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March 8, 2018

For fans of the truth, the results of a recent scientific study are more than a little dismaying.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that stories with false or inaccurate information spread far faster on Twitter than factually sound ones. For the study, published Thursday in the journal Science, scientists analyzed 126,000 news stories shared by 3 million people across the entire history of Twitter — from 2006, when the platform was started, until the end of 2017.

The researchers found that false news stories were about 70 percent more likely to be shared by Twitter users than true ones, Reuters reported. The study is one of the most comprehensive and wide-reaching ones so far that attempts to analyze the ways we use social media. And perhaps even more surprising than how far fake news can go is why it travels in the first place: It's "not just because of bots," said Soroush Vosoughi, the lead scientist on the study, who has been researching fake news since 2013. "It might have something to do with human nature."

That's not to say that bots bear no responsibility for the spread of fake news; in spreading specific lies and rumors, they can be quite significant. But over the decade that Twitter has been around, they don't come close to accounting for the 70 percent difference, The Atlantic reported. Instead, it's Twitter users who seem to prefer falsehoods to the truth: Even when researchers took into account various external factors, like how large of a Twitter following the source account had or whether they were verified by Twitter, fake news easily beat out the truth by a wide margin.

In the end, whatever provoked a strong emotional reaction was what people wanted to share the most. While the MIT researchers focused on Twitter, they said that their results would likely apply to Facebook and other social media platforms as well. Read more about the study at The Atlantic. Shivani Ishwar

2:18 a.m.

"It really feels that we're at a turning point in the Trump presidency — not the point where he's turning himself in, but still," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. According to a guilty plea from President Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen, Trump is essentially "an unindicted co-conspirator" in felony campaign finance violations, Colbert said. And "when he saw he was in trouble with the Justice Department, Trump immediately appealed to a higher authority, Fox News." Trump said he doesn't think he ever paid the National Enquirer to "catch and kill" a story for him and insisted the feds cut a deal with Cohen to "embarrass" him. Colbert laughed: "Well, if they're giving out deals to people who embarrass the president, you might have a chance."

"Trump also keeps insisting that the payments were totally legal and do not violate campaign finance law, despite the fact that prosecutors in his own Justice Department and independent legal experts say they did," Seth Meyers said on Late Night. When pressed by Fox News, Trump said hiring lying criminals like Cohen is something that "just happens," and Meyers disagreed: "It only happens to you. No one else accidentally hires a criminal liar who pays hush money to cover up an affair!"

"Paying people hush money is not a crime," Trevor Noah noted on The Daily Show, "but if it turns out that a presidential candidate secretly used campaign funds to hide damaging information from voters, that is a felony. And today, it's being reported that Donald Trump was actually in the room when the whole plan was hatched." Most people agree that being "implicated in a criminal conspiracy" is a really bad look for Trump, but many top Republicans are waving it away, Noah said, shaking his head. "I understand the Republicans' desire to protect their party's president, I get that. But they're pivoting so far just to defend him that they're moving away from what they said the Republican Party stands for in the first place: law and order." No one claimed that more than Trump. Noah squared the circle, in Trump voice: "That's right, folks, I am the law-and-order candidate — as in, I will break the law in order to become president." Watch below. Peter Weber

12:47 a.m.

In Wednesday's non-prosecution deal with National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., federal prosecutors said AMI admitted that in an August 2015 Trump Tower meeting with President Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen and "at least one other member of the [Trump] campaign," CEO David Pecker had agreed to "help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women." AMI subsequently made a $150,000 payment "in concert with the campaign" to one purported mistress, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, prosecutors said, and the "principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election."

In that August 2015 meeting, "the 'other member' was Trump," NBC News reports, citing "a person familiar with the matter." Trump's active participation in the meeting — and direct involvement in or knowledge of the hush payment — was reported by The Wall Street Journal in early November. Cohen has since pleaded guilty to felony campaign finance violations, purportedly committed at the direction of Trump, in connection with a separate hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Trump and his lawyers have continuously shifted their story about what happened and what Trump knew about the hush payments, with the latest iteration being Trump's insistence Thursday that he "never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," and if any laws were broken, that's on Cohen. "But if Trump is now in the room, as early as August of 2015 and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker," former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman told NBC News, "you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud."

At CNN, The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow discussed the Enquirer's "catch and kill" practices and reminded Anderson Cooper that AMI paid to bury at least one other negative story about Trump during the campaign. Peter Weber

December 13, 2018

It's so obvious, it's amazing no one thought of it sooner.

President Trump is considering his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to be his next chief of staff, HuffPost reports. That would put Kushner on the list of five possible candidates Trump said he is looking at after current Chief Of Staff John Kelly announced his departure Saturday.

Kelly spent months possibly on the outs with Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence's Chief of Staff Nick Ayers was reportedly set to take his place. But Ayers turned down the job Sunday, leaving the field wide open for a potential replacement. Longtime loyalist Newt Gingrich has been floated as a frontrunner, and now, Kushner is reportedly joining him as a contender.

Kushner has been a steady aide to Trump's tumultuous agenda, steering the president in favor of prison reform and an alliance with Saudi Arabia. His friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seemingly even stopped Trump from condemning him for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Politico also reported Wednesday that Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump had a heavy hand in choosing Trump's next right-hand man. So it's no wonder that, as sources tell HuffPost, Kushner met with Trump about the job and is touting his policy accomplishments in an effort to secure it.

The White House has denied Kushner is being considered for the job, per The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who essentially points out that this doesn't mean Kushner is out of the running. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 13, 2018

The Senate voted Thursday, 56-41, to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia's coalition in Yemen's war. Just minutes later, they unanimously voted to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, reports The Washington Post.

Both moves are major rejections of President Trump, seeing as he never wavered in his support of the kingdom despite Khashoggi's murder and apparent human rights violations against Yemeni civilians. The vote to revoke military support also called into question Trump's war powers, but will likely expire before Trump gets a chance to sign or veto it, The New York Times says, making its passage largely symbolic.

Khashoggi's October murder in Turkey's Saudi consulate set a wave of lawmakers against the president, even those who usually back Trump's policies. While Trump repeatedly refused to accept the CIA's reported findings that bin Salman directed the killing, allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vehemently countered him. As it turns out, every Republican and Democrat voted against the president Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.

The other Senate move on Thursday comes days after several humanitarian groups implored the federal government to withdraw its military support in the Yemeni civil war. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were backing efforts to fight Houthi rebels in the country, putting millions at risk of famine along the way. The House just squashed a similar resolution earlier this week to end Saudi support, the Times notes. Still, this shows there's a powerful coalition of Saudi skeptics in the Senate. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 13, 2018

We haven't reached the peak of "peak TV" just yet — and it's all because of streaming.

A report from FX found that for the first time, more scripted shows were released by streaming services this year than aired on basic cable or broadcast television, per Variety. There were a total of 495 scripted originals produced in 2018, and 160 of those debuted on streaming services. For comparison, 146 shows aired on broadcast networks like NBC and CBS, and 144 aired on basic cable channels like MTV in 2018. This all means that 32 percent of all scripted TV shows were released on streaming this year, while 30 percent aired on broadcast, 29 percent aired on basic cable, and nine percent aired on paid cable.

While streaming services saw an increase in output compared to last year, the scripted production of broadcast and basic cable both experienced a decline. Last year, basic cable made up the biggest percentage of the market, Variety reported at the time. Streaming services last year only produced 117 shows compared to 160 this year. We've certainly come a long way since 2011, when there were only six streaming shows total, The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon points out.

Overall, there were a total of 487 scripted series produced in 2017, and in 2016, there were 455 of them.

FX CEO John Landgraf in 2015 famously coined the term "peak TV," referring to an enormous and overwhelming increase in the number of scripted shows being produced in a year. But the number of originals has only continued to grow since then, as demonstrated by this annual study that his network releases every year. This study shows that the growth rate in general is slowing down a bit, but as Langraf himself said in August, the peak is still "a ways away.” Brendan Morrow

December 13, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller might be taking the Russia investigation south.

After more than a year of probing President Trump's connections to Moscow, the special counsel's office has moved into "Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics," sources tell The Daily Beast. Court filings detailing the first round of those findings are reportedly set for release early next year.

So far, Mueller's team has turned out charges against 33 different people — 26 of whom are Russian — and three Russia-based companies, per Vox. But as part of the team investigated the Trump campaign's involvement with Russia, another has reportedly been looking into any involvement with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These three countries "pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump's administration," The Daily Beast writes. The probe has reportedly found these countries sought to use social media to get Trump elected — something that's reminiscent of Russia's supposed actions.

After months of investigation, Mueller's Middle East team is just about ready to release its findings and even levy charges, sources tell The Daily Beast. These reported findings likely stem from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's cooperation with Mueller, seeing as he apparently spoke with Middle Eastern officials along with Russians.

Mueller only had authority from the Justice Department to investigate the Trump campaign's Russia ties. So Middle Eastern connections would either have to overlap with Russia, or Mueller would've needed additional authority from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to probe further, an attorney says. Read more about what Mueller could drop next at The Daily Beast. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 13, 2018

President Trump on Thursday attempted to downplay the significance of his former lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen's three year prison sentence.

In an interview with Fox News, Trump claimed that Cohen only did "very low-level work" for him and that he did "more public relations than he did law." Trump also repeated the defense he mounted on Twitter earlier in the day: that he "never directed" Cohen "to do anything wrong" and that if Cohen violated the law, that's his fault. But Trump contends the campaign finance charges against Cohen were not criminal and that they were brought "to embarrass me."

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday in part for violating campaign finance laws by arranging for the National Enquirer's publisher to "catch and kill" a woman's story about an alleged affair with Trump; the tabloid's publisher says this was done for the express purpose of protecting the Trump campaign. But Trump told Fox News that he doesn't "think" a payment was ever actually made to the National Enquirer; he can be heard in a recording discussing the payment with Cohen.

Trump's attempt to paint Cohen, who was his personal lawyer for over a decade, as a "low-level" employee brings to mind his similar dismissal of Paul Manafort after the former campaign chairman was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. "He worked for me for a very short period of time," Trump said of Manafort at the time, per Reuters.

Trump also said that he usually hires "very good people" but that in the case of Cohen, hiring him was a "mistake." Watch Trump's interview with Fox News below. Brendan Morrow

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