Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, March 6, 2015 8:11 pm

Odds and ends for March 6

America has a cop violence problem. And, as is so often the case with America, we have to admit we have a problem before we can fix it.

One of the reasons you don’t order people to commit war crimes is because of the damage it does to those who must carry out those orders … as Israel is now finding out.

The Republican National Committee is only allowing “conservative” news outlets and personalities to cover the 2012 GOP primary debates. Of course, with that clown car, “conservative” probably means “batshit.”

Arkansas State Rep. Justin Harris might just be the worst person you’ll read about all year.

When the UNC Board of Governors met in closed session to fire Tom Ross, they voted for a resolution that they wouldn’t talk about the firing and would refer all questions to board chair John Fennebresque, who appears to have gotten his P.R. degree from the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Only one board member voted against the resolution: Greensboro’s Marty Kotis. Thank you, Marty.

As the GOP Klown Kar of batshit presidential candidates barrels down the road, one of the Klowns, Ben Carson, is named to speak at the Pope-Civitas Institute’s Conservative Leadership Conference. You may know Carson from such hits as “People go into prison straight and come out gay” and, “No, really, fellow Republicans, I am NOT crazy.”

Not content with screwing with Greensboro’s City Council districts, state Senate Republicans are now mucking with the Wake County Commissioners’ districts in the wake of a throw-the-bums-out election in November in which a Democratic slate sent a bunch of GOP incumbents packing. Coincidence? Like Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidence. (Full disclosure: One of those Dems, John Burns, is an online friend of mine and fellow Davidson grad to whom I have given campaign contributions, and I’ve got two sibs who live and pay taxes in Wake County.)

State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin recently told the legislature that the state’s courts are in very bad shape and need $30 million to fix. (Hell, their computer system was antiquated back when I was still a reporter, and that was six years ago.) So Gov. Pat McCrory’s new budget? Provides only $6 million in new money.

Former UNC offensive lineman Ryan Hoffman is living on the street, plagued by problems that might well be the result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — brain injuries — from playing football. Ironically, some of the most cutting-edge research on CTE and brain injuries is being carried out at UNC. Here’s hoping they can help the player they once exploited.

 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:28 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 10

Terrorists are winning the war on terror, primarily because, more than a decade after 9/11 and despite all the costly lessons we’ve learned since then, the U.S. persists in playing the terrorists’ game instead of its own.

Dean Smith‘s public memorial will be 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Smith Center. Which leads me to wonder: Where will they hold Billy Graham‘s, once he passes on? Bank of America Stadium? Charlotte Motor Speedway? The National Mall?

There’s just one teeny-weeny little problem with the four plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, the case now before the Supreme Court that could, perhaps, lead to the Affordable Care Act’s being struck down: None of the four appears to have standing to be suing in the first place.

Could the hammer at long last be coming down on rogue Swiss(-ish) bank HSBC? I’ll believe it when/if it happens, but the Honorable Senator Professor Warren is on this like white on rice. (And just how rogue? Check this out.)

Jim Crow lynchings: significantly more common than previously reported.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but I could tell in 11th grade U.S. history that “right-to-work” was Orwellian doublespeak. Unfortunately, that ain’t all it is.

Debtors’ jail, ostensibly illegal in the U.S., apparently is alive and well in Ferguson, Missouri. A lawsuit seeks to change that.

“Trials” at Guantanamo: No, Casey, nobody here can play this game.

If you’ve never worked in newspapers, you probably thought newspaper executive editors couldn’t get any stupider, and that if they did, it wasn’t your fault as a reader. You were wrong, as Robert Price of the Bakersfield Californian is pleased to demonstrate:

Several weeks ago, [director of audience development] Louis [Amestoy] and I introduced a set of new expectations for reporters and editors. Chief among them was that reporters and editors shall write publishable content every single day. Not blow-out, eight-source 30-inchers (although they have their place), but quick-hit 4-inchers based on as few as a one source or even personal observation — “what I saw driving in to work” stories. So far I have seen almost none of these.

These are required and will be measured on your annual reviews (which are coming up). Please think about how you might start creating these. If you’re like me, you may think some stories (weather related, seen on a business marquee, etc) just don’t clear the bar of importance. Not true, in most cases. Readers gobble this stuff up. [emphasis added; along with the unmistakable sound of Our Lord and Savior weeping bitterly]

#StealAlltheGrammys According to Google, Annie Lennox, Kristen Wiig, Prince (“almost”), Kanye West, Sam Smith, Frank Ocean, and Pharrell Williams’s funky park ranger hat, among others, “stole the Grammys.” Thought you’d want to know.

 

 

Monday, February 9, 2015 8:01 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 9

So because I think Binyamin Netanyahu is a sociopath who has led Israel down a dangerously self-destructive path and who (as is true of any other head of state) has no business addressing our government without an invitation from the head of that government, Joe “Ratings Lower Than Whale Poop in the Marianas Trench at High Tide” Scarborough thinks I’m anti-Semitic. Fortunately, Dave Winer, the Godfather of Blogging, has a response: “Let me jewsplain that for you: chuck is a goy schmuck asshole schmeggegey nazi idiot dick.”

Some people just don’t have the temperament to be lawyers. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, not for the first time, is demonstrating that he is one of those people, ordering officials in that state to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 legalization of same-sex marriage there. Coming into today, Alabama was 0-2 in nullification contests, and it began losing again today not long after county offices opened for business. Sorry, Roy. And screw you with a fence post, bigot.

“[I]f memory for events is strengthened at emotional times, why does everyone forget what they were doing when the Challenger exploded?” Memory is damned tricky. And our criminal justice system, for good or ill, needs to take better stock of its shortcomings.

A month or so ago I had to give New York Times op-ed pecksniff Ross Douthat credit for being right about the Charlie Hebdo incident. Now, I must give New York Times op-ed pecksniff David Brooks credit for being right about President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast comments. Verily, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are coming up the driveway and here I am all out of hay.

If Mike Freaking Huckabee blows that dog whistle any louder, he’s gonna owe me for some new windows.

So, Godwin’s Law with respect to privatization? Totally bogus:

They say that the first person in any political argument who stoops to invoking Nazi Germany automatically loses. But you can look it up: According to a 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the English word “privatization” derives from a coinage, Reprivatisierung, formulated in the 1930s to describe the Third Reich’s policy of winning businessmen’s loyalty by handing over state property to them.

(Seriously. I had no idea.)

There might be a case for not publishing some of the Charlie Hebdo images, but outgoing NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos utterly fails to make it.

Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has a fiancee. His fiancee has advised the governor on some of the same energy issues on which she works as a paid consultant for private interests, and there’s roughly zero chance Kitzhaber was unaware of this major conflict of interest. I imagine there are roughly 4 million Oregonians who don’t give a damn what I think, but I think Kitzhaber should resign. I imagine a district attorney and a U.S. attorney there also don’t give a damn what I think, but I also think Kitzhaber should go to prison.

WRAL-TV catches Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam lying about Medicaid. Stop the presses.

A former chairman of the state’s Mining and Energy Commission, Jim Womackgets all butthurt over the fact that a Lee County coffee-shop owner doesn’t want Duke Energy’s coal ash dumped in her back yard. Because Womack was having trouble understanding the owner’s position, I wish she’d’ve spooned some coal ash into his coffee.

I was wrong; Carolina Panther Greg Hardy won’t be convicted on domestic-assault charges in a jury trial after all. The complainant has skipped town amid rumors of a civil settlement. I stand by my prediction, however, that Hardy has played his last game as a Panther.

Here in Greensboro, a patron at New Orleans Bar & Grille on Big Tree Way was unsatisfied with his steak Saturday night and started filming a review, when restaurant employees not only interrupted but also stole their phones. My wife’s from Louisiana, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before we set foot in that place. This deserves to go viral so hard that not even the owners’ grandchildren’s grandchildren will ever be able to try to start a business here. And the restaurant employees need to go to prison.

Let it never be said I’m not tough on crime. Y’all have a good evening.

 

Saturday, February 7, 2015 11:11 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 7

“Pro-life” Sen. Richard Burr doesn’t really give a rat’s ass if you or your unborn baby dies.

A British court has found seven years’ worth of surveillance by the UK’s counterpart to the NSA to be illegal. Question: Will anyone be punished? Answer: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA …

So Brian Williams is giving himself a paid vacation while he waits for the stink about his lying about his Iraq experience to blow over. Yes, he should be fired. No, he shouldn’t be the only person to suffer consequences for lying about Iraq.

Rummage in your bedside cabinet; the current condom shortage in Venezuela has boxes going for the equivalent of $755US.

‘Night, y’all.

Friday, February 6, 2015 8:03 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 6

Climate change: It’s a matter of national security.

Obama might be a socialist, but the country just completed its best three-month period of job growth in 17 years, bitchez. Still a long way to go — unemployment actually went up in January as more people resumed looking for work — but it’s definitely looking better.

Boko Haram is opening a branch office in neighboring Niger. Bloodshed and misery follow. World does little.

The annual silliness known as the National Prayer Breakfast was this week. And this year we got more proof, were more needed, about just how impossible it is for Americans conservatives to have an honest conversation about race.

NBC’s Brian Williams lied about being in a helicopter that got shot down in Iraq (which is a firing offense where I’m concerned), but did he also lie about seeing a body floating outside his New Orleans hotel after Hurricane Katrina? Quite possibly not.

Relatedly, why is it such a bad thing for Brian Williams to lie when Fox News personnel do it day-in and day-out, constantly? That’s neither a rhetorical question nor an exaggeration of the network’s mendacity.

Hey, anti-vaxxers? When Autism Speaks says you should vaccinate your kids, you’ve pretty much lost the vaccination argument.

I love it when they throw each other under the bus. This time, it’s Bibi and Boehner, who both deserve all the tire tracks.

One would think that maternal health would be a human right. Sadly, the U.S. has not gotten the word.

Yes, health insurance premiums have gone up an average of $4,154 under Obama — but that’s less than half as fast as they went up under Bush.

Is police reform impossible? Could be.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried to rewrite the Wisconsin Idea (the state university system should benefit the entire state), then got busted for it, then lied about it, then got busted for lying about it. Great start to your presidential campaign, there, goob.

If there’s no war on women, it ain’t for lack of trying.

Intuit’s TurboTax, though not hacked itself, may be being used by scammers to file fraudulently for tax refunds.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership might be the most dangerous, and depressing, trade agreement you’ve never heard of.

The oldest living survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona has died at age 100.

The movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened today. Theater operators requested that patrons not dress up, or down, for the showings.

This is how the apocalypse will begin.

Or this, as a single penguin holds the entire crew of a Coast Guard vessel hostage. I, for one, welcome our new spheniscidaean overlords.

Y’all have a good weekend.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 7:41 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 3.

North Carolina’s junior senator, Republican Thom Tillis, says he’s just fine with NOT requiring food workers to wash up after visiting the restroom. Remind me never to shake his hand.

English majors, rejoice! Harper Lee will publish a sequel to her 1960 masterpiece, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” on July 14.

Standard & Poors, the investment ratings agency whose labeling of crap mortgage-backed securities as investment-grade helped blow up the economy a few years ago, will pay $1.38 billion to settle those allegations. But — say it with me, kids — once again, no criminal charges against anyone.

The New York Times asks an incredibly stupid question about how anti-vaxxers got so much influence. Athenae at First Draft delivers a righteous dopeslapping of an answer.

Y’all have a good evening.

Friday, January 30, 2015 7:22 pm

Odds and ends for Jan. 30

You know, I’ve thought about taking these odds and ends and doing something with them on paper.li. And then I think, “That’s what you have a blog for.” Duh.

There probably aren’t five people reading this blog who care about this, but it tickles me, so bear with me here. The new owner of The New Republic brought in someone to do basically a truth-and-reconciliation-commission-type take on that magazine’s attitudes toward race during the past couple of decades (under the previous owners, in other words). Those attitudes, under the guise of D.C.  “contrariness,” actually were pretty damned smarmy, and the guy who wrote the report puts welts on Marty Peretz and Andrew Sullivan that will show for the rest of their lives.

My friend Susan Ladd continues making local bigots’ heads asplode. Good on her, and good on the News & Record for giving her a platform. Somebody needs to stand up to this shit.

You call yourself a voyeur? Amateur.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 8:46 pm

Odds and ends for Jan. 29

The only thing worse than the GOP’s batshit insane right-wing id is the GOP’s hypocritical denial that it has a batshit insane right-wing id. Or the so-called liberal media’s taking part in this hypocritical denial that the GOP has a batshit insane right-wing id. You pick.

Almost as bad as the GOP’s batshit insane right-wing id, speaking of the GOP, is the habit that id has of falling in love with schmucks every four years. The GOP leaders who do this are the same GOP leaders who would have us believe that they are the grownups in the room.

Relatedly, for reasons surpassing understanding, once in a blue moon I look at the home page of the Daily Beast to see it has become relevant yet. Nope.

Jon Chait haz a sad. Belle Waring points out that he also haz a idiotic.

In other idiot news (Thank God! I was afraid we were running out!), memo to Mike Huckabee: When even Fox News’s village idiot, Megyn Kelly, thinks you’re an idiot, you’re probably an idiot.

Before you cheer too loudly about bigoted loon Bryan Fischer being ousted as spokesman for the conservative Christian group American Family Association (the group most famous in my long memory for having seen Spinal Tap’s “Christmas With the Devil” on “Saturday Night Live” and thinking it was real), be aware that Fischer remains a talk-radio host for the association. In other words, funny as it might seem to think that Fischer was too crazy even for the wackaloons of the AFA, the truth is they’re still actually pretty comfortable with him. They merely found his raving about “counterfeit” religions such as Judaism an inconvenient hindrance to their current, full-metal pursuit of Zionism as avenue to Middle Eastern apocalypse.

I’m reasonably sure the entire Santa Fe, N.M., Police Department isn’t a bunch of  mutts. But it sure seems to contain a lot of officers who, for whatever reason, won’t inform on the mutts. There’s a word for that, one y’all have no doubt heard before: accomplice.

I’m late to this, but Charlie Pierce at Esquire has weighed in on the firing of UNC President Tom Ross. There’s a reason Pierce keeps calling us “the newly insane state of North Carolina.”

Public service announcement: Debbie Hill of Greensboro sure says racist things. (h/t: Doug Copeland)

 

 

 

 

Open letter to John Hammer at the Rhino Times

John, if you’re going to accuse Susan Ladd of being factually inaccurate, it behooves you to point out where she was, you know, factually inaccurate.

Best,
Lex

Friday, December 26, 2014 3:50 pm

Letters to the Editor, edited, for a change

As someone who has criticized the News & Record on multiple occasions for allowing writers of letters to the editor to spew fanciful notions as if they were fact, I feel obliged to recognize the paper’s efforts to correct such misimpressions not once but twice today.

First, in his LTE regarding the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Mark Underwood of Eden incorrectly stated: “The police officer said he told Rice to ‘put his hands up’ three times before shooting. This hasn’t been officially disproven so far.” The accompanying editor’s note read, “According to the police video, the Rice shooting took 1.5 seconds.” Here’s the video; feel free to use your own stopwatch. And ask yourself: If you were to tell a suspect three times, “Put your hands up!” and allow even the briefest moment in between repetitions for the suspect to comply, how long wold that have taken? Five seconds? Longer? Longer, certainly, than the time it took the police to shoot Tamir Rice upon their arrival.

Then, Ramon Bell of Stokesdale states of the death of Eric Garner from a chokehold by New York City police: “This should never have been classified a homicide. It was caused by the acts of Garner and existing medical conditions only he knew about; i.e., severe asthma, something the arresting officers had no reason to know.” I’m not sure where Bell, a retired Greensboro police officer, got his medical degree — Kmart, perhaps. But, as the editor’s note points out: “The medical examiner concluded that a chokehold caused Garner’s death, but added that asthma, obesity and cardiovascular disease were contributing factors.” If the chokehold caused Garner’s death, then this was a homicide — whether justifiable or not is up to a court to decide, inasmuch as chokeholds are banned.

The N&R has been punked many times by letter writers both sincerely misguided and flatly dishonest, as well as having published a number of Internet chain emails that were never independently verified. It’s good to see the paper attempting to sort through the dross to enlighten its readers, if only for a day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 9:52 pm

(Pop) art, life, and American journalism

So Athenae at First Draft watched all the episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s now-defunct show “The Newsroom” so that I didn’t have to. And in reflecting on the last episode, she crosses some of the show’s content and character with a recent tweet by NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen [not linked, at least for now, because Jay’s account has been suspended for some reason] to come up with this:

Nobody’s coming to save American journalism. Nobody’s coming to save anybody who gives a s—. Nobody, not Charlie Skinner and not Will McAvoy and not even Maggie Jordan — Maggie whose transformation is one of my favorite things about this show, Maggie who just wanted to work — is gonna fix this now. Nobody’s the future and nobody’s the savior and nobody is going to rescue Atlantis Cable News. Lucas Pruitt is a [bleep] and will always be. That fight is always going to be a fight.

Hear that, hear what it actually means. That condemnation is its own redemption. No one is coming to save you. Repeat after me. Nobody is coming to save you. So save your own [bleep] [bleep] glorious selves. Think about the freedom of that. Think about the way it unties you, shoves you off the cliff, and trusts you to fly.

It’s up to you. I talk about this all the time in my offline and online lives, in my life: If you give a [bleep] about something you are the one who is morally obligated to act, so spare me your peroration on how you’d show up at the protest if only the other people there were dressed the way you wanted them dressed. Spare me the opinion columns about the wars you think other people’s children should fight, the wars you yourself have such a good reason for not fighting.

And once and for all time spare me the [bleep] St. Crispin’s Day speech you’ll deliver ten minutes before saying you have to go home to pay your bills and put your kids to bed so once more unto the breach, all you other [bleep] people. If just one more person Baby-Boomer-splains to me how they used to be idealistic and then they joined the real world I will lose it, I swear to God.

Stop WAITING. For God’s sake, stop being disappointed when no one comes. Stop hating everybody else for being stupid and trivial and obsessed, stop hating the technology at your disposal, stop hating the world you live in for not being the world you want to live in, and stop being so [bleep] willing to let yourself off the hook.

Work HARDER. Get better. Get up.

Nobody’s coming to save American journalism. Some observers have finally figured that out. And we’ve seen that right here in Greensboro, where billionaire Warren Buffett, the News & Record’s new(-ish) owner who has repeatedly professed his love for newspapers, has made it abundantly clear that he has no use for newspaper people. When the Batten family decided to get their money out of the news bidness and put the N&R and the Landmark chain’s other papers up for sale, Buffett was seen as a savior. Not so much, it has turned out.

At the front lines of journalism, reporters have to report. What’s  your best story? Give THAT to your editor, then, and forget the craven or just plain silly assignments that come down from the publisher and the executive editor and the managing editor. Your bosses might have a nose for real news, but my observation of American journalism leads me to think the odds are very much against it anymore. So, you with the laptop, you with the camera, you with the microphone, you with the blog: You’re it. You are all there is. Go get better, go do better. Because it’s you or nobody.

 

Thursday, November 20, 2014 7:45 pm

Here’s where a good part of the middle class went — and what Obama could do to fix it

Welp, in today’s blind-pig category, self-described “wealthy capitalist” Nick Hanauer identifies one reason why the middle class is weaker than it used to be.

And he does it in the pages of Politico, which will never be mistaken for a publication interested in the concerns of the middle class (or, to be more forthright, will never be mistaken for a publication interested in interrupting the greatest theft from the middle class in history).

If you’re in the American middle class—or what’s left of it—here’s how you probably feel. You feel like you’re struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours than ever before, and yet falling further and further behind. The reason you feel this way is because most of you are—falling further behind, that is. Adjusted for inflation, average salaries have actually dropped since the early 1970s, while hours for full-time workers have steadily climbed.

Meanwhile, a handful of wealthy capitalists like me are growing wealthy beyond our parents’ wildest dreams, in large part because we’re able to take advantage of your misfortune.

So what’s changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Overtime pay, in part. Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime. You know many people like that? Probably not. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. And so business owners like me have been able to make the other 89 percent of you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.

And he points out a way that the problem can be fixed, singlehandedly, by the president.

The president could, on his own, restore federal overtime standards to where they were at their 1975 peak, covering the same 65 percent of salaried workers who were covered 40 years ago. If he did that, about 10.4 million Americans would suddenly be earning a lot more than they are now. Last March, Obama asked the Labor Department to update “outdated” regulations that mean, as the president put it in his memo, “millions of Americans lack the protections of overtime and even the right to the minimum wage.” But Obama was not specific about the changes he wanted to see.

So let me be specific. To get the country back to the same equitable standards we had in 1975, the Department of Labor would simply have to raise the overtime threshold to $69,000. In other words, if you earn $69,000 or less, the law would require that you be paid overtime when you worked more than 40 hours a week. That’s 10.4 million middle-class Americans with more money in their pockets or more time to spend with friends and family. And if corporate America didn’t want to pay you time and a half, it would need to hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers to pick up the slack—slashing the unemployment rate and forcing up wages.

But … but … wouldn’t this be bad for business?

But here’s a little secret from the corner office: The arguments that the corporate lobbyists are making—about how badly business will be hurt—just don’t add up. What is adding up instead is the trillions of dollars in corporate profits and stock gains that corporations have made over the same decades that your hours climbed and your wages fell. From 1950 to 1980, during the good old days of U.S. economic might—the era in which the Great American Middle Class was created—corporate profits averaged a healthy 6 percent of GDP. But since then, corporate profits have doubled to more than 12 percent of GDP. That’s about a trillion dollars more a year in profit. And since then, wages as a percentage of GDP have fallen, you guessed it, by about the same 6 percent or 7 percent of GDP. Coincidence? Probably not. What very few Americans seem to understand is that that extra trillion dollars isn’t profit because it had to be, or needs to be or should be. That extra trillion dollars is profit because powerful people like me prefer it to be. It could have been spent on your wages. Or it could have gone into discounts to you, the consumer. We capitalists will tell you that our increasing profits are the result of some complex economic force with the immutability and righteousness of divine law. But the truth is, it is simply a result of a difference in negotiating power. As in, we have it. And you don’t. …

Of course, capitalists like me will tell you that when we cut into profits, the entire economy is damaged. And think of all the investment that corporate profits make possible. What do executives like me do with all that extra money? Why, invest in creating good-paying jobs for middle-class Americans like you, of course.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true either. Mostly, we use profits to manipulate our stock price for personal gain.

Here’s a little history that will explain how: Back in the 1970s, when the share of total U.S. income that the top 0.1 percent of households got was at a 100-year low, corporate executives received most of their compensation in the form of a salary, just like you. But since the late 1980s, the largest component of income for the top 0.1 percent has been stock-based pay. This shift toward compensation via stock options and grants means that CEOs are directly incentivized to increase the share price of their company’s stock.

Building better products that lead to higher sales and fatter margins are the traditional way for a CEO to push up the price of his stock. But that’s so old-fashioned. So yesterday. Instead, ever since a former Wall Street CEO in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission back in 1982 loosened the rules that define stock manipulation (beginning to see a historical pattern here?), U.S. corporations have increasingly resorted to stock buybacks to prop up share prices.

(Aside on this point: There is an economic climate in which taking this action would have the effect that the corporate critics say — a climate of wage inflation and full or near-full employment. But we’re nowhere near either and haven’t been in decades.)

The president is going to announce his new, unilateral immigration policy in a few minutes, and that’s good. It’s so good, in fact, that Congressional Republicans have threatened to impeach him over it (although Reagan and Bush 41 did basically the same thing) is gravy.

That’s no reason not to change immigration policy. But if the president really wants to pick a hill to die on, this is the one. It benefits pretty much every wage earner making less than $70,000 a year (and the median total household income in this country is only about $53,000). It would pump up the economy significantly, directly benefiting the Americans who most need the help. It would be a strong substantive AND symbolic response to the complaints of voters in the 2014 elections that Democrats weren’t hearing their concerns about the economy. And it’s just the right thing to do on the merits.

Unfortunately, as Hanauer points out, there’s little indication that Obama understands why this is the right thing to do. Perhaps you can help him out on that one.

Hanauer agrees that that’s the right thing to do — for purely selfish reasons:

Contact the White House. Do it for yourself. Or, at the very least, have the courtesy to do it for me. Because honestly, I’m beginning to run out of customers.

Monday, October 13, 2014 9:11 pm

The U.S. media normalize batshit. They have done so for years. And The Washington Post finally notices. Hallelujah.

Recently, I took my local daily — the same local daily at which I toiled for 22 years — to task for, in Pat Moynihan’s deathless phrase, defining deviancy down among Republican political candidates. This is a theme I have written about numerous times, though usually with respect to national media, not local.

Now comes Paul Waldman at The Washington Post’s Plum Line blog to say that, hey, this is a thing:

… these judgments by reporters end up being self-fulfilling prophecies: if they decide that a “gaffe” is going to have serious political effects, they give it lots of attention, which creates serious political effects.

And in the last few years, there’s a baseline of crazy from the right that the press has simply come to expect and accept, so the latest conspiracy theorizing or far-out idea from a candidate no longer strikes them as exceptional. …

But during this cycle, Republican crazy just hasn’t broken through at all. It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right. At this point so many prominent Republicans have said insane things that after a while they go by with barely a notice. This is an era when a prominent Republican governor who wants to be president can muse about the possibility that his state might secede from the union, when the most popular radio host in the country suggests that liberals like Barack Obama want Ebola to come to America to punish us for slavery, and when the President of the United States had to show his birth certificate to prove that he isn’t a foreigner.

So ideological extremism and insane conspiracy theories from the right have been normalized. Which means that when another Republican candidate says something deranged, as long as it doesn’t offend a key swing constituency, reporters don’t think it’s disqualifying. And so it isn’t.

It’s good to see one of America’s most influential news organizations taking note of this phenomenon. Except … well, I’ll let Driftglass spell it out:

Having written about this phenomenon literally thousands of times practically since the day I started blogging and having talked and thought and read about it since long before that, let me say that this “looking with alarm” recognition that the media routinely enables Conservative madness and depravity is so far too little and so far too late as to be darkly amusing.
Yes, I appreciate Mr. Waldeman’s work in The American Prospect.  And, yes, on one level  I get a tiny, childish surge of satisfaction at seeing this in a Major Murrica Newspaper .  But the sad upshot is this: in 2014, one person in one column has caught up to what Liberal bloggers have been writing about for over a decade and what pre-blogging Dirty Hippies have been screaming about all during the political metastasization of the Moral Majority…and death of the Fairness Doctrine…the rise of Hate Radio and Fox News…the relentless Right Wing conspiracies against the Clintons…the impeachment of Bill Clinton over trivia…and so forth.
So it is indeed a fine thing to read It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right” in the Washington Post.   But to read it in 2014 feels a lot like reading a headline asking “Is American Facing An Economic  Depression?” in a major American newspaper … in 1938.
So far too little and so far too late as to be bleakly hilarious.
Although a nontrivial number of us stopped laughing a long time ago.
This phenomenon is merely one of the more toxic parts of an incredibly toxic tendency of American political journalism: the tendency to look at everything, everything, through the frame of “How will it affect a candidate’s polling?” without also, and first, examining issues and behavior on their merits or lack thereof. It’s more horse-race journalism, which is the last thing we need: It’s all speculative, and there is never any penalty for being wrong.
Examining issues on their merits would require real journalism be performed. And whether or not the reporter is correct would become far more obvious, with reportorial failure becoming far more difficult to ignore. So reporters avoid it and editors let them, if they don’t actively encourage them to do so.
And so our political discourse grows more and more meaningless, and more and more batshit people have the opportunity to create real trouble.

 

Monday, October 6, 2014 10:00 am

An open letter to Kathleen Parker re the War on Women

Ms. Parker:

Normally I enjoy your work, but in your column today in the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, you stumbled and fell right out of the gate.

You wrote: “Let’s be clear. The war on women is based on just one thing: abortion rights.”

Clear as mud, ma’am.

I have not needed to work particularly hard to gain any special understanding or insight into the war on women. I only have needed to look at what goes on in my field, the media and communications, and to look at the experiences of my mother, my sister, my wife, and my daughter.

My mother runs a management consulting firm with clients on three continents, and that running is very much hands-on despite the fact that she will turn 80 in December. She has a long list of anecdotes about sexism in the workplace ranging from hiring and pay discrimination to the constant little patronizing, condescending comments men make to and about women, often without even realizing how offensive they’re being.

My sister works in the technical end of music and theatrical productions, a male-dominated field, and has had to work twice as hard to be paid half as well.

My wife, before changing careers recently, worked in information technology, which was, as you can imagine, even more of a testosterone sink than my sister’s field. And that was in higher education. I can only imagine what she would have had to put up with in the for-profit sector.

And my daughter is 16, and you and I both know what 16-year-old boys are like … as well as the condescending male adults in teens’ worlds. Just a few weeks ago, she had to sit and listen to teachers at her high school tell girls they couldn’t wear Nike shorts to school because doing so would be a distraction to the boys — as if the boys are somehow not responsible for their own actions.

The war on women takes many forms and is fought on many fronts, from hiring and pay equity to rape culture, particularly but not exclusively on college campuses.

You misleadingly argue, in effect, that because the Saudis mistreat women, the U.S. does not. Such an argument not only is untrue, it also seems to be implying that Americans have just as much control over Saudi law and culture as our own. That’s patently absurd. You’re desperately hoping that we won’t notice that one major political party in this country is doing everything it can both to cut back women’s rights and to discredit anyone who argues in favor of them, and that the other major political party is doing the opposite.

One particularly insidious aspect of this war is the inevitable blowback that any woman will receive when she attempts to speak out against the war on women — blowback from what anyone can see is a mixture of uninformed bigots and well-paid trolls, such as you with this very column. I hope the money helps you sleep at night.

You’ve made the classic mistake of argumentation, asking me which I’m going to believe, you or my lyin’ eyes. Lady, given that choice, I go with my eyes every single time.

Get bent,

Lex Alexander
http://www.lexalexander.net

Sunday, September 28, 2014 12:55 pm

The News & Record and batshit Mark Walker, redux

After I took the News & Record to task for normalizing the grossly abnormal candidacy of Mark Walker for the 6th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House, reporter Joe Killian wrote a column today on Walker, saying, among other things, “I’ve seen him in a lot of different situations. I’d tell you if he was crazy. He’s not.”

Killian, who’s covering the 6th District race, summarizes:

Crazy people may be crazy, but they generally believe the crazy things that they’re saying.

Mark Walker does not think Barack Obama may declare martial or Sharia law. He does not really believe the president has been spending billions of dollars — with a B! — on family vacations. He doesn’t actually have no qualms about bombings at the border that could start a war with Mexico.

But he still says these things. Why?

Because there’s something in him that wants to please a crowd, be it a Tea Party rally or a small clutch of cynical journalists. He can’t help himself. He gets carried away. And that makes for some great performances — but it doesn’t help you understand who he really is, what he really thinks.

Being a United States congressman shouldn’t be like being a stripper. You do not want your representative in Washington driven by the excitement of the crowd, the adrenaline rush of approval. You don’t want him doing the policy equivalent of a fevered bump and grind routine to Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” while lobbyists, corporations and political action committees shove sweaty fists full of dollars into his campaign G-string.

Metaphorically.

I still think Walker is batshit. But Joe has spent more face time with Walker than I have, so I’m not dismissing his take out of hand.

But whether he is or isn’t crazy, the larger fact remains: He is manifestly unfit to be my next congresscritter, but he almost certainly is going to be anyway. FML.

 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 8:49 pm

Whitewashing; or, How the News & Record foists batshit insane candidates onto the electorate.

Let the record reflect that when I predicted on Facebook that the News & Record would never cover the recent batshit comments of Mark Walker, the 6th Congressional District GOP nominee, I was wrong: The News & Record published an editorial on the subject today.

Let the record also reflect, however, that that editorial bent over backwards to whitewash Walker’s comments and to shield him from the consequences of what he said in a way that is fundamentally inconsistent with the mission of an honest news outlet.

Walker said at a campaign event in June that the U.S. should launch a war against Mexico to ensure its border security, saying that “we did it before. If we need to do it again, I don’t have a qualm about it.”

First, the editorial tried to pretend that what happened didn’t happen, claiming, on the basis of zero evidence, “It’s reassuring that Republican 6th District congressional candidate Mark Walker does not want the United States to launch a war against Mexico.” The paper apparently, and inexplicably, is willing to accept at face value Walker’s claim that his comment was “tongue in cheek.”

Then, just in case that whitewash didn’t work, the N&R did what the lawyers call arguing in the alternative, saying that it wasn’t necessarily a joke but was merely pandering, a case of Walker saying something he didn’t believe in order to curry favor with, to be kind, low-information voters. Again, in point of fact, there’s no evidence in the record that Walker was saying something he didn’t believe.

Indeed, what little evidence there is inclines a fair-minded person toward thinking that Walker said exactly what he believed.

He also, as the editorial pointed out, has said that President Obama should be impeached and that Obama might declare martial law and sharia law to keep himself in office after the 2016 elections. Once again, the N&R took the position that Walker was saying things he didn’t believe, in the face of zero evidence that that was in fact the case.

The paper said that the controversy arose after video of Walker’s comments was posted to a “left-wing website,” as if the remarks weren’t controversial, and newsworthy, in and of themselves. (Indeed, where was the N&R when the remarks originally were uttered?)

And it noted that Walker’s Democratic opponent, Laura Fjeld, has called Walker “crazy” but, again, in the face of exactly zero evidence, concluded that that can’t be true.

The kindest thing that can be said about the N&R’s approach to this issue is that it is allowing the GOP to benefit from the soft bigotry of low expectations. What’s closer to the truth, I think, is that the N&R knows good and goddamn well that Walker is crazy but has decided to ignore the fact out of fears of being labeled “liberal.”

Well, welcome to the real world, guys: Republicans are going to call you liberal no matter what you say, so  you might as well speak the truth. And the likeliest truth in this case is that Walker meant every damn word he said.

Does Walker really think, after what happened to George Allen in the Virginia senate race a few years back, that his remarks won’t be videotaped and distributed? And does he really think he can just call something “tongue-in-cheek” and not be held further responsible for it?

No, the likelier explanation is that Walker meant every word he said, and the only sane conclusion that can be drawn from that fact is that the nominee of one of the two major parties for the 6th District seat in the U.S. House is crazier than a bag of bugs. If the N&R won’t say it, I damned well will and dare Walker to prove otherwise. The News & Record was wrong and Laura Fjeld was right.

And what the News & Record appears utterly ignorant of is that not just Walker but also dozens, if not hundreds, of GOP candidates for office, from president down to county commissioner and city council, have uttered stuff just as batshit insane as what Walker said, and in many cases worse. The News & Record seems oblivious to the fact that one of our two major parties has succumbed to a virus of unadulterated batshit insanity and appears unwilling to hold the party as a whole or its individual candidates accountable for their feverish words.

I shouldn’t have to tell a building full of writers this, but words have meaning. The default response to a political candidate’s comments ought to be to assume that he/she means exactly what he/she said. If a candidate can’t speak extemporaneously (or, worse, from prepared notes) without later having to repeatedly claim that he/she was “speaking tongue-in-cheek,” then that candidate isn’t fit for elected office at any level.

And if the News & Record had the balls God gave a billy goat, it would say so.

 

Monday, September 15, 2014 10:31 pm

Mr. Kurtz, please have a heaping helping of ass. Yours.

Media Whore Howie gets his handed to him by the guy from TMZ, and it is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold.

http://crooksandliars.com:8080/files/mediaposters/2014/09/30087.jpg?ts=1410763180

The mainstream media, which includes Fox, are in bed with the NFL. TMZ isn’t. And TMZ’s coverage of this issue has been much better, full stop.

Monday, September 8, 2014 7:24 pm

Your local daily newspaper didn’t fall. It was pushed.

Athenae basically says, yeah, sure, print journalism died of lead poisoning — in the sense that it was shot full of it:

No moral dimension?

It’s all just happening?

It’s nobody’s fault?

I hate to interfere with that comforting perception but I think it’s pretty clear there are more forces at work than just declining advertising revenue.

Imagine, for example, that instead of spending all the money they were making in the 80s and 90s on hookers, blow, and acquisitions of stupid [expletive] like baseball teams, newspaper companies socked that cash away. Imagine if they’d treated journalism like the public trust it always should have been, and safeguarded that trust, instead of partying like it was 1929.

Imagine if they’d greeted TV and the Internet not with defensive crabbing in public but with the confidence to use those media to enhance what they already did well, instead of flailing around in a goddamn panic pissing off every customer they had.

Imagine if they didn’t sign over their circulation and distribution departments to minimum-wagers who had no sales or logistics backgrounds and couldn’t sell the paper or deliver it properly.

Imagine if they courted “25-year-olds” with actual information, instead of insulting them with section after section that disparaged everything they found interesting or culturally relevant? Imagine if they looked at the places print was the best option — like college campuses or small towns or commuter suburbs — and invested there.

Imagine if they just RAN THEIR BUSINESSES WELL. What would print look like then?

We won’t know, because it’s much easier to just steal all the money, spend it on a yacht, and sit back while supposedly intelligent media commentators blame the Internet for everything.

And if you’re wondering why your local daily continues to suck, and sucks worse every year, well, this is, shall we say, a nontrivial part of the reason.

 

Monday, August 25, 2014 8:12 am

Letters to the editor: Now the News & Record is just trolling us

For a good while, a number of other local bloggers, most prominently Ed Cone and Roch Smith Jr., have taken the News & Record to task for publishing letters to the editor that contain untrue assertions of fact. I’ve even sent editorial-page editor Allen Johnson a private email or two on that subject.

Well, today we get a twofer. We hear from one Steven M. Shelton, who complains that smoking shouldn’t have been banned on county property because notions that second-hand smoke is harmful are “the old cliche” and “nonsense.” And we also are treated by Gary Marschall to the already-debunked notion that “recent findings” involving carbon-14 testing of T-rex tissue indicate that the fossil in question was only about 6,000 years old. (In point of fact, the people pushing that line are distorting what researcher Mary Schweitzer said to the point of mendacity — and ignoring the fact that she said her own findings are not to be taken as evidence that dinosaurs existed as recently as 6,000 years ago.)

I think we can safely assume that now the News & Record is just trolling us.

Memo to N&R editor/publisher Jeff Gauger and owner BH Media: I get that you want the N&R to be a community paper. And that’s exactly what you should want; we’re all going elsewhere for national and international news. But “community” means focused on local people, events, and businesses. It does not mean giving a voice to every mouth-breathing knuckle-dragger with a keyboard and an opinion. It does not mean mindless boosterism or abdicating the paper’s responsibility for accountability journalism. As you aren’t from ’round here, I feel obliged to point out that not all that long ago, a North Carolina newspaper with a circulation of about 10,000 won a Pulitzer Prize.

People in small and medium-sized communities need, and deserve, journalism as good as — or better than — what people get in major metropolitan areas. And because so many such communities have few or no other news outlets capable of, or willing to engage in, accountability journalism and an overall level of trustworthiness that translate into engagement with readers and advertisers, it falls to the newspapers to do the job. Like it or not, BH Media, this is the business you have chosen. It might not be realistic to expect a Pulitzer from the N&R, but it damned sure is realistic — in fact, it’s a pretty low bar — to expect that the paper refrain from adding to the ever-growing pile of bullshit that now constitutes our public discourse.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 9:24 pm

When good journalists meet bad cops, sometimes the journalists get arrested.

That’s what happened to Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept and a colleague from a German outlet Monday night in Ferguson, Mo.:

Late Monday evening, after many of the major media outlets covering the protests in Ferguson, Mo., had left the streets to broadcast from their set-ups near the police command center, heavily armed officers raced through suburban streets in armored vehicles, chasing demonstrators, launching tear gas on otherwise quiet residential lanes, and shooting at journalists.

Their efforts resulted in one of the largest nightly arrest totals since protests began 10 days ago over the killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. At approximately 2 a.m. local time, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson announced at a press conference that 31 people had been arrested over the course of the night (NBC News later reported that, according to jail records, the actual total was more than double that). I was unable to attend or report on Johnson’s press conference because I was one of those people.

Here’s what happened.

Devereaux goes on to describe a police force run amok, attempting not to provide justice but to impose order by means of will and weaponry. They fired tear-gas canisters at demonstrators or at random in neighborhoods; they shot journalists who were obeying police orders with rubber bullets.

I say again: I never signed any social contract that permits this kind of police behavior, and Jefferson, Madison, et al. sure as hell didn’t, either.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 7:08 pm

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves matter. So does how we tell them.

America had been involved in World War II for almost two years before the government began releasing photos of American war dead to the public. Some of the first came from Tarawa atoll, where, in November 1943, a thousand Marines died in four days as their comrades killed almost 5,000 Japanese defenders. Those images were deeply disturbing to the American public — so much so that a documentary on the battle, With the Marines at Tarawa, wasn’t released until the following year, and then only after President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself signed off. (It’s a short documentary, 20 minutes, with no actors, covering the 4-day battle and its lead-up. You can watch the whole thing online at NPR’s website.)

By Vietnam, Americans had become accustomed to seeing bloody images of friend and foe, from wounded GIs being evacuated on tanks to Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of Vietnamese children burned by napalm and Vietcong being summarily executed.

But in 1991, a photographer named Kenneth Jarecke took a photograph of a dead Iraqi soldier who apparently had burned to death trying to escape his burning vehicle. The war, remember, was not an invasion of Iraq (although U.S. forces did cross the border), but an incursion intended to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, which they had occupied the previous summer. In point of fact, there was only one way out of Kuwait for the Iraqi military there — a road later nicknamed “the Highway of Death” — and by some estimates 100,000 Iraqi soldiers died trying run the gantlet of U.S. and allied artillery, armor and air power to get back home, a story captured some time afterward in an article in The New Republic titled “Highway to Hell.” (Doesn’t seem to be online.)

Just before the cease-fire that ended combat in Operation Desert Storm, Jarecke stood on the Highway of Death and took his photo. He thought it would be a proper counter to the prevailing narrative, fostered by images from radio-controlled bombs and night-vision goggles, of Desert Storm as a “video-game” war. But the Associated Press and Time and Life magazines refused to run the photo; the AP’s decision essentially no U.S. newspaper would ever even have the chance to decide for itself. Only London’s Observer newspaper published it.

Should the AP and Time and Life have run the photo? Of course. American citizens have a right — and, I would argue, a moral obligation and a civic duty — to know what is done in their names, with their tax dollars, by their sons and daughters. The journalists’ call was the wrong one. The managing editor of Life then said that because Life had a fairly significant number of children in its readership, a photo that was “the stuff of nightmares” was inappropriate.

At this point, I’ll let Athenae speak (mostly) for me:

A family magazine. Yet that “family” magazine had no problem humping the next Iraq war, as if that’s not offensive to anybody’s family. As if what’s suitable for a family is to wage war without ever knowing the costs.

But how am I going to explain it to my children, the gentle reader asks. Well, let me throw this back at you: If you think it’s hard to explain a photo of a dead guy to your kids, imagine that guy’s kids. Imagine the explanation they must have needed. And then quit feeling so [expletive] sorry for yourself because it’s so hard for you to make sense of the world.

Moreover? It is not the journalist’s job to protect people from [expletive] thinking. It is not the journalist’s job to shield you from the consequences of your political actions. It is not the journalist’s job to decide, in advance, how upset you’re going to get about anything around you, and manage that upset carefully so as to ensure the circulation department receives no anguished calls.

It is the journalist’s job, as it always has been, to tell a story. If the journalist is brave that story’s about something you might not want to know about, like the human toll taken by even the shortest or “easiest” of wars. If the journalist is cowardly, or lazy, or stupid, or jus’ don’ wanna today, that story’s about how we can fight a war without really giving a [expletive] about it.

Surprisingly, we end up telling that story over and over and over again.

Things have gotten better in some ways. I would be remiss if I did not point out such examples as Carol Rosenberg, the McClatchy reporter who has pursued the truth about Guantanamo and its inmates like Hell’s own hound dog. And I don’t know that such photos wouldn’t be published today, if only because they’d be clickbait.

But the larger issue here, the issue of the news media shielding Americans from the consequences of their own decisions, remains alive and virulent, from war to job-killing trade agreements to Internet-killing FCC regulation to deadly refusal to expand Medicaid to global warming. That’s wrong. In fact, it’s evil. And it’ll stop only when enough people raise enough hell with enough news outlets that it’s forced to stop. To paraphrase Fredrick Douglass, evil doesn’t stop when you say “please.” It never has and it never will.

UPDATE, 8/14/2014: I’m elevating from the comments a link provided by my friend Nick Graham to an Iraq War poem, “A Cold Coming,” written by Tony Harrison and originally published in the Guardian newspaper alongside the photo. I had not read it before. Damn if it doesn’t rank up with anything by Sassoon or Owen or Jarrell.

 

Friday, July 25, 2014 7:12 pm

Journalism = bullshit detection, and it’s not like we couldn’t use more of that.

Apparently some people have questioned the value of high-school journalism, including some who teach it. I didn’t take part in it myself, and despite 25 years in the newspaper bidness, I would not recommend that a bright young person today go to work for a conventional newspaper — for reasons pertaining to vision, finance and management, not journalism. But I digress.

Anyway, to set the stage, here’s a piece by Angela Washeck, who sought certification as a high-school journalism instructor in Texas. I won’t quibble with her facts, but here’s her conclusion, which also is OK on its own terms but misses a very important larger point:

The [certification] test, though, whose competencies reflect the content journalism teachers are expected to teach, is not current or especially relevant, and it’s a far cry from the state of current university-level journalism education. The test’s biggest strength is probably its photojournalism and design section, which requires that teachers know the uses of digital imagery and principles of basic composition.

Not all students who enter college journalism programs are coming from high school newspaper classes or staffs (myself included), but high school journalism class serves as a foundation for many young writers and photographers. I am not saying either that high school journalism teachers aren’t knowledgeable or capable of developing a more digital-first curriculum at the school or classroom level. In many schools, they have complete freedom, and in some high schools, journalism instructors are choosing to forgo the print newspaper and go all online.

My observation is simply that we live in a digital world, where journalists are expected to excel technologically regardless of print success. Texas high school journalism educator standards outline old-school tenets that don’t paint an accurate picture of what defines today’s media industry. In a journalism space where social media, mobile journalism and video content prevail, state curriculum isn’t doing students favors by ignoring new technologies. Yes, large state bureaucracies tend to move slowly in updating curriculum, but teachers who go above and beyond the assigned standards would find ways to integrate these technologies into classroom instruction.

Ma’am, high-school journalism should not be intended as vocational training, although if some vo-tech training happens along the way, that’s cool. It is, rather, more about the process than the product, as Adam Maksl points out:

The product of high school media classes, in many cases a yearbook or newspaper, is no more the central purpose of a scholastic journalism program than winning a football game is to team sports. Instead, it’s about the process, how students engage and work together, and the level of responsibility teachers encourage throughout.

Exceptional parents and educators know this. We don’t encourage our children to play with blocks from a young age because we expect them all to be architects and builders. We do it because we know the seemingly simple task of stacking diverse, colored objects into myriad shapes encourages cognitive development and problem solving. So it is with scholastic journalism.

In the comments to Washeck’s piece, Betsy Pollard Rau, a former Michigan high school journalism teacher whose students have won many reporting awards, said that some students went on to careers in journalism, but many more used skills learned in high school journalism in other professions like science, medicine and business.

“Yearbook, digital and newspaper experiences are merely the vehicles,” Rau wrote in the comments. “It is the destination that matters. High school journalism classes teach students higher level thinking skills, prepare them to deal with stress, give them opportunities to work as a team, meet deadlines, problem solve, write, shoot and edit.”

In fact, conflating the purpose of scholastic journalism with any single tangible product is tantamount to the misapplication and misuse of standardized testing as benchmarks for student learning. It’s exactly this logic that has reduced our students to the sum of their test scores, excluded teachers from educational policy decisions and made our schools prisons for creative and energetic young minds.

Journalism is, then, a process — what New York University’s Jay Rosen has called “the discipline of verification” — and a mindset, which is that power of all kinds, be it governmental, religious, or corporate, must be held to account if our society is to remain free. Athenae at First Draft elaborates:

You’re teaching people to use the bullshit detectors God gave them, and I don’t see anything wrong with that at the high school level. In college [journalism], you’ve got people who plan on practicing the craft, and that requires a little more focus and specialization and fine-tuning, but you’re still teaching people to take a look at what an authority figure tells them and start from the assumption that it is a complete falsehood. You’re still teaching people to find out that which no one wants known and tell as many people as possible through whatever means are at their disposal.

For some kids that instinct is a natural one. Some of us have authority issues from the start. [That’d be me — L.] Some of us have a sociopathic ability to step outside the normal human experience and immediately begin processing how to communicate the horror around us in such a way as to advocate for its cessation, without being overtaken by that horror ourselves. Some of us just naturally run toward the sound of explosions instead of away.

(Some of us are just nosy, annoying [expletives]. A good 40 percent of the best reporters I know are absolute [expletive] loonballs unwelcome in polite society. Our suspicious minds, greedy for more more more information and unable to prioritize anything higher than satisfying our curiosity, make us unreliable dinner companions. It’s why we tend to socialize with one another. Anybody else would object to her date being perpetually two hours late and constantly jabbering about TIF districts.)

Some kids, though? Some kids should be taught that the world is different under its skin, that if you’re going to love your society you have to make it worth loving, and that means ripping it down to its ugly bones. Some kids need to be pushed to criticize the ropes that hold them up. Some kids should be shown the way change happens, all change: Somebody stands up and yells that the way it’s always been is total horseshit and knock it off.

Those lessons don’t have to come in journalism classes, but: In how many high school subjects are you encouraged to take something apart and put it back together again? In how many high school classes do you get to make something, really really make something, with your own hands? In how many high school classes can you learn to stand up for yourself and your right to know something, at an age when the adult world thinks you’re either a moron or a wuss?

If high school journalism classes aren’t creating journalists, then at least they are nurturing the instinct to call bullshit on the whole world. Student A might not end up a reporter, but he’s gonna be on the phone with his insurance company arguing a denied claim all night because he’s learned not to take no for an answer. Student B might not end up a copy editor, but she’s sure as shit going to make sure the company she works for has all its signs spelled right. Student C might not end up a producer but the annual report will be delivered on time, no matter how many hours of overtime it [expletive] takes.

Student D might not do anything more engaged with society than overhear something on the radio and think, “That sounds like a lie.” And that’s enough to justify a thousand high school papers.

In other words, done right, high-school journalism teaches a student at a young age to think critically. In an age in which government, the church and, especially, corporations are insisting upon increasing their intrusion into our personal lives and lying shamelessly about the reasons, we cannot cultivate this instinct enough if we want to remain a truly free country.

 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 8:13 pm

If only the public flaying were not metaphorical

So recently, Politico, not known for either journalistic ethics or simple human decency, sat down to have a chat with Dick Cheney, his harridan erstwhile-lesbian-porn-writing wife Lynne, and his inept erstwhile political-candidate daughter Liz.

To talk about foreign policy.

With “noted mortgage fraud concern” Bank of America as sponsor.

I’m sorry to report that fricassee of feces was not on the menu, but the “chat” was utterly full of it. So, boy, howdy, was I happy to see Charlie Pierce at Esquire give the unindicted war criminal, his vile relatives, and Politico the hiding they so richly deserved. I’m delighted to say that no one was spared, not even the children.

NoOneWasSpared

Just a few gems:

[Politico’s] puerilty has finally crossed over into indecency. Its triviality has finally crossed over into obscenity. The comical political starfcking that is its primary raison d’erp has finally crossed over into $10 meth-whoring on the Singapore docks.

… and …

It’s not just that TBOTP[“Tiger Beat on the Potomac” — Pierce’s epithet for Politico] invited the Manson Family of American geopolitics to come together for an exercise in ensemble prevarication. It’s not just that the account of said exercise is written in the kind of cacophonous cutesy-poo necessary to drown out the screams of the innocent dead, and to distract the assembled crowd from the blood that has dripped from the wallet of the celebrity war-criminal leading the public display. And it’s not as though this was a mere interview—a “get” that could help you “win the morning (!).” In that, it might have been marginally excusable. No, this was one of [Politico editor] Mike Allen’s little grift-o-rama special events—a “Playbook lunch,” sponsored by that noted mortgage fraud concern Bank Of America. There’s an upcoming TBOTP “event” in L.A. that is sponsored by J.P. Morgan. I know what Mike Allen is, but I am so goddamn tired of haggling about the price.

… and …

That’s the freaking problem? That Dad and Mom and Exemptionette got together, but The Gay One didn’t show up. The problem was not that your publication decided to publicize itself, and suck up some of that sweet sponsorship cash from Wall Street, by putting a coward and a torturer on display with the more unpleasant members of his family? The problem was not that the alleged journalists running your place decided to give a platform to a man whose only public appearances in the near future should be unsponsored events at the Hague?

It goes on like that, a righteous rant to rank with the best of Thompson and Taibbi. I didn’t even quote the best parts.

I have not had a lot of energy or attention for blogging of late. (I’m actually finally reading “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and I also just discovered “Breaking Bad.” Sue me.) But I’m glad that Pierce is on the job. And some of the commenters give as good as Pierce does; I particularly liked the notion that Cheney will outlive even Keith Richards for all the wrong reasons.

Anyway, go read and get mad all over again — at the war criminal, his family, and the whores who give him a platform. They’re all deserving targets of wrath. For as Liz Cheney says herownself, “You can’t be responsible about the future if you don’t understand what happened in the past.”

 

Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:40 am

And while we’re on the subject of Iraq …

I see now that bloody-handed GOP foreign-policy apparatchik John Bolton has leaped into the fray as well, joining the Cheneys, Lindsay Graham, Paul Wolfowitz and all the other bloody-minded neocons in arguing that we need to KILL KILL KILL in Iraq because MURCA!

And news-media outlets of all political stripes are giving these effups a platform.

Yo, media: Stop. Just. Stop.

Every one of these people was wrong, wrong, WRONG about Iraq. They lied us into a war, they lied to us about how much it would cost in blood AND treasure, they lied to us about how we would be received, they killed thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops and civilians for a lie, and in the process they mismanaged the whole thing to the point at which it would have been impossible to mess it up worse if they had been trying, if in fact they were not. ANY news outlet giving ANY of these people a platform anymore is committing journalistic malpractice, full stop.

(As I’ve said before, I, too, was wrong about Iraq. I supported the invasion because I believed the lies about a possible nuclear program and not for any other reason. I knew damn well that the case was far from conclusive, but the idea of Saddam with a nuke combined with my belief that no administration would deliberately lie this country into a war to overcome my misgivings. To borrow from “Animal House,” I fucked up. I trusted them. But my mistake, however naive, at least was honest. These people, with far more information, fabricated a casus belli, which is a war crime by definition.)

Media, if you truly want to help your readers/viewers understand Iraq rather than just beating the drum for MOAR WAR, you might do well to consult some of the people who were right about Iraq. Just for starters, here’s Athenae, who predicted in 2006 what’s happening today:

It occurred to me this weekend, listening to family and others talk about the war, that really what we’re doing now as a country is looking for some answer that doesn’t make us wrong, doesn’t make us [expletive]s, doesn’t make us the people who screwed this up so catastrophically that there’s no way out.

You see that with McCain and his troop plans, you see it with various Bush officials and their whole “we have to give it time, just like Vietnam” schtick (which, way to lose the five people you still had on this issue, Genius McMensa), and you see that with every single person around the Thanksgiving table that talks about how “we can’t leave now, it’ll just turn into chaos.” And I think the liberal war supporters are most swayed by the last argument, because c’mon, they clung so desperately to their hope that Bush wouldn’t cock this up, plus they were the ones screaming about US sanctions and repression in the Middle East long before we needed those excuses to blow some stuff up.

Things will be horrible if we leave. The answer to that last is always, unequivocably yes, yes, it will. Iraq will continue to be chaos, civil war, a breeding ground for hatred of America and a place of misery for those who live there. When the bough breaks, the cradle of civilization will fall. It’s time to stop dancing around that and just admit it. If we leave, it will be awful. For us, for them, for everyone.

BUT THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO TO STOP IT ANYMORE.

We lost this war three weeks after the invasion; we lost this war two and a half years ago at least. Those of you who read this blog just to be pissed off and think I take some pleasure in that can just go [expletive] off, you don’t know how much I wanted to be wrong about the sick feeling in my gut at seeing the looting start. We lost this war before it even began, with the piss-poor excuses for planning that gave us the Ballad of Dougie Feith and His Sidekick Ahmed Chalabi, that gave us Curveball and WMDs and letting libraries burn. We lost this war when we marched in with our own ideas about how to run Iraq and as much as said to the locals, [expletive] off now, let us play with our new toy. We lost this war long ago, while the majority of Americans were still waving flags and singing “we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” The only way to fix it, the only way to win, is to build ourselves a time machine and go back and not invade in the first place.

What’s more, I think the people saying we can’t abandon the Iraqi people, I think they know it, too. I think deep down they know there’s no way this is going to end well, considering how it began. I think deep down they know there’s no way to turn this around, but they don’t want to look at it yet, stare themselves in the face, see how completely and utterly taken they got. Take responsibility for the collective American failure. Take the weight of that on their souls.

I do get it: It’s not wrong to want the best. But it is selfish and small and downright immoral to allow your wanting the best to put others in danger when you know your delusions are just that. You have the right to pretend. You don’t have the right to ask someone to die for your puppet show. You don’t have the right to keep thinking it’ll get better, not when you know it won’t.

And so the answer to the statement, the desperate excuse, the Hail Mary: “We can’t just leave, it’ll be chaos.”

Yes. Yes, it will.

But American news media still insist on dividing their potential sources into the Very Serious People like Cheney and Bolton and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and so on, and those of us who disagree with them, who are dismissed as “unserious” or, in Internet parlance, Dirty [Expletive]ing Hippies. And those media ignore the fact that the “unserious” people, the DFHs, have been right all along.

Sadly, this phenomenon of providing platforms to people who have been proved wrong repeatedly isn’t limited to the subject of Iraq. It also applies to the economy and jobs, global warming, and just about every other major public-policy issue. I believe Driftglass said it best:

LIBERALS

Sunday, June 1, 2014 11:26 am

Please do me a favor: Read “The Case for Reparations”

You don’t owe me a favor, but I’m asking for one anyway: Go read the essay “The Case for Reparations,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic.

(Yeah, I’m late to it. I was on vacation. Sue me.)

I concede right up front that this isn’t a simple request. Consequently, as you’re about to see, this is the longest “y’all go read this” post in this blog’s 12-year history.

Likewise, “The Case for Reparations” is a long article — 15,000 words or so. And it deals, obviously, with race, a subject that makes most people uncomfortable and, in the U.S., should discomfit everybody.

But there are some other things you should know.

First, the title is a little misleading — perhaps deliberately so — in that most people probably think that “reparations” means cash payments to make up for black people’s having been slaves. In point of fact, Coates does not call for any such thing, let alone specify an amount, an eligibility standard for individuals, or a distribution mechanism. (This fact, should you see the article discussed elsewhere, will be an easy way to tell which commenters have read the article and which have not.)

Second, even if one brings to the article a broader understanding of “reparations,” one should know that Coates, who is black, has only the vaguest idea of what reparations of any kind might look like, that he sees the concept as too complex to be defined by any individual. Moreover, he opposed the idea in principle himself until only a couple of years ago. Even today, he thinks, for example, that affirmative action doesn’t really address the needs created by the circumstances he describes.

Third, the article is less an argument for some form of reparations — though it is that — than it is a piece of historical investigative journalism that explains the widespread, longstanding, and ongoing, theft of wealth from black Americans. Coates’s work, as he himself points out, is not entirely original and builds on the work of professional historians. Unless you’re in academia, you’ve probably never heard of many of those he credits. But Coates adds original reporting to the research of his sources to create a plain-English piece of journalism that would be a shoo-in for a National Magazine Award even if it weren’t advocating a thing.

And let me emphasize again his subject: the widespread, longstanding, and ongoing, theft of wealth from black Americans. This piece isn’t just about slavery, and another way to separate those commenters who have read the piece from those who have not will be that the extent to which a commenter dwells on slavery likely will be in inverse proportion to the likelihood that that commenter has read the article.

The article does several important things. Primarily, it outlines the economic case for some form of restitution for black Americans. But in explaining the basis for that restitution, it also points out how utterly inconsequential arguments about “pathological culture” (my words, not his) as a cause for the woes of black Americans are in this context, like arguing the merits of a rezoning case when the sun is about to explode. And it shows in striking granularity how some ordinary people lived long lives in an era of supposed equality and fairness while still being robbed blind — not just by slavery, not just by private corporations, but also by their own government even as that government claimed to be working for fairness and equality of opportunity.

To call this article a home run would be to grossly understate its significance. Some home runs barely clear the fence. A few reach the upper deck of stadium seats. This one won’t fall back to Earth for years.

So go read it. I’m not asking you to do anything about its subject, not least because I myself have no idea, at this point, what should be done. But just read it and think about it and ask yourself what should be done. The article suggests one starting point, one that wouldn’t result in the transfer of a single dime from anyone to anyone. But every thinking American ought to think about this.

It’s been said in many places by many people that slavery is America’s original sin. That’s true, but it’s only part of the truth, in that the original sin actually encompasses more than slavery. Americans who truly want this country to be what it told the world almost 240 years ago that it wanted to be must grapple with this original sin and how we go about expiating it. I cannot think of a better place to start than this article.

Thursday, May 15, 2014 9:25 pm

In which Michael Gerson notices that we have a Republican problem without using the word “Republican”

Gee, he says, no one trusts science anymore, even though not trusting science is going to lead to some very bad things.

This man wrote speeches for arguably the most antiscientific administration since before the Civil War, if not ever, and he wonders why “we” have a problem?

We don’t have a problem, Mike. The Republican Party, for which you shamelessly whored, both has the problem and is the problem. And you know it. So stop pretending you’re stupid. And for God’s sake stop talking to us as if we are.

 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 7:20 pm

How utterly debased New York Times reporting is in two simple blog posts and why that matters to people who don’t read the Times

First, a key paragraph from the offending Times article:

Few issues ignite such passion among the base of both parties. Democrats argue that the laws are intended to keep poor voters away from the polls because they often have difficulty obtaining identification. Republicans contend cheating is rife in today’s elections.

Now, an analysis of that paragraph by Felix Salmon, formerly with Reuters and now a senior editor at Fusion. Here’s the money quote:

I’m sure that if you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find a member of the Republican party who believes that cheating is rife in today’s elections. Hell, you could probably even find a member of the Democratic party who believes the same thing. But in general, I don’t think that Republicans believe — or even contend — that cheating is rife.

It’s certainly true that a lot of Republicans support voter ID laws. But you don’t need to think that cheating is rife in order to support such measures. In fact, you don’t even need to think that cheating exists in order to support such measures. It’s entirely rational to support a voter ID law even if cheating is rare or nonexistent, on the grounds that cheating is just too easy right now and that you want to make it harder.

In other words, Peters’s formulation actually does Republicans few favors. If you know anything at all about the voter ID debate, you know that (2) is true and (4) is false. Which means that if you know anything at all about the voter ID debate, and you read Peters’s article, you’ll come away thinking two things:

A) In order to support voter ID laws, you first need to believe that cheating is rife.

B) In general, Republicans are liars.

After all, if you contend that cheating is rife, as Peters says Republicans generally do, you are lying.

And, finally, Jay Rosen at PressThink, with the larger context. Money quote:

So what is that exceedingly crappy paragraph doing there on the newspaper-of-record’s front page? Salmon says it’s laziness. (“He-said-she-said is so easy, for a journalist on deadline, that both journalists and editors tend not to really thinking about exactly what they’re saying.”) Certainly ease-of-use is part of the device’s fading delights.

Here’s how I described the appeal of he said, she said in 2009. It makes the story writable on deadline when you don’t know enough to sort things out. In a “he said, she said” classic:

* No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)

* The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.

* The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter [and the user] in the middle between polarized extremes.

I question whether that between-two-extremes territory, the “you figure it out/for us partisan polarization rules” space is valuable turf in the news business. I doubt that it’s “safe,” either, if you mean by safe: won’t do the brand harm. I think it’s likely to corrode trust over time. A conventional explanation for he said, she said says: it may be lazy or incomplete, but it is also a safe middle ground place to land so you can get the damn paper out!

But it’s not that safe. Democrats argue/Republicans contend/We have No Idea… increasingly won’t cut it for the Times, or its competitors like the FT, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Bloomberg. The upscale, high-information readers the Times wants to charge more money to, the core loyalists who are being asked to finance more of the operation— these users are increasingly likely to know about various preponderance-of-evidence callsindependent of whether the Times knows enough to include that review in its reporting. When this kind of reader comes upon he said, she said reporting on a big story where it’s CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, as with the right to vote: bad moment for the Times brand.

On the surface, this example appears to favor Republicans. Salmon argues that upon closer inspection, it favors Democrats by demonstrating that Republicans are liars on this issue. My big picture is that any one example isn’t the issue; the phenomenon is the problem. Some days I want to grab every publisher, executive editor, and executive producer in the country, slap them across the face and say what Jonathan Stewart famously said to then-“Crossfire” co-host Tucker Carlson: Stop it. You’re hurting the country.

Several different things can cause this kind of false-balance, he-said/she-said reporting to be published. Time pressure and byline-count requirements can tempt reporters to slap it down and file it without taking the trouble to see whether there is, in fact, a preponderance of the evidence (or preponderance of LACK of evidence) that would allow a reasonable conclusion to be drawn. Editors and publishers, in an era of dwindling circulation and readership and viewership and, correspondingly, ad revenue, don’t want to risk alienating a large segment of the public, even if that segment has been aboard an accelerating handbasket toward intellectual hell for the past half-century.

But you know what? Those are only excuses. If enough consumers of news demand it, news outlets that genuinely want to stay in business — not all do, but that’s a subject for another day — will respond accordingly. That said, those consumers need to target publishers, executive editors and managing editors, not the reporters who write this stuff or their assigning editors. Reporters write this stuff, and assigning editors send it on through to the copy desk, because they believe they can and/or must. If publishers, executive editors and managing editors — and, yes, I’m talking about my friends at the News & Record, among others — send the strong message that this kind of fake-ass reporting cannot and must not be published, then it won’t be. It’s that simple. So apply pressure in the right place; if nothing changes, then you know whom to blame.

Facts matter. Facts have consequences. And, dammit to hell, in the lives of real people, policy trumps politics. Journalists need to be committing journalism like they understand these things. Too many aren’t, and that crap must stop.

And Adkins v. Martin apparently is over

As I said originally, the lawsuit by the Adkinses, Riddlebergers, and Conservatives for Guilford County against my friend Jeff Martin was about Jeff, not me. So if this account is accurate, I will neither criticize nor second-guess.

I had hoped for a more broadly beneficial outcome. But that’s just me. Jeff has been through hell for the community’s benefit in this particular arena, and at his best he was, as Ed Cone observed earlier, as good as Mencken. So if he decides it’s time to step out, I will not just respect but support that decision.

And I would respectfully remind anyone inclined to do otherwise that in all likelihood you haven’t been through what he has, and your experience probably isn’t as similar to his as you think.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 12:09 am

Radical conservative morons try to shut down local blogger; or, An even more special kind of stupid, cont.

So it turns out that the political action committee Conservatives for Guilford County and four of its principals are suing local blogger Jeff Martin, who blogged under the pseudonym Fecund Stench, for defamation. If I liked popcorn, I’d be buying some.

First, the obligatory disclosures: Jeff and I have been friends online and in real life for years. (Less relevantly, his wife and my ex-wife used to work together at the old TriadStyle magazine, which is, indirectly, how he and I first met in real life.)

Second, for those of y’all not from ‘Round Here: C4GC is a local Tea Party outfit, with all the ideological baggage that that term implies. And Jeff Martin, a more traditional Republican, despises it and everyone associated with it. And Jeff plays hardball. To extend the baseball metaphor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him intentionally hit a batter, but when a batter crowds the plate, Jeff will throw a 99 mph brushback pitch and not lose a second’s sleep. I like him, but I don’t agree with every last thing he says. And fellow Greensboro blogger Ed Cone, who is more dispassionate about Jeff, says this about him: “At his best, Fecund Stench is Guilford County’s own, digital H.L. Mencken (and like Mencken, his use of racial and religious stereotypes can be an issue). At his not-best, duck.” I think that’s fair.

Now, the complaint, which you can read for yourself. (Jeff has 30 days to respond.)

Now, the obligatory disclaimer: I Am Not A Lawyer, and I don’t play one on the Internet. However, I did publish a fair bit of potential lawsuit bait about some incompetent and/or bad people during my 25 years in print journalism, consulting with lawyers many times in so doing, without ever being sued at all, let alone successfully. And my just-completed master’s program included a media-law course just a year ago. (Much of what appears below is adapted from the text for that course, The Law of Public Communication, by Kent R. Middleton and William E. Lee, published in 2013 by Pearson.) So I’m in a position to do a little analysis without attempting to say who will win.

Now, the caution: Jeff has taken the Fecund Stench blog down, apparently as a result of the lawsuit, so the posts quoted in the complaint are absent any context. That caution is important no matter which side of this case you’re inclined to come down on at the moment.

In plain English, the first question is: Are the plaintiffs — that is, C4GC and the four named individuals — public figures? The answer determines what they have to prove in order to win the suit. The answer is that they almost certainly are. They are not public officials — the least ambiguous type of public figure. But they are public figures. The PAC has attempted to play a role in local elections. Jodi Riddleberger is an occasional op-ed columnist for the News & Record. And so on.

I’ll explain why the fact that they are public figures is important in a minute. First, you need to know that to win a libel suit, plaintiffs must prove, at a minimum, all of the following six things:

  • defamation: that what was published damaged plaintiffs’ standing in the community or professional reputation via attack on plaintiffs’ character or professional abilities, and/or that it causes people to avoid the person defamed. (Fun fact: The law does, indeed, recognize the possibility that someone’s reputation might already be so bad that they can’t be damaged any further by being libeled.)
  • identification: that what was published specifically identifies each plaintiff (it need not do so by name if the description clearly identifies a particular individual).
  • publication: defendant made the allegedly defamatory statements where at least one other person besides defendants could see them. Blogging on the World Wide Web meets this definition.
  • fault: defendant published the information either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false.
  • falsity: the information must be provably false, and the burden of that proof falls on plaintiffs.
  • injury: plaintiffs must prove some form of actual damage, financial or reputational.

Remember, the plaintiffs must prove all six to have a chance of winning.

Now, the public-figure status of the plaintiffs matters because of the level of fault they must prove as public figures, noted in bold above. In North Carolina, private figures under the law need not prove quite as much — merely that the allegedly libelous material was published negligently. But, as I noted, I’m pretty sure that C4GC and the named individual plaintiffs qualify as public figures because of how they have injected themselves into public debate on issues of public import, e.g., elections. If the court finds that they are in fact public figures, they’ll have to prove that Jeff knowingly or recklessly published false and defamatory statements about them.

Here’s the thing, though: Defendants in libel cases have several defenses available to them under the law, and if the defendant employs any of those defenses, the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs not only to prove the six things listed above but also to show that those defenses are inadequate or don’t apply.

Some of those defenses that might relate to this case are:

  • statute of limitations: Even if a statement is libelous, a suit must be filed within a certain period of time after its publication to be allowed to proceed. If a would-be plaintiff waits too long — typically a year — to sue, the plaintiff is out of luck. Some of the statements at issue date to 2011.
  • truth: If the plaintiff alleges that the defendant has published something false and the defendant can prove that the statement is true, the plaintiff is out of luck.
  • neutral reportage: If Candidate A says something potentially libelous about Candidate B, Newspaper C may be able to report what Candidate A said without committing libel, even if it knew or suspected that Candidate A’s statement was false and defamatory, as long as it reports what Candidate A says in fair and disinterested fashion. Candidate B might, just maybe, have a libel case against Candidate A, but not against Newspaper C.
  • First Amendment opinion defense: Statements can’t be libelous if they are opinions based on verifiable fact or if they are opinions whose truth can be neither proven nor disproven.
  • exaggerations and figurative terms generally are not libelous.

Obviously, we can’t even begin to know until the discovery phase of the suit is complete whether plaintiffs can prove the six things they need to prove. Publication is a slam dunk, and for the sake of argument, let’s give all five plaintiffs the benefit of the doubt on identification. That still leaves falsity, defamation, injury, and fault, specifically that the plaintiffs must prove that Martin published false and defamatory material either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false.

Which raises another issue. Is it provably false, for example, that plaintiff Brett Riddleberger “suffers from a medical condition known as Erectile Narcolepsy, by which loss of blood to the brain when aroused causes him to lose consciousness.” To this layman, a better question would be: Who, among those older than 9, would believe this to be true in the first place? This is arguably an example of the kind of exaggeration that cannot be considered libel.

Anything is possible in a lawsuit, particularly if a case actually gets tried in front of a jury. But few libel cases get that far. The farthest most ever get is that after discovery (in which each side is obliged to provide certain evidence to the other), both sides move for summary judgment — they ask the judge to rule for their side without even letting the case go to trial — and the judge grants it to one side or the other after determining that there are no real issues of fact for a jury to determine.

But even more likely than that is that the two sides settle or one side, usually plaintiffs, realizes that it has no case and cuts its losses. A letter from Jeff’s counsel, Ron Coleman, strongly suggests to plaintiff’s attorney that that is where this case should be headed:

Although we have only passing familiarity with the litigation pending in Guilford County at this point, we see no reason to doubt that a cooperative resolution of this matter is the likely outcome. In light of your own experience and considering your level of practice, we would expect that you see it the same way. If so, you will probably agree as well that we should make every effort to skip the stupid steps and get to that point now.

Rationally, I agree that that’s exactly where this case should be headed. But I’ll be honest: Part of me wants to see what plaintiffs have to say, under oath during depositions in the discovery phase of the suit, about the businesses of the Adkinses and the financial backing of C4GC. As a longtime Republican living in N.C.’s 6th Congressional District, I must vote in a runoff between the top two finishers in the May 6 GOP primary, one of whom, Mark Walker, is backed by C4GC. If one of the candidates is backed by money from strip clubs, I’d certainly find that relevant. It might or might not affect my ballot — past performance, more than anything else, generally dictates my voting decisions — but it might very well affect those of other Republican voters in the 6th District. It’s certainly germane. And, frankly, given the Christofascist nature of some of the candidates previously supported by C4GC, the possibility of exposing great hypocrisy is attractive to me.

In short, part of me wants to see plaintiffs spanked so hard their appendixes come flying out of their mouths.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about Jeff and his constitutional right to publish factual information, criticism, and even parody, and about the same rights for other bloggers, perhaps, one day, including me. Assuming everything he has published is either true fact, protected opinion or parody, not only does he need for this suit to go away, America needs for the plaintiffs to be driven away with their tails between their legs and lots of bright red bruises on their asses so that robust political commentary and criticism can continue unabated.

Saturday, May 10, 2014 10:46 pm

An even more special kind of stupid

SpecialKindOfStupid

It takes a very special kind of stupid to inherit peace, prosperity and a budget surplus and explode the deficit, allow a horrific terrorist attack, launch a war both illegal and unnecessary (killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in the process), order Americans to carry out exactly the same kind of torture for which we hanged Germans and Japanese after World War II AND push policies that allowed the worst economic crisis in three-quarters of a century.

But it takes an even more special kind of stupid to say, on the subject of George W. Bush, to intelligent Americans, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” Naturally, these days we do not lack for that very special kind of stupid; we need only turn to Matt Bai, formerly of the Times Almighty and now with Yahoo, to find it:

A graphic this week on FiveThirtyEight.com showed how fewer and fewer Americans blame Bush for the country’s economic morass, even though his successor, Barack Obama, won two presidential campaigns based on precisely that premise.

Bush’s critics will argue that this is testament to how quickly we forget the past. But it has more to do, really, with how we distort the present.

The truth is that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was. Read “Days of Fire,” the excellent and exhaustive book on Bush’s presidency by Peter Baker, my former colleague at the New York Times. Bush comes off there as compassionate and well-intentioned — a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his wily vice president and who found his footing only after making some tragically bad decisions. Baker’s Bush is a flawed character you find yourself rooting for, even as you wince at his judgment.

Not just no, Matt, but hell, no.

I don’t need to read your buddy’s slobbery hagiography: I know what I saw and heard, out of the man’s own mouth, for eight long, painful, and disastrous years. For sheer incompetence, only Buchanan comes close, and in terms of the consequences of his stupidity, he is without peer or even parallel. America is vastly poorer, dumber, less free and yet more vulnerable today than it was in 2000, and the blame for that can be laid squarely at the feet of Li’l Boots McDrydrunk and the monsters he hired. I heard the man talk, so I know for a fact that he is an imbecile. I heard him admit on ABC News that he ordered torture, so I know for a fact that he is an ogre. And you, sir, can go straight to hell with him.

The only thing I’m rooting for where Bush is concerned is a seat in the dock at The Hague. And while oral sex is no longer a crime, public oral sex still is, so, Matt, buddy, next time you sit down to write about Bush 43, I’d look around for cops first.

 

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