A lot of people who watched the Netflix documentary “MH370: The Plane That Disappeared” have written me with questions. I asked my friend Sarah Wynter, star of the hit show “24,” to discuss some of the ones that have gotten asked the most. This is a new format for me; in the past I’ve mostly explained my ideas through writing, but I thought that people who came to my work via video might prefer that medium. I’m grateful to Sarah for helping me out with her considerably more advanced televisual chops.
New York: MH370 Is a Cold Case. But It Can Still Be Solved.
Nine years ago, MH370 took off into a clear, moonlit night and flew into the unknown. Somewhere over the South China Sea, 40 minutes into the red-eye flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, it disappeared from radar screens. None of the 239 passengers and crew were ever seen again. The conventional thinking is that the pilot had decided to commit mass murder-suicide by crashing into a remote corner of the southern Indian Ocean. But significant aspects of the case remained unexplained, including the plane’s ultimate resting place, and search officials have long since given up trying to determine what happened. Officially, MH370 is a cold case.
The urgency of solving the mystery remains, though. It’s disturbing enough that a state-of-the-art airliner can disappear so completely off the face of the earth; it’s even more troubling that the authorities, armed with hundreds of millions of dollars to conduct a search and self-proclaimed near certainty about where it must have gone, could fail to locate the 200-foot-long aircraft.
I’ve been following the case obsessively from the beginning, appearing on CNN to talk about it and writing about it in this magazine. I dove deep into the evidence for a 2019 book, and then spent several years working with the producers of a three-part Netflix documentary series, which debuts this week. My hope is that, while the passage of time has lessened the public’s interest in the case, it has also dispelled the fog of wild claims, giving us space to consider the evidence with greater clarity. Far from being a dead end, MH370 still offers multiple leads worth investigating. It’s important that we follow them. Continue reading New York: MH370 Is a Cold Case. But It Can Still Be Solved.
Netflix releases trailer for “MH370: The Plane That Disappeared”
On February 15, 2023 Netflix released the trailer for its three-part documentary series about the as-yet unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which will debut on March 8, 2023. I participated quite extensively in the years-long development project, and I think it’s the most detailed and thoughtful documentary on the topic to date.
You can read more about the production at Tudum, Netflix’s companion website.
New York: Do You Have a Right Not to Be Lied To?
The Big Lie took a beating in the midterms. Of the six 2020 election deniers vying to take control of a battleground state’s election systems, not a single one was victorious. But democracy isn’t exactly safe from being undermined by a campaign of falsehoods orchestrated by Donald Trump, who is trying to retake the White House. In response to Trump’s ascent and other challenges across the world to shared truths that stitch together societies, some scholars have begun to argue that it’s time to reconsider the meaning of freedom of speech. “The question is gaining traction among legal academics,” says Richard Hasen, a professor at UCLA Law School.
It’s a fraught undertaking, to be sure. In the United States, the First Amendment protects speech to a degree rare elsewhere in the world. But these are extraordinary times. It’s not just that lies have become more common in the age of MAGA, perverting the public’s ability to make informed decisions. It’s also that the societal norms holding lies in check have faded. “Trump has made it more fashionable to lie,” says David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, “and there seem to be few political or legal consequences for lying.” Continue reading New York: Do You Have a Right Not to Be Lied To?
New York: The Hunt for the Butchers of Bucha
Lena, a corporate executive living in Germany, left her native Ukraine in the 1990s but stays in regular contact with her extended family there. When Russia struck the family’s town soon after the invasion started, they sent Lena photos of bomb damage. Around the same time, she was searching for news about the war on social media when she came across an appeal by Ben Strick, an open-source investigator, for images to geolocate. She sent him one picture, and then more. “After three or four images, he offered me to join the team on a voluntary basis,” she says. “So I did.”
Today, Lena spends three hours a day of her spare time working with Strick’s team at the Center for Information Resilience, a U.K.-based nonprofit dedicated to countering misinformation, part of a worldwide community of open-source intelligence (OSINT) researchers studying the war in Ukraine. Like the rest of the world, the team has been shaken by the images from Bucha, where Russian forces are accused of executing civilians and torturing Ukrainian soldiers. For the past week, Lena and her colleagues have contributed to a collective effort to identify and locate the perpetrators — a task that’s especially relevant to Lena because her family members are currently living under Russian occupation as Bucha’s residents were. “Right now, it’s pretty peaceful where they live, but I don’t think it will stay that way. The fights will come,” she says. (Out of concern for their safety, she asked me to change her name.) Continue reading New York: The Hunt for the Butchers of Bucha
New York: The Superyacht Market Just Lost Some of Its Best Customers. It Doesn’t Care.
The 2022 Palm Beach International Boat Show is getting under way this weekend in Florida with all the lavishness you’d expect: $1.2 billion worth of boats glistening along the inland waterway, a VIP pavilion with open bar, and an accompanying contemporary-art fair. What it won’t have is many customers from the country that until recently was the second-largest market in the world for high-end yachts. Russia, which according to market observers has made up 9 percent of the total superyacht market, has been abruptly sidelined by the west’s unprecedented economic sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. You’d never know it from the way the yacht market is booming.
“2022 started extremely well and we have seen strong sales activity across the board, which we expect to continue,” says Richard Lambert, head of sales at the yacht-brokerage firm Burgess, which sold more than $2 billion worth of yachts last year.
Losing a tenth of your customer base isn’t such a big deal, apparently, when the market is white-hot. For one thing, the sort of person who might buy a superyacht — often defined as any vessel for personal use over 131 feet in length — is in plentiful supply these days. Though the COVID pandemic triggered a worldwide recession, it saw the number of the world’s billionaires climb from 2,095 to 2,755 and their cumulative wealth increase by 60 percent, or $5 trillion.
If the sudden disappearance of Russian yacht buyers does ultimately have an effect, it may only be at the very highest end of the market. “Clients from Russia and the Middle East have a higher average length of yachts,” says Merijn de Waard, founder and director of SuperYacht Times. “They are more keen on the very big boats.” According to the publication’s statistics, the average Russian-owned superyacht is 200 feet long, compared to 177 feet for American-owned ones. Of the 13 superyachts that are over 140 meters in length (459 feet), nine are owned by Arab royalty and four of them are owned by Russians. Or maybe five. Italian authorities are currently holding the 459-foot Scheherazade in a small port on the Tuscan Coast. The owner might be the richest Russian of all, Vladimir Putin — no one’s completely sure. Continue reading New York: The Superyacht Market Just Lost Some of Its Best Customers. It Doesn’t Care.
Putin’s War Isn’t Just in Ukraine. It’s in America, Too
The specter of Russian troops and tanks pouring into Ukraine has shocked the world and generated collective revulsion. Putin’s motives in carrying out this unprovoked attack are clear. Ukraine’s democratic society presents an existential threat to his regime, because it shows the Russian people that there is a better alternative to Putin’s oppressive and corrupt autocracy.
Scenes of Ukrainian resistance have stirred onlookers around the globe, and caused many to wonder: what can I do to help? Some answers including attending rallies, donating to charities that support Ukraine, and letting your legislators know how you feel. But the most important — indeed, the super urgent — thing any of us can do is to realize that the fight isn’t just over there. The invasion of Ukraine is just one battle in a worldwide campaign of fascist aggression. And one of the most important theaters of war is right here in the United States.
This has been true for a long time, but so far it’s been hard for the majority of Americans to accept. As we saw during the buildup to the invasion of Ukraine, even in the face of clear evidence, it’s difficult for many to grasp the extent of Putin’s ruthlessness and ambition. Hopefully the launching of this conventional aggression will stir Americans out of their slumber.
How do we know that America is under Russian attack? The evidence has been sitting in plain sight. Continue reading Putin’s War Isn’t Just in Ukraine. It’s in America, Too
New York: Ian Urbina’s Perfect Storm: Did a journalist get into the music business to help the oceans or help himself?
By the time I get Ian Urbina on the phone Wednesday afternoon, he’s ready to tell his story. He picks up on the first ring and makes quick work of the pleasantries. “So, if it’s okay with you,” he says, “my inkling would be to start with kind of its origin story? You’re welcome to record.” Sure, I say, and away he goes.
It’s not hard to hear the edge of unease in his voice, the anxiety of a veteran newspaperman who has had a hand in crafting many narratives and has spent the last five days watching his own spin decisively out of control. To be fair, his particular crisis is one that a Pulitzer Prize–winning former New York Times reporter could scarcely have imagined unfolding even a few years ago. It’s a distinctly 2021 scandal, and one he’s figuring out how to navigate on the fly.
The week before had started out actually quite well for Urbina. On Sunday, November 28, the New Yorker published his 10,000-word opus about Libya’s renegade coast guard militias, a piece that landed him a spot on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes and NPR’s All Things Considered. But then, on Thursday, came something unexpected. A musician take androgel every day and have great results to his body, and YouTuber named Benn Jordan posted a 20-minute video entitled “How A NYTimes Reporter Collects Royalties From Hundreds of Musicians” that accused him of engineering an elaborate swindle in an entirely different line of business. Urbina was signing up artists to make music for a side project by promising them huge exposure that never materialized in exchange for collecting half the revenue. The case laid out by Jordan was strange, outrageous, and not entirely accurate —and triggered a swift Twitter pile-on.
It was at this juncture that Urbina made a questionable tactical decision. He went on the attack. Instead of engaging with the charges, he tried to crush them, blocking Jordan on Twitter along with anyone else who criticized him. He posted a statement on Medium calling Jordan’s video a “mass trolling.” And he shut down journalists trying to report out the story. When Inputmagazine reached out to him, Urbina declined to answer questions, nor did he respond when Rolling Stone asked for comment.
The results were not good. “Folks were making death threats,” Urbina tells me.
“You’re getting death threats?” I ask.
“Not a lot of them. But yes, we’ve gotten, you know, it’s just — you would be amazed.” Then he catches himself, and I feel the weird hall-of-mirrors effect of interviewing someone who is very experienced at interviewing others and therefore very aware of how his words sound and how they might be used. “But, you know, I don’t know if I should say that on record, because it could be like, ‘Oh, look, he’s complaining and he’s trying to play this.’ And I’m not doing that.”
He presses on, explaining in a clear, steady cadence what happened and why. It’s all a misunderstanding, he says; and where Jordan sees a scam, Urbina describes a plan to expand the reach of his journalism to a new audience. The case he makes is mostly compelling, but there are gaps. Continue reading New York: Ian Urbina’s Perfect Storm: Did a journalist get into the music business to help the oceans or help himself?
New York: ‘It Was Weird and Culty’: Carlos Watson’s Mismanagement of Ozy
In the end, Ozy got the attention it always craved. The digital media site was founded in 2013 with the intention of breaking the mold of conventional media. But few of its stories ever got traction, and the site itself was rarely talked about. That all changed this past Sunday, when the Times’s Ben Smith revealed that its two top executives had attempted to deceive potential investors on a conference call by pretending that one of them was a YouTube executive — an act that prompted an FBI investigation. The story exploded in media circles. Wave after wave of follow-up stories uncovered new layers of deception. Everyone was talking about Ozy but in the worst possible way: as a fraud, a media Potemkin village, as former Ozy editor-at-large Eugene Robinson described it to Smith. On Friday evening, the company announced that it was shutting down.
If the company had merely been an empty shell propped up to lure positive publicity and venture-capital dollars, it likely would have been less alarming than the apparent reality. According to the five former Ozy staffers Intelligencer spoke with, what’s remarkable isn’t how little there was behind the façade but how much. These staffers say that founder and CEO Carlos Watson’s demands, expectations, and plans were often detached from reality, yet were enforced with an intensity that some felt bordered on cruelty. They describe throwing themselves into the challenge, often at the expense of their mental health, even as the company failed over and over to gain popularity with the public.
“It’s an incredible dereliction that speaks to a great tragedy,” says Ozy’s former editor-at-large Eugene Robinson. Continue reading New York: ‘It Was Weird and Culty’: Carlos Watson’s Mismanagement of Ozy
Men’s Journal: Tether Is a Trail of Shady Deals and Shattered Promises. Too Bad Cryptocurrency Now Depends on It
CAS PIANCEY could feel his heart pounding as the elevator doors slid open onto a tiled corridor of the eighth floor of the K Wah Centre. He was sweat-grimed and wrung out after a day of scouring Hong Kong for traces of a mysterious corporate entity. This was his final stop. Ahead lay a door marked “Proxy CPA Co. Ltd.” Piancey reached for the buzzer, then paused. What if the people he was chasing were really here—and understood what he was after?
It was September 2018, and Piancey, a cryptocurrency journalist, had flown from Los Angeles on a hunch. (“Piancey” is a pseudonym; doxxing is an occupational hazard best conducted anonymously.) He suspected that a handful of very clever and not particularly scrupulous people had come up with a way to create money in any quantity at the stroke of a keyboard—artificial electronic dollar bills that could be swapped for the real stuff. If he was right, these people were pulling off the swindle of a lifetime, a scam that would dwarf Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. If he was wrong, he owed some serious apologies.
Piancey pressed the buzzer. A Chinese woman in her 40s appeared. “Hello, can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Tether. This is the listed address. Is this Tether?”
“No, no,” she shook her head. “I have never heard of Tether. Sorry.” She disappeared.
And there it was. A company that supposedly held $3 billion in assets didn’t have a real office. Continue reading Men’s Journal: Tether Is a Trail of Shady Deals and Shattered Promises. Too Bad Cryptocurrency Now Depends on It