Pepsi, United, and Sean Spicer in a race to see who can be worst at PR

UPDATE: Special new United nasty message to full fare first class passenger.

Presented with little further commentary, tweets explaining why Pepsi, United Airlines, and the Trump administration have had a bad week in communicating with their publics:

It started with Pepsi and their tone-deaf ad using a #BlackLivesMatter march theme to sell Pepsi:

And a response to this ad from Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter:

But then United Airlines got into the act:

And then in an amazing bit of bad timing by PRWeek US, dated March 16, 2017:

Here is PR Week’s response today to their amazingly bad call:

NEW TWEET: And the hits keep coming for United: Some great reporting from the LA Times.

And it was as if Sean Spicer, President Trump’s press secretary tried to say, “Hey, I can do better than either United or Pepsi by comparing Syria’s President Assad to Hitler:

The “hold my beer” meme seems to have taken total hold here.  Here’s one example:

And because you can never have enough variations of the “hold my beer” meme, here’s one last one:

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High School Journalism Students in Pittsburg, Kansas Take Down High School Principal With Questionable Credentials

Story about Pittsburg High School students is most read story on Washington Post web site Wednesday.Pittsburg, Kansas is not a city that shows up much in the national media. Before this week, there had only been about four mentions of the city in the Washington Post over the last decade.  One was when Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate died in 2015. (Tate got his bachelor’s degree from Kansas State College there in 1965.) Before that, it was when Pittsburg State University wide receiver John Brown was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2014. There were also brief mentions of the death of a judge who had been born there and the fact that an unnamed Fortune 500 CEO had been born there.

But on Wednesday the most-read story on The Washington Post’s web site was about a group of Pittsburg High School students who discovered through dogged journalistic research that their high schools newly hired principal had questionable educational credentials.  That story, reported in the school paper The Booster Redux on Friday, March 31, resulted in the new principal, Amy Robertson, resigning her post following a school board meeting on Tuesday evening of this week.

Seventeen-year-old Connor Balthazar told the Washington Post that “There were some things that just didn’t quite add up,” about things Robertson. Reporting on the story was done by a team of six high school students.   In their story, the students wrote:

“The Booster Redux Staff typically introduces each new administrator at PHS with a news story. During the interview process with Robertson, the Booster staff found inconsistencies in Robertson’s credentials. The staff presented these concerns to Pittsburg Community School superintendent Destry Brown, who encouraged the Booster reporters to reach out to Robertson.

“On March 16, the Booster staff held a conference call with the incoming principal. Booster adviser Emily Smith and Brown were also present. During the call, Robertson presented incomplete answers, conflicting dates and inconsistencies in her responses.

“After the conference call interview, the staff conducted further research online by phone interview to confirm her credentials. These are the findings.”

And what a set of findings they were:

  • Robertson claimed to have a master’s degree and Ph.D from Corllins University in Stockton, California.
  • But the students’ research showed no signs in property records that there had ever been a university by that name in Stockton, no U.S. Department of education records documenting the university, no sign of an active web site of the university, and an online article that referred to Corllins University as a diploma mill.
  • Robertson claimed to have bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts from Tulsa University. While TU is a very real school, the students found that it has never offered a BFA in theater.

PHS senior Trina Paul, part of the reporting team, told the Kansas City Star that the students just were concerned about Robertson’s credentials. “She was going to be the head of our school, and we wanted to be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials.  We stumbled on some things that most might not consider legitimate credentials.”

Following the publication of the story, the Pittsburg Community Schools Board of Education held a special meeting, and following a brief closed session, Robertson resigned, the Star reports.

The students are normally advised by their award-winning journalism teacher Emily Smith, but she had to recuse herself on this story, she told the Washington Postbecause she had been on the search committee that had hired Robertson. But the students did receive help from a range of state and national journalists and experts. Smith is understandably proud of what her high school students have accomplished: “Everybody kept telling them, ‘stop poking your nose where it doesn’t belong.’ They were at a loss that something that was so easy for them to see was waiting to be noticed by adults.”

Once their story was published and Robertson resigned, PHS journalism students started getting national attention for their work.  Along with the stories from the Post and the Star, there were tweets and retweets from a number of top national journalists including Boston Globe Spotlight team reporter Todd Wallack, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, and Washington Post political reporter David Fahrenthold.

Upate 4/6/17 – Story has hit the New York Times!

There are days when I worry about the future of journalism, and then there are days like today when I know the future of my field and passion is in good hands.

Congrats to these young journalists – they’ve got a great future ahead of them.

I’m proud of you!


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Are ‘Contact’ and ‘Prometheus’ essentially the same movie?


Contact movie posterPrometheus movie poster

I recently saw the 1997 science fiction movie Contact on streaming for the first time, nearly 20 years after its initial release.  And as I watched it, I was immediately struck by how many ways it resembled director Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus, which I have seen many times since it was released in 2012.

Both movies feature female scientists who are obsessed with making first contact with aliens who have reached out humans:

  • Ellie in ContactContact tells the story of astronomer Ellie Arroway (played by Jodi Foster) who is searching for life outside of earth using radio telescopes to listen for signals that would indicate extraterrestrial life.  She eventually detects these signals and interprets them as an invitation for humans to make contact with the civilization that sent them.
  • Elizabeth from PrometheusPrometheus tells the story of archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) who is looking for signs of extraterrestrial contact with early humans using cave drawings located around the world. She interprets these drawings as an invitation (with a map) for humans to make contact with the civilization that inspired the drawings.

Both Ellie and Elizabeth lose their mothers at an early age; this results in their both being raised by somewhat eclectic fathers whom they also lose at relatively young ages.

Faith is a central issue for the heroines of both movies.

  • Contact’s Ellie firmly believes in science and rejects the importance of faith in an unseen god as being completely unnecessary in a world guided by science.  She is encouraged to consider the possibility of God’s involvement by her one-time lover, Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey).
  • Prometheus’s Elizabeth is a scientist who wears a cross around her neck and explains to her lover/partner Charlie that she believes in God not because she has direct evidence of his existence but because she has faith. Charlie (played by Logan Marshall-Green) is an atheist who views Elizabeth’s search for meaning in her existence from God as a waste of time.

Both movies have a shadowy industrialist in ill-health who finance the heroines’ very expensive journey into space for reasons of their own.

  • S.R. Hadden from ContactContact for reasons that are never fully explained but would seem to be because he wants to make contact with another civilization.  He then goes on to finance her journey through a wormhole to meet this alien civilization. He dies before the end of the movie. On a somewhat related note, actor John Hurt plays the role of Cane, the first person to die in the original Alien movie (for which Prometheus is a prequel).
  • Trillionaire industrialist Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce) finances Elizabeth’s journey to the distant moon LV-223. His motive is that he wants to meet the aliens who appear to have created humans. He is close to death throughout most of the movie, and he dies of unnatural causes before the end of the movie.

In the end, both Ellie and Elizabeth are forced by their discoveries to confront their questions of belief through faith.

Obviously, these are two very different movies with one giving a fundamentally optimistic look at our first contact with an alien species and the other giving an unrelentingly dark view of that event.

So here’s my question: What do you think? Do these movies take radically different approaches to exactly the same themes? Or am I just looking for patterns that aren’t really there?  Keep in mind that I’m the guy who thinks Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones is an extended tribute to the films of Ridley Scott

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Did McDonald’s Twitter Get Hacked or Go Rogue With Trump Dissing Tweet?

The tweet was up and gone from the official McDonald’s Twitter feed within 20 minutes this morning – but for the time it was up, it was a drawing a huge amount of attention:

Screen capture of the official McDonald’s Twitter feed from this morning. The tweet was deleted within 20 minutes of being posted. h/t Bradd Jaffy of NBC News.

Not surprisingly, McDonald’s quickly posted that they had been hacked and had taken action to prevent it from happening again:

But not everyone in the twitterverse was so sure that it wasn’t an inside job.

Lily Herman, who writes for Teen Vogue, acknowledges that the tweet was deleted, but wonders what was behind it:

Geek girl blog The Mary Sue provided links to numerous social media professionals who suspected that it was instead an unauthorized post by an insider who was willing to pay the price.

Esther Cohen is the social media editor for The Next Web.

Ced Funches is a designer for Vox Media.

And Jeff Yang is a contributor at CNN.

There was a brief flurry of the #BoycottMcDonalds hashtag, but it doesn’t seem to have really taken off.

Of course, the irony of it all is that President Trump has a history of saying kind things about McDonald’s on social media.

Celebrating 1237! #Trump2016

A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on



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What did Rachel Maddow do to Upset So Many People with Trump’s Tax Return?

Last night on her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow and her guest, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, revealed the front two pages of President Trump’s 2005 tax return.  The reveal had been promoted on the network and via social media for about 90 minutes or so. Here are the two tweets Maddow sent out in advance:

The show started, as The Rachel Maddow Show (TRMS) almost always does, with a 20-minute-long A-block, or first segment, that I refer to as story time. During these 20 minutes, she gave a condensed history of the controversy over President Trump’s finances and his failure to release his tax returns. This included extensive information about the president’s possible relationships with a range of Russian oligarchs in connection to his massive real estate business.

Following that segment, Maddow and Johnston reviewed the two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax return that Johnston recently received in the mail.  Johnston chose to reveal the documents on Maddow’s show because he had had a good experience on her show recently discussing reporting he had done on Trump and the Russians.

The facts revealed were not earth shattering.  The two pages of the 1040 tax form showed that Trump had made $150 million and paid $38 million in federal taxes.  But there were none of the really interesting supporting forms that would show where the president earned that income.

Despite the fact that the president called the story “FAKE NEWS,” he did not dispute that the pages were his tax return from 2005.

In addition to all the missing forms, the other big question was where did the 1040 pages come from? Both Maddow and Johnston speculated that Trump or a surrogate might have been the source.  As the Washington Post points out, the fact that the forms said “Client Copy” on them, suggests that it came from Trump rather than from the government.

By the time Maddow got to the part of her show where she revealed the tax returns, the White House had already done a wide scale release of the key numbers, taking any scoop away from Maddow.

Criticism of how Maddow handled her show Tuesday night was widespread. The conservative advocacy website MRCTV posted a long list of tweets critical of Maddow under the headline

Twitter Just SHREDDED Rachel Maddow
Over Trump Tax Return ‘Story’

And the entertainment blog The Wrap had the following:

Twitter Switches to Mockery After
Maddow’s Trump Tax Reveal Lacks Bombshells

Journalism think tank The Poynter Institute was more measured in their response, noting:

As the world watches, Rachel Maddow
slow-plays Trump tax return scoop

To which I would say – Fair enough.


While the scoop was not all that it could have been it did do several things:

  • It gave us all a first look at the president’s finances. Every major party nominee since Richard Nixon has released his or her tax returns … other than President Trump.
  • It shows that Trump may have been lying about the total size of his wealth.  He had claimed that he had a net worth of as much as $10 billion.  As Trump critic Kurt Eichenwald tweeted, Trump’s income was way too low for someone with that level of assets.
  • Although Trump paid a perfectly respectable level of taxes in 2005, if the tax policy that he is advocating now were in place (which does away with the alternative minimum tax) he would have owed very little.

As for the complaints about how Maddow handled the story – Her show has always been about context. For the last couple of weeks she has been ignoring the president’s tweets and only looking at his actions. In addition, the trademark of her show is the extended first segment that sets her topic for the evening in context. She has never been about shouting out breaking news.

I typically listen to her show’s audio podcast the following day and feel like I miss very little by waiting half a day before checking in on it.

If you want the fast paced shouting that is typical on nighttime cable news, there’s plenty of places  you can go for it. As for me, I’ll taken my news with a bit of context.

(BTW, while I’m mostly defending Maddow here, that doesn’t mean I’m always in her corner.  When the whole Chris Christie “Bridgegate” scandal was breaking, I stopped listening to Maddow’s show for a couple of weeks because I just couldn’t take any more talk on the topic.)

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If a news story punches all your buttons – it probably isn’t so…

You know how you’ve always been warned about being careful when something seems too good to be true? That’s never more the case than when you see a story online and say to yourself, “YES! This is exactly how I thought it would be…”

Take for example the following story from the Seattle Tribune:

BREAKING: Trump’s Android Device Believed To Be Source Of Recent White House Leaks

If you’ve recently seen the hashtag – #DitchTheDevice trending on social media, it’s because, according to several private intelligence reports, the source of the multiple recent leaks within the White House is President Trump’s unsecured Android device.

Throughout the past several weeks President Trump and his administration have expressed extreme frustration over the multiple leaks provided to members of the press from inside the White House.

The recent leaks range from information regarding his executive orders (before he issued them), fighting and chaos among White House staffers, classified conversations with foreign leaders (specifically Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull & Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto), White House staffers conducting meetings in the dark because they can’t figure out how the lights work, and President Trump wandering the White House in his bathrobe.

I’ve seen the story show up repeatedly on social media today, posted by people who dislike President Trump and love the thought that the leaks from his administration are coming from hackers who had compromised his Android smartphone (a phone that at least initially had not been secured by the Secret Service).

As soon as I read it, I figured the story had to be some kind of fabrication. First of all, the kinds of documents that were necessary for the leaks that had come from the Trump administration are not the kind that would be likely to be stored on a smartphone by a guy who is not particularly tech savvy. (This is not a criticism of Trump – merely a statement of fact.  He does not use either a computer or a particularly modern smartphone.)

The story also smelled because it was a little too pat – it had too much of a feel of schadenfreude about it.  “Wouldn’t it be so appropriate if Trump were being done in by the phone he uses to send out all those early morning tweets?” When a news story you find online matches all your wildest dreams…

So I did what I always do when I want to check out a suspect news site, I look for information about the site.  At the Seattle Tribune it was on the Disclaimer page, as clear as day:


The Seattle Tribune is a news and entertainment satire web publication. The Seattle Tribune may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within The Seattle Tribune are fictional and presumably satirical news – with the exception of our ‘list style’ articles that include relevant sources. The content published on The Seattle Tribune is intended to be entertainment and is often intended to generate thought and discussion among its readers. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental. Advice given is NOT to be construed as professional. If you are in need of professional help, please consult a professional. The Seattle Tribune is not intended for children under the age of 18.

Now, that’s not a completely honest statement.  The story about President Trump and his phone was not funny in a satirical way – it was clearly “fake news,” complete with links to real stories.  It was designed to attract readers drawn to an appealing story, so that those people would see the ads on Tribune’s pages, and hopefully click on them.

To go a bit further with this, there are stories that could come out of hacked phones – such as the ones written by reporters at the British tabloid News of the World who hacked into the phone of a young woman who had been kidnapped and then murdered.

So when you are thinking about posting links to stories on Facebook that make you angry or self-satisfied – why not look for reputable stories from reliable news sources instead of leaping to the click-baitie made-up stories. For example, the well-informed Trump critic could have chosen from the following real stories this morning:

And while these stories do not have the delicious sense of self-righteous indignation that the one from the Seattle Tribune did, they have the advantage of being true.

Posted in Chapter 14, Chapter 6 | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

  • Why does cancer suck so bad?
    So many reasons, but one is that it took journalist Brenda Buttner from us at all-too-young of an age. Buttner was best known as a Fox Business reporter, but I knew of her because she was responsible for the greatest motorcycle magazine story ever. Here’s the story behind the story: Hunter S. Thompson – Going Gonzo. And here’s a link to the actual HST story that made Buttner a legend – Song of the Sausage Creature. If you watch the tribute to her in the title link, you will get an idea of what Buttner brought to journalism. (Note – She’s probably the only person ever to work for a motorcycle magazine who had been a Rhodes Scholar!)

    Journalist Brenda Buttner with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The essay “Song of the Sausage Creature” that Buttner got from HST is one of the greatest pieces of motorcycle writing ever published.


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Washington Post adopts new nameplate slogan – Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Washington Post - Democracy Dies in Darkness

I’m not sure how long it’s been up, but I noticed it this morning. And I think it’s the most distinctive newspaper motto since the New York Times adopted “All the news that’s fit to print.”

The new motto has been getting a lot of coverage lately, getting mentioned over at the progressive Mother Jones and by the Washington insider news outlet Politico.

CNN’s Brian Stelter noted on Twitter that the slogan had been seen on the WaPo’s Snapchat page as of last Friday, and that Post owner Jeff Bezos used the phrase at an event last year.

Post spokeswoman Kris Moratti told CNN:

“This is actually something we’ve said internally for a long time in speaking about our mission. We thought it would be a good, concise value statement that conveys who we are to the many millions of readers who have come to us for the first time over the last year. We started with our newest readers on Snapchat, and plan to roll it out on our other platforms in the coming weeks.”

The phrase has been in play at the Post  Bob Woodward speechfor some time now – with it showing up in a speech at Columbia Journalism School from Oct. 23, 2012.

As a side note, the new slogan has brought this scene from the first Star Wars prequel – The Phantom Menace in a number of tweets:


Washington Post - Democracy Dies in Darkness

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A History of Fake Quotes – Lincoln, de Tocqueville & Alcott

Fake quotes, especially fake Abraham Lincoln quotes, are a popular thing online. Just this week, the Republican National Committee got caught out with one in a tweet celebrating Lincoln’s birthday that read:

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”

Hmmff, doesn’t even sound like Lincoln – probably because, as the NY Times reports, it likely came from a 1947 advertisement for a book on aging.

The problem of online fake quotes is certainly not limited to fans of our 16th president, however, as I pointed out in a commentary I wrote for the late Charleston Daily Mail back in February of 2007.  Here’s the story, along with a few updates:

America is Great Because Lincoln Hanged Congressmen: Quotes That Aren’t Quotes

By Ralph E. Hanson
February 2007
Charleston Daily Mail

There’s been a popular quote by President Abraham Lincoln making the rounds lately. It goes something like this:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.

There’s only one thing wrong with it as a quote: Lincoln didn’t say it — either directly or indirectly.

As was pointed out last August by, a non-partisan “consumer advocate” web site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the quote actually comes from an article written by conservative scholar J. Michael Waller published in the now defunct magazine Insight. Waller claims that the quote marks around the opening statement in his article were inserted by a confused copy editor.

Despite the debunking last summer, the quote has found new life on the Internet, in a recent column from the Washington Times, and in a speech by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) supporting the “surge” of troops in Iraq. Seems that there’s a lot of folks who are amused by the thought of executing anyone who disagrees with the president.

Of course, the Lincoln comment isn’t the only faux 19th century quote that’s made the round in recent years. Alexis de Tocqueville was a young French aristocrat who toured the United States starting in 1831. He wrote about his experiences in the two-volume book Democracy in America; a book that’s become the definitive source of inspirational quotes about America.

In fact, comments about the book and de Tocqueville were so prevalent on C-SPAN in the 1990s, that founder Brian Lamb had the public affairs network spend more than a year following de Tocqueville’s travels around the country. (Update: I just did a search on C-SPAN’s website and found more than 1,200 references to de Tocqueville.)

But there was one de Tocqueville quote that kept showing up again and again in political speeches:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

(Update: Here’s a link to a speech by Jack Kemp where he gives the faux de Tocqueville quote at about the 9 minute point.  At the time I checked, however, the audio was echoing on this recording.)

Dr. John J. Pitney, Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, had his students try to locate the source of this commonly used quote. The only problem was that it never showed up in any of de Tocqueville’s books or letters.

It turns out, Pitney writes in The Weekly Standard, that the quote comes from a 1952 speech written for President Eisenhower. The writer most likely drew the quote from a 1941 book on religion and the American dream. (Eisenhower, by the way, attributed the quote not to de Tocqueville but rather to a “wise philosopher who came to this country.”)

The quote has since been used in one form or another by presidents and presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Phil Gramm. (Update: Told you this wasn’t a partisan thing – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents!)

Neither of these manufactured quotes is as much fun, however, as the one that got Pennsylvania-born writer Edward Abbey fired as the editor of the University of New Mexico’s literary journal.

On the cover of the magazine he printed the Voltaire quote “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” but he attributed it to Louisa May Alcott.

(Update: I was myself guilty of perpetrating a small bit of false quoting here.  I had read that the “entrails” quote was from Voltaire, but if he said it, he was likely quoting from 18th century philosopher Denis Diderot.)

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Media News Keeps Changing – PewDiePie and Playboy

One of the challenges of writing a media literacy/intro to mass comm textbook is keeping it up to date.  Even with new editions coming every two years, current events have a way of   changing the media world we live in at a rapid pace. I give you two examples from this week.

Felix Kjellberg/PewDiePie

An example of a PewDiePie video. NSFW language and talk.

Playboy and Naked Ladies

  • How It Was: In October of 2015, Playboy magazine announced that it was no longer be the place for the lads to go for photos of fully naked ladies. This was not, apparently, because Playboy was newly respectful of women; rather, the magazine was working to rebrand itself to fit in better in the world of PG-13ish social media.
  • How it is: In November of 2017, Playboy announced that it was returning to publishing photos of nude women.  Though they wouldn’t be quite as nude as they had been in the past. Cooper Hefner, the magazine’s creative officer and son of the magazine’s founder, tweeted Monday, “I’ll be the first to admit the way in which the magazine portrayed nudity was dated, but removing it entirely was a mistake.” The New York Post reports, “The new issue displays breasts and butts, but not full frontal nudity that had typified the earlier incarnation before the switch with the March issue a full year earlier.” So now you know.


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