Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Distractions In the Time of Cholera

So Donald Trump landed in Puerto Rico, and to everybody's pseudo-shock, immediately discerned that as bad as things might seem to the naked lying eye, they don't hold a candle to the real American disaster known as Katrina. He does have a point, though, because given the delayed federal response and the lack of vehicles and fuel and personnel, they still haven't gotten around to bringing out all the bodies. So far, maybe two dozen people have officially been declared dead, compared to the nearly two thousand who were robbed, by dint of infrastructure neglect, of their lives in New Orleans. And the aftermath of Hurricane Maria promises to be a very long and lethal disaster indeed.

But as reported by The Hill, a Beltway political gossip organ, the most important scandal today is not that the collapsed electrical grid had deliberately been primed for destruction by the austerity measures imposed from on high by the US government and predatory Wall Street creditors on the say-so of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The real scandal of Trump's stage-managed visit is that he rudely snubbed his latest Twitter nemesis, the female mayor of San Juan, when he proffered his gratuitous thanks to the military and other dignitaries.

 He wouldn't even say her name. Carmen Cruz apparently isn't doing a heckuva job. She is sadly not a Perfect Ten.

So to protect all the guilty, the media emphasis has been duly placed upon how doubly unappealing Donald Trump is whenever his serial misogyny collides with his serial racism. Cue the outrage. And definitely change the subject, which in a just and sane world would be the hidden human suffering of serially ignored people.

In other news which serves to direct all the blame toward Donald Trump, and to deflect it from cruel, longstanding bipartisan US policy decisions adversely affecting the economic and social well-being of Puerto Ricans, New York Times pundit Paul Krugman has created a nice little journalistic side-scandal of his own.

It seems that the good professor and Laureate of a generous bank-issued Nobel prize had falsely claimed that not only is there an outbreak of deadly cholera in Puerto Rico, Trump himself had caused it! (Trump's ramping-up of Barack Obama's terroristic drone wars with the help of the US-weaponized Saudis has indeed caused an actual cholera outbreak in Yemen, but that saga of human suffering has, for the most part, been dutifully ignored by American media.)

On September 30th, Krugman feverishly tweeted:
Cholera. In a US territory. Among US citizens. In the 21st century. Heckuva job, Trumpie.
He later partially retracted this false information by allowing that it was not (yet) confirmed. But it was his days-long delay in actually scrubbing* his original Tweet that is the most troubling aspect of this brouhaha. Even real journalists make factual mistakes on Twitter all the time, and they usually make prompt corrections and apologize when they're called out.

Not Paul Krugman, though.

But he finally did respond publicly today in a terse "explainer" in the Times' deliberately obscure new "Reader Center" section - complete with a fawning  introduction by his editors, who gratuitously mention his academic bona fides in the apparent hope of softening the credibility blow to one of their star columnists. Krugman will not apologize - he will merely be thoughtfully rueful as befits his status:
The Reader Center is a newsroom initiative that is helping The Times build deeper ties with our audience.
In this piece, Paul Krugman, an Op-Ed columnist for The Times and a Nobel laureate, reflects on (my bold) sending an inaccurate tweet about the presence of cholera in Puerto Rico.
"On cholera, in the heat of the moment, I got sloppy. I saw a tweet about cholera from someone I usually take seriously, assumed there was reporting behind it, and tweeted it out. I was wrong, and admitted the error.
That’s a warning about Twitter, and how easy it is to be careless; I will be more careful next time.
What’s important is not to let some exaggeration distract from the terrible reality in Puerto Rico."
As of this writing, I am the only reader to become distracted enough by his distraction from all the distractions to take advantage of these deeper audience ties and actually reply to his pabulum. My published comment:
 "Reader Center" is not a worthy substitute for the now-defunct Public Editor's position. Margaret Sullivan probably would never have allowed Paul Krugman to get away with this flippant pseudo-apology.
He tries to blow the whole thing off with a "let's move on, nothing to see here, folks" excuse for his Tweet, which displayed not so much compassion for Puerto Ricans as it did gratuitous contempt for Trump.

Additionally, he only partially retracted his original Tweet, with a shoulder-shrugging "OK, cholera not confirmed. Conjunctivitis yes; lack of clean water (situation worsening, not improving) makes it a risk. But not certain."

Moreover it took him days to actually scrub* the original Tweet, after it had garnered more that 32,000 "likes" and about 14,000 retweets. In other words it went about as "viral" as an epidemic of dysentery. His choleric correction, on the other hand, got only 1600 likes and 500 retweets.


 It's telling that Mr. Krugman has only chosen to address this issue after the CDC, PolitiFact, and Princeton called him out on it. When such dicey outlets as Breitbart and Infowars instantly raised the alarm, it apparently was a matter of nasty Fake News sniping about virtuous but "oops" Fake News. No need to delete, let alone deign to reply.

The damage to credibility is already done. Heckuva job, Professor.
 * Correction: I'd assumed, in the heat of the moment, that because PolitiFact's link to Krugman's original false tweet led to nothing, that the professor had probably wisely deleted it. Then I double-checked. I was wrong; it's still posted on his account, and it's more popular than ever. I apologize for the error! (and hopefully the Twitter execs will include it in the cache of fake news that Congress is so intent upon acquiring.)


annenigma said...

According to an article at the Intercept, misinformation is deliberate because "Piqued emotion is a powerful commodity".

"There are a few numbers these companies live and die by. One of these numbers is the quantification of “engagement,” a term kept deliberately vague so it can be expanded more easily; it essentially translates to “things happening on the website.” For Twitter, this means tweets, retweets, favorites, and various other clicking activities. “More” is directly equivalent to “better for business,” no matter what exactly there is more of."

"There is, too, the problem that we just seem to enjoy being lied to and delight in abusing one another. Hoax posts and sketchy sites get traffic not just from fraud bots, but also from eager readers who care much more about tribalism and score-settling than about accuracy."

'Stop Expecting Facebook and Google To Curb Misinformation - It's Great For Business'


voice-in-wilderness said...

"even real journalists make mistakes on Twitter"

Krugman demonstrates my belief that careful journalists do not post on Twitter, even if they spend many hours reading on Twitter (it seems to have become an obsession with journalists, a kind of info-porn).

Karen Garcia said...

Just as I signed up for facebook and never went back, I signed up for Twitter some years ago and never wrote one single tweet. Call me a Luddite, but even creating this blog was an act of bravery for me. I didn't even know how to cut and paste links properly when I first got started!

Somebody replying to my Krugman comment said he had been a member of Ezra Klein's notorious "JournoList" about 10 years ago. It was made up of about 200 "liberal" pundits, bloggers, and political operatives who brainstormed policy and Democratic talking points in an email echo chamber relying mostly on confirmation bias. That got closed down over some ridiculous "scandal" so its alumni are taking their talents to Twitter. By the way, Krugman had also retweeted that odious and discredited "PropOrNot" smear article against progressive sites without bothering to fact-check it first. He assumed it was definite proof of Russian meddling. Not being among his million or so Twitter followers, I don't know what else he's put out there with no verification or independent thought.

Moon of Alabama has a good post up related to Annenigma's comment. He said all these Russian trolls and ads are nothing but clickbait taking you to sites that sell totally unrelated stuff.

Sometimes when I check the stats for this blog, I'll notice a sudden huge uptick of "hits" from Russia. Obviously these are not real Russian people, they are referrer "bots" who hope someone on the Google blogger platform clicks on their traffic link. I naively did it once, when I was first getting started here, and was taken directly to a porn site. These ad bots have nothing whatsoever to do with the Kremlin planting fake news stories on blogs and social media platforms. Nonetheless, the new Cold Warriors are freaking out at the gleeful prospect of fighting misinformation with more misinformation, one distraction with another distraction to keep everybody properly distracted from the real hell of their lives.

Jay–Ottawa said...

In light of what Trump said and did yesterday after landing in Puerto Rico, it's a wonder Air Force One wasn't booed off the island. Puerto Ricans are slow to anger.

No, the yellow flag of cholera has not been run up the flagpole in PR––yet, but, unless the whole population soon escapes to friends and family in the States, I can imagine the fever of Catalonia taking hold among the boricuas left behind in the ruins.

Two administrations ago, a calendar maker from the Syracuse area made lots of dough from Bushisms. There were more than enough of Bush's malapropisms for every day of the year, for a few years. Is there no enterprising calendar maker who can do the same to memorialize the tweets and live utterances of our current leader? Dark laughter is the last safety net over the pit of depression.

Monday, Mr. Fish had a keeper cartoon encapsulating the situation. It deserves to go viral.

Karen Garcia said...


I was shocked when Trump blurted out that Puerto Rico's debt should be wiped out. That is against everything sacred and neoliberal, a real slap in the face to what was once called the "Washington Consensus" policies designed to punish the Global South. Of course he is probably bullshitting as usual, or maybe planning on turning Puerto Rico into his own personal tax haven empire or some-such in exchange for his oafish beneficence.

If those Puerto Ricans get too uppity, though, "his" military can always bomb the hell out of them, as Truman did. They have always been treated as second class citizens, so that Trump is treating them as such as well should come as no surprise. But of course, it does.

Having family in Puerto Rico, I can also attest that it is still very much a mental colony. The rich, "pure-blooded" Spaniards literally live behind bars in luxury condos and estates. They fear and despise the rabble, who are a combination of Spanish, African and Taino aboriginal. Add the entrenched presence of the US military, which until quite recently used the island of Vieques as a bombing exercise field and poisoned at least half the humans there with mercury and other chemicals, and you have a perfect storm.

Oh, but Trump caused an epidemic of cholera! Or, if he didn't, he probably will. And if you disagree, then it automatically makes you an unpatriotic right-wing enemy of the state.

Great Mr. Fish cartoon and accompanying article by Hedges.

Jamie said...

The whole Puerto Rico/Trump disaster is just fake news by neoliberals. They desperately want to create another Katrina, even though the Feds are working far more efficiently to help the people of that island than Obama's crony government ever would.

Trump is a builder and actually understands the infrastructure issues:

“Well, the math stuff I was fine with up until about seventh grade. But Malia is now a freshman in High School and I’m pretty lost.”

- Dear Leader Obama (Transferred trillions to Wall St.)

Trump is now being blamed by corporatists for the neglect Puerto Rico suffered under many presidents.