Category Archives: Media

A Letter from Atwater Federal Prison

Those in the self-obsessed world of journalism Twitter certainly know, or know of Matthew Keys.

Perhaps never asleep, Keys was once employed by Reuters working in social media. Without retelling the story in too much detail, Keys was fired for “providing the hacking group Anonymous with a user name and password to log in to computers owned by the Tribune Company, parent company of The [Los Angeles] Times.”

Between when he was fired and when he was sentenced to a two-year term in federal prison for hacking charges, Keys ran an extremely active Twitter empire and a website called “The Feed.” Readers should of course decide whether the degree of punishment doled out to Keys was too lenient, too harsh, or just right, but the crime committed by Keys doesn’t negate the fact that his social media work was very useful to journalists and news junkies.

During the Ferguson riots, The Feed helped keep me up to date, as my wife’s family hails from Ferguson.

When I saw the news of Keys’s sentencing and subsequent arrival at Atwater Federal Prison, I decided to send him some reading material and a very brief note. (It was a copy of The Weekly Standard and a copy of Reason, which I had sitting on my desk.)

I don’t know Keys, nor have I met him personally, but we interacted on Twitter over the years and I knew how… addicted he was to it all. The Internet is a hard drug to quit cold turkey, like any drug is. I just figured that, even if not known for being a right winger, he’d appreciate any news and reading material. Coincidentally, our cover story was on the California high speed rail project not too far from where he is currently housed.

To my surprise, Keys wrote me a very nice letter back, thanking me for the reading material. And, I was right. He really misses the Internet.

I thought I might share an excerpt from his letter that those who know of him might find interesting:

I never realized how much I’d miss interacting online—particularly on social media—until I was forced to go without. Although it seems so inconsequential, lack of online access is just one of the many resources that could prepare inmates here for success in their lives and communities beyond their sentences. We really have few resources here to prepare for life beyond prison—for people with short sentences (or hopes through community pressures and/or the appellate process, as I have), this may not be a huge obstacle. For others—well, it’s no wonder the recidivism rate is high. They don’t call it the ‘prison industry’ for nothing.

Hopefully I’ll be able to publish some thoughts and experiences from here. Maybe it’ll make some difference.

Not to say those serving time in prison deserve the right to access to, say, Twitter from prison, but the current access is indeed lacking. Those without willing friends on the outside even pay a woman to run their social media accounts for them while they’re in prison.

Bureaucratically, I suspect the beginnings of a system would likely spiral into a litigious pro se tornado of lawsuits. (Why can’t I look at/access ______?) Perhaps it’s inevitable, as more and more Millennials head to the #BigHouse, that it’ll be a debate our electeds and courts will have to have.


The New Media Epidemic

This being the “new media” era and all, the Democratic Convention is replete with camera-toting journalists (I tote two) running around the conventional hall like shutterbugs at a rare animal exhibit.

Fortunately, selfie sticks — a modern scourge whose time appears to be waning — have been banned from the secure convention zone. Whether the reason is security or practicality isn’t known, but the ban is useless thanks to Facebook’s newest push: Facebook Live.

The advertising company and sometimes social network has been pushing (read: paying) content producers (née news organizations) to change their pixel orientation from words to video. Everybody loves video, and the statistics do not lie.

Which is why everyone is jumping to adopt Facebook’s new platform, especially at such a newsworthy event like the political conventions. In an effort to be helpful(?), Facebook itself has set up numerous Facebook Live studio outposts, sending out armies of helpful pushers to hand out how-to guides to unsuspecting journalists trying to file stories in their spartan media workspaces.

Mind if I Facebook Live you Facebook Living me?

Mind if I Facebook Live you Facebook Living me?

Given the recent changes in Facebook’s algorithm, the how-to guides are more of a demand letter: come embrace our video-centric future or get left out in the engagement-free cold. One can still pay Facebook to promote stories or content, but the theory is that if one successfully produces free content for Facebook through Live on one’s page, an increase in engagement will hopefully(!) drive more users to their actual website, where they can make money through ads or subscriptions.

Whether the content is any good doesn’t matter much to Facebook, since they get free content, engagement, and, ad impressions.

Remote television setups still have their place, this being a convention, but an increasing number of agile and savvy companies have been rigging smartphones and tablets to tripods and high quality microphones instead. Even the major networks are getting on board, giving cub reporters and producers an opportunity to get their moment in the sun.

Less wealthy content producers (I meant to say journalists, I swear!) are forced to lock their arms and hold out their phones raised at an angle, turning their two main appendages into… meaty selfie sticks.

On the face of it, people who engage in Facebooking Live look utterly ridiculous, like they’re taking an extended selife but with deleterious effects.

Navigating the already narrow hallways of the Wells Fargo Center becomes much more difficult the second Jerry Springer emerges from the arena, or another B-list celebrity (of which there are many) emerges from a roped off room and into the populace. Live in seconds, herds of human selfie sticks flock like moths to a flame.

The convention floor is considerably worse, since not only does one already have to dodge long telephoto lenses, security details, and traditional TV cameras… but now the locked-arm organic selfie sticks, which easily and quickly swing 360º to get that absolutely perfect angle of, say, Rear Admiral John Hutson giving his remarks or Lenny Kravitz reliving the 1990s.

The future is awesome, isn’t it?

Sadly, this doesn’t end with our bad media: it doesn’t end. Facebook Live is not just for the media set, it’s for everyone. If Pokemon weren’t bad enough already, many delegates or volunteers under the age of 35 with a phone and some free time are sharing their experience with their world of friends.

It doesn’t matter if you have four friends or four thousand: Facebook Live is by you, for you, but brought to you by Facebook and their advertisers.

Stream away, just not near me.

Vogue Writer Discovers Facebook is Political

The days of the year are dripping to a close and news outlets are trying to milk the slow news cycle for every available eyeball with year-end summary posts. Mostly, they’re recaps of who died or summaries of the news (like Google’s Zeitgeist, which seems to get more left-leaning politically every year.)

Sometimes, however, they’re personal observations that turn into a naive 1,000 word writ-large assumption. Enter Vogue and a writer named Michelle Ruiz.

It is her contention that 2015 is the year “Facebook got Political.

Um, what?

Granted, I run in some different circles. I realize it is not political for everyone else, and some people I am sure defriend me or mute me because I share links (perhaps too many) to political pieces, including my own.

“It used to be” Ruiz writes, “that only whacked-out distant relatives got political on Facebook.” I’m sorry, in what Facebook world do you live? I’m fairly certain everybody has a friend (like me!) who pollutes their feed with opinions they may not share.

“Lest anyone forget, this was a social networking site that trafficked in college party pics.” Yes. In 2004, but even then it was still sort of political!

“The unspoken rule was that it was a place for rustic wedding shoots, babies holding blocks bearing their age in months, and delectable dim sum brunches shot from above.” THIS WAS NEVER A RULE. In fact, it was quite the opposite: these are/were as annoying as political posts and an entire (now defunct) browser plug-in — which was amazing — was created to filter out such things. (Which is why my dog has his own Instagram.)

Ruiz further observes, almost comically:

This was the year I found out on Facebook that a guy I had a crush on in high school was, frankly, pretty racist (“Really? Black Lives Matter? All life matters!” he expounded in one status). Or that one of my favorite people to party with in college doesn’t share my passionate beliefs about gun control.

Ah yes, proof positive this guy is a grade-A racist. Just like Martin O’Malley.

It gets better. Ruiz was living in a Pinterest-board-like curated Facebook world, until just this horrible year:

Before this year, I can hardly remember posting anything political on Facebook. But as the discourse erupted every day on my feed, I felt more compelled to answer—and couldn’t resist in the cases of #BlackLivesMatter and gun control. For other subjects, I drafted impassioned statuses, questioned whether or not to hit “post,” and ultimately didn’t. Like journaling, just writing those statuses made me feel a little less fiery. As a commenter said on the aforementioned friend’s post musing about the new, über-political nature of Facebook: “There is a lot of frustration and anger about what is happening in our country on both sides . . . people feel they need a place to vent.”

And she couldn’t help it. COULDN’T. HELP. IT. She just had to respond! (Except when she didn’t.)

To her credit, Ruiz hasn’t gone full permaban on people who express (poorly or well) opinions with which she doesn’t agree:

As tempted as I’ve been to unfriend or unfollow those people with whom I don’t agree, I haven’t actually followed through.

But there’s no blame in that, no unwritten rule that it’s not cool. Facebook is already a big cognitive dissonance machine for many.

The contention that this is the year Facebook got political, to me at least, rings hollow. Not 2008, not during Obamacare, not during 2010, 2012, or 2014. This year.

Perhaps it’s the year that Michelle Ruiz’s strangely non-political Facebook world got political. I doubt that’s been the case for many other people.


What I Saw at the Trump Rally

A Trump supporters heckles the media.

Over at the WEEKLY STANDARD, I have a piece on last night’s Donald Trump rally in Manassas. You can read the whole thing here, but here’s a brief excerpt.

Manassas, Virginia
Make no mistake: Donald Trump is running a serious, well-organized campaign. Wednesday night, it showed.

I arrived at the Prince William County Fairgrounds last night for the Donald’s first big rally in the Washington metro area just as the doors were opening at 5:30.

Story continues below

The Secret Service, now entrusted with Mr. Trump’s safety, manned two security checkpoints for rallygoers. One for guests, the other for media. I did not RSVP as media, yet, I went to the media check-in booth anyway to see if my press pass would help me acquire a coveted campaign trail event credential.

It didn’t.

Unlike other events, where journalists with government-issued press credentials can sign in, the Trump campaign required that latecomers email Trump campaign coordinator Megan Powers to ask for one. If she agreed, she would tell the on-site staff to give a credential. Or not.

Powers, who graduated from NYU earlier this year, presumably wields a lot of power here, deciding who in the press does or does not get access to the press area. And with the Trump campaign’s recent history of denying credentials to reporters from various outlets, I wasn’t about to wait around and take my chances.

After all, I already had a ticket to the event, since I was one of the first to register as a guest. I was made aware of the event because after buying a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat, I somehow ended up on an official volunteer email list for Trump supporters, and RSVP’d.

Read the rest of the item.

Ben Carson or Teddy Ruxpin?

I just love this video.

JLENS Tribute

Goodnight, sweet prince.

Colbert’s Late Show Interrupted by Hecklers

As Stephen Colbert’s new show is in its first week, the show has, so far, had a bunch of top-notch guests. Last night, for example, Joe Biden was on the show — complete with the press corps in tow… chomping at the bit as to whether he is going to run for President.

But, the show appeared, at least to the audience to have been stolen by some New York City cabbies.

I’ll turn things over to Sarah, who claims to have been seated in the audience for yesterday’s taping. She posted a litany of tweets about incidents involving Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (disclosure: who I met at the Uber DC launch party many years back.)

Since there are so many Tweets about this (what happened to blogging?) I am going to put her Tweets into a sequential, linked monologue. (Last word of tweet is link.)

Here we go:

So, so excited to see this interview. Some insane stuff went down. I’ll talk about it if they don’t show it. First thing got cut. Extremely edited. Makes sense.

Two separate times during the interview with Uber guy, some cabbies in the balcony yelled stuff and interrupted the conversation. They were criticizing Uber’s disruption of the NYC cab system, and they were very aggressive and made everyone rather uncomfortable.

I mean, I don’t blame them, their argument is valid. But I initially thought it was a bit, but the crew started looking around frantically. Instead of having the men removed, Stephen acted with complete respect and control. He listened intently to what they had to say. When the guy finished, Stephen said that he was planning on asking a similar question, and politely asked the man to be seated.

He then turned back to the interview and addressed exactly what the man had yelled about. It was very smooth.

The whole thing was cut, tho.

Then five minutes later, another man got up and yelled something else. The Uber guy started to talk back to him, but Stephen calmly touched his arm and quieted both him and the cab driver in the balcony. He said that he would ask the man’s question “in a more respectful way.” Then he again respectfully asked the man to sit down, and he asked exactly what the man had yelled about. Very, very smooth transition.

Both encounters and all references to them were cut for the air. The Uber man actually had some decent (prepared) answers to the questions, & Stephen was able to make it funny, but Biden deserved more air.

But – it was truly remarkable to see how Stephen handled the whole interview. He easily could have had the men removed. But instead, he truly listened to what they had to say and directly incorporated their concerns into the interview, completely smoothly. It was incredible to see how well Stephen handled it all. Absolute class and respect, the whole time.

And he had complete, *complete* control over the entire theatre. The audience, the band, the crew – we were all confused/a little scared, but Stephen calmed and quieted everyone. He didn’t call for security, he just dealt with the men and then continued an excellent interview. It was a fantastic thing to watch happen.

He handled it with class and earnestness & showed just how skilled he is as a performer and host.

I’m actually sort of sad none of it made the cut. They must’ve talked for at least 15 mins, & what they showed was kind of awkward & short. But I understand why they didn’t show it all.

I’m just glad I got to witness it and see in person just how phenomenal Stephen Colbert is. Sorry I just tweeted like three essays, but I wanted to put it out there. Important stuff.

Confused? So am I. Unless you were in the audience tonight (some WH poolers were, but this didn’t make the pool report, so I assume they missed it) there is no way of knowing what was said, what Colbert did, and what made it to air.

However, some reporters from Business Insider and BuzzFeed were there. I suspect they’ll have more substantive reports come morning. Until then, a few questions/thoughts:

  • Why let hecklers get away with it? In this instance, after Colbert reacted, allegedly, nicely to the first cabbie, yet the second later chimed in. Would the same thing have happened if you just kicked the first one out? Perhaps.
  • Letting hecklers go into a monologue, and listening until they finish just seems like a bad idea. I’m not a producer, but that’s bullshit. Subjecting guests to that is a dumb move.
  • Only Colbert and his writers know if it is indeed true whether Colbert was “planning on asking a similar question” to the ones the hecklers brought up. This could just be a disarming tactic, but it could become a very bad precedent. Granted, only the people who are in the audience know what was said in the room and what aired or didn’t air.
  • BUT, consider that on any given night, reporters from BI and BF, or any other outlet are in the audience… you never know who is there. If you start caving to hecklers and suggest you were about to ask their questions to calm them down (Colbert is democratizing the questions, as we saw with Jeb Bush) you only encourage people to act badly. And it’s weird if you ask the questions they asked before you, and don’t air them. Seems crazy.
  • If guests know you might make them answer questions from the audience to keep hecklers at bay (albeit reworded by the host) that might cause good potential guests to forego the show. After all, Colbert doesn’t have subpoena power to require guests to appear, there are alternatives.
  • Which is an interesting question, heckler tactics aside: Do you offer a cushier interview or do you let things run like the wild west? In television, it can go both ways.

Which way will Colbert go? Perhaps we’ll find out in the late morning.

Josh Earnest Pleads the Fizzifth

A Parody of his press conference.

Hillary Feels the Bern

From this week’s “Daily Ledger” on One America News Network.

The Facebook Diet

A month ago, I heard about Facebook Lite. It seemed pretty awesome, given how cumbersome having Facebook on your mobile device has become.

The app most people have is huge, takes up a not insignificant amount of data and RAM, and at least for me — it interferes with the ability of my wifi-first Republic Wireless phone to make phone calls. And we haven’t even gotten to the double down monstrosity that is Facebook messenger.

God, that thing is terrible. Why can’t we just send messages from the app like we used to? ::crickets:: Oh, right — the ability to make phone calls and video calls from Facebook. Something everybody wanted. Or not.

I began my Facebook diet by deleting Messenger. The horror! I couldn’t instantly respond to my friends with text, audio, video, or stickers!

I got over it quickly.

A few days later, I had enough with the Facebook app and the silly requirement that I send messages from Messenger. So, last week, I deleted Facebook entirely from my phone.

Did I miss it? Sure, a little. But the thought of reinstalling it and Messenger made me mad, so gradually it faded into nothingness. Until I remembered my failed attempt to use a proxy to pretend I was in a third-world country to download Facebook Lite.

Surely, some evil genius had found a way to get the .apk file — they did. I downloaded it, and it is awesome. Think of it like if Facebook stopped caring about marketing and advertising — their core business — and designed an app for that senior citizen phone the “Jitterbug.”

Facebook Lite is Facebook without, as Miller beer used to kid, the GHT. It, as Zuck himself notes, is less than 1 MB in size. And it can do pretty much everything you’d want it to.

If you want to give it a try (disclosure: by downloading you are doing so at your own risk) do so here. If you’re sick of the Twitter app for your phone, I’d recommend Echofon Pro.