Top of the week: The Riverfront Times reports that a number of landlord corporations cashed in on COVID relief funds and then evicted the residents of apartment complexes they failed to keep up.
Eighty tenants in Ferguson, Mo. were given three days to move out of their apartments, only weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal eviction moratorium. The owners received financial aid to cover rent and utilities for tenants, on the level of millions. But for some reason the residents got evicted anyway.
Mike Fitzgerald’s investigation was cofounded by the River City Journalism Fund, filing FOIA (Sunshine Law) requests in the notoriously FOIA-averse state and compiling some damning evidence. Read the whole thing at the link, with names of the landlords who received the most money – as much as $1.5 million.
The River City Journalism Fund is a nonprofit paying grants and stipends to St. Louis writers to increase public-interest coverage; supporting paid fellowships and internships; and other activities to promote public service journalism in the St. Louis region.
In other news:
• The 2024 First Amendment Awards have been announced: Lauren Chooljian with New Hampshire Public Radio and ProPublica. Chooljian is honored for her reporting on sexual misconduct allegations against the owner of a New England addiction treatment conglomerate, for which she was targeted with vandalism and threats as well as attempts at legal intimidation. And as you’ve seen in just a few weeks of this blog feature, ProPublica consistently funds the kind of investigative journalism we desperately need across the country.
• An employee of the Worthington Globe in Minnesota has been subject to harassment and vandalism, because they *checks notes* reported on the display of pride flags in public schools. This led to homophobic messages spray-painted on their car. The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists has issued a public statement in support of the staff for continuing their coverage and not backing down in the face of intimidation and harassment.
• Freelance journalist Tim Burke’s home was raided by the FBI after he reported on outtakes of a Tucker Carlson interview with Kanye West on Fox News. Eight months later Burke has not even been given the affidavit used to secure the search warrant and his equipment is still being withheld. Burke was using publicly accessible websites to report, and SPJ is assisting with his legal team, which includes the founder of the Department ofJustice Cybercrime Unit.
• Writers at New York Daily News, Forbes and Conde Nast walked off the job for the first time in a century. Likewise the Los Angeles Times had a one-day walkout, followed by a layoff of 115 employees; and then there’s the hell going on at Sports Illustrated. Meanwhile, the staff of the late Messenger have filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the WARN Act in the sudden layoff of every employee with no notice, adding to the 500+ journalists laid off in the last month.
And I can’t even bear to read this report, though I will: Illinois has lost 85 percent of its newspaper journalists, the highest percentage in the country, and 38 of 102 counties have one or zero local sources of news. (Though I often quibble with complaints that reliance on freelancers means there is no local news. We freelancers do just as well or sometimes better than we would as full-timers. Where do you think those 85 percent went?) More in-depth looks at that report when I have the spoons and bourbon to get through it.
• Speaking of layoffs, the Society of Professional Journalists has assembled a number of resources to help journalists hit with the first-quarter layoffs. Membership fee waivers, job listings, discounts for insurance, support from fellow journalists and more can be found in We’re In This Together.
• On the good side, Mother Jones has merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, formalizing a partnership that has produced a number of investigative pieces in years past: an investigation last year about how the nation’s largest chain of psychiatric hospitals harms foster kids; a report in 2022 about national efforts to restrict people’s ability to vote; and an investigation in 2021 about labor abuses at sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic, according to Editor and Publisher.
This Week in Total Bullshit:
• If your feed is full of whiny manbabies complaining that NFL games are now the Taylor Swift Show, you could choose to point them toward this study that shows exactly how many seconds of a three-hour football game features an image of a player’s very very famous girlfriend. Spoiler alert: it’s 25 seconds. That’s how little coverage of a successful woman is necessary to make some men lose their damn minds. The responses have included AI-created degrading porn images of Swift, complaints that “NFL Media” is”forcing Taylor Swift” on football fans, idiot vids on TikTok burning a Chiefs jersey and Swift album cover; and my favorite: allegations that Travis Kelce’s $70,000 Superb Owl bonus check is her motive for dating him. Boys, Kelce is worth about $40 million; Swift is worth $1.1 BILLION. As was wearily pointed out on BlueSky: a woman can run her own freaking entertainment empire and kick off a massive uptick in an entire athletic industry just by going to the games, and she’ll still be accused of being a gold-digger. I can’t even touch “Swift is a psy-op asset of the DoD” and “The Super Bowl is fixed to help Swift so she can endorse Biden.” I honestly gave up collecting the most ridiculous of the memes halfway through the week, because there’s only so many times I can wade into incel bullshit. Go Chiefs.
• I see it’s once again making the rounds, that infamous Frank Zappa quote where he shakes his fist at the clouds and insists that once upon a time, kids were taught civics in school, and then they took it away and replaced it with “social studies,” and now we’re a bunch of ignorant clods who don’t understand basic government. Also, it was a conspiracy.
First: There is no proof that Zappa actually said this asinine thing. Instead, it sounds very much like the sort of thing spread on the internet to cast shade on teachers, public education, intellectual curiosity, you know, things Zappa was generally in favor of.
Second, and far more important: It’s garbage. Every state in the union requires civic learning in its standards or curriculum, whether they call it that or American government etc. Nearly every state specifically says civics. More than 35 states require students to demonstrate proficiency, such as Illinois, which requires all students to pass a test on the U.S. Constitution in order to graduate high school, regardless of grades in any American government or social studies course.
The Zappa quote tends to dance in partnership with the “kids oughta learn how to balance a checkbook and change a tire and all that stuff insteada this dumb book-learnin they gotta do on the computerz” crap we get from time to time. It comes down to blaming the teachers for the sheer quantity of ignorance and gullible knee-jerk outrage we see on the internet, as people take a meme or some rando’s Facebook post at face value instead of doing a simple Google search, and finding the civic education study by the Education Commission of the States in 2016.
No, we don’t have any handy scapegoats for what we see on Facebook. The teachers were speaking. Some folks just weren’t listening.
For extra credit: Mother Jones details why teaching civics is important, and notes areas for improvement.
• Speaking of which, a particularly viral bit of nonsense is asking “why y’all aren’t mad your retirement is moving to 70?” Of course, the collective response to that from my generation is, “What’s retirement?” We grew up being told that Social Security was going to be bankupt by the time we were old enough to think about it, and nobody likes to talk about the fact that Social Security has been quietly saved by undocumented immigrants.
(Yup. Approximately 95 percent of undocumented immigrants are employed, paying $100 billion into Social Security through illicit SS numbers from 2000 to 2011 and creating a $35 billion surplus, according to an actuarial note developed by the office of the Chief Actuary that makes for good insomnia treatment. In 2016 alone, they contributed $13 billion to Social Security and $3 billion to Medicare. Say thank you.)
Back to the point: The other reason why no one’s mad about the retirement age moving to 70: it isn’t happening. Not yet, and probably not for a while. The age of retirement is as it has been for a long time: 65 to 67 for maxed-out Social Security. Also, even with the age-67 max-out, the average American retires even earlier, at age 62, even though Medicare doesn’t kick in until 65. The average worker plans to retire at or after 67, yet they actually skip out earlier – though, as USA Today points out, it’s often spurred by life. Layoffs, physical limitations, illness, etc. cause 56 percent of retirees to throw in the towel sooner than they had planned.
The only basis for this meme I can find is the everlasting GOP proposal to raise the retirement age to 70. It’s been 67 since 1983, and we live a lot longer now, they argue. Where did I see this before? Oh yeah, in 2016. And pretty much every year, including this year. GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley says people in their 20s should have a retirement set in accordance with life expectancy, while former President Donald Trump says he won’t make any cuts to the programs but will not give them additional funding, which is some interesting math with rising numbers of retirees.
So, why aren’t people mad? Because it never actually happens. Like retirement.
• The COVID-19 vaccine’s spike protein does not replace sperm in men who receive it. Add biology to the classes where people weren’t paying any damn attention. It also doesn’t “shut off” your heart, and Travis Kelce’s hand gesture doesn’t have a damn thing to do with vaccines.
• There is no secret video footage implicating former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, Bill Gates and •checks notes• Oprah Winfrey in the death of Jeffrey Epstein. I’m almost embarrassed to have to debunk this stuff.
Note: Next week I am back on the road, attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Kansas City. Daily travelogues and convention write-ups will appear on Patreon, so now is a great time to subscribe! There will be no Show Your Work or BookNotes next week due to the conference, unless I get super ambitious. But I’ll be back the next week!