September 23, 2020

The U.S. enters fall with 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, and despite President Trump's "historic shanking of the coronavirus response, yesterday in Ohio, our pumpkin spice POTUS put a positive spin on things," claiming "it affects virtually nobody," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. In fact, "the coronavirus has now killed more Americans than the U.S. battle deaths from the last five wars combined," he said, deadpanning to his masked crew and non-existent live audience that "personally, I haven't been affected at all."

"Well, I think he's officially done 'up-playing' the virus," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show. "Trump said the virus 'affects virtually nobody,' then somebody in the front row sneezed and Trump hit the floor like he dropped his remote. After Trump made that comment, doctors and nurses wanted to respond, but they're currently in the middle of a 4,000-hour shift."

Meanwhile, before Trump has even chosen his Supreme Court nominee, "51 out of 53 Republicans are now on board, while the other two stick out like masks at a MAGA rally," he said. "I still can't believe we're letting Trump make that choice. He's terrible at hiring people. Everyone he's ever hired is either fired, in prison, or in Steve Bannon's case, almost both."

"We are only 42 days away from Donald Trump refusing to accept the results of an election," but he did win "the support of his least-favorite senator, Mitt Romney," for his Supreme Court push, Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live. "I wonder if the reason why they're doing this — why they're revealing themselves to be utter hypocrites — has occurred to Donald Trump. If Republicans thought he was gonna win, they'd just wait."

"Democrats still held a shred of hope that they could persuade four moderate GOP senators to show some integrity and stick to their principles — and that hope lasted almost a full day and a half," Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "Even Mitt Romney — the dad you ask when your other Republican dads say no — is going along with Mitch McConnell's plan." The Pentagon, meanwhile, spent $1 billion earmarked for COVID-19 equipment production on ship and fighter jet parts. "Why does the U.S. need more fighter jets?" he asked. "Coronavirus has killed way more Americans than any terrorist group. I bet right now ISIS is looking at COVID like, 'Damn, I know we said death to America, but you guys are extreme.'" Peter Weber

12:11 p.m.

Nearly two months after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, officials are warning a militia group may be plotting another breach.

The U.S. Capitol Police said Wednesday it has obtained intelligence "that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group" on March 4. Backers of the debunked QAnon conspiracy theory falsely believe former President Donald Trump will actually be sworn into office for a second term on March 4, despite losing the 2020 presidential election.

"Our department is working with our local, state, and federal partners to stop any threats to the Capitol," Capitol Police said. "We are taking the intelligence seriously."

Officials previously said they would "enhance our security posture and staffing for a number of days, to include March 4," due to "concerning information and intelligence" surrounding that date, ABC News reports.

This comes after the acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda Pittman, warned Congress there are militia groups who were present at the Jan. 6 riot who "want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible" when President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress for the first time. Because of this, Pittman said it's necessary for Capitol Police to "maintain its enhanced and robust security posture," including fencing and National Guard presence. The date for that address by Biden hasn't yet been decided.

House of Representatives Acting Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett has also reportedly raised concerns about March 4 threats, with CNN reporting he sent a letter to lawmakers on Wednesday warning of Capitol Police's "new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol" by a militia group on March 4 through March 6. Blodgett, CNN notes, previously told members this week there was "no indication" that any groups were coming to Washington, D.C. to protest or "commit acts of violence." Brendan Morrow

11:23 a.m.

Left-leaning and centrist news publications get fewer clicks on Facebook if they publish false stories. But far-right publications experience the opposite, nabbing nearly twice as much Facebook engagement on stories classified as misinformation.

That's according to a new study out Wednesday, as reported by Wired. The researchers at the Cybersecurity for Democracy project at New York University found that not only are far-right publications unique in that they are seemingly rewarded for posting faulty information, they are receiving by far the most engagement compared to slightly right, center, slightly left, and far-left publications in general.

Every other type of news outlet suffers a "misinformation penalty" if they share false information. The analysis found that in the far left, slightly left, and center categories, credible stories saw between two and five times as much engagement as fake news. On the far-right, however, misinformation received 426 interactions per thousand followers in an average week, while credible far-right information received only 259 engagements. "Both those engagement numbers dwarf any other category," notes Wired.

Lead researcher Laura Edelson told Wired this could demonstrate what type of information users are steered toward on Facebook, since the platform's algorithms generally try to maximize engagement. A Facebook spokesperson, however, said the report "looks mostly at how people engage with content, which should not be confused with how many people actually see it on Facebook." Even though Facebook closely guards the specifics on its recommendation algorithms, this study still "provides perhaps the most substantial evidence yet about what types of news—and fake news—perform best," writes Wired. Summer Meza

11:18 a.m.

"If digital advertising doesn't evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web," Google's director of product management for ads privacy and trust David Temkin wrote in a blog post Wednesday. That's partly (regulatory pressure is also a significant factor) why the tech giant is promising it will scrap individual user tracking after it's finished phasing out third-party tracking cookies over the next year or so, Axios reports.

The advertising industry is mostly prepared for a future entirely without third-party cookies, but Axios notes that many ad tech companies are working to implement "work-around solutions" so advertisers can still target individuals through different technologies. However, Google says it is committed to avoiding that strategy.

Still, Google isn't completely abandoning targeted advertising. The goal, The Verge reports, is "to replace the more invasive methods of old with a new one of its own design, which it calls the Privacy Sandbox." Per The Wall Street Journal, this method involves analyzing web users' browsing habits, but groups them in with other users who have similar interests, creating "cohorts" for ad targeting. Temkin also notes Google will still use first-party data to target ads on its own publishing platforms, like YouTube. Read more at Axios, The Verge, and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:13 a.m.

Germany was one of the international stars of the early response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year thanks to a renowned contact tracing system that kept infection rates low, but its vaccine rollout is not going so well. So far, the country has only administered 6.2 million doses, well below the 21 million in the United Kingdom, which began its drive a few weeks earlier, but has a smaller population.

One of the big issues is how difficult it is to sign up for an appointment in the first place, at least in some regions of the country. Reports the Financial Times, the registration portal requires 10 online steps, including a two-step authentication process. For months, the website would also only allow people to sign up for one appointment, even though two doses of the vaccines available in Germany are required for full inoculation, and if everything is booked, there's no waiting list people to notify people when more doses become available. "It's totally amateurish and incredibly inflexible," one German health official told FT.

The jumbled nature of the system is giving some Americans "flashbacks" to the highly-anticipated healthcare.gov launch in 2013, which was tainted by a variety of technical difficulties and an incomplete website design that made it challenging for people to sign up for their health insurance. Read more at The Financial Times. Tim O'Donnell

9:32 a.m.

Former Vice President Mike Pence broke his silence Wednesday with an op-ed in The Daily Signal, criticizing congressional Democrats for their voter reform push and giving new life to former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Despite being a central target of the mob that breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 because of his refusal to answer Trump's call to somehow block the Electoral College certification, Pence claimed the election was "marked by significant irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside election law." He said he shares "the concerns of millions of Americans" about its integrity, suggesting he still hasn't fully broken with Trump on the matter. For many people, the show of loyalty was baffling.

That said, Pence's op-ed didn't outright call the 2020 vote fraudulent. Rather, he framed its outcome as uncertain so he could launch into his argument about why Congress should not pass HR 1, the For the People Act, which includes measures such as required early voting and same-day voter registration in every state. Pence called the bill "an unconstitutional power grab" with the sole goal of giving "leftists a permanent, unfair, and unconstitutional advantage in our political system." Read the full op-ed at The Daily Signal. Tim O'Donnell

2:07 a.m.

At 14, Benjamin Kagan isn't old enough to get the coronavirus vaccine — but he can help those who are eligible secure appointments.

Due to a limited number of appointments, getting signed up has been hard for most people, and it's even more daunting for those who don't have access to a computer or have a slower internet connection. After making appointments for his grandparents, Kagan, a Chicago resident, was inspired last month to start Chicago Vaccine Angels, a group where volunteers secure appointments for people in need of assistance.

It hasn't been easy, the tech-savvy high schooler said. Kagan has to be on his computer at midnight, ready to get in a virtual line, and "it's incredibly complicated to navigate even for myself," he told CBS Chicago, adding, "If you're not on the ball and getting them as soon as they are released, they're gone." It's worth it, though — since launching Chicago Vaccine Angels, Kagan has helped more than 119 people, mostly seniors, get appointments. Catherine Garcia

1:35 a.m.

After interviewing 79 witnesses and reviewing numerous documents, the Department of Defense inspector general has issued a review of the time Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) spent as physician to the president, finding that Jackson made inappropriate comments about a female subordinate and drank alcohol while on trips with the president, violating policy.

CNN obtained a copy of the report on Tuesday, a day before its expected release. Jackson, who served as the top White House doctor during the Obama and Trump administrations, was elected in November to represent Texas' 13th Congressional District, and is on the House Armed Services subcommittee. The investigation into his conduct began in 2018, and the report says that the probe was "limited in scope and unproductive" because former President Donald Trump's White House counsel demanded on being present during all interviews with White House Medical Unit employees.

The report states 56 of the witnesses who worked with Jackson said they "personally experienced, saw, or heard about him yelling, screaming, cursing, or belittling subordinates." He was described as a "dictator," "control freak," and "crappy manager," and only 13 witnesses had anything positive to say about him, CNN reports.

While on trips with the president, the White House physician is not allowed to drink for 24 hours before the president's arrival until two hours after the president leaves. Witnesses said they observed Jackson drinking during two overseas trips with former President Barack Obama — in Manila in 2014 and in Bariloche, Argentina, in 2016. In Manila, witnesses said Jackson was intoxicated and made lewd comments about a female subordinate, with one person stating they also spotted him "pounding" on the door to her room while saying "I need you" and "I need you to come to my room."

In a statement, Jackson told CNN the report was politically motivated, and accused Democrats of using it "to repeat and rehash untrue attacks on my integrity." He also denied "any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty." Catherine Garcia

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