Good riddance, Bill

Trevor Noah provides a fitting farewell to the odious Bill O’Reilly who has been given a golden parachute to leave Fox News in the wake of the latest revelations about his awful behavior that resulted in practically the entire stable of advertisers yanking support from his show. It has been clear for a long time that O’Reilly was an awful, abusive man who treated many of his co-workers at Fox abominably and yet Fox was quite happy to tolerate and make excuses for him when he was making money for them but once that money source started drying up, they turned on him.
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Using unpopular targets to undermine press freedoms

Authoritarian governments often use people and groups who are unpopular at any given time to undermine the freedoms that everyone should have but that restrict the government’s freedom to act with impunity. This is why it is necessary to defend the rights of even those whom you disagree with and even despise. Right now, WikiLeaks is hated by both Republicans and Democrats, and the Trump administration is making dangerous noises about curbing speech and press freedom using WikiLeaks as the excuse.
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The five filters that shape the media narrative

In the groundbreaking book Manufacturing Consent published in 1988 by Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann, they proposed a model of how the media in the US is used by the establishment as a means of control of the population. This works less overtly than in openly authoritarian countries where state dominance over the media is obvious. In the US, control of the media is not by the state but by an establishment elite. This control is hidden and achieves its effects more subtly and this feature actually makes the propaganda more effective because people do not realize that their opinions are being manipulated.
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Who actually reads political memoirs?

Reports have emerged that the bidding war for the rights to publish memoirs by both Barack and Michelle Obama have reached the stratospheric level of $65 million for the two-book contract. While this is particularly high, book publishers seem to be willing to shell out big bucks advances for books written (usually ghost written) by prominent politicians. This raises once again in my mind a question that I had been idly pondering for a long while, and that is who actually reads such books? After all, the publishers are obviously hoping to recover the costs in sales. At (say) a discounted price of $10 per book, we are talking about millions of books sold.
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How good journalism should work

The long running controversy over what contacts Donald Trump and members of his campaign staff had with Russian government officials and the nature of those discussions have been going on for some time, with Trump vigorously denying any wrongdoing, though since he is a pathological liar, his assurances do not count for anything. Jon Schwarz says that Trump can easily settle this issue once and for all if he wanted to.
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In praise of an adversarial press-government relationship

Donald Trump clearly has a strong dislike for much of the press, except for the alt-right extremists. This is not surprising. Trump is an incredibly thin-skinned and petty man who cannot stand any criticism from any quarter and during the campaign he received quite a lot of negative coverage. That much of it was generated by his own words and actions does not seem to matter to him. He seems to want and need fawning adulation all the time.
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Does anonymity worsen online behavior?

The fact that the internet seems to have a large number of people who indulge in abusive behavior towards others is hardly news. Why people behave this way is not clear. My own theory is similar to what I think about sports. My high school in Sri Lanka had a strong sports emphasis, since it was modeled on British public schools that took seriously the motto mens sana in corpore sano (“a healthy mind in a healthy body”). One used to constantly hear the phrase that playing sports builds character but I always doubted that. It seemed to me that what sports did was reveal character, since on the athletic field, one’s behavior was now visible to large number of people.
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The Twitter paradox

Twitter is an information network that is great for speed but terrible for conveying nuance and making an argument. Since the shelf life of an issue on Twitter is so short, it tempts people to fire off the first response that comes to their heads so as to be still relevant to the conversation, and as a result they may say things that they regret later. All of us have experienced occasions when in the heat of the moment we have said things that we immediately regret. With Twitter, there is no taking back. We read of case after case of people putting their careers and relationships at risk because of tweeting things that they later say were too clumsily written and wrongly interpreted. Some later delete their tweets, which rarely undoes the damage since the internet ever forgets.
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Charlie Brooker reviews 2016

I am not a fan of year-end reviews but I will make an exception for Charlie Brooker’s annual sardonic take on events and how the media covers them. He is always entertaining even when I had not heard before of the news that he is commenting on. For those who think that TV in the US has become too lascivious, the clips he showed of some British reality shows are astounding. Those shows make US TV seem extremely prudish by comparison. One of them seems to be a version of these popular matchmaking shows in which the men are shown naked from the waist down and the woman picks the man by comparing their genitals.
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