Jun 17, 2020

Trump signs police reform executive order.

Trump signs police reform executive order.

Plus, a question about misinformation on social media.

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Today’s read: 9 minutes.

President Trump’s executive order on law enforcement, misinformation and Charlie Kirk, plus some reader feedback about yesterday’s edition.

Surrounded by law enforcement officials, President Trump signs an executive order on police reform. Screenshot: White House / YouTube

Reader feedback.

Remember: You can reach me anytime by simply replying to the newsletter. I love mixing it up with readers and will typically publish feedback when a good point or correction is raised about my coverage.

A reader from Pittsburgh, PA, said they were happy about the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling but not sold on Gorsuch's logic. “A man and woman being treated differently because they're both attracted to women is one way to phrase it, that doesn't make it the 'right' interpretation,” they wrote. "You can also say a man and a woman both being attracted to the opposite sex (or being heterosexual) is a shared trait. If we follow Gorsuch's logic a little further, it allows us to hold weird stances like saying a man purposely taking testosterone suppressants has a right to compete in women's sports, because 'We shouldn't disallow someone from competing in women's track and field just because they take a lot of antidepressants. A woman doing the same thing would be protected.'"

Frank from Philadelphia said he's been working for the Department of the Navy for 7 years now, and their training courses about workplace discrimination always make it very clear that “sex” includes sexual orientation. "It's nice to see the rest of the country has a chance to catch up with something the federal government already thought was necessary for its own employees," he said.

Ryan from Bangkok, Thailand, responded to yesterday's reader feedback with feedback of his own. "We were not 'flying blind' in March," he said, referring to comments on coronavirus from a Raleigh, North Carolina, reader. "On January 27th, I'd sent you two COVID-19 case trackers and epidemiologists on Twitter warning about COVID-19. It was ignorance of science and differences in culture that resulted in so many around the western world being unable to prepare both mentally and physically for the spread. But this isn't actualization in hindsight, the virus has remained on the same exponential trajectory since its 1,000th case."

What D.C. is talking about.

President Trump’s executive order. Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order on police reform that includes incentives for departments to employ the latest standards for use of force, improves information sharing so officers with bad records aren’t rehired at other departments, and adds social workers to law enforcement responses involving nonviolent cases like drug addiction or homelessness.

The order will give more federal money to police departments that are certified by independent outside bodies, will “ban” chokeholds unless an officer’s life is in danger and will encourage officers to use weapons such as stun guns instead of lethal force.

Trump began his remarks by expressing sympathy for the families who were victims of police violence. He pledged to seek out justice in their name and promised them their loved ones did not die in vain. He also defended law enforcement officers, saying America “demanded law and order,” and promised to punish looters.

What the right is saying.

It’s perfectly in line with what Americans want. More training, higher standards, better information sharing and incentives for police to share the data on officers who commit misconduct. Some 64% of Americans oppose defunding the police, according to a recent ABC/Ipsos poll. Another 60% oppose reducing police budgets at all. There are 800,000 cops in America and 375 million police interactions a year. This executive order walks an appropriate line between acknowledging rampant misconduct and considering the number of cops out there who are doing the job as well as they can.

The president’s order instructs Attorney General William Barr to create a database that tracks terminations or decertifications of officers. This “will make it easier for departments to know whether an officer applying for a job has been punished for excessive force elsewhere,” Robert Verbruggen argued in National Review. It’s the part of the order that has been most supported, and seemingly most in line with the kind of thing the federal government should be doing.

There is some dissent, though. Some on the right feel Trump should be defending the police, not adding to the pile on with an executive order targeting them. Others, including Verbruggen, have argued that the federal government shouldn’t be “leveraging taxpayer money” to set policy for police departments across the states. That’s something that should happen on the local level.

What the left is saying.

It’s a step, but it’s not nearly enough. From threatening to shoot looters to signing an executive order that increases police accountability — the evolution is a nice change of tone. Still, though, the left says this thing seems pretty toothless.

“The truth is that there are limits to what the federal government can do to reform policing when law enforcement mostly takes place at the local level,” Paul Waldman argued in The Washington Post. “But at a minimum, you need a federal government eager to examine the problem honestly and do more than just issue an executive order that says it will look into suggesting some cosmetic changes.”

Many liberals scoffed at the idea that chokeholds were “banned,” noting that they’re still perfectly acceptable in instances where a cop feels his life is endangered. Chokeholds were also “banned” in New York City in 1993, well before Eric Garner was choked to death on camera. This is exactly why the left is calling for major reforms: not piecemeal databases, not fake bans on chokeholds and not more financial incentives for cops.

My take.

It’s incredible watching the federal government so easily blow up consensus ideas. All it takes is a little bit of Trump, a little bit of Congress and some nationally syndicated columnists to drive us away from each other.

The president’s executive order is fine. It’s actually pretty remarkable if you pause to think about it. The guy who was insisting the NFL fire any players who knelt before games, or encouraged police not to be “too nice” to those they arrest in 2017, just put his John Hancock on an executive order saying “there have been instances in which some officers have misused their authority, challenging the trust of the American people, with tragic consequences for individual victims, their communities, and our Nation… Particularly in African-American communities, we must redouble our efforts as a Nation to swiftly address instances of misconduct.”

Of course, one could make a good argument that these aren’t “instances” but systemic problems going on in our nation’s police forces — and the left is making that argument as we speak. As I’ve said in the past, I tend to fall pretty left on police reform issues. I believe cops in America are essentially immune from serious repercussions for their misconduct. I believe the system of policing we have in America is fundamentally broken. I believe the rate of mass incarceration in America is built on a system that continuously, repeatedly, even obnoxiously produces racially disparate outcomes. I don’t know what else to call that system but “racist.” And I believe there is overwhelming evidence for all of these things — especially when comparing the United States’ practices with other countries.

I didn’t come to these positions lightly or easily — and I certainly don’t believe Trump’s executive order is going to do much to change them. Trump was never going to solve this problem. Nor was the federal government. They can’t. We need fundamental changes at the local level. “Defund the police” doesn’t appear to be winning over America — but decriminalizing drug use, giving counseling to homeless people, abolishing the qualified immunity doctrine that insulates police from repercussions — these are all steps worth taking and are widely supported.

It’s going to happen through the kinds of voting, demonstrating and social pressure we’re seeing now, and it’s going to look a lot like the rebuilding of the police department in Camden, NJ, or the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal. I’m happy Trump signed the order. The left should embrace the “progress” and do everything they can to welcome more people to the conversation — then continue the work of pressuring Congress, state and local leaders to make the fundamental changes that will have an impact.

Quick hits.

  1. The former Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks outside a Wendy’s had faced disciplinary action for a 2016 incident involving use of force with a firearm, according to department records. The news has intensified calls for more sharing of police conduct records. Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck, had 17 complaints filed against him and was involved in two police shootings during his two decades as an officer.
  2. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed during a clash on the border with Chinese forces. The latest clashes represent “the most perilous moment for relations between the two Asian giants in decades,” Axios reports. India and China frequently skirmish over the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that loosely separates India and China-controlled territories, but this kind of escalation is unusual.
  3. “Trump has a point about the polls,” Politico reports. As the president continues to stumble in national polling, Politico’s Steven Shepard says the president and his team are right that the polls are underestimating his appeal. It’s not that the polls are rigged or pollsters are deliberately skewing their results, as Trump claims. Instead, it’s that state polls fail to collect accurate enough data from white voters without college degrees — and national polls (which show a closer race) more accurately represent where we are.
  4. The Wall Street Journal says there is a “growing consensus” on how COVID-19 spreads. Contaminated surfaces or fleeting encounters outdoors are unlikely to spread the virus. Close-up, person to person encounters for extended periods of time — and crowded events with poorly ventilated areas or people talking loudly, singing or cheering — maximize the risk.
  5. The Justice Department plans to propose rolling back a set of legal protections that online platforms have enjoyed for over two decades. The changes would spur online platforms to police their content more closely, addressing and removing illicit or harmful conduct on their sites, and be more consistent in their efforts to remove objectionable content. It’s a proposal that would need to be adopted by Congress.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. If you have something you want to see in the newsletter, simply reply to this email and write in. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can.

Q: You’ve written a lot about the issues with social media and news reporting, but how do you spot misinformation? That seems like a crucial part of the equation.

— Molly, Washington, D.C.

Tangle: I wasn’t sure when I was going to answer this question, but then something happened in the last 24 hours that prompted me to tackle it now.

A couple of weeks ago, conservative commentator Charlie Kirk claimed on Twitter that David Patrick Underwood, a black Protective Security Officer, was killed in Oakland, California, because of “riots against racial injustice.” Kirk posted several tweets about this in early June, asking incredulously why “the media” was “silent” about the “radical, left wing terrorists” who killed a black security officer.

I saw this spread quickly on social media. I logged into Facebook a few hours later and saw a bunch of my friends from high school posting about “why Black Lives Matter doesn’t care” when the left kills a black security officer who was protecting this storefront in Oakland from looters. Similar posts went up about a number of police or law enforcement officers who were injured or killed during the weeks of civil unrest across the United States. Even Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) echoed this claim, saying Underwood was “killed by rioters in Oakland” on the House floor.

There was only one problem: Underwood wasn’t killed by “left wing radicals” or “rioters” or people protesting against racial injustice. He was, allegedly, and according to the federal government, killed by two right-wing radicals in an orchestrated attack. The men, identified as Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Carillo and Robert Alvin Justus Jr., were loosely tied to the right-wing Boogaloo group, which The Intercept’s Medhi Hasan has written about here.

But there’s that old expression in reporting that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on. Kirk’s tweet was retweeted 13,000 times. It was liked 30,000 times. It was seen by millions of people and — because Kirk is a lying provocateur whose brand and influence depends on making people angry at liberals — he won’t correct the record. It’s not in his interest, despite the fact he’s got a blue checkmark next to his name and heads a number of influential conservative campus groups.

Kirk’s tweet worked because it was simple and to the point. It also worked because it was so brazen in its confidence — so certain that this law enforcement officer was killed by those damn left-wing rioters — that most of his followers shared it without questioning it.

When I read the story in the Los Angeles Times detailing Carillo and Justus Jr.’s actions, which included another shooting of a different cop (this one in Santa Cruz, which was also initially blamed on protesters across social media), I went back and found Kirk’s tweet. I was pissed, indignant, and thought the truth should be told, so I tweeted out this:

Like Charlie’s initial tweet, my tweet played into certain tropes about the other side and — as I expected it would — immediately got traction. It has been “liked” over 21,000 times and seen by close to two million people on Twitter (as of 11:00 a.m. this morning, and it’s only been up for 18 hours). There were problems with my tweet, though. For one, I said Carillo was a “former staff sergeant.” He’s actually a current staff sergeant.

Second, I wrote the tweet as if Carillo and Justus Jr. had already been found guilty of their crimes. I didn’t hedge it by saying “allegedly” or “accused” or “arrested for” — I said they killed Underwood. Neither of these mistakes were intentional, they were just a product of me being so frustrated that I’d seen this lie perpetuated for two weeks that protesters killed Underwood — only to read this news story identifying two radical right-wing men as being responsible for his death (and the shooting of the Santa Cruz officer).

Now, I could argue that my mistakes here are negligible compared to Kirk’s. It doesn’t make a huge difference whether Carillo is a former or current member of the Air Force. The details of the case, and the filing the prosecutors made, also make it pretty abundantly clear that they’ve got the right two men. But this is how it happens: misinformation breeds misinformation. In my effort to correct Kirk, and do it in a way where I knew my tweet would be widely shared and seen, I spread more inaccurate information.

All of this is the issue with social media, with figures like Kirk, with getting your information from places like Twitter. It’s a Russian Matryoshka doll of B.S., and it’s nearly impossible to get to a point where you’re finding rock-solid, vetted, well-articulated information.

Anyway, here are five simple tips I use myself, that you can use to make sure you’re not being misled.

  1. Wait. Nothing is more important than this. The first thing you see is likely not going to be the most accurate or most contextualized version of the story.
  2. Find second (and third) sources. If you read something in The New York Times, and it blows your mind, try finding coverage of the same story in The Wall Street Journal. If you read something on a blog somewhere, look for it in a household name news outlet.
  3. Check the URL. Half of the misinformation I see being regularly spread on Facebook or Twitter is from hoax websites. IBTIMES.sg is a great example. It’s a website designed specifically to look like IBTIMES.com, and recently fooled the GOP spokesperson.
  4. Google the source. There are loads of tools out there — and Wikipedia — that can easily help contextualize the source of your news. For instance, if folks Google’d Charlie Kirk, they’d find a Wikipedia page that documents many of the misleading comments he’s made publicly or published in books.
  5. Use common sense. This is a tricky one, but – for me — it’s effective about 95% of the time. The most read fake news story of 2016 claimed the pope endorsed Donald Trump. I saw the story shared all over Facebook, and immediately my “common sense” alarm went “that seems unlikely.” A closer examination of the story proved it was fake news. Use your brain.

A story that matters.

U.S. airlines could begin banning travelers who refuse to wear masks on planes, The Washington Post reports. A group of American airlines plan to “vigorously” enforce face-covering policies after several reports of passengers who did not follow the safety standard set by airline companies. Delta, Southwest, United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue and others will “clearly articulate” the policy and may require customers to acknowledge it during check-in. Airlines have already cut alcohol service across almost the entire industry. (Editor’s note: I did not think flying could get worse than it was. I was mistaken.) Click.


  • 85%. The percentage of Americans who say they are likely to social distance if there’s a second wave of coronavirus.
  • 79%. The percentage of Americans who say they are likely to stop having gatherings with friends and family if there’s a second wave of coronavirus in their state.
  • 81%. The percentage of Democrats who say they are likely to self-quarantine if there’s a second wave of coronavirus in their state.
  • 49%. The percent of Republicans who say they are likely to self-quarantine if there’s a second wave of coronavirus in their state.
  • 4%. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Arizona, according to a new Civiqs poll.
  • 10%. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Florida, according to a new TIPP battleground poll.

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