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Opinion Never Let Journalists Run Things

15:49  22 july  2021
15:49  22 july  2021 Source:   theatlantic.com

Probe: Journalists, activists among firm's spyware targets

  Probe: Journalists, activists among firm's spyware targets BOSTON (AP) — An investigation by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data provides further evidence that military-grade malware from Israel-based NSO Group, the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire outfit, is being used to spy on journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents. From a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International and shared with 16 news organizations, journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.

The United States is responsible for so many questionable transatlantic exports—The Apprentice, gray squirrels, dressing your dog up for Halloween—that we in Britain deserve to have our revenge. As if sending you James Corden wasn’t enough, our latest gift is that quintessentially British figure, the journalist turned politician. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is considering a run for governor of Oregon in 2022, a development unusual enough to make headlines in state and national media. “I have friends trying to convince me that here in Oregon, we need new leadership,” he wrote in a statement.

EXPLAINER: Target list of Israeli hack-for-hire firm widens

  EXPLAINER: Target list of Israeli hack-for-hire firm widens BOSTON (AP) — Human rights and press freedom activists are up in arms about a new report on NSO Group, the notorious Israeli hacker-for-hire company. The report, by a global media consortium, expands public knowledge of the target list used in NSO's military-grade spyware. According to the report, that now not only includes journalists, rights activists and opposition political figures, but also people close to them. The groups decried on MondayThe groups decried on Monday the virtual absence of regulation of commercial surveillance tools. If the allegations of widespread targeting by NSO's Pegasus spyware are even partly true, U.N.

a screenshot of a cell phone © Getty ; Adam Maida / The Atlantic

A British journalist would not need to be so coy about moving into politics. Our prime minister, Boris Johnson, famously began his career as a journalist. He was soon fired from the Times newspaper for making up a quotation, which was good preparation for switching to politics and getting fired from the shadow cabinet for lying about having an affair. (He initially described the story as an “inverted pyramid of piffle.”) Both of these events, in turn, were even better preparation for winning the leadership of the Conservative Party by promising to leave the European Union on October 31, 2019—“do or die”—and then failing to do so, because the process turned out to be exactly as complicated as his luckless opponent said it would be. (After repeated defeats in Parliament, Johnson suspended 21 rebellious members of his party, called a general election, won it, and eventually got his Brexit the next year.)

50,000 phone numbers worldwide on list linked to Israeli spyware: reports

  50,000 phone numbers worldwide on list linked to Israeli spyware: reports An Israeli firm accused of supplying spyware to governments has been linked to a list of 50,000 smartphone numbers, including those of activists, journalists, business executives and politicians around the world, according to reports Sunday. © Sajjad HUSSAIN Pegasus activates a phone's camera and microphone, acting as a pocket spy Israel's NSO Group and its Pegasus malware have been in the headlines since at least 2016, when researchers accused it of helping spy on a dissident in the United Arab Emirates.

[Read: The minister of chaos]

Johnson’s biography shows the problem here: Journalists make dangerous politicians because they can talk their way out of trouble, have an eye for an arresting phrase and an appealing narrative, and know how to win over a crowd. Throughout the 20th century, British politics was full of ex-journalists. Winston Churchill spent a year during the Boer War as a correspondent for The Morning Post. Nigel Lawson, the father of the food writer Nigella, edited The Spectator magazine in the 1960s, before serving as chancellor of the exchequer under Margaret Thatcher. Ruth Davidson, the 42-year-old former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, began as a journalist, as did current Cabinet minister Michael Gove. The British left has also had its share. The man who led the Labour Party to a crushing defeat in the 1980s, Michael Foot, once edited the London Evening Standard, while the woman who should have been Britain’s first female prime minister, Barbara Castle, began her career at Tribune magazine.

New data shows how white top companies are, despite diversity, inclusion pledges: 5 Things podcast

  New data shows how white top companies are, despite diversity, inclusion pledges: 5 Things podcast At America’s largest and most powerful companies, 1 in every 97 white workers is an executive. Only 1 in every 443 Black or Hispanic workers holds a top job.This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Some well-known American journalists have also run for office, although many of these candidates—such as the 19th-century newspaper editor Horace Greeley—lost in a landslide; other bids, including those of William F. Buckley and Mickey Kaus, were doomed from the start. A handful of American politicians, including Al Gore and Sarah Palin, had brief stints as reporters, but Britain has a far grander tradition of putting former journalists in high public office. Even if they have never run anything more than a bath.

The Johnson comparison is unfair to Kristof, who has covered unfashionable subjects such as human trafficking and maternal mortality with tenacity and rigor. His recent investigation into rape videos on Pornhub forced the company to change its moderation policies; any politician would have been proud to achieve such a victory. He writes about women’s issues without sounding like The Onion’s “Man Finally Put in Charge of Struggling Feminist Movement”. (Asked for comment on his potential run, Kristof referred me to his published statement.)

Case Pegasus: an open investigation in Paris on the spying of journalists

 Case Pegasus: an open investigation in Paris on the spying of journalists © Jack Guez / AFP A woman uses his iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli group Nso "Pegasus", in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, the 28th August 2016. The parquet of Paris has opened an investigation, on Tuesday, July 20, concerning the Pegasus software as a result of complaints by several media such as chained and mediapart, including several journalists have been spied.

Notably, however, in a post-war American journalism tradition that prizes the separation of opinion from news, Kristof is an op-ed writer. Britain has no such qualms about the need to keep facts and feelings separate: Two of its most high-profile journalists are the former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and the Labour activist Owen Jones, neither of whom makes a secret of his political leanings. British newspapers also have a tradition of straightforward partisanship that is alien to the U.S., where some of the largest publications are technically local newspapers, and once expected to attract readers from both sides of the aisle. The Mirror—where Barbara Castle worked—is an explicitly Labour-supporting paper, while Lawson’s Telegraph was explicitly Conservative-supporting. In recent decades, Britain has been much more at ease than the U.S. with the idea of journalism as a continuation of politics by other means.

[Read: The mainstream media won’t tell you this]

Values in the U.S. are beginning to change, however. Barely a month passes without an article dissecting the generational split in American journalism, and the accompanying rise of news organizations and individual writers who reject the old ideas about “objectivity” and the “view from nowhere.” In this climate, surely more American journalists will feel comfortable with the move from writing about policy to making it. They will do so in an attention economy, which rewards a particular type of journalism and a particular type of politician: It is an advantage to be entertaining, and to have a personal fan base and a big platform.

Amazon Cuts Off Service to NSO Spyware Firm Behind iPhone Hacks

  Amazon Cuts Off Service to NSO Spyware Firm Behind iPhone Hacks Amazon has cut off web hosting services for the NSO Group, an Israeli spyware firm that has been widely accused of aiding in the surveillance of journalists and political dissidents. © Photo: David Ryder (Getty Images) The move comes shortly after an extensive investigation into the widespread use of NSO’s commercial malware “Pegasus”—a product that has the ability to totally compromise phones and is thought to be used by dozens of governments throughout the world.

Kristof is already on leave from the Times, in line with the paper’s ethics policies, but you’d have to be a more trusting person than me to expect a Fox News star to bow out of the TV spotlight before formally declaring a run for political office. (Fox did not respond to a request for comment. After the Fox host Sean Hannity appeared onstage at a 2018 Donald Trump rally, the network said that “Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” but he went right on hosting his show.)

In the absence of strong norms keeping politics and journalism separate, the boundary between them is sure to be porous, as it is in Britain. Both jobs have no mandatory qualifications, no equivalent of an M.D. or a bar exam, and both reward the supremely confident bullshitter. Having attended the University of Oxford helps, as does showing a breezy assurance that everything will turn out okay in the end. Both professions have an almost religious belief in the power of deadlines: David Cameron was known as the “essay crisis” prime minister for his habit of performing best at the last minute; he revived his 2005 campaign for the Conservative Party leadership with one rousing speech. He maintained focus during long summits by refusing to visit the bathroom, which is exactly the kind of thing most journalists would do to force themselves to file a story on time.

Another bad habit journalists have is that many mistake provoking a reaction—whether effusive or angry—for genuine achievement. Getting a rise out of your opponents might be satisfying, but it’s not a substitute for getting things done. Even during a pandemic, Boris Johnson needed the sugar rush of compliments about how funny he is, what a great master of rhetoric he is, what a lovable clown he is. And so he couldn’t go cold turkey on the kind of weird phrases that pad out a light-hearted op-ed column. He claimed that the leader of the opposition, a former lawyer, had “more briefs than Calvin Klein” and that his coronavirus policies had “more flip-flops than Bournemouth beach.” During the Brexit referendum, he kept doing the one about how he was “pro-secco but by no means anti-pasto.” Journalism rewards this sort of talk. Politics shouldn’t. Yet British politics does.

Beyond bias

  Beyond bias How the media moved from one of preferred narratives to advocacy and deception.As I began my career as a documentary filmmaker in the late '70s and '80s, already the conservative complaints of bias were loud and also justified. Bias was easy to spot. Reporters covered stories and were sympathetic to one point of view, call it the "pro" side. So, the story would lead with the "pro" side and end with the "pro" side, sandwiching the "anti" side into the middle and giving it much less coverage. All the good quotes would come from the "pro" advocates, while the "anti" advocates were reduced to defending themselves or offering simple denials.

[Read: Tucker Carlson’s manufactured America]

When Johnson decided to move into politics, he was editor of the London-based Spectator magazine—a job that, by the way, he got on false pretenses, after assuring the proprietor that he had abandoned his parliamentary ambitions. (Spot a theme?) Although Britain’s political and media capital is now a left-wing city, it is surrounded by Conservative areas within easy driving distance. The Conservative Party found Johnson a safe seat in Henley, a pretty riverside town about an hour outside London; later, when Johnson returned to Parliament again, after a stint as the capital’s mayor, he was given another safe seat close to central London, in Uxbridge. Throughout this time, he was based at his family home in Islington, north London.

Contrast this with the United States, a far larger country where a politician’s place of residence matters far more. You can’t live in New York or Washington, the hubs of U.S. journalism, and hope to run for election in Maine or Arkansas. According to The Oregonian, Kristof, who grew up on a farm 25 miles outside Portland, moved back to Oregon in 2019 to “transition his family’s cherry farm to a cider apple and wine grape farm”—which simultaneously sounds charming, folksy, and very much like something a New York Times columnist would do.

The Times report on Kristof’s candidacy downplayed his chances of victory, because of a strong field of local leaders. Perhaps that’s for the best, as the British tradition of journalist-politicians is not something to emulate. The foreign reporter Nicholas Tomalin once said that the “only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability.” If anything, he was being too polite. The journalist’s motto might as well be: Well, I don’t know about this, but give me 30 minutes and I’ll sound like an expert. Remember all those commentators who sounded like world-class economists a decade ago, during the financial crisis. Aren’t we lucky that they all retrained as epidemiologists?

So consider Boris Johnson to be a warning. Nick Kristof seems like a decent, thoughtful man who may someday have access to some extremely high-quality alcohol. But overall, the heights of modern journalism select for loud, polarizing attention-vampires with huge egos and short attention spans. And if American voters start rewarding journalists who switch to politics, don’t come crying to me on Inauguration Day for President Tucker Carlson.

Pegasus: One of the most famous reporters in Hungary both hunter and target .
© AFP / Archivos The Szabolcs Panyi phone has been infected with the PEGASUS spyware (image of illustration). This is one of the most famous reporters in Hungary, several times crowned best investigative journalist of the country (2015, 2016, 2020). Szabolcs Panyi works for the online newspaper Saykt 36, an independent media specializing in corruption cases. It is part of the consortium of journalists who revealed the Pegasus affair, this vast espionage scandal.

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