Linky Friday: But Wait…There’s More! Edition
[LF1] Everything Gawker Existed to Satirize Has Been Destroyed by Freddie deBoer
Writers and editors and publishers still socialize, but even prior to Covid it seems that the concept of a scene had gradually disintegrated as people in the same industry drifted out into so many little circles that there was no more center of gravity.
The thing is that New York City media isn’t just in New York City anymore. I have no idea if the New Gawker crew is required/will be required to be in house, but in the industry in which it is being reborn there’s almost no mandates against working remotely at all. How could these publications tell people they have to be in-office anymore, after the past year and change? The basic economics of digital media have not improved, to say the least, in the past five years. And though I have no data to prove this, I suspect the median age of people trying to make it by writing for digital outlets has trended up over time; perhaps the young striving types have finally been scared off by Brooklyn rents and a hundred thinkpieces about how writers can’t make a living the days. Many of those who have remained are now firmly in the writing-tweets-about-changing-diapers stage of their lives, and quite a few of them have decamped for Little Rock or Columbus OH or wherever else they can talk themselves into, places where the $55K/year seasoned writers can earn in the biz stretches a little further. (I will follow them in the next year or two, inshallah.) So in a basic sense I think there’s simply hasn’t been the same density of media people socializing for there to be the kind of scene that was so essential to what Gawker was. I suppose some people will object to my focusing on this element but I find it really hard to deny that Gawker was not just a publication but also a group of people who frequently got together to get drunk and make fun of you, yes you personally.
Besides, testing your coke for fentanyl before you snort it probably takes some of that magic away.
But the broader thing is that New Gawker couldn’t do what old Gawker did because everything old Gawker hated is gone. Gawker was, gleefully and often brilliantly, an anti-ideology. It was what it hated. And what Gawker hated is mostly all gone. Principal among them is glamorous, elite magazine and newspaper culture. It’s difficult to even remember this now, but Gawker’s original edge, back in the Elizabeth Spiers era, came from resentment at the money and privilege and (minor) celebrity that could be found in publishing and media – Tina Brown and Conde Naste and Greydon Carter and celebrity profiles and cushy gigs and expense accounts. Similarly, the publishing world which was intermingled with the media one had big-shot publishers and breathless profiles of hot young authors and three-martini lunches at Nobu. Spiers and those that followed her made great hay from mocking the people involved because those people really were enjoying immense material and social reward for having ascended in that world.
And in the most basic and direct terms, this world simply does not exist anymore. There are still overpaid people at Conde Naste, there are those who are lucky enough to get expense accounts (although I promise they’re not just handed a black card anymore), there’s excess and a few inflated advances in publishing, sure. But as it did in music, the internet opened a big fat hole in those industries…
[LF2] Ron Popeil, inventor, pitchman and TV infomercial star, dies at 86 by Matt Schudel in Washington Post
A millionaire many times over, Mr. Popeil lived in Beverly Hills but dined at Denny’s and shopped at Costco. During one of his Costco visits, he saw crowds lined up to buy rotisserie-roasted chicken.
Mr. Popeil got to work. He bought an aquarium, an electric motor, a heating element, a metal spit rod and a few other spare parts and began to tinker. He and one of his assistants, Alan Backus, worked on several different models, which they tested in Mr. Popeil’s kitchen, cooking chicken, duck and pork.
Mr. Popeil wanted the front of the oven to be glass to enable people to see the food as it roasted. The spit had two prongs and had to rotate horizontally, not vertically, to cook evenly and not dry out. He tested the durability of the cooker by dropping it on concrete 10 times.
Finally, the Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ countertop oven was ready. Mr. Popeil made a half-hour infomercial that first aired in 1998, and sales rocketed. Demonstrating how easy the cooker was to use, he uttered a phrase that studio audiences later chanted in unison with him: “Set it and forget it.”
Sales of the Showtime Rotisserie totaled more than $1 billion, making it by far the most successful Ronco product. Mr. Popeil developed the oven without focus groups, a marketing campaign or research staff, except for the friends who ate his chicken and helped him tinker with the electronic innards of the machine.
“My forte is mass marketing for big dollars,” he told the Boston Globe. “The product has to fill a need and the market has to be very big.”
Ronald Martin Popeil was born May 3, 1935, in New York City. He was 3 when his parents divorced, and his father largely abandoned him. He spent several years at a boarding school before he was taken in by his strict grandparents in Florida. (In 1974, Mr. Popeil’s stepmother was convicted of hiring hit men to kill her estranged husband. She served 19 months in prison, and the two later remarried.)
One of the reasons he enjoyed selling directly to people on the street or in department stores, he told “CBS Sunday Morning” in 2000, was that “I had lived for 16 years in homes without love. Now I had finally found a form of affection, and a human connection, through sales.”
He admitted in his autobiography that he was a compulsive workaholic who had been an inattentive husband and father. Survivors include his fourth wife, the former Robin Angers; four daughters; and four grandchildren.
In 1984, Mr. Popeil’s Ronco empire nearly collapsed, but he bought the rights to his products and rebuilt the company. He sold it in 2005 but continued inventing new products until shortly before his death.
“I have enough money today,” he said in 1997, “but I can’t stop. If there’s a need for these things, I can’t help myself.”
[LF3] Scarlett Johansson Is Suing Disney For Its Streaming Release Of ‘Black Widow’ by Bob Mondello by NPR
Scarlett Johansson is suing the Walt Disney Co. for releasing her movie Black Widow on streaming and in theaters at the same time.
Black Widow opened in theaters two weeks ago to the biggest box office numbers of the coronavirus pandemic: $80 million on its opening weekend.
After the first weekend, the numbers fell off a cliff. Industry observers suggest that one reason attendance fell so quickly is that Disney had screened the film simultaneously on Disney+, allowing audiences to bypass theaters and watch it at home.
Johannsson is the film’s star and also its executive producer. She says in her lawsuit — which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal — that her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release and based her salary in part on the film’s box office performance.
Disney responds that the lawsuit has no merit
A Disney spokesperson responded, according to Entertainment Weekly, by saying that Disney “has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”
A few big films — F9, for instance, and the upcoming 007 movie No Time to Die — delayed their premieres so they could go the traditional route. Others, like Pixar’s Soul, bypassed theaters entirely and went straight to streaming.
WarnerMedia, to boost its streaming service HBO Max, is releasing all of its titles this year simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max. But it renegotiated many of its talent contracts to do so, reportedly paying stars and directors more than $200 million.
Johansson’s complaint says her representatives tried to renegotiate her contract but Disney and Marvel were unresponsive.
[LF4] Mixed Medical Messages Create Covid Confusion by Mark Dickinson in Arc Digital
So, who can educators trust: the CDC, AAP, or WHO?
In the absence of a unified message, administrators—lacking medical expertise—must piece together their own Covid policies, under the glare of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle looking to score political points in the mask debate.
Former President Donald Trump deserves much of the blame for transforming a health crisis into a hot-button issue. Trump spread—and is still spreading—false claims about the coronavirus, including Covid not being as bad as the flu, saying it would disappear quickly, and promoting unproven cures. A Cornell University study determined Trump was “likely the largest driver” of Covid misinformation.
However, the scientific establishment is also at fault for conflicting messages about Covid dating back to the beginning of the pandemic.
In February 2020, both the CDC and WHO said the general public didn’t need to wear masks.
Then-surgeon general, Jerome Adams, even tweeted, “Seriously people—STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” That tweet was later deleted.
The next month Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate subcommittee masks weren’t necessary because “right now there isn’t anything going around right now in the community, certainly not coronavirus, that is calling for the broad use of masks.”
In April 2020, the CDC changed its recommendation, encouraging all Americans to wear masks away from home. Two months later, the WHO followed suit. Both Dr. Fauci and Dr. Adams reversed their stances, as well.
It’s not unusual for health officials to change their minds. In the scientific world, it’s a sign of strength to modify one’s opinion based on the latest evidence. Ultimately, the CDC endorsed masks after discovering asymptomatic patients were spreading Covid.
But in popular culture flip-flopping and disagreements among experts tend to generate confusion and distrust, a perfect breeding ground for the proliferation of virus misinformation and conspiracy theories.
[LF5] Bob Moses and the Fighting Spirit of Black Intellectual History By Robert Greene II
His own work in establishing the Algebra Project after his return to the United States is another example of how historians and others should think broadly about the idea of the Black intellectual. Establishing the Algebra Project in the 1980s to encourage middle and high school students to excel in mathematics, Moses’ efforts with the Algebra Project represent a different—but equally important—strain of the Black intellectual tradition, by using education to get ahead in American society. It was also an example of how numerous civil rights activists approached the problems of the post-civil rights era in a variety of different ways. Some, like John Lewis, went into the political arena. Others, like Gloria Richardson, decided to work locally in their own unique way, to help others. Moses, of course, continued to push for national change through education.
The passing of Bob Moses is also important to historians of the Black intellectual tradition for one final, sobering reason. As has been pointed out with the passing of Gloria Richardson, and before her John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, the generation of activists who formed the core of the Civil Rights Movement are rapidly leaving us. It is incumbent upon all historians of the Black experience in the United States to work as hard as possible to capture these stories. For intellectual historians, it is critical to continue to put their lives—and ideas—in the context of the larger fights over intellectual thought that formed the backbone of 20th century African American and American history.
[LF6] The My Pillow Guy Really Could Destroy Democracy by Anne Applebaum for The Atlantic
Bannon’s podcast, which he says has millions of listeners (it is ranked 59th on Apple Podcasts, so he might be right), is populated by full-time conspiracy theorists, some of whom you have heard of and some of whom you probably haven’t: Peter “Trump Won in a Freakin’ Landslide” Navarro, Rudy Giuliani, Garland Favorito, Willis @treekiller35, Sonny Borrelli, the Pizzagate propagator Jack Posobiec, and, of course, Lindell. Bannon calls them up one by one to report on the current status of the Trump-reinstatement campaign and related fake scandals. There are daily updates. The guests talk fast and loud. It is very exciting. On the day I was at the studio, Bannon was gloating about how President Joe Biden was now “defending his own legitimacy”: “We are going to spring the trap around you, sir!” He kept telling people to “lawyer up.”
Even in this group, Lindell stands out. Not only is he presumably much richer than Garland Favorito and Willis @treekiller35; he is willing to spend his money on the cause. MyPillow has long been an important advertiser on Fox News, so much so that even Trump noticed Lindell (“That guy is on TV more than I am”), but has since widened its net. MyPillow spent tens of thousands of dollars advertising on Newsmax just in the week following the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
And now Lindell is spending on more than just advertising. Last January—on the 9th, he says carefully, placing the date after the 6th—a group of still-unidentified concerned citizens brought him some computer data. These were, allegedly, packet captures, intercepted data proving that the Chinese Communist Party altered electoral results … in all 50 states. This is a conspiracy theory more elaborate than the purported Venezuelan manipulation of voting machines, more improbable than the allegation that millions of supposedly fake ballots were mailed in, more baroque than the belief that thousands of dead people voted. This one has potentially profound geopolitical implications.
That’s why Lindell has spent money—a lot of it, “tens of millions,” he told me—“validating” the packets, and it’s why he is planning to spend a lot more. Starting on August 10, he is holding a three-day symposium in Sioux Falls (because he admires South Dakota’s gun-toting governor, Kristi Noem), where the validators, whoever they may be, will present their results publicly. He has invited all interested computer scientists, university professors, elected federal officials, foreign officials, reporters, and editors to the symposium. He has booked, he says variously, “1,000 hotel rooms” or “all the hotel rooms in the city” to accommodate them. (As of Wednesday, Booking.com was still showing plenty of rooms available in Sioux Falls.)
Wacky though it seems for a businessman to invest so much in a conspiracy theory, there are important historical precedents. Think of Olof Aschberg, the Swedish banker who helped finance the Bolshevik revolution, allegedly melting down the bars of gold that Lenin’s comrades stole in train robberies and reselling them, unmarked, on European exchanges. Or Henry Ford, whose infamous anti-Semitic tract, The International Jew, was widely read in Nazi Germany, including by Hitler himself. Plenty of successful, wealthy people think that their knowledge of production technology or private equity gives them clairvoyant insight into politics. But Aschberg, Ford, and Lindell represent the extreme edge of that phenomenon: Their business success gives them the confidence to promote malevolent conspiracy theories, and the means to reach wide audiences.
[LF7] Simone Biles was abandoned by American Olympic officials, and the torment hasn’t stopped by Sally Jenkins
It’s a perilous endeavor to project what Biles, the most uniquely superior gymnast in the world, is feeling or thinking at this juncture. But she has been frank about these things: her profound lingering distrust of USA Gymnastics and the USOPC and her conviction they will not do right by her and other athletes of their own accord. Remember, if it wasn’t for Biles bringing her clout to the issue, these users would still be making women train in the buggy squalor of the Karolyi Ranch, the USOPC-sanctioned hellhole where they were molested.
As Biles told NBC’s Hoda Kotb in a recent interview, one of the main reasons she came back for another Olympics at age 24 was to try to ensure some accountability. “If there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would’ve just brushed it to the side,” she said.
It was only two weeks ago that the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report on the Nassar case, in which Biles learned in new infuriating detail how corrupt officials hushed up evidence that the gymnastics doctor was a serial sex assaulter and how then-USAG chief Steve Penny traded favors with local FBI agent Jay Abbott to bottom-drawer it.
Documents produced in a long-stalled civil suit against USOPC and USAG have brought other aggravating recent revelations. One in particular is worth looking at, in light of what happened to Biles on the vaulting floor in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. That’s the day Biles became so disoriented on her vault that she couldn’t risk competing in the team finals.
As chance would have it, that’s the same date that, six years earlier, Steve Penny threw her to the wolf.
FBI failed to pursue Nassar sex-abuse allegations, inspector general finds
On July 27, 2015, Biles was an 18-year-old world champion who arrived at USAG headquarters in Indianapolis for a series of appearances to promote one of their events. For two days, Biles signed autographs and did other favors to please USAG officials. Penny personally drove Biles and her mother to some of the functions and had extended conversations with her, according to John Manly, an attorney for Biles and other victims. Biles even appeared at a birthday party for Penny’s daughter.
You know what Penny failed to mention over those two days? In fact, failed to breathe so much as a word of, much less warn her of? The fact that he had credible evidence Nassar was a molester.
On July 25, shortly before Biles arrived in Indianapolis, Penny had learned of an “unambiguous claim of sexual abuse” by Nassar against a gymnast from a private investigator, who told him he was obliged to go straight to law enforcement. Instead Penny went straight to the USOPC, calling CEO Scott Blackmun for advice. On July 27, even as Biles was in Indianapolis smiling for the cameras and signing autographs, Penny scheduled a meeting with the local FBI. And on July 28, he met with the FBI’s Abbott, who subsequently smothered the investigation for months while Penny explored getting him a job at the USOPC.
And he never said a word to Biles.
If you think conduct like this is past tense for these organizations, think again. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the USOPC and USAG have perpetuated their coverup with civil court motions. They have hidden from accountability with bankruptcy proceedings. They have demanded that in exchange for any civil settlement, Biles and others who suffered Nassar’s assaults issue blanket liability releases that would protect a rogue’s gallery of well-known abusers, as well as Penny. And they have fought to keep the depositions of Penny, Blackmun and former chairman Larry Probst under seal.
Does that sound like these organizations have turned over a new leaf and become more “athlete-centered?” They had the nerve to feign support for Biles this week.
They are not her supporters.
They are her tormentors.