IMWF Announces Photojournalism Scholarship To Honor Slain AP Photographer

October 24, 2014 by  
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The International Women’s Media Foundation will sponsor a $1 million scholarship in honor of Anja Niedringhaus, the German AP photographer killed this past April while on assignment in Afghanistan, the organization announced Wednesday at its annual Courage in Journalism Awards.

In addition to the scholarship program, a $4 million fund for outstanding women journalists has also been set up by Howard Buffett, the son of billionaire Warren Buffett, who supported Niedringhaus during her Nieman Fellowship at Harvard.

“Women reporters are often looked down on, as many of you know,” said Buffet at the award ceremony. “You’re the last one to get the best equipment, you’re the first one to be told, ‘It’s a man job, it’s too dangerous for you’ — and that’s why this organization is so critical to the world.”

Women have traditionally been undervalued and discriminated against both in the newsroom and in the field. Last December, a study done by the International News Safety Institute and the IWMF showed that over 64 percent of women journalists endured instances of abuse at the workplace. The Women’s Media Center reports that in 2013 almost two-thirds of all bylines in major publications belong to men, as well as the bulk of network television appearances. The response has been a call for more women on staff at news organization around the world, and fairer treatment once they arrive.

H/T Hollywood Reporter
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Ebola Crisis Sparks Need to Address Conspiracy Theories

October 23, 2014 by  
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The current Ebola crisis has revealed the power of conspiracy theories and how they can prevent meaningful engagement in crisis situations. A major Liberian newspaper continues to churn out bizarre conspiracy theories about the mortality of Ebola patients and remains extremely popular. Pathogens seem to provide fertile ground for conspiratorial thinking as exemplified by similar challenges in eradicating polio in Pakistan and Nigeria due to conspiratorial rhetoric. It is easy to get exasperated at these conspiracy spinners but a more considered and analytical response is in order.

Conspiracy theories are a symptom of powerlessness. When people are unable to find answers or make sense of turmoil they latch on to whatever fanciful explanation makes sense. Several brands of conspiracy theories exist in modern societies. Some are fueled by a suspicion of science and an inability to reconcile complexity of knowledge. For example, questioning the lunar landing has created an entire industry of books and websites in the U.S. where people question whether science could achieve such a feat. Skeptics couple a suspicion of science with a suspicion of government; suspicion of authority is central to conspiracy theories.

There are theories that claim far more has been achieved in scientific knowledge than what the government is willing to reveal. This brand of conspiracy theorists is also very popular in the U.S. through a blend of science-fiction pop culture and clandestine military activities in the south-western part of the country. Contact with extra-planetary alien cultures is central to this group’s narrative. The town of Roswell, New Mexico, has become ground zero for this counter-culture. Hollywood has capitalized on this suspicion, perhaps even fueled it through popular TV series like The X-Files. I must confess being a fan of this series which ran for almost a decade. What fascinated me was how it took a grain of scientific fact or a true historic episode and wove a fictional web around it so deftly that even the most outlandish material could seem appealing to an informed audience.

Central to the success of conspiracy theories is some element of truth which may be stranger than fiction. Consider theories about doctored videos from Syria and Iraq which have surfaced in recent months. While there is little doubt regarding atrocities committed against women and minorities in the ISIS dominion, we should not dismiss the propensity for propaganda on all sides. For example, The Guardian revealed some years ago that during the Iraq war the Pentagon had entertained a suggestion to make a false video of Saddam Hussein having sex with a man which could be broadcast to discredit him. In another case, a photo-shopped video of an Osama bin Laden look-alike in a drunken stupor was actually filmed. According to The Guardian, the video “used some of the CIA’s darker skinned employees as extras playing the terror chief’s henchmen.” Thankfully, none of these ideas went forward but the mere fact that they were proposed gives us reason to pause.

One of the key reasons for the persistence of conspiracy theories has been the revelation that Cold War propaganda stories were actually true. 9/11 conspiracy theorists have capitalized on the existence of a CIA plan known as Operation Northwoods which aimed to commit terrorist acts in the US and blame it on the Cubans in order to gain sympathy for the US position on Cuba. President Kennedy rejected this plan but its consideration in declassified documents has been enough to give spur to 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Even with the current Ebola epidemic, one cannot ignore the perfidious history of pathogenic experimentation in which the US has been culpable in the past such as the syphilis experiments in Guatemala. Although times have changed, people need to be convinced cogently of the safeguards against such past indiscretions.

If there is any silver lining to conspiratorial thinking, it is a willingness to question what might seem obvious to the linear observer. As a scientist, I always consider such questioning to be positive. But when this curiosity becomes laced with predisposed dogma that has theological roots, it loses any charm. So let us all feel comfortable in questioning the establishment but not be paralyzed by paranoia. International behavior changes just as much as human behavior and we should always be willing to embrace positive change among countries. Countries such as the U.S. have to confront conspiracy narratives head-on and show how they have clearly changed in their modus operandi over the years. Foes of yesteryears can become friends today and we should cautiously focus on such positive transformation rather than languishing in the past.
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NBC Freelancer Ashoka Mukpo Leaves Hospital After Battle With Ebola

October 22, 2014 by  
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An American video journalist who recovered from Ebola at an Omaha hospital left the facility Wednesday afternoon and is heading home to Rhode Island, a hospital spokesman said.

Ashoka Mukpo, who contracted the virus while working in Liberia as a freelance cameraman for NBC and other media outlets, was released from the Nebraska Medical Center’s biocontainment unit around 9 a.m. He spent several hours meeting with staff members who treated him and left the hospital complex in the afternoon, spokesman Taylor Wilson said.

Wilson told The Associated Press that Mukpo, 33, would fly to Rhode Island on Wednesday evening but he was unable to provide details about those travel plans.

Hospital officials said Tuesday that Mukpo’s blood had tested negative for the Ebola virus.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold, the University of Nebraska Medical Center chancellor, read a statement earlier Wednesday in which Mukpo expressed his thanks to the Nebraska hospital medical staff.

“After enduring weeks where it was unclear whether I would survive, I’m walking out of the hospital on my own power, free from Ebola,” Mukpo said in the statement.

He also joked about the nurses introducing him while he was in isolation to the Runza sandwich — a regional favorite involving hamburger, cabbage and onion baked inside the bread.

The journalist arrived at the hospital Oct. 6 and was the second Ebola patient to be treated there. The first, 51-year-old Dr. Rick Sacra, has also recovered.

In his statement, Mukpo thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, who provided blood for a transfusion. Brantly, who caught Ebola while caring for patients in Africa and was treated in Atlanta, also donated blood to Sacra. Such transfusions are believed to help Ebola patients because antibodies in the blood of a survivor can help fight off the virus.

Mukpo also received IV fluids, similar to Sacra’s treatment. But Mukpo received an experimental Ebola drug called brincidofovir that was different from an experimental drug given to Sacra. Asked if that difference is why Mukpo spent less time in the Nebraska isolation unit than Sacra, one doctor noted that Mukpo’s age likely played a role.

“He’s about 20 years younger than Dr. Sacra,” said Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the biocontainment unit. “It might have also had something to do with the amount of virus he had in his system. But I think his age was a big factor.”

Mukpo said he plans to write about his experience.

“I feel profoundly blessed to be alive, and in the same breath aware of the global inequalities that allowed me to be flown to an American hospital when so many Liberians die alone with minimal care,” he said in the statement.

Separately, NBC announced that its medical correspondent, Nancy Snyderman, has ended her 21-day quarantine period Wednesday and is healthy. The voluntary quarantine for Snyderman and her colleagues who reported from Liberia with Mukpo was made mandatory by health authorities when some of them were spotted getting takeout food.

NBC News President Deborah Turness said Snyderman has been encouraged to take time off and won’t return to work until next month. Some critics have called for her firing given the quarantine lapse.

Turness did not say whether Snyderman would return to covering Ebola.

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Colorado Official Changes Her Mind About Removing Student Newspapers

October 21, 2014 by  
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — A Colorado county clerk has reversed her order that a university remove copies of its student newspaper from boxes outside its student union Tuesday because the front page had coverage of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s visit to campus.

Larimer County Clerk Angela Myers, a Republican, said the front-page photo and story about Udall’s Monday visit to Colorado State University was improper electioneering and should not be allowed near a polling place. The student center contains a drop-off box for ballots.

Myers later announced that the statute on which she based her decision is unclear and that she will allow newspapers traditionally available within 100 feet of polling places to continue to be distributed for the remainder of the campaign.

Myers said she was consulting with the secretary of state’s office about the statute’s intent. The statute bans candidate photos and other electioneering material near polling places.

“This was done with the best of intentions. I don’t care what side of the issues you are on or your political persuasion,” Myers said of her removal order. “I would love some clarity on this statute, quite honestly.”

An attorney for The Rocky Mountain Collegian earlier Tuesday sent Myers a cease-and-desist letter, arguing news coverage is not electioneering.

“It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a newspaper doing its job, not a pamphlet saying, `Go vote for someone,’” said Kate Winkle, the Collegian’s executive editor.

Winkle said Colorado State employees helped move newspapers to other boxes farther from the student center and no papers were lost.

Udall is in a tight battle against Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Republicans need to net six seats to take over the chamber.
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Bill O’Reilly Makes Fun Of Karl Rove’s Prediction Skills

October 21, 2014 by  
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Bill O’Reilly had a little fun at Karl Rove‘s expense on Monday night.

While appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” from Las Vegas, Rove whipped out his whiteboard to drive home some points about the upcoming midterm election.

When the political strategist finished, O’Reilly warned him not to bring the whiteboard into the casinos.

“I don’t gamble,” Rove said.

“With your prediction record, that’s a wise move,” O’Reilly cracked.

“Y’know that was personal and petty,” Rove said. “That was personal and petty.”

“That’s me,” said O’Reilly. “P and P.”

Back in 2012, after predicting a Mitt Romney win in the presidential election, Rove threw a fit on live television when Fox News called Ohio for President Barack Obama.

Fox was right and Rove was wrong, and the following spring he was still bristling over it.

It’s not clear whether Rove was joking with O’Reilly or genuinely stung by the re-opened wound. But between the two of them, only one was laughing… and it wasn’t Rove.
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LeBron James Stars In Emotional ‘Re-Established’ Ad For $200 Beats Headphones

October 20, 2014 by  
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King James has returned home, and he’s brought a set of sweet headphones with him.

A new commercial for the $200 Powerbeats2 Wireless headphones from Beats by Dre features LeBron James back in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, training at the LeBron James Arena at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. James graduated from the school in 2003.

Set to the song “Take Me to Church” by Hozier and narrated by his mother, Gloria James, the lengthy ad also shows scenes from around the city.

James began his NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but famously split for Miami in 2009 with many in his home state accusing him of outright betrayal. After four years and two championships with the Heat, James is back in Ohio — and the long-form ad shows Akron embracing its prodigal son.

“It’s the birthplace, the roof that raised me, man,” James says in a trailer for the ad (yes, the ad has a trailer). “I mean everything to this city and the city means everything to me.”

Both spots end with the words “Re-Established 2014,” a play on the “Akron” and “Est. 1984″ tattoos that James sports on his shoulders, referring to the place and year of his birth.

James reportedly had a small stake in Beats early on. ESPN reported in June that the stake earned him $30 million when Apple acquired the company.

The NBA season begins next week, with James’ Cavaliers playing its first regular-season game on Oct. 30 at home against the New York Knicks.
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Why I Hope Not to Die at 75

October 19, 2014 by  
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“That’s how long I want to live: 75 years …. Living too long … robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”

– From “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” by Ezekiel Emanuel, The Atlantic, Sept. 2014

In his final years, my dad was hospitalized several times. He had a blockage in his kidney. He fell and broke his hip. He passed away last year, finally succumbing to old age and cancer.

I thought of my dad when I read Ezekiel Emanuel’s article about his desire to die at 75. I thought of how much both of us would have missed had he followed Emanuel’s grim philosophy.

My dad lived well past 80. Despite his health issues, he continued to live a full life and never stopped teaching me valuable lessons right up until the day he died. My dad continued to be an excellent role model for me as I witnessed his resilience, optimism and gentle strength during all of the challenges he faced.

Contrary to what Emanuel believes, our memories of loved ones who have passed aren’t limited to their final moments. I have clear memories of my dad from when I was a child, a college student, starting my own business and family, going through my separation and divorce, and yes, during the last few years of his life when his health was declining. I cherish all those memories. Isn’t that true for most of us?

But it’s Emanuel’s limited definition of a full life that I find most distressing. He seems to believe that we are like machines, void of value when we are no longer producing at work or adding to the world’s knowledge.

Our value as human beings extends far beyond our productive capacity. It includes our capacity to love and be loved, our capacity to listen to others without judgment and with compassion, our capacity to make a difference for others, and even our capacity to appreciate the beauty of the world around us.

We can both contribute value and find value in life at any age.

The three keys to happiness are having quality relationships, having the ability to engage in activities that grab our full attention, and making a difference in the lives of others.
While all of these may alter somewhat as we age, it is still possible to have a full and productive life as long as we live. How might these three keys play out as we age?

1. Having Quality Relationships.

Sometimes as people age and their physical abilities decline, their relationships actually improve. We may have to give up some activities, freeing up more time to spend with loved ones. We also may also have less stress in our lives, making us more emotionally available to others.

In my father’s case, as his cognitive ability declined, he was able to access more of his emotions and his kind and loving nature fully emerged. He may have been less likely to give advice on how to solve a problem, but he was able to listen with his full attention and a caring heart so that often I could figure out my own solution.

So, as we age, the nature of our relationships may shift somewhat — as they do throughout our lives — but they can be just as meaningful. Older people can reflect on their lives and share with others the wisdom they have learned about what really matters and what does not. They can continue to shower family and friends with love and acceptance.

2. Having the Ability to Engage in Activities.

While the specific activities in which we engage may have to change over time due to increasing physical limitations, many people with functional limitations continue to thrive and enjoy their lives. Instead of focusing on what they can no longer do, those who age well tend to focus on what they can do. Physical limitations might preclude us from playing golf or tennis, but we can play bridge, paint, and try new things. As people of any age engage in new activities, learn new things, and meet new people, they often feel energized.

3. Making a Difference in the Lives of Others.

How we make a difference in the lives of others also will change as we age. Perhaps in younger years, they climbed on roofs and built homes for Habitat for Humanity. But as they age, they are still able to contribute money and expertise to causes they believe in. Retired businessmen work as volunteer mentors for SCORE, a nonprofit dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground. Senior citizens volunteer to tutor children at local elementary schools. Plenty of people in their seventies, eighties and even nineties continue to volunteer or find other ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

Yes, mental processing speed, memory, and problem-solving abilities may decline as people age. So what? They might replace those talents with other valuable attributes like their ability to listen without judgment and a caring heart, or the time to really be with someone because they are no longer running off to the next productive task. Aging adults may think slower, but they have wisdom they acquired over the years that allows them to contribute even with reduced processing speeds.

We are not machines that need to be turned off when we are no longer economically productive. We are people, connected to other people, and with wonderful value outside of our productive capacity.

Why is spending time with our family less valuable then creating something new? You might be creating memories your children and grandchildren will cherish for years. Ten years after your death, I wonder which would matter more to them — the time they had with you in your later years or memories of your biggest lifetime accomplishment at work?

Why is accepting who you are and role modeling for those around you how to live as an older adult with grace and dignity less valuable then publishing another paper, making another sale, or completing another project at work?

Each stage of our lives comes with its own challenges, opportunities for growth, and personal sense of purpose. Maybe the purpose of our later years is not to be productive; maybe it is to serve in the role of elder statesman and to love and support those who come behind us. That was certainly a role my dad filled for me.

If we are able to serve in that role and have a strong relationship with our children when we die, our children won’t feel like a weight has been lifted, as Emanuel wrote, “… after a parent dies, there is much less pressure to conform to parental expectations and demands after they are gone.”

If we have exercised our capacity to establish loving boundaries and have lived our lives based on our values while treating our parents with respect, love and compassion, we will not feel relief when they die — only grief and loss. But we will also feel gratitude for the values and lessons they taught us. Their legacy will be a blessing, not a burden.

My dad’s final gift to me was showing me how to age gracefully and die with dignity. I hope to do the same for my children, no matter how long I live.

David Geller is the author of Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life. He is CEO of Atlanta-based GV Financial Advisors and is available for professional speaking engagements.
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Why Did The Washington Post Name The White House Volunteer Accused In Prostitution Scandal?

October 18, 2014 by  
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NEW YORK — On the night of Oct. 8, The Washington Post reported that White House aides had received information in April 2012 “suggesting that a prostitute was an overnight guest” of a presidential advance team staffer in Cartagena, Colombia, the site of the Secret Service prostitution scandal.

The White House quickly dismissed the Post’s story as old news and noted that The Associated Press reported in September 2012 that investigators had “uncovered a hotel record suggesting” an advance team staffer had hired a prostitute in Cartagena. The White House determined at the time that the hotel record wasn’t accurate and cleared the accused of any wrongdoing, according to the AP.

The same allegation surfaced in May 2013, when CBS News reported that a Secret Service agent involved in the scandal said that there was evidence that “a volunteer White House staffer” had brought a prostitute to his room and suggested the staffer was given preferential treatment when it came to investigating the matter.

But despite the White House’s attempt to downplay the Oct. 8 story, the Post did reveal something new about the former advance staffer: his name.

Jonathan Dach, who at the time was a 25-year-old Yale University law student volunteering at The White House and now works under contract for the State Department, has long denied hiring a prostitute in Cartagena. And the Post, even after laying out additional pieces of evidence allegedly implicating Dach, acknowledged it “remains unclear” whether he “was involved in wrongdoing.”

So why then did the Post decide to name him now, two and a half years after it broke the news of the scandal and 9 months since reporters began communicating with his attorney? Letters obtained by The Huffington Post show the attorney, Richard Sauber, rebutted the claims and offered countervailing evidence in letters sent to top Post editors. The decision to publish Dach’s identity regardless raises questions about the threshold news organizations must meet when revealing the name of someone accused of lurid activity without independently confirming the claims.

The Post article relied heavily on information discovered by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office that suggested Dach may have hired a prostitute. In addition to detailing hotel logs indicating a prostitute was registered at the hotel under his room number, The Post also published the claim of an unnamed Secret Service agent who apparently told investigators he’d seen a woman he “believed was a prostitute” with Dach that night, though the paper didn’t note when and where the alleged encounter took place.

The “eyewitness” claim would likely be dismissed in court as circumstantial. The Post maintains that its article didn’t attempt to prove one way or another whether Dach hired a prostitute. The story, clocking in at around 3,300 words, looked at the total breadth of the scandal, from the solicitation of prostitutes to the political pressures the administration allegedly applied to subsequent investigations.

“The story was about more than one individual,” Marty Baron, the Post’s executive editor, said in an email to The Huffington Post. “It shed light on the performance of the White House and senior officials in the aftermath of a major scandal; claims by Secret Service agents of inequitable treatment; conflict between the lead investigator and his superiors at the Department of Homeland Security, along with allegations of political motivations for excising information from his report; and tensions between the White House and Congress on the adequacy of the investigation.”

Though The Post did not conclude that Dach hired a prostitute, it nevertheless crafted its story in a way that could give the impression of guilt or impropriety. In the letters, sent to Baron and managing editor Kevin Merida earlier this year, Sauber denied the allegations and expressed concern that the inclusion of Dach’s name in a story on the prostitution scandal could significantly damage his professional future. Sauber wrote on Jan. 16 that the publication of the charge “will be devastating to this young man just as he embarks on his career after law school.”

“It will hang over his head through the internet for the next 50 years,” Sauber said. “It will affect his job prospects and his reputation forever. Moreover, he has vehemently denied the allegation at every turn and would do so under oath directly to the Post if it would have a material impact on your decision. There is, in my view, no compelling reason for the Post to take this step. We also believe the Post should have an affirmative obligation to investigate and affirm the allegations before it chooses to do such harm.”

Carol Leonnig and David Nakamura, the Post reporters who wrote the Oct. 8 story, were copied on the correspondence, along with several Post editors and executives. Sauber met with the Post’s editors after the initial letter to express his concerns in person, and in a March letter provided documentation he said contradicted the claims. But some of that documentation did not appear in the Post’s story when it was first published online, and was only added later that night. Baron said the information was not put on the record by Dach family spokeswoman Amy Weiss until after the story was posted. Weiss told The Huffington Post she never told The Post the letters were off the record and expected them to be included in the article. Dach, through Weiss, declined to comment to The Huffington Post. Sauber could not be reached for comment.

The Post’s coverage of the Secret Service scandal in 2012 and its more recent revelations of security lapses in the agency have been widely praised in media circles. Clearly the paper has expended significant resources covering the story, including sending reporters to Cartagena to investigate. Still, it’s unclear what specific new information triggered the decision among editors to finally identify Dach last week.

Baron argued that the Post learned a lot of new details since communicating with Dach’s attorney, telling The Huffington Post that his “reporters have used the period between the date of those letters and the date of publication to do an enormous amount of additional reporting.”

“It is simply false to say that nothing new was learned subsequent to those letters,” Baron said. “The documentation in the story is extensive and speaks for itself. The amount of time devoted to this story attests to the care and thoroughness of our work.”

Baron also said The Post offered Dach “numerous opportunities — over a long period of time — to be interviewed, in person or on the phone” and he declined.

Indeed, Dach could have gone on the record to deny the allegations. But doing so would have tied his name to the claims in print, an outcome Sauber was clearly trying to avoid in his letters to the Post.

While Dach hasn’t spoken publicly about the night in question, here’s a closer look at the timeline and evidence revealed by the Post’s reporting and Sauber’s letters.

Arrival

Dach arrived at the Hilton Cartagena at around 7 p.m. on April 3, 2012, after leaving New Haven, Connecticut, and traveling for 19 hours on three flights.

He left the hotel 10 minutes later in an embassy-supplied car with other White House advance team members and two embassy control officers. They went to dinner at a restaurant called Casa del Soccorro. Dach and his dinner companions returned to the hotel in the embassy cars at around 10:40 p.m. Eight minutes later, Dach texted a friend who had asked about his trip to Colombia: “it is the best I am exhausted,” he wrote.

Dach’s lawyer told the Post’s editors in his March 6 letter that he would provide “any documentation we have to support this timeline, and we also suggest that there are multiple sources who can confirm these events.” The Post didn’t mention the text message in its initial story, but added that detail shortly after publication, once the family spokeswoman put it on the record.

The Hotel Logs

A woman arrived at the Hilton that night and was registered as an overnight guest to Dach’s room, number 513, at 12:02 a.m., according to the Post, which independently reviewed the hotel logs. While prostitution is legal in Cartagena, hotels require identification proving that the prostitute is not underage, and so the hotel attached a photocopy of the woman’s ID to Dach’s room. The Post reported that investigators found that “guests must personally register their overnight visitors.”

Additionally, the Post reported that “hotel staff members in Cartagena told federal investigators that they had determined Dach was one of three guests at the Hilton who had additional overnight guests registered to their rooms.” The Post said it reviewed federal records identifying one of the three as “a White House travel-team member,” and added that government officials privy to the un-redacted version of the records had confirmed Dach’s name was on them.

Word of the hotel logs surfaced soon after the scandal. The AP reported over two years ago that “the White House review found that a guest, perhaps a prostitute, had signed in to visit the same room assigned to that volunteer member of Obama’s team.”

The Post’s story goes into greater detail based on the later investigation, but there still isn’t direct evidence presented that Dach himself called for the prostitute, or that she ultimately ended up in his room. There’s also precedent for the White House’s suggestion that a mix-up could have occurred. The Post acknowledged that at another Cartagena hotel, a “Secret Service agent was erroneously accused of bringing a prostitute to his room” after a woman was registered using his room number.

The ‘Eyewitness’

The Post reported that an agent told the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office that “he saw Dach with a woman he believed was a prostitute.”

Dach’s attorney has long objected to the Post’s willingness to cite an anonymous agent, arguing in his January letter that the account “is particularly flimsy unless corroborating evidence exists.” Sauber said that “it seems as if the Secret Service source isn’t saying that he has any proof that the person he saw was an escort — only that the person looked like one.”

Sauber urged the Post reporters to determine what time the alleged sighting took place and whether other embassy personnel or White House advance staffers were present.

Presumably, security footage would be able to confirm whether Dach was with a woman that night, prostitute or not, and if the woman who signed in to his room ever arrived there. A Hilton spokesman declined to comment to The Huffington Post on the set-up of security cameras at the Cartagena hotel.

Hilton Honors

The Post reported that the inspector general’s office “found that hotel officials had waived a fee normally charged to guests staying overnight” and “Hilton Worldwide officials in Virginia said their records showed Dach ‘was not charged for additional guest’” because he was a member of the Hilton Honors program.

Dach tried to personal obtain information about his records earlier this year.

On the afternoon of March 5, Dach emailed a Hilton representative to ask if there were “any additional notes” in his hotel record, such as “records of interactions with or requests made at the front desk,” apparently seeking to prove that he hadn’t had a guest. About an hour later, a Hilton representative responded that there were no such records. (The Huffington Post has independently confirmed this exchange).

In the March 6 letter to the Post, Sauber said he was attaching a copy of Dach’s email exchange with Hilton, “indicating that there is no notation whatsoever in his hotel guest file indicating anything, let alone an effort to have the late night guest fee waived.”

Sauber added that there was nothing in Dach’s Hilton Honors file “to support this allegation either” and provided Dach’s member number so the Post reporters could verify that information for themselves.

Like the text message Dach sent to his friend, the Post didn’t mention the email exchange in its initial story, but added it in shortly after publication.

But not every line of inquiry made it into the final story. Both the Jan. 16 and March 6 letters note that Post reporters were looking into supposed minibar charges that would have suggested Dach had had an overnight guest.

The only charge on the bill was $8, spent on mineral water, according to Sauber’s letters. He said the minibar charge was “hardly evidence to support a prostitute’s visit.”

Read the two letters Dach’s attorney sent to The Washington Post:

Washington Post Letters

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect The Post reported that hotel logs indicated the woman was registered to Dach’s room as an overnight guest and not that she independently signed herself in. Also, Weiss’s comment that she considered the letters to be on the record before The Post published its story has been added in the text above.

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Why We’re All So Freaked Out About Ebola

October 17, 2014 by  
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Actual incidences of Ebola in the United States may be confined to three cases from Dallas, but that hasn’t kept fear around the epidemic from spreading like wildfire across the country. Among respondents of a Washington Post/ABC News poll, two-thirds said they were concerned about a widespread Ebola epidemic in America, and 20 percent were “very worried” that they or their loved ones would contract Ebola.

Since the virus made its way to Dallas earlier this month, the CDC has fielded over 800 calls a day with false alarms and concerns about individuals with potential Ebola symptoms. Before the first case was diagnosed in Dallas, that number was 50. Once panic about Ebola spreading in the U.S. caught on, it didn’t take long for hundreds and thousands of false cases to be reported.

The New York Times recently referred to fear as Ebola’s “other contagious threat… whose symptoms range from heightened anxiety to avoidance of public places to full-blown hysteria.”

And Fox News correspondent Shepard Smith took a moment on the air to plead for calm: “Fear not,” Smith said. “Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online.”

Fear actually spreads from person to person similarly to how a physical virus is transmitted, according to Valerie Reyna, professor of psychology at Cornell University and director of the Human Neuroscience Institute.

“There’s an old theory of risk and perception of fear called ‘social contagion,’” Reyna tells The Huffington Post. “People would communicate with one another, and because other people were afraid, they would be afraid, and then they would interact with one another and make each other more afraid, and then you’d have this spread of fear.”

The fear itself is a rational response to a perceived threat in the environment. But in social contexts — particularly those amplified by social media — fear can multiply upon itself, turning into panic and then hysteria, causing unnecessary alarm and leading to false alarms that put a burden on public health officials.

Here’s what you need to know about the ‘social contagion’ of fear.

Unfamiliar risks cause more fear.

If a risk is unfamiliar to us — something that we’ve never experienced and may not understand the actual of level of risk associated — it tends to produce more dread, says Reyna.

It’s logical that we worry less about risks that we know. For instance, when our doctors tells us about the risk associated with a surgery, which we can choose to assume on or not, and we know exactly what we’re getting into. Or when we cross the street, we’re aware that there’s a certain risk of being hit by a car, but it is a familiar, everyday risk so we are not as afraid of it.

“Just the lack of familiarity makes people fearful,” says Reyna

The more familiar risk is the “devil you know,” but with an unfamiliar risk, you might imagine a higher level of threat since you don’t really know what to expect.

“You can go out on the highway and be subject to a higher risk of mortality, but it’s the familiar risk that you take every day, so it’s less dreadful — it causes less fear,” says Reyna. “If you add uncertainty to the risk — and say, ‘There’s a lot we don’t know yet’ — then people’s fear becomes even greater.”

Miscommunications and mistrust amplifies the fear.

In situations like epidemics, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, it’s important for public officials to have an understanding of how people are going to react psychologically so that they can communicate risk effectively. If false information is disseminated or lines of communication get crossed, people will become more fearful.

Reyna points to one big mistake that was made been made during the Ebola outbreak that may have increased the public’s level of fear and perceived risk. Public officials and news outlets assured people, in good faith, that it was impossible for hospital workers to contract Ebola if they followed proper protocol. Then one nurses got infected with Ebola, and another followed shortly afterwards. So what are people supposed to think?

It’s a classic example of what psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance: We think the world is one way, and then we receive contradicting evidence which suggests that it is just the opposite, and what ensues is a struggle to fit this new knowledge into our pre-existing cognitive schema.

“It makes perfect sense from a psychological point of view,” says Reyna. “You’re told something is impossible, and then it happens twice.”

Crisis communications expert Daniel Hill agrees that mistrust in public officials and the media amplifies the public’s fear.

“Public health officials need to keep it straight: Give the facts, be clear that they’re facts, and when you’re given things that you don’t know are facts but believe to be true, be clear about that also,” Hill tells The Huffington Post. “Say, ‘We don’t know this for certain but this is what we believe.’ I think it’s being extremely transparent… and over-communicating is okay. What [public officials] want to avoid is losing credibility.”

The more coverage we see, the more we worry.

We take cues about how to think and act from our social environment, and when we see people we know, experts on television and public officials looking worried and giving us cues that we should be afraid, our perceived threat level goes up.

“This is not an irrational thing,” Reyna explains.

The problem is that events are not covered in the media in proportion to their direct level of threat — but the public looks to media coverage as a cue for how to feel and behave anyway. Studies have found that people’s level of worry about a particular news event correlates with the amount of coverage being devoted to the event, rather than the actual risk.

Distance affects our perception of threat.

Physical distance induces psychological distance — so when things are happening farther away (like in West Africa), we feel less affected by them. But when the threat moves closer, we are more likely to overestimate its impact, Reyna explains.

There have been over 7,000 cases of Ebola in West Africa, where the virus is rapidly spreading and containing the spread is challenging due to a lack of resources and infrastructure. In contrast, there have been three cases of Ebola in the U.S., and the risk of outbreak here is extremely low. Still, there is mass panic about an Ebola epidemic in the U.S., due in part to our natural tendency to overestimate threats that are closer to us and ignore those that are farther away.

Social media amplifies the spread.

Discussion of Ebola has been the center of conversation on various social media outlets — particularly Twitter — in the past couple months. A geotagged map tracking tweets mentioning “Ebola” or “#Ebola” found that 10.5 million tweets mentioning the virus were sent in a three-week period around the world.

With social media and constant connectivity to news and social networks through digital devices, we’re more exposed to sensationalist news and fear about the virus. This amplifies process of social contagion process, Reyna explains.

“You can imagine that it’s just like the spread of physical epidemics,” says Reyna. “If certain people contact so many people in their social networks, then that transmits in a non-linear way to other people. So it tends to take off because you get more and more people acting as a hub that basically transmits these messages.”

Fun fact: Fear is literally contagious.

Fear spreads socially, but it can also spread physically through contact with the sweat of someone who is having a fear-based reaction.

A 2012 Dutch study found that humans can actually smell fear, and that the emotion is contagious. Researchers collected sweat from the underarms of men while they were watching scenes form a scary movie, and when female subjects sniffed the “fear sweat,” their facial expressions and eye movement mirrored the sense of fear.

“Our research suggests that emotional chemo-signals can be potential contributors to emotional contagion in situations involving dense crowds,” the study’s authors write.
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In Defense Of Science

October 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Videos

In human history, no practice has more profoundly advanced human understanding of the natural world than that of science. So it seems tragic, in the year 2014, that science should require a defense (by a comedy writer, no less). And yet, in both the national dialogue on issues such as climate change, evolution, and vaccines, and in recent conversations I have had with people I consider reasonable and well-educated, I have discovered a shocking anti-science narrative emerging; a fundamental ignorance of or distrust of science that expresses itself in opinions such as:

*Scientists have been wrong in the past and thus should not be trusted now
*Scientists are biased by personal prejudices, financial incentives, and the desire for personal or professional success, and therefore their conclusions are suspect
*Scientific results are not certain, and therefore they can be discounted
*Science is just another way of knowing that should not be given primacy over other ways, such as intuitive knowledge or personal experience.
*Some scientists disagree with the consensus view so there is no way to assess who is right.
*Science is the cause of the problems resulting from technology and therefore suspect.
*Policymakers may ignore science on the grounds that they, themselves, are not scientists.

While some of these opinions are simply misguided, others, at some level, could offer potentially useful critiques of the actual practice of science. However, none of them represent any kind of a rebuttal to the basic, essential fact that, for all its imperfection, hubris, sloppiness, or uncertainty, science works. Like a flashlight shined into dark spaces, science shines the light of its analytical method into the opaque mysteries of the natural world and makes them comprehensible. And it does this over and over again, in field after field of scientific inquiry.

Science is able to achieve its results by following a rigorous method of investigation involving the creation and testing of hypotheses against observational evidence. At every stage, these hypotheses are subjected to intense challenge. First, they are tested through the process of scientific research. Then through the process of publication and peer review they are subjected to challenge by the larger scientific community. After publication, they continue to be challenged, corroborated, modified, or refined by new research and new hypotheses. Science that has withstood this onslaught of skepticism is seen to be accurate and trustworthy, and consequently it earns the backing of a consensus of practicing scientists.

Because science is based on such a strong foundation of evidence and analytical rigor, anyone who would challenge science, particularly well-established science such as that on evolution, climate, or vaccines (or, for that matter, gravitation and quantum mechanics), rightly faces a very high burden of proof, a burden which most science skeptics fail even to acknowledge, much less satisfy. Science cannot be refuted by appeals to intuition or personal experience, attacks on the character or motivations of scientists, accusations of institutional bias, or by “cherry-picking” a particular authority figure, alternative theory, or research study. It cannot be denied because it is inconvenient, or because one dislikes the policy implications. It cannot be dismissed on supernatural grounds or through suggestions of conspiracy. It cannot be undermined by dreaming up alternative hypotheses (unsupported by strong evidence), or by pointing to remaining uncertainties in the established theory. All these are utterly inconsequential as refutations — not because scientists “know better” than the rest of us — but simply because they fail to convincingly meet the burden of proof.

Science works, and so we accept its findings — not because we have “faith” in them or because they are perfect — but because in an uncertain world, we wish to use the best available information to solve our problems, improve our condition, and understand our situation. This means, in the year 2014, accepting the current scientific consensus that vaccines are well-understood, safe, and effective. It means accepting the current scientific consensus that humans are causing the climate to change through the emission of atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gasses with results that will almost certainly range from bad to catastrophic. It means accepting the current scientific consensus that evolution through natural selection is the theory most likely to describe observed biological diversity at all levels from DNA to species, including human beings. Certainly, we should maintain a “healthy skepticism,” but we should focus that skepticism, not on the science, but rather on the claims of those who profess to be in possession of some special knowledge or authority outside of the formal scientific process. To do otherwise would be to deprive ourselves of the greatest tool for human advancement mankind has ever known, at exactly the time when such a tool is needed most.
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