North Korea, Kavanaugh, all those Trump tweets and more in 2018

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In this file photo taken on June 11, 2018 US President Donald Trump (R) gestures as he meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore. (AFP)
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Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, September 27, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 31 December 2018

North Korea, Kavanaugh, all those Trump tweets and more in 2018

  • Over the course of the year, Trump spoke at more than 40 campaign rallies, kept up his Twitter barrage (40,000 tweets since 2009 on his @realDonaldTrump account) and answered plenty of questions

WASHINGTON: The stranger-than-sitcom American presidency opened 2018 with a big tease about mutual nuclear destruction from two leaders who then found “love” not war. It seems President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un were just playing hard to get.
The presidency ends the year saturated in tumult, with the government in partial shutdown and Trump tweeting a video of himself warbling a parody of the theme song from “Green Acres,” a television sitcom from the 1960s, to mark his signing of a farm bill.
Throw in a beer-loving and very angry Supreme Court nominee, an unhappy departing defense secretary, Trump’s parallel universe of facts and his zillion tweets, and you can see that the president’s world this year was touched by the weird, the traumatic and the fantastical — also known as WTF.
There was no holding back the self-described “very stable genius” with the “very, very large brain.”
Some serious and relatively conventional things got done in 2018.
There was a midterm election. Many more Democrats are coming to Congress and not quite all of them plan to run for president. Divided government dawns in January when Democrats take control of the House; Republicans retain their grip on the Senate.
An overhaul of the criminal justice system was accomplished, and in an unusually bipartisan way, though it took a dash of reality TV’s Kim Kardashian West to move it along. Gun control actually was tightened a bit, with Trump’s unilateral banning of bump stocks.
Trump shocked allies and lost Defense Secretary Jim Mattis over a presidential decision to pull US troops out of Syria, quickly following up with indications that up to half the troops in Afghanistan might be withdrawn, too.
Self-described “Tariff Man” started one trade war, with China, and headed off a second by tweaking the North American Free Trade Agreement and giving it an unpronounceable acronym, USMCA. He withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, putting action behind his Twitter shout: “WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH.”
Trump placed his second justice on the Supreme Court in two years after Brett Kavanaugh, accused of alcohol-fueled sexual assault in his youth, raged against the allegations at a congressional hearing and acknowledged only: “I liked beer, I still like beer,” but “I never sexually assaulted anyone.”
There were frustrations and fulminations aplenty for the president, particularly about the steaming-ahead Russia-Trump campaign investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller (“special councel” in some Trump tweets).
Nor did he make much progress on his promised border wall (“boarder wall“), which he renamed “artistically designed steel slats” in December in what he regarded as a concession to wall-despising, concrete-cursing Democrats. The concession did not work: large parts of the government closed Saturday over the wall-induced budget impasse.
He took heat for a zero-tolerance policy that forced migrant children from their parents until he backed off, inaccurately blaming Democrats for “Child Seperation.”
It was a very good year for jobs. It was a check-your-smartphone-right-now, pass-the-smelling-salts year for the stock market. Trump, who assailed the unemployment rate as a phony measure when he was a candidate, couldn’t speak of it enough as Obama-era job growth continued on his watch. He went mum about the market, a prime subject for his boasting before it took a sustained dive.
Trump’s approval rating in polls was one of the few constants on this swiftly tilting planet: 42 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval in The Associated Press-NORC’s latest and 38 percent-57 percent via Gallup, neither much different than in January.
Through it all, the mainstreaming of the bizarre proceeded apace and North Korea’s Kim set that tone right on Jan. 1 with his New Year cheer to Americans across the ocean: “It’s not a mere threat but a reality that I have a nuclear button on the desk in my office. All of the mainland United States is within the range of our nuclear strike.”
Trump responded the next day with a tweet about size and performance. “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!“
Once they got that out of their system, things quickly improved, helped along by Kim’s letters to Trump, which the US president called “beautiful.” There was no more talk about Trump being a “mentally deranged dotard” or Kim being a “maniac,” the musty insults of an earlier time. In June, they held history’s first meeting between a North Korean leader and a current US president. “We fell in love,” Trump later said at a West Virginia rally.
Kim had previously vowed to visit “fire and fury” on the US but the “Fire and Fury” that made Trump livid early this year was the book of the same name, Michael Wolff’s insider account of the Trump White House. That was a different sort of missile. The president took particular exception to observations in the book by his former chief strategist, tweeting about “Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!“
They are said to be on better terms now.
Over the course of the year, Trump spoke at more than 40 campaign rallies, kept up his Twitter barrage (40,000 tweets since 2009 on his @realDonaldTrump account) and answered plenty of questions in infrequent but lengthy news conferences and sit-down interviews.
So what stands out in this blizzardy whiteout of unconventionality?
How about this farewell to his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson? “He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell.” (The president usually reserves “dumb as a rock” for journalists.)
Or his description of Stormy Daniels, paid to stay quiet about their alleged affair, as “horseface?“
Or this description of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, as “scared stiff and Missing in Action,” before Sessions was finally out in November?
Will history long remember that in 2018 the president called Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff “little Adam Schitt” on Twitter and nations in Africa “shithole countries” in a private meeting?
Or that he (correctly) predicted Hurricane Florence would be “tremendously wet” or told the AP: “I have a natural instinct for science?“
In July, Trump appeared to side with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he stood by Putin’s side at a Helsinki summit news conference and gave weight to Putin’s denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, despite the firm conclusion of US intelligence agencies that it had. “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, Trump said.
But while it’s been hardly noticed in a capital consumed by the shutdown drama, Mattis, Syria, steel slats and market convulsions, 2018 draws to a close as it started — with warnings of a nuclear Armageddon, this time from Putin.
Putin’s prompt was Trump’s intention to walk away from one arms control treaty and his reluctance to extend another.
That, said Putin, “could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet.”
Maybe he’s just playing hard to get.


What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

Updated 22 August 2019

What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

  • Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content
  • Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays content from users
NEW YORK: Facebook’s plan to hire professional journalists instead of relying solely on algorithms to deliver news is a positive step but is unlikely to shake up an embattled media industry, analysts say.
The social media giant said Tuesday it would build a small team of journalists to select the top national news of the day “to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”
It comes as the US media landscape is plagued by job losses and newspaper closures, with organizations trying to figure out how to record profits in the age of free news.
Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays updates and content from users’ friends and relatives.
“In theory I see this as a really positive development. It is something quite promising,” Danna Young, a communications professor at the University of Delaware, told AFP.
Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content.
The California-based company has consistently said it does not want to be considered a media organization that makes major editorial decisions, and this announcement does little to change that, experts add.
“It’s not transformative because it’s not going to change necessarily the behavior of individuals who are referencing stories on their feeds,” said Young.
“That’s where the power comes from — individuals you know and trust putting their tacit stamp of approval on stories by sharing them,” she added.

"Trending topics" scandal
The tab will be the site’s first news feature using human moderators since it shut down its ill-fated “trending topics” section last year after a scandal over allegations workers had suppressed stories about conservative issues.
Articles not deemed top news stories will still be collated using algorithms based on the user’s history, such as pages they follow, publications they subscribe to and news they have already interacted with.
“Our goal with the news tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” Facebook head of news partnerships Campbell Brown told AFP in San Francisco Tuesday.
The news tab feature comes as Facebook embarks on a series of initiatives to boost journalism, with traditional media organizations accusing it of benefitting financially from their hard work.
Internet platforms are dominating the Internet advertising space making it difficult for established news organizations to transition what were very profitable print advertisements online.
Facebook announced in January that it will invest $300 million over three years to support journalism, particularly local news organizations.
It has also funded fact-checking projects around the world, including one in partnership with AFP.
Facebook will reportedly pay some publishers to license news content for the tab but Mathew Ingram, who writes about digital media for the Columbia Journalism Review, doesn’t expect that to trickle down to hard-up organizations that need it the most.
“The companies they are going to choose are ones already doing well I assume. It might give them a little extra cash but I don’t see it driving a huge amount of traffic,” he told AFP.

In free fall
Print journalism in the US is in free-fall as social media overtakes newspapers as the main news source for Americans.
Around 2,000 American newspapers closed in the past 15 years, according to the University of North Carolina, leaving millions of residents without reporters keeping track of what their local authorities are up to.
“The death of local news has such destructive effects for democracy. It’s a complex issue that Facebook alone cannot fix,” said Young.
The number of journalists working at US newspapers slumped by 47 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last year.
The total number of journalists in newsrooms fell by 25 percent, the group found, while consultancy firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says this is going to be the worst year for layoffs since 2009.
It’s a difficult time for Stephen Groves, who recently earned a master’s in journalism at New York University, to be looking for work. When he heard about Facebook’s plans, he was skeptical.
“Facebook is not a journalism company and so before working for Facebook I would want to see their commitment to ethical, robust journalism,” the 30-year-old told AFP.
The digital sector is also in trouble.
When Buzzfeed cut 200 jobs in January, 29-year-old Emily Tamkin was let go from a position she had held for just a few months.
“I’m personally not cheered by the fact that Facebook is swooping in and hiring journalists. If that’s the silver lining then we have a very big cloud here,” she told AFP.