A weekly newsletter for Pacific Standard Premium members.
Your Five Essential Reads
A rundown of five of our most important and timely stories from the past week.
- Last week, immigration activists generated considerable attention over reports that the Department of Health and Human Services had "lost track" of over 1,500 undocumented minors in the United States. Behind the hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren, prominent voices decried two conflated issues related to immigration: One being the department's inability to account for those undocumented migrant children; the other being the separation of children from their parents at the border. While the children who sparked the campaign are unaccounted for by the department they were not, in fact, separated from their parents at the border; they had come to the U.S. alone. While separation of families at the border is being used more frequently as a means of immigration deterrence during the Trump administration, these two issues created confusion and infighting among immigrant advocates. Contributing writer Massoud Hayoun spoke to activists about the issues they are most focused on. Read the story here.
- Roseanne Barr made headlines this week for writing a racist tweet about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. ABC subsequently canceled the actress' popular show in the wake of the controversy. Senior staff writer Tom Jacobs spoke with historian Matt Delmont about why Roseanne suffered a fate so diametrically opposite to that of President Donald Trump, who has ridden controversial tweets to the highest office in the land. Read the conversation here.
- Over the past week, Trump has made good on his promises to install tariffs on certain high-tech imports from China, as well on aluminum and steel from the European Union, Canada, and Mexico. Contributing writer Dwyer Gunn breaks down why Trump's impending trade wars with valuable U.S. economic partners will hurt most Americans. Read the story here.
- Contributing writer Jimmy Tobias embedded with a group of conservationists who are working to save endangered plant species and turn California into a zero-extinction state. The California Native Plant Society is somewhat secretive about its efforts, but it's finding—and nurturing—plant species once presumed to be extinct in the wild. Read the story here.
- The National Football League announced a ban on protests of the national anthem last week. Amid the multiple responses from all sides were some particularly befuddling statements by Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi who chose to ostensibly avoid supporting demonstrations against police violence and racial injustice. Contributing writer Seth Masket looked at why many prominent liberals decided to bow out of this debate, and whether that decision betrays the fundamental principles of being a Democrat. Read the story here.
Early Access to Online Features
These stories from our June/July print issue, "Awakening the Grizzly," are available online early exclusively for PS Premium members.
Awakening the Grizzly: Grizzly bears have a rich and fraught history in the Golden State. Revered by native tribes and then hunted to extinction by settlers who came seeking riches in gold and agriculture, the bear has a firm hold on the iconography of California. For our June/July cover story, Jeremy Miller went inside the effort by conservationists to bring the iconic grizzly bear back. Read his feature, "How To Bring Back a Bear," available exclusively for premium members here.
Anatomy of a Fact: A Bear of a Fact-Check
Anatomy of a Fact is a recurring series exposing how the Pacific Standard research and fact-checking process works.
That things are always changing is one of our most trite platitudes: the very type of claim that deserves to be fact-checked wherever it appears. Nonetheless, one negotiation checkers always have to make is figuring out exactly how long accurately compiled data and figures stay relevant. The problem, or challenge, is that—far from being unimpeachable truths—facts, like milk and summer flings, have expiration dates.
To offer a salient example, about milk no less: Writing an article in 1980, it would have been correct—by no small margin—to claim that whole milk was the choice dairy beverage of Americans. That same claim written in 1990, however, would have been abjectly, and to almost the same degree, false. (It’s unlikely American palettes changed much in a decade, but in 1985 the Department of Agriculture recommended low-fat milk over whole milk, and by 1988 skim was more popular.)
This, in a roundabout way, brings us back to the grizzly, the taxonomical close cousin of milk in my somewhat strange analogy. In his cover article about efforts to reintroduce the grizzly bear to California (available here for PS Premium members), Jeremy Miller was often reporting as various research groups were compiling their data. The dominant theories of the early-to-mid 20 century bear experts—e.g. that California grizzlies were their own distinct subspecies—had long since succumbed to genetic evidence to the contrary. But theories about what California grizzlies ate, where they lived, and how they interacted with ecological systems, from literature even just five years old, were quickly becoming obsolete. For specific numbers, checking was easy: it took no more than asking, say, that the reported total number of deaths from grizzly attacks in Yellowstone history—eight—was qualified with a date—"as of March." But bigger assumptions and theories required talking to experts, often ones who weren't themselves quoted or used as sources for the piece.
The so-called "lifespan" of a fact is also subject to one final complication in our post-truth era, with our current presidential administration. Late-breaking announcements and orders that contradict prior policy could have always blindsided you as a checker, but now there's a built-in expectation they will. And not even the grizzly bear is inoculated against the rapidly changing—often inconsistent—policies of our federal government.
When Jeremy first reported his article, it seemed clear that the Trump administration would be opposed to grizzly reintroduction efforts in California should the issue ever come to their attention: In 2017, the United States Department of the Interior delisted grizzlies as an endangered species in Yellowstone; the president's proposed 2019 budget stands to cut all grant funding to states for endangered species conservation; and the conservative apparatus tends to dislike federal spending on all ecological issues (see Jimmy Tobias' story from this same issue, on saving plants species from extinction, for a good example of this). And yet, shortly before we were set to finalize the article, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced his support for grizzly reintroduction in Washington's North Cascades National Park, stunning environmentalists and conservationists. There's ample reason to doubt whether they will materially support such measures. And, even if they do, there remains good reason to doubt the administration's intentions: Shortly after the Department of the Interior delisted grizzlies from the endangered species list in Yellowstone, for example, wildlife managers in Wyoming moved to reinstate grizzly hunting. But the late-breaking announcement did necessitate a small reworking of the text which yet again demonstrates a key component of the job: A fact-check is never a static process of crossing out lines. As with smelling milk even after its printed expiration date, it demands continual recalibration as new evidence comes in.
—Ben Rowen, Associate Editor
PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
Night Calls: All I've ever wanted from a podcast was a series of listener call-ins sharing creepy anecdotes about haunted dolls. This month the universe heard my call—my night call, you might say—and delivered. The podcast Night Call, which launched in February, released a May 20th episode featuring a solid 40 minutes of discussion on doll stories and New England's scariest places. It's as good as any introduction to the ethos of the show, in which Vulture film critic Emily Yoshida, New York Times Magazine contributor Molly Lambert, and writer Tess Lynch (who has also starred in Comedy Central's Drunk History) gather to unpack their cultural obsessions. Their interests are strange, their humor sharp, their insights alternatively bold and insane—and the result is great company. It feels like an hour-long variety show where any fringe topic is game, complete with intensely detailed questions from listeners—what anime should I watch if I hate sci-fi, for example—and a theme song that sounds like it was written for a David Lynch-themed disco.
Night Call has taught me, among other things, that Las Vegas is a miserable place to be a woman during March Madness, and that the IKEA founder had ties to the Nazis. It's also hosted the only public discussion I've heard of the film Phantom Thread—which director Paul Thomas Anderson said was loosely inspired by his wife, comedian Maya Rudolph—that recognized Rudolph as a "genius," a moniker so frequently bestowed on her husband. To borrow a phase spoken by the genius herself in Bridesmaids: Yoshida, Lambert, and Lynch make for a "stone-cold pack of weirdos." Night Call is a weekly dive into that weirdo-dom, now gracing my podcast app each Monday. And thank goodness for it.
—Elena Gooray, Associate Editor
PS in the News
A look at where our stories and staff surface in the national conversation.
- Contributing writer Jared Keller's piece about how the Uniform Code of Military Justice is particularly ill-suited to ensure accountability for sexual assault offenders in our armed forces appeared in the Marshall Project's Opening Statement newsletter.
- The Aspen Institute included editorial intern Ashley Hackett's look at the schools replacing retributive justice strategies with restorative ones in their Five Best Ideas of the Day newsletter.
- Writer Gabriel Thompson, whose feature "My Brother, the White Nationalist" was in our March/April issue, appeared on Jefferson Public Radio with Nathan Damigo, whose brother became a prominent white nationalist after leaving the military and spending time in prison.
- Retraction Watch included staff writer Francie Diep's piece on what a reproducibility crisis committee found when it looked at climate science in it's Weekend Reads round-up.
- The Southern Poverty Law Center shared a Jared Keller piece on how there are no such things as "lone wolves" when it comes to mass shootings such as the one that occurred in Santa Fe in May.
- I'm afraid that this will be another way for drug companies to bypass regulations and make money off people, on drugs that might even harm them more than not, and essentially turn people into white rabbits for experimentation. —Scott Duncan Gilliam
- Are we really arguing about whether or not children deserve to be abused? Whoever's administration this took place under, its wrong. Regardless of these children's immigration status, or what their parents may have done, it’s wrong. Where has our humanity and compassion toward our fellow man gone? —Erin Kelley Loucks
- Removing this platform increases the need for foreign oil for California, while every other state is enjoying the financial benefits of cheaper oil, U.S. imports slashed by two-thirds, hundreds of thousands of new jobs and national security like we have not seen since the 1950s ... except California. Lots of states are now cutting back on windmill permits and solar permits due to degradation of the environment ... but not California. In times past, like under Moonbeam's father, California was a leader in trends, and had the best schools, best highways, and least amount of poverty. Today, California is at the bottom of all states. I think there is a pattern which is making California the least desirable place to live in the country. This act of petulance by the commission is just another nail in the coffin. —Stephen Harris
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