Today in OpenGov: Faking it


In today's edition, President Trump announces his "fake news" awards, there were more FOIA lawsuits in 2017, the House makes moves on foreign lobbying reform, What Works Cities reaches a milestone, world press freedom is ranked, and much more. 

faking it

Image Credit: Marco Verch.

Yesterday, President Trump announced his much-hyped "Fake News Awards." To no one's surprise, "winners" included CNN, the New York Times, ABC, the Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek. 

The New York Times was quick to highlight the paradox inherent in the "awards", explaining that "President Trump — who gleefully questioned President Barack Obama’s birthplace for years without evidence, long insisted on the guilt of the Central Park Five despite exonerating proof and claimed that millions of illegal ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016 — wanted to have a word with the American public about accuracy in reporting."

The Washington Post pointed out something important: the “awards” highlighted 8 errors that were quickly corrected by the publications in question, something propagandists and other people spreading intentional falsehoods do not do. For that matter, President Trump does not correct his extraordinary record of public mendacity either,  using “fake news” to attempt to delegitimizate journalism he doesn’t like.

It would be easy to dismiss the "awards" as a joke or a publicity stunt by Trump, but we cannot forget that the President's statements matter. His rhetoric towards journalists has further eroded public trust in journalism and press freedom at home and around the world

As we’ve said since “fake news” became a presidential mantra, the White House should protect & defend the role of journalists in a democracy, not insult them & delegitimize their work, as the president has.

  • The American Civil Liberties Union is similarly concerned with President Trump's continued attacks on the press. In fact, they've been keeping track. (ACLU)
  • Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) joined his colleague John McCain in defending freedom of the press. In a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, Flake argued that "The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press…" (Roll Call)

elsewhere in trumpland

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry embracing coal industry executive Robert E. Murray. Image credit: Simon Edelman/The Department of Energy. 
  • This Department of Energy photographer was fired after he shared a photo of Secretary Rick Perry and a coal industry executive. "As a photographer for the Department of Energy, Simon Edelman regularly attended meetings with Secretary Rick Perry and snapped pictures for official purposes. Now he is out of a job and seeking whistle-blower protections after leaking photographs of Mr. Perry meeting with a major energy industry donor to President Trump." (New York Times)
  • Judge hears suit over Trump White House use of encrypted messaging apps. "A federal judge heard arguments Wednesday on the Trump administration's bid to toss out a lawsuit alleging that the White House has failed to stop aides to President Donald Trump from using encrypted apps that automatically delete messages soon after they're read. U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper didn't clearly signal whether he will allow the case to proceed or grant the Justice Department's request to shut the litigation down." (POLITICO)
  • FOIA lawsuits up 26% in first year of Trump Administration. "Since the new administration took office at the end of January 2017, there has been a sharp jump in the number of lawsuits filed by individuals and organizations seeking court orders to obtain federal government records. Suits brought by the news media and nonprofit advocacy organizations have fueled a significant part of this rise." (The FOIA Project)
  • Database of addiction and mental health treatment options frozen by administration. "Federal health officials have suspended a program that helps thousands of professionals and community groups across the country find effective interventions for preventing and treating mental illness and substance-use disorders." The existing contract for the program was canceled the database remains online and a new entity is expected to eventually take over the old programs duties. In the meantime, however, more than 90 new programs are missing from the list. (Washington Post)

washington watch 

  • Bill to fund the government would also prevent the SEC from making companies disclose their political activity. "The appropriations bill that the Senate and House must pass by Friday to avoid a government shutdown forbids the Securities and Exchange Commission from making publicly traded companies disclose their political spending to shareholders. The language has been embedded in every major federal spending bill since 2016." (Star Tribune)
  • House expected to unveil overhaul of harassment policy."Senior House negotiators are set to unveil as soon as Thursday a bipartisan plan to shake up Capitol Hill’s workplace harassment system — and to force lawmakers found liable for misconduct to pay settlements with their own money…The Hill's Office of Compliance, which adjudicates workplace harassment claims, would release a report every six months on misconduct settlements, including the identities of the offices involved…" (POLITICO)
  • House Judiciary Committee advances bill to overhaul foreign lobbying law, while Democrats argue for more deliberation. "House Republicans took a significant step Wednesday in an effort to overhaul the nation’s foreign lobbying disclosure regulations amid scandals in the influence sector. The House Judiciary Committee advanced as amended, 15-6 along party lines, the measure that would give the Justice Department new subpoena-like investigative powers. That new authority sparked controversy among the panel’s Democrats." Committee Democrats are generally supportive of the broad strokes of the bill, but argued for further deliberation before proceeding. (Roll Call)

states and cities

  • What Works Cities hits 100 municipalities. They shared the big news, explaining how "Bloomberg Philanthropies launched What Works Cities in 2015 to help cities with populations between 100,000 and 1 million utilize data- and evidence-based practices to effectively deliver local services and improve residents’ lives. Today, our 100 city partners collectively represent more than 31 million residents across 39 states and have annual budgets exceeding $104 billion." (What Works Cities)
  • New research finds that a popular crime prediction algorithm is no better at its job than random volunteers. Julia Dressel and Hany Farid, researchers at Dartmouth College, are out with a new study showing COMPAS — a popular algorithm that claims to predict a criminals chances of reoffending — "is no better at predicting an individual’s risk of recidivism than random volunteers recruited from the internet." (The Atlantic)
  • Open data on hate crimes coming from 25 local law enforcement agencies. The agencies will release open data on hate crimes as "part of a coordinated effort by the Police Foundation, a nonprofit focused on innovation in law enforcement policies. The organization says the move aims to help agencies 'narrow the reporting gap' on hate crimes and prevent future incidents." (PhillyVoice)

around the world

Key findings from Freedom House's new report. 
  • Ranking of democracy around the world finds serious crisis. Freedom House is out with its Freedom in the World 2018 report and the results are concerning. The report finds that “Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free & fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, & the rule of law—came under attack around the world.”
  • With elections looming, Hungary steps up pressure against George Soros. "Hungary’s government unveiled a so-called 'Stop Soros' plan to crack down on individuals and organizations it accuses of supporting illegal immigration. Coming less than three months ahead of a general election, the announcement on Wednesday marks the latest escalation in an ongoing battle between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government and George Soros, the 87-year old American-Hungarian financier and philanthropist." (POLITICO)
  • Amid attacks on media by Philippine President Duterte, country's third-largest online news source is shut down. "The Philippines's third-largest online news site, Rappler, had its certificate of incorporation revoked by the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in a ruling handed down on Monday." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Is China using facial recognition to limit movement in Xinjiang region? It looks like it. "China’s state surveillance apparatus is trying out a new tool in one of its favorite test beds, the restive region of Xinjiang. The Muslim-dominated villages on China’s western frontier are testing facial-recognition systems that alert authorities when targeted people venture more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) beyond designated “safe areas,” according to a person familiar with the project." (Bloomberg)


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