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WaPo story fuels conspiracy theories on Epstein, but...
In a story published Thursday morning, WaPo broke news that Jeffrey Epstein's autopsy had found "multiple breaks in his neck bones." WaPo played this revelation up, saying it is "deepening the mystery about the circumstances around his death."
The Post's story helped fuel conspiracy theories surrounding Epstein's death, which authorities have called an apparent suicide. But, according to medical experts I spoke to Thursday, the evidence presented in WaPo's story was actually consistent with suicidal hangings. Let's walk through this...
The hyoid bone
At the heart of WaPo's story was the revelation that among the broken bones in Epstein's neck was the hyoid bone. As WaPo reported, such breaks are associated with "victims of homicide by strangulation." That is true.
BUT, as WaPo also reported, "Such breaks can occur in those who hang themselves, particularly if they are older." Epstein was 66.
And yet the story seemed to concentrate on the broken hyoid bone to paint a picture of possible foul play...
What Sanjay Gupta told me
To get a better understanding of this, I spoke on the phone with Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. Gupta immediately noted that "once you get beyond 40 or 50" the hyoid bone "becomes much more brittle and easier to break." Again, Epstein was 66.
But what Gupta found most interesting was that, in its totality, the autopsy results presented in WaPo's story actually were more consistent with a suicidal hanging than a strangulation. Why? Because of the multiple broken neck bones.
"It actually suggests much more strongly that it was hanging versus strangulation," Gupta explained. "You wouldn't break those other bones during a strangulation."
What other experts told me
I obviously wanted to check in with some other medical experts to get a second, third, and even fourth opinion. I spoke on the phone with Gerald Rodts, chief of spinal surgery at the Emory Clinic. He said, "The presence of other broken bones in his neck, from a guy hanging 66 years old, is very consistent with suicidal hanging." Rodts agreed that "classically with strangulation, you don't see broken bones. It's not common. That's what really kind of goes against that theory."
I also talked with Bill Loyd, a surgeon board-certified in both ophthalmology and anatomic pathology, with training in forensic pathology. He cautioned against even looking at the hyoid bone, calling it “meaningless” and saying he was "not persuaded that [Epstein] didn't hang himself."
"Stay away from it," Loyd said. "It doesn't indicate anything." Loyd added, "You can twist the hyoid bone theory to tell whatever story you want to tell. It just gives naysers the ability to advance whatever conspiracy theories they want to tell."
Finally, I chatted with Cyril Wecht, a high-profile forensic pathologist who had previously expressed some suspicion about Epstein's death. But, he too explained, if the possibility of force during the hanging could be shown, “and if there are cervical vertebrae fractures, and a fractured hyoid bone, I would say that is more consistent with a hanging in that fashion than it would be a strangulation."
WaPo's own expert: Hyoid bone break "does not exclude suicidal hanging"
In the second paragraph of WaPo's story, the newspaper cited "forensics experts." Only one such expert was quoted in the piece: Jonathan Arden, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners. I couldn't get in touch with Arden on Thursday, but he also expressed caution to WaPo.
“If, hypothetically, the hyoid bone is broken, that would generally raise questions about strangulation, but it is not definitive and does not exclude suicidal hanging,” Arden said in WaPo’s piece.
So again, why did WaPo seem to hype this, given that authorities have said the death was caused by apparent suicide?
"Incomplete data with incomplete information"
When I spoke with Gupta, I asked him for his thoughts on how WaPo presented the autopsy results they had obtained. "They use incomplete data with incomplete information to try and draw a conclusion about the cause of death and to suggest it was a strangulation," Gupta said. "We can't possibly know that with as little information as was presented."
How it played in the fever swamps
While Gupta rightly noted that there are not enough details to make a conclusion, conspiracy theorists were more than happy to use WaPo's story as evidence Epstein was murdered. InfoWars, for instance, declared that it was now "official" that Epstein "was murdered." Other less-than-reliable sites and personalities behaved similarly…
I checked in with a WaPo spokesperson Thursday evening. I asked why only one forensic expert was quoted in the piece, when the story cited multiple experts in the second paragraph. I asked why other experts, like the ones I spoke with who said the evidence in its totality was more consistent with suicidal hanging than strangulation, were not quoted. And I asked how the evidence laid out in the piece served in "deepening questions around" Epstein's death.
The spokesperson replied in an email saying the newspaper was "not 'leaning into' any theory," adding that the story "makes absolutely clear from the beginning that suicide remains a distinct possibility."
The spokesperson said that the story cited a study which "produced conflicting results about the likelihood of hyoid break in a suicide," stressing though that the "experts we spoke to said that this break is more common in strangulation."
The WaPo spokesperson concluded, "What we said throughout the piece is that this requires greater investigation."
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
-- Ashely Feinberg obtained a transcript of the NYT town hall meeting Dean Baquet convened earlier this week... (Slate)
-- Speaking of NYT: Jay Rosen's latest: "Bad headline, small changes at The New York Times..." (PressThink)
-- Politico's Michael Calderone looks at the strained relationship between NYT and its one-time data guru Nate Silver, who "can’t stop kicking his ex-employer for its 2020 polling analysis and supposed capitulation to Trump..." (Politico)
-- Anderson Cooper choked back tears as he asked Stephen Colbert about grief. "It's a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering," Colbert said. "There's no escaping that..." (CNN)
-- The Hill named Peter D. Greenberger as its new publisher... (MediaPost)
-- Episodes of the popular podcast "Crime Junkie" have disappeared after the hosts were accused of plagiarism... (BuzzFeed)
IN OTHER NEWS...
"Advertisers Blacklist Hard News, Including Trump, Fearing Backlash"
Brian Stelter writes: For my money, this is the most important media story of the day. It's about advertising "blacklists" that steer valuable ads away from news sites. "Some companies are creating keyword blacklists so detailed as to make almost all political or hard-news stories off-limits for their ads," the WSJ's Suzanne Vranica reports, quoting an ad-buying exec who says "it is de facto news blocking."
Vranica notes that "marketers have used blacklists for years to sidestep controversy," with airlines avoiding articles about airline crashes... But "now those blacklists are becoming more sophisticated, specific and extensive." She cites CNN as an example: "CNN.com, which is owned by AT&T, said it deals with some advertisers whose blacklists exceed 1,000 words. Among the words advertisers most often wanted to avoid on CNN.com during the first half of the year were 'shooting,' 'Mueller,' 'Michael Cohen' and 'crash.' The most-blocked term during the time period was 'Trump,' which was blocked 636,636 times, CNN said."
The big-picture issue
"The ad-blacklisting threatens to hit publications' revenue and is creating incentives to produce more lifestyle-oriented coverage that is less controversial than hard news," Vranica writes. "Some news organizations are investing in technologies meant to gauge the way news stories make readers feel in the hopes of persuading advertisers that there are options for ad placement other than blacklisting..."
"Coverage of Mass Shootings Threatens Public Safety. Let's Fix It."
That's the CJR headline about this new initiative. Miles Kohrman of The Trace and Katherine Reed of the Missouri School of Journalism assert that "the news industry hasn't seriously reckoned with its responsibility to cover mass shootings with the discretion they require..." So "over the coming months, our coalition will work with researchers and media professionals who study the phenomenon of mass-shooting contagion to paint a fuller picture of the problem. Along with news organizations across the country, we will develop a set of guidelines for responsible reporting on mass shooters and their motives." Details here...
>> Another effort with a related objective: The Initiative for Better Gun Violence Reporting is holding a summit in November...
Carole Cadwalladr on this week's "Reliable" podcast
Investigative reporter for the Observer and the Guardian Carole Cadwalladr's year-long investigation resulted in the downfall of data company Cambridge Analytica. Her central role in the scandal is examined in the new Netflix documentary, "The Great Hack," which she discusses with guest host John Avlon on this week's "Reliable Sources" podcast. Cadwalladr talks about the still-open questions about Cambridge Analytica, its impact on UK and US elections, as well as citizens' lack of ownership over their own data... Tune in via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn...
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
-- THR's Jeremy Barr pored over 270 pages of emails between members of Trump's Treasury Department and employees at Fox News and Fox Business. He said there's an "unusual closeness between the agency and the networks..." (THR)
-- Pete Hegseth "and his fiancée, Fox News producer Jennifer Rauchet, are set to get married Friday and, according to three people who’ve been invited or been shown the invitation, the ceremony and reception will take place at a property owned by the president and his family business, specifically the Trump National Golf Club Colts Neck in New Jersey..." (Beast)
-- Hearst Connecticut Media published a huge investigation Thursday, linking "250 victims in 30 states who say they were sexually abused as children at the hands of employees, volunteers and other members of Boys & Girls Club of America affiliates." Here's how Hearst Connecticut built the "nationwide accounting..." (CT Post)
-- The man "who chronicled his 'private jet' Delta flight, did not actually fly on the plane," sources told ABC News... (ABC News)
Cooper to Sanders: You seem to be suggesting you're being "punished" by WaPo
Appearing on "AC360" Thursday night, Bernie Sanders was challenged for his attacks on WaPo. Anderson Cooper noted that it appeared Sanders has been alleging that "in some shape or form" he is being "punished by The Post" for his position on Amazon.
Sanders said he does not think people "stay up nights" at WaPo wondering "how do we get Bernie Sanders." Sanders then pivoted to his less-pointed, and more traditional, criticism of the media: That large companies own media companies and that there is need to "worry" about that.
Don Graham: "No evidence" Bezos influencing WaPo coverage
Former WaPo publisher Don Graham spoke to Poppy Harlow for CNN's "Age of Amazon" documentary airing Friday at 9pm ET. Harlow asked Graham, "Do you think owning The Washington Post has given Bezos more clout among the political class here in Washington?"
Graham bluntly responded "no," adding that as owner of Amazon, Bezos "could hardly have more clout if he wanted." Graham said, "I see no evidence that Jeff is using The Washington Post to advance any political interest."
Trump uses Weisman demotion to attack NYT
Trump (unsurprisingly) seized on the news that NYT had demoted Jonathan Weisman to attack the newspaper on Thursday. In a tweet, Trump said that Weisman "should have been fired" and again criticized NYT as "biased and inaccurate." He said Weisman's demotion was "another hit" and "this time a big one." Trump also brought up the demotion during his Thursday night rally...
Of course, Weisman's demotion had nothing to do with NYT's reporting on Trump or bias issues. It had to do with a spate of incidents in which he embarrassed the news organization on social media. It's also worth noting that Weisman was ONE of many deputy editors at the paper...
But the right mocked before...
It's actually a bit strange that Trump called on NYT to dole out a harsher punishment to Weisman. When news of Weisman's demotion broke earlier this week, many on the right attacked the newspaper for supposedly caving to the left, and suggested he should have faced no punishment at all.
For instance, Trump ally Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, tweeted at the time that Weisman had been demoted because his tweets "offended leftists." Now Trump wants him fired. Awkward.
The Fox segment that started it all
Why did Trump suddenly decide to attack NYT over the Weisman's demotion two days after it happened? Likely because it was on Fox News. A little before Trump tweeted his attack, Fox's ~straight news~ hosts Bill Hemmer and Sandra Smith hosted a segment with New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin.
Goodwin spent several minutes trashing NYT, characterizing it as a "propaganda arm" of the Democratic Party. Bizarrely, neither Hemmer nor Smith offered any real pushback on Goodwin's absurd claims. During that segment, they also hosted no guest with an opposing view. Not exactly fair or balanced!
FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE
-- IYCMI: On the heels of Automattic's acquisition, CEO Matt Mullenweg spoke about his hope that Tumblr will become a "social alternative" while on an exclusive "Vergecast..." (The Verge)
-- Matthew Ingram follows up, asking for CJR: "Could WordPress and Tumblr create an alternative to Facebook?" (CJR)
-- "Digital media publisher Axios is planning to enter a new business that includes selling software for helping companies create newsletters for their employees," Jennifer Toonkel reports for The Information... (The Information)
-- The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting announced a new alliance with the UNC School of Media and Journalism on Thursday... (UNC)
-- Digiday's Lucinda Southern examines "How The Times of London increased digital subscribers 19% in a year..." (Digiday)
Drudge ditches longtime ad partner
"[Matt Drudge] has quietly flipped the switch on perhaps the biggest change he’s ever made: He’s ditched his longtime advertising partner for a new representative, in the process revealing new details about his business and attracting scrutiny of how his site operates," BuzzFeed's Craig Silverman reported on Thursday.
Silverman's piece quoted Global Disinformation Index co-founder Danny Rodgers who observed that the Drudge Report removed ads from the end of May until mid-July. "During that period, Drudge cast off his advertising representative of close to 20 years, Intermarkets, in favor of a new and unknown company, Granite Cubed," Silverman reported. "It has no record in the digital ad industry, was only registered as a company in March of this year, and lists no staff or owners on its websites." Read his piece here...
FOR THE RECORD, PART FOUR
-- The FT has acquired a minority stake in The Business of Fashion... (FT)
-- "How much work is too much for a top showrunner?" Lesley Goldberg says that "in a Peak TV era overflowing with choice, content creators big and small are leveraging the demand for their services with deals for exclusivity on different platforms." That means multiple "overall" deals... (THR)
-- ABC, AMC, and Discovery have all been hit with FCC fines for using "the emergency alert tone in entertainment..." (THR)
Disney's big box officer year continues
Frank Pallotta emails: “Toy Story 4" crossed the $1 billion mark at the global box office. That makes the animated Pixar film the fifth billion dollar release for Disney this year. The studio is now the record holder for the most billion-dollar movies in a single year.
Disney hit this new milestone amid a record-breaking year that will also include the launch of Disney+ -- a new streaming service that will likely be the most formidable competitor to Netflix. On top of that, Disney has sucked up most of Fox’s assets, giving them even more programs and intellectual property to bolster Disney+. A box office year like this one only cements Disney's status as the king of content. And its big year is far from over with “Frozen 2” and “Star Wars” still on the way…
>> Brian Lowry emails: The question lingers, meanwhile: What does it mean for the industry and theater owners when one studio commands such a disproportionate share of the box-office pie?
FOR THE RECORD, PART FIVE
By Lisa Respers France:
-- Nipsey Hussle was remembered Thursday on what would have been the slain rapper's 34th birthday...
-- Here's some of what we've learned from "Chrisley Knows Best" whose stars, Todd and Julie Chrisley, have been indicted on tax evasion and fraud charges...
-- Simon Cowell looks different after going vegan...
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" runs on Cate Blanchett's star power
Brian Lowry emails: Richard Linklater follows “Boyhood” with parenthood in “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” which stars Cate Blanchett in an adaptation of Maria Semple’s bestselling novel. It’s a solid but unspectacular film, which nevertheless should have parents who read the book plotting their own escapes. Read Lowry's full review....
30-cent gas offered for #MaiselDay
Lowry emails: In a fairly novel stunt to kick off the last few weeks of Emmy voting, someone at Amazon got the bright idea of rolling back prices to 1959 levels to promote “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” under the hashtag #MaiselDay. But the lure of cheap 30-cent gas produced long lines, suggesting they might not have been ready for the 21st-century traffic implications.
Thank you for reading. I always enjoy your feedback, so send me a note via email or find me on Twitter... I'll be back tomorrow. See you then!