Blog on the Run: Reloaded

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.

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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:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 8:27 pm

Institutionalized

As befits one of the holders of prime New York Times op-ed real-estate, columnist David Brooks has analyzed American society and concluded that the problem is … us:

I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.

I guess Brooks didn’t get the word about the brown acid.

Because, see, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monicagate, torture and other war crimes, and even The New York Times helping lie this country into a war and sitting on a story about unconstitutional and criminal government wiretapping for more than a year while the guilty president who ordered it won re-election, have had nothing to do with collapse of people’s faith in institutions. Nor has the fact that the economy got blown up by the greatest white-collar crime in history while  the people responsible are still massively wealthy and the people who warned about it are continually ignored. Nor has the fact that government in general and the Republican Party in particular are hell-bent on looting this country until there is nothing left to steal.

And Jesus H. Child Molesting Vaginal Ultrasound Christ with Jimmy Swaggart Sauce and Jerry Falwell on top, what could institutional religion possibly have done to warrant such a massive loss of trust?

Without having done any polling, I’ll grant Brooks one possible point: It might actually be true that institutions aren’t performing significantly worse now than they did in 1955 (they were screwing up in 1925, too, and the result was the Great Depression). It might just be that thanks to the Intertubez, we just know more about the screwups than we used to. Certainly I don’t think the Catholic Church’s skirts were any cleaner in 1955.

But the reason followers aren’t following leaders the way they used to has nothing to do with vanity on the rabble’s part. (I and people like me don’t think we’re better than everyone else around us, but let’s face it: If Congress, the Roman Catholic Church and The New York Times op-ed page are the standard, then the bar’s really not all that high.) It’s not even explained entirely by the fact that leaders have manifestly screwed the pooch and/or sold themselves to the highest bidder, over and over again. No, what really gets our goats is that if you have enough money and/or profess to believe certain things, you can commit the most calamitous misfeasances, utterly without consequence — indeed, you can make a career out of failing upward — while those who were right are marginalized and ridiculed.  Blogger Driftglass has neatly encapsulated the phenomenon:

That last bit’s the most maddening part, and for Exhibit A, you need look no further than David Effing Brooks himself,  sitting in his comfy office at the Times Almighty and pulling meretricious and/or delusional observations out of his lower digestive tract, not only getting to keep his lucrative job but actually being celebrated as a public intellectual. He has decided that this country’s biggest problem is that you and I haven’t suffered enough. God help us.

Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:11 pm

A journalistic milestone

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 7:11 pm
Tags: , , ,

Forbes.com catches House Speaker John Boehner in a lie — and says so in so many words.

Sure, the writer is a freelancer. But Forbes.com editors let that story go out.

I’ve long thought that news media ought to call liars liars more often.

Friday, December 23, 2011 7:54 pm

Why SteveM at Balloon Juice, whom you’ve probably never heard of, is a better political analyst than Tom Friedman

Because he says stuff like this:

In all likelihood, we’ve got 2000 all over again. Romney now, like Bush then, hasn’t always spoken like a flaming wingnut throughout his political career (and didn’t fully behave like one in the governor’s office)—which means that Romney now, like Bush then, is going to be called a “moderate” during the general election campaign no matter what he says in his speeches. Romney’s Massachusetts past, like Bush’s cooperation with Texas Democrats and prattle about “compassionate conservatism,” is going to give him carte blanche to say anything without the mainstream press grasping the fact that if he’s talking wingnut, it means he intends to govern as a wingnut.

Some beat reporter from 2000—I think it was Adam Clymer—said after Bush took office that his right-wing leanings were obvious all through the campaign if you just bothered to read his policy proposals and listen to him on the stump. This stuff was hiding in plain sight. Everyone just ignored it. And they’re probably going to ignore it again.

I cannot and will not predict at this point who will get the GOP nomination. But I’m confident that if Romney is the nominee, this is exactly how it will go down: The mainstream media will ignore what’s in plain sight.

UPDATE: Also at BJ, John Cole deftly eviscerates Rich Lowry and National Review Online, and by extension the entire GOP establishment, which apparently are freaking right the fark out at the prospect that racist anti-Semite Chomskyite goldbug Ron Paul might actually get somewhere in the Iowa GOP caucus:

Basically, Rich Lowry wants you to believe that Ron Paul is too racist to be President, but just racist enough to be a Republican in the House for several decades.

Monday, December 12, 2011 8:52 pm

Quote of the day, American Psycho edition

Filed under: Evil,Journalism — Lex @ 8:52 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Atrios:

There are people who have the job of being political hacks. Of being [jerks].  I get that. I don’t have a problem with these people. It’s their jobs to argue for things based on what the politics is. I don’t think they should be obeyed, but their existence doesn’t bother me.

The problem isn’t that people listen to political hacks, the problem is that they assume they’re right. You know, “the politics of mortgage relief is bad” trumped “the politics of people being thrown out of their homes and the economy being horrible is bad” based on this kind of advice.

The point is, I get that the sociopaths are in the room. But don’t necessarily obey them, and more than that … don’t necessarily assume they really know what they’re doing. They’re sociopaths, after all.

I’m not sure whether Atrios intended his remark to cover American “journalism” or just the political sphere, but, believe me, it covers a lot of the D.C. media establishment at least as much as it covers politicians and their minions.

Sunday, November 27, 2011 10:31 pm

Media criticism …

… outsourced to Duncan “Atrios” Black:

When Village elders like David Brooks or similar write their various tributes to the joys of other people suffering in order to purge the nation of its sins, and by sins they mean the Lewinsky affair and not banksters stealing all the money, I think their idea of personal austerity is like cutting HBO from the cable bill or something. They have no understanding of what it might be like to be without a job for years after spending your life living mostly paycheck to paycheck. It isn’t about one fewer trip per month to the Outback.

In the old days, journalism of Brooks’s type, replete with errors of fact and context, would be called “bad journalism,” and its perpetrators would be fired. Now they get slots on the New York Times op-ed page and cushy TV-talk-show gigs.

Sunday, October 23, 2011 4:24 pm

So how did all this stink with NPR and Lisa Simeone get started in the first place?

Not surprisingly, with a bone-headed play by the So-Called Liberal Media.

In this case, it was a short piece by Roll Call’s Neda Semnani, who writes the “Heard on the Hill” column. From the snarky headline to the factual inaccuracies, it is one steaming, stinking heap of FAIL.

So late Friday, I emailed her:

Hi, Neda:

I thought I’d fill in some gaps in your reporting on Lisa Simeone. Whether you choose to share this information with your readers or not, I leave to your conscience. Oh, and my blog. Hee.

Lisa Simeone is a FREELANCER. For WAMU (until her unjustified dismissal). And for WDAV, for whom she continues to produce “World of Opera.” Although she did, once, work for NPR, she hasn’t had any direct, formal relationship with the network in quite a while.

Have you ever been a freelancer? Because I don’t think you have. It’s a tough gig. For one thing, overentitled clients generally presume that because they pay you to produce a certain body of work, they assume control over all other aspects of your public life EVEN IF THEY HAVEN’T BOTHERED TO OBTAIN THE CONTRACTUAL RIGHTS TO DO SO.

No, dear. The technical term for that is “slavery,” and it was outlawed by the 13th Amendment. Jim Asendio should have known that. So should you.

If WAMU had wished to obtain that level of control over what Simeone did on her own time, it was perfectly entitled to negotiate for the rights. It failed to do so. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve freelanced off and on since 1978, and because whether I ate or not depended on my attention to this level of detail, I’m confident I’m accurate when I say that absent other evidence of which I am unaware, not only was WAMU’s action unjustified, but also that Ms. Simeone has grounds to seek, at the least, a buyout of the remainder of her contract, if any, and possibly other damages.

As for WDAV, for which I once worked, and which is operated by my alma mater, it didn’t need any of this explained to it. The station and college looked over the contract with NPR under which they produce “World of Opera” for NPR, decided that they were in full compliance and politely told NPR to take a flying flip at a rolling doughnut.

“If you want to be a hack, don’t flack.” No, Neda; if you want to be a journalist, you need to start calling bullshit on every noncontroversy that the right-wing Wurlitzer tries to gin up into a Category 5 scandal. I’ve been a Red State Republican since 1978, and even I get that. You’re being played, and the fact that NPR management has the political savvy and common sense of dryer lint (see: Williams, Juan) doesn’t let you off the hook. [Note that I am giving her the benefit of the doubt here and presuming that she’s just passing along a bug someone put in her ear, rather than presuming that she fabricated a controversy on her own initiative. — Lex]

Pity Roll Call doesn’t take comments, but if this is an example of its “journalism,” I can see why.

Best,

Lex Alexander
Davidson ’82
WDAV-FM 1978-82
Her response was, to say the least, puzzling:

Hi Lex,

Many thanks for your email. I spoke to and used Ms. Simeone’s quote in my original post. I have her on tape, which is what I used. I was quite explicit about her role as a freelancer and a host. I was clear about the information I had as I received it, including stating that she was not fired from her post as host of NPR’s World of Opera in my follow up item.

I have passed your email to my editor.

If you have any further comments and concerns, feel free to email me any time.

Many thanks,
Neda

For those of you following along at home, the question wasn’t the accuracy of Semnani’s quoting of Simeone. It was the accuracy, or lack thereof, of what she was saying about what Simeone said. So I responded:

Neda:

Thanks for responding. I wasn’t questioning the accuracy of your quote. I was pointing out that your snarky item …

… she said, “Well, I work in radio still, but this is totally different.”

Huh. Different, how?

“I’m a freelancer,” she said.

OK …

… completely misrepresented the nature of a freelancing relationship by making clear with the “OK …” that you thought Simeone was full of shit. In fact, her position has a basis in everyday contract law.

You also allowed Jim Asendio to assume facts not in evidence, as the lawyers say. What he says is true if and only if WAMU’s code of ethics is incorporated directly or by reference into the freelance contract the station has with Ms. Simeone. If it isn’t — and your article offered no evidence that it is — then he doesn’t get to decide after the fact that she’s a journalist and therefore bound by some code of ethics to which she never agreed.

I’m not only questioning your abilities as a journalist, I’m now also questioning your ability to read plain English. Feel free to share that with your editor as well.

Cheers,

L.

Haven’t heard any more from her, but she’s entitled to a weekend, too, so that’s fine. I’ll let you know what else, if anything, transpires, although I’ll be subject to the demands of work, school and parenting and so might not be able to do so in anything approaching real time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 9:28 pm

In which Jesse LaGreca not only appears on a Sunday-morning TV talk show but also is far more polite in the face of George Effing Will and Peggy Noonan’s disingenuousness than I could ever be.

Thursday, September 29, 2011 10:19 pm

Memo to the mainstream media …

NO, BOTH SIDES DON’T DO IT.

Now pay attention.

Monday, August 15, 2011 8:07 pm

Town-hall meetings we won’t be seeing camera crews at

People are more pissed off at Congress than they have ever been. And yet, in contrast to 2010, when corporate money ginned up an Astroturf “revolt” that got national media coverage, you won’t be seeing stories on the TV nooz about angry constituents confronting their congresscritters over their inaction on the economy, even though it is seen as far and away the country’s most pressing problem.

Fortunately, there’s YouTube …

… and other social-media sites.

Let’s see which MSM reporters are clever, or crazy, enough to cover a real story.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 8:11 pm

“How do you have a discussion with someone when language is intentionally denied the purpose of conveying meaning?”

Quote of the Day, language edition, from Roch Smith in the comments at Ed’s place. He’s talking about economics but the phenomenon he describes applies to pretty much all our public discourse of late:

I used to try to argue with people who detached meaning from words, but it’s impossible. There are people for whom a legitimate “argument” involves ignoring the meaning of words or imbuing them with a meaning that they do not have, sometimes to the point of making them even the opposite of what they mean.

How do you have a discussion with someone when language is intentionally denied the purpose of conveying meaning? Some people view the purpose of a “debate” as constructing an impenetrable barricade against the intrusion of a new idea. Language is not for getting an idea from one mind to another, it is for keeping preconception unmolested; as such, it need not have any fidelity to meaning. The purpose of a “discussion” for the meaning-snatchers is to gainsay, block and frustrate — abandoning meaning serves that purpose well. But you can’t engage it except as a futility.

It’s like arguing with gibberish. One might as well be arguing with: “You said, ‘Keynes suffocated oranges for the transport of the orbiting oak spoons,’ but his dog collar chastity is more of an aerobic digestion, not the marbled decorum you wrongly espouse. So there!”

Roch poses the question mostly rhetorically, but its answer has real, and pernicious, real-world consequences — consequences that those in Washington who work with words for a living could, but choose not to, ameliorate. (And I know they know better because I trained some of them.)

Friday, July 22, 2011 8:31 pm

Parallel universe

Gin and Tacos:

(Let’s) indulge in a fun hypothetical.

Let’s say that through a combination of fund-raising prowess, ideological militancy, and personal charisma, Jesse Jackson Sr. is able to assume a position of considerable behind-the-scenes power in the Democratic Party. His sway over elected Democrats is such that he manages to get 95% of the Democratic Congressional delegation, House and Senate, to sign an oath of personal loyalty to his policy goals. Specifically, they pledge that under no circumstances will they ever support cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other social welfare programs. Jackson believes that any such cuts will affect the poor and people of color disproportionately. Throughout the debate over the budget and debt ceiling, House and Senate Democrats refuse to even consider any proposal that touches any of those programs. It is a non-starter. Full stop. Because they swore an oath to Jesse Jackson that they wouldn’t.

I’m sure you can see through this thin shoe-on-the-other-partisan-foot analogy to Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” that currently holds sway over the GOP. I do think it’s interesting to draw out the hypothetical scenario, though, to underscore a point: Can you even imagine the sheer violence of the [drawers-soiling] that the GOP, Teatards, and Beltway media would be engaged in if the shoe really was on the other foot? If every Democrat had signed a personal oath to an interest group and private citizen that took precedence over their oath to the American people and Constitution?

I’m quite sure someone would have taken a shot — literally — at Jackson by now. But we know, and are more willing by the day to acknowledge publicly, that the congressional GOP and the party base are insane. The more interesting part of this thought experiment to me is what the exercise tells us about the U.S. news media: its political leanings, its philosophical allegiances and its sickening double standards.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 8:54 pm

How Rod Blagojevich brought down President Obama

Oh, wait, he didn’t:

… when Blagojevich first faced accusations of trying to sell President Obama’s former Senate seat, speculation was rampant that allegations of corruption would marr Obama’s presidency before it even began.

For months after the initial accusations became public, media figures kept vaguely claiming that a “cloud” was now hanging over Obama, even though there was little evidence Obama or his staff had done anything wrong. When Obama said he wouldn’t comment on an “ongoing investigation,” that drew comparisons to the Valerie Plame and Jack Abramoff corruption scandals. When no gotcha moment occured, cable news pundits actually took to criticizing Obama for not being more effective in convincing reporters not to baselessly speculate that he was corrupt.

It’s not hard to understand how this happened, given how cynical American politics can get. Many reporters must have been thinking, “when was the last time a politician denied being involved in a corruption scandal and was actually telling the truth?”

It’s usually a better than even bet that they aren’t. And in the case of the Blago tale, the anticipation of a juicy corruption scandal going “all the way to the top” just didn’t pan out. It wasn’t the political press’ finest moment.

Journalists frequently attempt two things they’re pretty awful at: psychoanalysis  and divination. That’s one small but real reason why journalism is held in such ill repute.

Friday, June 3, 2011 11:46 am

But deficits are shiny!

Your liberal media:

Major U.S. newspapers have increasingly shifted their attention away from coverage of unemployment in recent months while greatly intensifying their focus on the deficit, a National Journal analysis shows.

The analysis — based on a measure of how often the words “unemployment” and “deficit” appear in major publications — portrays a dramatically shifting landscape of coverage over the past two years, as the debate over how to fix the federal deficit has risen to prominence and the question of how to handle still-high unemployment has faded from the media’s consciousness.

Yes, large deficits are a serious problem. But they’re a serious problem in the longer-term. Yes, they could cause inflation. But the interest rate on 10-year Treasuries has fallen a full half a point recently, indicating that the markets see no evidence of inflation coming anytime soon.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans are out of work or badly underemployed. They’re experiencing real human misery right now, today. And the Serious Journalists, economically illiterate and morally bankrupt, couldn’t give less of a damn.

One last thing: This isn’t a failure of reporters. Failures this big require the complicity, if not the direction, of editors and publishers.

UPDATE: Wells Fargo thinks Americans just need to get used to 9% unemployment. I think it’s about time Americans told Wells Fargo to get used to doing business without FDIC insurance. Bitches.

Monday, April 18, 2011 9:14 pm

NYT disease

I welcomed the addition of Joseph Nocera to the New York Times’ op-ed stable primarily because he has been properly harsh on the socialization of private industry’s costs (particularly banking) and because I thought he might not succumb to the Times culture of constantly denying undeniable error.

Oops.

First, Nocera writes a column about the need for increased domestic natural-gas production (which, by the way, I don’t dispute) without mentioning the significant potential environmental downside — a particularly egregious omission for those of us in North Carolina, where the battle over whether and how fracking will be permitted is being waged in the General Assembly right now.

Then, as Ed Cone observes, when called on this significant error of omission, Nocera doubles down.

OK, Times, we get it. Just die already.

Sunday, October 17, 2010 12:50 pm

News I, and perhaps you, can use

Filed under: Fun,Journalism — Lex @ 12:50 pm
Tags: ,

In my previous life as a reporter, I frequently had to write a news article about a scientific finding (usually, though not always, medical in nature). I learned a lot of hard lessons the hard way in so doing, and they served me so well that I have thought from time to time about posting a tutorial for other journalists on how to handle this routine but fraught journalistic task.

However, the Guardian has already done so, so I’m happy to link to theirs. The comments also are enlightening.

(h/t: DougJ at Balloon Juice)

Sunday, September 5, 2010 9:01 pm

Why newsroom people always strike the types on the business side as having bad attitudes

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 9:01 pm
Tags:

Whet Moser: “Why renovate the place if you’re constantly living in fear that the landlord’s going to torch it for the insurance money?

Now that I think about it, I think this sentence pretty much encapsulates everything wrong with the entire country, not just the newspaper bidness.

Saturday, July 24, 2010 2:39 pm

Compare and contrast

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 2:39 pm
Tags: , , ,

Right and Left take on a CNN segment on anonymous blogging.

Newsbusters thinks the CNN anchors are crazy.

Glenn Greenwald thinks the CNN anchors have a point … but not the point that they think they have.

For the record, I believe any governmental effort to regulate anonymous/pseudonymous blogging would be constitutionally flawed and doomed on practical grounds to fail. This is not anything government can or should do anything about.

I also believe that media outlets and commentators overuse anonymous sources and that while there’s a lot more talk about that problem than there was 15 or 20 years ago, there’s been no action.

But I also believe that when the Drudges and Breitbarts of the world pull stuff out of their nether orifices, they should be held accountable. I know it won’t happen, but I would love to see Shirley Sherrod sue the stuffing out of Breitbart. What could happen, if reporters and commentators could be troubled to grow a pair, is that they could stop relying on the Drudges and the Breitbarts of the world when they’ve been proved as wrong as they have on as many big stories as they have. And the fact that Drudge has occasionally been right does not let him off the hook, let alone let off the hook the more respectable outlets that let him drive their agenda.

Friday, July 9, 2010 10:13 pm

What gets you fired from CNN

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns!,Journalism — Lex @ 10:13 pm
Tags: , ,

FAIR has a rundown. Hint: IOKIYAR.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 12:02 am

In which The Washington Post demonstrates that Old Media still do not get it …

… NYT’s David Carr has a piece up at the Times on the Dave Wiegel contretemps at The Washington Post.

For those not following along at home, which is probably all of you, Wiegel posted some derogatory (but, in at least some cases, factually accurate) things about certain prominent conservatives to a supposedly private e-mail list before becoming a reporter/blogger for the Post, covering the U.S. conservative movement. When these e-mails were made public a few months after he joined the Post, Wiegel offered the Post his resignation. The Post accepted with unseemly haste.

Carr starts out by acknowledging that Wiegel’s “job” was actually a no-win situation for its holder:

Wanted: Political blogger covering the conservative movement. Must be provocative and write with a strong point of view although not in a way that would reveal bias or offend any of your potential subjects. Social media a plus until it’s not. Must be completely transparent, unless that proves embarrassing to the newspaper. Send sanitized résumé, innocuous clips and nonpartisan references to The Washington Post.

Carr writes:

But part of working the edge is that every once in a while, you go flying off, which Mr. Weigel did rather spectacularly last weekend when a news site, The Daily Caller, published some of his contributions to JournoList, an invitation-only e-mail list composed of 400 politically interested journalists.

Looked at in the light most favorable to Carr, this sentence suggests that Wiegel was thrown off, rather than having gone off course under his own power. And if that’s what Carr meant, I’d be at least somewhat inclined to go along. Despite the common-sense dictum that everything on the Internet is public, Wiegel joined JournoList believing it to be a closed community. That’s not smart, but it is neither malicious nor proof that he cannot cover conservatives fairly and accurately.

And what were Wiegel’s offending comments? Per Carr, they were that

Mr. Weigel used the term “Paultard” to describe followers of Ron Paul and also suggested that Patrick Buchanan was “an anti-Semite” and that Newt Gingrich was an “amoral blowhard.” More recently, he wrote that Matt Drudge, the conservative aggregator and blogger behind The Drudge Report, should “set himself on fire.”

Dumb, that, especially the part about sliming both disabled people and conservatives in just eight letters …

Well, let’s take a look at that. “Paultard” is politically incorrect, certainly. But frankly, the more of Ron Paul’s views come to light, the stupider and more out of touch with reality he appears. Moreover, denigrating Ron Paul doesn’t denigrate all conservatives; it denigrates a well-defined subset whose grip on reality is, at best, tenuous. [UPDATE: Preceding two sentences edited to eliminate my conflation of Ron and Rand. Hey, it was late. Don’t judge me.] Patrick Buchanan’s anti-Semitism has long since been recognized by everyone except Patrick Buchanan; it’s a fact, like oxygen. Newt Gingrich an “amoral blowhard”? Well, “blowhard” is in the eye of the beholder, but, yes, anyone who creates something like this as an instrument of campaigning/governing should consider himself lucky to get off with being dismissed as “amoral,” given what God had to say in Exodus about bearing false witness. And someone please tell me what’s so wrong with suggesting — in a joky kind of way, sort of like Rush Limbaugh’s sense of humor — that Matt Drudge should “set himself on fire,” other than what he should really do is take a long walk off a short pier so as to replenish the ecosphere and not contribute to global warming?

Considering the evil that can credibly be laid at the feet of these subjects, and the fact that Wiegel wrote this stuff before the Post hired him, this is bad … how, exactly?

Carr continues:

… but even as his resignation was offered and quickly accepted, none of the Post leadership suggested his actual work was anything less than rigorous or fair.

“Dave did excellent work for us,” the executive editor of The Post, Marcus Brauchli, told Howard Kurtz, the paper’s media columnist, but then added, “We can’t have any tolerance for the perception that people are conflicted or bring a bias to their work.”

So, let me make sure I understand Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli: What matters is not the quality of the reporter’s work. What matters, instead, is the opinion about him of those he covers.

Gee. I’m SO freaking glad my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather John Alexander took a bunch of his sons-in-law into battle at Cowpens and Kings Mountain and Yorktown so that Marcus Brauchli could see to it that some of the most sociopathic figures in American politics don’t get a case of the vapors over something that somebody freaking wrote about them. God bless America. Seriously. I think I might weep.

This past weekend, (Brauchli) told the newspaper’s ombudsman that The Post needed to be “completely transparent about what people do … and completely transparent about where people stand.”

So, we’re now going to get completely transparent about the fact that where Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt stands is with  his lips firmly attached to Dick Cheney’s rear end? That Mark Thiessen gets sexually aroused at the thought of Abu Ghraib? That Charles Krauthammer probably shouldn’t be left unattended around little children? Well, the photos’ll be ugly, but …

And it ain’t just Brauchli who has no grip on reality:

The Post’s managing editor, Raju Narisetti, said in an earlier interview with the ombudsman that one need not be a conservative to cover conservatives. “But you do need to be impartial,” he said, adding, “It may be in our interests to ask potential reporters: ‘In private … have you expressed any opinions that would make it difficult for you to do your job?’ ”

So: Expressing an opinion, particularly a negative one, about those one covers, makes it “difficult” for a reporter to do his job. How? Because doing so might create the perception that the reporter cannot be fair to them.

OK, I follow that logic as far as it goes. Which, unfortunately, isn’t very far, because the real test of a reporter’s work isn’t whether there’s a perception that he can’t be fair. It is whether the work he actually publishes is fair, accurate, and ethically produced. That’s all that matters. The problem a lot of conservatives have with Wiegel wasn’t that he was, or even was perceived to be, unfair. It’s that he was all too fair — so fair that he hung them with their own rope, as even “Post leadership” and Carr acknowledged (see the bolded line in the excerpt above).

This Old Media management obsession with “perception” needs to stop, because whether those managers like it or not, time is not their friend on this issue. The World Wide Web is almost as old as some reporters, e-mail older still. The likelihood that you can hire a reporter who has never expressed a potentially controversial opinion in some online forum or other grows slimmer by the day. The way you judge whether a reporter is fair and accurate is whether his stories are fair and accurate, factually and contextually. If the work is fair and accurate, perceptions are irrelevant. If the reporter follows what Jay Rosen has called the discipline of verification, the work will stand … and the reporter’s opinions, however artlessly or indelicately phrased, will be all the more damning for being undergirded with fact, which is something that I’m just guessing might help bring readers back.

Something else the Post doesn’t get: The days when you could punch a hippie and not get called out on it are, thankfully, drawing to a close. Even Carr seems to get this, and to get that the Post doesn’t get this: He writes, in a tone of something less than complete approval, that Wiegel

… probably could have survived if he had slammed Rachel Maddow or had some fun at Al Franken’s expense … A little thought experiment: What if a reporter made a wildly inappropriate video suggesting that the secretary of state, who happens to be a woman, should drink Mad Bitch beer? Surely that reporter would be forced to apologize to Hillary Rodham Clinton before walking the plank. Yet when this happened, Dana Milbank, the longtime Washington Post star who made the video, remained a prized political writer at the paper.

Yup, but those filthy bloggers are destroying journalism.

Carr observes that Wiegel’s

willingness to train his guns inside the conservative movement was a bit much, especially in the eyes of The Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander. “Weigel’s exit, and the events that prompted it, have further damaged The Post among conservatives who believe it is not properly attuned to their ideology or activities,” he wrote. “Ironically, Weigel was hired to address precisely those concerns.”

And why is that, exactly, Andrew? Why should the Post be “properly attuned to their ideology or activities” … as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, reporting on them fairly and accurately and letting the chips fall where they may? Their ideology is, in many cases, blatantly anticonstitutional, so, O Ombudsman of the Highest Pillar of Amerian Political Journalism, please enlighten me: just how attuned to that does a reporter need to be? Because if the Post gets any more attuned to it, Fred Hiatt is going to be accused of practicing proctology without a license.

I would point out that that would not be a crime if Rand Paul were in charge, but then I’d have to go set myself on fire.

(UPDATE: Title changed and first sentence revised after some readers suggested they thought I was implying that the Times was at fault here. No. The Times was at fault here. I know it’s hard, but please try to keep up.)

Friday, July 2, 2010 8:27 pm

Quote of the day

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:27 pm
Tags: , ,

John Cole may be an amateur journalist, but he understands the rot at the heart of U.S. journalism on a scale toward which most professionals can only aspire:

“Sincere panels about the appropriateness of crushing a child’s testicles are acceptable and serious op-eds about the necessity for torture are welcome, but dropping an f-bomb on a private listserv is simply inexcusable and cause for a serious case of the vapors.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 10:45 pm

There are many reasons why (the other) Roger Ailes and Sadly, No! call The Corner “The world’s s—–est website” …

… and one of them is Jay Nordlinger:

I’m grateful to both Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters for something: They admitted, yes, the media are liberal, and a good thing, too. It has to be that way, they said. For — and this is Walters talking — journalism involves the “human condition,” and liberals care about the human condition. Unlike conservatives, who of course couldn’t give a rat’s a** about the human condition.

Anyway . . . Conservatives should be frank and bold when it comes to the media, as to everything else. And if others say you’re tiresome or whiny or uncool . . . well, so be it. Did you sign up for conservatism to be cool?

No, jackass, I signed up for conservatism to defend the Constitution. You should try it.

You see, Jay, they’re not cheering for the Democratic Party per se, for the most part. (And in the context of the past decade, even if they were, that would hardly be the worst sin they could be committing.) No, they’re cheering for anyone — God, anyone, even someone as sleazy as Robert “Pork Barrel” Byrd or as cardboard-spined and duplicitous as Barack Obama — who will stop the wholesale destruction of the Constitution and American values wrought by so-called conservatives in the past decade.

And while it’s always dangerous to generalize about a political movement, I speak as a registered Red State Republican for the past 32 years when I say that the evidence that today’s Washington Republicans don’t give a rat’s ass about the human condition is overwhelming. From mishandling Katrina to bailing out banksters while working families lose their homes, from defending torture to cutting off unemployment benefits, from lying us into a war to lying to the Ground Zero rescue/recovery workers about the hazards of their environment, from defending unconstitutional wiretapping to trying to destroy Social Security, the “I Got Mine, F— You” crowd infests the corpse of the American conservative movement and, by acting in this fashion while proclaiming itself Christian, dares God Almighty to strike its members down for blasphemy.

If the worst thing that American journalists are doing to Sarah Palin is saying mean things about her when they don’t know the microphones are on, they ought to be fired — not for bias, but for negligence. For in any politically and spiritually healthy — even sane — culture, anyone as both stupid and insane as Sarah Palin would not have been allowed anywhere near the levers of power, and anyone defending the idea that she should be would be shunned.

Journalists wouldn’t just be flies on the wall reporting on the charge — and, oh, God, offering us their oh-so-precious and oh-so-totally misguided perspective on it on the Sunday-morning talk shows — they’d be providing the intellectual torches and pitchforks.

And tools of the oligarchy like Jay Nordlinger couldn’t find employment writing copy for spam sites for a penny a word.

Sunday, June 27, 2010 7:09 pm

Remember “The grownups are in charge”??

Yeah, only, by “grownups,” Jeb Bush did NOT mean “people who accept responsibility for what they have done”:

For months now, Jeb Bush has been listening as President Obama blasts his older brother’s administration for the battered economy, budget deficits and even the lax oversight of oil wells.

“It’s kind of like a kid coming to school saying, ‘The dog ate my homework,’ ” Mr. Bush, this state’s former governor, said over lunch last week at the Biltmore Hotel. “It’s childish. This is what children do until they mature. They don’t accept responsibility.”

In fact, instead of constantly bashing the 43rd president, Mr. Bush offered, perhaps Mr. Obama could learn something from him, especially when it comes to ignoring the Washington chatter. “This would break his heart, to get advice that applies some of the lessons of leadership my brother learned, because he apparently likes to act like he’s still campaigning, and he likes to blame George’s administration for everything,” Mr. Bush said, dangling a ketchup-soaked French fry. “But he really seems like he’s getting caught up in what people are writing about him.”

Jesus wept. I don’t know whether Jeb Bush actually thinks Dubya did nothing wrong or if he’s just trying clean up the family name in advance of a run of his own. Or both.

I also don’t know what’s worse: that Jeb would say this crap, or that The New York Times would let him do it without challenging him, even though it’s factually inaccurate. Damn liberal media.

Sunday, June 20, 2010 11:12 pm

Corrected NYT headline: “Twisting Arms at BP, Obama Sets Off a Debate on Tactics. In Times reporter David Sanger’s head.”

I’ve got a question for both New York Times reporter David Sanger and the people through whose hands his copy passed who supposedly call themselves editors (and it’s at least theoretically possible that two friends and former colleagues are among that group): In what universe, what dimension, is it true that:

The question is whether the cumulative effects of these actions create an impression that, over the long run, may make it harder to persuade both American and foreign corporations to cooperate with Mr. Obama’s program to reinvest and reinvigorate the American economy.

Does anyone in a responsible position in business, government, the nonprofit sector or the national media — and I include both David Sanger and everyone he quotes in this risible “news analysis” — really think that “foreign and domestic investors come to view the United States as a too risky place to do business, a country where big mistakes can lead to vilification and, perhaps, bankruptcy”?

I’ve got one other question, and it’s for everybody:

Why, exactly, would this be a bad thing? Someone please explain to me why it is, in general, a bad thing for America when companies that do bad things, on a grand scale can go bankrupt, let alone be vilified? Because maybe I’m just a total idiot, but I’m having a hard time ginning up an answer.

God almighty, if this is what passes for “journalism” at The New York Times, then the Times needs to just hurry up and die already.

UPDATE: Also, “as a too risky place”?? Really, NYT copy desk? How ’bout “as too risky a place”? Geez.

Friday, June 18, 2010 8:29 pm

Real differences

How is it that DFH Digby, all the way out there in LaLa Land, can see things so much more clearly than the highly paid Washington political opinionistas?

If it wasn’t clear by the time Obama took office that Republicans saw “gestures” as a sign of weakness then surely it should be by now. And that’s why it makes his rank and file so frustrated. It’s not because we want catharsis — we got plenty of that with Bush’s ignominious last two years and the routs of 2006 and 2008. And we don’t want gestures either. We’re not like the trained dogs of the right wing.

It’s not some emotional need that’s driving criticism of the president at this point. It’s not even politics. It’s a legitimate fear that he is either using the wrong political strategy or adopting the wrong policy prescriptions (or both) in dealing with the very serious problems we face.

I don’t care if he “acts tough” with BP as long as he makes sure the government does all it can to deal with this crisis and ensures there is accountability for it. (The $20b is a good sign.) But I’d also like him to be politically astute enough to use this issue to persuade the public to back real energy and climate change legislation so that we can get off this noxious spigot before it kills us all. I’d like him to stop coddling the financial sector and fight this trumped up deficit crisis rather than enabling it in another Grand Bargain fantasy that will never work politically in the short or long term and protecting those who perpetuate this economic instability. I’d like the administration to be principled on civil liberties period and take a skeptical position with the military.

I suppose there are some people who are disillusioned, but I’m not. I’m not even particularly surprised. Our political system is so skewed to the conservative side after 30+ years of non-stop propaganda that it’s difficult to shift gears. But I do wish the Democrats would join the Republicans in the recognition that the electorate and the political system really are polarized, that we have different philosophies and ideals and that choices have to be made. This quest for transpartisan utopia simply isn’t possible in a society fractured and riven by competing ideas of what we stand for.

It’s not an emotional need to kick Republicans or an egotistical desire for gestures that drives the criticism right now. It’s a disagreement over policy and strategy and it’s a serious one.

Digby is a liberal Democrat, of course, but disregarding her positions on specific issues, I think many Democrats, and almost all Republicans, would agree that she accurately assesses the overall political landscape. The only bipartisanship in Washington right now is the bipartisan media failure to grasp the political reality: Congressional Republicans, for better or worse, have gone all-in on a strategy of total, scorched-earth opposition, and American voters, for better or worse, are deeply divided. Bipartisanship is neither achievable nor, to most Americans, particularly desirable right now. Reasonable people can disagree on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is, it exists, and the media’s general failure to acknowledge this fact and include it in the context of its reporting and analysis is negligent, if not corrupt.

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