Starsuckers is a feature documentary about the celebrity obsessed media, that uncovers the real reasons behind our addiction to fame and blows the lid on the corporations and individuals who profit from it. Made completely independently over 2 years in secret, the film journeys through the dark underbelly of the modern media. Using a combination of never before seen footage, undercover reporting, stunts and animation, the film reveals the toxic effect the media is having on us all and especially our children. Chris Atkins presents Starsuckers as a series of five lessons on fame in the modern world: how children are persuaded that fame is something they want, how television and the media reinforces the importance of celebrity and the efforts to attain it, how the mind and body reinforces our need to follow the activities of well-known people and strive to join their number, how the press became addicted to celebrity coverage, and how the art of promoting fame has led to celebrities and their handlers controlling the press instead of the press having say. Along the way, Atkins demonstrates how celebrity news with no basis in fact gets into print, why newspapers will run press releases almost verbatim, how parents will eagerly sign away the image rights to their kids, how certain mass scale charity events end up helping the performers far more than the causes they designed to support, and how publicists keep accurate but unflattering stories out of the news.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When tweets can make you a jailbird

By RICHARD LARDNER, Associated Press Writer Richard Lardner, Associated Press Writer – Tue Mar 16, 3:04 pm ET
WASHINGTON – Maxi Sopo was having so much fun "living in paradise" in Mexico that he posted about it on Facebook so all his friends could follow his adventures. Others were watching, too: A federal prosecutor in Seattle, where Sopo was wanted on bank fraud charges.

Tracking Sopo through his public "friends" list, the prosecutor found his address and had Mexican authorities arrest him. Instead of sipping pina coladas, Sopo is awaiting extradition to the U.S.

Sopo learned the hard way: The Feds are on Facebook. And MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, too.

Law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, even going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that surfaced in a lawsuit.

The document shows that U.S. agents are logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target's friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs and video clips.

Among the purposes: Investigators can check suspects' alibis by comparing stories told to police with tweets sent at the same time about their whereabouts. Online photos from a suspicious spending spree — people posing with jewelry, guns or fancy cars — can link suspects or their friends to crime.

The Justice document also reminds government attorneys taking cases to trial that the public sections of social networks are a "valuable source" of information on defense witnesses. "Knowledge is power," says the paper. "Research all witnesses on social networking sites."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, obtained the 33-page document when it sued the Justice Department and five other agencies in federal court.

A decade ago, agents kept watch over AOL and MSN chat rooms to nab sexual predators. But those text-only chat services are old-school compared with today's social media, which contain a potential treasure trove of evidence.

The document, part of a presentation given in August by cybercrime officials, describes the value of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and other services to investigators. It does not describe in detail the boundaries for using them.

"It doesn't really discuss any mechanisms for accountability or ensuring that government agents use those tools responsibly," said Marcia Hoffman, a senior attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sued to force the government to disclose its policies for using social networking.

The foundation also obtained an Internal Revenue Service document that states IRS employees cannot use deception or create fake accounts to get information.

Sopo's case didn't require undercover work; his carelessness provided the clues. But covert investigations on social-networking services are legal and governed by internal rules, according to Justice officials. They would not, however, say what those rules are.

The document addresses a social-media bullying case in which U.S. prosecutors charged a Missouri woman with computer fraud for creating a fake MySpace account — effectively the same activity that undercover agents are doing, although for different purposes.

The woman, Lori Drew, posed as a teen boy and flirted with a 13-year-old neighborhood girl. The girl hanged herself in October 2006, in a St. Louis suburb, after she received a message saying the world would be better without her. Drew was convicted of three misdemeanors for violating MySpace's rules against creating fake accounts. But last year a judge overturned the verdicts, citing the vagueness of the law.

"If agents violate terms of service, is that 'otherwise illegal activity'?" the document asks. It doesn't provide an answer.

Facebook's rules, for example, specify that users "will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission." Twitter's rules prohibit users from sending deceptive or false information. MySpace requires that information for accounts be "truthful and accurate."

A former U.S. cybersecurity prosecutor, Marc Zwillinger, said investigators should be able to go undercover in the online world the same way they do in the real world, even if such conduct is barred by a company's rules. But there have to be limits, he said.

"This new situation presents a need for careful oversight so that law enforcement does not use social networking to intrude on some of our most personal relationships," said Zwillinger, whose firm does legal work for Yahoo and MySpace.

The Justice document describes how Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have interacted with federal investigators: Facebook is "often cooperative with emergency requests," the government said. MySpace preserves information about its users indefinitely and even stores data from deleted accounts for one year. But Twitter's lawyers tell prosecutors they need a warrant or subpoena before the company turns over customer information, the document says.

"Will not preserve data without legal process," the document says under the heading, "Getting Info From Twitter ... the bad news."

The chief security officer for MySpace, Hemanshu Nigam, said MySpace doesn't want to stand in the way of an investigation. "That said, we also want to make sure that our users' privacy is protected and any data that's disclosed is done under proper legal process," Nigam said.

MySpace requires a search warrant for private messages less than six months old, according to the company.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company has put together a handbook to help law enforcement officials understand "the proper ways to request information from Facebook to aid investigations."


On the Net:

Justice Department document:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

HuffPost Gets BIG $hot in the Arm

Online Investigative Reporting gets a shot in the arm – the Knight Foundation to Support The Huffington Post Investigative Fund with $200,000.

Posted on on December 22nd, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

Knight Foundation to Support The Huffington Post Investigative Fund

Washington, DC – December 22, 2009. As part of its ongoing support for investigative journalism, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announces a grant of $200,000 to The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. In making the contribution, the Knight Foundation joins the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Markle Foundation and The Huffington Post as key supporters of the venture.

“The Huffington Post Investigative Fund is experimenting with a new way of providing important journalism, functioning as a non-profit that draws audience from a popular for-profit,” said Eric Newton, vice president of Knight Foundation’s journalism program. “It’s a worthy test of a new idea, and since we really don’t know how investigative reporting is best supported in the future, an interesting experiment.”

Based in Washington, D.C., The Huffington Post Investigative Fund has a full-time staff of 11 and a budget of $2 million. It is headed by executive director Nick Penniman, formerly the publisher of the Washington Monthly, and executive editor Lawrence Roberts, formerly the investigations editor of the Washington Post. Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, chairs the nonprofit’s board. Collectively, its staff members have won more than four dozen major journalism awards, including multiple Pulitzer Prizes.

“We’re thrilled and honored to receive Knight’s backing,” said Penniman. “In these times of great upheaval for the news industry, Knight Foundation is helping us blaze a new trail for how you finance, create and distribute investigative journalism.

Said Arianna Huffington: “Knight’s grant is an important milestone in the young history of The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. We’re incredibly grateful to Alberto Ibargüen and Eric Newton of Knight Foundation for their passion for championing innovative solutions in the face of the crisis facing investigative journalism. Everyone who understands the vital role good journalism plays in our democracy is looking for ways to preserve and strengthen it during this time of great transition for the media, and Knight is playing a lead role in this effort.”

“The Huffington Post is an ideal partner for Knight Foundation. They are entrepreneurial and care passionately about meeting the information needs of communities,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “As a media leader, few are as innovative as Arianna Huffington. She believes in freedom and practices it. She believes in journalism and has hired outstanding investigative reporters and editors. And she believes in the power of technology to change the world for the better.”

“It’s also extremely important to us to partner with Atlantic Philanthropies in supporting The Huffington Post, as it was to partner with the Houston Endowment on the Texas Tribune or the San Diego Community Foundation in supporting the Voice of San Diego,” added Ibargoen. “These collaborations are essential as we look for the next sustainable model for the delivery of news people need.”

The Fund’s mission is to be an online innovator of investigative reporting by merging the classic watchdog function and traditional values of the press with the best tools of new media. Since its operations began in the early Fall, it has produced more than 50 stories, including 20 videos. Highlights include an investigation of a top subprime lender showing how fraud was at the heart of the housing boom and bust; a three-part expose of how the credit rating companies have fended off regulation from Congress and the SEC; and a project shedding light on inequities in denials of health insurance claims, reported with help from citizen journalists. The Fund has also completed multiple citizen journalism and “distributed research” projects and collaborated with other nonprofits on various stories, including the Center for Public Integrity, ProPublica and the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

Through open-source publishing, any content the Investigative Fund produces is free for anyone to publish at the same time that it’s made available to The Huffington Post. The relationship helps the nonprofit distribute its reporting to a larger audience than it is capable of attracting on its own. In addition to The Huffington Post, more than 40 other outlets have republished the Fund’s pieces.

“We’ve built a first-rate staff of veteran investigative reporters and up-and-coming journalists,” said Roberts. “Having Knight’s support is an exciting endorsement of our efforts so far and of our potential.”

Knight Foundation’s $15 million Investigative Reporting Initiative was announced this year at the annual convention of the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization, the nation’s leading group of investigative journalists. Grantees under the initiative include News21, the Center for Investigative Reporting, ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity and the Texas Tribune.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

WaPost Hires Another Torture-Writer

The Washington Post just hired Marc Thiessen, who now becomes the second former George W. Bush speechwriter-turned-columnist at the paper. Thiessen isn't just any right-wing shill: He's an unapologetic advocate for torture. And he isn't alone. Charles Krauthammer, Michael Scheuer, and Richard Cohen have all used the editorial pages of the Post to defend torture.

How much longer can the Post give writers its pages as a platform to promote torture before it starts to look like the paper's official position?

When the Post gives a platform to torture supporters, it shapes -- and distorts -- the national debate on security and human rights, especially if those advocates are making a misleading case. The paper must stop promoting torture -- and they need to hear that from you.

In his book and even on the pages of the Post, Thiessen has repeatedly made dishonest and dubious statements in support of torture. For example:

He falsely claimed in his most recent book that, since CIA interrogation of terror suspects began after 9-11, there were no attacks by Al Qaeda on U.S. interests at home or abroad. He also claimed, falsely, in a Post op-ed that Bush oversaw "2,688 days without a terrorist attack on [American] soil," ignoring the anthrax mail attacks, the El Al shooting in Los Angeles and other domestic terrorist attacks.
In a Post op-ed, he called President Obama's decision to release Bush administration torture memos "irresponsible" and claimed that "Americans may die as a result."
The Washington Post needs to be held accountable for the ethics of the writers it hires and features, especially on such a crucial issue. We need to let the Post know that giving a platform to dishonest advocates of torture is unacceptable. They must stop promoting torture.

Click on title above to tell The Washington Post: Stop promoting torture.

In the Post, columnist Richard Cohen claimed that torture works and criticized the refusal to waterboard terrorists as naive, while columnist Krauthammer used his column to attack opponents of torture and promote Bush administration talking points.

But hiring Thiessen as a weekly columnist is a new low. Thiessen is not a reliable voice on national security, and the Post's credibility will be hurt by Thiessen's advocacy of inhumane and unnecessary torture techniques.

The Washington Post and editorial page editor Fred Hiatt need to say no to torture apologists, and stop promoting torture.

Go here to sign petition;

Thank you for your help in holding the Post accountable.

Eric Burns
Media Matters for America