The Boston Globe pushes papers nationwide to editorialize for vaccines

The Boston Globe on Wednesday published a deep, data-driven look at the facts and myths surrounding vaccinations called “The Last Best Shot.” In an accompanying editorial, the paper said:

It can sometimes be hard to recognize the magnitude of events as they’re happening. But in all of human history, no infection that kills so many has been conquered so quickly. It’s a staggering achievement. We have, not even two years after the disease first emerged, the kind of preventive measure that those who suffered through thousands of years of plagues and pandemics wished for in vain.

The project consisted of a vibrant digital presentation as well as a special section in the print edition. But who was this for? Massachusetts has one of the best vaccination records in the country. As I wrote on Twitter:

Well, I should have known, but today the Globe has unveiled a campaign to persuade newspapers around the U.S. to publish similar editorials. Nothing in Texas yet, but there’s one in Florida (the Miami Herald) as well as a few other states where shots are lagging.

This is similar to a push by the Globe almost exactly three years ago to the day to put together a coordinated effort by newspapers to push back against Donald Trump’s dangerous anti-press rhetoric, an effort that got quite a bit of national attention. We’ll see what happens this time.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month!

Researchers dig up embarrassing data about Facebook — and lose access to their accounts

Photo (cc) 2011 by thierry ehrmann

Previously published at GBH News.

For researchers, Facebook is something of a black box. It’s hard to know what its 2.8 billion active users across the globe are seeing at any given time because the social media giant keeps most of its data to itself. If some users are seeing ads aimed at “Jew haters,” or Russian-generated memes comparing Hillary Clinton to Satan, well, so be it. Mark Zuckerberg has his strategy down cold: apologize when exposed, then move on to the next appalling scheme.

Some data scientists, though, have managed to pierce the darkness. Among them are Laura Edelson and Damon McCoy of New York University’s Center for Cybersecurity. With a tool called Ad Observer, which volunteers add to their browsers, they were able to track ads that Facebook users were being exposed to and draw some conclusions. For instance, they learned that users are more likely to engage with extreme falsehoods than with truthful material, and that more than 100,000 political ads are missing from an archive Facebook set up for researchers.

As you would expect, Facebook executives took these findings seriously. So what did they do? Did they change the algorithm to make it more likely that users would see reliable information in their news feed? Did they restore the missing ads and take steps to make sure such omissions wouldn’t happen again?

They did not. Instead, they cut off access to Edelson’s and McCoy’s accounts, making it harder for them to dig up such embarrassing facts in the future.

“There is still a lot of important research we want to do,” they wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed. “When Facebook shut down our accounts, we had just begun studies intended to determine whether the platform is contributing to vaccine hesitancy and sowing distrust in elections. We were also trying to figure out what role the platform may have played leading up to the Capitol assault on Jan. 6.”

In other words, they want to find out how responsible Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and the rest are for spreading a deadly illness and encouraging an armed insurrection. No wonder Facebook looked at what the researchers were doing and told them, gee, you know, we’d love to help, but you’re violating our privacy rules.

But that’s not even a real concern. Writing at the Columbia Journalism Review, Mathew Ingram points out that the privacy rules Facebook agreed to following the Cambridge Analytica scandal apply to Facebook itself, not to users who voluntarily agree to provide information to researchers.

Ingram quotes Princeton professor Jonathan Mayer, an adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris when she was a senator, who tweeted: “Facebook’s legal argument is bogus. The order “restricts how *Facebook* shares user information. It doesn’t preclude *users* from volunteering information about their experiences on the platform, including through a browser extension.”

The way Ingram describes it, as well as Edelson and McCoy themselves, Facebook’s actions didn’t stop their work altogether, but it has slowed it down and made it more difficult. Needless to say, the company should be doing everything it can to help with such research. Then again, Zuckerberg has never shown much regard for such mundane matters as public health and the future of democracy, especially when there’s money to be made.

By contrast, Facebook’s social media competitor Twitter has actually been much more open about making its data available to researchers. My Northeastern colleague John Wihbey, who co-authored an important study several years ago about how journalists use Twitter, says the difference explains why there have been more studies published about Twitter than Facebook. “This is unfortunate,” he says, “as it is a smaller network and less representative of the general public.”

It’s like the old saw about looking for your car keys under a street light because that’s where the light is. Trouble is, with fewer than 400 million active users, Twitter is little more than a rounding error in Facebook’s universe.

Earlier this year, MIT’s Technology Review published a remarkable story documenting how Facebook shied away from cracking down on extremist content, focusing instead on placating Donald Trump and other figures on the political right before the 2020 election. Needless to say, the NYU researchers represent an especially potent threat to the Zuckerborg since they plan to focus on the role that Facebook played in amplifying the disinformation that led to the insurrection, whose aftermath continues to befoul our body politic.

When the history of this ugly era is written, the two media giants that will stand out for their malignity are Fox News, for knowingly poisoning tens of millions of people with toxic falsehoods, and Facebook, for allowing its platform be used to amplify those falsehoods. Eventually, the truth will be told — no matter what steps Zuckerberg takes to slow it down. There should be hell to pay.

Beset by legal woes and plagiarism, Snopes may be on the verge of extinction

David Mikkelson speaks on disinformation on the internet. Photo (cc) 2017 by U.S. Embassy Vienna.

The venerable fact-checking website Snopes may be on the verge of extinction.

Several weeks ago, Sara Fischer of Axios reported that Snopes had raised $1.7 million to fight a lengthy, debilitating lawsuit brought by one of its former vendors. The lawsuit stems from an ownership battle with the ex-wife of Snopes co-founder and CEO David Mikkelson.

“It’s been a tremendous strain on everyone,” Mikkelson was quoted as saying. “Encumbering a small organization to have to fork over $1 million a year for something that does not help us not at all — it means we are continually short-staffed and short of resources.”

Much worse news — as in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse worse — came last Friday.

After inquiries from BuzzFeed News, Snopes conducted an internal review and confirmed that under a pseudonym, the Snopes byline, and his own name, Mikkelson wrote and published 54 articles with plagiarized material. The articles include such topics as same-sex marriage licenses and the death of musician David Bowie.

According to Heather Murphy of The New York Times, Mikkelson will cease to perform his editorial duties, but will continue as CEO. It sounds absurd — it is absurd — but Mikkelson owns half the company, so it’s unclear how much more could have been done.

So now Snopes is in the position of having to beg its readers for money in order to defend itself against a lawsuit while at the same time having to don the sackcloth of shame over Mikkelson’s unethical behavior, which has resulted in 60 articles being retracted.

Snopes has always been my favorite fact-checking site because of its comprehensiveness. Unlike sites such as PolitiFact, FactCheck.org or The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Snopes would delve into the weird memes and dangerous conspiracy theories that people would post on Facebook, providing you with ready evidence to the contrary. For instance: “Did 45K People Die Within 3 Days of Getting COVID Vaccine?” (A: No.)

But it’s hard to see how the project is going to recover from this double blow. It’s a shame, but this wound was entirely self-inflicted.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month!

Ibram X. Kendi on race, antiracism and the problem with assimilationists

Ibram X. Kendi. Photo (cc) 2017 by the American Association of University Professors.

Later this year The Boston Globe plans to launch a racial-justice website called The Emancipator, overseen by Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman and Ibram X. Kendi, who runs the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Because I wanted to become more familiar with Kendi’s thinking, I spent several months listening to the audio version of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”

Definitive is a good description — 19 hours’ worth. (The hardcover version is nearly 600 pages long.) Kendi traces 500 years of racist thought, from the early Portuguese explorers up to the dawn of the Trump era. Published in 2016, “Stamped” won a National Book Award.

Kendi’s scholarship is daunting, and the audio version probably isn’t the best way to take it all in. His organizational scheme is to tell the history of racism in America through the lives of five key figures — Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Davis. Mather and Jefferson are the hypocritical white semi-liberals of their day. Garrison, in Kendi’s view, failed to overcome his own racist ideas despite fighting passionately against slavery. DuBois moved beyond the racist stereotypes that hampered his early writing to emerge in his later years as a true antiracist.

Davis is the most problematic of Kendi’s five. I don’t think he quite succeeds in establishing that the full breadth of her career ranks with those of the other four. Despite his best efforts, Davis comes across as someone whose significance waned over the decades following her days as an iconic revolutionary in the early 1970s.

In addition to the five people he places at the center of his narrative, Kendi builds his argument around two big ideas. The first is that there are two types of racists, white supremacists and what he calls “assimilationists.” Posited against these two groups are antiracists. So who are the assimilationists? Essentially they are well-meaning liberals who believe that the route to Black advancement is through betterment, education and becoming more like white people. (As Kendi notes, this view depends on ignoring the reality that white people are no more immune from the effects of poverty and other social ills than Black people or any other racial group.)

The assimilationist camp is a large one. Kendi says he was among that group early in his career, as is former President Barack Obama. In listening to “Stamped,” I concluded that I would have to place myself within the assimilationist group as well; I also concluded that not all assimilationist ideas are bad, though we would do well to ask ourselves where those ideas come from and why we hold them.

Kendi’s second big idea is to redefine racism as effect rather than as cause. It’s an idea he explores at length in a recent podcast with Ezra Klein. I recommend you give it a listen, as it serves as an excellent introduction to Kendi’s work. To understand Kendi’s argument, consider his take on theories of Black inferiority and their relationship to slavery. What most of us were taught is that slaveholders justified their evil practice because of false notions that Black people were not as intelligent as whites. Kendi says we have it exactly backwards — that slavery came first, and the theories of Black inferiority were developed after the fact as a way of maintaining slavery.

What does this look like in practice? Consider same-sex marriage. Many LGBTQ activists believed that overcoming hostility to homosexuality was crucial to building support for marriage equality. But as Kendi would have it, the Supreme Court’s legalizing of same-sex marriage resulted in a rapid decline in hostility to LGBTQ people. In other words, ideas follow actions rather than the reverse.

Finally, a word about audiobooks: You don’t have to buy them from Audible, which is now part of the Amazon empire. I buy them from Libro.fm, which sends some of the revenues I give them to An Unlikely Story, my favorite independent bookstore. If you like audiobooks, I hope you’ll give Libro a try.

This post was part of last week’s newsletter for Media Nation members. If you’d like to sign up for the newsletter for just $5 a month, please click here.

In the beginning: Emily Rooney and the early days of the WGBH-WBUR rivalry

Photo (cc) 2019 by Dan Kennedy

Twenty-four years ago, Emily Rooney — whose long-running media-criticism program, “Beat the Press,” on which I was a panelist, was canceled last week by GBH News — was just beginning a new phase of her career, as host and executive editor of the news and public-affairs program “Greater Boston.” I wrote a piece for The Boston Phoenix about her debut as well as the state of the rivalry between WGBH and WBUR — a rivalry that, if anything, is more intense today than it was then. This story was published on Feb. 7, 1997. I’m republishing it here courtesy of the Northeastern University Archives.

Making waves

With commercial stations going lowbrow, Boston’s public broadcasters are fine-tuning their strategies. The question: are WGBH & WBUR doing their duty?

The Boston Phoenix • Feb. 7, 1997

Emily Rooney is taping the intro to a segment of WGBH-TV’s new local public-affairs show, Greater Boston. Or trying to, anyway. It’s been a long day. Her feet are killing her. And her first few attempts at hyping an interview with Charles Murray, the controversial academic who’s currently promoting his new book on libertarianism, haven’t gone particularly well.

After several tries, though, she nails it. “That was warmer,” says a voice in the control room. “That was very nice.”

She sighs, visibly relieved at getting a break from the unblinking eye of the lens.

Rooney, the former news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), may be a respected newswoman, but the debut of Greater Boston last week showed that her transition to an on-camera role is going to take some time. And if Rooney and Greater Boston are struggling to find their voice, so, too, is WGBH.

Continue reading “In the beginning: Emily Rooney and the early days of the WGBH-WBUR rivalry”

In which Mike Beaudet and I try to make sense of CNN’s Chris Cuomo problem

By Peter Ramjug

Chris Cuomo is expected to be back on the air at CNN this week. Questions still swirl around him following the resignation of his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the role the cable network star played in advising the governor through his political crisis and how the network will handle one of the biggest stories of the year going forward.

Cuomo will likely keep his job, say Northeastern journalism faculty experts Dan Kennedy and Mike Beaudet, even as media watchdog groups and others have called for him to step down or be fired for his involvement with the matter. They say network management and Chris Cuomo himself share blame for a “messy situation” that blurred personal and professional lines between the anchor and his embattled sibling.

Read the rest at News@Northeastern.

Best wishes to Emily Rooney as ‘Beat the Press’ comes to an end after 22 years

Our 20th anniversary show, Dec. 7, 2018

Major local media news today as GBH News has announced that it’s canceling “Beat the Press” after a 22-year run. I am proud to have been part of the show since its first year, 1998, and to have been a regular for many of those years. And I’m grateful to Emily Rooney, the host and creator of the show. We’ve been on hiatus since June 11; as it turns out, that was our finale.

I’ll continue writing my weekly column on media and politics for GBH News.

It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling right now. For so many years, heading over to GBH to record “Beat the Press” was simply what I did on Friday afternoons. I hugely enjoyed getting to know Emily, Callie Crossley and everyone else. (I’ll stop at Emily and Callie because if I start naming names, I’ll leave too many out.)

Emily began hosting “Greater Boston” in the mid-’90s. From the beginning it was a Monday-through-Thursday show, with the Friday slot originally taken up by something called “The Long and the Short of It,” with Robert Reich and Alan Simpson. After that show had run its course, Emily pitched “Beat the Press” to WGBH executives (yes, the station still had a “W” back then), and we were off and running.

I haven’t had a chance to talk with Emily yet, but I wish her all the best. She is a legendary figure in Boston media, as news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), at the national level and, for the past quarter century, at GBH News. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Finally, best wishes to Kara Miller, whose program on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM), “Innovation Hub,” will be coming to an end later this year as well.

What follows is the press release from GBH News:

GBH continues to build a multiplatform news organization that provides our community with the most distinctive, relevant and interesting stories of the day. GBH News is deepening its focus on audience-centered local stories, and concentrating its editorial efforts on the critical issues of education, social justice, Covid/public health and politics. As a result, GBH will discontinue production of two weekly programs, Beat the Press with Emily Rooney, which examines the local and national media, and the national radio series Innovation Hub with Kara Miller.

“This was a difficult decision. Beat the Press has been one of GBH’s longest running news shows and has provided viewers with informative and thought-provoking insight, commentary and perspective on the workings of the media. We are grateful to Emily Rooney for her award-winning work, her dedication to her craft, and her many contributions to GBH over 24 years.”

Innovation Hub has given us a deeper understanding of the inventive spirit of human ideas and technology over the course of a decade. We thank Kara Miller and the Innovation Hub production team for their exceptional work, creativity and contributions to public media.”

– Pam Johnston, General Manager GBH News

Beat the Press is currently on summer hiatus and will not return in September; Innovation Hub will continue to air through mid-November in national distribution with PRX.

A media scholar explains why news for the liberal elite is hurting us all

Previously published at GBH News.

As technological and cultural forces have ripped apart the economic foundations of local and regional journalism, news executives have desperately sought out audiences with the money and inclination to pay.

These audiences — affluent, well-educated, liberal and overwhelmingly white — favor news organizations with a national focus such as The New York Times, NPR and the “PBS NewsHour.” Meanwhile, marginalized Americans, from urban communities of color to the rural white working class, have been left behind.

In her new book, “News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism,” Nikki Usher tracks the decline of what she calls “Goldilocks newspapers” — large regional papers like The Boston Globe, The Dallas Morning News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Unlike the fairy tale, though, Usher’s definition of Goldilocks papers are places where everything is just wrong — the outlets are too large to serve local communities, too small to contend with national media and unable to compete with Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market. (Disclosure: Usher interviewed me for her book.)

“Losing local news … leaves national news to pick up the slack,” Usher writes, “meaning many people in the United States do not see where they live or people like them authentically presented in the news.”

Usher, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, earned her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and is a Harvard graduate. The following email interview has been lightly edited.

Q: You argue that the economic challenges facing journalism have led news organizations to pursue an audience that is mostly white, liberal and affluent. How did we get here?

A: For decades, news organizations have sought to reach so-called quality audiences, or audiences that advertisers want to reach — so trying to reach those with disposable income is always the goal, right? It’s important to remember that for most of contemporary history, newspapers, magazines, broadcast television and radio made their money by selling audiences to advertisers. However, since the 1960s and 1970s, newspapers strategically moved away from selling to working-class audiences to focus on those profiting from the post-war boom.

But now we’re in a really different era. The traditional advertising model for newspapers, in particular, has collapsed, thanks to the upside-down logics of digital advertising and the changing dynamics, interests and behavior of digital audiences. When it comes to digital, audiences for local news are especially tiny. And we have market failure for local newspapers, meaning that the market is no longer supporting the costs of production and distribution. This is a real, actual crisis, with at least 1,800 communities losing a local newspaper since 2004.

So this is the context: the audiences for newspapers are smaller and the traditional ad model is broken. In a state of market failure, pre-existing inequities in coverage and access are amplified. News organizations have to focus on those most likely to pay for a digital subscription. The news organizations most likely to survive are large, national news organizations like The New York Times, which can scale these digital subscriptions.

Who are those who can and will pay? Well, those with disposable income who have the cultural capital to recognize that local journalism matters. That veers affluent, although “rich” is more tied to an elite outlook and framing than it is actual income. For instance, a student at Harvard might choose to pay for a student-rate for a digital subscription and get hooked for life, or at least that’s the hope.

Income and class are horribly correlated with race in this country, but the reality of white audiences comes out of a much larger problem: the longstanding whiteness of the institutional news media. At the moment we’re having a reckoning, but, for too long, white voices have dominated the production of news in this country, excluding and stereotyping historically marginalized communities and journalists from these communities. Institutional news media has for decades been for and by white.

And, well, the Blue? Liberal audiences? Oh boy, that’s a whole depressing conversation, but the only people who still trust the mainstream news media are liberals, which poll after poll shows is the case. Additional data suggests liberals believe in the civic value of local news enough to pay for it. Markets shape journalism and journalists, and here is where we are: digital subscriptions are not for everyone, and the news produced is coming from journalists who have a white, largely culturally elite background — especially as it becomes more and more financially precarious to become a journalist.

Q: What are the implications for democracy?

A: So, there are lots of different ways to think about democracy. The cynic in me would like to point out that much of the kind of locally specific accountability journalism we worry about losing has been a historical anomaly, mainly present only in major cities at large news outlets as a post-Watergate phenomenon. So news equals democracy isn’t a historically accurate framing.

But journalism is more than just about information; it’s about creating a shared culture. That shared culture reflects the biases of its creators, but it’s important to have journalism to document the shared meaning and history of a place — and I worry so much about what happens when that is no longer present.

When we just have large national news organizations telling the stories about American life, and quality news is available only to those who will pay, we get a super-distorted version of democracy. You can have democracy — but it’s an elite democracy that serves the interests and information needs of elites, rather than journalism that facilitates the pluralistic multicultural democracy that we need.

Q: You and I talked about The Boston Globe’s success, one of a few exceptions to the overall decline of large regional newspapers. Do you think that’s because of committed local ownership — and could that be replicated elsewhere? Or is it simply a consequence of Boston being one of the last great news towns?

A: Boston is a great news town. Have they finally caught Whitey Bulger’s ghost, or are there other mobsters still lurking around in Southie? I had a blast as a Globe intern eons ago.

But in all seriousness, Boston has a lot of advantages that structurally predispose it to being a place where local news thrives: there is a large sector of wealthy, educated, liberal Americans who see the value of paying for news. Boston also has famously corrupt institutions, like the Catholic Church, and the value of exposing corruption is not lost on Boston area residents. Boston sports fans are rabid.

So yes, local ownership makes a huge difference. John Henry’s tolerance for loss is likely a little greater than some of the other billionaires investing in news, plus he’s really in the billionaire class. That gives the Globe a bit of a cushion that isn’t present elsewhere.

Q: Could a healthier media environment help overcome the political and cultural polarization that is tearing us apart? How?

A: How we define health reflects our normative and partisan bias about what constitutes a healthy news environment. For those who are on the far right, the present news environment, where conservative media now reaches deep into the trenches of American life, this is a golden time for a historical correction.

Before having this conversation, we need to remember that diagnoses of health, civility and incivility, and polarization can be turned into variables, but they are also in the eye of the beholder. Some data suggests that what is tearing us apart is not just our views but how we actually feel about people who are not like us. To overcome this, it might be helpful to have the press stop demonizing people who don’t act or behave the way you wish they would — at present, anti-vaxxers in rural America — and stop stereotyping historically marginalized communities that have long been harmed by problematic and extractive news coverage.

The seeds of our dysfunction are baked into the press, yes, but also, as I argue in the book, are part and parcel of the larger social, regional, structural and racial inequities that we have let grow.

Q: Choosing from among the possible solutions you outline at the end of your book, please identify one that you think would have the greatest impact.

A: Can I pick two? Antitrust breakup of Big Tech, which might restore some competition to the digital advertising market and undermine the monopoly over consumer data that advantages big tech companies.

The unlikely one? Having the Democratic Party or party donors start funding local news media directly, as the Republicans are already doing.

The media should learn from the Times Union’s example on ethics and independence

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo (cc) 2014 by Diana Robinson.

Just last week I praised the Times Union of Albany, New York, for its reporting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s history of sexual harassment and assault. Now the paper is having “a moment,” as a headline at the Columbia Journalism Review puts it, earning widespread plaudits for its principled — and colorful — refusal to accept off-the-record documents that were apparently aimed at smearing one of Cuomo’s accusers.

As Azi Paybarah reported in The New York Times, Times Union editor-in-chief Casey Seiler and managing editor Brendan Lyons were on a call last March with Cuomo’s then-top aide, Melissa DeRosa, when DeRosa told them she was going to send them documents about Lindsey Boylan, one of Cuomo’s alleged victims. It turned out that the governor’s office was secretly recording the conversation, and the transcript was included in last week’s report by state Attorney General Letitia James. (Secretly recording someone in New York State is legal.)

Seiler’s response: “Ugh, no, no! Not off the record. No, don’t send us anything unless it’s on the record, Melissa, OK?”

This is the way to do it. Although off-the-record conversations and documents can sometimes be helpful in establishing context, they are also incredibly dangerous, tying the hands of journalists and making them complicit.

As Jon Allsop notes at the CJR, the Times Union’s stand has nothing to do with the ongoing debate about objectivity; rather, it’s about independence:

There is, as Paybarah and others have suggested, something pleasingly old school about the Times Union’s approach to the Cuomo story. But at a moment of profound media-industry debate — that cuts, in caricature at least, down generational lines — as to the value of traditional journalistic norms and practices, it’s worth noting that what’s good about the paper’s journalism, as presented in the report, is not old-schoolness, in itself, but its strict critical distance from power, a value that many of the industry’s would-be reformers are trying to reassert, not muddy.

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan praised the Times Union as well, writing that it “maintained proper journalistic distance from sources, even when there was a price to pay in terms of access. Refused off-the-record information. Served the public interest.”

Of course, it’s worth nothing that the Times, the Post and some of the other major news outlets that have lauded the Times Union over the past week regularly allow the powerful to go off the record even when they shouldn’t. So in addition to ladling on the hosannas, I hope they’ll also treat the example of the Times Union as a learning experience.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month.

A community journalist nails The New York Times on COVID misinformation

Last week The New York Times reported on local news outlets that report COVID vaccine misinformation. The story, by Sheera Frenkel and Tiffany Hsu, focused on the Freedom’s Phoenix of, well, Phoenix and the Atlanta Business Journal, which were pushing falsehoods from Joseph Mercola, described as “a top spreader of misleading COVID-19 information.”

The story attributes the rise of misinformation on local news sites to the financial squeeze that has left community journalists bereft of the resources they would need to fact-check outside contributions from the likes of Mercola. Frenkel and Hsu also write, “Vaccine misinformation has also been published on sites that purport to be local news, but which are pay-for-play content websites,” but they do not describe the Freedom’s Phoenix or the Atlanta Business Journal as such.

Big mistake — and the Times got nailed by Ed Miller, the editor and co-founder of The Provincetown Independent. “This atrocious piece of sloppy reporting in the country’s best newspaper makes my heart ache,” Miller writes in his most recent commentary. He explains:

Ten minutes of online research would have revealed that the Freedom’s Phoenix is not “a local news site.” It is a national propaganda machine launched in 2015 by Ernest Hancock, a longtime libertarian publisher and radio host who was associated with the paramilitary Viper Militia that conspired to blow up government buildings in Phoenix. The Times reported in 1996 that Hancock defended the militia leaders, saying, “Their crime is educating other people.”

To which I would add: Come on, people. Take a look at the site. This isn’t even a pink-slime project purporting to be a local news organization. It’s pure nut-job right-wing conspiracy-mongering.

Miller wasn’t able to find out much about the Atlanta Business Journal, but suffice it to say that it’s not the Atlanta version of the Boston Business Journal. In fact, there is such a thing, but it goes under the name of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The Atlanta Business Journal, by contrast, doesn’t appear to be especially business-oriented, and it includes oddities such as a disingenuously straight-up story about the Arizona vote-audit fiasco and a livestream of a church service.

Great work by Miller. All I can add that it’s disheartening to see a Times story I took at face value turn out to be such a steaming pile of — well — misinformation.