It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.
What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.
It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.
Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.
And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better– much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.
First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.
A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.
The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:
And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:
So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:
We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.
Foxnews and conservative media outlets are regularly eviscerated for their biased coverage and/or their views on social issues, with homosexuality being at the forefront.
Some of this criticism is definitely valid, but it is also important to call out those who do the same thing on the other side.
Keith Olbermann is a prime example. MSNBC is basically the liberal version of Foxnews, and Olbermann is the liberal Bill O’Reilly.
On his show last night, he called former Colts coach Tony Dungy the “World’s Worst in Sports” because of comments he made about Michael Sam recently. Here’s Olbermann’s segment:
He starts off trying to make Dungy look like a hypocrite by pointing out that in February, Dungy said the NFL draft was, at the end of the day, based on merit.
It is not hypocritical for him to say that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because he, “didn’t want to deal with all of it,” if he were still a coach.
As a coach, you do a risk-reward evaluation of any potential draft prospect. Unfortunately, the reality of our society is that drafting an openly gay player brings a lot of controversy, even if 95% of it is created by the media (if you don’t the media will try to divide the Rams locker room by asking the players all kinds of questions in search of a controversial headline, you’re delusional).
Why do you think Tim Tebow isn’t in the NFL right now? Because his talent wasn’t enough to make up for the media circus that inevitably followed him around everywhere.
As Dungy said though, “…guys who produce and play well will be welcome in the league.” If Sam turns out to be a solid player, I don’t think Dungy would have had any problem picking him up in a few years after he had proven himself at the pro level.
Olbermann then calls out Dungy for supporting a ban on gay marriage in Indiana. Dungy has always admitted to being guided by his Christianity so this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
But him stating his support for a same-sex marriage ban seven years ago really isn’t relevant to the discussion of whether or not he would have drafted Sam today.
Every coach in the league, whether they were Tea Party Conservatives or bleeding-heart liberals, took into account the fact that Sam would bring with him a media circus and potential issues in the locker room.
Why? Because regardless as to how the coach feels, there are 52 other players in that locker room, many of whom may have a serious issue with Sam’s lifestyle. Whether or not you agree with their views on homosexuality, that’s the reality of the league right now, and it’s foolish to act like we shouldn’t take that into account.
Olbermann then calls out Dungy for volunteering to be Michael Vick’s mentor after he finished his sentence for dog-fighting. Two things here.
Firstly, Dungy wasn’t coaching, so he didn’t have to take into account the distractions that Vick’s history would bring. Are we really going to sit here and attack him for helping Vick reinvent himself and his image?
If Dungy was coaching, I’m sure he would have taken more time to think about the decision of putting Vick on his team. Which brings me to my second point: Vick’s potential rewards were much higher than Sam’s.
Vick was a perennial all-star and was regularly among the league’s top quarterbacks when he was arrested on the dog-fighting charges. It made a lot more sense for a team (like the Eagles) to take a risk on him than it does for a team to take a big risk on the unproven Michael Sam (which is why he wasn’t drafted until the 7th round).
It’s also worth noting that while Vick’s dog-fighting is clearly much worse than Sam’s gayness, it is less likely to create issues in the locker room. Again, that’s messed up, but that’s reality.
Olbermann saves the worst for last, insinuating that Dungy is a bigot because he had to deal with similar discrimination as a black player, coach and broadcaster throughout his years working with the NFL.
Standing up for your values is always a noble thing to do. But we also have to realistic. Dungy knew this when he was passed over for head coaching positions in the late 80s and early 90s in favor of less qualified candidates.
But he also understood the reality of the situation. He understood that calling out the racial bigotry of NFL owners when it came to hiring coaches would only hurt his chances of becoming a head coach himself.
It was this combination of self-confidence and realism that allowed him to become the first black coach to win a Super Bowl in 2007. Now, he has the platform to speak out and actually affect real change in terms of racial discrimination in the NFL.
The point is this: attacking somebody for being homophobic when they are clearly just being realistic is not only unfair, it makes that person less open-minded about homosexuality and less willing to discuss it.
People like Olbermann use this fake homophobia because they know it will get people riled up, the same way people like O’Reilly use issues like gun control or censorship of religion in schools on Foxnews.
I’m all for gay marriage and equality, but if we really want people to be more accepting of homosexuality, we have to put them in a position where they feel comfortable talking about it candidly. Pulling out the pitchforks on your politically-charged “news” segment to get more viewers is doing more damage than anything.
So to Keith Olbermann: stop taking advantage of people’s emotions and trying to put yourself on the moral high ground. Then, just maybe, I’ll consider listening to what you have to say.
A lot of the discussion and debate about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been taking place on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sources.
In light of that, I think it’s important for people to know that social media is by no means immune to government propaganda. Far from it in fact.
Back in August of last year, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that the Israeli government would be giving scholarships to college students who, “engage international audiences online” by posting pro-Israel tweets/statuses etc. online.
“This is a groundbreaking project aimed at strengthening Israeli national diplomacy and adapting it to changes in information consumption,”
the statement said.
Students at each university are organized into units. At the top is the chief-coordinator, who gets a full scholarship. Under the chief-coordinator are three “desk coordinators” in charge of language, graphics and research who receive lesser scholarships. Then there are student “activists” who receive, “minimal scholarships”.
The program is run by Danny Seamen, an Israeli public diplomacy official who drew the ire of Muslims in the region when he posted the following status on his personal Facebook page:
“Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan mean that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?”
Despite the fact that Israeli officials condemned the status, calling it “unacceptable” and saying that it didn’t, “reflect the position of the Israeli government,” Seaman somehow still ended up in charge of the social media propaganda campaign.
Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the volunteer social media recruits in a video conference shortly after the announcement. He said,
“We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front… We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold … refuting the industry of lies.”
It’s not the first time that the Israeli government did something like this. Just a year earlier, a Palestinian blog reported that Israeli students were being paid $2,000 for posting pro-Israel messages online for five hours a week.
I agree whole-heartedly with Netanyahu that we must “fight for the truth” and “refute the industry of lies”. But you don’t do that by bribing college kids to post pro-government sound-bites, and you definitely don’t do it by putting a man in charge who has proven he cares more about inciting anger and hate than he does about spreading truth.
The world we live in today is very much absorbed in the here-and-now.
Modern technology has given us access to a virtually infinite amount of information, and social media allows us to keep up with all the latest news in realtime.
To compensate for this overwhelming amount of information, we’ve drastically reduced our attention spans. Driven by the fear of missing out on some amazing video or juicy piece of gossip, we skip over people who post long statuses and skim over headlines instead of reading full reports.
Twitter based their entire business model off of this phenomenon, creating a service that forces people to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Our unwillingness to to be patient on the internet is causing an increasing number of very real problems.
The biggest value of the internet is that it gives us access to unprecedented amounts of information. But ironically, our predictability and quick emotions have created a growing industry of misinformation.
The trend is also affecting the so called “reputable” news agencies, which have rapidly degenerated to a point not too far above sleaziest of tabloids. The key word here is sensationalize. It’s so important I’ll give you the full definition (courtesy of my MacBook dictionary):
sensationalize |senˈsā sh ənlˌīz| ; verb: (esp. of a newspaper) present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy
So what are the two best ways to “provoke public interest and excitement” in our society today?
The first is pop culture. There’s an army of paparazzi all across the country just waiting for an athlete, musician, actor or other public figure to do something crazy, or dumb, or funny, or ya know… whatever honestly.
Reality TV has made us obsessed with these people, to the point where many people have to know what’s going on with their favorite celebs all the time. Hell, Samsung even made an entire app just for people to follow around Lebron James, who has a promotion agreement with the company.
The second way to “provoke public interest and excitement” is, unfortunately, anger. This anger is typically fueled by politically-poisoned social issues.
See, politicians have also realized that we’re not willing to put in the time to do any real research into what they’ve actually voted for and against in the past (to be fair, it’s tough for the average working person to keep up with), so their best tactic to get your vote is to get you mad.
Once the primary is won the real fun starts, because the candidates get to make you mad about stuff the things you’re most sensitive about: social issues. Guns, abortion, religion and education, gay people getting married. Most people have very strong views about these things, and these views are almost always closely entwined with our emotions.
Most people don’t vote for someone because they particularly like that candidate, they do it because they dislike or distrust the other guy even more. Get people mad about something that the other guy did some time in the past, and you win yourself votes.
Rather than basing our vote off of candidate’s long-term record, we base it off some random 30-second sound bite. And we wonder why Congress is so ineffective…
The media is complicit in this farce, because they know that discussing the issues that make us emotional will get them more viewers, so the news industry has become political polarized, with the major stations becoming more and more biased one way or the other.
Meanwhile, both parties are quietly screwing us all. Do you remember when we bailed out Wall Street after the housing bubble burst causing the recession in 2008? Well after that happened, legislation was passed letting investment banks know that the government would no longer bail them out for any risky investments they made (like the derivatives which bankrupted so many of them).
Well, late last year, the House of Representatives quietly repealed this provision, allowing banks to move their riskiest assets back into government-insured accounts. A few people reported it, but it went widely unnoticed for the most part.
Why didn’t it spark the outrage it should have? Because legislation, provisions and the general proceedings of Congress are on almost everyone’s filter of things not to read as we fly down our news feeds.
Need another example? How about the USA FREEDOM Act, which was passed by Congress after the Snowden revelations to end the NSA’s practice of mass collection of American’s phone records.
Well at least that’s what we were told it would do. But by the time it actually passed, the legislation was so watered down that it is virtually powerless to stop the mass collection of phone data.
Or how about our entire economic system, which is based off of the constant accumulation of debt?
When central banks set their interest rates super low, everyone borrows and spends a lot of money.
But when everyone realizes that most of the money being spent is money people don’t actually have, the bottom falls out.
That’s what happened in 2008. A piece of legislation designed to give more people access to housing ended up just making it very easy to give out home loans, even to people who banks knew couldn’t afford the payments.
But they gave out the loans anyways. Why? Because the government promised to pay them back for any losses. Banks went crazy giving out these toxic loans, and everyone started buying houses with money they didn’t have, slowly inflating the housing bubble.
Then one day, somebody realized the emperor had no clothes, and the housing bubble burst, dragging the economy down into a recession which screwed the average American pretty hard.
The banks, on the other hand, got bailed out to the tune of $1 trillion. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And this was definitely not the first time something like that happened. In fact, just 8 years before the housing bubble burst, we went through a similar downturn when the dotcom bubble burst.
This constant accumulation of debt causes cycles of inflation and deflation, but they happen over a number of years, so most people are unaware of the cycles, preferring to discuss only how the market has performed in the past few months .
The European Union has gotten so desperate to get people to spend money that their central bank recently set the standard interest rate for banks to -0.1% (yes that’s a negative sign), meaning that banks will actually lose money if they try to hold onto their cash instead of loaning it out.
The bottom line is that history repeats itself because we allow ourselves to be so consumed in the present that we forget about the past.
We’re so obsessed with staying “current” that we have blinded ourselves to the long-term trends which are really hurting us the most.
It’s basically a massive societal drug addiction: we opiate ourselves with material things to help us avoid confronting the serious problems that we all face together these days.
Rather than trying to do something about these problems, we get drunk off retail and high off social media, feeding the cancers of our world, rather than treating them.
We need a collective awakening to these issues. Otherwise, one day very soon, we’re going to reach a point when these cancers are no longer treatable, no matter how much we pray for recovery.
I’m really sorry to disappoint you but there’s no real study. I made it up because I thought the headline would make you more likely to read this. It’s a trick being used more and more often lately, but most websites won’t admit the lie straight off the bat like I just did.
If you use Facebook fairly regularly, chances are you’ve been conned at least once by a “satirical” website. I put satirical in quotes because what these sites do is a dagger in the side of all the real satirists out there.
The Onion, founded in 1988 in Chicago, was the first major satirical news outlet. Their stories were clearly fake, but they gained readers because the writing was clever and genuinely funny.
This shit is not the Onion. Excuse my French but it’s my job as a journalist to tell the truth as I see it, and the truth is, what these sites are doing is shit. They are exploiting ill-informed, gullible yet passionate people by intentionally generating “news” designed to take advantage of our most powerful emotions.
One of the largest of these new websites is The Daily Currant, a site that refers to itself as “The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record”.
This completely joke-free “satire” website got famous after a fake article they wrote about a New York pizzeria owner refusing Mayor Michael Bloomberg a second slice of pizza (because of his proposed ban on large sodas) made it onto the front page of the Drudge Report.
The article talks about a new law passed by the Texas legislature that forces women getting abortions to,
“…not only hear their fetus’ heartbeat, but must also come up with male and female baby names, speak with at least one faculty member from the local school district, and examine no fewer than 30 baby photos.”
The article also claims that any woman who gets an abortion will have to write a letter to a judge explaining her reasons for getting it, and that the judge could recommend her name and photo be published in an online abortion registry.
To a well-educated person who keeps up with government and politics, this article throws up a number of red flags pretty quickly, but to someone who is passionate about this issue and simultaneously ill-informed on it, these red flags are almost a welcome sight: they are confirmation of the belief that the Texas legislature (and conservatives in general) are waging a draconian war on women’s rights.
These political devils and male chauvinists must be exposed! This information must be shared with the world! And just like that, the lie spreads. That article is only two weeks old and already has over 3,000 shares and over 14,000 comments on Facebook.
The worst part is the 112 responses on the actual article. The moderators made sure to censor any comments revealing that the story is fake, and passionate people from both sides clash in an insane series of conversations which includes tidbits like this one:
…and this one:
These conversations may sound ridiculous to you, but go read the rest of the comments for yourself. Real people are having real conversations, feeling veryreal feelings of anger and hate towards one another, all based off of a fake piece of news.
Despite the fact that this headline may seem pretty fake to most, Empire News (like most of these sites) combines good, journalistic-sounding writing with a total lack of humor to make gullible readers mistake these supposed “satire” sites for reliable news sources. The student debt article is at 24,678 shares and 44,177 likes on Facebook already.
I know a lot of you are probably thinking, ‘Hey, if people are dumb enough to believe those fake stories, that’s their problem.’ Well, the fake sources are getting more sophisticated, and even intelligent people are falling for the trap.
Recently an article entitled “Big Hospital Finally Telling the Truth About Cancer” claimed to have obatined a “Cancer Update” e-mail from world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital. The supposed update made a number of false claims about cancer (like “everyone has cancer cells”), but cleverly mixed in some legitimate elements of holistic treatment, like carefully monitoring your diet.
The result? 634,366 likes, 474,147 shares and 335,023 comments on Facebook, as well as 6,012 shares on Twitter and 6,416 on Pinterest (the website has since removed the article).
And this doesn’t account for the hundreds of sites that re-posted the fake information on their own pages. I even considered posting about it on here until I read all of the overly bold claims it made.
With more and more people gaining access to modern technology, we get an increasingly large amount of our information from social media, relying on others to share good, reliable stories so we don’t have to find them ourselves.
“roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.”
Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat (which measures realtime traffic for sites like Upworthy), recently added,
“We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading [the content].”
These websites know that most people never even put in the time to read an article, let alone investigate its accuracy, so they design their articles specifically to push our most sensitive buttons.
The admins of some of these sites are making $100,000+ a year selling ad space on their sites, and the minimal amount of writing they do is all, quite literally, a bunch of made up shit.
Social media has been great in terms of increasing the voice of the individual and helping to break some of the media monopoly that was built during the rise of television, but it has also had the unintended consequence of increasing the amount of false info out there.
So how do we fight this growing monster of lies and targeted misinformation? Well, there’s a few things we have to stop doing on Facebook.
First off, if a headline catches your eye because it seems unbelievable, chances are it probably is. Don’t let your desire for the story to be true override your logic and skepticism.
If you are skeptical about a claim, try searching key phrases from the article on Google, adding the word “fake” or “satire”. People call out these stories for being false pretty early on, but you usually won’t find the debunkings on social media.
But by far the single most important thing you can do is to STOP sharing, commenting on or even liking links unless you are willing to vouch for what is in them. Don’t let others judge credibility for you.
With major media outlets become increasingly more like the tabloids in their sensationalist journalism, it’s going to be up to us, the individuals, to demand credibility and accountability from our news sources.
Otherwise, we may soon live in a world so saturated with falsehoods that the truth will become virtually impossible to extract.
NOTE: All of the specific stats on social media shares came from sharedcount.com. You can use this site to check the total number of shares for any public web address.
Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the country has an image problem. Since the events surrounding Ukraine’s revolution and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, public sentiment on Russia has been becoming increasingly more negative across the globe.
Apparently, the Putin administration believes that a big part of this is the way in which media outlets in America have portrayed the situation. So he decided to deploy a million-dollar army of internet trolls to help mold public opinion.
Svetlana Boiko, one of the team members for the project, said this:
“Foreign media are currently actively forming a negative image of the Russian Federation in the eyes of the global community. Additionally, the discussions formed by comments to those articles are also negative in tone.”
Boiko continued by elaborating on the importance of maintaining the Russian “brand”:
“Like any brand formed by popular opinion, Russia has its supporters (‘brand advocates’) and its opponents. The main problem is that in the foreign internet community, the ratio of supporters and opponents of Russia is about 20/80 respectively.”
The project specifically targeted Fox News, Huffington Post, The Blaze, Politico, and WorldNetDaily. E-mails obtained by the enigmatic Russian hacking collective Anonymous Internet detailed exactly how these blogger-trolls would carry out their job.
The trolls were expected to make around 50 comments on news articles every day. In addition, they were expected to maintain 6 Facebook pages, posting 3 times daily about the news and discussing new developments in groups on Facebook twice daily.
On top of that, the bloggers were expected to have 500 subscribers by the end of the first month. On Twitter, they were expected to maintain 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers each, tweeting at least 50 times daily.
E-mails hacked from the project’s leader, Igor Osadchy, reveal that the program is run by the firm Internet Research Agency. Starting in April, the firm began paying people to disseminate pro-Putin and pro-Russian content all across the web.
The Internet Research Agency leak is the first time that specific comments have been traced back to the campaign. These comments were made by Katarina Aistova, a 21-year-old former hotel receptionist on a WorldNetDaily article:
Though the Kremlin is denying the accusations and Internet Research Agency is refusing to comment, many feel that the evidence is overwhelming.
“What, you think crazy Russians all learned English en masse and went off to comment on articles?”,
said media executive and Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky, who also added rather hilariously that,
“If it looks like Kremlin shit, smells like Kremlin shit, and tastes like Kremlin shit too — then it’s Kremlin shit.”
Internet Research Agency is on pace to spend $10 million dollars this year, and half of that budget has been earmarked to be paid out in cash.
The reports have also been substantiated by two local Russian media outlets. Last week, the business paper Vedomosti claimed that the campaign was directly orchestrated by the government, citing sources close to Putin’s administration.
Then earlier this week, the Novaya Gazeta claimed that the project is being orchestrated by restauranteur Yevgeny Prigozhin, who catered Putin’s re-inauguration in 2012 and has reportedly helped run several other similar campaigns for the Kremlin over the years.
The hacked e-mails also include numerous exchanges with an accountant at the Internet Research Agency approving payments to Concord, the holding company for Mr. Prigozhin’s catering business.
The hacking group Anonymous Internet is not affiliated with the well-known American hacking group Anonymous. In an e-mail exchange with BuzzFeed, who broke the story, the hacking collective distanced themselves from your every day code-breaker:
“[We are] not hackers in the classical sense. We are trying to change reality. Reality has indeed begun to change as a result of the appearance of our information in public.”
To date, none of their leaks have been proven false.
Back in 2010, Dawson predicted that newspapers would totally disappear from Australia by 2022. After getting significant press from the prediction, he expanded on his theory by predicting this date for a number of developed and developing countries around the world.
Click the map to enlarge it.
Though the years may not be exact, Dawson’s predictions definitely reflect the trends here in America.
For the second half of the 20th century, newspapers thrived, and ad revenue grew steadily from 1950 until around the year 2000, when the internet really began to take hold. In just the last ten years or so since then, newspaper ad revenue has plummeted back to its pre-1950s levels:
Dawson sees the demise of newspapers as the result of a number of factors, including an increase in the portion of our world that is educated and modernized, an increase in government control and censorship of media at the local level, and the advancement of digital media technology.
Check out this graphic he made highlighting the trends he believes will lead to the end of the printed paper:
Well, according to the Canadian Meteorological Service (CMS), spending years studying meteorology doesn’t qualify a meteorologist to discuss any climate events that occur over a span of more than a few months.
“Environment Canada scientists speak to their area of expertise. For example, our Weather Preparedness Meteorologists are experts in their field of severe weather and speak to this subject. Questions about climate change or long-term trends would be directed to a climatologist or other applicable authority,”
said CMS spokesman Mark Johnson in an interview with investigative journalist Mike De Souza. However, this move follows a longer trend of strict government control over the field of science since Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected.
In 2007, shortly after he won the election, Harper’s administration passed a law that banned Canadian scientists from speaking with and/or sharing their findings with the media without first getting government approval. According to Climate Science Watch, media coverage of climate change has dropped 80% since the new law was enacted.
The three-man crew of American astronaut Reid Wiseman, German Astronaut Alexander Gerst, and commander Maksim Suraev of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency departed from Earth yesterday (5/28) headed for the ISS.
Ahead of the launch, the astronauts took questions from the media. One member of the media asked how the recent events in Ukraine affected the astronauts, seeing as Russia’s relations with Germany and the U.S. have been very strained since the turmoil began.
The astronauts response was awesome:
The three men have built a strong friendship over the years while training together.
“I think it means a lot if you look at our crew as not just a team of three different guys from three different nationalities or continents – we are actually a group of friends… Space is without borders, we fly to an international space station where we do experiments that come back to Earth and benefit all of us – they benefit all humankind,”
said Gerst in response to a question from a German journalist. They took this selfie during the interview to reiterate their unity.
The first thing I did when I started doing research for this piece was to search “donald sterling racist” on google. However, Ichanged the date range to only find results from before January 1st of this year. Google came up with over 600 results. A sampling of the best:
A Deadspin article from last July about Jeff Pearlman, who is writing a book about the NBA in the 80s. For the book, he talked to former Clippers GM Paul Phipps. Phipps told a story about when Rollie Massimino, who was coaching for Villanova at the time, was being interviewed by Sterling as a replacement for recently-fired Clippers coach Paul Silas. Massimino called Phipps the next morning and angrily informed him why he would be passing on the job:
“Here’s this guy [Sterling]… and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers.’”
An ESPN article by Jamele Hill from 2009 in which she started off like this: “Donald Sterling makes Rush Limbaugh look like Martin Luther King Jr.” She discussed the $2.725 million judgment Sterling had just been ordered to pay for his second federal housing discrimination lawsuit. She also quoted one of his property managers from the proceedings of the case- he said Sterling, examining a newly acquired property, explained that it smelled because,
“All the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean. And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.”
An ESPN article from all the way back in 2006 when my homie Bomani Jones (who had one of the best responses to this whole thing) broke the original story of the lawsuit which would eventually result in the massive judgment Jamele Hill wrote about in 2009. He also talked more about the first lawsuit, in which Sterling settled with the 19 plaintiffs for an undisclosed amount (he also had to pay $5 million in attorney fees). One of my favorite excerpts from Bomani’s piece (remember this is from 2006):
“It’s not Sterling’s job to bring attention to his ethical transgressions. That’s the job of the media. And as it relates to Sterling, we have dropped the ball. In American sports, issues of race are unavoidable. But when we turn our attention to those issues, we tend to do so in discussion of sensational topics. And we do so with little more than passing interest. We’re more concerned with people saying stupid things, transgressions that even undeniable racists could criticize. People from every walk of life are entitled to slam someone for talking too much. In Sterling’s case, we’re confronted with racism in its most problematic form. And up until now, we’ve said very little.”
This last quote makes my first point perfectly. Nobody cared when a rich old owner of a historically bad team was actively trying to keep minorities out of the apartments he owns, but a 15 minute conversation where he says a few racist things out of anger and jealousy is what brought the ship down.
The rise of social media has expanded our access to information and different viewpoints, but it has also prostituted our media. All major news outlets have detailed data on what types of stories are the most likely to “go viral” on the internet, and they adjust what they cover and how they cover it to try to tap into this virality potential.
This story was big not because Sterling was “caught being racist”, but because the way in which he was caught created a perfect, real-life drama of power, money, sex and scandal: billionaire NBA owner, caught on tape, super racist soundbites, recorded by his mistress who happens to be half black and half hispanic.
There were so many bizarre aspects to the Sterling story that every new piece of information just seemed too ridiculous to be true. We had to click the links to see for ourselves. The media was just drooling all over their keyboards. Updates couldn’t come fast enough.
And THAT is why we put Donald Sterling in the stocks of the Facebook town square and threw digital rotten vegetables at him. Not because we didn’t like that he was a racist, but because the crazy way in which he revealed his racism to all the people who didn’t know about it (or care about it) before the TMZ tape made the scandal a “trending topic” on Facebook and Twitter for a little while.
2. V. Stiviano Is The Most Interesting and The Most Vile Character In This Story
The striking and enigmatic V. Stiviano: the woman with only an initial for a first name who has been skating around with a strange visor on since the scandal broke…Well, actually she does have a first name…she used to at least. Apparently she was Maria Vanessa Perez until 2010, when she changed her name because she hand’t, “been fully accepted because of my race.”
She was getting millions of dollars in gifts ($1.8 million apartment, two Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Range Rover, and bundles of cash, among other things) from her sugar daddy Don Sterling, so why would she want to set him up all of a sudden?
Nobody seems to know. But it’s worth noting that on March 7th, Sterling’s real wife, sick of seeing Stiviano with all of the toys and money that her husband showered upon her, filed a lawsuit which accused Stiviano of, “engaging in conduct designed to target, befriend, seduce, and then entice, cajole, borrow from, cheat, and/or receive as gifts transfers of wealth from wealthy older men whom she targets for such purpose,” (apparently you can’t just call someone a gold digger in a lawsuit).
Now what happened between then and the TMZ tape is pretty hazy. Some people think Stiviano threatened Sterling to do something about his wife’s lawsuit and simply followed through when he refused. Some people think she made the tape as insurance in case she got in over her head. Stiviano’s lawyers have said she was not the one who released the tape to the media, and TMZ has declined to comment on their source or whether they paid for the tape.
This past Friday, Stiviano sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters of 20/20- it was the first real interview she had done since the tape was released. I guess real is the wrong word, though. The interview is an 18-minute audition for Stiviano’s future acting career. She tries her hardest to come off as the sympathetic young woman who is the only one who truly understands this monster with a heart of gold. The only problem is, she’s just a terrible liar and is very obvious when she is reciting scripted soundbites.
The journalism in this whole piece is also awful. Specifically, Walters fails to ask the two most important unanswered questions: if Stiviano is Sterling’s biggest supporter, why would she have recorded the conversation, and if she didn’t give it to the media, who did? Instead, Walters endlessly probes the nature of their relationship, trying to get Stiviano to reveal some sex secrets. Then she asks her a series of basic questions about whether or not she thinks Sterling is a racist and all that jazz. Yet another example of the media caring more about sensationalism than information.
This story is about a clever, silver-tongued young woman who seduced a rich, ignorant and vulnerable old man, a man who spent his whole life doing and saying whatever he wanted. It was only a matter of time before Sterling’s combination of bigotry, infidelity and reprehensible behavior caught up to him. His downfall just happened to take the form of a slender half black half Mexican woman with an exotic look, a pornstar voice and an insatiable appetite for wealth.
To me, Stiviano is the more vile of the two main actors in this drama. Sterling has never cared much about hiding his ignorant views, and has been silent for the most part since this story broke. Meanwhile, Stiviano is trying to take the moral high ground by playing not only the victim but also the merciful, gracious young minority woman who still believes Sterling isn’t truly racist at heart.
This is why she irks me more than Sterling- she’s pretending to be the lone protagonist in the story after compromising the two most fundamental aspects of her identity: her womanhood and her ethnic heritage. She sold both of these things out when she decided to play mistress for a racist old man in exchange for her luxury lifestyle.
(By far my least favorite part of the tape was hearing her tell him she would change her skin color if she could. Finding out why she changed her name didn’t help her case either.)
3. Sterling Didn’t Really Lose
A $2.5 million dollar fine is nothing to Donald Sterling (Forbes put his net worth at just under $2 billion). And even if the NBA succeeds in forcing him to sell his team, he will still be winning for a number of reasons.
First, it’s a good time to sell. In the past year, two sub-par NBA teams in small markets have been purchased above market value: the Sacramento Kings ($534 million) and the Milwaukee Bucks ($550 million).
Not only have the Clippers recently become a title-contender and huge TV attraction (Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan’s dunk-shows draw in a lot of viewers), but they are located in the second largest city in the country with a population more than three times larger than the cities of Sacramento and Milwaukee combined.
So, despite only being valued at around $600 million, most experts believe the Clippers will sell for closer to a billion dollars, 80 times more than the $12.5 million Sterling paid for the franchise in the early 80s.
If he were voluntarily selling the team, $200 million of that billion would go to federal taxes and another $123 million would go to California state taxes. However, a stipulation in the federal tax code states that money received from a forced sale or other “involuntary conversion” cannot be taxed (the idea being you shouldn’t have to pay taxes on something you didn’t want to sell in the first place). So, Sterling might walk away from the transaction with a fat, tax-free check.
4. The Game Has Changed
Regardless of how racist and ignorant the things that Donald Sterling said were, we also need to be upset that he was illegally recorded in his own home and nobody seems to being doing much to prosecute the person responsible (whoever that may be). If this had been a court case, everything that Sterling said on the tape would have been immediately thrown out as evidence, since taping a private conversation without the other person’s knowledge is a serious crime.
But this case was tried in the court of public opinion, where those things don’t matter. And that’s why I say the game has changed: public figures no longer enjoy the luxury of privacy. You can buy a secluded estate, get encrypted phone numbers and IP addresses and take every precaution to maintain your privacy, but you never know when a random comment you make could be discreetly recorded or a private e-mail message hacked.
And regardless as to how illegally your words were obtained, the court of public opinion is a bloodthirsty mob that cares little for your loss of privacy. No matter how much explaining, contextualizing or apologizing you do, the damage will be done. People don’t remember the truth that emerges after the scandal, they only remember the scandal itself.
Think seriously to yourself: how many times have you said something in a private setting, whether angry or joking or drunk or whatever, that you know would destroy your public image if it suddenly became a trending topic on the internet? If your answer is never, you’re probably lying to yourself. Which brings me to my last point…
5. We Need To Stop All This Moral Relativism
How many people would have cared about the Donald Sterling tape if he wasn’t an NBA owner? Not many. Besides the hollywood scandal allure, people were drawn in by the hypocrisy of a racist man owning a predominantly black team in a predominantly black sport. But the incoherent spoken racism heard on the tape is infinitely less consequential than the institutionalized racism of the housing discrimination issues from Sterling’s past.
We get mad when we think we have to, and then choose to ignore the things that actually should make us mad. Many of the same people who I have seen patting themselves on the back for criticizing Sterling’s racism would be quick to say institutionalized racism is a thing of the past if I started arguing in favor of affirmative action, for example. Do you really think Sterling is the only rich old white man who doesn’t want young minority families in his apartments?
One of the biggest reasons why race still persists as an issue today is because of large-scale issues like housing discrimination or the practice of funding public schools through property taxes (ensuring that the poorest schools get the least funding). But when people try to do things to correct these issues on a large scale, they run into barriers. Why? Because people are only willing to deal with problems if it means they don’t have to sacrifice anything.
Sterling was a perfect example: everybody who wanted to show how un-racist they were could simply jump on Facebook and blast the NBA owner for his phone conversation. Writing a status cost a person to show how “anti-racism” they were without actually costing themselves anything.
But what if they had been one of those people living in Sterling’s apartments? How would they have reacted to the discrimination lawsuits in 2003 and 2006? Would they have been publicly criticizing him for his housing discrimination if it meant more young minority families moved into the complex?
Or take the school funding example. Everybody was all for providing more funds to poor schools until they found out that some of those funds would be coming from the richer schools in upper-class neighborhoods. Then, all of a sudden, it became socialism and “class warfare”.
So my final point is this. Don’t say that you really care about a problem unless you’re willing to sacrifice something of your own to fix it, because all of the rabble-rousing pretenders in the crowd make it much harder for the people who actually do care to be heard.