Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 7:30 pm

Odds and ends for April 14

We have seen our enemies, and they are weak. Seriously. Relative to us, weak on a world-historical scale.

In Idaho, the batshittery of the right-wing nut jobs carries an eight-digit price tag.

New Mexico has become the second state to ban the civil forfeiture of innocent people’s property. This needs to happen nationwide.

When cops misbehave, body cams are not, by themselves, helpful. The video must be publicly available. D.C. appears headed in the opposite direction. (That issue is still up in the air here in Greensboro.)

Speaking of misbehaving cops, The Baltimorie Sun proves that there are still a few reporters out there kicking ass and taking names.

Researchers have found patterns in then-President Ronald Reagan’s speech that indicated Alzheimer’s disease years before Reagan received his diagnosis in 1994. I mention this not to take a dig at Reagan but to point out that this approach may be a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s in people sooner than has been possible up ’til now.

My friend Louis Bekoe is running for president, and I’ve got to say that right now he’s the best choice out there.

Speaking of running for president, supposed contender Chris Christie apparently will be campaigning on a platform to cut Social Security and Medicare. Unlike Bush 43, at least he’s being upfront about it.

And candidate Rand Paul‘s wife insists that he doesn’t have a problem with women because he has worked with female surgeons. OK, then, if she says so.

Non-local folks, this is particularly for you: The National Folk Festival will be here in Greensboro this year and for the next two years as well. Here’s info. This is a big deal.

Damn. Percy Sledge is dead at 73.

 

Sunday, April 5, 2015 8:10 pm

Odds and ends for April 5

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Cops in California are using a 1930s-era anti-lynching statute to intimidate protesters. Prosecutors so far have declined to press those charges, but it’s only a matter of time until a right-wing nutjob decides to try to make an example of someone.

Speaking of California, its people are in serious denial about its extreme drought, now in its fourth year. About 94% of the state considers the drought serious, but 61% still favor voluntary measures to deal with it. Y’all need to wake up.

Likely presidential contender and perennial horse’s ass Mike Huckabee thinks I’m a member of the “militant gay community,” inasmuch as that’s whom he’s blaming for the backlash against Indiana’s bigoted “religious freedom” statute. Who knew that Christians who take the Second Great Commandment seriously were militant gays? My wife certainly had no idea.

We have a system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent and this case proves it.” (Previously.)

In Florida, relatives of officers of for-profit charter-school companies are enacting legislation to divert money from public schools to charter schools. But none dare call it a conflict of interest, let alone a crime.

Randi Harper, somewhat unwillingly turned into an activist by GamerGaters and perpetrators of online violent and/or sexual threats, got SWATed — someone called in a false tip to police that led a SWAT team to raid her apartment. Her experience could have ended with her dead, or at least her dog. Fortunately, both are alive and well. She talks about what you need to do to protect yourself from such potentially deadly “pranks.” For the record, given the risk of gunplay anytime heavily armed cops storm a home, I think this “prank” should be treated as attempted manslaughter, at least. (h/t: Chip)

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh draws a useful distinction between what he does and much of the “news” you see in print and online today: Instead of taking a tip and building it into a story, too many reporters just run the tip.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 7:42 pm

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

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 7:32 pm

Why has Principal Rob McGee buried his head so deeply in his own nether regions?

An open letter to Rob McGee, principal, Neshaminy High School, Langhorne, PA:

Dear Sir:

I am given to understand that you have, among other things:

  • Insisted that the Neshaminy High School student newspaper use the ethnic slur “Redskins” in its news coverage of the school.
  • Suspended the paper’s faculty advisor, Tara Huber, for failing to enforce your order to this effect with the student journalists. (This advisor was the 2014 Pennsylvania School Press Association’s Journalism Teacher of the Year.)
  • Placed a reprimand in the advisor’s personnel file.
  • Suspended the paper’s editor-in-chief, Gillian McGoldrick, from the paper for a month refusing to carry out your instructions.

In short, if there is a way you could have more thoroughly screwed this pooch, neither you nor I have been able to discern it.

I am not a lawyer, and I understand that, much as I dislike it, the Supreme Court has ruled that student journalists younger than 18 do not enjoy all the same First Amendment rights that adults do. But I also spent a quarter-century in journalism as both writer and manager and recently completed a master’s program complete with a pretty brutal media-law class. On the basis of that experience, here’s what I can tell you:
  • The term “Redskin” is, as a matter of fact, an ethnic slur. You may disagree, but your opinion doesn’t change that fact. Your school should have replaced it long ago.
  • Accordingly, while you might have had the legal right to insist that the paper use that term, it was not the right thing to do either from a journalistic standpoint or from an instructional one.
  • Moreover, your disciplining of the paper’s faculty advisor clearly violated her First Amendment rights. You can argue insubordination all you like, but the bottom line is that she was disciplined for taking a stand on a First Amendment issue, and no perfume on God’s earth is going to cover up the stink.
  • Finally, your suspension of the paper’s editor in chief, far from imparting any sort of worthwhile lesson to that student or others working for the paper, is only going to unite the students more firmly against you while making you look mean and petty.
In short, your behavior serves only to convince anyone with half a brain that you have no business in a position of responsibility in the education field, and certainly not in K-12 public education. People make mistakes, but you have demonstrated a fundamental level of incompetence and unsuitability for your position that merits nothing less than immediate termination.

Good luck unscrewing that pooch.

Best,

Lex Alexander
http://www.lexalexander.net

 

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.

 

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.”

 

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.

Friday, February 7, 2014 8:24 pm

How to monetize journalism

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014 7:18 pm

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 18, 2013 7:56 pm

Hey, Paul Cox of Leicester, NC — why did you go on Hannity’s show and lie about Obamacare?

Because you did, and you’ve been busted.

Thursday, August 29, 2013 7:24 pm

Also from Texas, news analysis …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 7:30 pm

Robert Jensen on pro journalism’s next, last mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 14, 2013 8:42 pm

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

Whocouldaknowed, am I right?

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

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

Ken: Patch was expanding at that point, right.

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

[snip]

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

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 6:10 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 22, 2013 8:41 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oddly, no.

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

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

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

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

(h/t: Gawker via Athenae)

 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 8:40 pm

God, I hate DC media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, we get this:

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

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

Friday, January 18, 2013 9:07 pm

Charlie Pierce on Manti Te’o

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, December 7, 2012 6:35 am

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2012 10:25 pm

Quote of the day, wingnut invective edition

Today’s quote of the day comes from Athenae, who, as do I, has a little experience with having her intelligence, patriotism and sexuality questioned by people who are dumber than a box of rocks, would sell nukes to al-Qaeda if the price were right and would screw a snake if they could get someone to hold its head and, as do I, has lost all patience with professional journalists who see this invective as a reason not to report, you know, facts:

“There are worse things than a bunch of wingnuts calling you an asshole. I know they’re annoying and I know they’re loud right now, but if all it takes is loud and annoying to make editors and news directors do what you want them to do why hasn’t Matt Lauer been fired and forced to stand in Times Square covered in bees?”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 7:17 pm

U.S. Journalism Fail

The fall of the mainstream media has had many causes, but speaking as someone who spent a quarter-century working in it, I think few have been more damaging than the adherence to narratives that were either no longer operative or never true in the first place. And nowhere has this adherence been more in evidence than in how the MSM, your so-called liberal media, has behaved toward the Republican Party. Yes, journalists tend toward the middle of the political spectrum (there are almost no true leftists anymore), but 45 years of working the refs has had such an all-encompassing  effect that no one is mentioning the elephant defecating in the room. Steve M. at No More Mr. Nice Blog summarizes:

But the press had a story. It’s a great, multi-threaded story, really, even though nobody in the press thinks it is. It’s a story the press could have been telling us for years, but never wanted to bother: the story of a major American political party going absolutely stark raving mad, while having the power and persuasive ability to potentially take the country with it. It’s a party that flirted with nominating barking lunatics such as Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum before settling on a guy who was able to mollify supporters of those lunatics by faking (or imbibing) madness himself, by being a pathological liar, and by spending millions of dollars — because this party is crazy about the rich, and has persuaded much of the country to want to coddle the rich even after the rich nearly destroyed the world.

The party lurches from superstitious belief to superstitious belief (in the phoniness of climate change, in the existence of massive Democratic voter fraud, in the imminence of sharia law in the U.S., in the socialist/Muslim leanings of the centrist Christian in the White House, and so on). The rich guy at its head flirted with some of those beliefs and gave aid and comfort to firm believers in them.

If the party were a celebrity or a historical figure, it would be Charlie Sheen or Caligula, and everyone would want to tell the story. But nobody wants to tell this story. Nobody wants to write that the GOP is insane. Nobody wants to write that a great country can’t survive with crazy zillionaires selling conspiracy theories to angry white people via 24/7 media, just so they can get somewhat lower tax rates.

The story is there, guys. It wasn’t good enough for you, I guess.

Or, as Driftglass puts it:

And yet the MSM continues to prop up the rotting carcass of the GOP like the corpse in ”Weekend at Bernie’s”, and waltz it lovingly across the national stage year after year after year, protecting it as ferociously as they would their own children even as it goes raving mad, putrefies and crumbles to reek and maggots in their arms.

If a guy commits a crime and you help him, you’re guilty of a crime yourself — aiding and abetting, at the least. So when you aid and abet the journey to insanity of one of the country’s two major parties, and perhaps the entire country along with it, what does that make you?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 8:04 pm

Dean Baker sums up our economic, political and journalistic problems in three short paragraphs

Baker:

Dana Milbank devoted his [Washington Post] column to the disenchantment of progressives with the current political situation. At one point he comments that “the still-lumbering economy has depressed President Obama’s supporters.”

While this is no doubt true, it is worth mentioning that just about all progressives said at the time that the stimulus would be inadequate to restore the economy to a healthy growth path. The collapse of the housing bubble destroyed close to $1.2 trillion in annual demand from construction and consumption. At its peak in 2009 and 2010 the stimulus only replaced about $300 billion in annual spending.

It is discouraging to see so many people suffering unnecessarily, but this outcome is exactly what our analysis predicted at the time. Unfortunately, having a track record of being right is not generally a factor in determining which views carry weight in Washington policy debates.

Somebody tell me again how the U.S. is a meritocracy. Or, as Driftglass famously observed:

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