Banking Greed

Can We Stop the Greed-Heads From Their Destruction of Banking & More?

As we learned from the Iroquois, working on behalf of and protecting society from greedy predators should be the first job of every government…

By Thom Hartmann/ The Hartmann Report/ March 13, 2023

The Bosses of the Senate by Joseph Keppler, printed by the J. Ottmann Lithograph Company, January 23, 1889

The failure of the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) shows us, once again, that unrestrained greed isn’t good. For even modest greed to have a positive effect in society, it must be regulated.

The CEO of SVB didn’t like the regulations imposed after the 2008 financial meltdown by Congress’ Dodd-Frank legislation, and spent over a half-million dollars bribing…er, influencing…legislators (legalized by 5 Republicans on the Supreme Court) to change the law and exempt his and other smaller, regional banks from what he argued was the heavy hand of government.

While SVB and other smaller banks were generally prosperous and profitable, many wanted to escape from the regulations Congress imposed to protect both depositors and the economy, so they spread some money around Washington DC. Donald Trump then enthusiastically signed the deregulation of smaller banks like SVB into law in 2018.

Whoa! Here it is. The moment in 2018 when Donald Trump removed the Dodd-Frank regulations that would have prevented the Silicon Valley Bank collapse. Don’t let anyone forget this.

As Senator Bernie Sanders noted this weekend:

“Let’s be clear. The failure of Silicon Valley Bank is a direct result of an absurd 2018 bank deregulation bill signed by Donald Trump that I strongly opposed. Five years ago, the Republican Director of the Congressional Budget Office released a report finding that this legislation would increase the likelihood that a large financial firm with assets of between $100 billion and $250 billion would fail.”

Five years later — predictably — the bank went into receivership and people who’d put their money in its trust were looking at substantial losses while, once again, confidence in the entire system is shaken. 

At New York’s First Republic Bank, people were standing in line as the weekend began, suggesting there may be a full-blown run on that bank today. And New York’s Signature Bank was just closed by banking regulators.

The CEO of SVB had pulled millions out just two weeks before, money that Congressman Ro Khanna says should be clawed back and used to make depositors whole:

“There should be a clawback of any of that money,” Khanna told The Washington Post. “It should be going to the depositors.”

Politicians and op-ed writers tight with banksters spent the weekend, of course, demanding government action and bailouts, like in 1987 and 2008. And this morning, President Biden announced he’s going to do it by bending the rules at FDIC. Frankly, he had little choice.

The CEO’s greed didn’t work out well for average taxpayers — who ultimately must backstop the FDIC if this spreads — and bank customers.

These same banksters are the first types of people to tell student loan borrowers that if they can’t repay their debts they need “discipline,” to suck it up, reduce their standard of living, and to “learn the lesson of responsibility.”

But when their own stupid decisions — in this case, investing in largely illiquid long-term bonds — come back to haunt them, they stand before Congress with their hands out.

The era from the 1850s through the 1920s was punctuated by periodic greed-driven bank failures and a lack of federal response to them. One of the biggest of those crashes presaged — some scholars argue, triggered — the Civil War.

Before running for public office Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer in private practice working for the railroads.  On August 12, 1857, he was paid $4800 in a check, which he deposited and then converted to cash on August 31.  That was fortunate for Lincoln, because just over a month later, in the Great Panic of October 1857, both the bank and the railroad were “forced to suspend payment.”

Of the 66 banks in Illinois, The Central Illinois Gazette (Champagne) reported that by the following April, 27 of them had gone into liquidation. It was a depression so vast that the Chicago Democratic Press declared at its start, the week of Sept. 30, 1857, “The financial pressure now prevailing in the country has no parallel in our business history.”

Unregulated greed wasn’t good back then, either: over 600,000 people died in the Civil War that bank crash contributed to.

Fast forward sixty years. 

During the 1920s, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), “On average, more than 600 banks failed each year between 1921 and 1929.” In the process, billions of dollars were lost to depositors, mostly farmers, working people, and small businesses who’d been locked out of the big banks and didn’t have the resources to lobby Congress.

To make matters worse, because the Republican administrations of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover all believed bank regulation was a bad thing that interfered with the greed-driven “invisible hand of the marketplace,” each allowed the trend to continue until the entire system collapsed in the 1929-1933 era.

That was another era, almost 100 years before ours, that proved how unregulated greed could damage our nation and create widespread misery (except among the greedy).

In January and February of 1932, respectively, Congress created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and the Glass-Steagall Act, regulating banks to prevent their rich owners from continuing to steal depositors’ cash and then walk away from the banks they’d plundered. 

President Franklin Roosevelt, who took office in March of 1933, imposed further stiff regulations on banks and Wall Street, creating the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and putting Joe Kennedy in charge of it. 

The late Gloria Swanson, who knew Kennedy well and intensely disliked him (he’d robbed and exploited her), told me over one of our many dinners in her New York apartment back in the 1980s that FDR told her he’d appointed Kennedy because, “It takes a crook to catch a crook.”

And FDR was going after the greedy crooks in a big way.

Between Glass-Steagal and the SEC, banking became a boring if reliably profitable business from the 1930s to the 1980s. 

The nation prospered. The middle class grew. The banksters’ greed was hemmed in by FDR’s regulations, then kept there through the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, and Carter. Bank directors and executives did well, but few were buying their own private jets.

Then, President Reagan, as part of his neoliberal “greed is good” agenda, experimented with bank deregulation by lifting many rules governing the operation of Savings and Loan institutions.

They’d been created in 1932 with the Federal Home Loan Act, which heavily regulated the industry and made it functionally subordinate to commercial banks.

But in 1982, Reagan pushed through the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act, eliminating previous S&L loan-to-value ratios and interest rate caps while killing their main oversight, Regulation Q

Soon S&Ls were gambling with junk bonds and risky commercial real estate, leading over 1000 of them (almost a third of all S&Ls in the nation) to crash and burn.

Their greedy CEOs and senior executives made off with billions, leaving depositors in the lurch and the Federal government to clean up the mess. Once again, deregulating greed ended up costing the nation hundreds of billions while making a small group of S&L hustlers richer than the pharaohs.

In 1999, Republicans and a few neoliberal Democrats took another run at deregulating banks themselves, spurred into action by a pile of campaign cash made legal by Republicans on the Supreme Court when Lewis Powell wrote the 1978 opinion in First National Bank v Bellottiwriting explicitly that corporations were “persons” entitled to use their “First Amendment-protected free speech” (money) to influence politicians.

Deregulation would both increase bank profits while keeping the banking sector safe, we were told that year, because no banker or stockbroker in his right mind would risk being “embarrassed” by taking such big chances that a misstep could wipe out large sectors of the nation’s economy. 

Greed, they told us, was self-regulating. Predictably, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Republican Senator Phil Gramm made that “self-regulating” point on the floor of the Senate in 1999 when selling the end of the 1933 Glass-Steagall law that prevented checkbook banks from using their depositors’ money to gamble in the stock, bond, and real estate markets.  

Bought-off legislators fattened their campaign coffers while banksters started gambling and became billionaires. And, of course, it led us straight to the Bush Crash of 2008 when the entire system seized up and you and I bailed out Wall Street with trillions of dollars, hundreds of billions of which the banksters simply pocketed for themselves and their big business buddies as loans and massive bonuses.

Greed paid off for them, although you and I are still paying for it with our taxes via the national debt.

As with so many things, a kernel of truth — in this case about greed and self-interest — has been twisted into a gamed and rigged system by the morbidly rich. They’re quick to quote from the first chapter of Adam Smith’s 1776 classic The Wealth of Nations:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.”

While true, advocates of deregulation completely ignore its corollary, expressed in the second chapter of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he argues:

“Man is considered as moral because he is regarded as an accountable being. But an accountable being, as the word expresses, is a being that must give an account of its actions to some other, and that consequently must regulate them according to the good liking of this other.”

When Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) pushed their 2018 Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, dubbed by Elizabeth Warren and others as the Bank Lobbyist Act, many argued it would lead to more bank consolidations (it did) and let smaller banks like SVB take risks that could endanger depositors (they did).

Senator Warren noted on Twitter at the time:

“The #BankLobbyistAct takes 25 of the 40 biggest banks in the country off the watch list for more federal oversight. It weakens consumer protections on mortgages — and makes it harder to fight racial discrimination in housing,” adding that the legislation would “be paving the way for the next big crash.”

Unregulated greed, she predicted, would lead to disastrous outcomes.

And here we are. Whether the failure of the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) will spark a wider contagion or just be a two-week story illustrating the stupidity of deregulating and trusting billionaire banksters to do the right thing is, as yet, unknown.

But the principle is known. When money, power, or political advantage are at stake, a small number of unscrupulous (sometimes called “sociopathic”) individuals will say or do any and everything they can to game the system for themselves to keep everybody else out. 

It may be selling opioids that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans; or poisoning children’s metabolisms with processed, plastic-packaged, forever-chemical-laced “food” that leads to cancer, obesity, and diabetes; or pushing cigarettes or opposing wind and solar farms. There’s always somebody willing to sell their soul for the right price, and somebody else who can afford to pay that price.

We’ve all seen greed working in real time. My father was killed — knowingly — by the asbestos industry and my brother was killed with full knowledge and intention by the tobacco industry. If there’s not such a similar story in your life, you’re an outlier.

And what we all experience on a personal level is amplified a million times when a single greedy person seizes the power to help or destroy millions of lives, like the CEO of a giant employer that is fighting unionization, safety, or environmental regulation. 

Often, these are the most high-functioning and well-educated/well-connected sociopaths among us…and the good ones (as in those “good” enough to make billions but only pay 3% income tax) are particularly successful at selling their own personalities: this is the compounding overlay of narcissism. 

Donald Trump is its poster child. 

Can we stop the sociopaths, the greed-heads, from continuing their destruction of our food supply, our housing stock, and our environment/climate?

It’s a fight, but the greed side literally can mobilize trillions, if necessary. Still, the human and intrinsic love of democracy and fairness mean the outcome is, at this moment, up in the air. 

What we do know, however — as philosophers from Socrates to Jesus to Adam Smith have told us over and over —  is that unregulated greed always ends up enriching the few while devastating the rest of society.

And, as we learned from the Iroquois and I write about in my next book, The Hidden History of American Democracy, working on behalf of and protecting society from greedy predators should be the first job of every government. 

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Schwarzenegger Talks to the Haters

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In Case You Haven’t Figured It Out

Letter to the editor, Monterey Herald, February 28, 2023

Have you ever wondered how, in the richest country in the world, so many Americans are hungry, homeless, lacking health care and living in poverty? In fact, about 64% of our population is living paycheck to paycheck. How can that be? Here’s a clue: three people in this country (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Elon Musk) have more wealth than the bottom 50% (look it up!). Allow me to spell it out: the wealthy control America’s economy and Congress and the Supreme Court appear satisfied with this arrangement.

— Arlen Grossman, Del Rey Oaks

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The Real Way to Measure Our Economy

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Test Run–New Youtube Political Video Series

New Political Broadcast Show: Hal Ginsberg started a progressive radio station (KRXA-540AM) in Monterey from 2005 to 2013. It went off the air after Hal moved back to his family’s home in Maryland. Hal is starting a YouTube Video show, and asked me, along with our friend, Fred Steudler, to join him on his premier show. (Fred, Paul Karrer, and I were among the regulars on KRXA for awhile). This video here was experimental and has some kinks to be worked out, but Hal wants his “Halitics” show to appear on a regular basis. I expect to be appearing on the show periodically.

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Letter to the Editor, Monterey Herald, February 19, 2023

Republicans, lacking plans to help ordinary people, recently pushed an idiotic bill that called for members of Congress to denounce “The Horrors of Socialism.” There was no reason for it, other than to embarrass Democrats into taking a stand on “socialism.” Of course, to Republicans, all “socialism” is evil, and they threw in Fidel Castro, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Kim Jong Un and Mao Zedong as examples of socialism, and for good measure, insisted “the collectivistic system of socialism in all of its forms is fundamentally and necessarily opposed.” Not surprisingly, they didn’t include as examples, Senator Bernie Sanders or any of the leaders of thriving democratic socialist governments in Europe and many other countries. Sadly, 109 Congressional Democrats including our representative, the timid Jimmy Panetta, took the bait and voted for the sham bill. Eighty-six House Democrats had enough sense to oppose the bill. I just hope Jimmy Panetta won’t go soft on socialist programs like Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, the Interstate Highway System, and public schools.

Arlen Grossman

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Creeping Authoritarianism

Creeping authoritarianism….Russia, Hungary, Poland and other authoritarian-type governments are taking control of media, the judiciary, and other institutions that threaten their autocracy.

Could it happen here? Think of Gov. DeSantis of Florida trying to take over the educational system in Florida. A few other Republican states are attempting something similar….Very scary And who will stop it?!

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Should you trust media bias charts?

These controversial charts claim to show the political lean and credibility of news organizations. Here’s what you need to know about them.

By Jake Sheridan/ November 2,2021

Impartial journalism is an impossible ideal. That is, at least, according to Julie Mastrine.

“Unbiased news doesn’t exist. Everyone has a bias: everyday people and journalists. And that’s OK,” Mastrine said. But it’s not OK for news organizations to hide those biases, she said.

“We can be manipulated into (a biased outlet’s) point of view and not able to evaluate it critically and objectively and understand where it’s coming from,” said Mastrine, marketing director for AllSides, a media literacy company focused on “freeing people from filter bubbles.”

That’s why she created a media bias chart.

As readers hurl claims of hidden bias towards outlets on all parts of the political spectrum, bias charts have emerged as a tool to reveal pernicious partiality.

Charts that use transparent methodologies to score political bias — particularly the AllSides chart and another from news literacy company Ad Fontes Media — are increasing in popularity and spreading across the internet. According to CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring platform, the homepages for these two sites and the pages for their charts have been shared tens of thousands of times.

But just because something is widely shared doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Are media bias charts reliable?

Why do media bias charts exist?

Traditional journalism values a focus on news reporting that is fair and impartial, guided by principles like truth, verification and accuracy. But those standards are not observed across the board in the “news” content that people consume.

Tim Groeling, a communications professor at the University of California Los Angeles, said some consumers take too much of the “news” they encounter as impartial.

When people are influenced by undisclosed political bias in the news they consume, “that’s pretty bad for democratic politics, pretty bad for our country to have people be consistently misinformed and think they’re informed,” Groeling said.

If undisclosed bias threatens to mislead some news consumers, it also pushes others away, he said.

“When you have bias that’s not acknowledged, but is present, that’s really damaging to trust,” he said.

Kelly McBride, an expert on journalism ethics and standards, NPR’s public editor and the chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter, agrees.

“If a news consumer doesn’t see their particular bias in a story accounted for — not necessarily validated, but at least accounted for in a story — they are going to assume that the reporter or the publication is biased,” McBride said.

The growing public confusion about whether or not news outlets harbor a political bias, disclosed or not, is fueling demand for resources to sort fact from otherwise — resources like these media bias charts.

Bias and social media

Mastrine said the threat of undisclosed biases grows as social media algorithms create filter bubbles to feed users ideologically consistent content.

Could rating bias help? Mastrine and Vanessa Otero, founder of the Ad Fontes media bias chart, think so.

“It’ll actually make it easier for people to identify different perspectives and make sure they’re reading across the spectrum so that they get a balanced understanding of current events,” Mastrine said.

Otero said bias ratings could also be helpful to advertisers.

“There’s this whole ecosystem of online junk news, of polarizing misinformation, these clickbaity sites that are sucking up a lot of ad revenue. And that’s not to the benefit of anybody,” Otero said. “It’s not to the benefit of the advertisers. It’s not to the benefit of society. It’s just to the benefit of some folks who want to take advantage of people’s worst inclinations online.”

Reliable media bias ratings could allow advertisers to disinvest in fringe sites.

Groeling, the UCLA professor, said he could see major social media and search platforms using bias ratings to alter the algorithms that determine what content users see. Changes could elevate neutral content or foster broader news consumption.

But he fears the platforms’ sweeping power, especially after Facebook and Twitter censored New York Post article purporting to show data from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, the son of President-elect Joe Biden. Groeling said social media platforms failed to clearly communicate how and why they stopped and slowed the spread of the article.

“(Social media platforms are) searching for some sort of arbiter of truth and news … but it’s actually really difficult to do that and not be a frightening totalitarian,” he said.

Is less more?

The Ad Fontes chart and the AllSides chart are each easy to understand: progressive publishers on one side, conservative ones on the other.

“It’s just more visible, more shareable. We think more people can see the ratings this way and kind of begin to understand them and really start to think, ‘Oh, you know, journalism is supposed to be objective and balanced,’” Mastrine said. AllSides has rated media bias since 2012. Mastrine first put them into chart form in early 2019.

Otero recognizes that accessibility comes at a price.

“Some nuance has to go away when it’s a graphic,” she said. “If you always keep it to, ‘people can only understand if they have a very deep conversation,’ then some people are just never going to get there. So it is a tool to help people have a shortcut.”

But perceiving the chart as distilled truth could give consumers an undue trust in outlets, McBride said.

“Overreliance on a chart like this is going to probably give some consumers a false level of faith,” she said. “I can think of a massive journalistic failure for just about every organization on this chart. And they didn’t all come clean about it.”

The necessity of getting people to look at the chart poses another challenge. Groeling thinks disinterest among consumers could hurt the charts’ usefulness.

“Asking people to go to this chart, asking them to take effort to understand and do that comparison, I worry would not actually be something people would do. Because most people don’t care enough about news,” he said. He would rather see a plugin that detects bias in users’ overall news consumption and offers them differing viewpoints.

McBride questioned whether bias should be the focus of the charts at all. Other factors — accountability, reliability and resources — would offer better insight into what sources of news are best, she said.

“Bias is only one thing that you need to pay attention to when you consume news. What you also want to pay attention to is the quality of the actual reporting and writing and the editing,” she said. It wouldn’t make sense to rate local news sources for bias, she added, because they are responsive to individual communities with different political ideologies.

The charts are only as good as their methodologies. Both McBride and Groeling shared praise for the stated methods for rating bias of AllSides and Ad Fontes, which can be found on their websites. Neither Ad Fontes nor AllSides explicitly rates editorial standards.

The AllSides Chart

(Courtesy: AllSides)

The AllSides chart focuses solely on political bias. It places sources in one of five boxes — “Left,” “Lean Left,” “Center,” “Lean Right” and “Right.” Mastrine said that while the boxes allow the chart to be easily understood, they also don’t allow sources to be rated on a gradient.

“Our five-point scale is inherently limited in the sense that we have to put somebody in a category when, in reality, it’s kind of a spectrum. They might fall in between two of the ratings,” Mastrine said.

That also makes the chart particularly easy to understand, she said.

AllSides has rated more than 800 sources in eight years, focusing on online content only. Ratings are derived from a mix of review methods.

In the blind bias survey, which Mastrine called “one of (AllSides’) most robust bias rating methodologies,” readers from the public rate articles for political bias. Two AllSides staffers with different political biases pull articles from the news sites that are being reviewed. AllSides locates these unpaid readers through its newsletter, website, social media account and other marketing tools. The readers, who self-report their political bias after they use a bias rating test provided by the company, only see the article’s text and are not told which outlet published the piece. The data is then normalized to more closely reflect the composure of America across political groupings.

AllSides also uses “editorial reviews,” where staff members look directly at a source to contribute to ratings.

“That allows us to actually look at the homepage with the branding, with the photos and all that and kind of get a feel for what the bias is, taking all that into account,” Mastrine said.

She added that an equal number of staffers who lean left, right and center conduct each review together. The personal biases of AllSides’ staffers appear on their bio pages. Mastrine leans right.

She clarified that among the 20-person staff, many are part time, 14% are people of color, 38% are lean left or left, 29% are center, and 18% are lean right or right. Half of the staffers are male, half are female.

When a news outlet receives a blind bias survey and an editorial review, both are taken into account. Mastrine said the two methods aren’t weighted together “in any mathematical way,” but said they typically hold roughly equal weight. Sometimes, she added, the editorial review carries more weight.

AllSides also uses “independent research,” which Mastrine described as the “lowest level of bias verification.” She said it consists of staffers reviewing and reporting on a source to make a preliminary bias assessment. Sometimes third-party analyses — including academic research and surveys — are incorporated into ratings, too.

AllSides highlights the specific methodologies used to judge each source on its website and states its confidence in the ratings based on the methods used. In a separate white paper, the company details the process used for its August 2020 blind bias survey.

AllSides sometimes gives separate ratings to different sections of the same source. For example, it rates The New York Times’ opinion section “Left” and its news section “Lean Left.” AllSides also incorporates reader feedback into its system. People can mark that they agree or disagree with AllSides’ rating of a source. When a significant number of people disagree, AllSides often revisits a source to vet it once again, Mastrine said.

The AllSides chart generally gets good reviews, she said, and most people mark that they agree with the ratings. Still, she sees one misconception among the people that encounter it: They think center means better. Mastrine disagrees.

“The center outlets might be omitting certain stories that are important to people. They might not even be accurate,” she said. “We tell people to read across the spectrum.”

To make that easier, AllSides offers a curated “balanced news feed,” featuring articles from across the political spectrum, on its website.

AllSides makes money through paid memberships, one-time donations, media literacy training and online advertisements. It plans to become a public benefit corporation by the end of the year, she added, meaning it will operate both for profit and for a stated public mission.

The Ad Fontes chart

(Courtesy: Ad Fontes)

The Ad Fontes chart rates both reliability and political bias. It scores news sources — around 270 now, and an expected 300 in December — using bias and reliability as coordinates on its chart.

The outlets appear on a spectrum, with seven markers showing a range from “Most Extreme Left” to “Most Extreme Right” along the bias axis, and eight markers showing a range from “Original Fact Reporting” to “Contains Inaccurate/Fabricated Info” along the reliability axis.

The chart is a departure from its first version, back when founder Vanessa Otero, a patent attorney, said she put together a chart by herself as a hobby after seeing Facebook friends fight over the legitimacy of sources during the 2016 election. Otero said that when she saw how popular her chart was, she decided to make bias ratings her full-time job and founded Ad Fontes — Latin for “to the source” — in 2018.

“There were so many thousands of people reaching out to me on the internet about this,” she said. “Teachers were using it in their classrooms as a tool for teaching media literacy. Publishers wanted to publish it in textbooks.”

About 30 paid analysts rate articles for Ad Fontes. Listed on the company’s website, they represent a range of experience — current and former journalists, educators, librarians and similar professionals. The company recruits analysts through its email list and references and vets them through a traditional application process. Hired analysts are then trained by Otero and other Ad Fontes staff.

To start review sessions, a group of coordinators composed of senior analysts and the company’s nine staffers pulls articles from the sites being reviewed. They look for articles listed as most popular or displayed most prominently.

Part of the Ad Fontes analyst political bias test. The test asks analysts to rank their political bias on 18 different policy issues.

Ad Fontes administers an internal political bias test to analysts, asking them to rank their left-to-right position on about 20 policy positions. That information allows the company to attempt to create ideological balance by including one centrist, one left-leaning and one right-leaning analyst on each review panel. The panels review at least three articles for each source, but they may review as many as 30 for particularly prominent outlets, like The Washington Post, Otero said. More on their methodology, including how they choose which articles to review to create a bias rating, can be found here on the Ad Fontes website.

When they review the articles, the analysts see them as they appear online, “because that’s how people encounter all content. No one encounters content blind,” Otero said. The review process recently changed so that paired analysts discuss their ratings over video chat, where they are pushed to be more specific as they form ratings, Otero said.

Individual scores for an article’s accuracy, the use of fact or opinion, and the appropriateness of its headline and image combine to create a reliability score. The bias score is determined by the article’s degree of advocacy for a left-to-right political position, topic selection and omission, and use of language.

To create an overall bias and reliability score for an outlet, the individual scores for each reviewed article are averaged, with added importance given to more popular articles. That average determines where sources show up on the chart.

Ad Fontes details its ratings process in a white paper from August 2019.

While the company mostly reviews prominent legacy news sources and other popular news sites, Otero hopes to add more podcasts and video content to the chart in coming iterations. The chart already rates video news channel “The Young Turks” (which claims to be the most popular online news show with 250 million views per month and 5 million subscribers on YouTube), and Otero mentioned she next wants to examine videos from Prager University (which claims 4 billion lifetime views for its content, has 2.84 million subscribers on YouTube and 1.4 million followers on Instagram). Ad Fontes is working with ad agency Oxford Road and dental care company Quip to create ratings for the top 50 news and politics podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Otero said.

“It’s not strictly traditional news sources, because so much of the information that people use to make decisions in their lives is not exactly news,” Otero said.

She was shocked when academic textbook publishers first wanted to use her chart. Now she wants it to become a household tool.

“As we add more news sources on to it, as we add more data, I envision this becoming a standard framework for evaluating news on at least these two dimensions of reliability and bias,” she said.

She sees complaints about it from both ends of the political spectrum as proof that it works.

“A lot of people love it and a lot of people hate it,” Otero said. “A lot of people on the left will call us neoliberal shills, and then a bunch of people that are on the right are like, ‘Oh, you guys are a bunch of leftists yourselves.’”

The project has grown to include tools for teaching media literacy to school kids and an interactive version of the chart that displays each rated article. Otero’s company operates as a public benefit corporation with a stated public benefit mission: “to make news consumers smarter and news media better.” She didn’t want Ad Fontes to rely on donations.

“If we want to grow with a problem, we have to be a sustainable business. Otherwise, we’re just going to make a small difference in a corner of the problem,” she said.

Ad Fontes makes money by responding to specific research requests from advertisers, academics and other parties that want certain outlets to be reviewed. The company also receives non-deductible donations and operates on WeFunder, a grassroots crowdfunding investment site, to bring in investors. So far, Ad Fontes has raised $163,940 with 276 investors through the site.

Should you use the charts?

Media bias charts with transparent, rigorous methodologies can offer insight into sources’ biases. That insight can help you understand what perspectives sources bring as they share the news. That insight also might help you understand what perspectives you might be missing as a news consumer.

But use them with caution. Political bias isn’t the only thing news consumers should look out for. Reliability is critical, too, and the accuracy and editorial standards of organizations play an important role in sharing informative, useful news.

Media bias charts are a media literacy tool. They offer well-researched appraisals on the bias of certain sources. But to best inform yourself, you need a full toolbox. Check out Poynter’s MediaWise project for more media literacy tools.

This article was originally published on Dec. 14, 2020. 

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Letters to Editor, Monterey Herald, January 31, 2023

It baffles me that there is so much fuss about Rep. George Santos and his total disregard of facts and reality. Political commentators and late-night comics are having a field day exposing his extraordinary record of fabrication and deception. Tellingly, this comes shortly after the reign of Donald Trump, the psychotic ex-president with a remarkable record of telling lies, with thousands documented before, during and after his presidency. Telling the truth is a trait Mr. Trump and his minions have absolutely no respect for. That matters little to the tens of millions of Americans who still believe him to be their political leader and savior. George Santos is not a surprise but rather is an inevitable result of the blurring of falsity and fact in post-truth America today.

–Arlen Grossman, Del Rey Oaks

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Trump Has Completely Lost His Grip on Reality

The former president’s deterioration is on full display in the Truth Social asylum he built for himself.

By Charles C. W. Cooke/ National Review/ January 25, 2023

Let’s check in on the shadow primary for the 2024 Republican nomination. Nikki Haley is putting together a finance committee, and suggested last week that she’s “leaning in” to a run. Mike Pompeo has just published a book called Never Give an Inch, and told CBS yesterday that he’ll decide whether to enter the fray over the “next handful of months.” Governor Ron DeSantis has continued to pick winning fights in Florida since being reelected in a November landslide, and has stayed assiduously quiet about his future.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who, despite being the only candidate who has officially announced his bid, is . . . well, ranting like a deranged hobo in a dilapidated public park. No, don’t look at him — he might come over here with his sign.

There was a point in time at which Trump’s unusual verbal affect and singular nose for underutilized wedge issues gave him a competitive edge. Now? Now, he’s morphing into one of the three witches from Macbeth. To peruse Trump’s account on Truth Social is to meet a cast of characters about whom nobody who lives beyond the Trump Extended Universe could possibly care one whit. Here in the real world, the border is a catastrophe, inflation is as bad as it’s been in four decades, interest rates have risen to their highest level in 15 years, crime is on the up, and the debt continues to mushroom. And yet, safely ensconced within his own macrocosm, Trump is busy mainlining Edward Lear. Day in, day out, he rambles about the adventures of Coco Chow and the Old Broken Crow; the dastardly Unselect Committee; the (presumably tasty) Stollen Presidential Election; the travails of that famous law-enforcement agency, the GestopoJoe Scarborough’s wife “Mike”; and other unusual characters from Coromandel. “Where the early pumpkins blow / In the middle of the woods / Lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò / Who STOLLE THE ELECTION / Don’t you know?”

These characters come and go as the world passes indifferently by. But Trump’s heroism remains the one constant. It is the dream of any artist to play both performer and critic, and, on Truth Social, Trump is living the dream. At times, his penchant for self-elevation makes God’s declaration in Genesis “that it was good” look positively bashful. Apropos of nothing, he will declare to himself: “‘TRUMP WAS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING’ One of [sic] most often used current phrases or statements. Wow, such a magnificent compliment. Thank you!” Other evaluations are equally gushing. His appraisal of the social-media company of which he is the sole potentate: “TRUTH SOCIAL IS SOOO GREAT!” His review of his golfing abilities in a competition that, astonishingly enough, he managed to win despite missing its first day: “Competed against many fine golfers, and was hitting the ball long and straight,” which “in a very real way . . . serves as a physical exam, only MUCH tougher.” His assessment of his presidency, and of the 2020 election that he lost by millions of votes: “I did a GREAT job as President, maybe the best.” And then: “I Ran twice, did much better the second time (Rigged Election!)” I tell ya, Charley, I coulda been a contender.

Throughout his public career, Trump has resembled nothing so much as a drunken talk-radio caller from Queens, and, on Truth Social, readers get the treat of watching him at the zenith of his rhetorical powers. Nobody — and I mean nobody — can shift gears as fast as Donald J. Trump. One moment he’s proposing that the solution to the Supreme Court leak is to “arrest the reporter, publisher, editor—you’ll get your answer fast,” or, if that fails, “put whoever in jail.” The next, he’s describing the prosecution of his business associate, Allen Weisselberg, as “the greatest Witch Hunt of all time.” His repertoire is unmatched — and unmatchable. He can do edgy insult comedy for the people listening in at the bar: “The reporter was a shaky & unattractive wack job, known as ‘tough’ but dumb as a rock.” He can make numbers up off the top of his head: “The change in the Election was Complete & Total, with Millions of votes switched, at least 17%.” He can use hyperbolic analogies: “Our Country is SICK inside, very much like a person dying of Cancer.” He can even do angry: “May he Rot In Hell!” He can do anything.

Anything, that is, except focus on the world outside — where the problems that Donald Trump once used to propel himself into the White House remain real and pressing, whether or not he chooses to engage with them.

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