.

I described the thick layer of debris I had first found and that although most of it had blown away in the drive home, mysteriously, much had still remained for the family to observe and experience.

She stared at the car, seemed transfixed, no longer listening but just taking it all in.

I wiped the coating with my hand, presented it to her and said, ‘this is the World Trade Center,’ assuming she might want to make contact with this landmark historical event.

I will always remember her powerful three-word response: ‘Dad, that’s people.’

Those few words shifted my lens from feeling national outrage at a devastating terrorist attack to a passionate deep empathy and condolence for the many individual personal tragedies.

Her lesson was just one more in a series of endless teacher-student role reversals that continue to broaden my empathy and vision.”


The author of this story, Stephen Young, was Senior Vice President, Chase Bank, at the World Trade Center at the time.

In the photo, above, Young is seen next to safe deposit boxes recovered from the bank vault, after the inferno that consumed the structure.

Each of the boxes has a unique story. Young may share some of them with readers in the future.

Young lives in Montclair, N.J.

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