TIME Media

Martha Stewart: Why I Love My Drone

Martha Stewart attends the "Get On Up" premiere at The Apollo Theater on July 21, 2014 in New York City.
Martha Stewart attends the "Get On Up" premiere at The Apollo Theater on July 21, 2014 in New York City. Jemal Countess—Getty Images

Because it's a useful tool. And imagine what Louis XIV could have accomplished at Versailles if he'd had one.

There’s been a lot of discussion and a tremendous amount of speculation lately about the nature of drones and their role in our society as useful tools and hobbyist toys.

Last year, while celebrating my birthday in Maine, I was given a drone fitted with a high-definition camera. After a quick introduction to the mechanics of operating the contraption and a few words about its idiosyncrasies, I loaded the appropriate app on my iPad and went down to the beach.

In just a few minutes I was hooked. In near silence, the drone rose, hovered, and dove, silently and surreptitiously photographing us and the landscape around us. The photos and video were stunning. By assuming unusual vantage points, the drone allowed me to “see” so much more of my surroundings than usual. The view I was “seeing” on my iPad with the help of the drone would have otherwise been impossible without the use of a private plane, helicopter, or balloon. With any of those vehicles, I would have needed a telephoto lens, and all of them would have made an unacceptable commotion on the beach. What’s more, I would not have been in the photos!

So much has been done in the past without drones, airplanes, hot air balloons, or even extension ladders. It is hard to imagine André Le Nôtre laying out the exquisite landscape designs for Vaux-le-Vicomte, and later the magnificent Château de Versailles, with no high hill to stand on, no helicopter to fly in, and no drone to show him the complexities of the terrain. Yet he did, and with extreme precision, accuracy, and high style.

Earlier, Henri IV drew up complicated plans for the immense and elegant redesign of Paris, capital of France. In England, Capability Brown somehow had the innate vision and perspicacity to reconfigure thousands of acres into country estates fit for royalty. He and Sir Humphry Repton invented an entirely new style of landscape design that had little to do with the grand châteaux of France. It became all about the “axis of vision” — relaxed, looming views of the distance that, without an aerial view, required the utmost in fertile imagination.

In the late 1800s, more people wanted the bird’s eye view of city and country and went to extreme lengths to rig up guy-wired telescoping towers, build extension ladders of dangerous lengths, and man hot air balloons, from which intrepid photographers could capture remarkable images—such as those of the Chicago Union Stock Yards and the U.S. Steel Corporation—from heights of 2,000 feet.

What about the Great Wall of China, or the Nazca Lines in southern Peru? I began reflecting on how the engineers and architects of the past accomplished so much without the modern tools we have at our disposal.

My mind started racing and I imagined all the different applications for my drone. I knew that every type of use had already been thought of by others (governmental agencies, businesses, Amazon.com, Google Maps), and I knew I could not even begin to fathom even a fraction of the social, ethical, and political challenges the widespread use of drones would create.

Do they raise legitimate privacy concerns? Should they be regulated? Should we have a national debate?

I don’t have all the answers. But I forged ahead, using a Parrot AR Drone 2.0, photographing my properties, a party, a hike in the mountains, and a day at the beach. I did my best to master the moves and angles that would result in most arresting pictures and video.

An aerial photo of Martha Stewart’s farm in Bedford, New York, taken with her drone. Martha Stewart

One of my farm workers used his drone, a DJI Phantom flying camera, to capture amazing images of my 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York. Suddenly we could see with astonishing clarity the layout of the open fields, the horse paddocks, the chicken coops, the greenhouses, the hay barn, the cutting gardens and henhouses, the clematis pergola, and the long allée of boxwood. The photos were so good I posted them to my blog on Marthastewart.com. The response was phenomenal!

Henry Alford wrote a satirical essay about me and my drones in The New Yorker that was really funny but missed the point about why I love my drone. Drones can be useful tools, and I am all about useful tools. One of my mottos is “the right tool for the right job.”

A few facts:

The hobbyist drones we can all purchase online or in stores are technically known as UAS: unmanned aerial systems. Many can fly up to 900 feet. With practice, a novice photographer can take really great photos.

The shots of my farm were breathtaking and showed not only a very good landscape design — thanks to the surveyors and landscapers who worked with me on the overall vision, much as le Notre worked with Louis XIV — they also showed me what more I can do in the future, and revealed unexpected beauty.

An aerial shot of the vegetable garden looked very much like my Peter Rabbit marzipan embellished Easter cake, which was designed without the help of a drone.

Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Emmy Award-winning television show host, entrepreneur and bestselling author, is America’s most trusted lifestyle expert and teacher.

TIME foreign affairs

How Hamas Wields Gaza’s Casualties as Propaganda

Israeli airstrike on Gaza
Smoke rises from a building following the Israeli attacks in Gaza City on July 25, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The terrorist group casts Israel’s military as indiscriminate and civilian deaths as disproportionate, but Hamas-affiliated fatality figures should be viewed with suspicion

An informational battle of competing messages directed at international audiences parallels the military fighting between Israel and Hamas. Accompanying a barrage of wrenching images are Palestinian fatality statistics alleging disproportionate numbers of non-combatants. These figures are crucial because they form the basis of accusations that Israel uses excessive and indiscriminate force.

Hamas, the terrorist group controlling Gaza, endeavors to turn Israel’s military superiority to its own advantage by portraying the Israeli response to intense rocket and mortar fire as disproportionate and indiscriminate. In doing so, it hopes to turn public opinion against the Jewish state, as well as bolster its own standing at the expense of the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank.

Fatality figures provided by Hamas and other groups should be viewed with suspicion. Not only do Israeli figures cast doubt on claims that the vast majority of fatalities are non-combatants, but a careful review of Palestinian sources also raises doubts.

Analyses of the casualties listed in the daily reports published by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based organization operating under Hamas rule, indicate that young males ages 17 to 30 make up a large portion of the fatalities, and a particularly noticeable spike occurs between males ages 21 to 27, a pattern consistent with the age distribution typically found among combatants and military conscripts. Palestinian sources attempt to conceal this discrepancy with their public message by labeling most of these young men as civilians. Only a minority is identified as members of armed groups. As a result, the PCHR calculates civilian fatalities at 82% as of July 26. PCHR provides the most detailed casualty reports of the various Palestinian agencies from Gaza that provide figures to the media and to international organizations like the UN. Its figures closely match those of the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry and other groups.

We have seen this before. A similar dispute over casualty figures occurred during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. The Israelis contended that the majority of the fatalities were combatants; the Palestinians claimed they were civilians. The media and international organizations tended to side with the Palestinians. The UN’s own investigatory commission headed by Richard Goldstone, which produced the Goldstone Report, cited PCHR’s figures along with other Palestinian groups providing similar figures. Over a year later, after the news media had moved on, Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad enumerated Hamas fatalities at 600 to 700, a figure close to the Israeli estimate of 709 and about three times higher than the figure of 236 combatants provided by PCHR in 2009 and cited in the Goldstone Report. Initially, playing to the international audience, it was important for Hamas to reinforce the image of Israel’s military action as indiscriminate and disproportionate by emphasizing the high number of civilians and low number of Hamas combatants among the fatalities. However, later on, Hamas had to deal with the flip side of the issue: that Hamas’s own constituency, the Gazan population, felt they had been abandoned by the Hamas government, which had made no effort to shelter them.

Scrutiny of Palestinian figures in the current conflict reveals a spike in fatalities among males ages 21 to 27 and an over-representation from ages 17 to 30. Data gleaned from the daily reports of the PCHR show that from July 8, the start of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” through July 26, 404 out of 915 fatalities tallied from daily reports in which the ages were identified occurred among males ages 17 to 30, comprising 44% of all fatalities among a group representing about 10% of Gazans.

Expanding the age range from 17 to 39 and including those identified as combatants whose ages were not given increases that number to 551 fatalities, or 57% of all fatalities, even though this group represents less than one-sixth of Gazans. By contrast, adult female fatalities were less than 10% of total fatalities for a group that comprises a quarter of the total population.

Children, here defined as those under age 17, represented 194 of fatalities, 20% of the total. Any child fatality is a tragedy, but it is important to note that children make up over half the population of Gaza.

Despite the discrepancies noted, the substantial number of civilian fatalities leaves room for further scrutiny. In seeking an alternate explanation for the excess of young male fatalities, it might be posited that this reflects some behavioral feature of this group separate from combat-related activities. However, the shape of the fatality demographic makes this unlikely. What feature would explain the sharp increase from age 17, peaking at ages 22 to 25 and then declining rapidly after age 30?

A more plausible explanation is that the age demographic of the fatalities reflects the relative involvement of different age bands in hostilities. Of course, some of those in the most represented age-bands aren’t combatants. However, balancing that, Palestinian and Israeli sources confirm that a portion of the fatalities over age 40 were senior Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives targeted by Israel.

Furthermore, this overall breakdown of the number of fatalities doesn’t address important issues like the portion of female and children casualties who were family members of targeted combatants who failed to heed Israeli evacuation warnings or were perhaps intimidated into remaining as “human shields.”

The demographic analysis of the fatalities in the Gaza conflict has limitations. It can’t identify who is or isn’t a combatant. But the spike in fatalities among males starting in their late teens and peaking in their early to mid-twenties, and the divergence of the pattern of fatalities from the demographic pattern of the population, raises considerable doubt about claims that as many as 75% or more of the fatalities are non-combatants. In light of evidence—provided by groups that monitor Arabic language media (like the Middle East Media Research Institute)—that Hamas has instructed Gazans to describe anyone killed as a civilian, journalists have a responsibility to convey this uncertainty to their audiences and not present figures provided by Hamas and Hamas-affiliated sources as unqualified fact.

Steven Stotsky is a senior analyst with The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a U.S.-based group that monitors the news media for what it considers to be anti-Israel bias.

TIME Media

The Sarah Palin Channel: $99.95 a Year, Comes With Salad

In her latest media-politics endeavor, the former governor seeks to escape the "filters," this time between her and her fans' credit cards.

+ READ ARTICLE

In the welcome video to the Sarah Palin Channel, the former governor of Alaska explains her motivation for starting a personal subscription network: “We’ll go beyond the soundbites and the media’s politically correct filter to get to the truth.”

Over her six years in the national spotlight, Sarah Palin has not exactly lacked for media platforms, filtered or unfiltered. She’s had a reality show on TLC and one currently on Sportsman Channel. She’s been a paid contributor to Fox News. And should even Fox prove too much filter for her truth, she’s had no problem taking her message direct, on Twitter, on Facebook and in videos. For Palin to have less-filtered access to the consciousness of her followers, she would have to possess their very souls.

But the most notable distinction about this brand-new platform, so far, is that it allows the former governor to get a message out to the public without the traditional, mainstream filter between her and your wallet. A subscription to SarahPalinChannel.com is $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year (with a two-week free trial period). That’s 96 cents more a month than a Netflix streaming subscription. It’s 95 cents more a year than an annual subscription to Amazon Prime, which also offers music, streaming TV and movies, Kindle benefits, and free shipping. Not here; if you’ve been mail-ordering your smoked salmon from Alaska (there’s no online store at the SPC site), you will still have to pay full freight.

So politics aside, it’s fair to ask what the value proposition is for a subscription to Sarah Palin Channel. At this early point–the channel launched Sunday and began collecting paid subscriptions at startup–much of SPC’s front-page offerings are repurposed and available in some form free elsewhere.

There’s the seven-minute video calling for President Obama’s impeachment from earlier in the month; various speeches, like her July 19 talk to the Western Conservative Summit, that are on YouTube; reproductions of conservative meme images; a link to her daughter Bristol’s blog at the religious site Patheos.com. There’s a national debt counter and a countdown clock to the end of the Obama administration. Getting a place of prominence is “Sally’s Word of the Day,” a feature “brought to you by my Scrabble-obsessed Mom and her friends.” (The inaugural word: “Rectitude”–“the quality of being honest and morally correct”–which reproduces the Merriam-Webster definition verbatim.)

But wait! There’s more! The marquee original content thus far is a collection of short videos in which–as she’s been doing via Facebook–Palin weighs in on current events hitting longtime talking points. The trouble in Ukraine, for instance, is evidence that we need to “unlock” our natural energy resources, or Drill, Baby, Drill. Another publicizes her book from last year re-fighting the “war on Christmas.” In others, she answers questions from supporters, such as, “How many things can you name that Obama has failed at?”

Many of SPC’s short videos recall Palin’s hits for Fox News, placing her in a home-office setting backed symbolically by a carven eagle, a flag and a globe, speaking in a single take, YouTube-style; others have her speaking at an angle to the camera, as if addressing an unseen interviewer. The tone is on-brand: the folksy, familiar speech (after last year’s Phil Robertson controversy, she tells fans, “You guys rose up and said, ‘Oh my gosh, enough is enough!'”), her knack for digs that will rouse fans and aggravate detractors (Obama is “addicted to OPM”–say it out loud–“other people’s money”), the Alaskan-mountain imagery on the homepage.

Beyond that, what SPC is trying to sell is community and connection. The site’s videos are shareable on social media–so depending on your friends-and-family list, you’ll be seeing them free on Facebook soon enough–but you can only see or post comments if you subscribe. The idea, an FAQ says, is that “the community would feel more secure”–secure enough, for instance, for one commenter to post on the Putin video that “Like most people who have been paying attention, I would trade our little Kenyan collectivist for Vladimir Putin any day.”

For my money, though–or rather, what will be my money if I keep my subscription beyond the free trial–the channel is most effective, like many of Palin’s past media efforts, when it takes her out of the talking-head chair, especially in a series of odd, often fascinating “Behind the Scenes” videos. In one, Palin, wearing a vest and an Oscar the Grouch T-shirt, shows off a painting in her home office of a tableau of Republican presidents–Ike, Reagan, both Bushes, Lincoln, Nixon–laughing around a pool table. In a little inset photo, she’s holding her son Trig at a Tea Party rally, where she says her appearance was misinterpreted by the media. “At that time, I didn’t have so much of a platform or a microphone to counter some of the falsehoods and goofy, stupid things that some of the news channels say and do,” she says. “But now I do!”

Thanks to you, subscriber! Really, you could make a good case that the biggest feature SPC offers subscribers for $99.95 a year is the ability to give Sarah Palin $99.95 a year–that is, to feel empowered, to feel like part of a movement, to defy the politically correct media that don’t respect you, to stick it to “the powers that be” by standing up for liberty and Christmas.

Whether Palin has any future in politics or SPC is one of the last efforts to monetize the brand that John McCain launched by naming her his running mate in 2008, Palin demonstrably still has that ability to home in on exposed nerves, to appeal to a sense of cultural besiegement and grievance, to make the personal archly, needlingly political.

Just look, for instance, at her video, “An Alaskan Garden and the Lessons for D.C.,” which promises “a behind-the-scenes look at the Governor’s kitchen garden.” For over six minutes, Palin stands in her kitchen, tearing up lettuce for her salad–bought at the store, she says, not grown in her yard–and talks about the abundance of sunlight in the Land of the Midnight Sun, and the richness of Alaska’s resources in general, and what it all says about what this country would be if those liberal bureaucrats would just get out of our darn way: “The sun and our volcanic soil that makes this area so rich, so rich in resources, this soil, our oil and our gold and all that God’s created for man’s use, the minerals, the fisheries, the resources in the state can help secure the union. And once the Feds figure that out and allow us to unlock the lands in Alaska and responsibly develop them? Well, our country will be more secure.”

Just one thing, though: you never do get that look at Palin’s kitchen garden. You just see her step away from her salad for a second and look at some unseen spot beyond her kitchen window. But pony up just $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year, and who knows? Maybe someday, all will be revealed.

TIME Television

Jon Stewart Launches $10 Billion Kickstarter to Buy CNN

Jon Stewart speaks during a taping of "The Daily Show with John Stewart," in New York. in 2012.
Jon Stewart speaks during a taping of "The Daily Show with John Stewart," in New York. in 2012. Carolyn Kaster—AP

Jon Stewart doesn't like the cable news channel and wants to make it better—but he'll need some help raising the funds to buy it

If Rupert Murdoch buys Time Warner, the world’s other great media titan will be there to pick up the scraps.

Jon Stewart said Tuesday on the Daily Show that he is launching a $10 billion Kickstarter campaign to buy CNN. The legacy news station, whose value is reportedly around $10 billion and is a Time Warner company, would likely be up for sale if Rupert Murdoch were successful in his bid to acquire the media conglomerate.

Ten billion dollars?

“It’s a lot of money for anyone,” said Stewart on Tuesday. “But not a lot of money for everyone.

So that’s where the Daily Show host’s campaign comes in. Stewart’s LetsBuyCNN.com mimics a Kickstarter page, though it doesn’t actually allow users to contribute money toward the goal. Hypothetically, a contribution of $1 billion would allow you to host a CNN anchor Hunger Games-style fight to the death.

Worth it? Depends on whether you dislike CNN as much as the Daily Show does.

“CNN, America’s first 24-hour cable news network, has been terrible for many, many years,” LetsBuyCNN.com reads. “Does it have to be that way? Who knows, maybe it does. So let’s find out for ourselves!”

Amen?

TIME Media

Inside the Bizarro World of ‘Russia Today’

James Kirchick on RT. RT

RT never lets such things as basic facts get in the way of crude propaganda.

Last Friday, Sara Firth announced via Twitter that she had resigned as a correspondent for RT, an international, multilingual news network entirely funded by the Russian government. “I couldn’t do it any more,” the London-based reporter told Buzzfeed. “Every single day we’re lying and finding sexier ways to do it.”

Firth’s resignation came a day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed into the fields of Eastern Ukraine. Aside from Kremlin dissimulators and professional conspiracy theorists (often one and the same), nobody at this point doubts that Russian-backed separatists, using military hardware at the very least provided to them, if not operated, by Russian agents themselves, shot down the plane. Yet watching RT in the aftermath of the disaster, in which all 298 passengers were killed, one would have learned a very different story.

One hypothesis, floated insistently by the RT anchors and guests, was that the Ukrainian military shot down MH17, under the erroneous impression it was actually Vladimir Putin’s presidential jet. Forget the absurdity of accusing the Ukrainians of trying to assassinate the Russian president, thus bringing upon themselves a full-on, open invasion of their country (in contrast to the limited and largely covert operation that the Russians have been waging). As the separatists have not been in command of any planes, the Ukrainian military has not deployed air defenses in the area under contestation.

But RT never lets such things as basic facts get in the way of crude propaganda. In one segment I watched, an RT anchor incessantly asked an aviation expert if it was conceivable that the Ukrainians mistook MH17 for Putin’s due to the fact that both aircraft are painted in red, white and blue. That these are the colors of British Airways, Air France, Aeroflot and untold other national carriers did not give the host pause. Nor did the fact that his hypothesis attributes super-human eyesight to the would-be Ukrainian mass murderers, who must have somehow been able to discern President Putin’s plane from 33,000 feet (the height at which MH17 was flying when it was struck). Finally, if they could detect the colors of the plane’s exterior from such a distance, would they not also be able to see the “Malaysia Airlines” lettering?

It has been an embarrassing year for RT, the network formerly known as Russia Today. Founded in 2005 to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, RT – which broadcasts in English, Arabic and Spanish – aims to counter the influence of what Putin calls the “Anglo-Saxon mass media.” It does so via a poisonous admixture of hysterical anti-Western propaganda, financial alarmism, conspiracy theorizing and the promotion of political extremists from left and right united in hatred of America and liberal democracy.

I had my own run in with RT last August when the network invited me on to discuss the sentencing of Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who leaked hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Donning a pair of rainbow suspenders, I proceeded to protest the recently enacted Russian law prohibiting propagation of “non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.” In March, RT host Abby Martin made headlines when she criticized Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, her mealy-mouthed, morally equivocating 60-second statement newsworthy only in the sense that opinions diverging from the Kremlin line are all but nonexistent on the network. Days later, RT anchor Liz Wahl quit live on-air, citing her grandparents’ fleeing the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary as one of several reasons why she could no longer “be part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin.”

A particularly egregious example was the most recent episode of the Truthseeker, an inaptly named program seeing that its host, Daniel Bushell, never finds it. Titled “Genocide in Eastern Ukraine,” the 14-minute segment alleged that the Ukrainian government is conducting a crime on par with the 1994 Rwandan genocide (responsible for 500,000 to 1 million victims), which, for good measure, the United States enthusiastically supported. The Ukrainian government (“the most far-right wing government on the face of the Earth,” a description that far better suits the current Russian regime), whose leaders “repeat Hitler’s genocidal oath,” is “bombing wheat fields to ensure there’s famine,” a perverse claim in light of the Soviet-orchestrated Holodomor, the killing by starvation that took the lives of millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933. The segment featured an interview with crank “historian” William Engdahl, a regular columnist for the virulently anti-Semitic website Veterans Today, where he has suggested that terrorist bombings in Russia earlier this year were conducted by Israel in retribution “for Putin’s role in winning Obama away from war against Syria last fall and openly seeking a diplomatic resolution of the Iran nuclear problem.”

Such ravings are par for the course on RT, but what happened afterwards surprised observers who have grown accustomed to the network’s practice of throwing out an endless stream of indefensible allegations in hopes that some of them will stick in the media ecosystem. Two days after the program aired, RT announced via Twitter that it had removed the episode from its website due to “uncorroborated info.” If this were to be the new standard by which RT determines what material to air, it would have no choice but to shut down altogether.

James Kirchick is a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative.

TIME Foreign Policy

Russian Television Under Spotlight After Malaysia Airlines Crash in Ukraine

Russia Putin
Employees of RT prepare for a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on June 11, 2013. Yuri Kochetkov—AP

The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 exposes the truth about RT, the Russian English-language propaganda outlet

In late 2009, the British journalist Sara Firth became a Russian propaganda mouthpiece.

The decision seemed to make sense at the time. Firth had just earned a postgraduate diploma in investigative journalism when she was offered a role as on-air-correspondent for RT, a Russian television network that is broadcast for foreign audiences in English, Spanish and Arabic. The gig came with an attractive salary, vibrant colleagues and the chance to report big stories in global hotspots. Firth had ambition, a sense of adventure, and a fascination with Russia. She took the job.

Founded in 2005, RT is billed as a counterweight to the bias of Western media outlets. In reality, the broadcast outlet is an unofficial house organ for President Vladimir Putin’s government. Under the guise of journalistic inquiry, it produces agitprop funded by the Russian state, and beams it around the world to nearly 650 million people in more than 100 countries. RT is Russia’s “propaganda bullhorn,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said recently, “deployed to promote President Putin’s fantasy about what is playing out on the ground.”

Firth was no dupe. She knew the politics of her paymasters. “We are lying every single day at RT,” she explained Monday afternoon in a phone interview from England. “There are a million different ways to lie, and I really learned that at RT.”

Since a Malaysian jetliner crashed in a wheat field in eastern Ukraine last week, RT’s pro-Putin packaging has been exposed in grim detail. In the aftermath of the tragedy, which killed all 298 souls on board, the outlet—like the rest of Russian state media—has seemed as if it were reporting on an entirely different crime. As the international media published reports indicating the plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists, RT has suggested Ukraine was responsible, cast Moscow as a scapegoat and bemoaned the insensitivity of outlets focusing on the geopolitical consequences of the crime.

For Firth, the coverage was the last straw. She announced her resignation on July 18, as her employer broadcast a flurry of reports that read more like Kremlin press releases. She described a five-year fight to uphold the principles of journalistic integrity in a place where every reporting assignment comes with a “brief” outlining the story’s conclusion. “It’s mass information manipulation,” she says. “They have a very clear idea in their mind of what they’re trying to prove.”

RT is neither the first nor the only outlet that exists to serve the state rather than its citizens. Nearly every major country has a thriving state-sponsored media. (The U.S. funds media organizations like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia that target foreign populations through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.) In Russia, the domestic media have long been lapdogs, and reporters who bite their masters sometimes turn up dead. “The media in Russia are expected to be mouthpieces for power,” says Sarah Oates, a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland who studies the Russian media. “RT follows this model. They’ll mix a little bit of reality with a little bit of smearing, and they’ll steer the viewer into questioning things.”

RT’s motto is “Question More,” which sounds like a worthy credo. In practice, it arranges those questions to light the way to specific answers. The formula is well-honed. RT hires young, telegenic correspondents who speak fluent English and believe, as Firth does, that a flawed media ecosystem benefits when broadcasters challenge the dominant narrative. And it pays them lavishly to report from far-flung battlefields or its gleaming studios. “They want you to be on air looking young, looking sexy, looking fresh. Being a bit quirky,” says Firth. “They’re after impact. They don’t mind too much about the fact checking.”

In the aftermath of the crash last week, the RT machine kicked into overdrive, churning out a steady stream of strange reports. In an effort to implicitly assign blame on the Ukrainians, it noted the proximity of Putin’s own plane. It quoted a Russian defense ministry source asking why a Ukrainian air force jet was detected nearby. And it quoted another anonymous Russian official, who volunteered the juicy claim that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile was operational in the vicinity at the time of the incident. This is how RT works, explains Firth: by arranging facts to fit a fantasy.

“What they do is a very smart, slick way of manipulating reality,” she says. “In Ukraine, you’re taking a very small part of a much wider story, totally omitted the context of the story, and so what you wind up with on air is outright misinformation.”

Sometimes the end result is anything but slick. In March, a group of alumni and students from the Mohyla School of Journalism in Kiev, along with associated journalists, launched a fact-checking site to chronicle false reporting about the Ukrainian crisis. The site, Stopfake.org, features a long menu of whoppers from Russian media. Among the most egregious, the group’s founder told TIME, is the case of a blond actress who has cropped up in different roles over the course of conflict. The actress, Maria Tsypko, has been interviewed on state TV and identified as separatist camp organizer in Odessa, a political refugee in Sevastopol and an election monitor in Crimea, according to the site. The only thing that never changes is her affection for Mother Russia.

These outlandish flubs are a problem for the Russian propaganda effort, which forks out millions to cloak spin as truth-telling. It’s hard to maintain the illusion when the audience can see the strings and wires behind the scenes. “It’s been a particularly effective means of propaganda, and a very effective voice for the Russian state,” says Oates. “But if you’re going to engage in propaganda, you have to do it well. They have completely embarrassed themselves.”

RT did not respond to an interview request from TIME. According to Firth, you can reliably glean management’s perspective from the opinions they allow their employees to parrot. Many, Firth says, are like herself: committed journalists who thought they could persevere and take advantage of the opportunity to report important stories, the goals of their bosses notwithstanding.

“For five years, you’re kind of fighting against this—and with your colleagues you’re rolling your eyes and making jokes,” she says. “The worst-kept secret is that RT is blatant propaganda. I’m one in a very long line of people who have left for the same reason. Everyone has their breaking point. I wish I had done it sooner. But I didn’t.”

TIME Google

Google Has a Huge New Business You Probably Don’t Know About

Google on iPhone 5
Iain Masterton—Alamy

Selling apps, television shows, e-books, music and games through Google Play is becoming a big business for the tech giant

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published atFortune.com.

In five years, Google Play has gone from being an upstart marketplace for mobile phone apps to a mammoth media hub.

On Thursday’s second-quarter earnings call, Google’s outgoing Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora all-but-said as much. In addition to apps, it now sells now sells digital movies, TV shows and music to the more than one billion people worldwide who own Android phones and tablets.

It “continues to grow at breakneck speed,” Arora said on the call.

Google doesn’t break out numbers for just how well Google Play is doing. But sales have steadily grown into the second largest source of revenues behind the company’s long-standing cash cow, advertising.

Finding alternative sources of revenue is critical to Google as it tries to offset the inevitable slowing growth in its online ad business. Selling apps and entertainment for mobile device can be an important way to keep Wall Street investors happy along with making its operating system more attractive to consumers and device manufacturers.

Citigroup analyst Mark May predicts Google Play’s annual revenues will grow from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $5.2 billion in 2017. Those figures remain a fraction of the $10 billion in iTunes sales Apple reported last year, but Android’s momentum is undeniable.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME russia

Russian Media Blame Ukraine For Plane Disaster

Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on July 17, 2014.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on July 17, 2014. RIA Novosti—Reuters

One common theory: Ukraine was trying to shoot down Vladimir Putin's plane

In televised comments this morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that responsibility for the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on Thursday lay with “the government of the territory on which it happened.” He stopped short of directly blaming the Ukrainian military for launching the missile – but Russia’s many state-controlled media outlets have been only too happy to do that for him. On Friday morning, as the world tried to make sense of the crash in separatist-controlled Ukraine, the Russian spin machine was already doing damage control. Gruesome images of the wreckage were splashed across this morning’s papers under headlines blaming Kiev for the attack.

“The leadership of Novorossiya considers the destruction of the liner a planned provocation by Kiev,” wrote daily Izvestia, in its lead news story, employing the resurrected term used frequently in Russian media to describe the region of Eastern Ukraine stretching from Odessa to Donbass. Rebel assertions that the plane was hit by a Ukrainian BUK missile ran across the cover of tabloid Tvoi Den under the headline “Echelon of Death.”

The theory that seems to be making the most traction throughout Kremlin-backed media is that the Ukrainian military shot down the passenger jet, either as part of a sinister plan to frame the separatists and galvanize the West against Russia, or alternately, after mistaking the Malaysian jet for a plane transporting Putin, who was on his way back to Moscow from Brazil. Citing the Interfax news agency, Kremlin-funded network RT described the similarity of the flight paths of MH17 and the presidential plane above a split-screen graphic intended to show the visual similarities between the two aircraft. Many Russians have taken to Twitter and Facebook both to voice their sympathy for the victims and often, to echo the theory that it’s all Ukraine’s fault.

Several news sources drew comparisons to 2001, when the Ukrainian military mistakenly shot down a Russian passenger jet over the Black Sea. The accident, which killed 78 people on board, is now being trumpeted as evidence of the Ukrainian military’s culpability in the Malaysia Airlines crash. “According to experts, military equipment used by the Ukrainian army was acquired during the Soviet era, and its use in the course of military operations could lead to a repetition of the tragedy,” wrote Russia’s leading news agency Ria Novosti on Friday.

Leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the pro-Russian breakaway group that currently controls parts of Eastern Ukraine, as well as purported arms and aeronautical experts like celebrity test pilot Anatoly Kvochur, have been making the rounds on Russian television to attest to the fact that the shooting couldn’t possibly have been the work of the rebels. The rebels themselves, of course, have denied all involvement in the crash, which occurred in territory under their control. At first, the rebels denied possessing the BUK missile launchers believed to have been used in the attack, despite the fact that the news agency of the Russian Ministry of Defense aired a report in June stating that a BUK had been taken by the separatists. Later on Friday, however, a reporter for Russian state-controlled channel Rossiya-24 reported that the militia does possess the launchers, but that they’re “all undergoing repair.” More recently, the rebel claims took a turn for the grotesque, with Donbass separatist commander Igor Strelkov telling militant site Russian Spring that he believes the plane may have been filled with dead bodies before it crashed, saying workers who cleared the site told him the bodies were “stale – [like] people who had died several days ago.”

Yet as the Kremlin advances its narrative, Russia’s small and ever-shrinking pool of independent media outlets have countered with blistering critique. In the independent daily Noviya Gazeta, columnist Pavel Felgenhauer pointed to the probable culpability of the rebel forces and criticized the scramble to dodge blame. “It would be better if the separatists and the Russian authorities would stop lying, fantasizing and ‘making Ukraine take responsibility,’ and would as quickly as possible acknowledge their own guilt insofar as it exists,” he wrote.

Appearing this morning on the independent TV Rain channel, Ukrainian military analyst Dmitry Tymchuk also placed blame for the incident squarely on the Russian government. Since the end of last week, he said, “little green men, that is, Russian servicemen,” had joined the flow of military equipment from Russia to Eastern Ukraine. The rebels and the authorities in Moscow “are busy trying to cover up the tracks of their monstrous crime,” Tymchuk wrote in a post on his own website.

Yet as international consensus mounts that Russia’s role in arming the separatists makes Moscow at least partially accountable for the disaster, the Kremlin is struggling to control the narrative. Early Friday afternoon, Russian watchdog blog Gospravki reported that someone had attempted to alter the Russian Wikipedia entry on the Malaysia Airlines crash from an IP address linked to Kremlin state-media holding VGTRK, changing the assumed perpetrator from “terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic” to “Ukrainian military.” The passage has since been changed to a murky statement that “Russian and Ukrainian authorities, as well as representatives of the self-proclaimed republics of eastern Ukraine, have denied any involvement in the tragedy and blame each other for what happened.”

TIME Media

Jill Abramson to Katie Couric: ‘I Put Out a Terrific News Report’

The ousted editor continues her media tour

Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson continued her postmortem analysis of what went wrong at the newspaper during another interview, this time with Katie Couric at Yahoo News.

Abramson, who was abruptly fired from the Times in May amid grumblings about her “management style,” told Couric that during her tenure she was more interested in the quality of the newspaper than in making sure everyone in the newsroom liked her. “As managing editor for eight years and as executive editor for three years, I put out a terrific news report,” she said. “And led the kind of journalism that I believe in. I am hard-charging, I was certainly aware that some people had already described me as tough. I have high standards…I think a lot of people who worked for me found that inspirational, some people didn’t like it. That is how it is at every news organization that makes a difference.'”

“I can scarcely think of an executive editor of the times that wasn’t described in the same way,” she added.

(MORE: Jill Abramson Insists on Calling Herself “Fired”)

But was her firing about gender? “I think that women are scrutinized and criticized in a somewhat different way and that certain qualities that are seen in men as being the qualities of a leader or ambition as seen as a good thing are somehow not seen in as attractive a light when a woman is involved,” she said. “And I’m hardly the first person to observe that.”

But when Couric attempted to drill down into the gendered aspects of her firing, Abramson said her record at the Times was more important than the details of why she lost her job. “I don’t see gender as being the whole explanation by any means… but it’s somewhat irksome to me to see so much focus on the issue of why was I fired. First of all, let’s be honest, how many people in the real world really care about why Jill Abramson lost her job?”

“I think the amount of attention that’s focused on my last days as opposed to the 11 years that I [ran the New York Times] everyday is just out of proportion,” she added.

 

 

TIME Media

Jill Abramson Insists on Calling Herself ‘Fired’

WIRED Business Conference: Think Bigger
Executive Editor of The New York Times Jill Abramson attends the WIRED Business Conference: Think Bigger at Museum of Jewish Heritage on May 7, 2013 in New York City. Brad Barket—Getty Images

"That's what happened to me, and I've devoted my whole career to truth-telling, so why hide that?"

Jill Abramson insisted Greta Van Susteren call her “fired New York Times editor” in her first television interview Wednesday since her contentious departure from the newspaper in May.

“That’s what happened to me, and I’ve devoted my whole career to truth-telling, so why hide that?” Abramson said on Fox News’s On the Record. “And there are an awful lot of people in this country who, like me, have been fired from their jobs.”

Abramson didn’t assign any specific blame for her firing, but did allude to the whispers that her firing was more about her personal demeanor than professional accomplishments. “It was said because my management style. I was a hard-charging editor, and there were some people who worked for me that didn’t like that style,” she said. “Women in leadership roles are scrutinized constantly and sometimes differently than men…there are certain code words: ‘strident,’ ‘too tough.'”

But she doesn’t think it was only about gender. “Plenty of guys get fired,” she said.

Abramson also observed that “it’s mighty strange going from one day being an editor of stories to being the story, but I think actually it’s healthy for journalists to know what it feels like on the opposite end of the probing and questioning.”

 

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