Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 9:30 pm

Who really won the Pulitzer Prize for public-service journalism?

It’s a more complicated question than it appears, and who better than Jay Rosen to make complicated questions of journalism easier to understand?

Officially, the prize went to The Washington Post and to the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. for reporting on the National Security Agency’s lawbreaking and overreaching, based on documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Officially.

But this case illustrates how the process of news gathering, editing, and publishing/distribution has changed in the Internet age. The bad news, if you want to call it that, is that the Pulitzer committee hasn’t caught up yet. The good news, and we definitely want to call it that, is that those agencies that want to suppress the publication of material whose publication is in the public interest, such as the British agents who smashed the Guardian’s MacBook Pros despite knowing that Snowden’s cache of records was alive and well elsewhere on the planet and in cyberspace, haven’t caught up yet, either.

As Rosen puts it, a writer or a paper/news outlet doesn’t publish a story anymore; a system does. And if the Pulitzer committee has trouble wrapping its head around that, that’s OK. I and many other former and current journalists I know would trade a Pulitzer in a heartbeat for the chance to be able to continue performing public-service journalism at least one step ahead of those entities who would unconstitutionally and illegally suppress it.

UPDATE, 4/16: Who really won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism? It damn sure wasn’t ABC News.

Friday, March 28, 2014 8:57 pm

If only there were a solution; or, Why Pat McCrory and Art Pope need to be horsewhipped

From today’s News & Record print and e-edition (but apparently not from the website, so probably paywalled):

Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday asked for more belt-tightening within state government as a pre-emptive move to protect the state from a Medicaid shortfall and a fuzzy revenue picture.

In a memorandum to state agencies and their leaders, McCrory said that while the state’s fiscal picture is much improved compared with “a year ago, “the state still needs to exercise restraint for the remainder of the fiscal year,” ending June 30. He wrote a similar directive in March 2013.

McCrory’s state budget office projected this week that Medicaid expenditures could be up to $140 million above the amount the General Assembly authorized.

First of all, “McCrory’s state budget office” is budget director Art Pope, the real governor. McCrory’s just the cabin boy.

Second, so the state might need to spend $140 million above what’s been authorized. Gee. Whocouldaknowed? And if only there some way the state could do something about that without eliminating raises for hard-working state employees, who have seen damn little in the way of raises since the Crash of ’08. There ought to be something we could do, y’know. Hmm. What could it be? And why didn’t the AP and/or the News & Record point that out?

But we continue:

While revenue projections are largely on track to cover this year’s budget, “there is revenue uncertainty for the remainder” of the year, McCrory wrote.

Stop right there, bubba. Both of those things cannot be true simultaneously. McCrory, by whom I mean Pope, is just flat-out lying here and hoping no one will notice. Certainly the AP and the News & Record didn’t.

He also ordered his Cabinet-level agencies to discontinue most salary increases, limit purchases, reduce travel expenditures and reconsider contract work.

Translation: Basically, we’re not just going to screw up Medicaid, we’re going to screw up every other agency, too.

Jesus wept. What they’re doing (and refusing to do that could help) is bad enough. And the news media are giving them a free pass on top of that.

Dear Merciful God, I’ve had a pretty good life, all in all, and so I haven’t asked you for much. And much of what I have asked for, you’ve delivered. But even though you did my family and me quite a solid just today, I’m asking this: Please let Roy Cooper, or some other competent Democrat, run against McCrory in 2016 and whip him like a rented mule. I mean, whip him so badly he needs skin grafts to close all the bloody welts on his ass.

Now, Lord, I grant that’s pretty harsh. But your own son took a brutal flogging en route to saving humankind. Meanwhile, thousands of North Carolinians are doing without health insurance, and thus health care, who wouldn’t have to except that Pat McCrory and Art Pople hate the non-white guy in the White House. And a nontrivial number of those North Carolinians, research shows, are likely to die prematurely because McCrory and Pope are petty, racist sociopaths. So I figured that taking a beating like that wouldn’t fix the damage McCrory will do between now and January 2017. But it might make a lot of suffering people feel a little better and prevent a boatload more suffering in the future.

So if it wouldn’t be too much trouble …

Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2014 11:16 pm

An educator unworthy of the name

Long story short, a high-school publication in Fond du Lac, Wisc., is, in the words of regular contributor Doc at First-Draft.com, “being punished for pointing out that RAPE IS REAL and it SUCKS WHEN IT HAPPENS TO HIGH SCHOOL KIDS.” And, more specifically, that at Fond du Lac High School, lots of people make jokes about rape, which REALLY sucks for those students who have been, you know, raped.

The school system is imposing a sweeping prior restraint on student publications because a student magazine dared to make an issue of this. Here’s the issue in question; the story at issue begins on page 11. Read the article — indeed, read the whole issue, or at least skim it to get a feel for the kind of publication it is trying to be — and then judge for yourself who’s being responsible here and who is not.

Doc, who works with student journalists in some capacity elsewhere in that region, and his First Draft companions who are scattered around the country, are keeping the heat on, with subsequent posts here, here, and here.

I weighed in with my own missive to the school system’s superintendent, Dr. James Sebert:

Dear Dr. Sebert:

I write as a lifelong red-state Republican, the father of a high-school daughter about to turn 16 — and a former journalist who won a lot of awards for publishing unpleasant truths. And I have one very simple question for you:

What in the pluperfect hell do you think you’re doing?

It is not your job to ensure an environment full of nothing but rainbow-colored unicorns. It is not your job to try to shield students from life’s unpleasant realities because they might somehow interfere with the educational process.

In fact, the very idea that you could is laughable. By the time they cross Fond du Lac’s thresholds for the first time, nontrivial numbers of students at the high school will already have endured more unpleasantness than most U.S. adults could possibly imagine, including but not limited to starvation, bullying and other physical abuse (including from family members), sexual abuse and incest, date rape, stranger rape, psychological abuse, drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pretty much anything short of a mass murder. Are you seriously arguing that those aren’t already interfering with the educational process? And if not, then why don’t you want to talk about them? Certainly we won’t stop them from interfering with the educational process until we do talk about them.

Are you seriously arguing that students shouldn’t talk about these issues, issues that are a real, and damaging, part of their lives, issues that are harming and will continue to harm their educational processes whether Cardinal Columns discusses them or not? Because if you are, you forfeit all moral claim to the title of “educator.”

It’s that simple. Sure, a misbegotten Supreme Court ruling might give you the right to censor student publications. But keep a couple of things in mind. First, this is basically the same Supreme Court that more recently has stated as a fact that campaign finance does not cause corruption, which is on an intellectual par with the high court’s declaring that the sky is chartreuse with purple polka-dots. Second, having the right to do something is not the same thing as saying you must, you should, or that it might not be a bad idea.

Anyone who seriously considers himself an educator and engages in prepublication review ought to presume news items publishable unless they are proven otherwise, and ought to require no more than the minimum change necessary to make unpublishable items publishable. Topics in general shouldn’t be reviewed at all because high-schoolers are high-schoolers: They’re going to write about what’s important to them, whether or not you like it and maybe even because you don’t. What should you do about that? Nothing. Let. It. Go.

I reviewed the article in question and found it not perfect, but excellent for high school journalism, with due consideration obviously given to the journalistic imperatives to report the truth while minimizing harm. And if you want to argue that the article was not necessary, you need only consider the results of the accompanying poll, which is about as rigorous as polls of students at a single high school can get. Rape jokes are everywhere at Fond du Lac High — and so are the rape victims who have to listen to them and are degraded by them. As an educator, you ought to find THAT intolerable, not a piece of journalism about it.

You’ve still got a chance to make this a teachable moment — for yourself, the school system, the high-school faculty and administrators, and the students. If you’re truly an educator, then that’s what you’ll do. If you need to consult outside experts — rape-crisis experts, clinical mental-health counselors, whatever — for context and advice, swallow your pride and do it.

The kids at Fond du Lac High deserve better. So do their parents. So does their community, whose taxes pay your salary. How you handle this situation going forward can make a nontrivial number of students’ lives easier than they are now — and, oh, by the way, improve the educational process. So get going.

Sincerely,

Lex

Obviously, I don’t expect either a response or a change of heart. But this sorry excuse for an educator is now all over the Internetz as a stick-up-his-butt censor, which may well give pause one day to any larger school system that might consider hiring him. And I think it’s important for reporter/editor Tanvi Kumar and her fellow student journalists, who performed admirably not only in their original journalism but also in how they have handled themselves so far in the resulting dispute, to know that there are people out here watching them with pride and admiration.

I’m sharing the story of these kids with my own high-school-age daughter. I want her to know that the adults in her life (other than me, of course) are fallible, and that this is what one very important kind of fallibility looks like. But I also want her to understand the merits of what these student journalists were trying to do, and why, and how well they went about it, and to learn from them as well — things like responsibility and curiosity and courage and judgment that to date have been utterly absent from the people running that high school and that school system.

I want her, in short, to learn very quickly at least as much as these Fond du Lac student journalists already know about how, when, and why you speak truth to power. Because everything I see in our society suggests to me that we need more of that, not less, and will need more for many years to come. I want her and her generation prepared, for one small and simple reason: The future of the country and the well-being of their fellow citizens depends on it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 8:43 pm

Real courage, cont.

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:43 pm
Tags: , , , ,

UPDATE below.

On Monday night, Abby Martin, a host on the English-language and generally pro-government Russia Today, tore Russia a new orifice over its actions in Crimea:

Interestingly, unlike Peter Arnett or Phil Donahue, who were fired by NBC and MSNBC, respectively, for voicing concerns about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, she appears as of this writing to have suffered no repercussions.

The point is not that the Russian government is better than American corporations. For all we know, by tomorrow she could’ve been taken out back and shot.

But it is interesting that she is calling out her own employer’s government for arguably illegal action in real time and, indeed, when there might still be time to stave off further bad acting by Russia (and, yes, Vladimir Putin is a bad actor). When Arnett, who pulled huge audiences for CNN during the first Gulf War in 1991, and Donahue attempted to do more or less the same thing before and soon after the start of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in contrast, they were fired — Donahue even before hostilities with Iraq commenced, because the network was thinking about how to broaden its audience in an anticipated “time of war.” At the time, national support for invading Iraq was somewhere in the 50-50 range, but you never would have known it to watch the MSM.

So are journalists for Russian outlets braver than journalists for U.S. ones? Are the outlets themselves braver? It’s impossible to say on the basis of a single case. But it’s an interesting case.

The bigger picture, I think, is that since Watergate, U.S. journalism has hesitated to take on the government on substantive policy issues (no, Bill Clinton’s penis was not a “substantive policy issue”) even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the government was acting out — in Iran-Contra, bank deregulation, and the numerous international and domestic crimes and violations of the Constitution undertaken after 9/11. That won’t end well, for journalism or the country.

(h/t: The Intercept)

UPDATE, 3/5/2014: She quit. On live TV.

Friday, February 7, 2014 8:24 pm

How to monetize journalism

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:24 pm
Tags: , ,

Athenae, even while wrestling with a newborn, nailed this in one take:

Seems to be a matter of whoring yourself out to any passing truck driver who throws on a Goodwill sport coat for the night, coupled with showing absolutely no remorse for being a solipsistic [expletive] who can’t make the connection between policy failures and LOTS OF DEAD PEOPLE.

Sounds about right. Quality journalism, journalism that helps people make sense of their world and their agency within it and that holds the powerful accountable, has almost never been profitable. It almost always has been subsidized by something else: advertisements, sports, recipes, the comics, donations, or all of the above. And anyone who claims otherwise, as Jim VandeHei of Politico seemed to be doing here, has probably already found himself a passing truck driver in a Goodwill sport coat.

Thursday, January 16, 2014 7:18 pm

You keep using that word. It does not mean what you think it means.

And speaking of invaluable economist Dean Baker, he schools NPR, not that they’ll pay any attention:

This adjective ["enormous" -- Lex] appeared in a top of the hour news piece (sorry, no link [this NPR blog post uses the adjective "massive" -- Lex] referring to the spending bill approved by Congress on Wednesday evening. It would be interesting to know how it made this assessment. While the government spends more money each year than any of its listeners will see in their lifetime, it spends less relative to the size of its economy than almost any other wealthy country. It is also spending less relative to the size of the economy than it did in the years 2009-2012. The domestic discretionary portion of the budget, which was close to half of the spending bill, is smaller relative to the size of the economy than it has been in decades.

It’s a simple point, but one journalists at even the biggest outlets in the business can’t seem to learn: a number is meaningless — or, worse, misleading — absent context. I bolded the last part because although I want to shout this in all upper-case letters, I have chosen merely to emphasize it instead.

New York Times vs. New York Times

If a genie granted me three wishes, I wouldn’t waste one of them on this. But, damn, it would be nice if, at least once in a while, New York Times economics reporters would consult their columnist colleague Paul Krugman, who has, like, a Nobel Prize in the subject, before publishing bilge like this, particularly when Krugman could steer them to a large pile of research showing that he’s right and they’re wrong.

(h/t: Dean Baker)

Friday, January 3, 2014 6:12 pm

Your liberal media, part the infinity

David Gregory had unindicted murder Elliott Abrams on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, and if you want to know what’s wrong with American news media, this is it in a nutshell: They continue to give respectful (and, by “respectful,” I mean “fellating”) hearings to people who have been so wrong on substance so many times that no sane society would ever give them another hearing. I’ll outsource this to Charlie Pierce:

[Abrams was] described as a “foreign policy advisor to Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush” when, in reality, he is a bloodthirsty chickenhawk who, during the term of office he’d served prior to working for C-Plus Augustus, was party to a sprawling international conspiracy that involved selling missiles to Iran, funding our out private terrorist army in Central America, and lying to Congress about the whole business, which nearly got him indicted, but he dove into a sweet plea deal and then was pardoned anyway by President George H.W. Bush, who was hip-deep in the same foul mire, and who pardoned everyone except Shoeless Joe Jackson on his way out the door. Prior to this, he had misled Congress about a massacre carried out by US-aligned military terrorists in a place called El Mozote in El Salvador. Part of his job there was to slander American reporters who tried to tell the country the truth about what its tax dollars were buying in Central America in those days. (By the way, the American people kept saying, over and over again, that they did not approve of what was being done in their name in places like El Salvador. But democratic norms meant nothing to Elliott Abrams and they mean nothing today.) He also repeatedly fudged the facts regarding the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero by a right-wing death squad in the middle of Mass.

Abrams’s undying cred with people like the folks who run Meet The Press is my problem, since we ostensibly share the same business. There are a hundred other conservative critics of the administration who MTP could have called to make the same case Abrams made yesterday — the administration is “withdrawing” from the Middle East, why are we not yet at war in Syria?, why are we not as yet bombing the hell out of Iran, Israel abandoned, etc, etc — who were not career disinformation specialists, and who did not lie to the country on the country’s own dime. Didn’t anyone there stop and think, geez, even on a holiday week, we can do better than to lend what’s left of our credibility and what’s left of the credibility of our show to a guy who has lied so extravagantly through his entire public career? Was there nobody on duty in upper echelons who remembers Iran-Contra? (It was in all the papers.) The only possible question for a moral journalist to pose to this guy is, “Why in the unshirted fk should we believe anything you say about anything ever?” and then move along to whatever banality Andrea Mitchell has teed up. …

The last time a president was as “bold” as Gregory wants this one to be, he lied us into a war that continues to wreak ruin to this day. Elliott Abrams was working for him at the time. The time before that, peasants got slaughtered and American nuns got raped and murdered, and archbishops got ventilated on the altar, and Elliott Abrams, to whom the Dancin’ Master directed his volley of bad history, cheered all of this on, lied about it as part of his official duties, and continues to believe that to have been the height of patriotism and public service. Ghosts of the dead should howl him awake every night. He should be spat upon by the surviving families of the dead every day on his way to teach his history class. History itself should vomit him out of its mouth. Journalism should revolt at the very sight of him. He should be whatever is one rung below a pariah. Instead, he gets a guest shot to tell the nation he has spent his career misleading into armed conflicts in which he never would have picked up a weapon or stood a post that its foreign policy is not blood-soaked enough for his taste. It was a living parable of the uselessness of dead memory.

I’m old enough to remember El Mozote. I’m old enough to remember Iran-Contra. And I’m still pissed about them. Therefore, you can begin, maybe, talking to me about a liberal media when blood-soaked clowns like Abrams cease getting respectful hearings from that media. Until then, just shut up.

 

Friday, December 13, 2013 7:08 pm

The New York Times does not understand Social Security

For evidence of this, I offer the following email exchange between me and D.C. bureau reporter Jonathan Weisman. I first wrote him regarding this article, in which he stated as fact:

Some conservatives feel betrayed, as they often have since the Republicans took control of the House in 2011. Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said the House Republican conference agreed in the spring that spending levels exacted by the sequestration cuts would not change unless Congress and the White House could strike an accord to control the long-term causes of the rising costs of the federal debt, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Leave aside for the moment that the actual biggest drivers of federal deficits, and thus the growing national debt, are, in fact, NOT entitlements:

The key fact on which I wish to focus is that Social Security does not contribute to the federal deficit AT ALL. This is a simple and widely understood fact with which the reporter took tendentious issue before throwing in the towel, as shown:

On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 2:26 PM, <ordercs@nytimes.com> wrote:

Email: lex.alexander@gmail.com
URL:Your budget-deal story
Comments:Jon, how many times does it have to be said before it sinks into the heads of reporters for the Times Almighty? SOCIAL SECURITY DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEFICIT. It is funded by contributions that, since 1983, have been accumulating a large surplus to be used to pay retirement benefits to the Baby Boomers. Now that Baby Boomers have begun to retire, that surplus, which peaked at around $3 trillion, is being drawn down … just as planned in 1983. There is enough of a surplus that SocSec can pay 100% of expected benefit demands until the mid-2030s and, with continuing FICA withholding revenue, about 80% of benefit demands pretty much forever after that even if we do nothing at all to Social Security. And with small changes (raising the cap on income subject to FICA withholding), we could have SocSec paying 100% of benefits pretty much forever.

Once again: Social Security does not contribute in any way, shape or form to the government’s operating budget deficit. And this isn’t just a matter of opinion, this is an error of fact so egregious that it demands a published correction. My next stop is the public editor, for that very purpose.

Best,
Lex Alexander
Greensboro, NC
www.lexalexander.net

On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 2:35 PM, Weisman, Jonathan <jonathan.weisman@nytimes.com> wrote:

You are simply wrong here. Since 2010, Social Security has been operating in deficit since 2010. As the annual trustees report said, Social Security’s “cash-flow deficit will average $75 billion between 2013 and 2018 before rising steeply” http://www.ssa.gov/oact/trsum/

It is true that the system is now cashing bonds it has been given by other parts of the government that have “borrowed” from its surplus over decades. But the fact is, every bond cashed must be paid in cash by the U.S. government and the taxpayers. Social Security as a system is not in debt yet. It is redeeming what is owed it. But those redemptions ARE driving the the debt upward, along with Medicare, Medicaid and other programs impacted by the aging baby boom.

On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 2:56 PM, Lex Alexander <lex.alexander@gmail.com> wrote:

OK, fine, if you’re not going to believe me, how ’bout walking down the hall or picking up the phone and talking about it with your colleague Paul Krugman, OK? Or, hell, economist Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, or Brad DeLong at Berkeley, or … pretty much any half-sentient economist not on a corporate payroll. Will you do that for me? Please?

Best,
Lex
On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 3:01 PM, Weisman, Jonathan <jonathan.weisman@nytimes.com> wrote:

I am aware of their position on this. They are saying Social Security is solvent because it has trillions of dollars in bonds that are real and owed to it. That is true and it is a valid position. But Krugman, DeLong et al also know that as those bonds are redeemed, the cash must come from the Treasury. That is why Larry Summers wanted to wall off the Social Security surplus, to run large surpluses for the day when the bills come due. That did not happen. Now we are paying the piper. What liberal economists would say is it is simply unfair to make Social Security and its recipients pay for the rest of the government’s profligacy (and maybe theft).

Ask them. (Krugman is at Princeton, not in the building)

On Dec 12, 2013, at 4:27 PM, Lex Alexander <lex.alexander@gmail.com> wrote:

Had the government borrowed the money for its deficits from, say, a private bank, would you seriously argue that the private bank is contributing to the deficit? No, you would not; it would be ridiculous. But, in part, that’s exactly what the government did: It borrowed, in the form of U.S. bonds, not only from the Social Security Trust Fund but also from investment banks, commercial banks, institutional investors and individuals. So how is Social Security “contributing to the deficit” when these other bond holders are not? Or are you going to argue that they ALL are “contributing to the deficit”? That argument, though also basically silly, at least would have the benefit of being consistent and contextually complete.

Best,
Lex
On Dec 12, 2013, at 4:30 PM, Jonathan <jonathan.weisman@nytimes.com> wrote:
OK, whatever

Jonathan Weisman

New York Times
* * *
So that’s the kind of intellectual firepower the Times is assigning to the biggest domestic-policy story of the week. Good to know. I’ve emailed the Times’s public editor, for all the good that will do.

Friday, November 1, 2013 7:55 pm

More like this, please

Six months ago, the Toronto Star published a story claiming that a video existed of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. Ford not only denied it, he bitterly attacked the media, most especially the Toronto Star, which he tried to convince subscribers and advertisers to boycott.

Until Thursday, when Toronto’s police chief confirmed that the video exists.

To me, that’s not the news; to the extent I thought about it, I thought Ford was guilty as sin.

No, the news is this open letter from the Toronto Star’s publisher, John Cruickshank:

The truth finally found a few more friends in Toronto yesterday. It badly needed them.

For the past six months, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has waged a brilliantly cynical and manipulative campaign against the Toronto Star and any other media who dared to question him.

Exploiting character assassination, defamation and a numbing stream of self-serving lies, Ford obscured the truth and befouled the truth-tellers.

Until yesterday. …

Six months ago, Mr. Ford might have ’fessed up, done a stint in rehab and emerged to a chorus of congratulations. Everybody loves a redemption story around election time.

But the mayor did not own up to his behaviour. Instead, he turned on the messengers.

And in the success of his malign campaign, he proved how fragile the truth can be if our chosen leaders lead their followers astray.

Mr. Ford and his thuggish brother, Councillor Doug Ford, used their media access to label the news reporters of this city as pathological liars and anti-democratic maggots.

The Fords urged their loyalists to cancel their subscriptions to the Toronto Star and to pull their advertisements.

The Star’s owners and journalists were accused of pursuing an ideological vendetta against Ford. Star reporting was denounced as harassment. Called delusional.

Ford acolytes hauled the paper before the Ontario Press Council, charging that the Star’s use of unnamed sources was unethical and that the media’s focus on the issue was detrimental to the democratic life of the city.

Toronto’s divided and querulous council proved powerless to call the mayor to account or defend their own integrity.

Painful as it is, we must acknowledge as a community that the mayor has been startlingly successful in his deceit.

Many citizens, perhaps a majority, have gullibly given credence to Mayor Ford’s lies about his drug use and about the reporters and editors he vindictively targeted.

The public was persuaded to ignore his erratic behaviour and the intense secrecy he insisted on about the hours he kept and the people with whom he spent his time. Episodes of public intoxication were laughed off (though members of his inner circle conceded the mayor urgently needed intervention).

Latterly, we have heard a little bit about some of the potential harm that comes when a leading official surrounds himself with criminals. Letters of recommendation have gone out from the mayor’s office for a killer and a drug dealer.

We are likely to learn a good deal more about what has been at risk at city hall in the days ahead. …

This is work of a scale and seriousness that can only be undertaken successfully by what is now called “the mainstream media.” Others lack the resources, the experience and the credibility to call a senior official to account.

We feel tremendously proud today of our unwavering pursuit of a shocking story about a popular mayor.

It’s a good day for the city of Toronto despite this bitter period of deception we’ve been through.

And it’s a good day for journalism.

That letter 1) flips Ford and the paper’s critics the middle finger; 2) honors all the Star journalists who have worked on this and related stories; 3) re-emphasizes the value of quality investigative reporting from an outlet with enough financial and legal resources to do hard stories right and make them stand up.

Now, I don’t know Cruickshank from Adam’s housecat, and for all I know this is as much a personal vendetta for him as it is a journalistic endeavor. It would be a shame if that were so.

But I’m trying to come up with publishers in this area — hell, the state — who would have the stones to 1) pursue, publish and defend a similar story in the face of similar opposition; and 2) flip off in print the people who were wrong. I can think of maybe one, and I’m not even sure about him. That’s sad. To some reporters working on difficult and unpopular investigative stories, a big ol’ public “Get bent!” from the publisher to the paper’s critics might be even more valuable than a raise.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 7:57 pm

Obama lied about keeping your existing health-insurance policy … or DID he?

Actually, The Washington Post (among others) did the lying, as economist Dean Baker helpfully notes:

The Washington Post joined Republicans in hyping the fact that many individual insurance policies are being cancelled with insurers telling people that the reason is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The second paragraph comments on this fact:

“The notices [of plan cancellation] appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it.”

It would have been useful to point out that the plans that were in effect as of the passage of the ACA were grandfathered. This means that any insurers that cancel plans that were in effect prior to 2010 are being misleading if they tell their customers that the cancellation was due to the ACA. It was not a mandate of the ACA that led to the cancellation of the plan, but rather a decision of the insurer based on market conditions.

But Obama is black!

Also, if you really want to know what’s going on in the economy, just read Baker’s blog every day. It’s called Beat The Press, and that’s what it does. Pretty much the only thing he ever posts about is mistakes made by major news-media outlets in coverage of economics, and he never lacks for material, averaging about 3-4 posts per day. He also doesn’t have to go far afield for material: The major print, broadcast and cable outlets keep him supplied without his having to go beat up on a 22-year-old cub reporter in East Buttville to flesh out an item. I started reading him several years ago, and in less than a week, I arrived at the conclusion that where economics coverage is concerned, American news  media just ought to be ashamed, full stop. This matters not only in and of itself but also because the income and wealth of working people and the middle class are under siege right now by the 1%, who are counting on people’s economic ignorance to let them do what they want to do, which is rob us blind. Baker is our Thin Blue Line. Read him and support him.

Monday, October 28, 2013 7:19 pm

I have no use for the Washington Times, but this is clearly unconstitutional

Apparently the Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security need to be swatted on their noses with a rolled-up Constitution:

Maryland State Police and federal agents used a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation to seize the private reporting files of an award-winning former investigative journalist for The Washington Times who had exposed problems in the Homeland Security Department’s Federal Air Marshals Service.

Reporter Audrey Hudson said the investigators, who included an agent for Homeland Security’s Coast Guard service, made a pre-dawn raid of her family home Aug. 6 and took her private notes and government documents that she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

The documents, some of which chronicled her sources and her work at The Times about problems inside the Homeland Security Department, were seized under a warrant to search for unregistered firearms and a “potato gun” suspected of belonging to her husband, Paul Flanagan, a Coast Guard employee. Mr. Flanagan has not been charged with any wrongdoing since the raid.

The warrant, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, offered no specific permission to seize reporting notes or files.

The Times said it is preparing legal action to fight what it called an unwarranted intrusion on the First Amendment.

“While we appreciate law enforcement’s right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter,” Times Editor John Solomon said. “This violates the very premise of a free press, and it raises additional concerns when one of the seizing agencies was a frequent target of the reporter’s work.

“Homeland’s conduct in seizing privileged reporters’ notes and Freedom of Information Act documents raises serious Fourth Amendment issues, and our lawyers are preparing an appropriate legal response,” he said.

Oh, they didn’t say they were looking for reporters’ notes and records, but they took some anyway? Guess what, folks. That’s about as clear-cut a case of unconstitutional behavior as you can get. The Fourth Amendment reads, in its entirety: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” In other words, you can’t go in saying you’re looking for a gun and just seize a reporter’s notes and (legally obtained) records.

I’m not even going to start on how unlikely it is to be a coincidence that the same federal agency that has come off looking bad in this reporter’s work was the one undertaking the raid. I’m just going to stick with the facts. And the facts are that EVEN IF reporter Audrey Hudson’s husband, Paul Flanagan, had the gun in question (and he has not been charged wtih a crime, remember), officials had no basis in the world for confiscating anything relevant to her work.

I rag on the Washington Times for being a crappy news outlet because, well, it generally is. But crappy or not, no U.S. news outlet — indeed, no American — is supposed to be treated this way. It’s right there in the Fourth Amendment. Some Maryland state police and DHS officials need to be fired and prosecuted over this. Denial of civil rights under color of law is a crime, and this crap is going to keep happening until cops start going to prison. I’m delighted that the Times is suing, but it needs to pressure the hell out of both the county DA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute the officials involved. 

Friday, October 25, 2013 9:32 pm

National Insecurity; or, Would-be anonymous-source and former superspy Michael Hayden gets outed like a 6-year-old

Filed under: I want my country back.,Journalism — Lex @ 9:32 pm
Tags: , , , ,

So perhaps you have heard by now that former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden was on the train a coupla days ago and was talking to a reporter, criticizing the administration and insisting on being identified only as a “former senior administration official.” On an insecure line. In a passenger car (and here’s my favorite detail: it wasn’t even the “quiet” car, so he had to be speaking pretty loudly). On public transportation. And sitting within earshot of Hayden was a guy named Tom Mattzie, who 1) used to work with MoveOn.org and 2) has a Twitter account. And Mattzie live-tweeted about what he was hearing right there in public. (I particularly liked the line, “No rendition yet.”)

This incident addresses at least two of my long-running concerns — domestic wiretapping and sycophantic journalism.

It’s a delicious irony for Hayden, the architect of the fact that the fact that you’re reading this is known to the government, to be overheard and outed. But that surveillance is a serious — yea, unconstitutional — problem that no one in a position of responsibility in either party seems interested in solving.

And then there’s the part where DC journalists routinely grant anonymity to current and former government officials as a professional courtesy, rather than only in extreme circumstances, such as to protect whistleblowers. (Thoughtful essay here on this subject by an active-duty Army officer who has been on both sides of that particular arrangement — or, to be precise, refused to be.) As Charlie Pierce writes:

This episode also has the salubrious effect of rendering a mockery all those chin-stroking, thumb-sucking pieces by serious Washington journalists about how horrible it is that scurvy knaves who can’t get good tables at the Palm, or invites to Ben ‘n Sally’s, keep publishing Our National Secrets without regard to the opinions of the brave, but sadly all-too-human and error-prone, heroes of our intelligence community. Michael Hayden spent a lot of time slagging Edward Snowden — and once made a funny-ha-ha about putting Snowden on a “kill list” — and now he gets caught, gossiping like a high-school cheerleader on an open phone line on a public train. They serve very tasty ironies in the Club Car, I’m thinking.

Edward Snowden is one messed-up human being, but he has served the useful purpose of reminding us of, and prodding us hard to discuss, Problem One mentioned above. The same journalists taking Michael Hayden’s not-for-attribution phone calls ought to be reporting instead on the ongoing constitutional train wreck Hayden oversaw and which continues to rob us of our freedom. And Hayden ought to be in a cell.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 7:06 pm

James Fallows’s thought experiment on government shutdown

Fallows shows your liberal media at work:

2) Thought experiment. Let’s suppose it’s the fall of 2005. Suppose George W. Bush has been reelected, as he was in real life. Let’s suppose, also as in reality, the Senate remained in Republican hands. But then suppose that Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats had already won control of the House, rather than doing so two years later. So suppose that the lineup as of 2005 had been:

  • Reelected Republican president;
  • The president’s Republican party retaining control of the Senate; and
  • Democrats controlling only one chamber, the House.

Then suppose further that Pelosi’s newly empowered House Democrats announced that unless George W. Bush agreed to reverse the sweeping tax cuts that had been the signature legislative achievement of his first term, they would refuse to pass a budget so that the federal government could operate, and would threaten a default on U.S. sovereign debt. Alternatively, that unless Bush immediately withdrew from Iraq, federal government funding would cease and the debt ceiling would be frozen.

In this imagined world, I contend:

  • “respectable” opinion would be all over Pelosi and the Democrats for their “shrill,” “extreme” demands, especially given their lack of broad electoral mandate;
  • hand-wringing editorials would point out that if you want to change policy, there’s an established route to do so, which involves passing new bills and getting them signed into law, rather than issuing “otherwise we blow up the government” ultimatums;
  • no one would be saying that the “grownups in the room” had to resolve the crisis by giving away, say, half of the president’s tax cuts. (Even though, to my taste, that would have been a positive step.)

The circumstances are the mirror image now. A party that within the past year has:

  • lost the presidency by 5 million votes;
  • lost the Senate by a total of 10 million votes;
  • held onto control of the House through favorable districting, while losing the overall House vote by 1.7 million nationwide

… is nonetheless dictating terms to the rest of the government. This would have been called extreme and unreasonable under an imagined Nancy Pelosi House in 2005. It is extreme and unreasonable now.

Yup. But apparently IOKIYAR, because the Washington Post and other outlets of its out-of-touch ilk are suggesting that the “grownups in the room” have to compromise now. Uh, not just no, but hell, no. The Crazy Caucus must be forced back into its cage, and until it is (which likely won’t be until the 2022 elections) it should be held up to public shame and opprobrium at every possible opportunity by the “grownups in the room,” which ought to include, but does not and has not for years, the Washington Post.

Monday, September 30, 2013 7:46 pm

Oh, yes, he did: Sen. Angus King calls Obamacare opposition “tantamount to murder.”

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Sen. Angus King, the Maine Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. But he has one quality that I do not: He is treated as a Very Serious Person by the mainstream media. And here’s what this Very Serious Person has to say:

Tuesday begins a 6-month race to enroll as many uninsured people as possible in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges. For the markets to be effective, they need millions of customers, and for elderly participants not to vastly outnumber younger ones.

It’s in this context that well-heeled conservative groups are appealing to uninsured young people to remain uninsured — part of a backdoor effort to undermine the structural integrity of the health care law.

Their efforts have attracted the attention of one senator who recounts how being insured saved his life when he was a young adult, and who has since then watched others die due to lack of coverage. And he doesn’t mince words with those who’d take risks with other people’s health security.

“That’s a scandal — those people are guilty of murder in my opinion,” Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats, told me in a Friday interview. “Some of those people they persuade are going to end up dying because they don’t have health insurance. For people who do that to other people in the name of some obscure political ideology is one of the grossest violations of our humanity I can think of. This absolutely drives me crazy.”

Murder. Yeah, I’ve gone there before, but now a Very Serious Person has gone there, too.

I do not think for one second that this will change the behavior of the Crazy Caucus. But it might change the  worldviews of a few of the reporters in the mainstream media who are so convinced that “both sides do it” and that this fight is merely a “political stalemate.” It is unprecedented in postbellum American history, it is being caused by one faction of one party (and not by both parties equally), and, given what we know about the connection between lack of health insurance and premature death, roughly 10,000 American lives per year hang in the balance. For comparison, King notes, the events of 9/11 killed only 3,000 people but sparked a far more expensive and long-lasting response.

Journalists have let Obamacare opponents off the moral hook as well as the political one (it was approved by Congress, signed by the President, upheld in almost its entirety by the Supreme Court, and effectively ratified in 2012 by the re-election of the president and most of the Democratic congresscritters who supported it). It’s time journalists started asking the hard moral questions, too.

 

Shutdown primer

James Fallows at The Atlantic explains the only parts that really matter:

  • As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are — still — so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
  • As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years. We’re used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
  • As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement,represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. …This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too. …

* The FAA, the FDA, our research organizations, all other public programs from monitoring air quality to modernizing computer systems to staffing the military — they’re all wasting time and money now because of indiscriminate “sequester” cuts and preparations for possible shut-down. For the foreseeable future, the air traffic will keep moving and other functions will go on — just more stupidly and wastefully. We have that much social capital still to burn. …

** The debt-ceiling vote, of course, is not about future spending decisions. It is about whether to cover expenditures the Congress has already authorized. There is no sane reason for subjecting this to a repeated vote. … [And] in case the point is not clear yet: there is no post-Civil War precedent for what the House GOP is doing now. …

*** For examples of coverage that plainly states what is going on, here is a small sampling: Greg SargentDerek ThompsonJohn Gilmour (on why Ronald Reagan believed in compromise), Jonathan RauchBrian BeutlerJonathan ChaitAndrew Sullivan (also here), Ezra Klein and Evan SoltasDan Froomkin.

The failure of mainstream media to report accurately on this subject is perhaps its biggest fail since its coverage of the runup to the Iraq invasion in 2003. And although the number of lives immediately at risk is far lower, the worldwide economic damage that could result is far higher.

As for what actually will happen, I don’t have any insider knowledge. But I do know that the Tea Party wing of the House GOP (egged on by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas) is full-throttle, turn-it-up-to-11 crazy. The reason the GOP is split is because they think House Speaker John Boehner and his allies aren’t being conservative enough. They have learned nothing from their recent failures, and they think the biggest problem with the government shutdown that resulted from disputes between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich’s Republicans in Congress was that the Republicans, who finally caved after about three weeks, gave in too soon. So I’m projecting a 95% chance of a government shutdown, an 80% chance that the shutdown will last more than two weeks, and at least a 40% chance that they will force the U.S., for the first time in history, to default on its debt.

They just want to blow government up. They don’t care about collateral damage — the millions, here and abroad, who would be harmed if the full faith and credit of the United States were to be called into question. But the only way for that NOT to happen is for the Crazy Caucus to suddenly start acting less crazy. And there’s nothing in the caucus’s history to suggest the slightest likelihood that that will happen.

But the Internet is killing journalism, CNN/Newt Gingrich edition

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 7:22 pm
Tags: , ,

When CNN learned, just weeks into former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s stint as co-host of the reanimated corpse of “Crossfire,” that Gingrich was breaking the network’s ethics rules with regard to disclosure, did it punish Gingrich? No, it just changed the rules.

But, remember, it’s the Internet that’s killing journalism.

Thursday, August 29, 2013 7:24 pm

Also from Texas, news analysis …

Filed under: Fun,Journalism — Lex @ 7:24 pm
Tags: , ,

… courtesy of Juanita Jean, who, if she keeps up, is going to start getting mentioned in the same breath with Molly Ivins:

With Jon Stewart gone for the summer, Fox News has stepped up to fill the humor void.

This week, they had on an “expert” doctor who explained that gender bias in health care costs is not only legitimate, it is fair.  He said that women should have high health care costs because we have ta-tas, ovaries, and all manner of mysterious stuff going on inside us.

Men don’t have that messy stuff.  Men “only have the prostate,” he said.  Well, that does kinda explain why they are so freekin’ stupid.  You know, lacking a brain and all.  They are just one giant prostate walking around wearing socks with sandals.

I don’t know about you, but I find this notion even funnier than the giant, inflamed gall bladder walking around that I dreamed about last week while under the influence of Percocet and Trazadone after having my own gall bladder removed. And now that I’m healing up, that’s pretty damn funny.

Monday, August 12, 2013 6:16 pm

Quote of the day, newspaper-industry edition:

Charlie Pierce:

Nobody, I assure you, knows anything. They’re just bailing like hell, and people like [Washington Post buyer Jeff] Bezos and [Boston Globe buyer John] Henry are the newest, shiniest buckets.

In the case of the Post, I suppose it’s possible that Bezos will bring Amazon.com’s customer-service technical know-how to the business side in salutary ways. But the content side has problems you don’t have to be a technology entrepreneur to see: It’s too focused on the horse race at the expense of policy coverage, it’s too focused on inside-the-Beltway middle-school cat fights at the expense of the kind of policy reporting a national newspaper ought to strive to provide, and its op-ed page is, with a few honorable exceptions, staffed with hacks who are either flat wrong or else clinging to a world view that went out of style the day after the Berlin Wall fell. His best hope is to turn the Post into an online-first operation and then look for ways to phase out or kill the print edition, and even he seems in no hurry to do that.

As for Henry, it’s hard to see what he gets out of this besides (even more of) a megaphone for his Boston Red Sox. He’s paying 5% of what the New York Times paid for the Globe 20 years ago and no matter what he does, he’ll be lucky to sell at a profit in his remaining lifetime.

Friday, June 21, 2013 6:53 pm

The George Zimmerman pool

I wish I were more optimistic than John Cole about the likeliest outcome of George Zimmerman’s trial, but I’m not:

He’ll get acquitted, there will be civil unrest, the usual suspects will show up and there will be marches and counter-marches, and then, of course, because he is black and supposed to heal several centuries of racial wounds, our failed media experiment will demand that Obama make peace for America and “seriously” address racial issues.

Side note- Because I want to save you all some time, I will seriously address racial issues in America right now. There are a lot of racist motherf—–s who think there is no problem killing a black kid with an ice tea and Skittles because he was walking while black in a gated community. There. That’s the f—ing truth, and sadly, it ends there.

So John is opening up a betting pool:

Who will be the media [jerks] demanding Obama get involved in this (because, you know, he is black). Or who will say his was a failed Presidency because there are still racist peckerneck douchebags still running around half the country? Maureen Dowd? The Politico? Tapper? Harwood? Cilizza? Noonan? Fournier? Red State? National Review?

Place your bets in the comments at the link above. Winner gets a … well, I don’t know what the winner gets, other than a rep for having depressingly accurate insight into our 21st-century media.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 7:30 pm

Robert Jensen on pro journalism’s next, last mission

Filed under: Journalism,We're so screwed — Lex @ 7:30 pm
Tags: , ,

The collapse of pro journalism parallels the collapse of the planet, he argues, and journalism shouldn’t treat or respond to the phenomenon as a coincidence:

For those who believe that a robust public-affairs journalism is essential for a society striving to be democratic, the 21st century has been characterized by bad news that keeps getting worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of traditional advertising-supported news media (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), the unraveling of that business model has left us with fewer professional journalists who are being paid a living wage to do original reporting. It’s unrealistic to imagine that journalism can flourish without journalists who have the time and resources to do journalism.

For those who care about a robust human presence on the planet, the 21st century has been characterized by really bad news that keeps getting really, really worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of high-energy/high-technology civilization (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), it’s now clear that we are hitting physical limits; we cannot expect to maintain contemporary levels of consumption that draw down the ecological capital of the planet at rates dramatically beyond replacement levels. It unrealistic to imagine that we can go on treating the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We have no choice but to deal with the collapse of journalism, but we also should recognize the need for a journalism of collapse. Everyone understands that economic changes are forcing a refashioning of the journalism profession. It’s long past time for everyone to pay attention to how multiple, cascading ecological crises should be changing professional journalism’s mission in even more dramatic fashion.

It’s time for an apocalyptic journalism (that takes some explaining; a lot more on that later).

It’s a bit of a long read, and well worth the time even if you don’t much care for or about mainstream journalism, unless you’ve got a spare planet somewhere that you can go live on.

Which leads to why I call this pro journalism’s next, last mission: because I believe that global environmental degradation (largely anthropogenic) is the biggest story on the planet right now and will continue to be for at least a couple more generations, and because I believe that that degradation already is too far gone for us to prevent widespread death and destruction within my children’s lifetimes. Only global thermonuclear war, impact with a sizable comet or asteroid, or invasion by hostile space aliens risk greater damage, and none is anywhere near as likely as harm from environmental damage.

If you, a journalist, want to be relevant, you can put start by putting variations of that story on your front page every day. I don’t care if you’re The New York Times or the Podunk Daily Bugle, there’s an angle you can work. If your downtown were being destroyed, you’d cover it. The fact that the damage is in slow motion or that you can’t see it from your office window doesn’t mean the damage to your home planet is any less real or any less of a story.

Saturday, April 6, 2013 8:16 am

Truthers

Filed under: I want my country back.,Journalism — Lex @ 8:16 am

Without going into details because I’ve got a paper to write, let me say up front that I don’t think everything in this video is factually accurate, nor do I agree with all its assertions. But quite a few, including how botched the 9/11 investigation was, certainly are accurate, and even if you are like me and don’t buy the video’s premise, you have to admit it’s well done and entertaining.

The problem, of course, is that we don’t need entertainment. We needed, and didn’t get, a full, public examination of how and why what happened on 9/11 happened and what else was going on at the time that might have been relevant.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 8:42 pm

Former “Patch” editor explains why it didn’t, couldn’t work, which anyone in newspapers could have told Patch and many did. Years ago.

Whocouldaknowed, am I right?

Ken Layne [interviewer for The Awl]: So you are a newspaper reporter and editor, and at some point you decided to “go digital” and get a job with the hyperlocal Patch.com sites run by AOL. How and when did this happen?

Sammy [Sturgeon, pseudonymous former Patch editor]: ‪Well, I’d been laid off and was desperate. I had enough connections that I was able to get an audience with the Patch people, and somebody kind of shooed me in.‬ This was about three years ago.

Ken: Patch was expanding at that point, right.

Sammy: Wildly. The news from New York—where all the MBAs who run Patch live—was that everything was “really exciting,” all the time. “Oh my god, gang, we have some really exciting news. We have launched 11 more sites this past week! We’re super excited.”‬

[snip]

Ken: But the concept was that local reporters would cover local news, like high-school sports and planning commission meetings and neighborhood police blotters, right?

Sammy : That was the concept, originally. Then the MBAs realized that that actually takes more manpower than they were able to afford. I guess they thought all that copy and content just sort of wrote itself!‬

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 6:10 pm

Quote of the Day, journalism edition, plus a couple of hard questions

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea,Journalism — Lex @ 6:10 pm
Tags:

From commenter Hidari at Crooked Timber, via economist Brad DeLong:

I am sure that Amazon are exploiting their labourers as much as they can and indeed as someone pointed out upthread, Amazon’s long term gameplan is to fire all their manual-labour staff and replace them with robots.

My point was much more basic as I am sure you gleaned…”everyone” (ie all the clever white boys) is convinced that there just must be some way to make money off the internet (long term I mean). Perhaps. But then again perhaps not. (cf. for example here; it is talking about the media but could be talking about anything on the Internet, really: “As traditional journalism disintegrates, no models for making Web journalism—even bad journalism—profitable at anywhere near the level necessary for a credible popular news media have been developed, and there is no reason to expect any in the future.” [Hidari's emphasis -- Lex]

There is probably no better evidence that journalism is a public good than the fact that none of America’s financial geniuses can figure out how to make money off it. The comparison to education is striking. When manag­ers apply market logic to schools, it fails, because education is a cooperative public service, not a business. Corporatized schools throw underachieving, hard-to-teach kids overboard, discontinue expensive programs, bombard stu­dents with endless tests, and then attack teacher salaries and unions as the main impediment to “success.” No one has ever made profits doing qual­ity education—for-profit education companies seize public funds and make their money by not teaching. In digital news, the same dynamic is producing the same results, and leads to the same conclusion.”

First, is quality journalism in fact a public good? If not, then how does one make money at it in the Internet era?

Second, if it is, what do we do about the dilemma that that condition creates? The traditional source of funding for public goods is the public (i.e., government, i.e., all of us). But the key job of quality journalism in a democracy is keeping an eye on the government. The BBC does so fairly well in the U.K., but I could easily see just one redneck committee chairman in the Senate placing an anonymous hold on funding for public journalism just as soon as one of his oxen appeared in danger of being gored.

Third, if we choose to live without quality journalism because there’s no way to support it financially, where do we end up, and what does that mean for the future of the idea of the U.S. as codified in the Constitution?

Serious answers, please. I don’t normally moderate comments to a great extent, but I really want to know what serious answers, if any, people have to these questions, and I’ll spike, with extreme prejudice, any BS responses.

Thursday, March 7, 2013 8:52 pm

The forever reporter in the forever prison from the forever war

New York magazine profiles Carol Rosenberg, the reporter for the Miami Herald who has been on the Gitmo beat for 11, count ‘em, 11 years, with no end in sight:

How long do you think you’ll continue covering Guantanamo?
There are people who call the War on Terror the “forever war”; if this is the forever war, then this is the forever prison. I want to stay here for the 9/11 trial, which I think is years away. I feel like I have an institutional knowledge. Everyone else rotates in and out of here. The soldiers come and go, the lawyers come and go, most of the reporters come and go. I feel a responsibility to stay. I want to see how it ends. I’m a little concerned it’s never going to.

Camp X-ray was built for the specific purpose of getting around the Constitution, full stop. The people who created it committed crimes, full stop. And if the people who continue to defend it today aren’t criminals, they’re moral pygmies at best.

Rosenberg (who, earlier in her career, reported for the Charlotte Observer) can’t do anything about that, but she’s doing the next best thing: surrendering a significant chunk of her life, and a lot of creature comforts most Americans take for granted, to tell people what’s going on down there. Metaphorically, she’s almost as much a prisoner as the inmates. She seldom talks much about herself — her tweets tend to be about the court proceedings she covers — but I have a feeling that even if the trials ended tomorrow, Gitmo would be with her the rest of her life.

She’s not a prisoner, of course. Subject to the military’s irregular flight schedules, she can and does return to Florida from time to time. But I suspect that for the rest of her life, a significant part of her psyche and self will be living in those nasty tents, tweeting from a makeshift courtroom, knowing that every conversation, call or email she gets or receives will be monitored.

At some point, years from now, perhaps after the 9/11 trials are over, she’ll check out. But the Eagles were right, and so I suspect the only a part of her leaves Gitmo is via death or Alzheimer’s.

 

Friday, February 22, 2013 8:41 pm

Want to run a newspaper? Here’s how you do it right.

Finally, finally, finally, the owner of a newspaper has told the geeks, waterheads, nematodes, mouth-breathers and knuckle-dragging readers who masturbate to gun ads but can’t STAND the possibility that their local newspaper might publish a story about two happy people doing something that’s none of their damn business to take their whiny, misprioritized complaints and shove them north toward their tonsils.

God, I need a cigarette. And I haven’t smoked in almost 35 years.

Our story begins when Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven — yes, that’d be two people with ladyparts — got married in, believe it, Jones County, Missafreakingsippi, the left ventricle of Bat Country. The Laurel Leader-Call newspaper did a front page story, acknowledging the historic (albeit legally unrecognized) nature of the event, and then basically letting the protagonists speak for themselves and for each other — not an approach recommended for political coverage, but perfectly acceptable for a wedding story. (Bonus pathos: Craven has Stage 4 brain cancer.)

Well, Leader-Call readers freaked out. They called. They wrote. They virtually spat on the paper’s Facebook page.

So how did the paper’s owner, Jim Cegielski, respond?

Did he pretend there was no controversy? Or that if there was, it was OK to ignore it? Did he, God forbid, send an underling out to lie to people about his position or lack thereof instead of manning up and doing his job?

Oddly, no.

He stood up. He took responsibility. He told the people who were wrong that they were wrong. He told them to stop misbehaving toward his employees just because they’d read a story they didn’t like. And he told them that if they didn’t like all of the above, they could get bent. (If the link doesn’t go directly to Cegielski’s column, flip to page A5, where it’s at the top.)

And the horrible financial price the paper paid for this optimally competent exercise of its privileges and duties? Fifteen canceled subscriptions. Even in Laurel, Mississippi, that’s the equivalent of a few households going away for a long weekend.

So here’s a suggestion to people who want to run newspapers that both make money and bond with with their communities in ways that make long-term profitability even possible: Do your jobs. Be right. And when you are right, take no shit from those who are wrong, particularly when it’s aimed at your underlings. Even most of those who disagree with you will respect that; wanting your boss to have your back is a nonpartisan policy goal in and out of newspapers.

I’m sure Warren Buffett’s BH Media already has some decent ideas about how to dig the News & Record out of the hole it has dug for itself in the past five or so years (not all of which, I hasten to add, is local talent’s fault). But I’m betting that sending someone to Laurel to buy Jim Cegielski lunch and listen to him talk for an hour would not be a bad strategy at all.

(h/t: Gawker via Athenae)

 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:00 pm

Driftglass summarizes “Hubris” for you because I had to study

This is just a taste. And I am grateful to him for the service (which was live-tweeted, thus the weird diction/syntax in places; also, I did a quick search-and-replace on some of the more vapors-inducing participial adjectives):

  • Remember David Brooks’ column calling people who opposed Wolfowitz antisemitic? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember David Brooks’ columns mocking Liberals who opposed Iraq war as deluded Bush-deranged posers? No? That’s the firetrucking problem
  • Remember David Brooks calling people cynical assholes who objected to Dubya’s flightsuit tango? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when the collaborators at the NYT gave a firetrucking weekly column to Bloody Bill Kristol? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when David Brooks leveraged his Liberal bashing tripe into a column-for-life at the NYT? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember Steve Gilliard? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when the wingnutosphere went nuts trying to discredit every alarming report out of Iraq? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when palette-trucks of shrink- wrapped taxpayer cash just firetrucking vanished into Iraq? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when everything that is now settled history was America-hating surrender-monkey treason? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when a gay hooker Conservative “reporter” w/ a fake name sat 100 ft away from Dubya for 2 yrs? No? That’s the firetrucking problem
  • Remember when Halliburton made $$ selling American soldiers in Iraq toilet water? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when the GOP made “[Forget] Reality” into American national policy? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when Phil Donahue got fired for telling the truth and Conservatives got promoted for lying? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember how the Cheney clans got really, really rich sending kids off to die for their lies? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when 60 million Americans re-elected these deficit-creating war criminals? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember the incompetent children of GOP campaign contributors were put in charge of governing Iraq? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when Fox News told soldiers rolling into battle to look into the camera and say “Fox Rocks!” No? That’s the firetrucking problem.

You know, I stack this list up against the whining from Politico reporters that I mentioned below, and I think perhaps I should call Mike Allen or Jim Vandehei at Politico and tell them, “There are better ways you could be spending your time, and some pseudonymous blogger in flyover country has just handed you a double fistful of them for free, so pack a lunch and get busy.

That, also, is the polite version. Too. Here’s kind of what I really feel like saying.

God, I hate DC media

With the fiery passion of a thousand white-hot suns. Why? Many reasons, ranging from the fact that, with very few exceptions, they suck at their jobs to the fact that, although they’ve got the life of Riley as journalism goes, they whine about everything all the damn time.

Look, I spent 25 years in journalism. And, yes, when journalists get together, they talk about the job and tell stories about the job and whine and bitch about the job. But you know what the smart ones don’t do? Talk, tell stories, whine or bitch about the job in front of non-journalists. Why? First, the non-journalists don’t care. Second, it’s the ultimate first-world problem. Third, people like me get on your ass about it, and, being no masochist, I don’t want people like me on my ass.

My crazy-busy work and school schedules notwithstanding, I was thinking about going on a tear about this whiny Politico article about how tough it is to cover this president because he doesn’t go out of his way to make things easy for you. Cry me a freakin’ river. If I ran a DC news operation, I would staff the White House with a goddamn intern because the real news, the stuff real people actually care about, the stuff that requires real journalism, is almost never in the White House pressroom.

I’d send the real reporters — the ones who know how to get documents and which documents are worth getting, the ones who know how to download, analyze and interpret data, the ones who know how to persuade government employees to put their jobs on the line by talking about the venality, incompetence and even corruption of their superiors, in every Executive Branch office except the White House. And I would tell them two things:

1) Don’t come back with anything but journalism. No polls, no gossip, no speculation, and for God’s sweet sake, no “exclusive interviews.” Just facts, context, analysis, explained in a way that any ordinary person can understand and many ordinary people, for good or ill, will get excited about.

2) If you want to whine about your job, come in, shut my office door and have a seat. But you don’t get to use our newsprint/bytes/whatever to to do it. You whine to me. For as long as you want. And then you get up and leave the office and you don’t whine, you go commit some more goddamn journalism.

Steve at No More Mr. Nice Blog brings it home:

As anyone who pays the slightest attention to pop music (and, these days, books) has figured out, you can self-publish if you want, using this new thing called the Internet. And especially if you’re already famous, you can put your own stuff out on your own site and it can get a hell of a lot of attention, if perhaps not quite the same level of attention you get if the transmission is through a media giant.

So the White House doesn’t always need courtier journalists to release its soft stories — it can post them the way Radiohead posted the album In Rainbows and the public can grab the content directly.

This leaves the press the job of having to figure out what it can offer that’s different from self-published White House content. And that, I believe, would be, y’know, um, journalism. Ever heard of it? Dig around and come up with a story that’s not spoon-fed to you by official sources? That sort of thing?

Instead, we get this:

The frustrated Obama press corps neared rebellion this past holiday weekend when reporters and photographers were not even allowed onto the Floridian National GolfClub, where Obama was golfing. That breached the tradition of the pool “holding” in the clubhouse and often covering — and even questioning — the president on the first and last holes.

Guys? Seventy journalists were killed last year worldwide, and 232 are currently imprisoned. So cry me a river.

Friday, January 18, 2013 9:07 pm

Charlie Pierce on Manti Te’o

I do not know, nor do I care, about the Manti Te’o story, inasmuch as the Panthers, about whom I do care somewhat, will, if they are smart, draft a defensive lineman in the first round next April, not a linebacker.

But Charlie Pierce cares about the story both in and of itself and because of what it says not just about sports media but about all news media. In particular, he calls out the elite political loudmouths on the teevee who are using Te’o and coverage thereof as a Shiny Object to distract public attention from its own failings, a game they’ve been playing since even before Mark Hertsgaard published “On Bended Knee” a quarter-century ago. And Charlie knows enough about both sides of this particular game that when he speaks, you should listen:

There also is, or ought to be, a lot of soul-searching going on at the various media outlets that passed along this barrel of bushwah. The fact-checking system at a lot of important places utterly broke down. (Your fact-checker discovers that there’s no record of a person at the college she allegedly attended, and no record at all of the severe automobile accident that is so central to the story, and the response is to  “write around” these inconveniences? This is not good.) But, as someone who’s working both sides of the aisle at the moment, there is something up with which I will not put, and that is snarky comments from the elite political press about what suckers the people who write for The Toy Department  are. Knock it off, foofs. Careers are made in the courtier press by doing deliberately what probably may have happened by slovenly accident in the case of the sportswriters who passed along this tale of highly marketable pathos. What is the significant difference between the actual reality of Manti Te’o’s dead imaginary girlfriend and the actual reality George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford?

In the elite political press, mythmaking —  which the gang at Politico would call “building the narrative” — has become so deeply entrenched as a boon to various careers that hardly anyone notices any more.  Stephen Glass got away with it for longer than Manti Te’o did, and he did so at several different prestigious publications. Almost nine years ago, Sasha Issenberg pretty much tied David Brooks’s entire reportorial credibility up in a sack and dropped it into the Schuykill, and Brooks nonetheless has continued to thrive and will be teaching Yale undergraduates about humility next fall. So let’s not be doing the Superior Dance too vigorously in the faces of the sportswriters who got played in this case, OK, cool kidz?

But it’s not the spectacular cases that are the real problem. It’s the steady, day-to-day mythmaking — the encasement of grubby political transactions in shiny marble, the draping of togas upon unimaginative hacks, the endless who’s-up-and-who’s-down scoreboard watching that passes for analysis. All of these are just as phony as the ongoing farce in South Bend is. Only within this manufactured world are “the American people” worried right now about The Deficit. The creation of bad vaudeville spectaculars for public consumption is the way to the top of the ladder in political  journalism.

Al Gore ran for president and he was beset by a press corps that fashioned its own Al Gore out of nothing more than its own naked animus, and that Al Gore was no more real than Manti Te’o’s dead imaginary girlfriend was. (Alas, Melinda Henneberger, who has dogged the Lizzie Seeberg [link added -- Lex] case, was in the middle of that fiasco back in the day, although she was far from the worst of them.) The grand prize of them all, of course, was the spectacular failure of the political press in the matter of Ronald Reagan, who made up more complete shinola about himself and his life before breakfast than Manti Te’o has in his entire life as a public figure. This particular failure has continued even after Reagan’s death.

Manti Te’o met his dead imaginary girlfriend and they “locked eyes” after a game at Stanford? Ronald Reagan knew a welfare queen in Chicago who was driving a Cadillac.

Manti Te’o hung out with his dead imaginary girlfriend in Hawaii? Ronald Reagan liberated death camps during World War II.

Manti Te’o said that his dead imaginary girlfriend was the love of his life? Ronald Reagan said trees cause air pollution.

Manti Te’o said that his dead imaginary girlfriend would have wanted him to play against Michigan State? Ronald Reagan told a story about an act of military heroism that never actually happened, but that he apparently got from a 1944 war movie called, A Wing And A Prayer and when Reagan’s spokesman was asked about this whopper, he replied, “If you tell the same story five times, it’s true.

So there’s a rough kind of historical symmetry in the fact that Ronald Reagan provided the whitewashed portrayal of the bounder, George Gipp, in the movie that launched the mythology in which the saga of Manti Te’o  and his dead imaginary girlfriend found such a proper and profitable home.

The failure of sports journalism in this case is huge and spectacular but, in its impact, it is nothing compared to the discreet daily fabulism that attends so much of the coverage of politics in this country. “If you tell the same story five times, it’s true.” As anyone who follows elite political journalism in this country will tell you, this is now axiomatic in the field. It’s the way you get ahead. It’s the way you get on television. It is the crude way of saying that perception is reality, which is the fundamental journalistic heresy through which lies become truth simply if they work, and N. Leroy Gingrich becomes a visionary political leader. At least sportswriters still give you an honest account of what happens in the games.

The wealthiest 0.01% are expecting you and me, not them, to fix the deficit even though the deficit is actually well on its way toward fixing itself at the moment and would do so even faster if we worried less about it and more about jobs (particularly here in North Carolina, where the unemployment rate went back up in December). What the wealthiest 0.01% want will, literally, kill tens of thousands of Americans prematurely for lack of job safety and health care. But God forbid we worry about anything more important than a trivial fabrication by a naive/manipulative/closeted-gay (among the many hypotheses I’ve heard) college football player.

 

Friday, December 7, 2012 6:35 am

Now it can be told: Elizabeth McIntosh’s Pearl Harbor story, 71 years late

Filed under: Journalism,Salute! — Lex @ 6:35 am
Tags: , ,

On Dec. 7, 1941, Elizabeth McIntosh was a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin when the Japanese bombs began falling at Pearl Harbor. A week later, she wrote a story aimed at Hawaii’s women, to help them understand what had happened and what they could do. It was graphic. Her editor killed it. Today The Washington Post publishes it for the first time.

McIntosh went on to serve in the Office of Strategic Services and its offspring, the CIA. She’s still alive and well at 97.

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