Fact-Checking a Facebook Executive’s Comments on Russian Interference

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Rob Goldman, vice president for ads at Facebook, posted an eight-part thread on Twitter late Friday about his company’s role in Russian disinformation — and quickly caused a firestorm.

In his messages, Mr. Goldman discussed the indictment of 13 Russians and three companies accused of carrying out a scheme to subvert the 2016 election. Facebook was frequently mentioned in the indictment as the main tech tool that the Russians had used to tilt the election in favor of Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Goldman defended Facebook in his tweets, saying that the Russian-bought ads on the social network were not primarily aimed at swaying the vote result. His posts went viral on Saturday when President Trump cited them as proof that Russia’s disinformation campaign was about something other than giving him an election victory.

We fact-checked Mr. Goldman’s eight tweets. Here’s what we found.

“We shared Russian ads with Congress, Mueller and the American people to help the public understand how the Russians abused our system.” Tweet #1

Partially true.

When the Russians’ use of Facebook to influence the 2016 election became public last year, the company said it was sharing the Russian-bought ads with Congress and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel leading the investigation.

But Facebook did not directly share the ads with the American people. Instead, the House Intelligence Committee released examples of the ads ahead of congressional hearings last November.

“I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal.” Tweet #2

Not according to the indictment.

The grand jury indictment secured by Mr. Mueller asserts that the goal of Russian operatives was to influence the 2016 election, particularly by criticizing Hillary Clinton and supporting Mr. Trump and Bernie Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination.

The Russians “engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump,” the indictment said.

Mr. Goldman later wrote in another tweet that “the Russian campaign was certainly in favor of Trump.”

“The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election.” Tweet #3

True, but here is some context.

According to figures published by Facebook last October, 44 percent of the Russian-bought ads were displayed before the 2016 election, while 56 percent were shown afterward. Mr. Goldman asserted that those figures were not published by the “mainstream media” — however, many mainstream news outlets did print those numbers, including CNN, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

“The main goal of the Russian propaganda and misinformation effort is to divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us.” Tweet #4

Not exactly.

The indictment does show that Russian operatives used social media — particularly Facebook — to try to sow division among Americans. But to reiterate, the indictment said that the Russians’ goal was to sway the 2016 election toward a particular outcome. That aim was pursued not just through ads, which Mr. Goldman focuses on, but through Facebook pages, groups and events.

“The single best demonstration of Russia’s true motives is the Houston anti-islamic protest. Americans were literally puppeted into the streets by trolls who organized both the sides of protest.” Tweet #5

This needs context.

The protests in Houston in November 2017 were among many rallies organized by Russian operatives through Facebook. While the Houston protest was anti-Islamic, as Mr. Goldman said, he failed to note that the goal in promoting the demonstration was to link Mrs. Clinton’s campaign with a pro-Islamic message.

According to the indictment secured by Mr. Mueller, there were many other examples of Russian operatives using Facebook and Instagram to organize pro-Trump rallies. At one protest, the Russian operatives paid for a cage to be built, in which an actress dressed as Mrs. Clinton posed in a prison uniform.

“The Russian campaign is ongoing. Just last week saw news that Russian spies attempted to sell a fake video of Trump with a hooker to the NSA.” Tweet #6

True.

American intelligence officials have said that Russia has continued to target the American public and that it is already meddling in the 2018 midterm elections. The New York Times also reported earlier this month on an attempt by a shadowy Russian figure to sell stolen American cyberweapons, as well as compromising material on President Trump, to the United States.

“There are easy ways to fight this. Disinformation is ineffective against a well educated citizenry. Finland, Sweden and Holland have all taught digital literacy and critical thinking about misinformation to great effect.” Tweet #7

Not exactly.

While Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands have all made efforts to teach digital literacy, those countries are still grappling with how to handle misinformation. A recent survey in Finland found that 67 percent of respondents “think fake news affects Finns’ perceptions on issues ‘a lot’ or to an ‘extreme’ degree.” Officials in Sweden and the Netherlands have also recently warned that fake news poses a threat to their governments.

“We are also taking aggressive steps to prevent this sort of meddling in the future by requiring verification of political advertisers and by making all ads on the platform visible to anyone who cares to examine them.” Tweet #8

True.

After initially dismissing concerns that it influenced the 2016 election, Facebook has announced a series of moves to prevent its future misuse. One of those steps includes verifying political advertisers through a system that combines automated and human fact checkers. The company has also said it plans to use postcards sent by regular mail to verify the identities of American political advertisers. Whether these new measures will be effective is unclear.

Sheera Frenkel covers cybersecurity from San Francisco. Previously, she spent over a decade in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent, reporting for BuzzFeed, NPR, The Times of London and McClatchy Newspapers. @sheeraf @sheeraf

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Tools of Trump’s Fixer: Payouts, Intimidation and the Tabloids

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In August of that year, Mr. Cohen learned details of a deal that American Media had struck with a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, that prevented her from going public about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen was not representing anyone in the confidential agreement, but he was apprised of it by Ms. McDougal’s lawyer, and earlier had been made aware of her attempt to tell her story by the media company, according to interviews and an email reviewed by The New York Times.

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Donald J. Trump speaking at a Miss Universe book party in 2006. Credit Gabriela Maj/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

Two months later, Mr. Cohen played a direct role in a similar deal involving an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, who once said she had had an affair with Mr. Trump. Last week, Mr. Cohen said he used his own money for the $130,000 payment to her, which has prompted a complaint alleging that Mr. Cohen violated campaign finance regulations. Legal experts also have noted that the payment on behalf of his client may have violated New York’s ethics rules.

Mr. Cohen, who is still described as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer although he is no longer on the Trump Organization payroll, has denied any wrongdoing and insists the arrangement was legal. In an interview, he disputed details of some of his other activities that were described to The Times. But he has never shied away from his role as Mr. Trump’s loyal defender. “It is not like I just work for Mr. Trump,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview in 2016. “I am his friend, and I would do just about anything for him and also his family.”

An examination of the efforts to shield Mr. Trump from aspects of his own past shows how Mr. Cohen maneuvered in the pay-to-play gossip world — populated by porn stars and centerfold models, tabloid editors and lawyers with B- and C-list entertainment clients — that came to unusual prominence in an American presidential election.

Mr. Cohen exploited mutual-self interest. By heading off trouble involving Mr. Trump’s history with women, he accrued loyalty points, the ultimate currency with Mr. Trump. He dealt with lawyers who could win fat cuts of any settlements women might reach with American Media or with Mr. Trump.

At least two women got money and, in Ms. McDougal’s case, a promise of favorable attention in American Media publications, which include The National Enquirer, Star, Us Weekly and Radar. Mr. Trump, of course, benefited the most: avoiding more scrutiny as he struggled to dismiss multiple allegations of groping and unwanted advances that arose during the campaign.

One American Media executive, in a 2016 interview, said that the priority was that nothing embarrassing come out. But in the gossip economy, secrets last only as long as the incentives to keep them do.

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David J. Pecker, chairman of American Media Inc., a tabloid news company that has bought and buried unflattering material about his high-profile friends and allies. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Risqué Photos

It was July 2015 when Mr. Cohen received a phone call from Jeremy Frommer, a hedge-fund manager turned digital entrepreneur, who had obtained photos of Mr. Trump appearing to autograph the breasts of a topless woman from the estate of Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse magazine. Mr. Cohen was not pleased.

“He was in a rage,” Mr. Frommer said in an interview. “He’s like, ‘If you show those photos, I’m gonna take you down.’”

It was the rough talk of a Long Island native who started his career juggling work as a personal injury lawyer and taxi fleet manager and met Mr. Trump after acquiring units in Trump buildings.

After Mr. Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006, the role that Mr. Trump wanted him to play was clear: a combination of aggressive spokesman and lieutenant who would take on the real estate mogul’s antagonists. It was a job Roy Cohn, a New York lawyer best known for advising Senator Joseph McCarthy, had done decades earlier for Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen’s work for his boss was often a mystery even to others in his office, but his devotion was clear.

In talking with Mr. Cohen, Mr. Frommer mentioned Mr. Pecker. Years earlier, Mr. Frommer had sold American Media the exclusive rights to a suggestive photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger — which it did not publish — and he knew the company’s chief executive.

Mr. Frommer recalled Mr. Cohen’s saying, “Yeah, I know Pecker.” Mr. Frommer added, “That’s where the conversation calmed down.”

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Mr. Trump with Jill Harth, a former business partner who accused him of groping and other sexual misconduct. Credit George Houraney

Mr. Pecker and Mr. Trump, a staple of the American gossip media since the 1980s, have a friendship that goes back decades. The relationship benefited Mr. Trump throughout the campaign as The Enquirer lionized him and hammered rivals like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and, finally, Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Cohen formed his own bond with Mr. Pecker, keeping in touch with him and Dylan Howard, a top executive, throughout the campaign.

American Media acknowledged those ties, saying in a statement, “Michael Cohen and President Trump have been personal friends of Mr. Pecker’s for decades.” But, it said, neither of them “nor any other individual has attempted to, or ever, influenced (or will ever influence) coverage at A.M.I.’s publications. Period.”

After the initial blowup, Mr. Frommer said, he and Mr. Cohen quickly agreed that Mr. Frommer would take the Trump photos to Mr. Pecker. The men soon began discussing potential business deals, including an interview with Mr. Trump as part of a joint project between American Media and Mr. Frommer’s company, Jerrick Media, according to text messages and emails reviewed by The Times.

“Spoke to Cohen we are set. Well done!” Mr. Pecker told Mr. Frommer in a July 2015 text exchange.

Two months later, when Mr. Frommer expressed doubt that the Trump interview would take place, Mr. Cohen responded in an Oct. 5 email: “No no … relax. I am on it and will make it happen.”

Mr. Frommer said he had assured Mr. Cohen at the time that he wouldn’t make the photos public — “I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to publish them’” — but that the decision had nothing to do with the business talks.

In the end, American Media concluded that the photos were of little value. The interview and the deals never materialized for Mr. Frommer, who went on to publish one of the Trump photos on his own website.

American Media said in a statement that it had no interest in suppressing the photographs. But in early 2016, an American Media executive, speaking only on condition of anonymity in discussing internal company thinking, said that when the negotiations between A.M.I. and Mr. Frommer began, they were intended to suppress the photos, part of broader efforts by American Media to “catch and kill” information that would damage Mr. Trump.

In an interview Friday, Mr. Cohen acknowledged directing Mr. Frommer to A.M.I., but said he did so not because of photographs of Mr. Trump but for other photos of “another notable individual that I had no interest in seeing or wanting.”

Back then, however, Mr. Cohen acknowledged that he had been eager to keep the photos hidden. “Mr. Trump has a family,” he said. “I felt like I had to protect his family.”

A Playmate’s Story

For Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump, American Media was more than a company they could rely on for friendly coverage. It was also where people looking to sell potentially damaging information about Mr. Trump were likely to turn.

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Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, claimed to have had a consensual affair with Mr. Trump while he was married. Credit Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

In the summer of 2016, American Media came to Mr. Cohen with a story involving Ms. McDougal, the former Playboy Playmate. She claimed to have had a consensual affair with Mr. Trump in the mid-2000s, early in his marriage to Melania Trump. Mr. Trump denies an affair.

Ms. McDougal had retained Keith Davidson, a Hollywood lawyer, who reached out to contacts at American Media. After negotiating on and off for a couple of months, A.M.I. agreed to give Ms. McDougal $150,000 for the exclusive rights to her story, along with promises of publicity and marketing opportunities through its fitness magazines. The contract did not identify Mr. Trump, but required her to keep quiet about any relationship with a married man.

A.M.I. had shared her allegations with Mr. Cohen, though it said it did so only as it worked to corroborate her claims, which it said it ultimately could not do. But that was not the only heads-up Mr. Cohen received.

Soon after Ms. McDougal signed the confidential agreement on Aug. 5, 2016, Mr. Davidson emailed Mr. Cohen, “Michael, please give me a call at your convenience.” Mr. Davidson followed up by explaining to Mr. Cohen over the phone that the McDougal transaction had been completed, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Mr. Cohen said, “I don’t recall those communications.”

Mr. Davidson acknowledged the public’s interest in Ms. Clifford’s and Ms. McDougal’s stories, but said that he was “not at liberty to discuss private client information.”

In the months after Ms. McDougal’s agreement with A.M.I., Mr. Trump’s relationships with women drew more scrutiny on the campaign trail. The release of an audio recording that captured the candidate bragging about grabbing women’s genitals inspired numerous women to step forward with allegations that he had groped or kissed them against their will.

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Keith Davidson, a Hollywood lawyer retained by Ms. McDougal, reached out to contacts at American Media to offer to sell her story.

According to people in contact with her at the time, Ms. McDougal expressed frustration with what she viewed as foot-dragging by A.M.I. in fulfilling commitments made in her contract and with Mr. Davidson’s lackluster response to her. She reached out to a prominent First Amendment lawyer, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who had made a public pledge in October 2016 to defend anyone threatened with legal action by Mr. Trump for making allegations against him. Mr. Boutrous briefly represented Ms. McDougal, focusing primarily on her restrictive contract with A.M.I., which in late November 2016 agreed she could respond to “legitimate” press inquiries about the alleged affair.

Ms. McDougal’s story eventually became public, in a Wall Street Journal article published days before the election. The New Yorker published new details, including an interview with her, last week.

Quelling a Storm

Over the years Mr. Cohen had come to know Ms. McDougal’s lawyer, Mr. Davidson, well enough that when New York magazine profiled Mr. Davidson last week, Mr. Cohen offered an enthusiastic endorsement: “He has always been professional, ethical and a true gentleman.” (The California State Bar suspended Mr. Davidson’s law license for 90 days in 2010, for four counts of misconduct.)

Mr. Davidson’s client list had included the professional athletes Jalen Rose and Manny Pacquiao, as well as gossip-page regulars who placed him in the middle of the sex-tape cases of the “Austin Powers” actor Verne Troyer, the wrestler Hulk Hogan and the onetime Playboy model and MTV host Tila Tequila. He was a natural choice for Stormy Daniels when she sought to sell her own Trump story.

She was alleging that she had had a consensual sexual relationship with Mr. Trump after they met at a celebrity golf tournament about 10 years earlier (Mr. Trump denies her claims).

Just two months after Ms. McDougal’s story was effectively muted by her contract with American Media, Mr. Davidson set about brokering the silence of the adult film actress. This time, the negotiator on the other end of the transaction was Mr. Cohen.

The actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, agreed to a $130,000 settlement in mid-October 2016 in exchange for keeping quiet, according to contracts seen by The Times and people familiar with the matter. To make the payment, Mr. Cohen created a Delaware limited liability company called Essential Consultants, news of which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal last month, and he claimed in a statement first released to The Times last week that the money came from his own pocket.

Ms. Clifford has suggested in recent days that she believes Mr. Cohen has breached that agreement and that she is preparing to speak out. In 2011, she had told her story about Mr. Trump to two gossip publications. One of them, In Touch magazine, did not publish the story after Mr. Cohen warned that he would pursue aggressive legal action, The Associated Press reported last month.

The other outlet, The Dirty, took down a brief story after Mr. Davidson threatened legal action just a day after his client had provided information to the website, according to Nik Richie, The Dirty’s founder, and a letter seen by The Times.

After the deal between Ms. McDougal and A.M.I. was completed, Mr. Davidson regularly exchanged emails, text messages and calls with Mr. Cohen, according to people familiar with the contacts, including last week, when Mr. Davidson publicly bolstered Mr. Cohen’s statement that he had paid Ms. Clifford himself.

Mr. Cohen went on to steer a new client to Mr. Davidson, Chuck LaBella, a former NBC executive who worked closely with Mr. Trump on “The Apprentice” and the “Miss USA” pageant. Mr. LaBella had become the object of an intense Twitter campaign — led by the comedian and ardent Trump critic Tom Arnold — calling upon him to share anything he might know about misbehavior by Mr. Trump. He became a client of Mr. Davidson last fall, according to people familiar the arrangement.

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The Week Ahead: A Short Market Week, Walmart Earnings and Warren Buffett’s Letter

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Here’s what to expect in the week ahead:

MARKETS

Markets will be closed for Presidents’ Day.

In observance of Presidents’ Day, financial markets and most banks in the United States will be closed on Monday. The holiday, established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, is now generally viewed as a day to celebrate all United States presidents. For most Americans, though, the day has become an occasion to hit the stores for sales over the long weekend. Mathew Brownstein

ECONOMY

The European Central Bank picks a new vice president.

Finance ministers from the eurozone, meeting in Brussels, are expected on Monday to recommend a replacement for Vítor Constâncio, the vice president of the European Central Bank, whose term expires at the end of May. The only two candidates are Luis de Guindos, the economics minister of Spain, who is the favorite; and Philip Lane, the governor of Ireland’s central bank. The selection of a new vice president is the first in a series of major personnel decisions that could alter the character of the central bank. The culmination will be the choice of a successor to Mario Draghi, the president, whose term expires in October 2019. Jack Ewing

RETAIL

Walmart’s earnings may show the strength of e-commerce.

Walmart reports its fourth quarter earnings on Tuesday. Analysts will bee looking for signs that the nation’s largest retailer can continue to build out its e-commerce business without greatly eroding profits. Walmart is also expected to release details on its sales from the holidays, which were strong for many retailers. Michael Corkery

BANKING

Big British banks will report earnings.

Investors will be focused on British banks as that nation’s largest lenders are scheduled report their fourth-quarter results, including HSBC on Tuesday, Lloyds Banking Group on Wednesday, Barclays on Thursday and Royal Bank of Scotland on Friday.

Several of Europe’s biggest banks have taken large charges in the fourth quarter as they have been hit by changing tax laws, particularly in the United States. Last week, Credit Suisse reported a fourth-quarter loss of 2.13 billion francs, or about $2.3 billion, driven primarily by 2.23 billion francs in income tax expenses as a result of tax changes in the United States. Chad Bray

ECONOMY

The Fed will release details about its January meeting.

The Federal Reserve spent much of last year debating whether inflation was rising too slowly. New year, new problem: A federal tax cut took effect in January, the unemployment rate is just 4.1 percent and investors are now worried that inflation might start rising too quickly. That, in turn, could prompt the Fed to accelerate the upward drift of its benchmark interest rate. So far, there’s no sign that the Fed has adjusted its plans. The central bank, as expected, left the benchmark rate unchanged at its first meeting of the year, in late January. It will publish an account of that meeting on Wednesday, providing at least a little more information about its outlook and its plans for the coming year. Binyamin Appelbaum

The E.C.B. sheds light on the eurozone economy.

The European Central Bank will publish on Thursday an account of the discussion that took place last month when its Governing Council met to decide monetary policy. Investors and analysts will dissect the minutes for clues about how fast the central bank will wind down its stimulus to the eurozone economy. Interest in the European Central Bank’s intentions is particularly acute. One of the main things causing turmoil in global stock markets recently is uncertainty about how soon central banks will bring an end to the easy credit that has prevailed for the decade since the financial crisis. Jack Ewing

AUTO INDUSTRY

Diesel may have a day of reckoning in Germany.

Germany’s highest administrative court, based in Leipzig, will hear arguments on Thursday — and may issue a ruling — on whether cities should be forced to take stronger action to address auto emissions. That could include bans on diesel cars. An environmental group filed the suit arguing that measures taken so far by Düsseldorf and Stuttgart are inadequate, exposing citizens to nitrogen oxide emissions that regularly exceed legal limits. A ruling against the cities would have far-reaching effects in Germany, where many urban areas suffer from excess pollution that comes mainly from diesels. Jack Ewing

INSURANCE

Warren Buffett sends his annual letter.

Warren Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders has become one of corporate America’s most combed-over dispatches. For more than 50 years, Mr. Buffett’s letter has not just expounded on the conglomerate’s performance but also dispensed investment advice, folksy wisdom and a few corny jokes. The latest missive arrives on Saturday. Last year, Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance business was hit by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and an earthquake in Mexico. The company also made another bet on the United States economy with its purchase of a nearly 40 percent stake in Pilot Travel Centers, a truck stop operator. But investors will also be looking for any further discussion of succession after Berkshire Hathaway promoted Gregory Abel and Ajit Jain to oversee the company’s many and varied businesses. Stephen Grocer

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B2 of the New York edition with the headline: Walmart Earnings; Warren Buffett’s Letter. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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Spending Bill Sets Path to Fix a Looming Pension Crisis

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WASHINGTON — The sprawling agreement to boost government spending reached by Republicans and Democrats this month quietly included a step toward defusing what could be a financial time bomb for 1.5 million retirees and hundreds of companies in the industrial Midwest and the South.

The deal creates a select congressional committee to craft what could effectively be a federal rescue of as many as 200 so-called “multiemployer” pension plans — in which employers and labor unions band together to provide retirement benefits to employees.

Many of these plans are hurtling toward insolvency in the coming decade, with benefits owed to retirees projected to swamp what the plans can afford to pay. The 16-member, bipartisan committee will have to come up with a solution and legislation by the end of November, which the full Senate would need to vote on by the end of the year.

Select congressional committees have long struggled to produce results, like one during the Barack Obama administration meant to reduce the growth of the national debt. This committee’s work will be complicated by disagreements over whether companies, retirees or taxpayers should bear the brunt of the cost for shoring up pension plans that would otherwise run out of money.

“A solution that works is going to be challenging for all parties, and that’s going to make it hard to get political buy-in,” said Aliya Wong, the executive director of retirement policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has pushed Congress to solve the multiemployer pension problem. “The biggest issue is, where do you get the money from? Every source seems to be tapped out.”

Pension plans across the nation are facing shortfalls, with both corporate plans and those for public employees like teachers and firefighters owing more to retirees than the investment funds can possibly pay. But the looming collapse of the multiemployer pension system is significant given the sheer number of people affected and the potential for a devastating economic ripple effect: retirees losing the pension checks that keep them afloat and a potential wave of bankruptcies among the companies that once employed those workers.

The situation has been brewing since the 2008 financial crisis, as investments plummeted, leaving many plans in the red. The slow economic recovery and recent stock market rally have not been sufficient to reinvigorate the plans, which are jointly funded by labor unions and employers whose workers participate in them.

According to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, the nation’s 1,400 multiemployer plans are facing a $553 billion “hole” of unfunded liabilities, meaning they don’t have sufficient assets to cover what they owe workers. About a fourth of these plans are in the so-called “red zone,” where insolvency is more imminent, potentially within the next 10 to 20 years. Most of the participants in these plans work in the transportation, services and manufacturing industries. Their employers, many of which have been trying to withdraw from the plans, include companies like United Parcel Service and Kroger.

U.P.S. said in 2016 that it could be responsible for nearly $4 billion in benefits payments if the Central States Pension Fund, the largest multiemployer plan facing insolvency, slashes benefits to retirees or becomes insolvent. In the past year, U.P.S., which participates in more than two dozen pension plans, has been working with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to help develop pension legislation. It has also offered its own proposals.

“We want the system stabilized and fixed in the long term because we’re in so many plans and we have a lot of employees in the plans,” said Chris Langan, vice president of finance at U.P.S. “It’s something that is not wise to wait on.”

Now, Congress must decide whether to rescue these funds with low-cost loans, force them to cut benefit payments or let the funds go bankrupt and wipe out retirees’ entire pensions.

Ms. Wong and other advocates of congressional action say they are optimistic that the committee can achieve rare bipartisan success. Members of Congress across the aisle, they say, are coming to grips with the cost of doing nothing.

“This committee forces Congress to get serious,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, a longtime champion of unions who represents many retirees covered by the pension plans, and who fought for the committee’s creation in the spending bill. “It forces us to come together and work out differences.”

A United Parcel Service driver. U.P.S. has said that it could be responsible for nearly $4 billion in benefits payments if the Central States Pension Fund slashes benefits to retirees or becomes insolvent.CreditMark Lennihan/Associated Press

The strain on the multiemployer pension system carries another risk — the potential annihilation of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government agency that insures pension plans. The P.B.G.C. said in its latest annual report that its multiemployer program is likely to run out of money by the end of fiscal year 2025 because of the “rapid decline” in the P.B.G.C.’s financial position. In 2017, the agency paid $141 million in financial assistance to 72 multiemployer pension plans and that number is expected to rise as more plans collapse.

If the multiemployer pension plans go broke, the federal safety net created to protect retirees will not have enough money to make good on the promised benefits, leaving workers with little to no retirement benefits.

“It’s an urgent problem that needs to be fixed,” said Alicia H. Munnell, a management professor at Boston College and the director of its Center for Retirement Research. “Unfortunately there’s an ideological divide — do you bail these people out or not?”

“No one wants to see old, poor people penniless in retirement,” she said.

Mike Walden, a retired Teamster and the president of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions, has led fellow retirees to Washington for several years to pressure members of Congress to fix the problem. Retirees, already squeezed by living on a fixed income, are frustrated at the prospect of seeing their benefits reduced or eliminated if Congress does not act, he said. “I don’t think they understand, when they take money away from us, how much they’re going to hurt the economy.”

Mr. Walden called the creation of the committee a “meaningful step” to soothe nervous retirees. “It’s been way too long — just talk, talk, talk, talk,” he said.

To succeed, the committee must navigate Washington’s aversion to anything that resembles a bailout, particularly as the government is running large deficits that are projected to grow $7 trillion over the next decade — and when many Republicans see unions as political enemies.

And Congress has already tried to help these plans, with little success. In 2014, the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act was enacted to help funds develop rescue plans, including by reducing benefits to retirees. In 2015, Central States submitted such a plan to the Treasury Department, but it was rejected the following year on the grounds that the proposed benefit reductions were unlikely to help the fund avoid insolvency.

Mr. Brown and Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, a Democrat, have pushed an effort that would attempt to stabilize plans with 30-year loans from the Treasury Department, as long as plan managers could demonstrate the money would put them on a path to solvency — and not invest it in risky assets. Fiscal hawks, like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, warn that the bill could leave taxpayers responsible for as much as $100 billion if the loans are not repaid. Backers of the bill say taxpayers should not end up paying a dime.

“This is beyond party affiliation, this really cuts to the root of what retirement is going to look like,” said Mr. Neal, who will be a member of the special committee and has been working to recruit more House Republicans to support his proposal.

Mr. Neal has six Republican co-sponsors on his bill and said that several others have expressed support. A handful of Republican senators have also been engaged on the issue, including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who said this month that she was pleased the spending bill “recognizes the urgent need to help tens of thousands of retired coal miners.”

The Trump administration has been largely quiet on the situation, but when asked about it at a congressional hearing last week, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, noted that it was a “significant” issue and promised to offer technical assistance to support any solution that lawmakers find.

As congressional negotiators homed in on a spending deal early this year, Mr. Brown pushed Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, to attach his pension language to the larger budget agreement. The bill establishes a process to ensure that if the commission produces a bill supported by a majority of its Democratic and Republican members, the Senate will vote on that bill before a new Congress convenes next year.

If concern over retirees is not enough to get lawmakers to act, those who represent pension funds hope that concern about the broader economy will. Michael D. Scott, executive director for the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, projects that if all of the pension plans that are in “critical” and “critical and declining” condition go broke, the federal government would face a half trillion dollars in lost tax revenue over the next decade because of the taxes that the active funds currently pay.

“I think ultimately the government is going to look at how much tax revenue it is going to lose without a solution,” Mr. Scott said.

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Advertising: Google Chrome Now Blocks Irksome Ads. That’s a Good Thing, Right?

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For the most part, the update has been embraced by the industry. After all, it seems like a win for publishers, quality advertisers and users alike.

But Google did not become the creator of the world’s most popular browser and a dominant advertising force by running its business in a manner that did not serve its own interests.

With the Chrome update, the company hopes to come out ahead by lessening the temptation of web users to install more comprehensive ad-blocking software. In other words, Google is betting that ridding the web of especially intrusive ads will render it more hospitable to advertising in general — and more profitable for advertisers and Google itself.

The new filter will be rolled out gradually to the browser’s hundreds of millions of users. Website operators had a few months before the launch to become compliant; going forward, those who violate the standards will be given 30 days to get in line. If they don’t, Google will demonstrate its leverage not by simply removing offending ads from a noncompliant site, but by disabling all of its ads. Revenue to the offending websites would presumably plummet as a result.

Utilizing Chrome’s popularity in this way is yet another example of Google’s singular position in the modern web.

“Chrome literally exists to protect Google’s advertising business,” said Mark Mayo, a vice president at Mozilla, the company behind the web browser Firefox, a competitor to Chrome. “Google has done a tremendous amount of stuff — their products are web-based — and probably most of it positive, but what we’ve also seen, obviously, is a tremendous centralization.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights organization, issued a statement on Friday that said the Google Chrome update “fails to address the larger problem of tracking and privacy violations” on the web. It also criticized Google and the Coalition for Better Ads, calling it a trade group that “lacks a consumer voice.”

“Google exploiting its browser dominance to shape the conditions of the advertising market raises some concerns,” The foundation said.

It took some time for Adblock Plus, which makes popular ad-blocking software that can be installed on Google Chrome, to figure out which types of ads, exactly, Google would be filtering, according to a company spokesman, Ben Williams. Once Adblock Plus had a firm idea, the company determined that the update will not put it in danger of losing the interest of the tens of millions people who regularly use its ad-blocking software.

Chrome will not block ads that run before videos on sites like the Google-owned YouTube, for example. Such ads, which can be blocked by Adblock Plus, lay outside the scope of the recommendations made by the Coalition for Better Ads.

“It’s laudable, what they’re doing, getting rid of the worst of the worst formats,” Mr. Williams said, “but I don’t think it will cause people not to download ad blockers or to uninstall them.”

Adblock Plus makes money, however, by accepting payments from major companies to “white-list” them — those who pay, that is, do not get blocked. Among those paying for the kind treatment: Google.

Likewise, Mozilla, which is paid by Google for traffic sent to its search engine through Firefox, depends on the company for much of its revenue.

As of Friday, Google said that 65 percent of the sites with ads that were out of compliance with the new rules had already made changes to go along with them. Forbes, which has long greeted visitors with an inspirational quote built into an ad equipped with a countdown clock, was among them.

“A few months ago, we had one minor infraction, which we immediately fixed, and we are now compliant,” said Laura Daunis Brusca, a Forbes spokeswoman.

In addition to introducing the update to its browser, Google announced last week that it was further expanding its Accelerated Mobile Pages program — which it developed in cooperation with a coalition of partners in 2015 to allow the faster loading of mobile web pages — to Gmail.

The Accelerated Mobile Pages framework provides standard formats for websites — including one for mobile websites to display Google Stories, a Google initiative that is very much like Snapchat Stories — as well as guidelines and limits for displaying advertising. The newly announced “AMP for email” project will allow users to complete tasks — such as submitting an RSVP or filling out a questionnaire — within Gmail.

Publishers and advertisers have responded warmly to the speedy load times made possible by the Accelerated Mobile Pages program, but its adoption has also been rewarded more directly. According to Chartbeat, Google Mobile Search traffic to publishers that do not use Accelerated Mobile Pages has been flat over the past year, while publishers that have adopted the technology saw a jump of 100 percent in their mobile referrals from Google.

With each improvement — whether it is the zapping of irksome ads or the fundamental restructuring of how mobile sites work — Google is continuing to consolidate its power over the web, which has long since lost its centrality in the modern internet ecosystem to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

So far, what has been good for users has tended to be good for Google, and the other way around. But the collision of the old notion of the web as a free and open space and the reality of it as a digital territory increasingly colonized by commercial interests has provoked worry among some users.

Scott Spencer, a director of product management at Google, said the company is sensitive to consumers’ growing awareness of its power. “Google is not neutral when it comes to the open web,” he said in an interview. “We’re a search company, we want to ensure that there is a healthy and sustainable web for people to be searching and getting information from. We’re also obviously an ad-serving company.”

He framed Chrome’s ad filter as the latest in a series of the browser’s positive innovations, spanning back to the pop-up ad blocker in its original incarnation a decade ago and including more recent security protections against scams and malware.

Mr. Spencer compared the web to a series of roads crowded by people trying to get to work. “At some point someone has the idea that we need to put in some traffic lights,” he said. “Nobody likes waiting for the light, but everyone appreciates not getting stuck in traffic.”

Google is in a position to install and operate the traffic lights — with outside input, of course. It also raises questions about what sort of actor Google is on the web. Is it a government? A budding monopoly? A reluctant leader stepping in where nobody else has? All three?

“We don’t want to be doing this alone,” Mr. Spencer said. “We understand the concerns that exist, and we want to make sure that other voices have a channel and are being heard.”

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We Have Streaming Revenue, Too, Says NBC. And We Can Prove It.

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Nielsen ratings, which measure the number of viewers who tune in for shows at the time of their broadcasts, are down for the networks yet again — at a 10 percent clip this season. NBC has responded by learning to make money from viewers who stream its programs — and now it is learning how to put a number on it. The key is gathering statistics from services like NBC.com, the NBC app, video on demand and Hulu to determine how much money its shows are pulling in from streamers.

Take “This Is Us,” for example. According to the network’s data crunchers, NBC has earned around 47 percent of the revenue generated by its 2016 pilot episode from advertising through digital views. Over all, 44 percent of the revenue NBC has earned from “This Is Us” has come through digital viewership, the network said.

Similarly, the critically acclaimed sitcom, “The Good Place,” starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, has earned roughly 36 percent of its revenue from digital advertising, NBC said.

The new source of revenue is NBC’s attempt to make up for a larger decline in advertising dollars. Television ad sales fell 8 percent in 2017, one of the biggest drops in years, Bloomberg reported. That’s why executives like Mr. Greenblatt need to make the digital business work sooner rather than later.

“It’s not insignificant now,” he said, “and I think over time it grows into becoming really significant.”

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About 36 percent of the revenue NBC has received from “The Good Place,” starring Krisetn Bell and Ted Danson, has come from streaming. The network pulls data from services like NBC.com, the NBC app, video on demand and Hulu to makes its calculation. Credit Justin Lubin/NBC, via Associated Press

Not every show is making big money from digital views. About three-quarters of the revenue NBC made from the 2015 pilot of “Blindspot,” for instance, has been earned the old fashioned way, the network said.

But NBC was less savvy back then in extracting money from viewers who preferred streaming. By the time of the first “This Is Us” season, NBC had wised up, striking a deal that allowed it to earn money from Hulu ads shown during episodes of the hit tear-jerker.

Generating revenue from streaming is relatively new for the networks, said Jeff Bader, NBC’s president of program planning, strategy and research.

“When I came to NBC five years ago, we were in this place with: How are we going to manage this business that’s been in decline?” he said. “We were doing everything we could not to be the record industry and have our stuff pirated and not monetized.”

Particularly depressing was the number of younger viewers who seemed to be changing their viewing habits.

“For years, we were seeing our average age go up, up up,” Mr. Bader said. “Younger viewers were drifting. They weren’t watching broadcast television in the same numbers they used to.”

Once the network examined the data, however, it began to see that younger viewers hadn’t exactly abandoned NBC. They were just watching shows on their own schedules — sometimes months after the broadcast date.

NBC has intensified its efforts to measure the nontraditional audience with the Winter Olympics. Its latest ratings reports have combined the number of viewers it reaches through broadcast, cable and streaming platforms under a single figure it calls total audience delivery. This is the network’s attempt to counter the Nielsen measure, which shows a shrinking Olympics audience.

NBC understands the reason for the advertising community’s skepticism concerning the number of people who watch shows via streaming, however.

“That is the frustrating part of the whole ecosystem,” Mr. Greenblatt said, “because we don’t have a third-party objective measuring system that everyone has adopted that we all buy into.”

Until that third-party system emerges, Mr. Greenblatt said that his sales department has gone all-in on selling advertisers on a statistical portrait that is prettier than the one painted by Nielsen.

“This started for me purely on looking at viewership numbers, because I wanted to be able to make the argument, ‘People aren’t just bailing on network TV,’” he said. “Then it occurred to us, it’s not just a viewership number we’re defending. It’s part of the business model now and it’s going to be move that way more and more.”

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For Taiwanese, Tests of Loyalty to China Bring Trouble in Workplace

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But along with Chinese money has come Chinese migration. Hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese have immigrated to Australia in the past decade. Many of them have brought ideas for businesses, but also an ideology that stresses the unity of China, viewing Taiwan as a rebellious territory that broke away in 1949.

And as China’s government has intensified a crackdown on those who fail to recognize its One China policy — from human rights advocates to corporations like the Marriott hotel chain — members of the Chinese diaspora have similarly taken up the cause on a more personal scale.

Their efforts have added to a sense of Chinese ubiquity: For anyone who identifies as Taiwanese, supports Taiwan’s independence — or even inadvertently refers to Taiwan as a country — Chinese nationalism has become a threatening and unrelenting presence, like a smog that never lifts.

In Australia, service workers, professionals and students from Taiwan have all described gatherings with mainland colleagues and acquaintances where the default setting is that Taiwan and China are one country.

Disagreement is not encouraged.

“Even people who are very pro-Taiwan often don’t want it to be known publicly,” said Roger Huang, 35, a Taiwanese academic who helped organize last year’s Sydney Taiwan Festival. “Self-censorship is very real.”

Australia’s China Challenge?

Some people from Taiwan explain that the most nationalistic Chinese often have a “glass heart,” meaning they are easily offended by disagreement.

Others note that many people in Taiwan consider the island part of China and that, given the economic benefits, good relations are necessary.

“Discussing politics is bad for business,” said Antonio Guo, 65, the Taiwanese owner of a restaurant in a north Sydney suburb. “People get agitated.”

But for many, silence is the spawn of fear. There are widening concerns in the Australian government and in immigrant communities that the Chinese government is watching and listening, ready to apply pressure on those who do not toe the Communist Party line.

Paul Lin, president of the Australian Taiwanese Friendship Association, said several people believed to be Chinese agents were snapping photos of people at the Sydney Taiwan Festival in 2016.

Chinese students at Australian universities have also reported close monitoring by their peers, and say the pressure to conform on the issue of Taiwan has been intense in classrooms, at work and on social media.

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Children at the Sydney Taiwanese School. Weekend classes focus on language and culture. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times

“The problem is they think Sydney is Beijing,” said Mr. Lin, a businessman who moved to Australia in 1990, referring to the Chinese government and its loyalists. “They’re doing more and more watching and interfering. And they’re getting better at it.”

Australia’s mainland-born population has grown rapidly — doubling since 2006 to about 510,000 people — and with the Taiwanese population hovering at less than a tenth of that, an imbalance has emerged. Chinese business owners can easily make Taiwanese workers feel marginalized and vulnerable.

Mr. Lin said that for Chinese immigrants who still have family and business interests in China, discriminating could be “an entry point,” a way to show loyalty to Beijing.

Ms. Tuan’s experience provides a glimpse of how that power dynamic works.

Her story became public when Ms. Tuan, who goes by Winnie in Australia, published a Facebook post about her experience on Jan. 9, the day she was fired. That post, in which she named the restaurant, HuTong Hot Pot, and a supervisor she called Mr. Ha, quickly went viral on Chinese social media.

China’s Global Times — a state news media outlet — published an article the following day, asking readers: “What do you think about this incident, mainland netizens?”

The editors, leaving little to chance, added that The Global Times “would like to go to Sydney, and give ‘Mr. Ha’ a thumbs up!”

Photo
The Sydney suburb of Chatswood is popular with Chinese immigrants. Australia’s mainland-born population has more than doubled since 2006 to about 510,000 people. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times

More than a dozen Chinese news outlets republished the article.

Later that week, a post from the restaurant appeared on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter: “It is fate and a privilege,” the message said, “to have people who respect us coming to dine at our restaurant.”

The comments section was filled with praise and promises to visit.

During the lunch rush one day last week, the restaurant was packed.

Asked about Ms. Tuan’s departure, a young manager said, “The company told us we’re not commenting.”

Ms. Tuan, 29, said in an interview that other comments on social media were supportive of her cause.

“People could relate,” she said.

They included Daniel Chang, 28. A hairdresser working in Melbourne, Mr. Chang said he never received a callback from a salon that had seemed eager to hire him until he mentioned he was Taiwanese.

Jade Liao, 26, ran afoul of a customer. She said that in 2016, at a shoe store where she worked, a Chinese student berated her after she answered a question about whether Taiwan was part of China.

“She started yelling, and pointed a finger at me,” Ms. Liao said. “I couldn’t hold back my tears after she left.”

Many other Taiwanese workers described similar experiences — mostly young women on working holiday visas.

More than 12,000 of these visa holders come to Australia each year from Taiwan, and they are known to be part of a vulnerable cohort that is regularly paid below the minimum wage — an issue that Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman has made a priority, assessing penalties against employers of various backgrounds.

A spokesman for the agency, however, said it had not undertaken any enforcement actions for discrimination against Taiwanese workers, or any other group, based on their political opinions.

Mr. Li, of the Australian Taiwanese Friendship Association, and many others in the Taiwanese community said Australia must do more to address the issue.

Without more effort, Mr. Lin said, China will continue to erode Australia’s “fair go” culture of democracy and equality.

“They are helping China erase the values that Taiwan and Australia share: democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Mr. Lin said in a Sydney shopping mall flush with signs in Mandarin. “This is invisible. But this is fundamental.”

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What Makes Public Radio ‘Very Personal’ Magnifies Its #MeToo Cases

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These revelations may pose risks to the all-important bond that public media organizations form with their listeners, whom they also rely on for financial contributions. The stations already face the aging of their audiences, rising pressure from podcasts and streaming outlets, and a renewed proposal by the Trump administration to cut all federal funding for public broadcasting.

“The relationships that people have with the presenters and reporters on NPR feels very personal,” said Vivian Schiller, a former chief executive of NPR who has also held senior positions at Twitter, The New York Times and elsewhere.

“People make assumptions about who these people are based on their voice and what feels like an intimate, one-on-one relationship,” Ms. Schiller added, “so the potential for backlash is that much greater if you feel that you have been betrayed.”

Conservative media has taken notice as well. After accusations of harassment were made against Mr. Hockenberry, the host of “The Takeaway” on WNYC, in December — months after he quietly resigned — Breitbart crowed: “These are our elites. These are our left-wing arbiters of taste and truth. And we the taxpayers are subsidizing all of it.”

The list of men now gone from public broadcasting after being accused of harassment also includes Michael Oreskes, a former editor at The Times who was NPR’s top news executive; David Sweeney, NPR’s chief news editor; Daniel Zwerdling, an NPR investigative reporter; and Charlie Rose, who straddled commercial and noncommercial television as PBS’s marquee talk-show host and, on CBS, a host on “CBS This Morning” and a correspondent on “60 Minutes.”

In some cases, the behavior they are accused of has been recounted in detail, though rarely by the management of the institutions they worked for. Jon McTaggart, the president of Minnesota Public Radio, disclosed some details of its review of Mr. Keillor’s case at the same time that journalists there published their report.

In a statement to The Times last month, Mr. Keillor referred to a 12-page complaint about him as “a highly selective and imaginative piece of work,” and said he hadn’t been interviewed during an investigation.

“If I am guilty of harassment,” Mr. Keillor said, “then every employee who stole a pencil is guilty of embezzlement.”

Photo
Tom Ashbrook, the host of “On Point,” a call-in show heard on 290 stations, in 2014. He was fired by WBUR in Boston last week. Credit Gretchen Ertl/Associated Press

New York Public Radio, which owns WNYC, has said little about Mr. Lopate and Mr. Schwartz — both decades-long fixtures of New York radio — other than that they were accused of “inappropriate” behavior and remarks. But reporters at WNYC recounted accusations, based on interviews with identified and unidentified women at the station, of bullying and “sexually suggestive” comments by both men, with one woman saying Mr. Lopate had sexually harassed her.

Laura R. Walker, the chief executive of New York Public Radio, has said the station is committed to changing its culture, but a recent piece by New York magazine portrayed the staff as skeptical and disillusioned.

Most of the accusations of harassment and improper behavior have been made against men in their 60s and 70s. That perhaps exacerbates an already present generational divide in public radio, where a younger generation of practitioners is being increasingly drawn to the freedom offered by other audio formats like podcasting.

“The public radio environment is bursting at the seams with younger media makers who have embraced formats like podcasting as their primary means of expression,” said Matthew Lasar, the author of “Radio 2.0: Uploading the First Broadcast Medium.” “A new public radio world is emerging, and, intentionally or not, these difficult and painful changes feel like part of that transition.”

The lack of specificity of the charges against Mr. Lopate, 77, and Mr. Schwartz, 79, has added fuel to a small movement in their support. A Facebook group and an online petition have called for Mr. Lopate’s reinstatement; Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, signed the petition and called Mr. Lopate’s dismissal “the radio equivalent of demolishing Penn Station back in the early 1960s.”

In an email, Mr. Lopate declined to comment on the specifics of his situation, but said: “I will say that in my case I still haven’t been given a cause for dismissal and my alleged misdeeds are so negligible, I suspect the station saw the #MeToo environment as a convenient time to make a programming decision.”

A lawyer for Mr. Schwartz said he had no comment.

Whether such departures will affect fund-raising from listeners — usually a station’s largest source of income — may soon become clear. Mike Savage, a veteran of public radio and a former NPR board member who now works as a consultant, said he had heard largely positive reports from stations around the country about fund-raising and membership.

“I don’t think listeners view these acts as a problem with the quality of journalism or with these organizations themselves,” Mr. Savage said. “I think it’s a bump in the road.”

WNYC held a one-day pledge drive in late December, after Mr. Lopate and Mr. Schwartz were fired, and the station had its hosts address the controversy and promise transparency. The station declined to disclose the full results of that drive, though it said last week that listener donations in December and January were up 11.5 percent from the same period a year before.

In December, 577 people canceled their memberships and cited the news about Mr. Lopate and Mr. Schwartz as the reason — out of a total of 247,000 members, according to the station.

The station will begin its full five-day pledge drive on Feb. 26. Anne O’Malley, the vice president of membership of New York Public Radio, said in a recent interview that it had not decided yet whether to address these issues as part of the drive, as the station had in December.

“It would be disingenuous to say that it’s not something we’re thinking about,” Ms. O’Malley said. “But so far, we haven’t changed the pledge drive goal, and we haven’t changed our plans.”

New York Public Radio had $93 million in revenue for the year that ended in June, with 39 percent of that coming from member contributions and 33 percent from corporate underwriting, according to publicly disclosed finances.

Of course, New York Public Radio is just one part of the wider public radio universe, which also reaches into rural pockets of the country far from the media hubs of New York and Washington. In those places, the local public station may serve as a vital news source, but the success of its pledge drives may depend on other factors, said Mark Vogelzang, the president of Maine Public, which presents radio and television.

“Up here in Maine,” Mr. Vogelzang said, “digging out from a big snowstorm probably has more of an effect on pledge drive participation than Garrison Keillor.”

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‘Black Panther’ Smashes Box Office Records and Hollywood Myths

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“The concept of an African story, with actors of African descent at the forefront, combined with the scale of modern franchise filmmaking, is something that hasn’t really been seen before,” Mr. Coogler, the director, told The Hollywood Reporter. “You feel like you’re getting the opportunity of seeing something fresh, being a part of something new, which I think all audiences want to experience regardless of whether they are of African descent or not.”

But no one quite knew how “Black Panther” would perform overseas.

Big-budget films that focus on black characters have long been held back by the Hollywood argument — a ridiculous one, in the eyes of many critics — that foreign audiences have little interest in films with largely black casts. It has been a self-fulfilling attitude; studios, ever fixated on what kinds of movies have succeeded in the past, never challenged the assumption with a big-budget fantasy because they were always too afraid to take the risk.

“Black Panther” arrived to very strong results in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ukraine, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil, in many cases beating initial ticket sales for Marvel nonsequels based on lesser-known characters, including “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 2014.

“Black Panther” was softer in Germany, an important market, where the sadomasochistic “Fifty Shades Freed” outsold it.

“We’re extremely pleased with the reaction around the world, even more so because we face nothing competitively for a month,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s president of distribution.

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Students from the Capital Preparatory Harlem School watched “Black Panther” on its opening night in Manhattan. Credit Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Disney will release “Black Panther” in Russia, China and Japan in the weeks ahead. Success in China, the world’s fastest-growing movie market, would be particularly sweet. If audiences there do not respond, however, it could have little to do with race. Hollywood imports are losing their luster in China as local studios become more skilled at making blockbuster-style movies. (Over the weekend in China, the locally produced “Monster Hunt 2” arrived to more than $130 million in ticket sales. Lionsgate gave it a 69-screen release in the United States, collecting $390,000.)

The frenzy surrounding “Black Panther” has been puzzling to some.

“It’s an important chipping away at this Hollywood notion that somehow studios are taking a bigger risk if they cast nonwhite actors, but I don’t see it as a profound change,” said Todd Boyd, a cinema and media studies professor at the University of Southern California who focuses on popular culture and race. “I ultimately see it as exploiting a profitable niche.”

“To me, there is real change afoot when diverse actors are cast in roles that are not inherently diverse,” Mr. Boyd added.

But many people stood in line to praise Disney for pushing toward more diverse filmmaking. Richard Gelfond, chief executive of Imax, the large-format movie exhibitor, which played “Black Panther” in more than 60 countries, championed Disney for delivering “content that is compelling on its face but also bridges the gap between different cultures, and ultimately is a reflection of the shared values of moviegoers all over the world.”

Phil Contrino, director of media and research for the National Association of Theater Owners, noted the power of seeing “Black Panther” in a communal setting on a big screen. “Hopefully someday we’ll look back at the release of ‘Black Panther’ as the turning point when diversity and positive representation in blockbusters switched from being an anomaly to being normal,” Mr. Contrino said.

And Stacy L. Smith, an author of blistering studies about Hollywood’s lack of diversity, wrote on Twitter in a message to Mr. Iger, who has made inclusion a priority across Disney: “We have been watching; lead & supporting roles have been changing as well as behind the camera. There is more to be done but this weekend is a giant leap forward.”

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