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How did partisan tribalism become so extreme? – Milford Daily News

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Frank Mazzaglia
 |  Guest Columnist

The story is told about a woman who got into an accident in western North Carolina. The woman called her mechanic for a tow, but he was too busy to come, so he sent a friend from another company. However, when the man arrived and prepared to tow her car, he noticed a Bernie Sander sticker on the bumper.

He then told her he would not accept her business, suggested she call the government for help, and drove away.

At the national level, it has become clear that Republicans have veered further to the right and Democrats, in similar fashion, to the far left. While evidence shows that most Americans agree on many issues, the political parties are increasingly offering extreme candidates to the voters.

Just seven years ago, a Pew Report noted, “The share of Republicans who have a very unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party has jumped from 17 percent to 43 percent in the last 20 years. Similarly, the share of Democrats with very negative opinions of the Republican Party has now more than doubled, from 16 percent to 38 percent.

Worse than that, the majority of the Democrats and Republicans surveyed contended that the opposing party’s policies represented a threat to the nation’s well being.

Partisan tribalism, of course, is nothing new. The question to ponder is how it became so extreme. Extreme positions have led extremists on both sides of partisan politics to conclude that we simply cannot live with each other. The notion of populism, which has been recently attributed to Donald Trump and the Republican Party, is actually just as true of the Democrats, with both sides pretty much dug in against each other.

The Constitution was designed to force compromise, but the current day quest for power and the utter contempt for the other side has brought the nation to a critical point where the center doesn’t count.

One of the most striking features of contemporary American politics is that political rhetoric is increasingly moralistic. More than that, both parties have become moralistic based on their own definitions of what is and what is not moral. The problem with moralistic politics is that it becomes virtually impossible to compromise. Moralistic politics sounds virtuous on its face, but it isn’t, and it makes it almost impossible to see any issue from another’s point of view.

There is a difference between moralistic politics and moral politics. Martin Luther King expressed politics that were clearly moral, but the tone of his rhetoric was aimed at appealing to better angels while welcoming new allies into his movement. The moral politician understands the difference between the immediate need and the long-term good. The big difference is the moral leader has a sense of humility that is entirely lacking in moralistic politics.

Raw politics has no end but winning. The moral leader understands that, painful though it may be, moral tradeoffs are necessary to achieve moral ends. The fact is that America has a heritage of moral leadership geared to win advocates towards a more solid center base.

Political extremism on either side of politics serves to weaken the moderate center of the country. The politics of winners and losers is a description of politics without a soul, The same is true politics that divide the strong from the weak.

What has made America the envy of the world is a political system in which the winner reached out to the loser and where the strong sought to lift the weak. For we are a people whose instinct is to coalesce into a common center who respect our differences rather than a dictatorial state that limits our speech and seeks to invade things precious to us.

Hopefully, the day will return when a woman in need of a tow need not depend on whose sticker happens to be on her car’s back bumper.

Frank Mazzaglia can be reached at frankwrote@aol.com.

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Our Planet Is Heating Up. Why Are Climate Politics Still Frozen? – The New Yorker

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Our Planet Is Heating Up. Why Are Climate Politics Still Frozen?

Centuries after colonial and corporate powers set the stage for our environmental crisis, governments remain convinced that the market will solve it.

October 25, 2021

Extractive economies shift burdens and risks down the world’s hierarchies.Illustration by Robert Beatty

In 1621, the Dutch East India Company—the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or V.O.C.—arrived at the Banda Islands with a formidable navy. The global spice market was fiercely competitive, and a number of European powers had already sailed to this Indonesian archipelago and tried to strong-arm the locals into accepting various treaties. The V.O.C. had recently sought a monopoly on the spice trade with the islands, home to the precious nutmeg. Nutmeg, valued for its culinary uses and its medicinal properties—rumor had it that it could cure the plague—had long been traded across vast networks that traversed the Indian Ocean and linked Africa and Eurasia. At one point, a handful of the seeds could buy a house or a ship. But the V.O.C. couldn’t secure a deal. The islands lacked a central authority; instead of kings or potentates, they merely had respected elders.

Frustrated, the Dutch turned to a military tactic of extortion they called brandschattingen—threatening an enemy with arson—and swiftly delivered on the threat, torching the villagers’ houses, food stores, and boats. Dutch forces captured and enslaved as many of the Bandanese as they could, and murdered the rest. Soon after the massacre, the V.O.C. became, by some measures, the largest company in human history, worth more than ExxonMobil, Apple, and Amazon combined.

“Like a planet, the nutmeg is encased within a series of expanding spheres,” Amitav Ghosh writes in his illuminating new book, “The Nutmeg’s Curse” (Chicago), which begins with this grisly episode. Surrounding the nutmeg core are other layers, notably a lacy red mantle called mace, which is itself traded as a precious commodity, while the exterior of the dried seed is grooved with ridges that evoke geological structures. Ghosh carves through the historical layers of the global exploitation of nutmeg and the genocide and domination that made it possible. “No trade without war, and no war without trade,” Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the fourth governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, declared.

Ghosh has a larger point. Extraction, violence, empire: all these perennials of human history tend to march together. The global marketplace, created and shaped by forays like the V.O.C.’s in Indonesia, is fixated on growth in ways that have led to an era of depredation, depletion, and, ultimately, disruptive climate change. Ghosh wonders whether our planet, after four centuries of vigorous terraforming, has begun to turn against its settlers, unleashing wildfires, storms, and droughts. It sounds like nature’s own version of brandschattingen.

Given that the heedlessness of the global marketplace got us into the climate crisis, you might be skeptical that more of the same will get us out of it. But many governments have adopted a hair-of-the-dog approach, embracing market-based solutions such as emissions trading and carbon taxes. The results have been discouraging: global emissions have been rising quickly, and we’ve fallen short on nearly every indicator of climate progress. (The aim has been to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 or two degrees Celsius, in the hope of avoiding the most catastrophic scenarios of climate change.) Although market-based approaches can yield incremental improvement, there’s little evidence that they can produce the “transformational” change that U.N. scientists say is necessary.

If the market is still treated as a default source of solutions, Ghosh suggests, it’s because, in a world created by corporations such as the V.O.C. and colonial sponsors such as the imperial Dutch, everything, including the planet, is considered a resource to be exchanged or exploited, and progress and “rationality” are measured in impersonal dollars and cents. Profit and security are reserved for those at the top of the world’s hierarchies, and are achieved by shifting the risks and the burdens toward those at the bottom. Some people get a storm-surge barrier—a specialty of certain Dutch multinationals—and exquisitely climate-controlled interiors; others watch their villages be swallowed by the sea.

If you’re wedded to market solutions, you’ll insist that our failure to act arises simply from suboptimal legal rules and market conditions. Maybe all we need are a few technical adjustments in pricing or institutional design. But our paralysis didn’t arise from happenstance. Every decade that we delay comprehensive climate action is another decade that certain companies can profit from their stake in the world’s energy system. Activists and reporters have exposed well-funded and elaborate misinformation campaigns sponsored by these companies. The revelations haven’t made much difference.

What Kate Aronoff shows, in her timely book “Overheated” (Bold Type), is that the “old-school” approach to corporate climate denial has given way to new, subtler strategies. Yesterday’s denialists insisted that climate change was a hoax, funding dodgy science and blitzing coöperative media outlets such as Fox News with industry “experts.” But under mounting public pressure many companies have withdrawn their support from denialist think tanks like the Heartland Institute; those companies are now funding academic research at big-name universities that shy away from overt climate-change denial.

Our Planet Is Heating Up. Why Are Climate Politics Still Frozen
Cartoon by John O’Brien

One of the new strategies is to acknowledge climate change but to put polluters in charge of remedying it. Aronoff describes a 2018 proposal by Royal Dutch Shell, billed as a pathway to two degrees Celsius, that would have maintained similar levels of fossil-fuel production for decades. The scenario depended on carbon removal deployed on an immense scale—orders of magnitude above our current capabilities, and with potentially dangerous implications for food, energy, and water security. Earlier this year, Shell was rebuked by a Dutch court, which ordered the company to reduce its carbon emissions by forty-five per cent by 2030.

Despite such setbacks, oil and gas corporations have largely succeeded in slowing the energy transition that threatens their bottom line. Even from a technocratic perspective, though, our inaction on climate is irrational. Any serious long-term financial projection should take note of the fact that mass death, disease, and destruction are likely to make everybody worse off. One recent study estimates that as many as a billion people could be displaced during the next fifty years for every additional degree of warming, implying a level of social upheaval that might involve pitchforks. Even the International Energy Agency, an organization started by Henry Kissinger, now calls for a halt to all new oil and gas fields. Giant corporations such as Chevron and Exxon have been attacked for their inaction on the climate crisis not just by Greenpeace supporters but by their own shareholders, who insist that the safety of their investments depends on cutting emissions.

Why haven’t governments and political institutions forced a course correction? That’s a question taken up in “White Skin, Black Fuel” (Verso), by Andreas Malm and the Zetkin Collective, of Scandinavia. The book shows how, in the political arena, arguments about economic rationality get woven together with hierarchical structures and the pursuit of domination, portending what it calls fossil fascism. In particular, its authors are struck by how the European far right has used the “funnel issue” of hostility toward immigration to promote hostility toward renewable energy.

“Migrants are like wind turbines,” France’s Marine Le Pen has remarked. “Everyone agrees to have them, but no one wants them in their back yard.” To the north, the far-right Finns Party (formerly known as the True Finns) led a national campaign against wind turbines, featuring a press conference in which a man wept over the damage he believed the structures had inflicted on him and his family via infrasonic waves. The Party even published a cartoon—detailed in “White Skin, Black Fuel”—in which a Black man dressed only in a grass skirt makes hysterical climate predictions, flanked by a diminutive woman, evidently a Finnish regulator, who insists that “we have to spend more on wind turbines.” Oil companies have learned subtlety, but these far-right parties have other priorities.

“Even after fulfilling their ambitions in the region, the officials of the V.O.C. were never satisfied with their spice monopoly,” Ghosh writes. He attributes this reaction to a framework he terms the “world-as-resource,” in which landscapes are considered to be factories, and nature, like a native population, is viewed as a proper object of conquest. In Indonesia, the V.O.C. eventually followed up the massacre of a people with an effort to extirpate a botanical species. When the price of nutmeg fell, the company tried to limit the global supply of the spice by eradicating every nutmeg tree outside the Dutch plantations on the Banda Islands.

Spectacles of destruction like these would seem to reflect the often maligned workings of the profit motive, as people such as Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes have stressed. But Ghosh, mulling over why the world has been so slow to decarbonize, thinks that this explanation is incomplete. He wants us to reckon with broader structures of power, involving “the physical subjugation of people and territory,” and, crucially, the “idea of conquest, as a process of extraction.” The world-as-resource perspective not only depletes our environment of the raw materials we seek; it ultimately depletes it of meaning.

The authors of “The Nutmeg’s Curse,” “Overheated,” and “White Skin, Black Fuel” have different stories to tell about our bafflingly self-destructive climate politics. But they mesh into a broader narrative about hierarchy, commerce, and exploitation. An account of why climate politics is broken, needless to say, won’t tell us how to fix it. Still, these authors do venture some ideas. The second half of “Overheated” sketches out the contours of a “postcarbon democracy”; we learn about ongoing political efforts to redistribute the ownership of utilities from investors to communities, and about the promising 2018 struggles of public employees against the governments of fossil-fuel-reliant states such as West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. “The Nutmeg’s Curse” sees potential in what it calls a “vitalist” politics, and in an associated ethic of protection that would extend to “rivers, mountains, animals, and the spirits of the land.” Ghosh identifies this ethos, in contrast to the world-as-resource view, with peasants and farmworkers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America—places and people long seen as peripheral to history. He also draws our attention to legal victories by indigenous peoples, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling, in 2012, that the rights of the Sarayaku people, in Ecuador, had been violated when an oil company dug wells on their lands without consulting them; and court rulings that side with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

These victories aren’t on the scale of the challenges we face, and the political proposals may feel airily idealistic—more of a wish list than a to-do list. Still, getting serious about climate change, as these micro and macro histories make clear, means aiming higher than defeatist “realism.” Climate catastrophe isn’t going to be averted simply by our changing the way we think about the planet and its peoples—but it’s likely to arrive sooner if we don’t. ♦

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How Facebook users wield multiple accounts to spread toxic politics – POLITICO

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Facebook has known for years about a major source of political vitriol and violent content on its platform and done little about it: individual people who use small collections of accounts to broadcast reams of incendiary posts.

Meet SUMAs: a smattering of accounts run by a single person using their real identity, known internally at Facebook as Single User Multiple Accounts. And a significant swath of them spread so many divisive political posts that they’ve mushroomed into a massive source of the platform’s toxic politics, according to internal company documents and interviews with former employees.

While plenty of SUMAs are harmless, Facebook employees for years have flagged many such accounts as purveyors of dangerous political activity. Yet, the company has failed to crack down on SUMAs in any comprehensive way, the documents show. That’s despite the fact that operating multiple accounts violates Facebook’s community guidelines.

Company research from March 2018 said accounts that could be SUMAs were reaching about 11 million viewers daily, or about 14 percent of the total U.S. political audience. During the week of March 4, 2018, 1.6 million SUMA accounts made political posts that reached U.S. users.

“A large amount of content comes from a small number of individuals,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s former director of public policy, in reference to the dangerous political content on the platform.

She argued that SUMAs’ proliferating posts hurt political discourse and said the company has failed to institute rules that could curb the spread of the inflammatory posts.

That’s backed up by disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by the legal counsel of whistleblower Frances Haugen. The redacted versions were reviewed by a consortium of news organizations, including POLITICO.

A Facebook spokesperson said the leaked documents don’t paint a comprehensive picture.

“It’s not a revelation that we study duplicate accounts, and this snapshot of information doesn’t tell the full story,” Facebook’s Joe Osborne said in a statement. “We enforce our community standards regardless of the kind of account that someone is using.”

Yet researchers who study misinformation in social media say the SUMA problem is a prime example of Facebook missing an opportunity to rein in inflammatory content.

About the Facebook Papers

POLITICO and 16 other American news organizations are publishing stories based on the Facebook Papers — internal documents taken by whistleblower Frances Haugen before leaving the company.

The Facebook Papers include company research, internal message board threads, emails, project memos, strategy plans and presentations that Haugen captured by snapping photos of her computer screen.

The disclosures were submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by Haugen’s legal counsel. The consortium of media outlets has reviewed the redacted versions received by Congress, documents that black out the names of many lower-level employees. The documents were previously obtained by The Wall Street Journal, but our coverage provides new revelations from the files.

The group of media outlets coordinated on an embargo date of Monday to ensure enough time for reporters to review thousands of documents. This collection does not include all the files Haugen captured, and POLITICO expects to publish further stories as more documents become available.

“Facebook has completely lost control over the ways in which its platform has sort of pushed content that is not only not credible but also outrageous and at times extremely divisive,” said Ramesh Srinivasan, director of the Center For Global Digital Cultures at UCLA.

The March 2018 research warned that SUMAs artificially promote certain political viewpoints by providing a case study of an account under the name of Daisy Nunez, a “likely SUMA” who was participating in “unsavory behavior” that the company’s policies didn’t adequately address and couldn’t contain.

The research author said Nunez posted hundreds of links a day — sometimes at the rate of one per minute — and some 1,500 each week of “sensational and highly divisive” content. She saved links and built “a bank of some of the worst, most divisive content, to reshare later,” the author wrote.

A former Facebook employee who had worked on SUMA issues, and spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity to avoid unwanted attention to their current employer, said individuals running SUMAs use their authentic identities across all of the accounts, evading Facebook’s “fake account” policy by not impersonating another individual. The fact that these accounts weren’t lying about their identities, and some had relatively benign uses, led to a reluctance from the company to crack down on them heavily.

Even so, Facebook staff regularly identify SUMAs by finding groups of accounts that use the same identity — same birthday, the same or slightly different name — across multiple accounts.

SUMAs typically use the same email address and same first names across accounts, along with “other data that they recycle and that can be used to fingerprint people,” Haugen told reporters in a briefing.

The other former staffer said some SUMAs are benign, belonging to people who want to have separate personal and business profiles. Internal research from January 2018 viewed by POLITICO noted that they’re a trend with teens who want to keep at least one account more private. But SUMAs start to raise red flags when they post with great frequency.

Accounts that frequently post or comment, even if they do so manually, violate Facebook’s community standards against spamming. Yet SUMAs can easily wield their multiple accounts to avoid running afoul of the rules, simply by switching between profiles, the former Facebook staffer said.

“Duplicate accounts provide an avenue for people who are doing bad behavior just to restart immediately upon being kicked off the platform,” Haugen told reporters.

The company does move to stop people from making duplicate accounts in the first place, like redirecting them to recover their existing profiles.

Harbath and the former employee said Facebook could target SUMAs more aggressively if it chose to — particularly those posting dangerous political rhetoric. The anonymous staffer told POLITICO that the company’s existing algorithms are “pretty good” at detecting SUMAs posting political speech.

Facebook has also chosen to push back against more intensive efforts to remove SUMAs. The mere fact that an account is a SUMA usually isn’t enough to warrant a takedown. Instead the account would first need to make at least one or two clear violations of Facebook’s rules — such as posting violent, bullying or harassing content.

“When looking at a lot of these, there was a strong push from other parts of the company that actions needed to be justified and clearly explained as a violation of rules,” Harbath said, adding that they often did not have the “stomach for blunt actions” that could result in a “high number of false positives” — or accounts wrongly taken down.

Facebook did take action against some political SUMAs in October 2018, such as removing the Right Wing News page and other pages run by Brian Kolfage. According to Facebook, the company removed more than 5 billion inauthentic accounts in 2020 before they were flagged, although Facebook didn’t specify how many were SUMAs. The company describes both SUMAs and fake accounts as “inauthentic.”

Message board comments from 2018 show that staffers were torn about Facebook’s approach, with some arguing that since SUMAs represented real people they should be treated leniently despite their violation of Facebook policies on multiple accounts.

“A SUMA account represents the realistic views of a user, just under a pseudonym,” one employee commented in response to the March 2018 research that warned of the dangers of these accounts. “They generally aren’t posting as a drastically different individual or representing views that are not their own in an electorate to which they don’t belong.”

SUMAs make up a large portion of Facebook’s new sign-ups despite the company’s ban on multiple accounts. In a 2021 internal Facebook post titled, “Update on the FB unwanted SUMA problem,” one employee wrote that SUMAs comprised 40 percent to 60 percent of fresh accounts.

The same document warned that Facebook’s AI model that identifies SUMAs both undercounts them and underestimates their effects.

The problem is also evolving. Harbath noted some operators’ growing sophistication in using multiple devices for their accounts.

Facebook also could have business motives for leaving SUMAs mostly alone. Employees and academics who study social media ethics said trying to boot these accounts would likely disrupt sign-ups and use of the site, especially if people are wrongly targeted.

“You want the system to be frictionless, you want it to be easy to create an account, because that’s where the money” is, said Hany Farid, a UC Berkeley professor specializing in misinformation and digital forensics.

It’s unclear if a crackdown would have a significant effect on Facebook’s advertising revenue. The company said it has disclosed to Facebookers, advertisers and investors alike that these accounts exist.

“Nothing in this story changes the estimate of duplicate accounts we disclose in our public filings, which includes new users, or that we provide context on in our ad products, ad interfaces, in our help centers, and in other places,” Facebook’s Osborne said.

Farid was skeptical that Facebook couldn’t parse out these accounts and remove them — arguing that the company tends to downplay or tout its powers depending on whether its executives are being hauled up before Congress or recruiting advertisers.

“You can’t, on the one hand, monetize to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year phenomenal amounts of data and personal information, and then on the other side when it comes to mitigating harms, say, ‘Yeah, we don’t know how to do this,’” he said.

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Politics, media and the lost art of big-tent building | TheHill – The Hill

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Mainstream news media share an urgent dilemma with America’s political parties: It seems nobody knows how to build a big tent anymore.

The latest Pew Research study shows yet another decline in media trust, now half of what it was in 2016. The main culprit this time is a widening partisan gap: While most Democrats have at least some confidence in national news outlets, very few Republicans do.

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE’s “fake news” mantra has a lot to do with that. But so does this: The parties are increasingly dividing themselves along educational and class lines. And too often the press seems tailored to the concerns of only one voter category, leaving others outside the tent, feeling ignored or dismissed.

Advocates for broader-based politics have been focused this month on Ezra Klein’s New York Times essay, detailing the views of election data analyst David Shor. According to Shor, the Democratic party is no longer a big-tent enterprise — it has lost touch with a once-solid bloc of working-class voters while courting the professional class.

Over the past several years, Democrats have gained among white college graduates while losing non-college whites to the Republicans. In 2020, that trend expanded: Democrats also lost ground with non-college Black and Latino voters.

As the affluent and educated became a larger share of the party’s base, Shor argues they shifted the political focus away from bread-and-butter blue-collar issues. The Democrats’ big tent got smaller. Polarization, much of it along class lines, increased.

National journalism faces a similar predicament. A 2018 study found that 44 percent of the editorial staff at the New York Times went to an elite university; at the Wall Street Journal, that number was nearly half. According to the survey, reporters and editors at these two outlets are likely to have the same educational background as Forbes billionaires and attendees of the famously exclusive Davos conference. They’re more likely to have gone to an elite college than most judges and members of Congress.

And, as journalism has been forced to rely on expensive subscription fees for financial health, the target news consumer has come to mirror the educational and economic background of most national journalists.

This doesn’t affect the quality of reporting, but it can skew just which stories get covered. Many leading news outlets too often feature more than their fair share of articles and segments about Harvard’s endowment or a controversy at Yale. Elite secondary schools in major media hubs like New York seem to merit as much attention as local crime and infrastructure. This material sometimes reads less like a general-interest media product and more like a newsletter published by an exclusive club for members only.

At the same time, the real-life concerns of the working-class electorate can go under-reported or misunderstood, whether in small towns or blue-collar inner-city neighborhoods. During Trump’s administration, journalists struggled to figure out his appeal and repeatedly fell back on a predictable feature of political coverage: helicoptering into heartland diners like anthropologists, to examine his supporters in their natural habitats. 

Some of that same approach emerged in New York’s Democratic mayoral primary. Eric Adams, a Black tough-on-crime former police captain, defeated progressive candidates thanks to diverse blue-collar voters in every borough of the city. National news outlets seemed at loss to explain it, with headlines like: “What Does Eric Adams, Working Class Champion, Mean for Democrats?”

For a lot of working-class news consumers, it’s easy to read or view all of the above and decide mainstream media is not really aimed at them.

This would be less troubling if most cities and towns still had at least one vibrant newspaper, let alone several. Or if local television newsrooms were expanding, not contracting. Consumers in general trust their local news more than national outlets, because they do speak to everyday issues more clearly.

But the sharp decline in local outlets means journalism — like politics — has become nationalized. Just as the Democratic party’s focus on higher socio-economic voters is arguably driving the working-class away, so too the points-of-view at most mainstream national news outlets may push these same people into news bubbles that stoke media mistrust.

The New York Times — standard-bearer of elite journalism ­— is now actually searching for ways to combat this trend and build a bigger news tent. The paper last month set up a team to look into and address the erosion of trust in media. A Times insider told Vanity Fair the team’s mission is to “broaden the Times’ readership … Broader means all kinds of readers, including politically … more who are middle class and lower class and so on.”

The Times’ effort is worth keeping an eye on — and rooting for.

Easing class polarization in news consumption may not end the political divide. But that deepening disconnect certainly won’t get any better unless mainstream journalism can re-establish itself as the central source of reliable information — no matter your politics, education or income.

Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.

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