Fakes, Hacks, Hoaxes and Tall Tales: The State of U.S. Media in the Post-Truth Era

“Fakes, Hacks, Hoaxes and Tall Tales: The State of U.S. Media in the Post-Truth Era”–has been posted by Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning at the University of Malta. Thanks to Alex Grech for his leadership and to the internationally known speakers who presented at the Post Truth Conference Oct. 10-11 in Valletta.

You can download the paper at the link below. My abstract:

“Since the 2016 presidential election in the United States, politics and journalism have combined to undermine reality to such extent that facts are alternative, and truth is not truth. All too often, social media are complicit in the obfuscation. This paper investigates that charge, exploring the role of 24/7 ubiquitous online access in creating a culture of lies, exposing inconvenient truths about American politics and news outlets in the post-truth era.”


Gucci Appoints Chief Diversity Officer

Gucci, facing backlash for a past blackface-appearing sweater, has hired Major League Baseball’s chief diversity officer, Renée Tirado, to head its “Changemakers Council” and help the fashion industry to become more inclusive. Below are examples of pulled products.

Renée Tirado has an extensive work history as chief diversity officer for such organizations as the United States Tennis Association, AIG, Major League Baseball and now, fashion giant Gucci.

According to Vogue, Tirado is the first such officer in the company’s 98-year history. The above $890 sweater was the object of a viral tweet in February objecting to the blackface design. Curiously, similar products–Katy Perry shows and Prada ornaments–were pulled from shelves, sparking discussion about bias in the fashion and magazine industries.

Although numerous examples exist, some of the most egregious in the magazine industry included Vogue misidentifying Noor Tagouri, 24, as Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari, 36, and WHO magazine confusing South-Sudanese model Adut Akech with images of Ugandan-Australian model Flavia Lazarus.

Tirado has been instrumental in advocating for more diversity, especially in business and managerial operations, in professional baseball. In the video below, she discusses how diversity can enhance leadership in the sports world.

Tirado hopes to instill a more diversity and representational influence in the fashion industry. As head of Gucci Changemakers, she will oversee $1.5 million in scholarships “to ensure a new generation of diverse and exceptional young people.”

Gucci plans to distribute $1 million per year over the next five years.

The fund will help high school seniors and college students who qualify for need-based scholarships–up to $20,000 per year–in these cities– Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington DC. Special consideration will be given to those planning to attend or are currently enrolled in a Historically Black College and University.

Another Gucci program will award thousands to students planning to study fashion design at an accredited four-year undergraduate college or university.

Vogue reports that Gucci hired Tirado because she was an outsider to the fashion industry. She is of Puerto Rican descent, reared in Brooklyn, and holds bachelor’s degrees in international relations and education from the University of Rochester. She earned a juris doctorate from Rutgers Law School.

Moments of Grace in a Dallas Courtroom

Brandt Jean–younger brother of Botham Jean, murdered in his own apartment by former police officer Amber Guyger–expresses forgiveness that metamorphoses into moments of grace during the sentencing phase of trial.

Many of us know the high-profile story of a former Dallas police officer who claimed she mistakenly entered the wrong apartment, thinking it was hers, and shot 26-year-old Botham Jean who was sitting on his couch, eating ice cream.

He posed no threat, but was killed by a white officer, sparking questions about police shooting unarmed African-Americans–not on the street, or in a car–but in the fabled safety of a person’s own home.

Guyger, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. With good behavior, she could be released in 5. She could have been sentenced to 99 years. Prosecutors had asked for 28 in light of her actions following the shooting, including no attempt to render CPR while Bothan Jean lay dying. Moreover, prosecutors discovered that Guyger in her past had shared offensive texts and memes in social media posts.

One stated: “People are so ungrateful. No one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them.”

While many believed the 10-year sentence was too lenient, given the murder charge and prosecutor’s request, Brandt Jean’s victim impact statement seemed to symbolize the life and beliefs of his brother Botham Jean,  a preacher and singer at Dallas West Church of Christ.

It should be noted that moments of grace in a courtroom are rare, if ever witnessed at all. That made it the focus of news. However, as filmmaker Bree Newsome states in a tweet that appears in a CNN analysis of the courtroom scene:

The focus of concern is the white person who committed violence and their redemption. … The Black person who forgives them is viewed through the white gaze lens as a model minority solely for their willingness to forgive. The Black person exists as a vehicle for white redemption.

Brandt Jean’s words of forgiveness was affirmed when he asked Judge Tammy Kemp if he could hug Guyger. The judge allowed it, and otherwise impartial court reporters said they held back tears, describing the moment.

The scene also inspired Judge Kemp who gave Guyger her personal bible and told her to read John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life). They, too, shared a hug.

WFAA investigative producer Jason Trahan said, “I have never seen anything like that in 20 years covering courts.”

Trahan added that once Kemp gave Brandt Jean permission to hug Guyger–something else he had never seen–“the whole tenor of the courtroom changed.” The judge gave her the prisoner one of her bibles. “Most of us in the courtroom were trying not to cry, watching this happen.”

Kemp told Guyger to forgive herself and reflect on the transcendence of grace while in prison.

Living Media Ethics describes the highest humane principles of forgiveness, sympathy, compassion, empathy and grace, informing prospective journalists and practitioners not only to recognize the values in themselves but also to capture them when they happen in public to others.

Those are the photos, stories, videos, podcasts and campaigns that win awards, build community and inspire others.

Generational Words Bias Biden’s Perception of African-Americans

It wasn’t so much the use of the term “record player” at the Sept. 13 debate that revealed former Vice President Joe Biden’s generational filters. The offensive idea that African Americans need government help raising children dates back to 1970s arguments about busing, segregation and social welfare.

Biden gave a rambling response to a question about slavery and his past statements about reparations and inequality. Here is the excerpt that came under intense scrutiny:

We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children,” Biden said. “It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school, a very poor background, will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

This was yet another incidence of believing poor, nonwhite children are inferior to Caucasian counterparts. In an Aug. 9 appearance in Des Moines, Biden said: “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”

Biden’s reference to words (“4 million fewer”) is intriguing. Living Media Ethics contains a section on words and phrases that provoke intense feelings–often ones we don’t regularly share with others–revealing hidden bias as well as generational and personal filters.

These are “trigger words” because they spark a reaction inside us and, consequently, cause us to lose perspective when we most need it.

Biden needed perspective and composure, especially since he was on national television in a vital debate at a historically black educational venue, Texas Southern University. A candidate for office should never make inappropriate racial comments. But doing so at a HBCU institution is certainly not the place to commit a gaffe that indicates insensitivity to audience.

While the term “record player” in Biden’s response betrayed a generational filter, the real triggers were embedded in the question of ABC News moderator Linsey Davis:

Mr. Vice President, I want to come to you and talk to you about inequality in schools and race. In a conversation about how to deal with segregation in schools back in 1975, you told a reporter, ‘I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.’ You said that some 40 years ago. But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?

Here are words and phrases that may have set off alarms in Biden’s bumbled response:

  • Segregation. Biden embraced segregation in 1975.
  • 1975.  (See above.)
  • Responsibility. “I don’t feel responsible for the sins, etc.”
  • Repair. Reference to reparations, which Biden hesitates to affirm.
  • Legacy. His own, including past statements on race.
  • Slavery.  All of the above.

Although Biden still enjoys a plurality of support within the African American community, journalists and social media are documenting his past views on race. New York Magazine published this retrospective:

Joe Biden once called state-mandated school integration “the most racist concept you can come up with,” and Barack Obama “the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean.” He was a staunch opponent of “forced busing”in the 1970s, and leading crusader for mass incarceration throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Uncle Joe has described African-American felons as predators” too sociopathic to rehabilitate — and white supremacist senators as his friends.

In response to ABC’s Davis, Biden did mention that he supported federal intervention to investigate the practice of “redlining,” in which neighborhoods were outlined in red on maps to indicate areas too risky for mortgages. Often, blacks were deprived of loans and home ownership because of that process.

However, this post is not about Biden or the race for U.S. president. The two-fold lesson here concerns media practitioners:

Impartiality. Media practitioners should be aware of their own trigger words. This is an important aspect of fairness. Broadcasters especially have to be cognizant of words directed at them, meant to spark a reaction in an initial or follow-up question so as to reveal their own biases on a topic.

Research. Journalists and practitioners should craft well-researched questions–just as ABC’s Davis did in the debate–containing provocative words to elicit a truthful response from a client or source.

Readers of Living Media Ethics and students in author Michael Bugeja’s media ethics classes at Iowa State University are asked to compile a list of their own trigger words and phrases that evoke intense emotion, based on generational, familial and experiential influences. They also are instructed on how to research a client or source so as to phrase interview questions based on past responses or statements on record.


Ariana Grande Sues Over Trademark, Copyright Infringement

Music icon Ariana Grande sues Forever 21 for hiring a look-alike model in a social media campaign rather than paying contractual fees in earlier negotiations with the company.

Ariana Grande has filed a $10-million lawsuit against Forever 21, claiming the company hired a look-alike model in a series of Instagram posts that allegedly included visuals from the pop star’s video song “Thank U, Next,” according to The New York Times

A legal analyst cited in the Times’ article said Forever 21 might argue it is “simply mimicking a popular fashion trend” protected by First Amendment rights.

According to Grande’s lawsuit, Forever 21 reportedly contacted her agents on a possible endorsement contract using social media. The deal, however, fell through.

After Grande discovered the posts in question, Forever 21 purportedly agreed to take them down, but neglected to do so in a timely manner.

Living Media Ethics discusses similar cases concerning how far one company may go in using trademark or branding images. Advertising slogans often are the subject of similar lawsuits.

Here’s an excerpt:

Advertisers, in particular, have to be wary about “word baggage,” or the alteration of meanings caused by social mores and other influences. A word like “king,” in “The King of Beers,” once may have connoted “tops” as in the Baby Boomer generation childhood game “King of the Hill.” In the 1990s this particular Budweiser slogan no longer seemed to appeal to younger consumers who considered the word “king” too aggressive or arrogant, associating the product with their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Nonetheless, Anheuser-Busch had invested millions in establishing its trademark and filed a notice of opposition in 2015 when a California company, She Beverage,” attempted to trademark its beer “Queen of Beer.”

The Ariana Grande lawsuit will test whether her icon status allows copycat advertising protected by the First Amendment or whether her branding claims supersede that argument according to caselaw on trademark and copyright infringement.


Another Governor Apologizes for Blackface

Last year Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam admitted and later denied appearing in an 1984 yearbook photograph showing a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan headdress. Now a second governor, Kay Ivy of Alabama, acknowledges wearing blackface while at Auburn University.

Details of Ivy’s participation in a racist skit are still emerging, based on a 1967 radio interview when she was vice president of Auburn’s student body. Ben LaRavia, her fiancé then, shared details of the skit involving actors crawling on the floor looking for cigar butts:

As I look at my fiancée across the room, I could see her that night. She had on a pair of blue coveralls and she had put some black paint all over her face and she was — we were — acting out this skit.

The New York Times reported that the recording was discovered when Auburn began digitizing archived audio tapes.

Auburn university notified Ivey’s office.

The governor did not recall the skit or the interview but said she could not deny the obvious, issuing this apology:

I fully acknowledge — with genuine remorse — my participation in a skit like that back when I was a senior in college. While some may attempt to excuse this as acceptable behavior for a college student during the mid-1960s, that is not who I am today, and it is not what my administration represents all these years later. … I offer my heartfelt apologies for the pain and embarrassment this causes, and I will do all I can — going forward — to help show the nation that the Alabama of today is a far cry from the Alabama of the 1960s. We have come a long way, for sure, but we still have a long way to go.

The history of blackface, associated with vaudeville and minstrel shows, also can be seen in movies and cartoons (Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd) and entails white actors wearing dark makeup. Depictions are exaggerated, demeaning, and responsible for stereotypes that still exist today.

Last year NBC “Today” host Megyn Kelly appeared to accept blackface, leading to widespread criticism and, eventually, to her show’s cancellation.

Alabama’s Ivey is the second governor within a year to acknowledge using blackface. Virginia Gov. Northam at first acknowledged and then denied that he was one of the two figures in a racist yearbook photo. He called a news conference, claiming he would have remembered that, because he once used shoe polish in a dance competition in which he impersonated Michael Jackson.

You can view that disastrous news conference here.

The fashion industry also has had to deal with blackface ornaments and products, leading to several apologies in the past year. They included shows, sweaters and ornaments.

Gucci issued this apology:

Prada issued this apology:

Katy Perry issued this apology:

I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain. We have immediately removed them from Katy Perry Collections.

Living Media Ethics contains a chapter on bias and stereotypes and another on fairness and apologies according to ethical standards in advertising, journalism and public relations.

PR Firm Sends Wrong Photos, Embarrasses Supermodel Adut Akech

It keeps happening in the fashion media industry, confusing women of color with counterparts who have similar names or ethnicity. This post is a reminder to journalists and practitioners about the unintended harm that they cause when they commit such errors.

In a mix-up reminiscent of Vogue’s colossal blunder, misidentifying Muslim-American journalist Noor Tagouri, 24, with Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari, 36. In the latest case of misidentification of women of color, WHO magazine confuses South-Sudanese model Adut Akech with images of Ugandan-Australian model Flavia Lazarus.

The public relations firm responsible for the error issued this apology:

OPR Agency last week sent a file of images to WHO magazine which resulted in an incorrect image being used in an article about Melbourne Fashion Week Ambassador, Adut Akech. The error was administrative and unintentional and we sincerely apologise for this mistake and any upset it has caused to the models involved, and our client the City of Melbourne.

Akech responded, “Not only do I personally feel insulted and disrespected, but I feel like my entire race has been disrespected.”

She sent this tweet about the mix-up, noting that her aim in the post was not to criticize WHO magazine but to assert that this mistake “doesn’t happen to white models” and that “publications need to make sure that they fact check things before publishing them.”

A similar mishap occurred in Vogue with journalist Noor Tagouri. She happened to see a copy on the newsstand and asked a friend to document her elation for being in a magazine that she had read since she was a girl.

Ms. Tagouri, a Libyan American journalist, is known for her documentary series on the mistreatment of the mentally disabled. She also has exposed sex trafficking.

For more information about her and her work, visit https://www.noortagouri.com/