The news cycle is dominated by scandals. It's tough to get the public to care about their mayor giving cushy construction contracts to his friends, but the moment he gets his junk stuck in the filter at the town's new pool, you've suddenly got an eye-catching detail to anchor a story about an illicit bidding process. And yet somehow, the news spent weeks reporting on these giant scandals without bothering to mention the stupidest parts.
Roger Stone, if you've had trouble keeping track of the dramatis personae of the Shakespeare-after-a-concussion tragedy that is the Trump administration, is a lobbyist and advisor who worked on the Trump campaign. As of our begrudged writing about him, he is facing a big ol' pile of criminal charges, which include witness tampering, obstruction, and lying to Congress. He also, and this is not a joke, has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back. Somehow this earned him fawning profiles in fashion magazines describing him as flamboyant instead of the more obvious descriptor of "lunatic."
But what does a man who loves tai chi, sharp neckties, and a politician who sabotaged peace talks in Vietnam do while waiting to learn his legal fate? Apparently he lectures at strip clubs before signing autographs for $25 a pop, immediately creating the most overpriced service in a room where competition for that title is fierce. Oh, and he invites fascists who have a habit of beating people up in the streets to come along.
If you can't make it to his gentlemen's club tour, you can also buy an autographed rock from his website for a mere $12.72. It's supposedly "the perfect gift for the Trump supporter, InfoWarrior or Stonetrooper," because yes, Roger Stone is both courting Alex "Sandy Hook was staged" Jones fans and comparing his own supporters to the canon fodder of a fictional space empire that goes around blowing up planets.
Stone and his fans will tell you that this is all part of his approach to politics: always be getting attention, always be generating controversy. His publicist even said that appearing at strip clubs was perfectly in character for a man who's spoken in favor of weed legalization and LGBT rights -- two things the administration he helped get elected are famously super into. But he's also desperate for money after his legal defense forced him to downgrade his lavish lifestyle, so don't be surprised if we continue to get profiles about what a master manipulator he is right before his final pre-jail appearance at a dilapidated Arby's.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, wherein it was revealed that Facebook harvested the data of millions of users for use in political advertising, was so shocking that we all swore to stop using Facebook before returning to it a week later to share a funny meme we stole from Twitter. But lost in discussions over Facebook's influence on 2016's presidential election and Brexit referendum was the fact that the site had also been asking American hospitals to share data on patients -- like their illnesses and their medication -- for a "research project."
The idea never got out of the planning stage before being killed in the wake of Facebook struggling to maintain a better public reputation than cholera, but the theory was that the site would compare its data with medical data to look for new approaches to patient care. If Facebook knew that someone about to have major heart surgery didn't have family nearby, the hospital could send a nurse to check in on them post-operation. Or researchers could look to see if there was a correlation between people undergoing heart surgery and people who liked a page called "Putting Bacon In Ice Cream Isn't Weird!!!"
In theory, it's not a terrible idea, but Facebook wasn't bothering to take a trivial little detail called "consent" into account, even after getting slammed for experimenting on the news feeds of users without bothering to inform them. They did promise super hard that they would respect privacy laws by obscuring personal information when matching their data with patient data, which sounded nice but meant essentially nothing, given that supposedly anonymous data sets are stolen by hackers seemingly every day. At best, it still felt like it'd only be a matter of time before everyone performing surgery knew that their patient was following "Erotic Anime Dog Butts."
Health policy experts called Facebook's approach to privacy "problematic," joining the experts in countless other fields who have already said the same over the years. But perhaps the best and dumbest part was that the initiative was led by a cardiologist whose LinkedIn profile said he was "leading top-secret projects." A doctor bragging about their top secret projec doesn't feel like an effort to help the public so much as a page straight out of the Umbrella Corporation's bloodstained playbook.
AT&T's 2016 offer to buy Time Warner for $108.7 billion was a huge story in the entertainment industry, and the attempt to create a gigantic media conglomerate faced a major antitrust challenge. The legal battle was resolved in AT&T's favor in February 2019, but the discussion over how the acquisition would affect everything from CNN to HBO to DC Comics overshadowed a scandal that enveloped one of Warner's most prominent executives, Kevin Tsujihara.
Tsujihara made a name for himself in 2013 by becoming the first Asian-American CEO of a major Hollywood studio, and he immediately set to work proving that he could be just as terrible as all the white men before him. A mere month after the acquisition's last legal hurdles had been cleared and what was now dubbed WarnerMedia could get to work laying people off, it came out that Tsujihara arranged for actress Charlotte Kirk to get minor roles in exchange for sex. At the time, Tsujihara was in his late 40s and married with two children, while Kirk was 19. Admittedly, leaked texts show that Tsujihara communicated like a teenager, but that's still an extremely gross disparity in age and power.
Via The Hollywood Reporter
Kirk's texts initially described Tsujihara as "not very nice" and "very pushy" when it came to soliciting sex, although they later exchanged more intimate messages that we'll spare you and your gag reflex the trouble of reading. Oh, and noted terrible human being / fellow bad texter Brett Ratner, who's had his own parade of sexual harassment allegations, got involved in finding roles for Kirk on Tsujihara's behalf, in case the whole situation wasn't already gross enough. He asked Kirk "Why are u so unappreciative?" before calling her "entitled and despicable," at which point the irony presumably overloaded his phone.
Warner initially looked like they would stand by Tsujihara before changing course and accepting his resignation. But this story of power abuse in Hollywood didn't make the same waves that previous incidents did, possibly because the news cycle was dominated by other issues, but possibly because it was hard for the public to get outraged by a scandal that tainted the legacies of 2015's Vice and 2016's How To Be Single -- movies you aren't 100% sure we didn't make up right now.
You probably heard about the ridiculous Theranos scandal, but in case you're holding out for the movie, we'll recap the basics. Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes, using only her gumption and the giant pile of money her successful and well-connected parents gave her, founded Theranos and secured $700 million from investors dazzled by her radical new invention: machines called Edisons, which required only a few drops of blood to quickly screen a patient for hundreds of diseases. This would have revolutionized modern medicine, except of course their claims were all somewhere in between wildly overstated and outright lies. The Edison didn't just not work; its results were so inaccurate that it actively threatened people's lives with false negatives.
Pretty impressive gear for a luxury coffee maker, but maybe less so as a replacement for a MRI machine.
Theranos was dissolved after a government investigation, and Holmes was hit with both a ten-year ban on conducting business and criminal charges in a still-ongoing trial. Theranos' embarrassing collapse led to a media obsession with Holmes. How had she managed to dazzle hugely influential figures and investors like Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Betsy DeVos? What did it say about the corporate world that she found success in worshiping Steve Jobs, to the point of dressing in his trademark black turtlenecks and lowering the pitch of her voice? But as journalists and business figures grappled with these challenging issues, they failed to address an equally pressing topic: Why had Holmes bought a dog and let it piss all over Theranos' carpets?
In 2017, at which point Thernos was under serious scrutiny from the FBI and the SEC, Holmes felt the need to fly across the country and adopt a nine-week-old Siberian husky. She named it Balto, after the sled dog that famously helped deliver diphtheria serum to a remote Alaskan community in the '20s, because she thought it "represented Theranos' journey." And they did both get movies made about them, so fair enough. But instead of telling people "Hey, I adopted a dog," Holmes insisted that Balto was a wolf cub. She wanted people to believe that she owned a wolf, as though that was smart or legal.
Holmes brought Balto to the Theranos office without bothering to train him, and he did his part for the ill-conceived ruse by contaminating lab samples with his hair and urinating and defecating on the carpet during meetings. And then some underappreciated assistant had to clean up the mess, which is accidentally a great metaphor for Holmes' entire career.
The college admissions scandal involves millions of dollars and hundreds of high-profile families, and it was uncovered by an exhaustive government and media investigation confirming what we already knew: If you get into Yale, Harvard, or their ilk, there's a decent chance that it has less to do with your hard work for the yearbook and more to do with your obscenely rich parents. But this self-evident reality was only confirmed to be true thanks to a brave whistleblower who, uh, was terrified of the securities charges he was facing. Sometimes heroes don't wear capes and unironically find The Wolf Of Wall Street inspirational.
Morrie Tobin, via Los Angeles Times
Morrie Tobin is a finance executive who found himself under investigation for his role in a pump and dump scheme, the sexiest of the economic crimes. He pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud for his role in artificially inflating the value of two companies without disclosing his control of them to investors (the "pump"), then selling millions of dollars' worth of shares before their overhyped value came crashing back down to reality (the "dump," or "stock ejaculation.")
For being a two-dump chump, Tobin faces 36 months on supervised release, essentially the minimum possible sentence. And that's because, while being questioned, the Yale grad felt it prudent to mention that Rudy Meredith, the women's soccer coach, had tried to solicit a bribe from him in exchange for getting his daughter admitted to the school. Tobin agreed to meet Meredith while wearing a wire, and he told Tobin he could name his daughter as a recruit to the team in exchange for $450,000. Meredith would then plead guilty to two counts of wire fraud and immediately start working with prosecutors, and the scheme continued unraveling from there. So the system ... uh, works? Try not to think about it too hard.
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