Damage Control
January 18, 2019

President Trump's team is finally denying that he directed his former attorney to lie to Congress — about 14 hours after the allegation was first reported.

The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement Friday, "Any suggestion — from any source — that the president counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false." Giuliani goes on to call Cohen a "criminal and a liar" and suggests he can not be trusted.

Giuliani had previously released a statement questioning Cohen's credibility, but this is the first time he has directly denied the allegations in the BuzzFeed News article and said they're false regardless of who is making them. Two White House officials had discussed the story on Fox Friday morning, first White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley and then White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, but neither of them would actually call the story false.

Although Giuliani has been criticizing Cohen in the aftermath of this bombshell report, Cohen himself wasn't actually a source for the story; BuzzFeed notes that he declined to comment. Instead, the news outlet cites two law enforcement officials, who said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has spoken to multiple witnesses and has evidence that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress and had it before Cohen even began to cooperate with him. Anthony Cormier, one of the reporters behind the story, said Friday that the suggestion that Cohen fed them the information is "f---ing bulls--t." Brendan Morrow

January 11, 2019

Green Book is struggling to recover its Oscar momentum after both its director and writer were hit with controversies days after their win at the Golden Globes.

Nick Vallelonga, the film's co-screenwriter and son of the character Viggo Mortensen plays, has issued an apology for a 2015 tweet that resurfaced Wednesday. After Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, falsely claimed he saw "thousands" of Muslims cheering on 9/11, Vallelonga tweeted in support, writing, "100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local news."

Vallelonga says he is "incredibly sorry to everyone associated with Green Book," particularly the "brilliant and kind Mahershala Ali, and all members of the Muslim faith, for the hurt I have caused" with this tweet, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

Green Book tells the story of a racist, Vallelonga's father, forming a friendship with a black man, Don Shirley, so Vallelonga also apologizes to "my late father who changed so much from Dr. Shirley's friendship and I promise this lesson is not lost on me." He concludes by promising to "do better."

This wasn't the only public relations disaster Green Book faced this week, as a news story from 1998 also resurfaced in The Cut about how director Peter Farrelly used to flash his genitals on set as a prank. He apologized for behavior he said he thought was "funny" but now makes him "cringe." Green Book was previously embroiled in controversies when Mortensen used the N-word at an event promoting the movie, which he subsequently apologized for, and when Shirley's family objected to the story's accuracy.

Green Book has been vying for an Oscar, and Vallelonga's tweet just happened to resurface during the week in which members of the Academy vote on nominations. Those nominations will be announced on Jan. 22. Brendan Morrow

April 16, 2018

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson announced Monday that the company will add training for managers on "unconscious bias," following the arrest of two black men at a store in Philadelphia.

Last Thursday, an employee called the police, saying the men were trespassing. The men reportedly asked to use the restroom, and when they were told they couldn't because they hadn't purchased anything, they refused to leave. Video of the incident shows police speaking to the men and finally handcuffing them as customers said the men didn't do anything wrong. A man, identified as real estate developer Andrew Yaffe, then walked up and said the men were waiting for him, but officers responded that the men were not complying and were under arrest for trespassing.

"Why would they be asked to leave?" Yaffe asked. "Does anybody else think this is ridiculous? It's absolute discrimination." The men were released after the district attorney's office said there was not enough evidence showing a crime had been committed. Johnson called the entire incident "reprehensible," and said he wants to meet with the men soon to personally apologize. "I'd like to have a dialogue with them and the opportunity to listen to them with compassion and empathy through the experience they went through," he added. Catherine Garcia

March 21, 2018

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told CNN on Wednesday he's "really sorry" about a data breach that affected an estimated 50 million Facebook users, acknowledging that the company has "a basic responsibility" to protect people's information, "and if we can't do that then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people."

The company is under scrutiny following the revelation that a data scientist created a personality quiz that was taken by millions of Facebook users, and their personal information and that of their friends was then secretly passed along to the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg told CNN's Laurie Segall that "anyone whose data may have been affected" will be notified by Facebook, and the platform plans on building a tool that lets users see if their information has been compromised and if they are using any apps that are "doing sketchy things."

Zuckerberg said he's "not sure we shouldn't be regulated," as there are "things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see." He's also "sure someone's trying" to use Facebook to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections, a "Version 2 of whatever the Russian effort was in 2016," and "there are going to be some new tactics that we need to make sure that we observe and get in front of." Zuckerberg would be "happy" to testify before Congress "if it's the right thing to do," he said, and when Segall asked if, knowing what he does now, he thinks "Facebook impacted the results of the 2016 election," he gave a vague response. "Oh that's — that is hard," Zuckerberg said. "You know, I think that it is — it's really hard for me to have a full assessment of that." Catherine Garcia

January 24, 2018

Top Trump administration officials made their first comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, reassuring global leaders and business executives that President Trump's "America First" agenda doesn't mean the U.S. is unwilling to work with other countries, The Washington Post reported.

"America First is not America alone," said Gary Cohn, head of Trump's National Economic Council. While members of Trump's Cabinet fight the perception that he is against free trade and globalization, they are also touting the new Republican tax cuts as evidence that Trump is making the economy stronger. Anti-capitalist demonstrators staged protests against Trump in several Swiss cities, including Davos, where he is to deliver a keynote address on Friday. Harold Maass

March 18, 2015

On Wednesday, Sigma Alpha Epsilon revealed the measures it's taking in response to a scandal at its University of Oklahoma chapter, where members of the fraternity were videotaped singing a chant filled with racist slurs. The Oklahoma chapter was shut down, and two SAE members were expelled from the school.

SAE will become the first major Greek organization in North America to hire a director of diversity and inclusion. The fraternity will also create a national, anonymous hotline for SAE members and classmates to report inappropriate behavior.

In addition, the fraternity will require all members and staff to undergo "mandatory diversity education," Time notes. SAE will also create a national advisory committee on diversity and inclusion.

"Today, I want to apologize on behalf of our fraternity for the pain this situation has caused," SAE executive director Blaine Ayers said in a statement. "The words were offensive and harmful, and we now must begin the task of seeking forgiveness and taking steps to ensure this never happens again." Meghan DeMaria

February 24, 2015

Fox News star Bill O'Reilly may or may not have a "Brian Williams problem," as Mother Jones asserts in an article questioning O'Reilly's heroic tales while covering the Falkland Islands war for CBS News. But he certainly isn't handling the accusations like Williams did.

Whereas Williams apologized for, he says, remembering his Iraq War helicopter ride incorrectly, O'Reilly told a New York Times reporter on Monday that if he deemed any of the reporter's coverage of his Falkland War stories unfair, "I am coming after you with everything I have," write Emily Steel and Ravi Somaiya in The Times. "You can take it as a threat," O'Reilly added.

The dispute now centers around whether Buenos Aires — 1,200 miles from the Falklands — was an active war zone, as O'Reilly has contended through the years in books and interviews. (Mother Jones also posted video where O'Reilly seems to suggest he was on the Falkland Islands.) O'Reilly's former CBS News colleagues and other news organizations' reporters in Argentina at the time say that no, there were protests in Buenos Aires but they weren't very violent. And there is no record of any civilians killed by government forces, as O'Reilly says he witnessed.

Fox News is standing solidly behind O'Reilly. And seeing as how Williams' apology ended — six month suspension without pay, at the least — maybe O'Reilly's counteroffensive will be more effective. Still, threatening reporters only adds fuel to a simmering fire. Peter Weber

December 18, 2014

Conservative groups at the University of Michigan are calling for communications professor and department chair Susan Douglas to resign over a partisan op-ed she penned for In These Times magazine. They say the op-ed, originally titled "It's Okay to Hate Republicans," promotes intolerance and hatred.

In the essay, now titled "We Can't All Get Along," Douglas rails against conservatives, accusing them of having "certain psychological characteristics," such as "[d]ogmatism, rigidity and intolerance of ambiguity; a need to avoid uncertainty; support for authoritarianism; a heightened sense of threat from others; and a personal need for structure," The Washington Times reports. Douglas continues:

I hate Republicans. I can't stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal "personhood." [In These Times]

A university spokesman said the views expressed in Douglas' piece are those of an individual faculty member and do not represent the school, though UM considers the freedom to "express diverse ideas and perspectives in a respectful environment and without fear of reprisal" a core value. Teresa Mull

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