The Fact of the Matter | Crooked Media
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October 12, 2023
What A Day
The Fact of the Matter

In This Episode

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel on Thursday to show support for the country, following Hamas’ attack over the weekend. He also called on Israel to exercise restraint as it continues its airstrikes on Gaza. Meanwhile, the United States and Qatar have agreed to stop Iran, which has helped Hamas in the past, from accessing $6 billion in recently unfrozen aid.
  • And as the war continues, misinformation is spreading across social media, making it hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. Crooked news contributor Max Fisher joins us to discuss how to navigate the coverage and discourse surrounding the conflict.
  • And in headlines: Rep. Steve Scalise dropped out of the race to become the next House Speaker, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez was slapped with new federal charges, and Beyoncé made an appearance at the world premiere of Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour” concert movie.


Show Notes:



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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, October 13th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi. And this is What a Day. 


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show Steve Scalise has dropped out of the race to become the next House speaker. Plus, there’s little progress in sight to end two major labor strikes. But before we begin, we want to lead with the very latest on the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Late Thursday evening, the United Nations said that Israel has ordered the evacuation of northern Gaza where more than 1 million people live. The area includes Gaza City, the largest municipality in the territory. They have 24 hours to move to the southern end of Gaza, which U.N. officials say will lead to, quote, “devastating consequences.” It’s not clear whether this is the beginning of the ground offense that Israel has been gearing up to launch. But we will be following this closely in the days ahead. 


Priyanka Aribindi: After six days of Israeli airstrikes, over 300,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced from their homes so far. The strikes have also hit schools, mosques and hospitals. And because of the blockade of the Gaza Strip, hospitals are running low on fuel for generators, as well as beds for the thousands of people who have been wounded. According to the Gazan Health Ministry, Israeli airstrikes have killed over 1400 Palestinians and injured over 6200 more in the six days since they began. The airstrikes came in response to the attacks on Israel by Hamas on Saturday that killed over 1200 people in Israel, including 27 Americans, according to the U.S. State Department. The scale of the deaths and tragedy over the past week in this region has simply defied comprehension. I know for us here on the WAD team, it has been a really difficult, heavy week. And I know the same is true for so many of you listening. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. And as we mentioned earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel yesterday. What do we know about his visit? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, his visit was a strong reiteration of the US’s support for Israel, though regarding Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza, he did also call for precautions to prevent harming innocent civilians. 


[clip of Antony Blinken] How Israel does this matters. We democracies distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for a different standard. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Blinken himself is also Jewish. He said he understood on a personal level the harrowing echoes that Hamas’s attack has had for Israeli Jews and Jews across the world. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in the short time since Hamas’s attacks, there has been a spike in anti-Semitic incidents around the world. Biden spoke out about this earlier this week, and officials across the EU have also pledged to crack down against anti-Semitism in their countries. In France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin actually announced a ban on all pro-Palestinian rallies across the country yesterday, citing concerns about public order. Though hundreds of demonstrators in Paris gathered yesterday evening in defiance of that ban. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And we know that Israel was just the first stop on Blinken’s trip to the Middle East. Tell us more about what he’ll be doing in the coming days. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. So Blinken has a very big job right now because of the ongoing interference by Senate Republicans. The U.S. doesn’t currently have ambassadors to Israel or several other countries in the Middle East. This couldn’t be happening at a worse time. And keeping this from becoming a wider regional conflict is something that is extremely important. From Israel, Blinken traveled to Jordan, where he will meet today with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II. He’s also expected to speak with other leaders in the region about the return of the hostages held by Hamas and establishing a humanitarian corridor in Gaza. In the wake of Hamas’s attack, the U.S. and Qatar have also agreed to not allow Iran to access any of the money that was transferred to them as part of a deal to free five wrongfully detained Americans. The $6 billion dollars in Iranian funds was transferred to a bank account in Qatar last month. At this time, there is no evidence that Iran was directly linked to Hamas’s attack and none of that money has been released yet. So that money was not used to fund the attack in any way. But given Iran’s past support for Hamas, there have been bipartisan calls to keep Iran from accessing that money. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s turn our attention now to how many people around the world are getting information about this conflict. Listening to this show, obviously, is certainly one way we know y’all are also watching tv. You’re reading newspapers, we hope, and also looking at your social media feeds as well. We obviously don’t mind that. But with so many ways to get a window into this very complex and very emotionally charged situation, we know it can be hard to tell what’s real and what’s not or whether an outlet is being fair or if you have the proper context and nuance that this situation requires. And we also saw a lot of you write in with some thoughts about how we are framing and talking about this issue as well. So to help us take a closer look at all of this, we sat down with Crooked news contributor Max Fisher because he’s written a lot about media coverage and specifically about the tension over Israel and Palestine. 


Max Fisher: I’m not one of those people who says if both sides are yelling at you, you’re doing something right. I think that’s a bad way to determine whether you’re doing your job well. It’s hard but not impossible. And I think a lot of journalists are actually pretty good at it to thread the needle of accurately describing both the incredible power imbalance. I mean, obviously, Israel is the overwhelming driver of the conflict in the sense that it manages, determines and enforces the occupation that is at the heart of the conflict. But at the same time, and is also certainly possible, as we’ve seen for, for example, Hamas to do terrible things in retaliation. So the idea of the multi-layer of different cross-cutting things happening at the same time. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s talk a bit more about social media specifically. Right. It’s not unusual for people to hear something’s happening, know that news is breaking and then go to their feeds to sort it out. And hopefully they’re going to reputable sources. But we know how misinformation just spreads so much. You’ve written a whole book about this phenomenon when it comes to social media. How would you say this situation kind of compares to others that you have covered throughout the years? 


Max Fisher: I think that in all of the years of being on social media myself, following the news, there has never been a worse moment for following the news on social media and never been a worse case in trying to keep up with what’s happening on social media than right now. And I think partly that’s because this is an issue that’s very emotional for people and also is having there’s a lot of arguing and litigating about it. So that is really dominating things. But I think the biggest change is from the social media platforms, which have all in the last year or two and not just Twitter but also Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and TikTok have really and they’re open about this, this is not like my theory. This is something they say they’re doing, really downrank news and really de-emphasize news sources. So the algorithm, the thing that determines what you’re seeing on the platforms is deliberately not showing you news sources. What it’s showing you are the kinds of things they think are going to get you engaged, which tends to mean conflict, people arguing, misinformation, which is absolutely rampant. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Max Fisher: And of course, hate speech, which is only starting to rev up. But I am unfortunately certain it’s going to get significantly worse in the next week or two. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Twitter specifically, I feel like, has been the subject of so much of this coverage about this proliferation of misinformation. Can you explain some of what is going on on the platform and, you know, how misinformation has been able to proliferate this way on there? 


Max Fisher: So the like I said, the biggest change is to the algorithm. Elon Musk is very open about not liking the mainstream media. So if a news outlet is tweeting out a link or if a reporter is saying this is something that I’m seeing on the ground, the platform is pulling that back from you. And what they’re showing you instead is just someone did a post that’s getting a lot of attention. And that might mean that it’s a really extreme take, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, but it means that it’s there to provoke people or misinformation rumors, which we’re already seeing so many rounds of. And Musk has also dismantled the companies teams that are there to monitor for misinformation of rule breaking. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Max Fisher: Because he’s in such incredible debt, because of the way he had to buy the company. So he’s cost cutting. So things that are even violating the platform’s own rules, which doesn’t even apply to most of the really polarizing content, doesn’t apply to a lot of hate speech. That stuff is just running rampant because there’s nothing to pull it back. I don’t know if you all remember, in 2014 was the last really big round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. At that point. It was the biggest for many years, but it’s already been dwarfed, unfortunately. And that was a moment when the social media platforms worked very differently. They really promoted news outlets, they really promoted news things. And so if you logged on to Twitter, to Facebook, to Instagram, what you were going to see was news firsthand accounts from reporters who were on the ground who were saying, this is what I’m seeing. I’m in Gaza. You just saw a missile strike and a lot of first hand accounts from civilians on the ground, things that are really valuable. And and that played– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Max Fisher: –I think a really significant role in shaping people’s attitudes. And I think it’s a real shame that we’ve lost that. That was such an incredible value of social media. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I wonder, as we’ve been talking about the landmine that is trying to follow the news on social media and figure out what is reputable and verified versus what is not, who you should be following. Do you have any advice for folks who are trying to navigate that space, who remember how pivotal social media was back in 2014, like you mentioned? Any advice for folks who are trying to just navigate that to find their news and their information about how they should feel in this particular moment. 


Max Fisher: So if you’re opening up your feed, the way it works now is you’re very likely to see viral tweets from people who you may not follow, may not have seen their names before, and a trap that it’s very easy to fall into. I know so many smart people who have fallen into it. You see something that feels true to you. And so you believe that it is true or you see it repeated several times and you think, Oh, it must be confirmed. You see someone writing a tweet, this is confirmed. And you think, well, it says right there, it’s confirmed. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Sure. 


Max Fisher: That’s a natural human response. I’m really not trying to be down on people, but you just have to understand that very, very frequently those tweets are, if not outright false, they’re exaggerated. I mean, it’s really like maybe more than 50% of the time. So you just have to assume that if you see that it’s not accurate and it can be unsatisfying because it means sometimes you have to wait to see if something is verified or not. But like just go to a reputable news site. You’re so much better off if you go to, you know, whatever it is,, CNN .com, Washington Post and follow their live news updates and breaking things might be a little, it might be 20 minutes slower. It will be a little bit slower, but you are not going to get that phenomenon that, like I said, happens to everybody where you see something that is not true and then it just gets lodged in your mind and then you’re not going to be stressing about the things that you read that turn out not to even be true. So you’re going to have more of a sense of agency and control over what’s happening. And certainly don’t look at TikTok or YouTube, which I get the sense are the worst of the two. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That was our conversation with Crooked News contributor Max Fisher. And as we’ve said all week, we’ll keep you posted with verified information about this very difficult and complicated situation in the days ahead. But that is the latest for now. [music break] Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Tre’vell Anderson: We were going to tell you that the House of Representatives still does not have a speaker. But now we also have to tell you that Steve Scalise, who was narrowly nominated for the job by House Republicans yesterday, has bowed out of the race. He spent most of the day trying to convince his caucus to vote for him on the full House floor and he would have needed a yes from at least 217 Republicans to take the gavel. But despite hours of wheeling and dealing behind closed doors, Scalise was not able to convince his detractors to change their mind. Take a listen to what Texas Representative Troy Nehls told reporters outside Scalise’s office yesterday. 


[clip of Troy Nehls] It’s an impossible job, impossible. One of the members said in there, you know, I don’t think the Lord Jesus himself could get 217. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Why you got to bring him into it? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen. [laughing]


Priyanka Aribindi: What? [laughter]. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Well, as of our record time of 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, it is not clear what’s going to happen next. That, of course, is not a great look because Congress is basically in limbo. While the war between Israel and Hamas continues. And the next government shutdown deadline is also coming up on November 17th. So we need them to get their shit together soon. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Real fast. I mean, I’m still reeling from that mention of the Lord Jesus, who I don’t think would associate with any of these people personally. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Speak on it. Okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s just me. Meanwhile, a New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, was slapped with two new charges yesterday in a superseding indictment filed by a federal grand jury in Manhattan. Menendez is now accused of acting as a foreign agent for the Egyptian government. He is specifically accused of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act. And according to The New York Times, this appears to be the first time that a sitting senator has been charged under that law. And as a reminder, Menendez, his wife and three other defendants were charged with bribery and corruption just last month. All five pleaded not guilty after the initial indictment. Meanwhile, Menendez dismissed the new allegations in a statement yesterday and has continued to reject calls for him to resign, though he did step down as chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee shortly after he was first indicted. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Now to an update on two major ongoing labor strikes across the country. Starting in Tinseltown, negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the Hollywood studios have been put on pause for now at least. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, said in a statement Wednesday night that conversations with SAG-AFTRA, the Actors Union, are, quote, “no longer moving us in a productive direction.” Meanwhile, the union told its members yesterday that despite negotiating in good faith with the Studio alliance, its representatives allegedly tried to use, quote, “bullying tactics in those talks.” And we know from the WGA talks how some of those tactics kind of turned out. So I’m inclined to believe the union in this regard. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And moving on to striking autoworkers, a top Ford executive said yesterday that the company has reached its limit on what it can offer to the United Auto Workers Union or UAW. That announcement comes only a day after nearly 9000 workers in Kentucky walked off the job at Ford’s largest plant. And looking ahead, UAW President Shawn Fain yesterday turned to negotiations with Stellantis and wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, Quote, “Here’s to hoping talks at Stellantis are more productive than with Ford.” 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I am going to need better headlines on this next week. Please. This will simply not do. If you felt something shift in the world of pop music on Wednesday night, you didn’t imagine it. Lives were changed in Los Angeles when the one the only Beyoncé made an appearance at the one the only The Grove to attend the world premiere of Taylor Swift’s ERA’s tour concert movie. The two icons posed for photos on the red carpet, filmed some videos together inside the mall’s theater, and even shared an Eras themed bucket of popcorn in front of a silver screen. Taylor took to social media to post their photo ops after the event and credited Beyoncé as one of her musical inspirations, writing in an Instagram caption, quote, “She’s been a guiding light throughout my career, and the fact that she showed up tonight was like an actual fairy tale.” Many folks have pitted Beyoncé and Taylor against each other amid their respective world tours and forthcoming concert films. But we here at WAD have this message for stans on both sides. Lay down your keyboards, deactivate those burner accounts and just get your tickets for the Eras tour and the Renaissance tour movies this winter. May the Swifties live in harmony with the Beehive because we all deserve a chance to relive two of the most iconic tour experiences that this world has ever seen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Can you imagine the power that both of those hives coming together, the beehive and the I guess you call them Swifties? I don’t know what y’all call yourselves. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The Swifties. Oh, yes. That is what they call themselves.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, but like those groups coming together, like, come on. So much power. So much power. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I would not want to be on the wrong side of these two women. Because this fan base together. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m sorry. Nothing is getting past them. But anyways, I loved this so much. This was a real a real bright spot. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It is. 


Priyanka Aribindi: People coming together. They tried to, you know, pit these amazing artists almost like they were against each other. And guess what? It wasn’t real. We have more that unites us as people than divides us. I think that is a beautiful parting message here. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads. 




Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday WAD squad, and in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to bring you a conversation about language and belonging. 


Priyanka Aribindi: For many folks who identify as Latinx, speaking Spanish is really central to claiming that identity. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. Nearly three quarters of Latinx people surveyed said that they can at least carry on a conversation in Spanish. But for the other 24% who said they cannot, at least half of them said that they have been shamed by other Latinx folks because of it. So to dig a little further into the issues behind these numbers, we called up Wendy Ramirez. She is the co-founder of Spanish Sin Pena, a program that Wendy calls a community for Latinx folks who want to improve their Spanish. Sin Pena means without shame because the program also helps students overcome that stigma and to learn Spanish as a way to reconnect with their cultures and their communities. I started by asking Wendy for her reaction to this Pew study. 


Wendy Ramirez: Well, we had an interesting conversation last night with our students, and I asked them the same question. Their response was they were surprised that it wasn’t higher. That the number of people that had reported. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh. 


Wendy Ramirez: Was not higher, because obviously they themselves have felt that. And another thing they that people point out is within our own community, and I think that that’s something I’m glad that this research was done and that we’re speaking about it more now, but it’s also from other places outside of our community, also where people feel judged because there’s an expectation that they should speak Spanish based on how they look, based on their last name, based on where they grew up. And so it’s that expectation that carries really heavy, but the shaming from our own community, it’s definitely not something new. 


Priyanka Aribindi: You know, that Pew Research Report also found that while most Latinx folks in the U.S. do speak Spanish, not all do. 24% of all Latinx adults said that they can only carry a conversation in Spanish a little bit or not even at all. And the number of non Spanish speakers goes up among third or higher generation Latinos. So what are some of the reasons as to why, you know, some of these people aren’t taught or are no longer able to speak Spanish? 


Wendy Ramirez: Yeah, I mean, I think that historically there’s been a lot of reasons, obviously being punished in school for speaking Spanish. The discrimination that you face sometimes when you speak Spanish at school, the pressure to assimilate and to think that English is the way that you’re going to create a better future for yourself and for your family and wanting to just fit into that American culture. But there’s also, I think, more practical reasons, like there is no opportunity for some people to practice. They are in a household where only one parent might speak the language and that’s it. You go to school all in English, everything is in English. So the opportunities to actually keep the language, even if you learn it as a child, keep the language as you keep advancing in school, is very, very difficult. And it even for the people that intend to raise their children bilingual, it’s a very, very hard task and it takes a lot of time and resources. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, and I know that there’s a historical component to this as well. I mean, I know Spanish was actually banned in some schools at one point, which is so interesting. I I grew up like learning Spanish in school as a language, but that certainly isn’t the case for everybody and at all times. So can you tell us a little bit more about that history and when and where that was? 


Wendy Ramirez: The Southwest has a deep history in particular, because, I mean, historically, this was Mexican territory. And when it was annexed to the U.S., the language rights were supposed to be preserved. And obviously that did not happen. There was early indications where people did want to maintain, for example, all the court records, all the records in both languages. But that, again, we saw that fail. And it’s part of the discrimination that I think that we see in this country in terms of assimilate, you know, English, not just taking away people’s land, but language in a way to disempower them, in a way to keep them oppressed. That’s something that our students, they have stories of grandparents being put in closets for speaking Spanish at school, being hit for speaking Spanish. So this is not a history that is a long time ago. I mean, this is things that we still–


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Wendy Ramirez: –have elders that experienced that. And I would say that even in some places, maybe not so much in the Southwest where there’s larger Latino or Latine populations, but in other places it’s still dangerous to be speaking Spanish sometimes out in public because there is a lot of racism. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Yeah, definitely. And I just want to circle back to, you know, this role that the Spanish language plays or has in the Latinx identity. Do you feel that it’s necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Latinx? 


Wendy Ramirez: No. 100%, No. And we’ve said that from the beginning. And the study also shows that most people believe that you do not have to speak the language to identify with the culture. The other thing that you that the study also shows and the other thing that I’ve instinctively known is that while it doesn’t make you any more or less Latino or Latine, it it does connect you to your elders. It does connect you to an immigrant community. It does connect you to your family that might still be in Latin America. So it is important for those reasons, but it’s it doesn’t make you who you are. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Wendy Ramirez, co-founder of Spanish Sin Pena. If you are interested in learning more about the program or Pew’s research on this topic, we will drop some links in our show notes. Please check them out. 




Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review and tell your friends to listen. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you are into reading, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martínez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.