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How Disinformation Splintered and Became More Intractable

On the morning of July 8, former President Donald J. Trump took to Truth Social, a social media platform he founded with people close to him, to claim that he had in fact won the 2020 presidential vote in Wisconsin, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Barely 8,000 people shared that missive on Truth Social, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of responses his posts on Facebook and Twitter had regularly generated before those services suspended his megaphones after the deadly riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021.

And yet Mr. Trump’s baseless claim pulsed through the public consciousness anyway. It jumped from his app to other social media platforms — not to mention podcasts, talk radio or television.

Within 48 hours of Mr. Trump’s post, more than one million people saw his claim on at least dozen other media. It appeared on Facebook and Twitter, from which he has been banished, but also YouTube, Gab, Parler and Telegram, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

gone mainstream among Republican Party members, driving state and county officials to impose new restrictions on casting ballots, often based on mere conspiracy theories percolating in right-wing media.

Voters must now sift through not only an ever-growing torrent of lies and falsehoods about candidates and their policies, but also information on when and where to vote. Officials appointed or elected in the name of fighting voter fraud have put themselves in the position to refuse to certify outcomes that are not to their liking.

a primary battleground in today’s fight against disinformation. A report last month by NewsGuard, an organization that tracks the problem online, showed that nearly 20 percent of videos presented as search results on TikTok contained false or misleading information on topics such as school shootings and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

continued to amplify “election denialism” in ways that undermined trust in the democratic system.

Another challenge is the proliferation of alternative platforms for those falsehoods and even more extreme views.

new survey by the Pew Research Center found that 15 percent of prominent accounts on those seven platforms had previously been banished from others like Twitter and Facebook.

F.B.I. raid on Mar-a-Lago thrust his latest pronouncements into the eye of the political storm once again.

study of Truth Social by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, examined how the platform had become a home for some of the most fringe conspiracy theories. Mr. Trump, who began posting on the platform in April, has increasingly amplified content from QAnon, the online conspiracy theory.

He has shared posts from QAnon accounts more than 130 times. QAnon believers promote a vast and complex conspiracy that centers on Mr. Trump as a leader battling a cabal of Democratic Party pedophiles. Echoes of such views reverberated through Republican election campaigns across the country during this year’s primaries.

Ms. Jankowicz, the disinformation expert, said the nation’s social and political divisions had churned the waves of disinformation.

The controversies over how best to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic deepened distrust of government and medical experts, especially among conservatives. Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election led to, but did not end with, the Capitol Hill violence.

“They should have brought us together,” Ms. Jankowicz said, referring to the pandemic and the riots. “I thought perhaps they could be kind of this convening power, but they were not.”

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Suzanne Scott’s Vision for Fox News Gets Tested in Court

The Murdochs, however, have been forced to make hard choices about even their most favored chief executives when scandal overwhelms. In 2010, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox Corporation, reluctantly pushed out Rebekah Brooks, who ran his British newspapers and was a close protégé, amid a police investigation into phone hacking by journalists who worked for her.


How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

Ms. Scott maintains a much more discreet profile than her predecessor, Roger Ailes, a whisperer to Republican presidents who cultivated a Svengali-like image in the media before numerous accusations of sexual harassment led to his downfall.

She grew up in Northern New Jersey, where she lives today with her husband and teenage daughter. Her first job for Fox was as an assistant to one of Mr. Ailes’s top deputies. Her first big promotion was to a senior producer position on Greta Van Susteren’s show. She would go on to oversee network talent, and then programming.

Colleagues say she pays careful attention to what’s on Fox, often watching from her office with the sound off and occasionally offering advice to producers and hosts on how sets could look better, outfits sharper and guests could be more compelling.

Under her direction, Fox News has maintained not only one of the biggest audiences in cable but in all of television, occasionally drawing more viewers than traditional broadcast networks like ABC. And Fox News collects far higher ad rates than its competitors — an average of almost $9,000 for a 30-second commercial in prime time, compared with about $6,200 for CNN and $5,300 for MSNBC, according to the Standard Media Index, an independent research firm. (The writer of this article is an MSNBC contributor.)

As chief executive, Ms. Scott has adopted a mostly deferential view of dealing with talent, current and former hosts said.

Mr. Ailes believed that no host should ever assume they were bigger than the network — or him. In 2010, for instance, after Mr. Hannity made plans to broadcast his show from a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati where organizers had billed him as the star attraction, Mr. Ailes ordered the host to scrap his plans and return to New York, threatening to “put a chimpanzee on the air” if he didn’t make it back in time, recalled one former Fox employee.

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Mystery Solved: ‘Dateline’ Finds Path From TV to Podcast Stardom

Of course, true crime and podcasts go hand in hand. The Hulu comedy “Only Murders in the Building” is explicitly a parody of the ubiquitousness of the genre. And there are plenty of other podcasts on the charts that center on bloody mysteries, with titles like “Morbid,” “Crime Junkie” and “My Favorite Murder.”

Still, the “Dateline” podcasts are helping the genre reach a new audience. The median age of viewers of the Friday night edition of “Dateline” is 63, according to Nielsen. On Spotify, the median age of a “Dateline” podcast listener is 41, according to data from Chartable, which was supplied by NBC News.

The network declined to disclose revenue figures for the podcasts, but they appear to be helping the company’s bottom line. The “Dateline” series command an advertising rate on a par with the podcast version of the popular public radio show “Fresh Air,” according to Standard Media Index, which collects advertising data.

It has been quite a turn of events for a 30-year-old television show.

The show, which premiered in 1992 with Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley as co-anchors, began as a traditional TV newsmagazine — with three to five segments that typically included interviews, features and investigations.

In the 1990s, during network television’s newsmagazine craze, “Dateline” could occupy as much as five hours of NBC’s prime-time schedule each week. Over the past 20 years, the show has remained a mainstay of the NBC schedule, filling in gaps whenever called upon in addition to holding its usual Friday night slot.

“Those of us within the hallways of NBC News have always understood the value of ‘Dateline,’” said Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News. “Historically, to many regimes past, whenever a fall entertainment lineup would start to wobble, we would always get the call to fill those open slots with additional ‘Dateline’ hours on the broadcast network.”

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Does Watching College Football on TV Have to Be So Miserable?

One of the top ESPN-to-Fox personalities is a longtime radio host named Colin Cowherd, who once noted, in an almost admirably honest interview with Bryan Curtis of The Ringer, that “in my business, being absolutely, absurdly wrong occasionally is a wonderful thing.” He also said he constantly tells one of his friends in the industry that “there’s no money in right,” and concluded a rumination about whether he’d been wrong about the subject of that day’s show — his accusation that a particular quarterback didn’t prepare enough for games — by asking, “Who cares?”

Wrong on purpose is not necessarily a bad strategy. Opinion stories are disproportionately represented at the top of news sites’ most-shared lists, and internal Facebook memos made public in the fall of 2021 revealed that the company had been rewarding outside content that users reacted to with the “angry face” emoji with better placement in news feeds. Executives and producers further emphasize characters and story lines they believe will be especially divisive: Tim Tebow, LeBron James and whether he chokes or is better than Michael Jordan, the Dallas Cowboys in general, and so on. “I was told specifically, ‘You can’t talk enough Tebow,’” the pundit Doug Gottlieb said after leaving ESPN in 2012.

Disney knows the value of a captive, excitable audience — in addition to its sports rights, it owns the Star Wars universe, Marvel comic book characters and Pixar, among other things. Disney’s profits jumped 50 percent in 2021. The financial information firm S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates that ESPN makes more than $8 a month from each of its nearly 100 million cable subscribers; it estimates that the most lucrative cable channel that doesn’t show sporting events, Fox News, makes about $2. There are 16 scheduled commercial breaks in national college football broadcasts, which can last as long as four minutes each.

Curious as to whether this feeling of oppression by a cultural monopoly might be addressed by the kind of legal remedies more typically associated with companies that make steel beams and computer software, I spoke to a University of Michigan law professor and antitrust expert named Daniel Crane.

He was open to the idea that my lengthy complaints about commercials and hot takes were evidence of “quality degradation,” that being one of the typical consequences for consumers of a monopolistic market. (The others are rising prices, diminished innovation and reduced output. Mr. Crane, for the record, says that if he’s not at a Michigan game in person he usually listens on the radio.)

But he cautioned that simply being a monopoly doesn’t mean anything has to change. “Unless you can show that they have obtained or maintained their monopoly through anticompetitive means,” he said — and despite the allegations mentioned above, no litigant or regulator has formally done that — “it’s just kind of too bad. ”

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Lawsuit Against Fox Is Shaping Up to Be a Major First Amendment Case

In the weeks after President Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 election, the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed to have “tremendous evidence” that voter fraud was to blame. That evidence never emerged but a new culprit in a supposed scheme to rig the election did: Dominion Voting Systems, a maker of election technology whose algorithms, Mr. Dobbs said, “were designed to be inaccurate.”

Maria Bartiromo, another host on the network, falsely stated that “Nancy Pelosi has an interest in this company.” Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News personality, speculated that “technical glitches” in Dominion’s software “could have affected thousands of absentee mail-in ballots.”

Those unfounded accusations are now among the dozens cited in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against the Fox Corporation, which alleges that Fox repeatedly aired false, far-fetched and exaggerated allegations about Dominion and its purported role in a plot to steal votes from Mr. Trump.

civil and criminal investigations across the country into his business dealings and political activities. Here is a look at some notable cases:

The case has caused palpable unease at the Fox News Channel, said several people there, who would speak only anonymously. Anchors and executives have been preparing for depositions and have been forced to hand over months of private emails and text messages to Dominion, which is hoping to prove that network employees knew that wild accusations of ballot rigging in the 2020 election were false. The hosts Steve Doocy, Dana Perino and Shepard Smith are among the current and former Fox personalities who either have been deposed or will be this month.

Dominion is trying to build a case that aims straight at the top of the Fox media empire and the Murdochs. In court filings and depositions, Dominion lawyers have laid out how they plan to show that senior Fox executives hatched a plan after the election to lure back viewers who had switched to rival hard-right networks, which were initially more sympathetic than Fox was to Mr. Trump’s voter-fraud claims.

Libel law doesn’t protect lies. But it does leave room for the media to cover newsworthy figures who tell them. And Fox is arguing, in part, that’s what shields it from liability. Asked about Dominion’s strategy to place the Murdochs front and center in the case, a Fox Corporation spokesman said it would be a “fruitless fishing expedition.” A spokeswoman for Fox News said it was “ridiculous” to claim, as Dominion does in the suit, that the network was chasing viewers from the far-right fringe.

Fox is expected to dispute Dominion’s estimated self-valuation of $1 billion and argue that $1.6 billion is an excessively high amount for damages, as it has in a similar defamation case filed by another voting machine company, Smartmatic.

A spokesman for Dominion declined to comment. In its initial complaint, the company’s lawyers wrote that “The truth matters,” adding, “Lies have consequences.”

denied a motion from Fox that would have excluded the parent Fox Corporation from the case — a much larger target than Fox News itself. That business encompasses the most profitable parts of the Murdoch American media portfolio and is run directly by Rupert Murdoch, 91, who serves as chairman, and his elder son, Lachlan, the chief executive.

Soon after, Fox replaced its outside legal team on the case and hired one of the country’s most prominent trial lawyers — a sign that executives believe that the chances the case is headed to trial have increased.

Dominion’s lawyers have focused some of their questioning in depositions on the decision-making hierarchy at Fox News, according to one person with direct knowledge of the case, showing a particular interest in what happened on election night inside the network in the hours after it projected Mr. Trump would lose Arizona. That call short-circuited the president’s plan to prematurely declare victory, enraging him and his loyalists and precipitating a temporary ratings crash for Fox.

These questions have had a singular focus, this person said: to place Lachlan Murdoch in the room when the decisions about election coverage were being made. This person added that while testimony so far suggests the younger Murdoch did not try to pressure anyone at Fox News to reverse the call — as Mr. Trump and his campaign aides demanded the network do — he did ask detailed questions about the process that Fox’s election analysts had used after the call became so contentious.

The case was settled in 2017.

But Fox has also been searching for evidence that could, in effect, prove the Dominion conspiracy theories weren’t really conspiracy theories. Behind the scenes, Fox’s lawyers have pursued documents that would support numerous unfounded claims about Dominion, including its supposed connections to Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan dictator who died in 2013, and software features that were ostensibly designed to make vote manipulation easier.

According to court filings, the words and phrases that Fox has asked Dominion to search for in internal communications going back more than a decade include “Chavez” and “Hugo,” along with “tampered,” “backdoor,” “stolen” and “Trump.”

Eric Munchel of Tennessee, in which he is brandishing a shotgun, with Mr. Trump on a television in the background. The television is tuned to Fox Business.

But the hurdle Dominion must clear is whether it can persuade a jury to believe that people at Fox knew they were spreading lies.

“Disseminating ‘The Big Lie’ isn’t enough,” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor and First Amendment scholar at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. “It has to be a knowing lie.”

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Infighting Overshadows Big Plans at The Washington Post

When Sally Buzbee joined The Washington Post a year ago this month, she took over a newsroom that had nearly doubled to more than 1,000 journalists under the ownership of Jeff Bezos, who bought it in 2013. Its coverage regularly won Pulitzer Prizes.

The newspaper has continued growing in the months since. It has opened breaking news hubs in Seoul and London to become more of a 24-hour global operation. It expanded coverage of technology, climate and personal health. Its reporting won the Pulitzer Prize for public service this year.

But Ms. Buzbee is now on the defensive, yet to completely win over the newsroom and facing internal strife that has eclipsed some of her bold plans.

tweeted in unison last week in support of the newspaper’s direction.

joined The Post last June, becoming the first female executive editor in its 145-year history. She had spent her career at The Associated Press, most recently serving as executive editor. She replaced Martin Baron, who remade the newsroom over eight years to much acclaim, including 10 Pulitzer Prizes.

said was too vague and unevenly enforced. Mr. Baron faced similar tensions under his tenure, including a clash with a star reporter, Wesley Lowery. Mr. Baron threatened to fire Mr. Lowery for violations of The Post’s social media policy, including expressing political views and criticizing competitors, according to a copy of a disciplinary letter.

tweeted: “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”

Mr. Weigel quickly deleted his tweet and apologized. Several days later, with several staff members fighting about his actions online, Ms. Buzbee suspended him for a month. In emails, she implored Post journalists to be collegial. After an employee replied to everyone in support of Ms. Sonmez, The Post cut off the ability for staff members to reply-all in a newsroom-wide email, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

But Ms. Sonmez never stopped tweeting. She said the newspaper unevenly punished journalists for what they wrote on Twitter, and critiqued her co-workers publicly. (Ms. Sonmez previously sued The Post for discrimination after she was barred from covering stories related to sexual assault after she publicly identified herself as a victim of assault. A judge dismissed the case in March.)

termination letter sent by The Post accused her of “insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.”

Less than an hour later, Ms. Buzbee met with the features department to quell another social media flare-up.

Taylor Lorenz, a technology reporter lured to The Post from The New York Times this year, had tweeted that a miscommunication with her editor led to an inaccurate line in an article. The tweets were discussed and agreed on by Ms. Lorenz and multiple editors before she posted, said three people with knowledge of the discussions. The tweets prompted an outcry from critics on Twitter who accused her of passing the buck.

Before the corrections, Ms. Buzbee had offered the well-respected editor, David Malitz, a promotion to run the features department, according to one person with knowledge of the offer. He had agreed to take it. But several days later, Ms. Buzbee pulled the offer.

In the meeting with the features group, Ms. Buzbee fielded angry questions about Mr. Malitz’s treatment. She said he was “in no way reprimanded or punished for any errors,” according to a copy of notes taken at the meeting, but would not say what was behind her decision. She said she couldn’t talk about personnel issues.

It was at that meeting that Ms. Sullivan, The Post’s media columnist, accused Ms. Buzbee of damaging Mr. Malitz’s career, and other staff members said she hadn’t earned their trust. Some told Ms. Buzbee that their doubts stemmed from rarely hearing from her until that meeting.

Ms. Lorenz has been moved from the features staff to the technology team, according to three people with knowledge of the move. Mr. Barr has been asked to review her articles before publication, two of the people said.

On Tuesday, Ms. Buzbee met with dozens of editors in person and over videoconference, fielding questions about the recent upheaval. One editor relayed the concerns from employees who were wary of becoming editors at The Post after recent events.

Ms. Buzbee said in the meeting that she was optimistic about the future of the newspaper. She also told editors that it was their collective responsibility to protect the staff, the readers and the newspaper’s credibility.

On Wednesday evening, newsroom employees were emailed a draft of updated social media guidelines and told that senior editors would hold “listening sessions” this week to get feedback on the revisions.

The draft says that no employee is required to post or engage on social media platforms; journalists must not harm the integrity or reputation of the newsroom; and journalists are “allowed and encouraged to bring their full identity and lived experiences to their social accounts.”

The draft guidelines also note that The Post considers it a priority to protect its journalists from online harassment and attacks.

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Sheryl Sandberg Steps Down From Facebook’s Parent Company, Meta

Ms. Sandberg flirted with leaving Facebook. In 2016, she told colleagues that if Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, won the White House she would most likely assume a job in Washington, three people who spoke to her about the move at the time said. In 2018, after revelations about Cambridge Analytica and Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, she again told colleagues that she was considering leaving but did not want to do so when the company was in crisis.

Last year, Mr. Zuckerberg said his company was making a new bet and was going all in on the metaverse, which he called “the successor to the mobile internet.” In his announcement, Ms. Sandberg made only a cameo, while other executives were more prominently featured.

As Mr. Zuckerberg overhauled the company to focus on the metaverse, some of Ms. Sandberg’s responsibilities were spread among other executives. Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs and a former British deputy prime minister, became the company’s chief spokesman, a role that Ms. Sandberg had once taken. In February, Mr. Clegg was promoted to president of global affairs for Meta.

Ms. Sandberg’s profile dimmed. She concentrated on building the ads business and growing the number of small businesses on Facebook.

She was also focused on personal matters. Dave Goldberg, her husband, had died unexpectedly in 2015. (Ms. Sandberg’s second book, “Option B,” was about dealing with grief.) She later met Mr. Bernthal, and he and his three children moved to her Silicon Valley home from Southern California during the pandemic. Ms. Sandberg, who had two children with Mr. Goldberg, was focused on integrating the families and planning for her summer wedding, a person close to her said.

Meta’s transition to the metaverse has not been easy. The company has spent heavily on metaverse products while its advertising business has stumbled, partly because privacy changes made by Apple have hurt targeted advertising. In February, Meta’s market value plunged more than $230 billion, its biggest one-day wipeout, after it reported financial results that showed it was struggling to make the leap to the metaverse.

In the interview, Ms. Sandberg said Meta faced near-term challenges but would weather the storm, as it had during past challenges. “When we went public, we had no mobile ads,” Ms. Sandberg said, citing the company’s rapid transition from desktop computers to smartphones last decade. “We have done this before.”

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Supreme Court Leak Inquiry Exposes Gray Area of Press Protections

“The norms of confidentiality at the court, they’re not gentle or subtle,” said Allison Orr Larsen, a professor at William and Mary Law School who clerked for Justice David H. Souter. “They are strongly and repeatedly emphasized.”

As blunt and terrifying as those warnings may be, they are informal. So are the rules that apply to the justices themselves, who have been resistant to being bound by written procedures on most matters concerning their work.

“They don’t even have written ethics rules for the justices,” said Paul M. Smith, a law professor at Georgetown University who clerked for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. The leak, he said, and the focus on the lack of those standards after recent revelations about the political activities of Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, may put more pressure on the court to accept new restrictions on how it operates.

Other legal scholars, including some at the conservative Heritage Foundation, have pointed to a number of laws that could be used to prosecute the leaker and spur the kind of wide-ranging investigation that could entangle the press, court staff and even individual justices. One law that has been used against leakers, according to John Malcolm, a legal expert with the Heritage Foundation, broadly deals with theft, embezzlement and the conversion of “things of value” that belong to the government.

None are slam dunks. But First Amendment experts said they would not be surprised if one of these laws was tested in this case.

RonNell Andersen Jones, a professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, said that when she and a group of former clerks who text one another heard of the Politico article, their immediate reaction was that it had to be a hoax. A leak of this magnitude, they all understood, is strictly forbidden.

“What it means to be strictly forbidden is about to be tested,” Ms. Andersen Jones added.

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CNN+ Streaming Service Will Shut Down Weeks After Its Start

Executives at Discovery, wary of antitrust rules, were constrained from advising their counterparts at CNN until the merger was done. CNN+ had lost its champion when Mr. Zucker left in February because of an undisclosed romantic relationship with a colleague. But Jason Kilar, the WarnerMedia chief executive, forged ahead anyway, launching the streaming platform on March 29 to the frustration of the Discovery leadership.

It quickly became apparent that Mr. Zaslav had a very different view on digital strategy.

On the morning of April 11, the first business day of Discovery’s ownership — and 90 minutes before its WBD stock even went live on Nasdaq — JB Perrette, Discovery’s global head of streaming, convened a meeting with CNN executives.

Mr. Perrette had a message: Marketing of CNN+ was to be suspended, pending a formal review of the business, three people familiar with the conversation said.

Executives at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted to merge its other subscription platforms — Discovery+ and HBO Max — into one giant streaming service. They were not convinced that a niche product like CNN+ could be viable on its own.

And there was the matter of the debt. Discovery’s merger left the conglomerate owing about $55 billion, which executives are now under pressure to repay. CNN had been planning to spend more than $1 billion on CNN+ over four years, two people familiar with the matter said, even renting out an additional floor of its pricey Manhattan skyscraper.

Andrew Morse, CNN’s chief digital officer and a key architect of CNN+, who became the biggest internal champion of the service, countered that subscription-based online news could be successful, citing The New York Times as an example. Executives at CNN+ said they had secured 150,000 paying subscribers and were on a pace to hit first-year subscription goals.

Executives at Discovery were not impressed: At any given time, fewer than 10,000 people were watching the service, said two people familiar with the numbers, who were not authorized to speak publicly. (On Thursday, Mr. Morse said he was leaving the network entirely.)

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