How Algorithms and Their Humans Distort the Truth: A Case Study in Two Atlanta Mayors: Kasim Reed and Keisha Lance Bottoms. Oh, and Vernon Jones.

To say the least, I’m not a tech person.  My husband had to coax me to use my first *ordinary* computer because, in 1988, my dear IBM dad gave me a Kremlin-suitcase-sized “portable” that displayed three blurry blue lines of text.  The device eventually overheated, blew its plug, melted the wall socket, and almost took down my house.

Some time after that and a much-needed rewiring (the computer, I like to think, was actually trying to save me), my husband literally had to design a screen that looked like a typewritten page just to pull the Penguin edition George Eliot from my whitened fists and teach me about the existence of the inter-web. I’m not humble bragging: I was honestly terrified of those internet machines, for good reasons as it turns out, reasons physical and professional and socially.

The very first thing I discovered was that I had thousands of unanswered emails through my university account, the existence of which I knew nothing.  The emails included hundreds of dollars in library late fees and increasingly angry emails from friends who believed I was “ghosting” them, even though I didn’t even know I had an email account from whence to ghost, whatever that new hell was.  I like words.  I don’t like re-learning words.  I like to use the same words over and over, the way they are meant to be used, until worn down like nubby blankets.

I will get to the Atlanta Mayor’s Race and the fast-coming fascist future soon, I promise.

To backtrack, my first experiences with computers didn’t encourage.  But soon I discovered entirely new worlds.  I could read ten newspapers before breakfast.  Then twenty.  Then even the Los Angeles Times, before it went downhill faster than any other newspaper of record.  Why was that?  I could research the Congressional Record.  If I wanted to do so, which sometimes I did, I could wake up and see which 10,000 words Lyndon Larouche had written that day about the China Belt and Road initiative.  I could read about space aliens in The Sun.  Eventually I could even read about subway muggers in the New York Post while avoiding muggers on the MARTA while bathing in what is still the single greatest newspaper in the world, the Daily Mail.

I’ve subscribed online to The New York Times for so long that my sign-in isn’t even an email and password.  They let me keep it out of sheer nostalgia, even though I only hate-read the Times these days.  One of us in this relationship is Miss Havisham, either I or the Times, though I suspect the real Miss Havisham in all of this is David Brooks.From around 1998 until 2012, I became adept enough to use the internet to search both local newspapers and federal FBI and DOJ databases to develop my very unpopular academic theory that hate crime laws are consistently and intentionally misapplied at the state level in order to achieve the federal hate crime statistics desired by powerful activist groups — and to simultaneously dis-achieve the undesirable ones.

Those were the days.  You couldn’t research any of this now because local newspapers (and the generally leftist big city Chiefs of Police) pre-classify hate crime investigations and hate crime stories to march in lock-step with the desired federal statistical outcomes — and also because the detailed federal hate crime databases I used to use have literally disappeared from view.

I stopped doing such research years ago, so when I started doing it again last year to fight Georgia’s impending hate crime law, I was shocked to see how much of the data I once relied upon had been disappeared from the internet.  For example, it’s no longer possible to pull up the exact location of the handful of sex crimes that are annually deemed “hate” sex crime and then go to local newspapers to see if any of these crimes involve biologically born-women and sex offenders being charged with sex or gender bias hate, rather than transgender victims or ethnic or race-based hate committed by white men against minority women.  Such prior crimes were never counted as hate in the first place, but it was nice to be able to show with, like, numbers that our government and politically warped DAs like California’s Carla Arranaga think rape is only a crime of hate when it’s done to a transgender man or inter-racially to a not-white-but-otherly-raced-woman, and never to some run-of-the mill white woman-born-woman raped by anyone, or a black child or woman raped by a black man.

Or, fifty of either latter type.

I sometimes wish that I had kept up my research over the past ten years, but maybe it’s better that this censorship-by-omission hit me squarely all at once.  And now that I see that the technically fascist alignment of state agencies and media platforms is a fait accompli, I’ve set out to see if I can even find stories online that were once readily accessible to even a computer dolt such as I, a decade or more ago.

I’m using Atlanta mayors as my test template.  I lived in south Atlanta from August 1988 until March 2007, and I read the local newspaper (once two newspapers, a weekly, and a few business, law, and political newsletters) every single day.  As with the New York Times, and the New York Post, and even the New York Daily News until it really sucked, I never, ever, ever missed reading the newspaper.  When I worked in the trade show industry, I pocketed when I could used Wall Street Journals (pricey), Poultry Times (oddly fascinating), Construction World, Pool and Hot Tub Alliance, Packaging World (my favorite), and, of course, Exhibitor, which wasn’t a Hustler wannabe but a newsletter for the trade show industry.

Meta.  I always take my work seriously.

Anyway, the first topic I researched was a once well-known story about Washington DC’s favorite Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance-Bottoms.  Bottoms is just a typical double-dipping big city official who pretends to work two separate jobs every week while barely showing up for one of them, but as soon as she became Joe Biden’s potential pick for first Black LadyVice President (and she is indeed much warmer than Kamala Harris, as is an Eskimo Bar, but still), it must have become important to someone to disappear all those well-known Atlanta stories about Bottoms skimming money off two full-time jobs, one as a City Councilwoman, and one running the notoriously corrupt (and THAT is saying something in Atlanta City government) Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority.

This was a big story at the time, which is only six years ago, but it has disappeared from the top of any general or specific or slightly specific search engine search now.  I assume this is the work of the nefarious algorithmic people.  I definitely remember reading about it several times, but when I searched for it now, all I could find was one story from 2015 buried way, way, way back in a fairly obscure (sorry) copy of the Maria Saporta Report.

Saporta was once one of the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s best business reporters (unlike the one I will not name who “lost” two years of pre-internet research and NLRB filings I did on an illegal union that was eventually decertified in federal court thanks in part to my testimony).   While the Biden administration was trying to bury Bottoms’ double-dipping history, they must have missed Saporta’s reporting because, while the internet is a monolith, so is deep institutional knowledge of your topic, Mr. Zuckerberg.  This, from Maria Saporta:

The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, apparently at the urging of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, has removed its executive director Violet Travis Ricks and replaced her with Atlanta City Councilperson Keisha Lance Bottoms.

At a specially-called meeting of the Authority on Tuesday, Chairman William K. Whitner – a city appointee, proposed a severance package for Ricks and the appointment of Bottoms. There were enough members for a quorum, and the proposals passed.

Not so fast, said Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves after finding out about the “unilateral” move by the Mayor and the City. …

“This clearly was not done in a transparent way,” Eaves said in a lengthy telephone conversation Friday morning. “First the removal of the current director was questionable. There was no evidence that her performace[sic] was not satisfactory.

“Then the process of finding a replacement is at best nebulous. There was no process. There was no search. The board members were in the dark. They didn’t know that Keisha Lance Bottoms was under consideration.

“Frankly a decision was made for the board by the Mayor. This was not a transparent selection process. This was a unilateral decision.” …

Eaves said there are several serious issues about having a City Council person serving AFCRA’s executive director while still being a city employee.

“You have a sitting city councilperson who is already being paid $60,000 a year being offered a position with a salary of $135,000 a year – both funded by taxpayers.” Eaves said. “That’s double-dipping, and to me that’s just wrong.”

That means Bottoms, who is considered to be one of the Mayor’s closest allies on Council, will be making a total of $195,300 a year when she starts her new job on June 1.

And Eaves is concerned about whether Bottoms can be a fair representative for the county after she echoed the mayor in criticizing Fulton County on various issues.

“She is a City of Atlanta elected official,” Eaves said. “She is being placed in an administrative position where she’s supposed to be neutral and represent the interests of the city and the county. There’s no way that I believe she’s going to be impartial to the interests of the city and county.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which first reported the news Thursday that Bottoms had been named the new executive director of the Authority[sic].

Gee, I couldn’t find any of the AJC’s reporting.  Even worse, I got to page ten of both a Google and a Duck Duck Go search before I could find a copy of Saporta’s reporting on this issue, which should have been raised while Bottoms was in the running to be the next Vice President of the United States.  And I used multiple search terms.  And while I’m a computer dolt, I am NOT a search term dolt.  In fact, it’s one of my skill sets.  I can find things nobody else can find.

I can often find things I read even decades ago because I have a Rain Man-like memory for news stories.  You know the joke about Sicilian Alzheimers?  They forget everything except the list of their enemies.

That’s me.

Mayor Bottoms has been breaking a sweat (for once) trying like heck to distance herself from former Mayor Kasim Reed, who is about to face time in the Big House, just like his predecessor Bill Campbell, or “Pecan Headed Wife Beater” as my African American mechanic used to call him as he opened can after can after can of cat food for the dozens of tiny cats who inhabited his shop while we read Soap Opera Digest and watched General Hospital every time my beloved Comet blew a hose.

Which was a lot.

I also have insect-specked hard copy of some stories about the Recreation Authority scandal involving Reed and Bottoms that I can’t find anywhere on the inter-web now.  Recently, I have gone back to printing out anything I find that’s important, something all my computer-based life form friends have found amusing for years.

But who’s laughing now?

I want to add something about John Eaves.  I don’t know him.  I am supporting his opponent, Jody Hice, for Secretary of State.  I have no doubt that Eaves and I disagree on hate crime laws.  I hope he does not stoop to the sorts of racial divisiveness that blighted John Lewis’ final years, and I say this as a 20-year constituent of Lewis who occasionally worked with him and always worked hard to make his district a better place to live — and left feeling persecuted for merely being white based on his descent into Cynthia McKinney type politics.

So.  Here’s the clincher.  I spent twenty years in Atlanta politics.  I’m terribly worried that the AJC and tech titans are colluding to disappear the negative backgrounds of grifters like Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who belongs in jail besides her political sponsor Kasim Reed, not vying for national office.  But there is a flip side to hiding the truth about public figures, and at the eve of the Republican State Convention, we need to talk about that too.

What I’m talking about is Vernon Jones.

As I said, I read the newspaper every single day I lived in Atlanta.  I also knew Vernon slightly, because I was a Democratic lobbyist at the Georgia General Assembly before I moved (very) rightward.  We had mutual friends.  His hijinks were no secret.  And they were nasty.

Yet I know that I would have known back then that he had been assigned to treatment for domestic violence through the, to me, suspect group, Men Stopping Violence.  I would have known because I was a grant writer and Executive Director of a statewide women’s coalition of 40+ groups, and I knew many media figures, and I was known to lift a pint at Manuel’s Tavern with Vernon and other legislators and many, many Democratic lobbyists.  I worked specifically in domestic violence and rape issues.  I advised the Ms. Foundation and Joe Biden’s regional directors about whom to give Violence Against Women (VAWA) funding.  I was as tapped in as a person could be to the rape and domestic violence communities, and I never, ever heard until this year that Vernon Jones was assigned to counseling at Men Stopping Violence for some actionable incident involving a gun and a woman.

Yet the Democratic-heaving (not leaning) Atlanta Journal Constitution sat on this information until Vernon became a Republican and a Trump supporter.  Let me make this clear: Vernon Jones’ record is as a terribly corrupt, unethical person, and any Republican who gets in bed with him is, as it were, taking that record with them.

People change politically.  I did.  But when you change, you have to be humble, which isn’t part of Vernon’s vocabulary.   And when you change, you have to back off for a while, learn to live differently, learn your mistakes, and decide how or if you can publicly serve a higher purpose than the one you are leaving behind.

None of this describes Vernon Jones.  Equally troubling, the Atlanta Journal Constitution did apparently not bother to report the most serious legal charges against Jones until he became a Republican a minute ago.  This disgrace lies on both the legislator and the newspaper.

But now that Vernon’s a Republican for five minutes and a Trump supporter, all journalistic coziness is off the table for him.  Here is a recent AJC story about a story I somehow don’t remember despite my long memory of politicians’ malfeasance, my long record of working with these groups, my knowing of Jones’ questionable behavior, and my working directly with the organizations involved.  It wasn’t published until May 14 of this year, by Alan Judd, in an article titled: Vying for Trump’s support, Vernon Jones faces history of misconduct toward women.

Three years before he was first elected to the Georgia General Assembly, a Doraville woman told police that Jones threatened her with a gun at her home. Jones, then 28, was arrested on a charge of pointing a pistol at another, a misdemeanor, public records show. He posted a $220 bond and was released from jail the same day.

Details of the episode are sketchy in public records. Reached by telephone last month, the woman who accused Jones declined to comment.

A magistrate judge dismissed the criminal charge but ordered Jones to attend an anger management program called Men Stopping Violence. In its promotional material, the Atlanta-based organization described its mission as helping “men change their abusive behavior.”

Journalistic censorship always runs in two directions.  Some of it covers up damning information until it becomes politically useful to the journalists disseminating it.  Some of it is suppressed if it doesn’t benefit the journalists’ cause.

This is no brief for Vernon Jones.  I think Donald Trump (whose organization asked me to work for them) and the Georgia GOP are fools to associate themselves with such a troubling character.  I think if Jones has really changed his ways, he would be making amends, not promoting himself for higher office.

Believe me, I know.  I’ve been there myself.

The moral of the story is this: we need to go back to the time when we knew things, unmitigated by the giant spinning ball that is the internet.  We need to stop falling for charlatans of all stripes.  We need to get back to the photocopier, the printer, the real record that stands the test of time.  We need institutional memory we can trust.  We need to stop the noise and start paying attention.

















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