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June 7, 2019

Shannon Anderson takes the characters created by her students and turns them into something huggable.

Anderson teaches third grade at Van Rensselaer Elementary School in Rensselaer, Indiana, and every year, she has the kids write and illustrate their own books. "It gives them a lot of ownership and excitement," she told Today. Anderson encourages them to let their imaginations run wild, and after they turn in their work, she takes one of their drawings and sends it to a company that makes custom stuffed animals.

Anderson wants the kids to look at their stuffed animals and "see that writing is a joy," she said. As soon as they open up their gifts in class, their "instinct is to be in awe, to hug it and love on it," Anderson told Today. "It is something very special that they created. It is powerful." Watch the kids meet their characters in the video below. Catherine Garcia

1:22 p.m.

YouTube is reportedly weighing some significant changes in response to criticism that the platform is not safe for children.

The company's executives are discussing the possibility of moving all children's content from the main YouTube platform onto YouTube Kids, its separate app for children, in order "to better protect young viewers from objectionable videos," The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

This isn't the only potentially massive policy shift being discussed, as the report also says that some employees at YouTube are pushing for auto-play to be turned off of children's videos, with this being a way to prevent kids from being shown inappropriate content after watching age-appropriate content. A spokesperson for YouTube didn't deny this reporting but told the Journal that "we consider lots of ideas for improving YouTube and some remain just that — ideas." But the report notes that these changes if implemented would be "among the biggest ever for the platform," especially considering how massively popular children's videos are on YouTube. The Journal notes, however, that these potential changes are "not considered imminent."

YouTube Kids was launched in 2015 as a separate service focused on content for kids, although it has come under fire for instances in which inappropriate content made their way onto the app. Bloomberg recently reported that YouTube has tested the idea of hand-picking each video that appears on YouTube Kids in order to better filter out inappropriate content. But the company reportedly found during internal testing that "kids between seven and 12 grew bored of the limited library and went to surf regular YouTube." This Bloomberg report also includes the detail that "four people at Google privately admitted that they don't let their kids watch YouTube unsupervised and said the sentiment was widespread at the company." Brendan Morrow

12:56 p.m.

Author and essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates has a brief history lesson for Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday told reporters he didn't support reparations for descendants of former slaves, saying that "none of us currently living" are responsible for it. So in a Wednesday hearing in front of a House panel on the reparations bill HR 40, Coates provided some examples of slavery's repercussions that "extended well into the lifetime" of McConnell.

When slavery was outlawed in the U.S. more than 150 years ago, "this country could have extended its hallowed principles — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to all, regardless of color," Coates said Wednesday. But instead, "black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror" well into the mid-1900s, Coates continued. This included "the electrocution of George Stinney," a 14-year-old boy convicted in 10 minutes of murdering two white girls and exonerated 70 years after his execution, and "the blinding of Isaac Woodard," a World War II veteran beaten by police just hours after being honorably discharged.

Coates' full testimony is published at The Atlantic.

Kathryn Krawczyk

12:31 p.m.

The early reports concerning former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks' testimony before the House Judiciary Committee are in, and the word is she's been tight-lipped so far.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the panel, told reporters on Wednesday that Hicks was not answering questions about her time in the White House, which is line with directives from President Trump's lawyers. Cicilline said that the self-imposed moratorium has prevented the committee from doing its oversight work.

"She has answered some and mostly she is hiding behind the facetious claim of complete immunity about anything to do with her service about the White House," the congressman said. He added this will presumably be the beginning of litigation.

White House lawyer Pat Cipollone on Tuesday sent a letter to committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) stating that Hicks was not legally required to talk about her time in the Trump administration, a claim which Nadler rejected, responding that the committee would address "privilege and other objections" on a question-by-question basis. It appears, though, that Hicks has stuck with Cipollone's recommendation. A transcript of the hearing will be made public, but it could take several days to appear, NBC News reports. Tim O'Donnell

12:00 p.m.

Marvel has one more shot at overtaking Avatar at the box office with Avengers: Endgame.

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige on Wednesday told ComicBook.com and Screen Rant that new footage is being added to Avengers: Endgame in theaters next weekend, which will be accompanied by a "bit of a marketing push." This won't exactly be an "extended cut" but instead a version of the film "with a few new things at the end," he explained.

"If you stay and watch the movie, after the credits, there'll be a deleted scene, a little tribute, and a few surprises," Feige told Screen Rant.

Feige didn't provide any more information about the new footage. The directors of Avengers: Endgame, Joe and Anthony Russo, previously noted that they didn't cut much out of the three-hour film, estimating in an interview with Collider that about five minutes of deleted scenes would be included on the blu-ray.

This new theatrical experience seems to be a clear effort to push Avengers: Endgame past Avatar's record of highest-grossing film of all time. Endgame is currently just over $40 million short of Avatar's crown, but as it began slowing down at the box office following a record-breaking opening, most box office analysts agreed the Marvel film was now unlikely to topple James Cameron's sci-fi epic.

But could this be enough to make a difference? That will likely depend on what, exactly, the scene and the "surprises" are, although raking in another $40 million with such a minor upgrade may be challenging, especially since Endgame will be released digitally just a few weeks later. It does help that the new release will come shortly before Spider-Man: Far From Home, though, which could draw some viewers back for one last viewing before this follow-up.

Regardless of whether this bid is successful, Disney owns both Avatar and Avengers: Endgame, making the studio's place at the top of the box office charts inevitable. Brendan Morrow

11:50 a.m.

Janet Mock is striking all the poses today.

The director, producer, and writer for FX's hit series Pose is joining the Netflix team after signing a three-year multimillion-dollar contract, reports Variety. While Mock will continue to work on Ryan Murphy's Pose as a writer-director, Netflix now has exclusive access to her TV series and a first look at her upcoming feature film projects.

Mock is the first openly transgender woman to have creative control at a major content company, Variety wrote on Wednesday. In her deal with Netflix, she says will seek to highlight historically underrepresented communities often ignored by Hollywood, and employ the people that belong to them. "This is the first kind of deal of its kind for a trans person, no less a trans woman of color," says Mock in her Twitter announcement. "There's potential now, with Netflix's worldwide audience to introduce millions, hundreds of millions of viewers to trans people and showing people who may not understand us that we can tell our own stories."

Her current projects in development include a half-hour drama about post-slavery New Orleans, a college drama chronicling the life of a young trans woman, and a classic sitcom reboot, reports Variety. Watch her full announcement below. Amari Pollard

11:29 a.m.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders might not be out of the public eye for long.

While there is still a ways to go until the next Arkansas gubernatorial election in 2022, the outgoing White House press secretary is reportedly gathering steam to join the race, Politico reports.

While it's not entirely clear if Sanders is committed to the idea — she reportedly has not directly sought support and has occasionally joked in private about the possibility of running — three people who have spoken to her in recent days told Politico that she is seriously considering going all in. She would make a formidable candidate, too.

Sanders would likely be able to garner support from her the network built by her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, as well well as the one built by Arkansas Sen. John Boozman (R), whose campaign Sanders managed in 2010. That's not to mention her closeness to President Trump, who easily won Arkansas in 2016 and has already touted Sanders as a gubernatorial candidate multiple times in recent days. "She's got the Huckabee political machine, the Boozman political machine, and the Trump political machine," Roby Brock, a longtime Arkansas political reporter, told Politico.

Still, not every Republican in Arkansas is thrilled by the prospect — she has never held elected office and has also been out of the state for a while, meaning she needs to spend time reconnecting with issues Arkansas voters care about, Politico reports. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

10:50 a.m.

It's a wonder no one figured this out sooner.

Marcus Epstein has a history of associating with far-right groups and white nationalists while writing racially provocative pieces across conservative sites. Yet over the past two years, he seemingly dropped that history as he adopted the name "Mark Epstein" and wrote op-eds for The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Forbes, and other publications — and the Journal has a very odd explanation for how it happened, BuzzFeed News reports.

Epstein previously worked for former Colorado congressmember Tom Tancredo, who espoused xenophobic views himself, and founded what BuzzFeed News calls a "nativist political club" with white supremacist Richard Spencer in the mid-2000s. Under his full name, Epstein also wrote a series of provocative, race-related op-eds for the anti-immigration website VDare.

But on the Journal's website, Mark Epstein is only identified as an "antitrust attorney and freelance writer" and largely writes in opposition to big tech regulation. Epstein gets that designation because that's the way "we know Mark Epstein," the Journal said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, adding that "we are not aware that he has written under any other byline." A spokesperson for The Hill said "we would never knowingly post material from a racist writer and have no information identifying this writer as such." Forbes, meanwhile, said Epstein's byline appeared "without permission as a co-author on one of our contributor’s posts" and that it would take Epstein's post down for further review.

Epstein explained the pseudonym to BuzzFeed News as a way to "move past the media-internet driven outrage culture" surrounding his past actions, including a dismissed 2007 misdemeanor assault charge. He also said he has "never been white nationalist nor held their beliefs." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Kathryn Krawczyk

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