While You Were Offline: In 2018, Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
As surreal as it may seem, America has a missing First Lady. Sorta. As of this writing Melania Trump hasn’t been seen in public since May 10, and people have started to notice. Of course, it’s not helped by the White House being strange about the whole thing, or this Proof of Life tweet that just seemed … odd.
Surely everything is OK. What could’ve gone wrong? Elsewhere, Kanye West wants people to download apps to listen to his new album, Pusha T and Drake are having a ridiculous public fight, and the White House is calling for Samantha Bee to be fired after using a term to describe Ivanka Trump that upset everyone and accidentally prompting Sally Field to win Twitter. Oh, and SESTA is still ruining lives, ICE is still scary, and Puerto Rico is still a disaster site. Just in case you’d forgotten those things. But what else were people talking about last week? Read on.
Who Are You Gonna Believe: Me, or All of Your Senses?
What Happened: When trying to gaslight people, it might be better if you checked that there weren’t recordings that contradict what you're saying. Yes, even if you’re the President of the United States.
What Really Happened: The administration’s ongoing war with the media took another step into the ridiculous and breathtaking last week. It all started with a story in the New York Times about the maybe-cancelled, maybe-not summit with North Korea. The story, which was about President Trump's comments that possibly the summit might happen even though he’d just cancelled it, contained one particular line that caught Mr. Trump’s attention: "On Thursday, for example, a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed."
That prompted the following response:
This is far from the first time that the president had declared that anonymous sources didn’t exist, but there was something about this situation that was different from earlier declarations of fake news and phony sources, as reporters were quick to explain on Twitter.
As the media found itself struggling to cover the obvious lie, one journalist went even further in exposing the truth behind it all.
Some wondered what this would mean for the future of White House coverage, with it now revealed how eager the administration is to undercut honest reporting—
—while others considered this the clearest indicator to everyone who isn’t a journalist what it’s like working with this particular White House.
The Takeaway: Despite the back-and-forth between Trump and the White House press corps, the North Korean summit was back on for June 12 as of Friday. So there's that.
How to Self-Destruct Publicly (Or, Ambien Doesn’t Do That)
What Happened: As if to prove that all the success in the world can’t make you a better person, Roseanne Barr managed to pretty much destroy her resurgent career by saying racist things on Twitter.
What Really Happened: This story begins with a tweet that no longer exists, for reasons that will soon become obvious. There is, in fact, more than one deleted tweet in this story. Again, the reasons why will be clear soon enough. As it turned out, people made sure to save screenshots for posterity. And what posterity it was.
Yes, Roseanne Barr—the woman who, when this all started, had the highest-rated show on broadcast television—called former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett an ape in what the media had trouble calling a racist tweet. (“Racially charged” appeared to be the euphemism of choice.) In the wake of the immediate outcry, the offensive tweet was removed and there was an apology tweeted out by Barr, who then said that she was leaving Twitter. That, too, has been deleted. But the apology wasn’t enough for everyone, however—including those who worked with Barr on Roseanne.
It especially wasn’t enough for ABC, as it turned out.
The cancellation was massive news not only for its swiftness, but that it happened at all. This was, after all, the network's most successful show by far. Cutting it suddenly like that was not something done lightly.
Oh, but things got weirder: Barr decided that she wasn’t actually leaving Twitter and instead started retweeting comments supporting her following ABC’s cancellation of the show. Then, in yet another deleted tweet, she blamed the offensive tweet on having taken an Ambien, leading to what might be the surprise tweet of the week from Ambien manufacturer Sanofi.
The Takeaway: If only there was any indicator that Barr could've done such a thing in the first place… Oh, wait.
Dig My Grave
What Happened: A Russian journalist pulls a Tom Sawyer and has the chance to witness reactions to his own death in one of the more surreal news stories of an already surreal week.
What Really Happened: Everyone who’s ever doubted the phrase "truth is stranger than fiction" got a surprise this week, when this happened a day after the murder of a Russian journalist:
Yes, that’s right; a Russian journalist faked his own death to confound a potential murder attempt. He didn’t do it alone; he was assisted by Ukrainian authorities. But don’t worry—that part about even his wife not knowing may not have been entirely true, as it turned out.
But, still! Just think about what kind of undertaking this whole thing was.
Many were concerned about what this ruse could mean for journalism.
But it’s not as if anyone would take this as a sign that other, legitimate events were also faked, surely…
Oh, of course.
The Takeaway: Wait. It turns out that truth that’s informed by fiction is stranger than … fiction?
What Happened: Turns out, it doesn’t matter if you plead guilty to election fraud, you can still be pardoned.
What Really Happened: Pardon power is something each president often faces criticism for; who they choose to pardon and why is, in almost every case, picked over, dissected, and discussed by everyone looking to discern a political motive instead of considering whether the decision was motivated from a place of legal discernment or kindness. Of course, some presidents don’t even try to hide the political calculations behind some pardons.
Yes, President Trump pardoned conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza this week, freeing him from the oppression of … serving five years probation after illegally using straw donors to support a Republican candidate for Senate in 2012. I mean, who wouldn’t want to save someone from such a harsh fate? This was an interesting move, as many pointed out on Twitter.
But why would he do such a thing? Some people saw an obvious motive, beyond simply playing to Trump’s conservative base.
Proving that he’s learned humility from the whole affair, D’Souza took to Twitter to address the issue:
For those who don’t know, Preet Bharara was the US attorney for the Southern District of New York who indicted D’Souza for funneling $20,000 to Wendy Long’s Senate campaign. He was fired by President Trump last year after refusing pressure from the White House to resign. But still, that’s just sour grapes, right? Surely D'Souza calmed down after that.
Yes, this looks perfectly normal and not completely ridiculous at all. After this, there’s no way that President Trump would recklessly use his pardon power again, surely?
…It’s going to be a very long couple of years until the 2020 elections, isn’t it?
The Takeaway: It’s not really a surprise that Trump’s investigation into election fraud fell apart, and yet, this really kind of underscored how much he never meant it in the first place.
The Empire Strikes Back, Reluctantly
What Happened: Because we are, it seems, stuck in the dumbest timeline, it now appears that the US has launched a trade war against … the countries that it is, in theory at least, friendly towards. Sure, everything’s going fine, why do you ask?
What Really Happened: Thursday was a big day for those hoping the United States would plunge into a trade war with its allies, as—against the hopes and wishes of … well, almost everyone outside the administration and its most ardent supporters—the White House announced it was moving ahead with plans to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. (It had previously delayed the move after outcry when the idea was first raised.)
This, of course, meant (trade) war, with Mexico, Europe, and Canada quickly moving to respond to the news.
It also means, it turns out, bad news for Americans, including price hikes and a stock market drop. It also, according to analysts, might mean that the little savings the average American was expecting from last year’s tax overhaul would get wiped out, or at least halved, undercutting the one achievement Trump and his party had in all of 2017 ahead of this November’s midterms. With this in mind, perhaps it’s less of a surprise that this is the thing Republicans are willing to criticize the president for.
The Takeaway: Faced with all of this, surely the president has a message that will convince the doubters and get everyone to rally to his side…
…Or there’s that.
Inside the Fake News Factory of Macedonia
In the aftermath of the US elections, documentary photographer Guy Martin travelled to Veles, Macedonia to find out why this small town became the heart of the fake news scandal. These are the photos he took.