It’s been an eventful news week so far with no shortage of stories (which means if I missed something important, I’ll cover it on Friday). From Monday’s terrible hostage situation in Australia to a shooting spree in Pennsylvania, I’ve got you covered. There’s also new information about the Sony hack and now the FBI is involved. Also, a follow-up to the story from a few weeks ago about a sexual harassment suit aimed at real estate website Zillow -- five new lawsuits were filed this week and what happened was so horrific, it’s almost unbelievable.
What do you think of these cases at Zillow? Have you ever had to work in a hostile environment with relentless corporate culture? Discuss this or any of these stories in the comments. You can always tweet me directly (or just follow me) on Twitter @AmandaLauren.
Hostage Crisis In Sydney
On Monday (Australia is a day ahead of the U.S., so it was Sunday evening for most of you), 17 hostages were taken at a Lindt Café in downtown Sydney. Four people were injured and three hostages are dead.
So who did this? Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee and self-proclaimed Muslim cleric (the Muslim community actually wanted nothing to do with him) who had a noted criminal past. In 2009, Monis was convicted of sending harassing letters to the families of deceased soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, calling them “killers” and “murderers,” which is probably one reason why the Muslim community shunned him. But unfortunately, it gets worse -- in 2013, Monis was charged as an accessory to the murder of his former wife, but given bail. She was stabbed 18 times and set on fire.
The standoff between Monis and the police lasted 16 hours. During that time, several of the hostages were ordered to stand by the window holding a makeshift ISIS flag. Some of Monis’ demands that the hostages relayed to the police during the ordeal were to have a proper ISIS flag and to have the incident declared an ISIS attack.
But, let’s be clear, this was in no way an ISIS attack. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot explained it best,
He had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability. As the siege unfolded yesterday, he sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the ISIL [ISIS] death cult.
After 16 hours, by early Tuesday morning, police threw flash-bang grenades into the café, and gunfire erupted. Then the police entered from two directions and killed Monis. The police raid was aired on live television.
Sony’s Hacking Nightmare
Several weeks ago, North Korea-linked group DarkSeoul is believed (but not officially confirmed yet) to have hacked Sony’s computer system. As a result, passwords, personal information, phone numbers, emails and other confidential material, including salary information (men are paid more than women) was leaked to the public.
Why all the Sony hate? The hackers weren’t exactly too thrilled about the upcoming Seth Rogen/James Franco flick, "The Interview," about the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. On Tuesday, Sony cancelled all publicity for the film after the hackers threatened a 9/11 style attack at theaters that show the film.
But, at this point, that’s probably the least of Sony’s problems (the FBI doesn’t think the threats are credible) because a slew of leaked emails has become a major PR nightmare for the studio.
Some of the info leaked was mildly embarrassing, such as an email from Channing Tatum consisting mostly of the word “HAHAH” for what probably prints out to 13 pages to lots of people at Sony pretty much agreeing that Adam Sandler’s movies are terrible and formulaic (but we knew that already). There was also some pretty serious celeb bashing including Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal calling Angelina Jolie “a spoiled brat from Crazyland.”
Arguably the worst of the leaked info was a series of racist emails including one between "Moneyball" producer Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal:
“Would [Obama] like to finance some movies,” (Rudin)
“I doubt it. Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?”(Pascal)
“I bet he likes Kevin Hart.”
They both have since apologized- Rudin issuing quite an honest statement to Deadline:
“Private emails between friends and colleagues written in haste and without much thought or sensitivity, even when the content of them is meant to be in jest, can result in offense where none was intended. I made a series of remarks that were meant only to be funny, but in the cold light of day, they are in fact thoughtless and insensitive — and not funny at all. To anybody I’ve offended, I’m profoundly and deeply sorry, and I regret and apologize for any injury they might have caused.”
Pascal’s statement to Variety was a little more cut and dry than Rudin’s:
The content of my emails were insensitive and inappropriate but are not an accurate reflection of who I am. Although this was a private communication that was stolen, I accept full responsibility for what I wrote and apologize to everyone who was offended.
Joseph Demarest, assistant director of the FBI's cyber division, told members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee the hack was a threat to cyber security at large:
The malware that was used would have slipped, probably would have gotten past 90% of the net defenses that are out there today in private industry, and I would challenge to even say government.
High School Kids Lies To Reporters About Making $72 Million
New York Magazine interviewed 17-year-old Stuyvesant High School student Mohammad Islam, who claimed he made $72 million in the stock market trading during his lunch breaks. But, just one day after the interview was printed, it turns out Islam’s story was one big lie.
Islam came clean to the New York Observer in an interview that was released on Monday evening:
You seem to be quoted saying “eight figures.” That’s not true, is it?
No, it is not true.
Is there ANY figure? Have you invested and made returns at all?
So it’s total fiction?
Where did Jessica Pressler [the reporter for the New York magazine Story] come up with the $72 million figure?
I honestly don’t know. The number’s a rumor.
She said ‘have you made $72 million’?
[I led her to believe] I had made even more than $72 million on the simulated trades.
On Tuesday morning, New York magazine was still standing by their story and added the following editor’s note to the piece:
Mohammed Islam has denied that he made $72 million on the stock market. Our story portrays the $72 million figure as a rumor; the initial headline has been changed to more clearly reflect the fact that we did not know the exact figure he has made in trades. However, Mohammed provided bank statements that showed he is worth eight figures, and he confirmed on the record that he’s worth eight figures.
But, later that day New York changed their tune and issued an apology on their website, admitting fault in the hoax:
We were duped. Our fact-checking process was obviously inadequate; we take full responsibility and we should have known better. New York apologizes to our readers.
Five More Former Employees Sue Zillow
A few weeks ago, I reported that Rachel Kremer is suing her former employer Zillow for “sexual torture.” On Monday, five more employees filed suit against Zillow on 13 violations including intentional affliction of emotional distress, race discrimination, age discrimination, religious discrimination and failure to maintain a work environment free from harassment. The plaintiffs, like Kremer, are represented by Geragos & Geragos, which is the law firm of Mark Geragos, who you might know because he’s the go-to attorney for many Hollywood celebrities.
Attorney Ben Meiselas reached out to me personally by email and said:
This is the 10th lawsuit against Zillow for working conditions, and the five plaintiffs who brought this most recent case suffered through some of the most heinous work abuses, and just human treatment in general, imaginable.
According to legal documents, the black employees were referred to by Zillow as the “NAACP black coalition” and were given nicknames including “Samuel Jackson” and “Bagger Vance.” Furthermore, said employees were moved to the back of the sales floor where they were denied sales leads and incoming cold calls, all while being supervised by an African-American manager.
The suit also alleges the plaintiffs were subjected to unfair working conditions, including not being allowed to take legally mandated lunch breaks when lunch was provided, having to listen to loud techno music while working (which caused hearing loss in one case), working overtime hours without compensation and being fired for a medical condition -- among a laundry list of unquestionably illegal offenses. Zillow has also filed a motion to dismiss Kremer’s lawsuit.
· A new study shows that men with high testosterone, aka alpha-males, use more hot sauce. Scientists studied 114 men aged 18 to 44, presenting them with a portion of mashed potatoes and some hot sauce. The subjects who added the most hot sauce had highest levels of testosterone. Men who have higher testosterone are also more likely to prefer “dominant colors” like red and are prone to being bigger risk takers.
· Monday proved to be a terrifying day for residents of Montgomery County Pennsylvania. Bradley William Stone, 35, a former Marine, who allegedly suffered PTSD as a result of his tour in Iraq, went on a shooting spree killing his ex-wife Nicole Hill and her mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law and niece, as well as injuring his nephew, who is currently hospitalized. While Stone was on the loose, authorities in the area closed and locked down several schools and encouraged residents to stay inside. Stone’s former wife told friends she thought he was going to kill her and the two were involved in an bitter custody dispute. Stone remained at large until Tuesday afternoon when he was found dead in the woods near his home, of apparently self-inflicted wounds in the center of his body.
· At least 141 people, many of them students, are dead in Pakistan after nine Taliban gunmen stormed a public military school in Peshawar. After trading gunfire for eight hours with army commandos, all nine are dead. The Pakistan Taliban has been trying to overthrow the government and claimed the attack was in retaliation for the Pakistani military’s recent offense killing hundreds of their people in North Waziristan and Khyber.