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X, Elon Musk’s social media platform formerly known as Twitter, appears to be attempting to limit it͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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September 11, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where I’m disturbed by the latest sign of American decline: We aren’t even manufacturing new con men.

Tucker Carlson delighted parts of the right last week by interviewing a man who goes by the name Larry Sinclair and has claimed for years to have had sex with Barack Obama.

I hadn’t thought about Larry Sinclair since the summer of 2008, but actually spent quite a bit of time thinking about him back then. Bear with me here. Sinclair had sued some anonymous bloggers who alleged Sinclair had been in a psychiatric institution at the time he claimed to be with Obama. The bloggers hired a media lawyer I knew to protect their anonymity, and I wound up with an eye-popping story on the guy’s “itinerant life of small-time crime and bad checks, punctuated by stretches of jail time in two states.”

Specifically, he’d been arrested a number of times for larceny, check and credit card fraud, and finally convicted in Colorado on forgery charges in 1987 and sentenced to 16 years in jail. He filed to change his name to Larry Sinclair in 1996, and aliases also included “Larye Vizcarra Avila” and “Mohammed Gahanan,” none of which he contested at the time. He volunteered to take, then managed to fail, a polygraph test. Federal marshals picked him up on an outstanding warrant after his press conference, and he vanished back into the criminal justice system.

This is the sort of attention-seeking grifter who occasionally gets his 15 minutes. He was, as Dave Portnoy tweeted, “top to bottom maybe the least trustworthy human I’ve ever laid eyes on.” Carlson, hilariously, touted the lie detector test without mentioning Sinclair had failed it.

Sinclair’s resurgence reflects a threadbare quality of current American political media. This cycle began with a Q&A in the lively Jewish magazine Tablet with one of Obama’s biographers, who had reprinted a letter in which a 21-year-old Obama wrote to his girlfriend about his “androgynous” mind and gay fantasies.

Interesting biographical grist, sure. The depressing part was the frictionless path from that snatch of a 1982 letter to a bunch of tweets to Sinclair/Avila/Gahanan (who joined Carlson in attacking me and that 2008 story toward the end of the interview, without denying any of it).

The episode reminded me of a gloomy line from Norman Cohn’s Warrant for Genocide about thesubterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics.” There are times, he wrote, “when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people.” Though to be fair, I got only a disappointing dozen mean tweets about it, suggesting Carlson’s move to X has been a bit of a bust, or at least this topic was.

And on that cheerful note, back to the day-to-day of global media, where things are going a little better than they were. Read on for scoops on X throttling the New York Times, the ongoing civil war at the Guardian, and even print deadlines. (Scoop count: 3)

Semafor will be all over the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York later this month, in person and in our energy and climate newsletter Net Zero by Tim McDonnell, which you can subscribe to here: Sign up here.

Assignment Desk
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Will the “heightened sense of urgency among hundreds of showrunners and writer-producers” speed up Hollywood labor talks?

Will Walter Isaacson’s big new Musk biography sell to his haters, his fans, and/or is there still a broad middle simply interested in him as a major figure?

How will the White House respond to Russian efforts to trade Evan Gershkovich for an assassin?

Max Tani

Twitter appears to throttle New York Times



X, Elon Musk’s social media platform formerly known as Twitter, appears to be attempting to limit its users’ access to The New York Times.

Since late July, engagement on X posts linking to the New York Times has dropped dramatically. The drop in shares and other engagement on tweets with Times links is abrupt, and is not reflected in links to similar news organizations including CNN, the Washington Post, and the BBC, according to NewsWhip’s data on 300,000 influential users of X.

The drop in engagement in Times posts seems isolated to X: NewsWhip data showed that engagement with Times links shared on Facebook remained consistent relative to other outlets.

“There was a drop off in engagement for NYT compared to the other sites in late July/early August,” NewsWhip spokesperson Benedict Nicholson told Semafor.

Times employees had already taken note of the pattern, as high-profile attempts to share Times articles failed to travel on the platform. For instance, earlier this week, former President Barack Obama shared multiple New York Times articles on X about healthcare costs, which the service said reached fewer than 900,000 and 800,000 users respectively. The number was far lower than any other post shared by the former president since X began sharing that data publicly earlier this year — for comparison, a Politico link shared by the president got nearly 13 million views.

The shift hasn’t gone unnoticed at the Times. Two newsroom higher-ups at the paper said that Times leadership was aware of the issue and was examining the root of the drop off.

A spokesperson for the paper declined to comment.

Read on for Max’s view on what this means for the news business’s shifting relationship with platforms. →

One Good Text

Kadia Goba is a politics reporter at Semafor.

Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images

The Guardian’s internal civil war over how to cover and write about gender and issues related to trans people continues to simmer.

Earlier this year, Semafor reported on the ongoing tensions within the liberal newspaper between self-described “gender critical” feminists who view advancement of trans rights as an attack on women’s rights and trans advocates over coverage of trans people and political issues.

Several weeks after the piece was published, the paper’s newly created Sex, Equality, and Equity employee group held an internal meeting for staff titled “Untangling Sex and Gender” to pitch their view of rights based on sex rather than gender.

In a recording of the hour-long meeting seen by Semafor, the group heard from several journalists, including writers Sonia Sodha and Susanna Rustin, who argued for separating trans women from other women in specific spaces and fields. The chief sports reporter laid out what he said were the advantages trans women athletes had competing in women’s sports leagues and competitions. Four gender-critical speakers also used the meeting as a place to discuss alleged harassment from trans activists over their views. The acting deputy editor of the Guardian Weekly made the case that staff who had tried to hold meetings to discuss differences between trans women and “biological women” had found those spaces “difficult to secure, and involved efforts to loudly, even violently, protest or stop the meetings taking place.”

“I’ve had attempts to try and get me kicked off charitable boards, for example, I’ve been doxxed online by people who disagree with me on this issue. I’ve had my home address published online,” Sohda said. “So it’s just an example of how toxic and polarized this debate is, how it affects people on all sides of the debate.”

No one was brought on to speak on behalf of the trans community or to rebut the arguments.

While organizers said 150 people signed up to attend and listen in to the various speakers, not everyone at the paper was thrilled. A source told Semafor that many employees in the newsroom were furious about the tenor of the meeting and the fact that it was held during the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion week, which they felt was insulting to trans people on staff.

Organizers, too, had some complaints: The group said that the paper’s management declined their requests to invite outside speakers to address the paper’s journalists.

Lawyer wanted: Last week, we reported that Fox Corp tapped Bill Burck, a board member and Quinn Emmanuel partner, to lead the search to replace the company’s powerful chief legal officer, Viet Dinh, after the company’s Dominion disaster. A source familiar with the process confirmed that Dinh has lobbied to give the job to his deputy Jeff Taylor, but waved us off Solicitors General Noel Francisco and Paul Clement as candidates.

Overexposed: The ubiquitous Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy claimed to have a CNN town hall on the books. Nope, says CNN, as Semafor first reported last week.


Press start: On Monday, the New York Times is moving up its print deadline to 5 p.m. from 8 p.m. for the paper’s first edition, producing internal grumbles. The shift is prompted by a broad decline of the printing industry that affects publishers all over the country. Due to shutdowns of a printing plant in LA, both the New York Times and the LA Times have been forced to relocate print operations for the LA area to a plant in Las Vegas, forcing the East coast paper to get the first edition of its paper in hours ahead of time in order to print for an early-morning California delivery time. Similarly, the Times will now print its papers distributed in the Buffalo-Toronto area in Canton, Ohio, adding an additional three hours of delivery time. Some on staff worry the news will sometimes be out of date by the time it reaches readers, and good luck with the late sports scores!

In a statement, Times communications EVP Danielle Rhoades Ha said that the changes would affect the first edition, but the national print edition and city edition would publish later. In a memo to staff in June, managing editor Marc Lacey and associate masthead editor Tom Jolly said that recent workflow changes should help mitigate the bumped-up deadlines.

“It’s a moment to remember that while our print subscribers place great value in the newspaper, they are just like the rest of us: They turn to the digital report to get up-to-the-minute news developments,” they said.

Unwelcome news: A Myanmar court sentenced photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike to 20 years in jail, escalating the regime’s persecution of journalists.

Doha calling: The Daily Mail is raising money in Qatar for a bid to buy The Telegraph.

Local news: The MacArthur Foundation and allies promise an eye-popping $500 million for U.S. local news, though the relationship between these grants and building sustainable news businesses remains hazy.


Off the picket line: Influencers miss out on the stability that comes from the powerful actors’ union — but the strike has allowed them “to keep working when other entertainers cannot,” the Los Angeles Times notes, with specific examples.

Rotten: Rotten Tomatoes is vital to the movie industry, but also, Vulture finds, relatively easy to corrupt.


Edit button: Twitter “CEO” Linda Yaccarino has to revise her Shabbos tweet opposing anti-semitism four times.

Publishing: Amazon will start requiring the disclosure of AI-generated content, responding to complaints from the Authors Guild.

Crypto is a good business, actually: Apple paid $5 million for the rights to Michael Lewis’ SBF book.


Brave, confusing new world: The National Football League is demanding DirecTV end a campaign in which Chiefs star Travis Kelce says viewers are “watching football wrong” because DirecTV “gives you access to every game” — when in fact you need YouTubeTV on top of DirecTV to watch the NFL.

Hot on Semafor

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  • Polls keep showing Biden and Trump tied after 91 felony charges and a string of positive headlines on jobs and inflation. Here’s why pollsters and strategists say they’re not panicking yet.
  • After many schools rushed to ban ChatGPT, some professors now say they’re not worried about it — while others are teaching with it and encouraging students to embrace it.