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Our Best Stuff on Donald Trump, Joe Exotic, and the Xi-Putin Summit
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Our Best Stuff on Donald Trump, Joe Exotic, and the Xi-Putin Summit

Plus: Deepfakes are here and it’s going to get crazy.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on March 4, 2023, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Hello! I hope you have had a good weekend. Did you spend it celebrating that Donald Trump was cooling his heels in a New York City jail after being arrested by the NYPD?

No, of course you didn’t. Because you’re smart and you know that Trump was not arrested last week. But more than a few people fell for images that appeared to show just that. As we noted in a fact check we published on Friday, a man named  Eliot Higgins used a tool called Midjourney, which generates images based on written commands, to create a number of photos showing Donald Trump running from and fighting with the NYPD. (And he clearly identified them as fake.)

We’ve been hearing warnings about deepfake technology for years, but the emergence of artificial intelligence tools has made it a reality a little quicker than I thought it might.

I gotta say, the timing could be better.

If we lived in a less polarized time and enjoyed a more robust and thriving media industry, deepfake photos and videos might be a harmless novelty: Create your own images of Joe Biden in jorts posing next to his Camaro, just like The Onion did for years. Make it look like your favorite team won the Super Bowl or the World Series. 

But we don’t live in such a time, and we don’t have that kind of media industry. We live in a time when people seek news and information that caters to their own beliefs. And now they have tools they can use to create such “news and information” out of whole cloth. They can create images that put political candidates in compromising positions. Deepfake audio can make it sound like they’ve said something crazy or racist or made a threat against one of our geopolitical foes. 

We have enough of a problem with disinformation already. The 2020 election and the COVID pandemic gave fact checkers more work than they could handle. And for all of the attempts by media outlets and companies like Facebook (The Dispatch is part of the social media site’s third-party fact-checking program) and Google (which highlights fact checks on Google News) to debunk and stifle the circulation of disinformation, gaining readers’ trust and convincing them of the truth has been a tough nut to crack (judging by the profanity-laced emails we get in response to some of our fact checks). 

It’s frustrating that we have to deal with a technology that makes it even easier to create and spread disinformation, but that is the task before us. We can’t just throw up our hands. Journalists need to keep reporting and publishing real news, and fact checking will become an even more important function. Collectively, the media needs to work to rebuild the public’s trust. That can take several forms—clearly labeling reporting and opinion pieces (and keeping opinions out of reported pieces) and focusing on reporting over hot takes and click bait (hmmm, sound familiar?) are two good first steps. But news consumers can do their part, too. See a video of Joe Biden threatening Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping? Check out reliable media sites to see if they are reporting it. See a friend sharing obvious fake photographs or news stories on social media? Drop them a friendly private message instead of calling them out in comments and picking a fight.

We could be in for a very wild ride—let’s do what we can to keep control of the car. Thanks for reading.

What, exactly, was wrong with a speech Donald Trump gave recently in which he said the greatest threat to the U.S. was from “the horrible U.S.A. hating people that represent us. … It’s the Marxists who would have us become a Godless nation worshipping at the altar of race, and gender, and environment”? That question was posed to Jonah by Trump adviser Stephen Miller, and luckily for us, Jonah held off on a tweetstorm and saved his bile for the G-File (🔒). Jonah acknowledges that many of the threats Trump cites—family breakdown, the decline of religion, etc.—are genuine and worrisome. ​​“But why on earth would you think Trump is the best guy to deal with any of that? Heck, why would you think he actually believes any of this stuff? The thrice-married serial adulterer who didn’t want to name his son ‘Don Jr.’ because he might turn out to be a ‘loser’? That’s the guy who really cares about the nuclear family? Really?”

“Two things can be bad at once,” has been my personal mantra for the last seven or eight years, and Nick has a prime example of that philosophy in Boiling Frogs. He’s pointed out more than once that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation of Donald Trump is problematic: Bragg is going after Trump for a years-old alleged misdemeanor that is past the statute of limitations unless Bragg can elevate it to a felony by proving it was a violation of campaign-finance law, he could lose, and whatever happens Trump can play the victim card. But does that mean that Congress should get involved? GOP Reps. Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Bryan Steil sent Bragg a letter asking for documents related to the case and they want him to testify before Congress. Nick’s not a fan: “Bragg’s case should play out without political interference to avoid mainstreaming expectations that the House will leap into action anytime some politically sensitive constituent of the majority is threatened legally. … The more that happens, the more the two parties’ respective bases will come to insist on it, the more prosecutors will begin to include it into their charging calculations, and the more some politically tapped-in miscreants will end up avoiding jail time that they deserve.”

Remember the early days of the pandemic when we were all at home with nothing to do and for some reason we decided collectively as a nation to make Tiger King the top-rated show on Netflix for a few weeks? The joke is on us, apparently, as Joseph Allen Maldonado, the Tiger King himself, is running for president in 2024. If you think he’s unworthy of our attention, Kevin notes a few parallels between Joe Exotic and a few recent occupants of the White House. “What else can you say against Joe Exotic? That he doesn’t seem to have been much of a businessman? That he went through an embarrassing bankruptcy? That he doesn’t seem always to be exactly precisely truthful when telling stories about his life and his exploits? At least he’s not a plagiarist.  What else? That he doesn’t seem to be able to remain faithful in a relationship? He has only been married twice—one fewer time than Donald Trump—and he has exactly as many ex-husbands walking the Earth as does Jill Biden.”

How did the big summit between the two dictators go? Russia didn’t get all it was hoping for, but Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping made clear that they were united in their goal to diminish the U.S-led world order. Charlotte reports that for all the open displays of warmth and friendship between the two leaders, they did not announce a peace plan to end the war in Ukraine, nor did Putin secure an agreement for Chinese military aid. But both parties blamed the West for the failure to propose a peace deal, with a Kremlin spokesman accusing the U.S. of not allowing Ukraine to agree to talks. “Though Putin may not have gotten all he wanted from this summit with Xi, analysts warn it signals their growing cooperation to oppose Western interests worldwide,” Charlotte writes.

And here’s the best of the rest.

  • As we begin to reflect on the legacy of former President Jimmy Carter, who has entered hospice care, we can expect to see plaudits for his emphasis on human rights. But Ray Takeyh notes that, while Carter’s ideals were sincere, he often cast aside human rights in the name of advancing his agenda.
  • No one was happy about paying $6 or $7 or more for a dozen eggs during late 2022, but were the high prices the result of “corporate greed,” as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other progressives suggested? Hardly. Scott Lincicome breaks it down in the latest Capitolism.
  • To hear the media tell it, Giorgia Meloni’s election as prime minister of Italy was going to introduce a new era of fascism in the country. So how’s it going six months in? Danielle Pletka argues that Meloni has governed much more like a traditional conservative than Meloni’s critics predicted, more Margaret Thatcher than Viktor Orban. 
  • While we wait to see whether Trump will be indicted, check out Price’s explainer detailing just what charges the former president might face. 
  • In Wednesday’s edition of Dispatch Politics, Andrew, David Drucker, and Audrey cover Ron Desantis’ response to the investigation of Donald Trump.  They also look into whether the GOP might be able to recruit West Virginia Gov. Justice to challenge Sen. Joe Manchinin 2024.
  • And on the pods: On Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David French tackle an important legal question: Are hush money payments to paramours campaign expenses? The duo address the same topic with Steve and Jonah on The Dispatch Podcast, where the gang keeps trying to get David canceled from his new gig at the New York Times. If you need a palate cleanser after all that talk about Trump and Stormy Daniels, check out Jonah’s Remnant conversation with author Philip K. Howard about his new book on the constitutionality of public sector unions.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.