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07.07.16 | 11:42 pm

11 Dallas police officers shot, five killed, by snipers during protest rally [UPDATE]

With a nation on edge over recent police shootings, tensions boiled over into tragedy yet again tonight as 11 police officers were shot, four of them killed, by two snipers during a protest rally in downtown Dallas. Gunshots rang out amid the rally, which was held to protest the police shootings this week in Louisiana and Minnesota. It ranks as one of the worst attacks on U.S. law enforcement in the last 100 years

Witnesses told CW33 that they heard 50 or more rounds fired around 9:00pm, with protesters and officers diving for cover. Several of the officers were shot in the back. One of the news outlet's photojournalists said "he saw a man walking around a black SUV, who then opened the back end, pulled out a rifle, and started firing." According to the Dallas police scanner, one suspect wearing body armor was walking back and forth on the 7th floor of the Bank of America building. 

UPDATE 12:00am: Police say they have reason to believe there may be a bomb planted by the suspects in the downtown Dallas area, according to police chief David O. Brown, who added that officers have "trapped" one of the suspects. They also released a photograph of a "person of interest" wearing camouflage—though journalists later noted that the same person was observed on video walking in the streets during the shooting incident. And police later announced that the man in camouflage had "turned himself in."

UPDATE 12:37am: Police are saying that one of the two snipers is in custody, a "person of interest" is being interviewed, and a suspicious package has been found and is being secured by the bomb squad. To secure the perimeter of the scene, all types of law enforcement officials from U.S. Marshals to Dallas game wardens have been brought in.

UPDATE 12:56am: Both suspects are now in custody, say the police. "Threat to public is over."

UPDATE 1:34am: The situation just got more dramatic. Dallas police chief David O. Brown is now saying that the department believes that there were four suspects working together. He added that it "has yet to be determined" whether the suspects were part of the protest rally. Brown said that one suspect is not cooperating and has been exchanging gunfire with officers in a downtown garage for the last 45 minutes. The suspect has been telling officers that "the end is coming" and that there are bombs placed in the garage.  The chief added that a female is in custody and that officers followed a Mercedes with two suspects with camouflage bags, who are now in custody. "It is a heartbreaking morning," said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. "We must come together and lock arms and heal the wounds that we all feel from time to time. Words matter."

The mayhem was captured on Facebook Live by Michael Bautista:

The latest updates can be found here.

07.21.17 | 8:35 pm

The record sums tech giants just spent to influence U.S. law in the Trump era, in a handy chart

As they searched for their sea legs amid the strong currents of a new administration, technology companies spent a record amount—$15.79 million—on lobbying politicians at the White House and in Congress during the second quarter of 2017.

While spending by Microsoft was down over the same three-month period in 2016, some companies' spending surged. Alphabet spent $5.9 million, up 40% over last year; Oracle spent $2.79 million, a 45% hike; Uber spent a record $430,000 in its tumultuous second quarter, a 26% climb over 2016; Palantir, cofounded by billionaire Peter Thiel, spent a record $380,000, up 46% over last year; and Apple spent $2.2 million, an almost 80% increase from last year. The big splurge contributed to a surge in lobbyist revenues during the same period.

What are they after? While the tech companies' latest public campaigns have centered around net neutrality, their objectives before the White House and Congress include responses to the president's travel ban, immigration, STEM innovation, privacy regulations, small businesses, digital terrorism, and freedom of expression, as Recode notes. Tax reform is also a major issue, as tech companies contemplate how to repatriate overseas cash. (An analysis by Moody's released this week says that five of the country's largest tech companies — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle — have a collective $512 billion in money abroad.

There are more company-specific objectives too. Amazon, for instance, also lobbied a variety of federal agencies for issues related to Wi-Fi and device accessibility, copyright reform, renewable energy tax reform, drones, cybersecurity, immigration, and autonomous vehicles. A few companies are fighting a proposal in Congress that would impose new limits on how companies tap users' data to sell ads.

Aside from advancing their business priorities, some of the companies are also likely thinking defense. Back in May 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump suggested that Amazon has a "huge antitrust problem." As the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post reports, the lobbying comes amid new regulations and penalties in Europe, while "in recent months, some in Washington have called for increased scrutiny of tech's dominant platforms." 

07.21.17 | 3:50 pm

Here are the most head-scratching quotes from Anthony Scaramucci’s first press conference

Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci has just been hired to lead the White House's communications, and the upheaval turned the news cycle to mayhem. Namely, Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced he will leave his post in August, and he will be replaced by former deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And Twitter has been abuzz with takes galore. 

At his press conference, Scaramucci talked about his new role and how everything transpired. He also said some colorful and wacky things. Here are the highlights.

 • When asked about Spicer, Scaramucci said he wished him the best and hoped the former press secretary goes on to "make a tremendous amount of money." (For reference, Fox News has already publicly not ruled out the possibility of hiring him.)

• Trump is "the most competitive person I've ever met. I've seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I've seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, standing in the key and he's hitting foul shots and swishing them, okay? He sinks three-foot putts. I don't see this guy as a guy that's ever under siege. This is a very, very competitive person."

 • On Trump's ability to work with Congress on health care: "The president has really good karma, and the world turns back to him. He's genuinely a wonderful human being, and as members of Congress get to know him better and get comfortable with him, they're going to let him lead them to do the right things for the American people."

 • Noting the media's scrutiny of the White House and his hiring, Scaramucci referenced Dave Eggers' book The Circle, "where you have to wear a police camera on you when you have private conversations." Why not. 

• At Goldman Sachs, where he and Steve Bannon both worked at separate times, Scaramucci said, "there were two great things about the culture: You subordinate yourself to your team even if you had disagreements." And you stay modest. "I want to keep my head in the game, my ego low."

• Scaramucci has said a few critical things about Trump, including that he was "a hack politician." He said that Trump "brings it up every fifteen seconds," and, addressing the camera, said, "Mr. President, if you're listening, I personally apologize for the 50th time." He also pointed a finger at the media. "That was three minutes of my life. He's never forgotten it, you've never forgotten it, and I hope that someday Mr. President, you will forget it."

• He cited Teddy Roosevelt, who said the presidency was "a bully pulpit." Trump "has a great gift at being able to control the news cycle and able to control the messaging…. I think the policies are fantastic. he's doing a phenomenal job. And we just need to get it out there a little more aggressively." 

• Of Trump's social media power, he said, "I know he's picking up about 300,000 followers a day, God bless him."

• How will he make sure he's on the same page as the President when it comes to messaging? "I think it's super important for us to let him express his personality. It has been a very successful life experience for President Trump to be President Trump. So let's let him do that… Let's see where the chips fall," and if there are differences, "we'll address that." 

 • When asked about Trump's claim that 3 million people voted illegally, the new communications head hedged: "If the President says it, let me do more research on it." He then added, "there's probably some level of truth to it."

Then he said au revoir:

[Photo: Jdarsie11 via Wikimedia Commons]

07.21.17 | 1:01 pm

Vice Media just laid off 2% of its staff in a mad dash for video and global expansion

Vice Media is joining the ranks of media companies doubling down on video content. Today it confirmed to Variety that it laid off 2% of its 3,000-person workforce. One of the teams hit hardest was Vice Sports, which cut most of its editorial staff to focus on video content. Beyond Sports, numerous other departments—including non-editorial—were affected. 

This happened while Vice—along with nearly every other media company out there—is going after big ad dollars in video. Vice is considered one of the most successful and highly valued new media companies around (just last month it raised $450 million), and yet it is not immune to this type of business insecurity. 

I wrote earlier today about how Facebook has been effectively forcing media companies to emphasize video for the last year, while simultaneously trying to prove that video is the future. This latest move shows how media companies are taking the bait, to the detriment of their staff.

07.21.17 | 12:05 pm

Report: Sean Spicer says bye-bye to the White House

A lot of internal White House intrigue is happening today. Yesterday, it was reported that Wall Street insider Anthony Scaramucci was being tapped by President Trump's administration to lead communications. Today that was confirmed

It appears not everyone is happy about it: Press Secretary Sean Spicer has quit his post, reports the New York Times. Why did Spicer quit? It's not completely clear right now, but I'm guessing some anonymous sources will fill out the narrative as today rolls on. 

07.21.17 | 11:25 am

Facebook tells us how great video is after forcing everyone to pivot to it

We're in the middle of a media bloodbath. News companies, begging for any new digital ad revenue and solid monetization footing, are cutting editorial teams in the name of a "video pivot." Why? One reason is that video is hot right now and advertisers love to spend money on new things. Another reason is that Facebook and Google, which dictate media consumption, want to emphasize video.

But while media organizations flail, Facebook wants to let marketers know that video really is the future. A new report from Facebook explains that more people are watching videos on the platform, and more people are expecting to watch video.

At first glance, this seems like a normal internal research sort of project. Upon further examination, it's a bit odd. For one, instead of focusing on how video is paying off for publishers, the report talks about how more Facebook and Instagram users are emotionally engaging with video. Which, in a sense, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Facebook has been shoving video down everyone's throats—video is everywhere on our news feeds. So it shouldn't be shocking that people are watching more video and expect to watch more of it. 

According to Facebook, people like video because it's more personal and engaging. Take this statistic:

"Those surveyed were also 1.8x more likely to say they feel inspired by mobile video on Facebook and Instagram than TV, and 1.5x more likely to say they feel excited by mobile video on Facebook and Instagram than TV."

This is all a way for Facebook to sell to marketers that video is the future, without really showing ROI. People feel "inspired" watching Facebook videos. Great! Look at how we force it upon our billions of users and then they watch it.

[Image: Facebook]

07.21.17 | 11:05 am

Excited about Disney’s immersive “Star Wars” hotel? Thank a cord-cutter

Disney's plans for an immersive Westworld-style hotel and resort that puts you inside the Star Wars universe is generating galactic buzz. The project was teased at last week's D23 Expo and will be part of a massive Star Wars-themed area set to open at Disney World. In fact, Disney has been investing like crazy in its theme parks, with large-scale projects based on Toy Story, Marvel, Tron, and others in the works. 

A few trends in Disney's business help explain why. First, its largest and most profitable segment has long been Media Networks, which raked in $7.6 billion in operating income last year. But growth is slowing in that area thanks mostly to changes in the way people watch TV. Cord-cutting is a real and growing problem for Disney-owned networks like ESPN and ABC.  


How to make up the difference? Enter Parks & Resorts, a smaller segment but increasingly vital to Disney's future. Theme-park operating income has more than doubled since 2010, even as TV profits have leveled off. So expect to see an even greater emphasis on theme parks in the years to come. The takeaway? Fire up your lightsaber and do your Star Wars cosplay with abandon. Disney needs it.  

07.21.17 | 11:00 am

It’s official: Sean Hannity is no William F. Buckley

Sean Hannity was scheduled to receive the William F. Buckley Award for Media Excellence from the Media Research Center this coming September. Now, it seems, that's no longer the case, according to CNN

The official word is that the Fox News personality is unable to receive the award because of a scheduling conflict. CNN's sources, however, have a different story. The award is named for the founder of the conservative magazine the National Review, and when Buckley's family heard Hannity was to receive the award they were reportedly aghast. His son, Christopher Buckley, was specifically shocked by the decision; the younger Buckley believes Hannity "has spent a great deal of time insulting conservative intellectuals on Twitter, particularly since he became a strong supporter of Donald Trump," CNN reports. 

For now, the official line is still that Hannity simply has a scheduling conflict. And any reports otherwise will likely be chalked up to "fake news." 

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

07.21.17 | 10:32 am

Go inside Sephora’s first-ever boutique shop on Boston’s classiest street

Sephora has worked hard to make its stores fun, exciting places to shop, which is why it has done so well with its brick-and-mortar stores, while so many other brands have struggled over the last year. But Sephora is thinking about the future since customers are increasingly choosing to shop at small, neighborhood boutiques closer to home, rather than go to big shopping centers. 

The brand is launching its first ever small-format store in Boston's historic Newbury Street. I got a sneak peek yesterday, before its grand opening today. Read my story here

07.21.17 | 9:10 am

Sprint is trolling Verizon with a fake store where you can’t actually buy things

Sprint is pushing a PR stunt today in which it opened a pop-up shop called "Twice the Price" in Queens. The hook is that the mock store is right next to a Verizon store and even uses a similar red-and-white color scheme. According to Sprint, the store is only open today and it's just for browsing, so you can't actually buy things. The idea, Sprint says, it to call attention to Verizon "hooking wireless customers across the country into paying double for four to five lines of unlimited data." 

Verizon is the bigger company, so this an example of "punching up," as they say in comedy. Still, these things can backfire. I wrote recently about a social media survey that found the majority of consumers find it annoying when brands make fun of the competition. Either way, good luck with this, Sprint.

[Image: Sprint]

07.21.17 | 7:17 am

YouTube now redirects terrorism-related searches to anti-extremist content

Google's video-sharing platform has begun redirecting users who enter specific terror- and hate-related keywords to a playlist of videos "debunking violent extremist recruiting narratives," reports Variety. YouTube is using technology developed by Jigsaw, a think tank incubator in Google's parent company, Alphabet. Right now YouTube has confirmed that a small number of specific hate- and terror-related queries will trigger the redirects, but over the next several weeks the breadth of those queries will expand to include more and in additional languages. YouTube is also using machine learning to dynamically update related search query terms.

07.21.17 | 7:05 am

An experiment in blowing up a plane prompted the U.S.’s laptop fears

New government scrutiny on the security of laptops—including a just-completed ban on laptops on flights from airports in North African and Middle Eastern countries to the U.S.—were prompted in part after a similar explosive "destroyed" an aircraft in a test near Washington, D.C.

Now that the airports have updated their screening measures, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ban is over, but as Homeland Security chief John Kelly told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, the threat remains. When it went into effect in March, a U.S. intelligence official told CBS News that the ban was initiated after an intelligence report described a terrorist plot seeking to destroy a commercial flight using explosives hidden in a laptop in a way that would be undetectable to some airport screeners. 

Intelligence officials received a wake-up call in February 2016, when an operative from Yemen-based Al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab detonated a bomb on a Daallo Airlines flight from Mogadishu, Somalia, to Djibouti. Investigators said the explosives were hidden in a part of the laptop where the DVD drive would normally be, and airport workers helped smuggle the bomb on the plane after it passed through an X-ray machine. 

In that case, however, the explosion only claimed one victim—the bomber was blown out of the airplane—and the plane was able to make an emergency landing. But if the aircraft had reached cruising altitude, the damage could have been catastrophic. 

[Photo: Unsplash user Jen Wennington]

07.21.17 | 6:58 am

Look out, Facebook, Snap just bought a startup that makes it harder to copy software

Snap has acquired the Swiss startup Strong.Codes, Bloomberg reports. Strong.Codes makes software tools that obscure code so competitors find it harder to reverse-engineer it. Snap's Snapchat app has seen strong competition from Facebook's Instagram, which has copied many of its most popular features in the past year.