Diddy performs at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in a special one-night only event on November 7, 2023, in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images for Sean “Diddy” Combs)

Bad Boys: Whatcha Gonna Do? Plus. . .

Kat Rosenfield on Diddy. Joe Nocera on Hunter Biden and Donald Trump. Matti Friedman on Israel’s other war. And much more.

On today’s Front Page from The Free Press: Matti Friedman on Israel’s other war; Peter Savodnik on Biden’s border “fix”; letters to the editor; and much more. 

But first, two stories about two men in the public eye—and in the dock. 

As cases alleging everything from harassment and rape to nonconsensual porn and sex trafficking ramp up against Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kat Rosenfield argues that we must distinguish between bad boy rhymes and truly evil deeds.

Last month, security footage emerged of Diddy, Sean Combs, assaulting his then-girlfriend Cassie Ventura at a hotel in 2016. The footage is shocking, and yet, in certain corners, it is being treated as inevitable. There’s a lot of shrugging and tsk-ing and “What did you expect from the guy responsible for lines like, Got Asian women that’ll change my linen after I done blazed and hit ’em.” 

In March, when Ventura first came forward with her allegations of harassment and abuse, former Honey magazine editor-in-chief Amy DuBois Barnett wrote that such behavior was the oldest of old news in the hip hop world—that as the music became suffused with themes of misogyny and degradation, “it became aspirational for men to be violent toward women.” On black news site The Hub, an op-ed notes that rap lyrics about rape and abuse have long been de rigueur, under a headline that asks: “Hip-Hop Is Predatory but Why Are We Shocked?” 

Certainly, between Ventura’s testimony and that terrible video, there seems to be little question of Combs’ guilt. But it is on the basis of this latter evidence, and not his lyrics, that we ought to convict him—a principle to keep in mind as the trial moves from media to courtroom. Read on for more from Kat on Diddy, the culture cops, and whether a rapper’s lyrics should be used against him in court. 

And if you think last week’s conviction of Donald Trump is evidence that our justice system has been weaponized, consider the case of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. The trial against the president’s son, who is facing felony charges linked to his purchase of a gun when he was addicted to crack, started yesterday in Wilmington, Delaware. And the two cases have a parallel that has nothing to do with weaponization, argues Joe Nocera

Read his column on why Hunter Biden is the flip side of Donald Trump. 

  1. Time magazine asked Joe Biden if he could do the job of president at 85, which is how old he would be by the end of his second term. He replied: “I can do it better than anybody you know,” adding (and this is where it gets weird): “You’re looking at me, I can take you too.” Mr. President, are you. . . challenging a journalist to a fight? (Time)

  2. Biden made more news in the interview by coming close to endorsing the idea that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prolonging the war in Gaza for his own political survival. “There is every reason for people to draw that conclusion,” said Biden. 

  3. Exit polls in India predicted a massive win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but it seems the once-unbeatable leader has been humbled by the results. His Bharatiya Janata Party has lost their majority, and Modi will have to rely on the support of another party to stay in power. The pollsters screwed up so badly that one of them broke down in tears on live TV. (Atlantic Council)

  4. Nina Welsch can’t remember what, exactly, made her finally quit being a school librarian—but if she had to say, it was “probably when Andersen Press defended its decision to publish a book intended for under-sevens that contained illustrations of men in fetish gear.” She recounts the dilemmas of curating books for kids when children’s publishing has become overrun with subjects like. . . fetish gear. (UnHerd)

  5. This week marks 35 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The anonymous author of this essay is the son of Chinese parents living in America. They would have returned to China were it not for the massacre, and “I would have grown up there in a parallel universe,” he writes. Read his guide on how to memorialize the atrocity. (How to Subvert Subversion

  6. New data shows that Detroit’s population increased last year for the first time in nearly 70 years. The Motor City’s comeback, it turns out, is down to a small group of very rich locals who have bought up 70 percent of its downtown office space. (Bloomberg

  7. The first-ever personalized mRNA cancer vaccine halves the risk of patients dying or the disease returning, according to the first trial results. The study of a vaccine for skin cancer has been described as “extremely impressive.” (The Guardian

  8. Armin Rosen profiles Gilles Kepel, France’s greatest expert on Islamist politics. He says October 7 has proven to be more significant than 9/11 “because 9/11 did not fracture the West.” (Tablet

  9. If you’ve booked a hotel room in New York City lately, you’ve probably been shocked at the high prices; the average cost of a room is now more than $300 per night. What explains the soaring rates? As even The New York Times admits, part of the answer is the migrant crisis. One in five hotels is now a shelter. (New York Times

  10. English WPGA golfer Charley Hull has gone from relative unknown to cult hero at the U.S. Women’s Open. Why? Partly because she’s playing good golf. But also because she smokes between swings. The heir to John Daly has arrived. We salute you, Charley Hull, our newly crowned degenerate golfing queen. (Golf)

This week’s letters to the editor page features three responses to our Saturday essay on the glamorization of divorce, including from a reader who campaigned to make divorce easier for victims of domestic violence but calls her own separation from her violent husband a “bittersweet win.” See also: readers’ suggestions for the great thinkers we should have profiled in our Prophets series. 

Read all the letters here. 

And how about submitting a letter of your own? Do you have strong opinions about the pronatalists and whether they’re far-right? Where do you stand on the professor turned pornographer fighting to keep his job? Let us know!

→ War at Israel’s northern border: On Sunday evening my parents were in a cab in their town, Nahariya, near Israel’s border with Lebanon, when a boom shook the streets and buildings. A Hezbollah suicide drone had just hit near the beach promenade. The impact was followed, belatedly, by an air-raid siren—Israel’s warning systems, designed for rockets, have a harder time with drones. They ran into a nearby building, meeting a few frightened residents taking shelter in the stairwell. 

My parents are lucky to still be in their homes. North of their town, and along the entire length of the Israeli-Lebanon border, all civilians—about 70,000 people—have been evacuated under fire from the Iranian-backed Shia group north of the border. Legendary frontier kibbutzim where pioneers set Israel’s border eight decades ago, like Hanita and Manara, have been empty, unthinkably, for eight months. The town of Kiryat Shmona is deserted. Metullah, a community established by Jews in 1896, is a battered ghost town. 

As I write, fires ignited by Hebollah rockets rage in forests and fields across the north. The images of the blazes seem to symbolize the wildfire that began here on October 7, and which feels like it’s burning out of control in Israel and beyond. 

With Israeli and international focus on the fighting in Gaza, and without sending in a single soldier, Hezbollah has successfully moved Israel’s northern border a few miles south. Israel’s military has been picking off Hezbollah fighters and commanders with air strikes, but this hasn’t calmed things down, and no one knows when Israelis who live in the north will be able to return home. 

The drone that rattled my parents on Sunday was the first to hit their town since the war began, suggesting that Hezbollah could be expanding its range. If it’s a harbinger of strikes to come, and if Nahariya has to be evacuated, it will mean another 70,000 people displaced, doubling the number of Israelis already evacuated from the north. 

News reports on Tuesday night said the war cabinet was meeting to discuss Hezbollah and the north. Since October 7, when Hezbollah began striking across the border in support of Hamas, it has been clear that a major war in Lebanon is likely. As I’ve reported here, experts think this war could have ten times the intensity of what we’ve seen so far in Gaza. Hezbollah has far more rockets than Hamas and is better trained. While never saying so explicitly, Israel can’t conduct significant campaigns on the two fronts simultaneously, so the situation along the border has been allowed to continue inconclusively. But this can’t go on indefinitely, and an Israeli move now seems closer than ever. When this happens, Gaza moves to the back burner and Lebanon comes to the front.
Matti Friedman

→ Biden’s border “fix”: Joe Biden has finally done what he pledged he would never do: close the border to migrants.

Biden’s executive order, announced yesterday, bars migrants from seeking asylum when the seven-day average of illegal migrants hits 2,500 daily. Since recent totals have exceeded that figure, the executive order automatically went into effect at 12:01 a.m. this morning. Border agents are now empowered to bring migrants back to Mexico or return them to their home countries.

Polls have repeatedly shown that immigration is at or near the top of voters’ concerns—and they think Donald Trump would do a better job of handling it. (The number of arrests of illegal migrants from across Latin America and elsewhere peaked at 250,000 in December.) Now that he’s faced with an uphill reelection battle, Biden is embracing the same tough-on-migrants approach that defined the Trump administration, inflaming tensions with the left wing of his own party. 

Biden, meanwhile, portrayed the executive order as the only way to circumvent “Republican obstruction” on Capitol Hill. 

There’s a lot of truth to that. Senate Republicans killed a bipartisan border bill in February, two days after Trump—not wanting to lose his signature issue—trashed it. But it’s also true, as Republicans have long insisted, that Biden could have issued his executive order on day one of his administration, in January 2021.

The New York Times (sounding like Mother Jones) reported that “the move shows how drastically the politics of immigration have shifted to the right in the United States,” but that’s not quite right: rather, it underscores how far to the left Democrats have moved since 2019, when nearly all the presidential primary candidates, including Biden, signaled support for decriminalizing illegal border crossings. 

My two cents: I doubt this does much, if anything, to alter public perceptions of Democratic versus Republican handling of the border. It’s a smart political move, but public sentiments have mostly hardened by now, and as I reported for The Free Press in April, the substantive policy differences between administrations of both parties are sometimes hard to make out.

Furthermore, there are a few big questions about implementing Biden’s executive order: Congress has not appropriated extra money for returning migrants; the ACLU has pledged to fight it, calling it “the same approach” as Trump’s; and it’s unclear how Mexican president-elect Claudia Sheinbaum will react

The underlying truth is neither party wants to do anything to fix this problem in any systemic way—the Republicans, because this is an issue they simply cannot wean themselves off of, or the Democrats, because they’re ideologically opposed to any policy that whiffs of anti-immigration. And so, our forever war over the border continues. Peter Savodnik

→ Fifty shades of The Grayzone: If you are an English speaker looking for positive coverage of the most repressive regimes on the planet, you probably already know about The Grayzone. Founded in December 2015 by Max Blumenthal, son of longtime Hillary Clinton fixer Sidney Blumenthal, The Grayzone has been a one-stop shop for stories fluffing the reputations of Russia, China, Iran, and of course Hamas.

The mystery of The Grayzone, for some, has been whether the outlet is being paid for their PR by the autocrats and terrorists they defend. Over the weekend, The Washington Post published an intriguing piece revealing that one of The Grayzone’s editors, Wyatt Reed, was compensated for his freelance work for Iranian state propaganda outlet PressTV while he was also working for the Russian state organ Sputnik.

This has been a pattern for The Grayzone. Another reporter for the website who is featured on its masthead, Anya Parampil, is a former host for RT, the Russian state propaganda outlet banned in Europe and Canada after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. In 2023, Parampil wrote that she contacted a senior Russian official to help Tucker Carlson score an interview with Russian president, Vladimir Putin. (Parampil and Blumenthal wed in 2020.) 

There is also the fact that The Grayzone’s pieces have been reprinted and cited by authoritarian regimes in their own outlets. A study from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in March 2021 found that between December 2019 and February 2021, English-language state-run Chinese media cited The Grayzone 252 times. That’s not surprising considering that The Grayzone has attacked researchers calling attention to the plight of the Uyghur minority in China.

All of that said, The Washington Post piece does not answer the central mystery of The Grayzone. Hiring staff that received a paycheck from authoritarian propaganda outlets is not the same as taking covert funding from those countries directly. And while Blumenthal has been a frequent guest on both PressTV and RT (he even attended the infamous Moscow RT Gala in 2015 that got retired general Michael Flynn in so much trouble), he has consistently said that his website is funded by its readers.

And for all we know, that is true. Still, if a “news” site keeps explaining away the aggression, atrocities, and oppression of the worst regimes on earth, does it really matter if the regimes themselves are paying for such great press? The sad truth is they probably don’t need to pay, as Blumenthal’s own checkered journalism career shows there are plenty of Americans who are willing to defend the most indefensible tyrants out of only their conviction. —Eli Lake

Isabelle recommends Midwestern Food, a cookbook by Chef Paul Fehribach: Chef Paul is a multiple James Beard Award nominee who has a long-running, successful Chicago neighborhood restaurant, Big Jones. He is an unrepentant Midwesterner, having grown up in Southern Indiana, and this book is a celebration of Midwestern food in all its forms. It’s a love letter to flyover country and all the goodness there! Just delightful.

For the latest in our ongoing series of great coffee shops, Sam recommends Living Waters Brewing in East Nashville: The vibe is dark and the coffee is darker. I’m talking leather chairs, low lighting, sublime merch, and a constant mixed scent of fermentation and coffee that pervades the entire building. 

What cookbooks do you swear by? Where do you get your coffee? Tell us that and anything else you recommend! 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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