Obama’s choices: Making sense of The Washington Post’s big exclusive

Earlier today I did some tweeting on the bad choices that then-president Barack Obama faced over Russian meddling in the election — the major theme of The Washington Post’s astonishing exclusive. I’ve pulled my tweets into what Twitter calls a Moment. Please have a look.

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Georgia on their mind: Three long hours with cable news

The first results were coming in from Georgia’s special congressional election. And Tucker Carlson of the Fox News Channel had a theory to explain why Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, wasn’t heading toward a huge victory over his Republican opponent, Karen Handel: Ossoff was (gasp) a liberal elitist.

“Ossoff ought to be running away with it, but he’s not,” Carlson said. He sneered at Ossoff’s prodigious fundraising, saying that “all that money has come from angry liberals who live out of state.” As for whether Ossoff was capable of relating to voters in Georgia’s Sixth District, Carlson smirked, “He’s super-fit and way smarter than you are.”

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Katie Kingsbury is leaving the Globe for a position at The New York Times

Kathleen Kingsbury, The Boston Globe’s managing editor for digital, is leaving the paper to accept a position as deputy editorial-page editor of The New York Times. This is a big one. Kingsbury is a Pulitzer-winning editorial writer, and she stepped into her current role last fall just as the Globe’s reinvention effort was heating up. She replaced David Skok, who was returning to his native Canada.

Ben Mullin of Poynter has editor Brian McGrory’s farewell note:

I interviewed Kingsbury for my forthcoming book last fall, and I found her to be smart in all the right ways. When we talked, she told me she was testing out various smartphone apps for possible adoption by the Globe — an effort that we long-suffering mobile readers certainly hope pays off soon.

Kingsbury announced her departure just as the Globe is settling in at its new headquarters at 53 State St. On Saturday, the Globe’s entire print run took place at its new Taunton facility for the first time, according to a message to employees from  Rich Masotta, the Globe’s vice president for operations.

Kingsbury proved to be a good internal candidate for the top digital position. It will be interesting to see if the Globe goes outside or inside for her successor. Globe owner John Henry has bet the farm on paid digital. If anything, the Globe needs to accelerate its efforts on improving its digital products.

Why the Carter verdict does not harm freedom of speech

I don’t often find myself in disagreement with the ACLU. But we part company in the case of Michelle Carter, the young woman who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for urging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to follow through with his threats to commit suicide. Here’s what Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, has to say:

Mr. Roy’s death is a terrible tragedy, but it is not a reason to stretch the boundaries of our criminal laws or abandon the protections of our constitution.

There is no law in Massachusetts making it a crime to encourage someone, or even to persuade someone, to commit suicide. Yet Ms. Carter has now been convicted of manslaughter, based on the prosecution’s theory that, as a 17-year-old girl, she literally killed Mr. Roy with her words. This conviction exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions.

The implications of this conviction go far beyond the tragic circumstances of Mr. Roy’s death. If allowed to stand, Ms. Carter’s conviction could chill important and worthwhile end-of-life discussions between loved ones across the Commonwealth.

Although I don’t think the legal concept of incitement ever came up during the Carter trial, it makes for a good analogy. Over a number of decades, the concept of incitement to violence was refined and narrowed by the Supreme Court, starting with Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s assertion in 1919 that you can’t falsely shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Finally, in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), we arrived at the standard we have today: Speech is not protected by the First Amendment and may be punished if it is “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and is “likely to incite or produce such action.” Anything that does not rise to that high level is protected, which is why Brandenburg is an important guarantee of free expression.

I am not a lawyer, so caveat emptor. But it seems to me that Carter’s texts to Roy were directed at inciting him to commit suicide and were likely to lead him to take his life. Yes, I know that this was not an incitement case involving mob violence. But I don’t see how the guilty verdict in the Carter case changes our understanding of what is protected speech and what isn’t. We are not less free today than we were before the verdict was rendered.

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Stat, Trump and the ethics of speculating about a president’s health

Click on image for Stat article and playable video.

Is President Trump quite literally losing his mind?

That’s the explosive question that reporter Sharon Begley asked in a recent article published by Stat, a Boston Globe Media-owned website covering health and life sciences. In comparing Trump’s speech patterns today with how he spoke 25 to 30 years ago, Begley and the experts she consulted found a notable slide in his linguistic abilities.

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The Globe moves ahead with restructured beats

As the staff prepares to move to its new headquarters on State Street, The Boston Globe is rolling out its new beat structure. Here’s a list of what many of the reporters, editors and columnists are up to.

It doesn’t strike me as hugely different from what the Globe was doing before (and that’s a good thing), but it is built more around the idea of clusters that cover different topics, such as “Business, Technology, and Consumers.” Others: “Education,” “Healthcare, Science, and Medicine,” “Living and Working in Greater Boston,” “Arts and Books,” and “Politics, Government, and Accountability.”

In keeping with editor Brian McGrory’s reinvention memos, the beats comprise areas of interest rather than institutions that need to be covered, whether anyone wants to read about them or not. There’s also a greater emphasis on publishing stories online when they’re ready rather than waiting for the print edition. According to a memo from McGrory, last week — the first for the restructured beats — was a good one for digital subscriptions.

Some kind soul sent me a copy of McGrory’s memo, sent out late Friday afternoon. (The “Super Department,” by the way, combines much of the paper’s metro, business and lifestyle coverage.) Here’s the full text:

So to be clear, nobody should be ready to declare victory after our first full week of reinvention. We all know there are many wrinkles to iron out, and we’re already identifying changes that need to be changed.

But, damn, I’m having a tough time containing my enthusiasm over how well it’s gone and the massive potential that it holds. The truth is, I’m more excited about it now than at any time before.

It’s worth noting that we started from a dead stop. There was no lineup of clever stories ready to roll out. Spotlight didn’t have anything on the runway. Reporters hadn’t been quietly prepping on their new beats. No, 10 days ago, just after a long holiday weekend, we launched from scratch — with, by my count, at least 87 people in substantially different positions than they held the week before.

What’s happened? The metabolism has quickened considerably. People are here earlier in the day. Our higher profile enterprise stories are receiving a final edit through the day, and introduced online at peak readership times. There are fewer logjams in the evening — reporters waiting for that last read on a story. Copy-edits are happening far more frequently across the day.

Because we’re factoring in the needs of digital more effectively, the print front is holding fewer stories back, which means we’re popping more enterprise on the site, much of which is rippling back to the Business and Metro fronts in print. The paper, as we hoped, has been the stronger for it. Calls for A1 and the Metro and Business print fronts are getting made sooner, allowing us to better plan for the next day’s site.

All of which is to say that things, in general, are going as planned — not always, but often enough. And Pete Doucette [the Globe’s chief consumer revenue officer] says it’s the best week we’ve had for digital subscriptions in a while.

In many ways, there’s something of a symphonic quality to it all. It starts early in the morning when the Express Desk arrives and begins posting newsy and clever stories. They hold a stand-up meeting in the middle of the newsroom at 8:30, swapping ideas and mapping out the rest of the day. Then we bring in the enterprise work, pitched and scheduled at the 9:15 news meeting, which already has a newly creative tone. Beyond that, the strike team, narrative, and Spotlight will soon be adding to the mix. Beat reporters across the Super Department will be quickly gaining authority in what, for many, are new areas. Of course, sports, DC, arts, travel, and the magazine are as vital as ever. It’s a matter of time — and not a lot of it — until the full band, every aspect, is playing to its potential.

There’s much credit to go around for great stories, smart edits, beautiful photography, brilliant designs, inviting graphics, expert planning — really, too much to include here. Please know that I’m grateful beyond words. I’d like to say take the summer off, given how utterly draining this has all been, but, well, you wouldn’t want that anyway. Right?

My sincere thanks to everyone for so much hard and excellent work.

Brian

Trump, technology and the enduring appeal of conspiracy theories

Illustration via Pixabay

Last week Zack Beauchamp of Vox explained on the public radio program “On the Media” why liberals want to believe in outlandish conspiracies about President Trump. “One expert I spoke to on political misinformation said that conspiracy theories were a weapon of the weak,” he said. “They were a way to understand and make sense out of the world when it doesn’t seem to make sense to you or seems hostile to you.”

Beauchamp was referring specifically to the ridiculous drivel promoted by Louise Mensch, a former British parliamentarian whose disinformation campaign has taken in a few Trump critics who should have known better. (A sample: Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and House Speaker Paul Ryan were all about to be arrested because of their ties to Russia).

But I think Beauchamp’s insight is also useful in thinking about a couple of other theories making the rounds among liberals who are trying to explain why a boorish lout like Trump won: his campaign’s use of big data, funded by the shadowy Mercer family, and the proliferation of dubious pro-Trump websites and bot-controlled Twitter accounts.

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