August 12, 2019

Dinesh D'Souza, the conservative commentator and provocateur, was last in the news for receiving a pardon from President Trump, though he still says odd things on Fox News. Over the weekend, D'Souza tried to leverage his eight months in a federal correctional center to lend authority to the bizarre, evidently Trump-endorsed conspiracy theory that the Clintons might be responsible for Jeffrey Epstein's suicide.

Twitter wasn't having it. Some commentators said if you're going to chase conspiracy theories, the sitting president — whose Justice Department was in charge of Epstein in prison — had pretty close ties to the late alleged sex trafficker, and others said D'Souza was mostly reminding people he is a convicted felon (he pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in 2014). Some people noted that D'Souza actually survived his incarceration unharmed, undermining his case, while others pointed out that he hardly served hard time.

D'Souza conceded that point when someone dared him to admit he served time "in prison," and that didn't go well for his argument, either:

And when one replier tweeted, "It blows my mind this guy has an audience," D'Souza chose to respond again.

Twitter is no place for thin skin. Peter Weber

4:55 p.m.

Rev. Al Sharpton on Thursday delivered a stirring eulogy for George Floyd, who was killed in police custody last week, saying it's time to "stand up" in his name.

Sharpton spoke at the Minneapolis memorial service following emotional remarks from Floyd's brother, saying his death was due to a "common American criminal justice malfunction" and calling the gathering one that has become "too common."

"George Floyd's story has been the story of black folks," Sharpton said. "Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations, and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck."

"What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country," said Sharpton, but now, "it's time for us to stand up in George's name and say, 'get your knee off our necks.'"

Amid the nationwide protests over Floyd's killing, Sharpton said that "none of us" at the service condones looting or violence but noted that "there's a difference between those calling for peace and those calling for quiet," as there are some who "just want us to shut up and suffer in silence." He at one point got in a swipe at President Trump as well, referencing his recent church photo-op in which he held up a Bible — "I would like him to open that Bible," Sharpton said. Brendan Morrow

4:45 p.m.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came face to face with protesters for the first time on Thursday, and it went over about as well as you'd expect.

As protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality against black people have taken over New York City in the past week, de Blasio's response has made him neither a friend of the protesters nor the NYPD. That became clear at a memorial service for Floyd on Thursday, where de Blasio was drowned out by a booing crowd from the moment he walked onstage even after the reverend who introduced him asked for "respect."

De Blasio, who frequently seeks to align himself with progressives, hasn't actually attended any of the protests, and has repeatedly defended the police department's tactics, even saying he hasn't seen any videos of police attacking peaceful protesters. Yet members of the NYPD don't seem to be fans of de Blasio either, going so far as to doxx his daughter Chiara de Blasio when she was arrested protesting over the weekend. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:00 p.m.

Gabrielle Union has filed a discrimination complaint following her ouster from America's Got Talent.

Reports emerged last year that Union was not brought back as a judge for AGT after complaining about a toxic workplace culture and alleged racist incidents on the set; last week, NBC announced an investigation found that "concerns raised by Ms. Union had no bearing on the decision not to exercise the option on her contract."

But through her lawyer Bryan Freedman, Union just filed a complaint with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which names NBCUniversal and producers FremantleMedia and Syco, Simon Cowell's company, Variety reports. The complaint alleges Union was terminated because she refused to "silently endure the racist and misogynistic conduct on AGT," per Deadline.

Union is also reportedly now alleging that NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy tried to threaten and silence her.

"In sharp contrast to NBC's recent statement on race, what was truly an 'outrage' was the fact that Paul Telegdy, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, actually threatened Ms. Union in an attempt to silence her from telling the truth about racist actions that took place on the show," her lawyer said, per Variety. "There is no place for this type of racial bullying in the workplace, and it is going to take more than a Tweet from NBC to demonstrate that NBC intends to create an environment free from racism."

Variety notes that complaints like the one Union filed are "often precursors to lawsuits," while Deadline wrote she is "clearly moving towards either a lawsuit she now has the right to pursue or arbitration." Brendan Morrow

3:45 p.m.

PAC-MAN might be the key to munching our way through the coronavirus pandemic.

Okay, so the ghost-eating yellow blob has nothing to do with stopping a deadly virus. But a gene editing technique that borrows the video game's name could prove effective in "scrambling" COVID-19's genetic code and stopping it from growing, Science Daily reports.

Stanley Qi's bioengineering team at Stanford University started working last year to develop a way to use the CRISPR gene-editing tool to fight influenza, calling their technique "PAC-MAN." It sends a virus-killing enzyme into a virus' RNA — DNA's instructional messenger — that in turn tells the enzyme to attack the virus' genetic material.

The arrival of the novel coronavirus, with no clear cure or treatment, presented a new opportunity for PAC-MAN. "By scrambling the virus's genetic code, PAC-MAN could neutralize the coronavirus and stop it from replicating inside cells," Science Daily writes.

But there was still the dilemma of how to actually deliver the PAC-MAN technique into lung cells. So after publishing a preprint of their study on the technique, Qi's lab found the Biological Nanostructures Facility at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry. The facility focuses on using lipitoids to deliver therapies, and after a first test, the lipitoids "performed very well" at delivering the gene-scrambling treatment, Science Daily writes. Read more at Science Daily. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:43 p.m.

The publisher of The New York Times has addressed staffers' "disappointment and hurt" over a recent op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), while the editorial page editor continues to defend its publication.

The Times faced backlash on Wednesday both internally and externally after publishing an op-ed by the Republican senator titled "Send in the Troops," in which Cotton argues President Trump should send the U.S. military into cities in an "overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers." Times staffers openly rebelled against the decision, with many tweeting the same message: "Running this puts Black [New York Times] staff in danger."

A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of the Times, addressed the controversy in a note to employees on Thursday, per CNN's Oliver Darcy, writing that "for many, pride in" the Times' work has been "overshadowed by the disappointment and hurt felt" over Cotton's piece. But Sulzberger defended the decision to publish it as being made in the "spirit" of "openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with."

James Bennet, the editorial page's editor, also defended the decision, writing, "Cotton and others in power are advocating the use of the military, and I believe the public would be better equipped to push back if it heard the argument and had the chance to respond to the reasoning. Readers who might be inclined to oppose Cotton's position need to be fully aware of it, and reckon with it, if they hope to defeat it."

Cotton himself, meanwhile, is heaping praise on the Times for running his opinion, saying he's happy the editors "stood up to the woke progressive mob in their own newsroom."

According to CNN, Sulzberger's note "did not quell concerns from staffers," with one employee saying it failed to "address what many felt were factual inaccuracies in the Cotton op-ed and its incitement of violence" and was "demoralizing." Brendan Morrow

2:28 p.m.

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has a recent history lesson for President Trump.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis denounced Trump on Wednesday after his militaristic response to nationwide protesters, prompting Trump to tweet about how he fired the retired general. Except as Kelly reminded Trump in an interview with The Washington Post, that's not exactly how it went down.

"The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation," Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, told the Post. "The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused. The president tweeted a very positive tweet about Jim until he started to see on Fox News their interpretation of his letter. Then he got nasty. Jim Mattis is a honorable man."

Mattis submitted his resignation at the end of 2018 with a decisively passive aggressive letter. Trump, apparently not actually reading the letter, praised Mattis at first before actually figuring out what the defense secretary had said.

In a statement to The Atlantic, Mattis declared Trump was "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try." He then sided with protesters demanding "equal justice under law," and went so far as to compare the White House's mission under Trump to the Nazi slogan of "Divide and Conquer." Kathryn Krawczyk

1:48 p.m.

Who was the Zodiac killer? Was Homer a real person? Why did Spartacus turn back? Adding to the questions that may haunt mankind until the end of history is this: Who is the third of the three people following Ben Affleck's finsta?

On Thursday, Kelsey Weekman of In the Know stumbled upon what sure seems to be Affleck's private Instagram account (a.k.a. his "fake Instagram," or "finsta") as she was "checking to see" if he and his new girlfriend, Ana de Armas, "follow each other." While she was looking, Weekman "found a suspicious account" that de Armas followed named "Ben," which has the user name "PositiveAttitudeHunting." Hmmmmm!

But here's where things get interesting: Only two people aside from de Armas have permission to follow the private account. Fortune's Emma Hinchliffe managed to figure out that one of them is Affleck's ex, Jennifer Garner:

Which raises the question: Who is the third?! If you know, please tell Kelsey Weekman so we can all finally find some resolution. Jeva Lange

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