New York Times fires lawyer who worked with Weinstein

This file photo taken on March 2, 2014 shows US film producer Harvey Weinstein arriving on the red carpet for the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2017
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New York Times fires lawyer who worked with Weinstein

NEW YORK: The New York Times on Tuesday fired lawyer David Boies’ firm after learning it tried to halt the newspaper’s investigation into sexual harassment charges against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein while also representing the newspaper on other matters.
Boies has disputed the Times’ view that his work for Weinstein represented a conflict of interest. Still, he no longer works for Weinstein and said the task he completed for him was a mistake.
It represents the fallout from a New Yorker magazine article that reported Weinstein hired investigators to trail women who had accused him of mistreatment, including Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette. Journalists pursuing the story, including Jodi Kantor of the Times and Ronan Farrow, author of Tuesday’s New Yorker piece, also were investigated.
It was not immediately clear how much business the Times did with the law firm Boies Schiller and Flexner.
Boies, best known for representing Al Gore in the 2000 disputed election against George W. Bush, is the second prominent attorney to take heat for representing the man accused of being one of Hollywood’s biggest sexual predators. Lisa Bloom, a prominent women’s rights lawyer, quit representing Weinstein when the extent of the accusations against him became known.
The article said Boies’ firm hired and paid one organization with a background in Israeli intelligence agencies at the same time it was representing the Times in a libel case.
In a statement to his firm’s employees on Tuesday, Boies noted that his contract with the newspaper made clear that his firm might do work for clients in unrelated areas that were against the Times’ interests.
Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said the newspaper never contemplated the firm would contract with an intelligence firm to conduct a secret spying operation aimed at our reporting and reporters.
“Such an operation is reprehensible, and the Boies firm must have known that its existence would have been material to our decision whether to continue using the firm,” she said. “Whatever legalistic arguments and justifications can be made, we should have been treated better by a firm that we trusted.”
Boies said Weinstein had told him that the Times was considering publishing a story alleging that the mogul had raped an actress. Boies said he would not defend him against these charges, and told him the only way the story could be stopped was to prove it was untrue.
Weinstein selected private investigators to try and do that, Boies said, and asked him to draft a contract with one such group. Boies said he now believes it was a mistake to do this for an investigative firm he did not know.
The New Yorker said some of the investigators misrepresented themselves in contact with their subjects, compiled personal and sexual histories on some, and left some of the targets feeling intimidated. Boies said he never would have drawn up the contract had he known what it would be used for.
“I would never knowingly participate in an effort to intimidate or silence women or anyone else,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Weinstein did not immediately return a message seeking comment. He has characterized his contact with actresses as consensual.


Former BBC presenter Gavin Esler fighting the good fight against fake news

Updated 25 September 2018
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Former BBC presenter Gavin Esler fighting the good fight against fake news

  • Misleading reports and plain lies spread like wildfire in the Internet age. But veteran BBC journalist Gavin Esler wants to fight back — with facts
  • Gavin Esler: Brexit is turning out to be a really really bad meal. We ordered steak and chips and we’ve now got some raw chicken that smells bad

LONDON: From Brexit to Breitbart News and Trump’s tweets, fake news has become very real.
We’re surrounded by it. Whether it’s the size of the crowd at the US president’s inauguration, or at a teenager’s birthday party, we live in a world where exaggerations, distortions and downright lies so often go unchecked. They have almost become the norm.
Gavin Esler, former presenter of the BBC’s flagship political show “Newsnight,” is under no illusion as to the seriousness of the problem.
For him, fake news is not merely something that can skew the public’s opinion and political debates. It can be deadly.
“We’ve never had a political culture where lies being told so shamelessly don’t seem to have any consequences,” he told Arab News in an interview.
“That may have something to do with the technology, but this is people lying to your face and not being punished for it.”
In the Internet age fake news spreads like wildfire — but it is not, of course, a new problem.
Esler — who is now an author and chancellor of the University of Kent in his native UK — points to a controversy that dates back to the 1990s involving a fraudulent medical paper that claimed that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine could lead to autism. The claim was widely reported by the media but eventually discredited — yet led to a drop in vaccination rates and inevitable deaths.
“We are actually talking about children’s lives here,” said Esler. “Fake news can kill people, and I think that’s really really worrying.”
Fake news may take the form of skewed stories in the mainstream media, false posts by dodgy websites, or messages spread between people.
In India, for example, numerous deaths have been attributed to rumors spread among people via WhatsApp. The sharing of gruesome videos and photos of strangers has created mass hysteria in some villages, with mobs having attacked, and sometimes killed, people they do not recognize.
This is an extreme example of what Esler calls the “awful echo chamber of phony news.”
One of Esler’s particular bugbears is the fake news epidemic around the Brexit debate in the UK. Those in favor of leaving the EU famously — yet falsely — claimed that the move would allow additional funding of £350 million ($460 million) a week to the National Health Service.
“I accepted the vote, until I realized just how deceitful the ‘leave’ campaign had been — there were lies, they cheated, the money was used illegally according to the Electoral Commission.
“Brexit is turning out to be a really really bad meal. We ordered steak and chips and we’ve now got some raw chicken that smells bad. And I’m not going to swallow it — and I don’t think other people are going to swallow it either.”
So what can the mainstream media do to fight the scourge of fake news around such divisive political debates?
Aside from scrutinizing the facts, editors should be more wary of bogus or partisan “experts” when seeking commentary on the issues of the day, said Esler.
“What we’ve seen in the last 20 years is a constant denigration of expertise and experts,” he said.
“There are people who appear on television who are paid for by shadowy think tanks whose financing they won’t come clean about.
“If someone appears on television and makes a comment, and we quote that comment, we are being accurate. But are we actually being sensible if we don’t know if that comment is based on any facts whatsoever? It is something that journalists have to be much more aware of.”
Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter also have a responsibility to fight fake news and hate speech — although it might not always be in their best interests to do so, said Esler. “If somebody is driving traffic on Twitter by saying something obnoxious, then that is actually good business for them. So their ability to limit it is limited by their ability to cut their own profits.”
Esler’s first experience as a journalist was at his university newspaper, before working at the Belfast Telegraph in Northern Ireland, and later the BBC.
So if he could turn back the clock, would he still become a journalist given the difficulties of the profession in the fake-news age? Esler said writing is in his blood — but had some words of advice for others looking to enter the media.
“What I do say to our university students who study journalism (is that) if you want to be a journalist because you want to be famous and be on television, that’s possibly not the right career for you.
“But if you are relentlessly curious about just about anything, it might possibly be.”