The Sorensen Monologues

Archive for May, 2019

Fake Facebook Videos Throughout History

As most people have heard, a slowed-down video of Nancy Pelosi that made her appear drunk or mentally troubled went viral recently. The White House, in what appears to have been a coordinated effort, promulgated the smear that Pelosi was losing her marbles. Facebook refused to remove the video, claiming they’d reduced its distribution, but according to the Root it was still getting comments from confused viewers, and failed to have any fact-checker warnings.

This goes beyond merely inaccurate spin or false “reporting.” Seeing is believing, and manipulated video is about bending reality itself. While the Pelosi video alteration was relatively low-tech, the technology of “deep fakes” — digitally-constructed fake video — is improving, and almost certainly will pose grave Orwellian challenges in the future. Samantha Bee did a good segment on deep fakes for the “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” special. It’s worth watching if you want to learn more.

A number of well-meaning people have suggested that it’s not Facebook’s job to remove such content, and who’s to say what is true or false, and there is no absolute rule that would apply to everything, so therefore we can do nothing. This just shows how much norms have been eviscerated. Facebook is a media company profiting off of news delivery. This is a high-profile case of disinformation and character assassination with major political import. You do what any ethical news outlet would do. You apply basic journalistic principles and remove it! Facebook removes plenty of content all the time (let’s just say it has a complicated relationship with the female breast), so it’s not like they don’t interfere already.

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Fantasy Joe Biden

OK, so I did give in to the temptation to make a Game of Thrones reference. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, Arya Stark has shape-shifting capabilities and, to put it gently, does not suffer fools. I like the idea of Arya taking over Biden for a while. The thing is, I didn’t want to imply that she’d killed Biden, so I had to explain that somehow, and, well, if you look at photos, the man clearly has had some work done. I don’t actually hate Biden, but I do think he’s the wrong candidate for this moment, and his propensity for saying gratuitously stupid things (such as having no empathy for an entire generation saddled with crushing student loan debt in a time of record inequality while facing insane housing costs and apocalyptic climate change) is worrisome. I get that some voters like happy talk about working together with Republicans, but I don’t think this sets us up well for standing up to the revolutionary assault on democracy currently being waged by the GOP.

If Biden becomes the nominee, there will be a time to rally around him — but right now I think it’s useful to examine the candidates’ shortcomings. I criticize not to destroy, but in the hopes that his campaign will do better. Otherwise, this country is toast.

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End Of The Roe

Several states are now passing radical anti-abortion laws, with the express goal of taking the fight all the way to a sympathetically pre-modern Supreme Court. Alabama is on the verge of enacting a near-total ban with no exceptions for rape and incest. Yesterday, SCOTUS issued an ominous ruling against stare decisis that many legal experts are saying lays the groundwork for overturning Roe.

How did we get here? Partly, I would argue, from reproductive justice being continually marginalized as “not hard news” — unlike, say, tariffs! (Incidentally, I’ve seen a couple terrible political cartoons now depicting trade war with China as an earth-scorching Game of Thrones dragon. I don’t care how much fun it is to draw dragons, I promise I will never do that to you.) Also, some of us were VERY, VERY WORRIED about the Supreme Court in 2016, predicting that this was going to happen, and it felt like those warnings were met with a collective shrug. I think many people still underestimate the dark times ahead. Seriously, working on this cartoon gave me the creeps.

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Candidate Time Machine

I’d vote for any of these candidates against Trump, of course. I do think people are overestimating Biden’s electability — there’s an enthusiasm gap there that poses a risk, and he’s said some awfully stupid stuff. You can’t say Trump is an aberration and unrepresentative of the GOP in 2019 after voter purges, Merrick Garland, acceptance of Russian interference in our elections, and countless other gross violations of democratic norms. And no, Dick Cheney is not a “decent man.”

I don’t object to trying to win over white working class guys in diners — indeed, I support the 50-state strategy espoused by Howard Dean some years ago. I do think they’ve been somewhat mythologized at the expense of other working class voters. I couldn’t help but notice who was prominently featured in this emotionally-powerful Sanders ad about the Lordstown, Ohio GM plant closure, compared to the considerably more diverse set of Lordstown workers who appeared in this NY Times article (scroll down through all the photos).

The role of Trump’s affluent and middle-class supporters has also been rendered invisible. The $70,000 figure came from this oft-quoted Nate Silver post; while rural voters do tend to support Trump, we often forget it was suburban whites who really put him over the top. Only a third of Trump supporters had incomes under $50,000; another third earned $50,000-$100,000 and the remaining third made over $100,000. How often do we hear about Trump’s huge base of six-figure earners? Other studies suggest that better indicators of Trump support are education levels and fragile masculinity.

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Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

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