5 Big Takeaways From Fortune Brainstorm Tech
Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference wrapped up Wednesday and so after a few hours to ponder the last three days in Aspen, Colo., here are my top five personal takeaways.
1: There’s no easy fix for fake news.
On Wednesday, journalists Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, David Sanger of The New York Times (NYT), and Isaac Lee, chief content officer of Univision, weighed in on the U.S. political climate and its impact on the media. Suffice it to say, things don’t look good.
The repetition of “fake news” claims by members of the Trump Administration has become a branding tool to undermine the press, said Mitchell, who is NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent. She noted that journalists never quite reconciled how to report on the hacked documents from the Hillary Clinton campaign—whether to ignore them because they were illegally obtained or to vigorously report on them.
“We have not figured out what to do with this and it’s turned everything upside down,” she noted.
Lee who was born in Colombia and lives in Mexico, was asked to represent the rest of the world in his assessment of the status quo in U.S. political and media worlds. And, he didn’t sugarcoat it: “The U.S. is starting to look like a third-world Latin American country.”
None of the panelists suggested a fix for the problem other than that journalists must continue doing their jobs as if they were not under siege. “The biggest single mistake we could do in navigating our coverage of the Trump administration would be to let ourselves become the resistance to the government in place,” said Sanger, chief national security correspondent for the Times. Falling into that trap truly would undermine the media’s credibility.
2: Cyber tensions are sky high
What the Russians did during the recent U.S. elections is serious, but it’s unclear if it rises to the level of cyber warfare. And there’s a real difference between spying and waging cyber war, according to Gen. Keith Alexander, former director of the NSA.
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The difference, he said, is intent. “Cyber war is to inflict damage while spying is to learn secrets,” he said. Every nation engages in cyber spying. The stakes are much higher in cyber warfare, because these acts can provoke responses that could escalate, perhaps even in the physical counterattack.
One example of real cyber warfare was the attack on Sony, purportedly by North Korean actors. Cyber attacks on the Ukraine, meant to destabilize that country’s economy and stability, are another example.
3: The government is broken
Former CIA Director John Brennan spoke bluntly about the need to dial down partisan rancor in the federal government for the greater good. Citizens must put pressure on their elected officials—of both parties— to bury the hatchet and work together, he said.
“This partisan environment will undermine this country’s future and prosperity,” Brennan said. “Political agendas are overriding national security considerations and it is outrageous. I have never seen it this bad in 37 years.”
4: Progress is slow on the diversity front
The room was packed for Tuesday’s town hall discussion about diversity and inclusion in tech. Evertoon founder Niniane Wang talked about her crusade to expose serial sexual harassers in the industry, and got a lot of audience support. But when PicMonkey chairman Jonathan Sposato posited that women don’t always support other women in the industry, things got heated fast.
OpenTable (OPEN) CEO Christa Quarles, took the microphone, calling his contention “bullshit.”
“In Silicon Valley today there is a sisterhood of women who are supporting each other, telling each other about board opportunities, giving each other business ideas,” she responded.
Later in the week, Wang said men need to come forward about sexual harassment and that “deafening silence” on their part is a big part of the problem.
“Women should not have to risk their careers and mortgages” to bring their harassers to account, she said.
Despite a new pledge by tech firms to do better on this front, there is lots of work to do. Nicole Farb, an entrepreneur and former Goldman Sachs banker, said Silicon Valley is far less advanced on this issue than Wall Street, typically seen as another male-dominated bastion.
“Seventeen percent of the bankers at Goldman Sachs are women and just 7% of the valley,” she noted.
5: Richard Sherman Is Sick Of Mainstream Media
President Trump isn’t the only one fed up with the media landscape. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has his own bone to pick with the major outlets, which he says are stooping to TMZ-style reporting. That disaffection is one reason he’s a contributor to The Player’s Tribune, the online publication launched three years ago by former New York Yankees all-star shortstop Derek Jeter.
Sherman sees The Tribune as a channel for players to put out their own stories out without filtering them through the big outlets, which he says sensationalize them to get clicks. A public relations executive attending the show said many tech companies feel the same way. “Maybe we should start a Vendors’ Tribune,” she noted.