All-time July heat records, wildfire evacuations, tornadoes all possible today
Historic heat across the South continues today with San Antonio, Texas hitting 107 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city in the month of July.
Heckler publicly shames Gov. DeSantis at press conference
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was interrupted by a heckler during a press conference on the state's growing coronavirus pandemic. CNN's Rosa Flores reports from Miami.
Delta loses $2.8 billion and cuts flights
Delta Air Lines posted its worst loss since 2007, and it warned that bookings are declining as Covid-19 cases rise, forcing the airline to trim its schedule again.
Bowing to U.S. Pressure, U.K. Bans 5G Equipment From China’s Huawei Over Security Concerns
New Huawei equipment will be banned from the U.K.’s 5G telecoms infrastructure beginning in 2021, the British government announced Tuesday, reversing its previous stance on the Chinese company — in a move it described as a direct response to U.S. sanctions targeting the company, imposed in May. Existing Huawei equipment also will be stripped from…
Video shows man dump paint on Black Lives Matter mural at Trump Tower
This is the vandal who dumped red paint on a section of the Black Lives Matter Mural in front of Trump Tower. Video tweeted Monday by witness Oscar Vela shows the man stroll up to the mural with a can of red paint and dump it over the letter “V” in the word “Lives.” As...
Trump’s praise for Tommy Tuberville in Alabama includes shout-out to ‘Lou Saban’
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What you need to know about coronavirus on Tuesday, July 14
From Hong Kong to California, cities and states around the world are reimposing restrictions to contain resurgent coronavirus outbreaks, as the number of global infections surpasses 13 million and the World Health Organization warns there are "no shortcuts" out of the pandemic.
Eye Opener: California back under lockdown amid coronavirus surge
The resurgence of the coronavirus has forced the state of California back into a lockdown. Also, officials confirmed that the body of actress Naya Rivera was found in a California lake. All that and all that matters in today's Eye Opener. Your world in 90 seconds.
Amber Heard allegedly called Johnny Depp a ‘coward’ after severing finger
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Michelle Obama's brother, ex-basketball coach and GM Craig Robinson, named executive director of NABC
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Gareth Bale's antics on the bench sparks more headlines
Gareth Bale making headlines with yet more antics on the substitutes' bench
Real Madrid star Gareth Bale has yet again been making headlines for his antics from the substitutes' bench, leading to more questions being asked about his future at the Spanish club.
Gareth Bale making headlines with yet more antics on the substitutes' bench
Real Madrid star Gareth Bale has yet again been making headlines for his antics from the substitutes' bench, leading to more questions being asked about his future at the Spanish club.
Verizon CEO: Corporate America isn't doing enough to solve inequality
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg tells CNN Business' Matt Egan what Corporate America needs to do to improve diversity.
Target's teacher discount is coming back. Here's how educators, including home school teachers can save 15%
Target's Teacher Prep Event returns July 19 with a 15% discount for teachers, including preschool, home school educators and college professors.
Review: Stirring quartet: Four very different performers, four very different documentaries
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Verizon's alternative to layoffs: Retraining 20,000 workers
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The Cybersecurity 202: U.K. is set to bar Huawei in a major U.S. victory
It’s a huge shift from just six months ago when the U.S. war against Huawei seemed largely lost.
Biden uses quote notably uttered by Mao Zedong during big-money fundraiser: reports
Joe Biden raised eyebrows on Monday when he reportedly echoed rhetoric used by Chinese communist dictator Mao Zedong.
A disabled black veteran drove through Alabama with medical marijuana. Now he faces 5 years in prison.
The marijuana in his back seat had been legally prescribed to him in Arizona. But in Alabama, it sparked a years-long legal fight that plunged him into homelessness, cost him thousands of dollars, and recently concluded in a 60-month prison sentence.
Quarterback recruit Shedeur Sanders, son of Deion, commits to Florida Atlantic
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JPMorgan's profit plunges as credit costs spike on economic uncertainty
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Tamera Mowry-Housley is leaving talk show 'The Real': 'All good things must come to an end'
Original "The Real" co-host Tamera Mowry-Housley is leaving the daytime talk show after seven years, she announced.
On This Day: 14 July 2008
Christopher Nolan's genre defining sequel "The Dark Knight" premiered in New York, where the cast paid tribute to their late co-star Heath Ledger. (July 14)
You've found a home you like. Now what?
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Suspect accused of killing Washington state police officer, injuring a second arrested 'without incident'
The person suspected of killing a Washington state police officer and injuring another after a traffic stop turned into a deadly car chase Monday night was arrested ‘without incident,” police said.
Record Numbers Have Lost Their Health Insurance the Moment They Need It Most
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Sportsbook gives 'bad beat refunds' to anyone who bet on Max Holloway winning at UFC 251
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'Utopia Avenue' review: Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll triumph in David Mitchell's latest
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Nearly 1 in 3 LGBTQ people live in the South, report shows. Here's how LGBTQ activists of color are transforming the area.
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Cal Thomas: Roger Stone's self-proclaimed pivot towards Christianity draws historical parallels
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Conspiracy Theories Aside, Here's What Contact Tracers Really Do
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The Supreme Court Tries to Settle the Religious Liberty Culture War
Rarely has a single Supreme Court term created such alternating spasms of anger and joy, bouncing back and forth across the ideological aisle. And rarely has that seesaw reaction been so concentrated into a single, salient cultural issue – the perceived conflict between gay rights and religious liberty. By the end of this term, however,…
‘Defund the police’ is a debate over how to prevent crime. What do Americans believe?
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Alabama and Texas runoffs: Voters prepare to set key November Senate matchups
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Police Reform Is Only the Beginning
People protest to signal that they are fed up with the status quo. But protest is rarely singularly focused. People are in the streets this summer over the murder of George Floyd, but the current racial reckoning in America goes far beyond lethal policing. People are in the streets because Black students are five times more likely than white students to attend highly segregated schools. Because Black unemployment is regularly twice the white unemployment rate. Because racist housing policies have locked Black families into unequal neighborhoods and out of the prospect of building wealth.Meanwhile, the policy responses to the protests have thus far been singularly focused on police brutality. State leaders have already signed a string of changes into law. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill restricting chokeholds; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed bills that would punish officers who kill someone after placing them in a chokehold with up to 15 years in prison, that would make police disciplinary records available to the public, and that would require officers to give medical or mental-health attention to people they have arrested.In the 18 days after Floyd’s murder, 16 states introduced, amended, or passed various police-reform bills. But to be effective, efforts to combat systemic racism must stretch as far as the inequality itself does. That work is now beginning in city councils and statehouses across the country—largely in Democratic-leaning states—where lawmakers are being pushed to act on discriminatory policies.Activists in Hartford, Connecticut, are petitioning local and state officials to eliminate racist zoning laws that block affordable-housing opportunities and segregate the city. In Wisconsin, board members for Milwaukee’s public-school district are writing a regional desegregation plan for the southeastern part of the state. Two weeks ago, when the board members voted on the resolution to begin their work, it passed unanimously.[Read: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s testimony on reparations]“This movement started with dealing with criminal-justice reform and police reform—dealing with the institution of mass incarceration—but not stopping there,” Jamaal Bowman, who defeated Representative Eliot Engel to win the June primary in New York’s Sixteenth District, told me. Bowman is an advocate of the Green New Deal, universal health care, and a housing plan that emphasizes public housing and the enforcement of fair housing standards. “These are all interconnected policies that are rooted in equality and justice for all people and making sure we do all we can to uplift the working class and the poor,” he said.Practical things can be done to address some of these disparities—not just big ideas that upend accepted norms, but also baby steps to keep momentum going. In education, activists are pushing leaders to reconsider how wealth is hoarded in predominantly white school districts. If states pooled property-tax dollars and distributed them evenly to schools rather than allowing accumulated wealth to dictate at least part of school financing, American education would look more equal, Rebecca Sibilia, the founder of EdBuild, a nonprofit focused on school funding, told me. But many Americans believe that local control of a school district means keeping all of their money there, she added.Meanwhile, federal lawmakers are trying to knock down barriers to housing. This month, in a move led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which has stymied new construction of public housing in the United States for decades. But the measure is doomed in the Republican-controlled Senate, which has limited its response to Floyd’s killing and the subsequent protests to proposing a police-reform bill that was due to fail from the beginning.White Americans have stolen Black Americans’ land. They have stolen their property. In some places, there is a 20-year life-expectancy gap between white and Black people. Those gaps will take time and money to close. Bowman packages the reforms he believes the country needs as a new “Reconstruction agenda”—which includes free college, a wealth tax, and baby bonds. But his agenda begins by reconciling with history. That reconciliation would inevitably require some form of reparations, Bowman said. He didn’t articulate what those reparations would look like, but stressed the need for them.Bowman, who after winning the primary will likely win the general election in a heavily Democratic district, may discover that many of his new Capitol Hill colleagues share the sentiment. Several House Democrats, including Representative Karen Bass of California, believe that H.R. 40—the bill that would create a commission to study the legacy of slavery and examine reparations proposals—could be voted on before the end of the year. That’s the least Congress could do, Representative Gregory Meeks, a co-sponsor of the bill, told me, “so that people can catch up and get access to things that everyone else takes for granted.”[Read: Everyone wants to talk about reparations. But for how long?]For progressive activists, the national mood seems promising. But Americans have watched the story of civil unrest and policy stagnation unfold on a loop for more than a century. “No republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them,” Frederick Douglass wrote in The Atlantic in 1866. His words were aimed at the Reconstruction Congress tasked with rebuilding America after the Civil War.Nearly 100 years later, in 1960, three decades before he would enter Congress, a young Gregory Meeks could spy his elementary school across the street from his public-housing complex in East Harlem. Meeks had just completed second grade when a school official, concerned about his growth, told his mother to get him out. The books at his school were old. There were few, if any, after-school activities. His educational development would be stifled there, the official said. So, alongside one other Black student, he went to another elementary school in a white neighborhood off York Avenue, dozens of blocks south, on the Upper East Side.Four years later, on July 16, 1964, protests and riots erupted in New York after a white police lieutenant shot James Powell, a Black ninth grader. Two bullets pierced Powell’s body, killing him, not far from Meeks’s new school. The protests over the killing lasted for six days; the demonstrators called for an end to police brutality and for equal protection under the law. Witnesses said the 15-year-old threw his arm up to protect himself when the officer pulled his gun. The officer was acquitted by a grand jury after maintaining that Powell had lunged at him with a knife.Meeks thinks a lot about the things that haven’t changed, how the issues of his childhood mirror the issues of today. “I’d always wondered why they couldn’t just fix the school that was right across the street to make sure that it would be good for all kids,” he told me. “It’s time for an accounting to be made in this country, if we really want to get to the root causes of the problem of racism in America.”
Facebook’s Pandemic Feuds Are Getting Ugly
A disposable face mask is burning in the bottom of a cake pan. It’s a controlled blaze, the perfect size for roasting a hot dog—which someone is doing, holding it above the flame on a metal skewer. A tinny recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays in the background, building to its familiar end just as the hot dog appears to be fully toasted.The comments beneath the 30-second video, posted to Facebook in June as part of the “Burn Your Mask Challenge,” run the gamut from mirth to disdain to a swelling of patriotic pride. “LOVE THIS!” with three laugh-crying emoji. A smattering of sober warnings not to eat a hot dog that has been roasted in the fumes of incinerated fabric.The “Burn Your Mask Challenge” started in a private Facebook group called Reopen NC, which was created in early April, not long after North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, announced a statewide stay-at-home order. The 81,000 members of the group generally believe that state measures to control the spread of the coronavirus infringe on their personal rights. When Cooper announced a mask mandate last month, they started a petition against it, which has so far accrued about 5,500 signatures. A mock-up of a face mask reading This mask is as useless as our governor is still shared regularly.The pandemic has opened up a new front in the American culture wars. There have been protests against masks and lockdowns in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and several other states. In North Carolina, Facebook has served as a highly visible hub for both sides. Reopen NC has sparked more than 30 smaller, county-specific groups that started sharing its videos of mask burnings in the spring and have echoed its complaints about government “tyranny” all summer. It also has a number of antagonists, who bristle at the group’s flagrant disregard for public health and have spent the last several months becoming more and more embittered—often referring to those who don’t take the pandemic seriously as “plague rats.”Watching these warring groups has been like seeing polarization happen in real time. Members of the Reopen NC group joined it to complain and vent with people who felt similarly to themselves, but soon they were naming enemies—the mask-wearing “sheep,” and the “socialist” governor who controls them. These North Carolinians were looking for online community in a moment when the offline world had become a pressure cooker, in a time when they were bored, and they found it on Facebook in the form of ever-escalating suspicion and anger.The Reopen NC Facebook group was started by 33-year-old Ashley Smith, a Trump-supporting independent who lives in suburban Asheville and runs a small payment-processing business with her husband. Smith says she created the group simply for discussion—and maybe some anti-shutdown email campaigns—but when the membership hit 10,000 in just a few weeks she started mobilizing it for on-the-ground political action. In late April, she was arrested at a protest she organized outside the governor’s mansion, bringing increased attention to the group from local media. The next month, reports emerged about her husband’s use of Facebook Live to vow that he was “taking up arms” and “willing to kill” over the stay-at-home order. The membership of the group only grew.“We’re not constitutionally promised a virus-free existence,” Smith told me in a phone call. “I think we’ve seen a gross overreach of power.”Collective actions in the group have been creative and wide-ranging, including an afternoon of “throwing axes for freedom” at an ax-throwing space near Charlotte that refused to adhere to the statewide shutdown, and a “sit-in” at a nearby barbecue restaurant. When Cooper closed the Ace Speedway racetrack, Reopen NC led a “cruise-in,” described by one of the group’s administrators as “NC’s 21st CENTURY ALAMO!” The group has organized multiple “unmasked” protests in front of the governor’s mansion—“American Flags only please,” the description for a June protest requests politely in a parenthetical.[Read: The social-distancing culture war has begun]Janet Presson, a former nurse who stumbled across the Reopen NC group on Facebook, was so excited by it that she donated money to help recoup some of Smith’s protest expenses. “The government’s responsibility is not to protect my health,” she told me. “It’s to protect my rights.”Presson says she has worn a mask only once during the pandemic, to a doctor’s office for a Botox injection. Otherwise, she’s endured the hostile looks. She’s ignored the couple who shouted at her by the lake. She’s even resisted the urge to buy one of the more stylish masks, or the cute American flag ones—they do nothing, she insists. The virus has been blown “way out of proportion,” she said, and businesses are being destroyed for no reason. “If it was Ebola or something else truly devastating, I wouldn’t be complaining about it at all, because you wouldn’t see me. I would be home with a tree down across the driveway.” (More than 120,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.)Though much of Reopen NC’s rhetoric is dark, the group finds plenty of time for entertainment. “Show us your maskless selfies in public!!!!!!!” reads one post, paired with six American flag emoji. There are hundreds of responses—blurry, poorly lit, taken straight up the chin like every photo a dad has ever sent, of naked faces at “Big Al’s Barbecue” and a mini-golf course and a wig store and a water park. There are multiple comments about being kicked out of various Subway restaurants for going mask-less. But many of the comments are just about praising the thread’s existence, finding camaraderie in rebellion and comfort in relaying scoldings to sympathetic ears.Scrolling through all the drama, it’s easy to forget that Facebook has a special ability to warp reality. According to a poll conducted in May, more than 75 percent of North Carolinians supported Cooper’s decision to extend the state’s stay-at-home order. A June poll showed his approval rating stood at 63 percent—significantly higher than it was a year ago. (“Pandemic response is not a time for partisan politics,” Dory Macmillan, the Cooper’s press secretary, said in an email. “Governor Cooper will continue to be guided by science and the law working to keep North Carolinians safe.”)As a counterweight, the Facebook group Banned from Reopen, which has more than 800 members, popped up in April to support the stay-at-home order. Everything about it is a deliberate contrast to Reopen NC. Besides the name, the group’s cover photo is the Reopen logo—a black cut-out state of North Carolina with the hashtag #Reopen printed in white—but with a disposable surgical mask Photoshopped on top of it. The description reads, “This is a public group for people cast out for trying to inoculate the ignorant with truth.” Scrolling through Banned from Reopen, it’s easy to stumble on characterizations of the Reopen NC members as “wackadoodles,” “#MAGAtards,” and “deplorables.” The memes shared on the page often depict death: a toe tag that reads “At least the economy is open again,” and a cemetery with gravestones shouting “We owned the libs!”Smith describes Banned from Reopen as existing “solely for the purpose of trashing us, trying to infiltrate and find out what we’re doing,” and explains that her group went from private to “secret” for several weeks to keep these “trolls” out. The group’s creator, Dan Nance, an information-security specialist who lives in Charlotte, describes it differently. He’d been disturbed by the disinformation and conspiratorial sentiment in the Reopen group and was kicked out of it for protesting in the comments. Banned from Reopen was intended as “therapy,” for him, he told me in an email. “Just a group of like-minded people having discussions.”[Read: Masks are a tool, not a symbol]Even so, those discussions sometimes get out of hand. “I think a legal case could be made to shoot non-mask-wearing people in self defense,” one member wrote in a thread posted in June. Another replied that while shooting might be “a little extreme,” a “solid kick, square in the nuts” might be more appropriate. A third chimed in, “spray bottles of water work on simple-minded creatures like house cats so with that in mind, perhaps …” The original poster, Scott Thompson, eventually resolved to take a Super Soaker squirt gun the next time he shopped at Sam’s Club.When I spoke to Thompson, a 37-year-old musician who moved to North Carolina two years ago, he was sheepish. “Yeah, you know that was kind of tongue in cheek,” he said. “I think the rhetoric of the online back-and-forth isn’t a true reflection of either side, but it’s easy to get enraged. I see people flouting being safe to prove a point and then I’m huddled up at home doing what we’ve been told to do.”Over time, the rhetoric in each group has become noticeably more dramatic. While Banned from Reopen was once a place to swap dazed stories about the experience of clashing with people who were vehemently antiscience, it is now full of self-righteousness and morbid jokes. In a recent post, screenshots of a North Carolina man complaining about the tyranny of masks are paired with a screenshot of a post revealing that he has died from COVID-19—the comments below include “one less plague rat” and “dumbass is as dumbass does.” Reopen NC has also become even more extreme: While users were initially indignant about lockdown measures and suspicious of the motivations of politicians like Cooper who implemented them, it is now teeming with outright conspiracy theories.There are posts in Reopen NC suggesting, without evidence, that Cooper is deliberately misrepresenting deaths from causes like car accidents as coronavirus deaths. Smith didn’t specifically corroborate that theory, but she said she does think “it’s likely” that he is faking the numbers in some way. This month, she has led a call to impeach Cooper—necessary, she and other Reopen-ers say, because he is deliberately crippling the economy at the request of the Democratic National Committee, to harm Trump’s 2020 campaign. (There is no evidence of this either.) Cooper is up for reelection in November, but Smith thinks the people of North Carolina can’t just wait until then. “What would make us think that we’re going to have a legal election? I would bet money we will not,” she said. “And his actions would lead any reasonable person to believe that.”[Read: How the pandemic silenced the nation’s biggest governor’s race]But even removing Cooper from office isn’t enough for some in the group. “We’re past impeachment!” one member wrote on the Fourth of July, under a photo of the North Carolina governor with a cancel sign drawn across his face. “It’s time to tar and feather!!!North Carolina’s coronavirus case count has been steadily rising for months. But deaths peaked in late May. As the months have dragged on and Reopen NC has grown in popularity, the group has also become a home for conspiracy theories about this curious gap. “The virus is weakening just as viruses will do,” Smith told me, which is why the local media is focused on case numbers instead of death counts. “It is coming to the end of its life cycle.”There is a lag between new cases and death numbers partly because it takes an average of 14 days after symptoms start for a person to die of COVID-19, and an average of seven more days for the death to be reported. So far, the latest surge of the virus has also been largely among younger populations, who are less likely to die from it. Even so, daily deaths are now on the rise in dozens of states, including North Carolina.North Carolina has a history of channeling right-wing anger into digital activism. The state was a hotspot for online Tea Party activity during Barack Obama’s presidency, as the sociologist Jen Schradie writes in her 2019 book The Revolution That Wasn’t. Schradie emphasizes that right-wing groups in North Carolina were more active than their left-wing counterparts, viewing social media as a “revolutionary communication tool” to disseminate information they believed the media wasn’t covering. “I think what’s happening in the Facebook groups is reflecting conversations that are already happening,” she told me when I asked her about Reopen NC, “but it kind of puts them into hyperdrive.”But disinformation and extreme rhetoric are known problems within Facebook groups more broadly, particularly private ones that members must request to join. These spaces tend to shed casual participants and intensify the feelings of more active ones. Looking at information from the other side tends to make them all the more certain of their beliefs: In a 2018 study of anti-vaccine Facebook groups, researchers found that “the introduction of dissenting information ... can produce a backfire effect, thus reinforcing the pre-existing opinions within the sub-group.”[Read: Facebook groups as therapy]That both Reopen NC and Banned from Reopen are becoming parodies of themselves is common with online groups set up as silos. “In a self-selecting population with a lack of dissenting views, it does become a reinforcing spiral,” Alice Marwick, an assistant professor of communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told me. “What usually happens in these communities is that more and more of the people who are moderate drop out and you’re left with the more extreme individuals.”As the pandemic surges again, and Americans become even more exhausted by the task of modifying their lives because of it, people want ways to express their frustration. Members of groups like these are also looking for community and a sense of purpose, which are difficult to come by in the best of times. That impulse is now complicated by orders to stay away from each other, and the feeling of hopelessness that comes with months of illness, death, and economic devastation.But Facebook doesn’t seem to bring them much peace. While Smith told me she felt a “calling” to start Reopen NC, other members of the group were less sentimental about it, saying they went there once in a while to be around “like minds.” Members of Banned from Reopen also had a very hard time articulating to me what they got out of their ritual dissection of what they see as horrible and dangerous opinions. “It’s an uncertain time, and people are bored. So I found myself wandering around internet rabbit holes that I might otherwise not have,” Raymond Desmarais, a 38-year-old personal trainer from Durham who is active in the Banned from Reopen group, told me. “Sitting around on social media criticizing other people seems like not the best use of one’s time necessarily,” he conceded.Thompson—the commenter who joked that he was going shopping with a water gun in hand—said he finds participation in his group pretty pointless. “Will I have a few drinks and get on there and entertain myself? Probably,” he said. “But, I mean, I don’t think anyone is going to change anyone’s minds.”
Bear breaks into home looking for pizza
Everybody wants pizza — even bears. A black bear entered a home in Oro-Medonte, Canada, and tore into an empty pizza box. The wild moment was captured by resident Sean Atkinson’s Ring security camera. “Don’t leave garbage out in Canada,” he warned his fellow Canucks. “This is entirely my fault, although I’ve never seen a...
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'Protest Writing' workshop gives students an outlet to fight racial injustice and bullying
On a recent Friday afternoon, a handful of high school students in Philadelphia met over video chat from their respective homes to dissect the lyrics of songs by jazz musician Billie Holiday and rapper J. Cole.
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Naya Rivera is ‘Glee’s latest tragedy
The mysterious death of former “Glee” star Naya Rivera is just one of many dark tales to come out of the Fox show.
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UFC on ESPN 13 weigh-in results (9 a.m. ET)
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The Constitution Doesn’t Work Without Local News
The Framers of the Constitution understood just how important local news would be to the success of their ambitious American experiment. Alexander Hamilton explained the issue this way in “Federalist No. 84,” using as an example one locality in Maryland: What are the sources of information by which the people in Montgomery County must regulate their judgment of the conduct of their representatives in the State legislature? Of personal observation they can have no benefit. This is confined to the citizens on the spot. They must therefore depend on the information of intelligent men, in whom they confide; and how must these men obtain their information? Evidently from the complexion of public measures, from the public prints, from correspondences with their representatives, and with other persons who reside at the place of their deliberations. This does not apply to Montgomery County only, but to all the counties at any considerable distance from the seat of government. To hold public officials accountable, in other words, “intelligent men”—all people, in fact—need reliable reporting about the activities of government and politicians. But these days, local news is withering in many places across America. The United States is dotted with “news deserts,” regions where no newspaper or other local news organization exists. In many other places, once-vibrant local outlets have become “ghost newspapers”—their name remains, and you can still buy a subscription, but their staff and ambitions are so diminished that they can no longer do the day-to-day reporting that allows citizens to make good decisions at the polls about their governmental representatives.The local-news losses are startling: As I write in my new book, Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy, in the past 15 years, more than 2,100 local newspapers have gone out of business, according to the journalism scholar Penny Muse Abernathy at the University of North Carolina. And about half of American journalism jobs have gone away, too—either as a result of those closures or because of constant layoffs and buyouts in newsrooms—not only at newspapers but at digital-only nonprofits, and at television and radio stations. (These losses occurred before the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic downturn, which has caused even more decline.) The business model for local newspapers, based largely on once-abundant print advertising, has crumbled. And while hundreds of start-up news organizations have emerged, some of them excellent, they have not come close to filling the gap across the country.[Read: The threat to American democracy that has nothing to do with Trump]Local news makes a huge difference. A PEN America study concluded last year that as local journalism declines, “government officials conduct themselves with less integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness,” and corporate malfeasance goes unchecked. With the loss of local news, citizens are less likely to vote, less politically informed, and less likely to run for office, according to the study. Democracy loses its foundation.The tight connection between local news and good citizenship became abundantly clear in 2018 to Nate McMurray, the Democratic candidate for Congress in a heavily Republican district in upstate New York. Although McMurray, the supervisor of the town of Grand Island, was battling a party enrollment skewed against him (the gerrymandered district is the size of Rhode Island and spreads into eight counties), he did have one monumental advantage: His Republican opponent, the incumbent Chris Collins, had just been indicted on insider-trading charges. One would expect that to be disqualifying—but it wasn’t. News of Collins’s indictment did make a difference in the campaign in areas where local news was strong: The Buffalo News has an excellent Washington correspondent, Jerry Zremski, who had broken a major part of the insider-trading story and followed its developments diligently for months. (I spent three decades at The Buffalo News, where I began as a summer intern, including a dozen years as its chief editor.) Many people living in the area around Buffalo, where this newspaper still has a wide circulation, who would have likely voted for the incumbent, crossed the aisle to vote blue. This is clear by a comparison of the election’s results with past voting patterns in the district.This post was excerpted from Sullivan’s recent book.But in the more far-flung parts of the sprawling congressional district, voters were far less informed. The largely rural and suburban district includes Orleans County, which, according to Abernathy’s criteria, is a news desert—one of just a few in New York State.“I’d be going door to door, or meeting with people at a diner or a fair, for example, and in the most isolated areas, a lot of people had no idea that their own congressman had been indicted,” McMurray told me. Orleans County, west of Rochester, he said, was “one of the toughest places.” Some people didn’t even know who Collins was, and many were incredulous when McMurray told them of the federal charges.“People told me I was making it up,” said McMurray. That shouldn’t have been the case, given that television news stations in both Rochester and Buffalo were giving plenty of airtime to the scandal as it developed, and those stations were available throughout the district. Nevertheless, the constituents lacked access to the in-depth coverage that a newspaper would have provided. At one time, almost everyone in the district had ready access to print editions of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle or The Buffalo News, or were within easy reach of smaller newspapers in nearby Niagara Falls or Lockport.[John Temple: My newspaper died 10 years ago. I’m worried the worst is yet to come.]As a result, Collins—the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president—was taking full advantage of the decline of credible news sources. He sent fundraising emails to constituents, blasting what he called “fake news” about his misdeeds—and relied heavily on TV ads to promote his supposed effectiveness in Congress. McMurray put it to me this way: “The lack of real journalism in a lot of the more remote parts of the district meant that people were relying on gossip, conservative radio, or social media. People were really deep into their echo chambers, or they just didn’t care.”McMurray lost that 2018 election by a whisker: less than half a percentage point—far less than expected, given the natural party skew of the district. As for the incumbent Collins, he later pleaded guilty to two felonies, resigned from Congress, and was sentenced to prison. Some of his constituents may be unaware of that too, or wouldn’t believe it if they saw it in a neighbor’s Facebook post. Of course, citizens may be uninformed about their public officials for many reasons—among them the spotty civics education in schools and the public’s increased reliance on social media—but the loss of newspapers is surely a contributing factor.Despite some hopeful signs, such as the many nonprofit news sites that have cropped up around the country, the overall trends are troubling. As Tom Rosenstiel, the executive director of the American Press Institute, told me: “If we don’t monitor power at the local level, there will be massive abuse of power at the local level.” That’s something that Alexander Hamilton and his fellow constitutional architects could not have reconciled with what they had in mind: a society in which citizens are well-informed and active participants in how their government operates. If we in the 21st century are to remain true to their vision, we must find a way—indeed, many ways—to reinvent local journalism before it is too late.This article is adapted from Sullivan’s recent book, Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy.
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