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Fake news for the win
Julian Assange Thought He Was Messaging Sean Hannity When He Offered News' on Democrat Investigating Trump-Russia

The head of Wikileaks told @SeanHannity__ to seek other channels' for information on Sen. Mark Warner. Turns out @SeanHannity__' was a woman in Texas.


01.29.18 8:16 PM ET

At about 4 a.m. on Saturday morning, a couple hours after she started pretending to be Sean Hannity, Dell Gilliam says she got a direct message back from the head of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. That's when she said she "kind of panicked."
"I felt bad. He really thought he was talking to Sean Hannity," said Gilliam.

Gilliam, a technical writer from Texas, was bored with the flu when she created @SeanHannity__ early Saturday morning. The Fox News host's real account was temporarily deleted after cryptically tweeting the phrase "Form Submission 1649 | #Hannity" on Friday night. Twitter said the account had been "briefly compromised," according to a statement provided to The Daily Beast, and was back up on Sunday morning.
When Gilliam made the account, she did not expect to be setting up a meeting over "other channels" for Assange to send "some news about Warner," an apparent reference to Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
During the election, WikiLeaks' dumped Democratic emails stolen by Kremlin hackers, even leading President Donald Trump's CIA director to brand Assange's organization a "hostile intelligence service" last year.
Just minutes after @SeanHannity disappeared, several accounts quickly sprung up posing as the real Hannity, shouting from Twitter exile. None were as successful as Gilliam's @SeanHannity__ account, which has since amassed over 24,000 followers.

Gilliam then used her newfound prominence to direct message Assange as Hannity within hours.

"I can't believe this is happening. I mean… I can. It's crazy. Nothing can be put past people," Gilliam, posing as Hannity, wrote to Assange. "I'm exhausted from the whole night. What about you, though? You doing ok?"

"I'm happy as long as there is a fight!" Assange responded.
Gilliam reassured Assange that she, or Hannity, was also "definitely up for a fight" and set up a call for 9:30 a.m. Eastern, about six hours later.
"You can send me messages on other channels," said Assange, the second reference to "other channels" he made since their conversation began.
"Have some news about Warner."

Less than 48 hours later, Warner made headlines claiming that the Senate intelligence committee received "end-of-the-year document dumps" that "opened a lot of new questions" about Trump and Russia.
When reached by The Daily Beast about the messages, Warner's spokesperson pointed to WikiLeaks' ties to the release of recent document drops performed by Russian entities, like Kremlin cutout Guccifer 2.0.
"Give me a break. WikiLeaks is a non-state hostile intelligence service with longstanding ties to the Russian government and Russian intelligence."

While Assange was not the only high-profile person duped by the account, his interactions with it were likely the most significant.
Citing mysterious sources and to-be-revealed bombshells, Hannity has been alleging he will unveil "the biggest scandal in American history" for weeks on his primetime Fox News show that has devolved into mostly a recitation of conspiracy theories about a "secret society" and the "deep state."
Both Hannity and Assange's WikiLeaks have pushed similar document drops and hashtag campaigns since before the 2016 election, most recently the push to release a confidential memo about government spying under the hashtag "#releasethememo." Last year, Hannity even invited Assange to guest host his radio program. Both participated in baseless speculation about the murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich, which Hannity later dropped after advertisers dropped his program.
Leaked Twitter correspondences between Donald Trump Jr. and the official WikiLeaks account made headlines in November of 2017. Trump Jr. had not disclosed the direct messages until after the November report by The Atlantic.
Hannity, Assange and Fox News public relations did not respond to a request for comment.

"You can send me messages on other channels. Have some news about Warner."
Julian Assange
This was not Gilliam's plan when she created the account on Saturday morning. In fact, she said she didn't really know much about Sean Hannity when it all started. Gilliam said she watches Fox News, NPR, and CNN in equal parts, had "intentionally ignored [Hannity] because he seems to have no respect from anybody on either side except for Trump."
She said she simply wanted to play a joke on another Sean Hannity account, @SeanHannity_, with one underscore and not two.
"It kind of started on a whim. I was going to tweet at one of the fake Sean Hannity accounts that was up to tell them not to be me," she said.
Then, in part because Gilliam seemed to have picked up on Hannity's conspiratorial and frenzied voice, things picked up fast.
"I don't even really know how [Hannity] sounds, so I started by copying the tone of the first fake one," she said.
It worked.
"To all the lib haters, know that I am back and here to stay. You can't silence the truth and you have no idea what's coming," her first tweet read. "To all my loyal supporters - follow me on my new account to stay updated. Twitter can try to knock us down but we will keep rising up! #SeanHannity"
That tweet, which had 1,800 retweets and 3,500 likes, was retweeted by dozens of verified journalists and Twitter personalities.
Chrissy Teigen took a shot at Gilliam's version of Hannity in front of her 9.67 million followers.
"Settle down, braveheart," she wrote. Over 8,000 people retweeted it.
Gilliam's experience as a bureaucrat, whose interest in fine print is "interesting to me, but nobody else," helped her monopolize the fake Hannity space.
"I realized that in the Twitter rules it says you can't make a fake account unless you say you're not affiliated with that person," she said.
Under @SeanHannity__'s bio, it reads "(Above not affiliated with) New Account!" She remained live while SeanHannity_ with one underscore and several others were booted off the service.
"People don't read parentheticals," she said.
Gilliam said she plans on keeping the account going, or donating her 24,000 followers to an environmental nonprofit she works with. She's already tweeted out a YouTube video from a band she likes from Nashville to try to get them more followers.
Recovering from the flu, she didn't sleep all of Saturday, reading through tweets by duped celebrities and mountains of messages.
"I'd say it's one-third hate mail, one-third hero worship, one-third people saying they figured it out. His followers are disturbingly angry," she said.
"Reading the messages, I can see how believing in this false reality would be really easy to do. I was starting to get really nervous about what was reallyhappening. It all sucks you into a level of paranoia I'd never seen before."
[FONT=&amp]He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He's Worried About An Information Apocalypse.
"What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did?" technologist Aviv Ovadya warns.
In mid-2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco's Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled "Infocalypse."
The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around it was wildly unhealthy, Ovadya argued. The incentives that governed its biggest platforms were calibrated to reward information that was often misleading and polarizing, or both. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google prioritized clicks, shares, ads, and money over quality of information, and Ovadya couldn't shake the feeling that it was all building toward something bad a kind of critical threshold of addictive and toxic misinformation. The presentation was largely ignored by employees from the Big Tech platforms including a few from Facebook who would later go on to drive the company's NewsFeed integrity effort.

"At the time, it felt like we were in a car careening out of control and it wasn't just that everyone was saying, we'll be fine' it's that they didn't even see the car," he said.
Ovadya saw early what many including lawmakers, journalists, and Big Tech CEOs wouldn't grasp until months later: Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact.
But it's what he sees coming next that will really scare the shit out of you.
"Alarmism can be good you should be alarmist about this stuff," Ovadya said one January afternoon before calmly outlining a deeply unsettling projection about the next two decades of fake news, artificial intelligenceassisted misinformation campaigns, and propaganda. "We are so screwed it's beyond what most of us can imagine," he said. "We were utterly screwed a year and a half ago and we're even more screwed now. And depending how far you look into the future it just gets worse."
That future, according to Ovadya, will arrive with a slew of slick, easy-to-use, and eventually seamless technological tools for manipulating perception and falsifying reality, for which terms have already been coined "reality apathy," "automated laser phishing," and "human puppets."

Which is why Ovadya, an MIT grad with engineering stints at tech companies like Quora, dropped everything in early 2016 to try to prevent what he saw as a Big Techenabled information crisis. "One day something just clicked," he said of his awakening. It became clear to him that, if somebody were to exploit our attention economy and use the platforms that undergird it to distort the truth, there were no real checks and balances to stop it. "I realized if these systems were going to go out of control, there'd be nothing to reign them in and it was going to get bad, and quick," he said.

[FONT=&amp]"We were utterly screwed a year and a half ago and we're even more screwed now"[/FONT]

Today Ovadya and a cohort of loosely affiliated researchers and academics are anxiously looking ahead toward a future that is alarmingly dystopian. They're running war gamestyle disaster scenarios based on technologies that have begun to pop up and the outcomes are typically disheartening.

For Ovadya now the chief technologist for the University of Michigan's Center for Social Media Responsibility and a Knight News innovation fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia the shock and ongoing anxiety over Russian Facebook ads and Twitter bots pales in comparison to the greater threat: Technologies that can be used to enhance and distort what is real are evolving faster than our ability to understand and control or mitigate it. The stakes are high and the possible consequences more disastrous than foreign meddling in an election an undermining or upending of core civilizational institutions, an "infocalypse." And Ovadya says that this one is just as plausible as the last one and worse.
Worse because of our ever-expanding computational prowess; worse because of ongoing advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning that can blur the lines between fact and fiction; worse because those things could usher in a future where, as Ovadya observes, anyone could make it "appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did."

[FONT=&amp]"What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did?"[/FONT]

And much in the way that foreign-sponsored, targeted misinformation campaigns didn't feel like a plausible near-term threat until we realized that it was already happening, Ovadya cautions that fast-developing tools powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality tech could be hijacked and used by bad actors to imitate humans and wage an information war.
And we're closer than one might think to a potential "Infocalypse." Already available tools for audio and video manipulation have begun to look like a potential fake news Manhattan Project. In the murky corners of the internet, people have begun using machine learning algorithms and open-source software to easily create pornographic videos that realistically superimpose the faces of celebrities or anyone for that matter on the adult actors' bodies. At institutions like Stanford, technologists have built programs that that combine and mix recorded video footage with real-time face tracking to manipulate video. Similarly, at the University of Washington computer scientists successfully built a program capable of "turning audio clips into a realistic, lip-synced video of the person speaking those words." As proof of concept, both the teams manipulated broadcast video to make world leaders appear to say things they never actually said.

As these tools become democratized and widespread, Ovadya notes that the worst case scenarios could be extremely destabilizing.

There's "diplomacy manipulation," in which a malicious actor uses advanced technology to "create the belief that an event has occurred" to influence geopolitics. Imagine, for example, a machine-learning algorithm (which analyzes gobs of data in order to teach itself to perform a particular function) fed on hundreds of hours of footage of Donald Trump or North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which could then spit out a near-perfect and virtually impossible to distinguish from reality audio or video clip of the leader declaring nuclear or biological war. "It doesn't have to be perfect just good enough to make the enemy think something happened that it provokes a knee-jerk and reckless response of retaliation."

[FONT=&amp]"It doesn't have to be perfect just good enough"[/FONT]

Another scenario, which Ovadya dubs "polity simulation," is a dystopian combination of political botnets and astroturfing, where political movements are manipulated by fake grassroots campaigns. In Ovadya's envisioning, increasingly believable AI-powered bots will be able to effectively compete with real humans for legislator and regulator attention because it will be too difficult to tell the difference. Building upon previous iterations, where public discourse is manipulated, it may soon be possible to directly jam congressional switchboards with heartfelt, believable algorithmically-generated pleas. Similarly, Senators' inboxes could be flooded with messages from constituents that were cobbled together by machine-learning programs working off stitched-together content culled from text, audio, and social media profiles.
Then there's automated laser phishing, a tactic Ovadya notes security researchers are already whispering about. Essentially, it's using AI to scan things, like our social media presences, and craft false but believable messages from people we know. The game changer, according to Ovadya, is that something like laser phishing would allow bad actors to target anyone and to create a believable imitation of them using publicly available data.

"Previously one would have needed to have a human to mimic a voice or come up with an authentic fake conversation in this version you could just press a button using open source software," Ovadya said. "That's where it becomes novel when anyone can do it because it's trivial. Then it's a whole different ball game."
Imagine, he suggests, phishing messages that aren't just a confusing link you might click, but a personalized message with context. "Not just an email, but an email from a friend that you've been anxiously waiting for for a while," he said. "And because it would be so easy to create things that are fake you'd become overwhelmed. If every bit of spam you receive looked identical to emails from real people you knew, each one with its own motivation trying to convince you of something, you'd just end up saying, okay, I'm going to ignore my inbox.'"

That can lead to something Ovadya calls "reality apathy": Beset by a torrent of constant misinformation, people simply start to give up. Ovadya is quick to remind us that this is common in areas where information is poor and thus assumed to be incorrect. The big difference, Ovadya notes, is the adoption of apathy to a developed society like ours. The outcome, he fears, is not good. "People stop paying attention to news and that fundamental level of informedness required for functional democracy becomes unstable."

Ovadya (and other researchers) see laser phishing as an inevitability. "It's a threat for sure, but even worse I don't think there's a solution right now," he said. "There's internet scale infrastructure stuff that needs to be built to stop this if it starts."

Beyond all this, there are other long-range nightmare scenarios that Ovadya describes as "far-fetched," but they're not so far-fetched that he's willing to rule them out. And they are frightening. "Human puppets," for example a black market version of a social media marketplace with people instead of bots. "It's essentially a mature future cross border market for manipulatable humans," he said.
Ovadya's premonitions are particularly terrifying given the ease with which our democracy has already been manipulated by the most rudimentary, blunt-force misinformation techniques. The scamming, deception, and obfuscation that's coming is nothing new; it's just more sophisticated, much harder to detect, and working in tandem with other technological forces that are not only currently unknown but likely unpredictable.

For those paying close attention to developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, none of this feels like much of a stretch. Software currently in development at the chip manufacturer Nvidia can already convincingly generate hyperrealistic photos of objects, people, and even some landscapes by scouring tens of thousands of images. Adobe also recently piloted two projects Voco and Cloak the first a "Photoshop for audio," the second a tool that can seamlessly remove objects (and people!) from video in a matter of clicks.
In some cases, the technology is so good that it's startled even its creators. Ian Goodfellow, a Google Brain research scientist who helped code the first "generative adversarial network" (GAN), which is a neural network capable of learning without human supervision, cautioned that AI could set news consumption back roughly 100 years. At an MIT Technology Review conference in November last year, he told an audience that GANs have both "imagination and introspection" and "can tell how well the generator is doing without relying on human feedback." And that, while the creative possibilities for the machines is boundless, the innovation, when applied to the way we consume information, would likely "clos[e] some of the doors that our generation has been used to having open."

In that light, scenarios like Ovadya's polity simulation feel genuinely plausible. This summer, more than one million fake bot accounts flooded the FCC's open comments system to "amplify the call to repeal net neutrality protections." Researchers concluded that automated comments some using natural language processing to appear real obscured legitimate comments, undermining the authenticity of the entire open comments system. Ovadya nods to the FCC example as well as the recent bot-amplified #releasethememo campaign as a blunt version of what's to come. "It can just get so much worse," he said.

[FONT=&amp]"You don't need to create the fake video for this tech to have a serious impact. You just point to the fact that the tech exists and you can impugn the integrity of the stuff that's real."[/FONT]

Arguably, this sort of erosion of authenticity and the integrity of official statements altogether is the most sinister and worrying of these future threats. "Whether it's AI, peculiar Amazon manipulation hacks, or fake political activism these technological underpinnings [lead] to the increasing erosion of trust," computational propaganda researcher Renee DiResta said of the future threat. "It makes it possible to cast aspersions on whether videos or advocacy for that matter are real." DiResta pointed out Donald Trump's recent denial that it was his voice on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, citing experts who told him it's possible it was digitally faked. "You don't need to create the fake video for this tech to have a serious impact. You just point to the fact that the tech exists and you can impugn the integrity of the stuff that's real."
It's why researchers and technologists like DiResta who spent years of her spare timeadvising the Obama administration, and now members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, against disinformation campaigns from trolls and Ovadya (though they work separately) are beginning to talk more about the looming threats. Last week, the NYC Media Lab, which helps the city's companies and academics collaborate, announced a plan to bring together technologists and researchers in June to "explore worst case scenarios" for the future of news and tech. The event, which they've named Fake News Horror Show, is billed as "a science fair of terrifying propaganda tools some real and some imagined, but all based on plausible technologies."

"In the next two, three, four years we're going to have to plan for hobbyist propagandists who can make a fortune by creating highly realistic, photo realistic simulations," Justin Hendrix, the executive director of NYC Media Lab, told BuzzFeed News. "And should those attempts work, and people come to suspect that there's no underlying reality to media artifacts of any kind, then we're in a really difficult place. It'll only take a couple of big hoaxes to really convince the public that nothing's real."
Given the early dismissals of the efficacy of misinformation like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's now-infamous statement that it was "crazy" that fake news on his site played a crucial role in the 2016 election the first step for researchers like Ovadya is a daunting one: Convince the greater public, as well as lawmakers, university technologists, and tech companies, that a reality-distorting information apocalypse is not only plausible, but close at hand.

[FONT=&amp]"It'll only take a couple of big hoaxes to really convince the public that nothing's real."[/FONT]

A senior federal employee explicitly tasked with investigating information warfare told BuzzFeed News that even he's not certain how many government agencies are preparing for scenarios like the ones Ovadya and others describe. "We're less on our back feet than we were a year ago," he said, before noting that that's not nearly good enough. "I think about it from the sense of the enlightenment which was all about the search for truth," the employee told BuzzFeed News. "I think what you're seeing now is an attack on the enlightenment and enlightenment documents like the Constitution by adversaries trying to create a post-truth society. And that's a direct threat to the foundations of our current civilization."
That's a terrifying thought more so because forecasting this kind of stuff is so tricky. Computational propaganda is far more qualitative than quantitative a climate scientist can point to explicit data showing rising temperatures, whereas it's virtually impossible to build a trustworthy prediction model mapping the future impact of yet-to-be-perfected technology.
For technologists like the federal employee, the only viable way forward is to urge caution, to weigh the moral and ethical implications of the tools being built and, in so doing, avoid the Frankensteinian moment when the creature turns to you and asks, "Did you ever consider the consequences of your actions?"
"I'm from the free and open source culture the goal isn't to stop technology but ensure we're in an equilibria that's positive for people. So I'm not just shouting this is going to happen,' but instead saying, consider it seriously, examine the implications," Ovadya told BuzzFeed News. "The thing I say is, trust that this isn't not going to happen.'"
Hardly an encouraging pronouncement. That said, Ovadya does admit to a bit of optimism. There's more interest in the computational propaganda space then ever before, and those who were previously slow to take threats seriously are now more receptive to warnings. "In the beginning it was really bleak few listened," he said. "But the last few months have been really promising. Some of the checks and balances are beginning to fall into place." Similarly, there are solutions to be found like cryptographic verification of images and audio, which could help distinguish what's real and what's manipulated.
Still, Ovadya and others warn that the next few years could be rocky. Despite some pledges for reform, he feels the platforms are still governed by the wrong, sensationalist incentives, where clickbait and lower-quality content is rewarded with more attention. "That's a hard nut to crack in general, and when you combine it with a system like Facebook, which is a content accelerator, it becomes very dangerous."
Just how far out we are from that danger remains to be seen. Asked about the warning signs he's keeping an eye out for, Ovadya paused. "I'm not sure, really. Unfortunately, a lot of the warning signs have already happened." ●
Here is a beautiful example of junk news infesting the alt-media. When the Chris Steele-Trump dossier was first leaked by Buzzfeed in January 2017, Trump fans (possibly encouraged by Russian troll-bots), claimed it was all a hoax invented by 4chan trolls. Essentially it was fan fiction that went viral, then picked up by John McCain and given to the FBI. They got punked by 4chan! LOL, so funny. Except that the 4chan "hoax" was itself a hoax. They even created fake pages that didn't belong to the real dossier.

I'm not going to post all the articles here. You can click the links yourself:

But all of the pro-Trump media on YouTube ate up the story like the morons and con artists they are. Here is alleged Bernie Sanders supporter and Alex Jones-wannabe H.A. Goodman:

Ezra Lavant -

Lionel Nation -

Mark Dice -

And on and on...

Trump Supporters Spread the Majority of Phony News on Social Media

A new study finds that "junk news" is a staple of the #MAGA crowd.


Trump supporters are among the most prolific social media users spreading fake news and conspiracy content, according to new research from Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Research Project, which has been studying disinformation campaigns globally since 2014.
The group's new findings are based on study of more than 13,000 Twitter accounts representing politically diverse viewpoints, including just under 2,000 pro-Trump accountswhich were identified by terms like #MAGA included on their Twitter profiles and explicitly pro-Trump content they have shared. The Oxford researchers found that those pro-Trump accounts, though comprising less than a sixth of the total accounts, were responsible for 55 percent of the "junk news" tweeted out from all 13,000 accounts, studied during the period of October 20, 2017 to January 18, 2018. The researchers also studied content from more than 47,000 public Facebook pages during the same 90-day period; they determined that about 60 percent of the total "junk news" links were posted by users that appeared to be aligned with the political far right. (The research doesn't address whether any of these Twitter and Facebook accounts may be controlled by bots or other deceptive online operators.)
"We find that the political landscape is strikingly divided across ideological lines when it comes to who is sharing junk news," says Lisa-Maria Neudert, one of the lead researchers for the Oxford group. She says there may be "a silver lining" with the inordinate role of the far right in peddling fake news: It could suggest that most other groups are less susceptible to extremist or conspiratorial content.
On Twitter and Facebook, left-leaning accounts circulated more content from mainstream media sources, while conservative and pro-Trump accounts shared more content from right-wing media and junk news sources.The researchers defined "junk news" as sources that "deliberately publish misleading, deceptive, or incorrect information purporting to be real news about politics, economics or culture." They compiled a "watch list" of about 100 sites that were observed spreading propaganda and conspiracy content before the 2016 election. The list of junk news sources spans the political spectrum and includes well-known far-right outlets like Breitbart News andInfoWars.

Other key findings from the Oxford team's latest research:

  • On Twitter, the Trump supporters shared content from 96 percent of the sites on the watch list. Accounts identified with conservative media organizations also tweeted out content from 95 percent of the sites on the listbut only 20 percent of the total junk news links shared came from the conservative media accounts, as compared to the 55 percent from Trump supporters.
  • On Facebook, the pages identified by researchers as "hard conservatives" shared 91 percent of the sites on the watchlist and 58 percent of the "junk news" shared overall. Those pages were identified by anti-immigration, anti-liberal and pro-militia sentiments posted.
  • On both platforms, researchers observed that left-leaning accounts circulated more content from mainstream media sources, while conservative and pro-Trump accounts shared more content from right-wing media and junk news sources.

Neudert says this analysis of recent social media data did not specifically look for known Russian sources of news and propaganda, such as RT and Sputnik, but that researchers plan to study the data further. In previous research, Oxford researchers found that junk news from hyperpartisan sources, including from Russia and WikiLeaks, inundated Twitter during the run-up to the 2016 electionparticularly in key battleground states.
Twitter recently updated its number of known Russian accounts that interfered in the election to 3,814 trolls plus 50,000-plus automated bot accountsand now says the number of users who interacted with these accounts is up to 1.4 million. Even though those accounts have been removed, research from the nonpartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy shows that a Russian disinformation campaign continues to plague the platform. With its Hamilton 68 dashboard, the Alliance tracks 600 Kremlin-linked Russian Twitter accounts that have joined in far-right efforts such as Sean Hannity's recent campaign pushing #releasethememo, and have piled onto attacks against the credibility of the FBI and Republicans who stand up to Trump.
Donald Trump, a Playboy Model, and a System for Concealing Infidelity
In June, 2006, Donald Trump taped an episode of his reality-television show, "The Apprentice," at the Playboy Mansion, in Los Angeles. Hugh Hefner, Playboy's publisher, threw a pool party for the show's contestants with dozens of current and former Playmates, including Karen McDougal, a slim brunette who had been named Playmate of the Year, eight years earlier. In 2001, the magazine's readers voted her runner-up for "Playmate of the '90s," behind Pamela Anderson. At the time of the party, Trump had been married to the Slovenian model Melania Knauss for less than two years; their son, Barron, was a few months old. Trump seemed uninhibited by his new family obligations. McDougal later wrote that Trump "immediately took a liking to me, kept talking to me - telling me how beautiful I was, etc. It was so obvious that a Playmate Promotions exec said, Wow, he was all over you - I think you could be his next wife.' "
Trump and McDougal began an affair, which McDougal later memorialized in an eight-page, handwritten document provided to The New Yorker by John Crawford, a friend of McDougal's. When I showed McDougal the document, she expressed surprise that I had obtained it but confirmed that the handwriting was her own.

[Image: Farrow-McDougal-Secondary-1.jpg]

The interactions that McDougal outlines in the document share striking similarities with the stories of other women who claim to have had sexual relationships with Trump, or who have accused him of propositioning them for sex or sexually harassing them. McDougal describes their affair as entirely consensual. But her account provides a detailed look at how Trump and his allies used clandestine hotel-room meetings, payoffs, and complex legal agreements to keep affairssometimes multiple affairs he carried out simultaneouslyout of the press.

On November 4, 2016, four days before the election, the Wall Street Journalreported that American Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, had paid a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for exclusive rights to McDougal's story, which it never ran. Purchasing a story in order to bury it is a practice that many in the tabloid industry call "catch and kill." This is a favorite tactic of the C.E.O. and chairman of A.M.I., David Pecker, who describes the President as "a personal friend."
As part of the agreement, A.M.I. consented to publish a regular aging-and-fitness column by McDougal. After Trump won the Presidency, however, A.M.I.'s promises largely went unfulfilled, according to McDougal. Last month, the Journal reported that Trump's personal lawyer had negotiated a separate agreement just before the election with an adult-film actress named Stephanie Clifford, whose screen name is Stormy Daniels, which barred her from discussing her own affair with Trump. Since then, A.M.I. has repeatedly approached McDougal about extending her contract.
McDougal, in her first on-the-record comments about A.M.I.'s handling of her story, declined to discuss the details of her relationship with Trump, for fear of violating the agreement she reached with the company. She did say, however, that she regretted signing the contract. "It took my rights away," McDougal told me. "At this point I feel I can't talk about anything without getting into trouble, because I don't know what I'm allowed to talk about. I'm afraid to even mention his name."
A White House spokesperson said in a statement that Trump denies having had an affair with McDougal: "This is an old story that is just more fake news. The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal." A.M.I. said that an amendment to McDougal's contractsigned after Trump won the electionallowed her to "respond to legitimate press inquiries" regarding the affair. The company said that it did not print the story because it did not find it credible.

Six former A.M.I. employees told me that Pecker routinely makes catch-and-kill arrangements like the one reached with McDougal. "We had stories and we bought them knowing full well they were never going to run," Jerry George, a former A.M.I. senior editor who worked at the company for more than twenty-five years, told me. George said that Pecker protected Trump. "Pecker really considered him a friend," George told me. "We never printed a word about Trump without his approval." Maxine Page, who worked at A.M.I. on and off from 2002 to 2012, including as an executive editor at one of the company's Web sites, said that Pecker also used the unpublished stories as "leverage" over some celebrities in order to pressure them to pose for his magazines or feed him stories. Several former employees said that these celebrities included Arnold Schwarzenegger, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, and Tiger Woods. (Schwarzenegger, through an attorney, denied this claim. Woods did not respond to requests for comment.) "Even though they're just tabloids, just rags, it's still a cause of concern," Page said. "In theory, you would think that Trump has all the power in that relationship, but in fact Pecker has the powerhe has the power to run these stories. He knows where the bodies are buried."


[FONT=&amp]As the pool party at the Playboy Mansion came to an end, Trump asked for McDougal's telephone number. For McDougal, who grew up in a small town in Michigan and worked as a preschool teacher before beginning her modelling career, such advances were not unusual. John Crawford, McDougal's friend, who also helped broker her deal with A.M.I., said that Trump was "another powerful guy hitting on her, a gal who's paid to be at work." Trump and McDougal began talking frequently on the phone, and soon had what McDougal described as their first date: dinner in a private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. McDougal wrote that Trump impressed her. "I was so nervous! I was into his intelligence + charm. Such a polite man," she wrote. "We talked for a couple hours then, it was "ON"! We got naked + had sex." As McDougal was getting dressed to leave, Trump did something that surprised her. "He offered me money," she wrote. "I looked at him (+ felt sad) + said, No thanks - I'm not that girl.' I slept w/you because I like you - NOT for money' - He told me you are special.' "
Afterward, McDougal wrote, she "went to see him every time he was in LA (which was a lot)." Trump, she said, always stayed in the same bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and ordered the same mealsteak and mashed potatoesand never drank. McDougal's account is consistent with other descriptions of Trump's behavior. Last month, In Touch Weekly published an interview conducted in 2011 with Stephanie Clifford in which she revealed that during a relationship with Trump she met him for dinner at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Trump insisted they watch "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel. Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," alleged that Trump assaulted her at a private dinner meeting, in December of 2007, at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Trump, Zervos has claimed, kissed her, groped her breast, and suggested that they lie down to "watch some telly-telly." After Zervos rebuffed Trump's advances, she said that he "began thrusting his genitals" against her. (Zervos recently sued Trump for defamation after he denied her account.) All three women say that they were escorted to a bungalow at the hotel by a Trump bodyguard, whom two of the women have identified as Keith Schiller. After Trump was elected, Schiller was appointed director of Oval Office Operations and deputy assistant to the President. Last September, John Kelly, acting as the new chief of staff, removed Schiller from the White House posts. (Schiller did not respond to a request for comment.)
Over the course of the affair, Trump flew McDougal to public events across the country but hid the fact that he paid for her travel. "No paper trails for him," she wrote. "In fact, every time I flew to meet him, I booked/paid for flight + hotel + he reimbursed me." In July, 2006, McDougal joined Trump at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, at the Edgewood Resort, on Lake Tahoe. At a party there, she and Trump sat in a booth with the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and Trump told her that Brees had recognized her, remarking, "Baby, you're popular." (Brees, through a spokesman, denied meeting Trump or McDougal at the event.) At another California golf event, Trump told McDougal that Tiger Woods had asked who she was. Trump, she recalled, warned her "to stay away from that one, LOL."
During the Lake Tahoe tournament, McDougal and Trump had sex, she wrote. He also allegedly began a sexual relationship with Clifford at the event. (A representative for Clifford did not respond to requests for comment.) In the 2011 interview with In Touch Weekly, Clifford said that Trump didn't use a condom and didn't mention sleeping with anyone else. Another adult-film actress, Dawn Vanguard, whose screen name is Alana Evans, claimed that Trump invited her to join them in his hotel room that weekend. A third adult-film performer, Jessica Drake, alleged that Trump asked her to his hotel room, met her and two women she brought with her in pajamas, and then "grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking for permission." He then offered Drake ten thousand dollars in exchange for her company. (Trump denied the incident.) A week after the golf tournament, McDougal joined Trump at the fifty-fifth Miss Universe contest, in Los Angeles. She sat near him, and later attended an after-party where she met celebrities. Trump also set aside tickets for Clifford, as he did at a later vodka launch that both women attended.
During Trump's relationship with McDougal, she wrote, he introduced her to members of his family and took her to his private residences. At a January, 2007, launch party in Los Angeles for Trump's now-defunct liquor brand, Trump Vodka, McDougal, who was photographed entering the event, recalled sitting at a table with Kim Kardashian, Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Trump, Jr.,'s wife, Vanessa, who was pregnant. At one point, Trump held a party for "The Apprentice" at the Playboy Mansion, and McDougal worked as a costumed Playboy bunny. "We took pics together, alone + with his family," McDougal wrote. She recalled that Trump said he had asked his son Eric "who he thought was the most beautiful girl here + Eric pointed me. Mr. T said He has great taste' + we laughed!" Trump gave McDougal tours of Trump Tower and his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. In Trump Tower, McDougal wrote, Trump pointed out Melania's separate bedroom. He "said she liked her space," McDougal wrote, "to read or be alone."

[Image: Farrow-McDougal-Secondary-2.jpg]

McDougal's account, like those of Clifford and other women who have described Trump's advances, conveys a man preoccupied with his image. McDougal recalled that Trump would often send her articles about him or his daughter, as well as signed books and sun visors from his golf courses. Clifford recalled Trump remarking that she and Ivanka were similar and proudly showing her a copy of a "money magazine" with his image on the cover.
Trump also promised to buy McDougal an apartment in New York as a Christmas present. Clifford, likewise, said that Trump promised to buy her a condo in Tampa. For Trump, showing off real estate and other branded products was sometimes a prelude to sexual advances. Zervos and a real-estate investor named Rachel Crooks have both claimed that Trump kissed them on the mouth during professional encounters at Trump Tower. Four other women have claimed that Trump forcibly touched or kissed them during tours or events at Mar-a-Lago, his property in Palm Beach, Florida. (Trump has denied any wrongdoing pertaining to the women.)
McDougal ended the relationship in April, 2007, after nine months. According to Crawford, the breakup was prompted in part by McDougal's feelings of guilt. "She couldn't look at herself in the mirror anymore," Crawford said. "And she was concerned about what her mother thought of her." The decision was reinforced by a series of comments Trump made that McDougal found disrespectful, according to several of her friends. When she raised her concern about her mother's disapproval to Trump, he replied, "What, that old hag?" (McDougal, hurt, pointed out that Trump and her mother were close in age.) On the night of the Miss Universe pageant McDougal attended, McDougal and a friend rode with Trump in his limousine and the friend mentioned a relationship she had had with an African-American man. According to multiple sources, Trump remarked that the friend liked "the big black dick" and began commenting on her attractiveness and breast size. The interactions angered the friend and deeply offended McDougal.
Speaking carefully for fear of legal reprisal, McDougal responded to questions about whether she felt guilty about the affair, as her friends suggested, by saying that she had found God in the last several years and regretted parts of her past. "This is a new me," she told me. "If I could go back and do a lot of things differently, I definitely would."

[FONT=&amp]McDougal readily admitted that she voluntarily sold the rights to her story, but she and sources close to her insisted that the way the sale unfolded was exploitative. Crawford told me that selling McDougal's story was his idea, and that he first raised it when she was living with him, in 2016. "She and I were sitting at the house, and I'm watching him on television," Crawford said, referring to Trump. "I said, You know, if you had a physical relationship with him, that could be worth something about now.' And I looked at her and she had that guilty look on her face."
McDougal, who says she is a Republican, told me that she was reluctant at first to tell her story, because she feared that other Trump supporters might accuse her of fabricating it, or might even harm her or her family. She also said that she didn't want to get involved in the heated Presidential contest. "I didn't want to influence anybody's election," she told me. "I didn't want death threats on my head." Crawford was only able to persuade her to consider speaking about the relationship after a former friend of McDougal's began posting about the affair on social media. "I didn't want someone else telling stories and getting all the details wrong," McDougal said.
Crawford called a friend who had worked in the adult-film industry who he thought might have media connections, and asked whether a story about Trump having an affair would "be worth something." That friend, Crawford recalled, was "like a hobo on a ham sandwich" and contacted an attorney named Keith M. Davidson, who also had contacts in the adult-film industry and ties to media companies, including A.M.I. Davidson had developed a track record of selling salacious stories. A slide show on the clients page of his Web site includes Sara Leal, who claimed to have slept with the actor Ashton Kutcher while he was married to Demi Moore. Davidson told Crawford that McDougal's story would be worth "millions." (Davidson did not respond to a request for comment.)
Dozens of pages of e-mails, texts, and legal documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal how the transaction evolved. Davidson got in touch with A.M.I., and on June 20, 2016, he and McDougal met Dylan Howard, A.M.I.'s chief content officer. E-mails between Howard and Davidson show that A.M.I. initially had little interest in the story. Crawford said that A.M.I.'s first offer was ten thousand dollars.
After Trump won the Republican nomination, however, A.M.I. increased its offer. In an August, 2016, e-mail exchange, Davidson encouraged McDougal to sign the deal. McDougal, worried that she would be prevented from talking about a Presidential nominee, asked questions about the nuances of the contract. Davidson responded, "If you deny, you are safe." He added, "We really do need to get this signed and wrapped up..."

[Image: Farrow-McDougal-Secondary-3.jpg]

McDougal, who has a new lawyer, Carol Heller, told me that she did not understand the scope of the agreement when she signed it. "I knew that I couldn't talk about any alleged affair with any married man, but I didn't really understand the whole content of what I gave up," she told me.
On August 5, 2016, McDougal signed a limited life-story rights agreement granting A.M.I. exclusive ownership of her account of any romantic, personal, or physical relationship she has ever had with any "then-married man." Her retainer with Davidson makes explicit that the man in question was Donald Trump. In exchange, A.M.I. agreed to pay her a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The three men involved in the dealDavidson, Crawford, and their intermediary in the adult-film industrytook forty-five per cent of the payment as fees, leaving McDougal with a total of eighty-two thousand five hundred dollars, billing records from Davidson's office show. "I feel let down," McDougal told me. "I'm the one who took it, so it's my fault, too. But I didn't understand the full parameters of it." McDougal terminated her representation by Davidson, but a photograph of McDougal in a bathing suit is still featured prominently on his Web siteaccording to McDougal, without her permission. The Wall Street Journal reported that, two months after McDougal signed the agreement with A.M.I., Davidson negotiated a nondisclosure agreement between Clifford and Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, for a hundred and thirty thousand dollars. (On Tuesday, Cohen told theTimes that he had facilitated the deal with Daniels and paid the money out of his own pocket. Cohen did not respond to a request for comment.)
As voters went to the polls on Election Day, Howard and A.M.I.'s general counsel were on the phone with McDougal and a law firm representing her, promising to boost McDougal's career and offering to employ a publicist to help her handle interviews. E-mails show that, a year into the contract, the company suggested it might collaborate with McDougal on a skin-care line and a documentary devoted to a medical cause that she cares about, neither of which has come about. The initial contract also called for A.M.I. to publish regular columns by McDougal on aging and wellness, and to "prominently feature" her on two magazine covers. She has appeared on one cover and is in discussions about another, but in the past seventeen months the company has published only nine of the almost a hundred promised columns. "They blew her off for a long time," Crawford said. A.M.I. said that McDougal had not delivered the promised columns.
A.M.I. responded quickly, however, when journalists tried to interview McDougal. In May, 2017, The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin, who was writing a profile of David Pecker, asked McDougal for comment about her relationships with A.M.I. and Trump. Howard, of A.M.I., working with a publicist retained by the company, forwarded McDougal a draft response with the subject line "SEND THIS." In August, 2017, Pecker flew McDougal to New York and the two had lunch, during which he thanked her for her loyalty. A few days later, Howard followed up by e-mail, summarizing the plans that had been discussed, including the possibility of McDougal hosting A.M.I.'s coverage of awards shows such as the Golden Globes, Grammys, and Oscars. None of that work materialized. (A.M.I. said that those conversations related to future contracts, not her current one.)
A.M.I.'s interest in McDougal seemed to increase after news broke of Trump's alleged affair with Clifford. Howard sent an e-mail suggesting that McDougal undergo media training, and a few days later suggested that she could host coverage of the Emmys for OK! Magazine. In an e-mail on January 30th, A.M.I.'s general counsel, Cameron Stracher, talked about renewing her contract and putting her on a new magazine cover. The subject line of the e-mail read, "McDougal contract extension." Crawford told me, "They got worried that she was going to start talking again, and they came running to her."
Several people close to McDougal argued that such untold stories could be used as leverage against the President. "I'm sixty-two years old," Crawford said. "I know how the world goes round." Without commenting on Trump specifically, McDougal conceded that she had a growing awareness of the broader implications of the President's situation. "Someone in a high position that controls our country, if they can influence him," she said, "it's a big deal." In a statement, A.M.I. denied that it had any leverage over Trump: "The suggestion that AMI holds any influence over the President of the United States, while flattering, is laughable."
McDougal fears that A.M.I. will retaliate for her public comments by seeking financial damages in a private arbitration process mandated by a clause of her contract. But she said that changes in her life and the emergence of the #MeToo moment had prompted her to speak. In January, 2017, McDougal had her breast implants removed, citing declining health that she believed to be connected to the implants. McDougal said that confronting illness, and embracing a cause she wanted to speak about, made her feel increasingly conflicted about the moral compromises of silence. "As I was sick and feeling like I was dying and bedridden, all I could do was pray to live. But now I pray to live right, and make right with the wrongs that I have done," she told me. McDougal also cited the actions of women who have come forward in recent months to describe abuses by high-profile men. "I know it's a different circumstance," she said, "but I just think I feel braver." McDougal told me that she hoped speaking out might convince others to wait before signing agreements like hers. "Every girl who speaks," she said, "is paving the way for another."


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