Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, September 17, 2016 2:45 pm

The press is lying, but so are the voters

Two of our greatest American institutions are badly failing us today — our news media, and our very electorate. Both like to think of themselves as standing up for our essential American-ness, embracing values as defined in, say, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and even the Pledge of Allegiance. But both groups are lying, to us and to themselves.

Evidence of the problem can be found in the news media’s problems in covering Donald Trump, which I addressed earlier this week, and I’ll have more to say on that in a bit. But let me start with the electorate.

We voters like to think of ourselves as spokespeople for American values, holding these truths to be self-evident — a free and independent country, a democratic republic where all are equal, with liberty and justice for all, and so on and so forth. In point of fact, those truths are not self-evident; they are evident only to the extent that we do the work of making them real, every day, everywhere. And that is not what American voters have chosen to do. Largely although not exclusively by embracing Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, a large minority of Americans has said something quite different: that they choose to be ruled by a tyrant.

This is not a new development. That segment of Americans has always been present and has been politically active continuously since World War II. They were there in the 1950s, lining up behind Joe McCarthy; they were there in the 1960s, hailing the domestic spy and hypocrite J. Edgar Hoover long after it was clear he was a constitutional abomination; they were there in the 1970s, defending the indefensible Richard Nixon; they were there in the ’80s, supporting the lawbreaking and increasingly senile Ronald Reagan; they were there in the ’90s, cheering George H.W. Bush’s pardons of the Iran-contra lawbreakers as he left the White House; they were there in the aughts, angrily denigrating anyone who didn’t support the Bush administration’s serial violations of U.S. and international law; and they are here today preparing to cast a ballot for a dyed-in-the-orange-wool fascist. Take it away, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce:

A substantial portion of this country wants someone not to govern, but to rule, to defeat the imaginary enemies they have concocted so as not to bestir themselves to resist the forces that actually are working against their interest. For the balance of this election cycle, and largely due to the presence in it of this ridiculous man and his ridiculous campaign, the American people have proven themselves profoundly unworthy of being called citizens. …

[Trump’s personal and financial involvement with Moammar Qaddafi] likely will occasion another spasm of impotent introspection on the part of our elite political media on the topic of, “Why doesn’t any of this stick?” But few of the members of that media will dare to look at the real answer, which is that there is a substantial constituency for what Trump has been peddling. …  Americans are bored with their democracy and they don’t have the democratic energy to do anything about it, so they’ll settle for an entertaining quasi-strongman. When they decline, democracies get the dictators they deserve. A country mired in apathy and lassitude gets a dictator who can’t even put in the hard work of becoming very good at it. …

But the truth is that the facts are out there if anyone wants to make the effort and find them. (The elite political media makes this harder by its curious reluctance to let these stories fully inform its coverage of the campaign.) That’s our collective job as citizens, and to do it requires a collective national will that no longer may be in us. With every new poll that is released, I comfort myself with the knowledge that Donald Trump is not willing to put in the hours to be a competent authoritarian, which is cold comfort, I know, but you take what you can get.

That cannot be said of the next guy to try it, and there will be a next time, because the basic tectonic plates beneath our democracy have shifted so as to make the next guy inevitable. The mechanics of tyranny are not a magician’s prestige, the third part of a trick in which the lady is reassembled or the rabbit brought back to the hat. The mechanics of tyranny are primal in all of us, and vestigial in very few. They are reflexes, like breathing or flinching. We engage them without thinking. In fact, that’s the very best way to do it.

These are people who largely have decided not to do the hard work of self-goverance. Rather than seeking wisdom, or at least knowledge, they seek candidates who reflect their preconceptions and prejudices and who seek extraconstitutional power. They do so secure in the belief, though lacking any proof of that belief, that should such a tyranny come to pass, they would never suffer.

Why do they do so?

One big part of the problem, as I noted on Monday, is that the U.S. news media, for the most part, has not provided the information that a free people need to govern themselves, but the problem with the press is bigger than that. Donald Trump has presented the press with a campaign in which it is important, perhaps for the first time, for the press to respond not only with facts but also with values — and the press has almost completely failed to do so.

When Web 2.0 and social media began to become a thing back in the early 2000s, I wrestled with this issue in my role as an editor, Web jockey and blogger for the News & Record in Greensboro. Among the many things that seemed clear to me was that “objectivity,” the standard of the mainstream U.S. news media for the past century or so, was an inadequate standard for a changing industry. I suggested to co-workers at that paper and in the industry, and to the occasional reader who asked, that we needed something different, something more.

I argued, in different times and places and with differing levels of coherence, that we needed not objectivity, but fairness, accuracy and transparency in pursuit of what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, in their book “The Elements of Journalism,” called “the discipline of verification.” With respect to transparency, I said, news organizations need to be open to their publics about how they do what they do, and about why they do it. And those reasons, I argued further, should stem from clear, well-defined values.

What should those values look like? I never completed a list, but I did start one. I would have hoped, for example, that a U.S. news organization would embrace and stand for some of the country’s fundamental values — like, well, liberty and justice for all. Equal protection under the law. Government by the people, which meant, as a practical matter, that the people needed to be able to know in almost all circumstances what the government was doing, and how, and with whose money and for whose benefit.

It sounds pretty basic and pretty logical, but the longer I spent in newspapers, the less I believed that the U.S. news media really stood for this stuff anymore, if it ever had. (Some of the country’s best, and best-known, newspapers were segregationist until relatively recently, for example. For another example, U.S. news media did not uniformly criticize our government’s use of torture, a crime against both U.S. and international law for which it had hanged representatives of other governments.)

And that is part of the reason why the media are failing to confront the danger that a possible Trump candidacy poses to those American values, writes Brian Beutler in The New Republic: The press hasn’t expressed those values because it hasn’t embraced them except in very attenuated circumstances. What it values most is itself.

The press is not a pro-democracy trade, it is a pro-media trade. By and large, it doesn’t act as a guardian of civic norms and liberal institutions—except when press freedoms and access itself are at stake. Much like an advocacy group or lobbying firm will reserve value judgments for issues that directly touch upon the things they’re invested in, reporters and media organizations are far more concerned with things like transparency, the treatment of reporters, and first-in-line access to information of public interest, than they are with other forms of democratic accountability.

That’s not a value set that’s well calibrated to gauging Trump’s unmatched, omnidirectional assault on our civil life. Trump can do and say outrageous things all the time, and those things get covered in a familiar “did he really say that?” fashion, but his individual controversies don’t usually get sustained negative coverage unless he is specifically undermining press freedom in some clear and simple way.

Even then, though, the press has no language for explicating which affronts to press freedom are more urgent and dangerous than others. All such affronts are generally lumped together in a way that makes it unclear whether the media thinks it’s worse that Trump blacklists outlets and wants to sue journalists into penury or that Clinton doesn’t like holding press conferences.

The result is the evident skewing of editorial judgment we see in favor of stories where media interests are most at stake: where Clinton gets ceaseless scrutiny for conducting public business on a private email server; Trump gets sustained negative coverage for several weeks when his campaign manager allegedly batters a reporter; where Clinton appears to faint, but the story becomes about when it was appropriate for her to disclose her pneumonia diagnosis; where because of her illness, she and Trump will both be hounded about their medical records, and Trump will be further hounded for his tax returns—but where bombshell stories about the ways Trump used other people’s charity dollars for personal enrichment [or about how his financial dealings conflict directly with national interests — Lex] have a hard time breaking through.

News outlets are less alarmed by the idea that Trump might run the government to boost his company’s bottom line, or that he might shred other constitutional rights, because those concerns don’t place press freedoms squarely in crosshairs. Controversies like his proposal to ban Muslim travel into the U.S., create a deportation force to expel millions of immigrants, and build a wall along the southern border are covered less as affronts to American values than as gauche ideas that might harm his poll numbers with minorities. Trump’s most damaging scandal may have been his two-week political fight with the Khan family, but even there, the fact that Trump attacked the Khans’ religious faith was of secondary interest to questions like whether attacking a Gold Star family of immigrants would offend veterans and non-whites who might otherwise have voted for him.

Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that when liberal intellectuals argue the press’ coverage of Trump and Clinton is out of whack, in ways that imperil the democracy itself, members of the media don’t see a world-historical blindspot that must be urgently corrected. They see an attack on the trade itself—and reflexively rush to protect it.

So when someone points out weaknesses — often huge ones — in the press coverage of Trump, the press doesn’t perceive the criticism as highlighting a danger to the country, it perceives the criticism directly as a danger to itself. As Beutler notes, this tendency was highlighted by Liz Spayd, the grossly inferior successor to Margaret Sullivan as public editor (ombudswoman, if you will) of The New York Times.

This problem can be prevented if the press will define and then act in accordance with its explicit values as elucidated in the founding documents, crafting those values as reflective of the press’s historical role as the representative of the people, all the people, who govern this country: its citizens. It also can be prevented if journalists will stop spending so much of their time worrying about what effect this proposal or that comment will have on one candidate or the other’s standing, and worry instead about what we talked about earlier: pursuit of the discipline of verification, including eyewitness verification.

Beutler agrees, in a separate article published just yesterday:

Most prominent political reporters have covered more than one election. This is my third election as a professional political writer; James Fallows has been doing this since the 1970s. Whether you have a short or long view, you’ve seen enough to say authoritatively that Trump is different from all major party nominees in living memory. It is not normal in modern times for a major party nominee to be an erratic, racist demagogue; and it is almost definitionally abnormal for a major party nominee to be described as such by leading members of his own party.

These are the cardinal facts of this election. They should be the dominant upshot of any significant increment of news coverage and analysis—the thing that reaches and sticks with casual news consumers, in the same way that even musical dilettantes can hum the leitmotif of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

That is a journalistic judgment, just as sending hundreds of reporters to Louisiana to cover Hurricane Katrina was a journalistic judgment. It is not a Democratic or liberal judgment. It is not the equivalent of saying that unflattering revelations about Clinton should be suppressed or that any particular new revelation about Trump should be overhyped. It’s simply to say, through the many means we have to indicate what is important, what is breaking news, what is worthy of discussion, “we have seen this, it is ongoing, and it is extraordinary.” And then let the chips fall where they may.

For several weeks now—including since Labor Day, when most Americans truly began paying attention to the campaigns—these truths, which we all took for granted six months ago, have not been communicated to glancing news consumers. They’ve receded from most article leads, headlines, front pages, and A-block TV segments.

That development is the product of many collective choices and thousands of individual ones. It is an institutional failure, and as such, a major and abrupt course correction seems highly unlikely. But that doesn’t absolve reporters, editors, producers or anyone else who is part of the system. There’s still time to alter our focus, however incrementally, so that it better captures what’s new and alarming, and all journalists have some degree of power to nudge it in that direction. The goal is not to swing an election, or call Trump mean names, or render partisan judgment about whether electing him would be a world-historical mistake. It’s simply so that after this is all over, however it shakes out, we can say we bore witness faithfully.

What we do about the large minority of the electorate that appears to desire, or at least be content with, the election of a tyrant is a larger and more difficult question, likely encompassing everything from family dynamics and civic education to neuropsychology. And the stakes could not be higher outside the realms of global warming and giant meteors: The future of the 240-year-old American experiment depends on our finding an answer, for as Pierce observes, while this tyrant is quasi-comical and in many ways inept, the next tyrant quite likely will be neither. But one thing that cannot hurt and almost certainly will help is a press that strives to pursue the discipline of verification within the context of explicitly stated and observed values that will inspire us to be our best national self, which is the best the world has to offer.

Monday, September 12, 2016 6:32 am

The normalization of Donald Trump

If Donald Trump is elected our next president, there will have been several reasons why, but the most important one by far will have been the national news media’s performance. The media have both beaten up Hillary Clinton over nonexistent “scandals” and ignored or downplayed aspects of Trump’s character and actions that in any sane society would render him fundamentally unfit to be a major party’s nominee for the highest office in the land.

Examples of the former date back at least as far as the original New York Times story on the Whitewater real-estate deal in 1992, in which Bill and Hillary Clinton were suspected of having somehow benefitted improperly — the fact that they lost money notwithstanding. In Hillary Clinton’s case, they have included allegations of wrongdoing over investing in cattle futures, misplacing documents, and mishandling emails, and in no case was Clinton found to have committed wrongdoing.

Most recently, the Associated Press purported to prove that donors to the Clinton Global Foundation had somehow benefitted improperly with their relations with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. In point of fact, none of them did. Two weeks after it tweeted that it had found “pay for play” in those relationships, a claim the AP’s own reporting did not bear out, the AP took that tweet down with no explanation or apology that I’m aware of.

And just this weekend, the media, following as always the lead of their GOP sources, have acted outraged that Hillary Clinton referred to half of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Only here’s what Clinton actually said:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people (and) now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroine, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

Was it scandalous that Clinton said this? On the contrary, polling shows that she is understating the problem. Hell, The New York Times found that almost 20 percent of Trump supporters thought freeing the slaves was a bad idea and another 17 percent weren’t sure. They’re not just a basket of deplorables, they’re a kettle of vultures and a gen-u-wine Bucket o’ FAIL. Hell, Trump himself frequently retweets people who are white supremacists themselves and/or follow some of the leading white-supremacist Twitter accounts.

And yet somehow Republicans and the media alike thought Clinton owed these people some kind of apology, with CNN describing Clinton’s assertion as a “shocking statement.”

Meanwhile, the media continue to normalize Trump’s bullying, narcissism, and bigotry, which has been blatantly obvious since he started his campaign more than a year ago with this assertion:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Oh, some are good people. How big of him.

Trump has proven himself to be a serial liar of world-historical proportions. He has lied about tariffs, reporters, his own political performance, the economy’s performance, and whether he was self-funding his campaign. He has lied, bigly, about his charitable givingHe even has lied about who was the biggest liar in the GOP nomination race. And one finding of the independent fact-checking site Politifact is that not only is Trump the most dishonest major politician on the U.S. scene today, Hillary Clinton is second only to Barack Obama in honesty.

His temperament, which some professionals have identified as narcissistic personality disorder, makes him a significant threat to place in charge of the nation’s nuclear weapons.

Yet despite clear evidence that Trump is too deeply flawed to be qualified for president, cable news gave him far more free air time than it gave his GOP opponents for the nomination:

According to The New York Times, Trump has received $1.9 billion worth of earned media, which includes coverage of the candidate on television and social media, and in newspapers and magazines. That is more than twice the amount of earned media Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton has received and more than six times the amount received by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the second-biggest earner of free media among Republicans.

Meanwhile, print/online pundits have persisted in reassuring the American people that he would “pivot” away from such views after winning the nomination to appeal to more moderate voters. This is staggering, for there has been no evidence whatever that such a transformation was ever in the cards. Trump has lied voluminously, but he has said one thing that the media need to take to the bank: “I am who I am. It’s me. I do not want to change.”

As I write, Trump trails Clinton by 5 percentage points in national polls, and, also at this writing, the way to 270 electoral votes appears shorter and straighter for Clinton than it does for Trump. But given the dramatic difference in qualifications of the two major-party nominees, the gap ought to be much wider.

Part of the problem is that about three in four white evangelical Christians say they’ll vote for Trump. That group makes up almost half the Republican primary vote and, on the basis of Christ’s teachings, might be expected to reject Trump’s bullying and bigotry. A number of prominent evangelical leaders have done so, but the rank and file appear almost all in (and some other evangelical leaders are just cashing in).

But I think a significant segment of the blame also lies with U.S. news media, who seek to create equivalence between Trump and Clinton when there simply is none.

Why? I don’t know. I suspect sexism plays a nontrivial role. In addition, perhaps the people who run news media are, as a group, Trump supporters. Perhaps they simply want to see a close race, figuring that that would generate higher ratings and readership (and possibly increased political-ad revenue as well). Perhaps reporters and pundits are in a rut of adhering to narratives that either were never true or, if they once were true, no longer are. Perhaps all of the above.

But whatever the reason, it adds up to journalism that is at best lazy and incompetent and at worst dishonest and dangerous, given the stakes for the Republic if Trump wins. And that will be the big takeaway of news-media coverage of this campaign, whatever the outcome of the election.

 

 

 

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.”

 

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.

 

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?

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.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 2:24 pm

If you don’t want to read about 9/11 this weekend …

… (and I would not blame you if you don’t), then spend time instead with this piece by Mike Lofgren, a recently retired GOP congressional staffer. His 28 years of service include 16 on the GOP staff of the House and Senate budget committees. In every important respect, what he says comports with what I observed in 25 years of professional Congress-watching, particularly since the rise of the Gingrichites in 1994. Key points (and keep in mind that this is a career GOP operative talking):

  • “To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.”
  • “This constant drizzle of “there the two parties go again!” stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions – if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.”
  • “Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students. This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.”
  • “Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? – can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?”
  • The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. [Emphasis in original — Lex] The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction – and even less spending reduction! – than Obama’s offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society’s overclass.”
  • “If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté.[5] They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.”

Go read the whole thing. The kicker is that this guy retired because he figures that given what the GOP plans to do to the federal retirement system, it was better for him to be a current retiree (and thus grandfathered in) than a future one.

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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 8:02 pm

On not caring so much what the children think

Filed under: Journalism,We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:02 pm
Tags:

Once your kid has told you for the 12th or so time that you’re the worst dad in the world — usually because of some atrocity related to having to put down the video games, brush teeth and get in the bed — you grow inured, if not hostile, to the notion that what your kids think matters. (Just ask Samuel L. Jackson.)

So why do the media always get a case of the vapors over how parents are supposed to talk to children about supposedly adult topics? I remember this being a big deal when the Starr report on Bill Clinton’s infidelities came out, and now it’s supposedly a big deal again because of Anthony Weiner.

Funny — I don’t remember the media advising my parents how to talk to me about the Vietnam War, back when 150 American soldiers a week were coming home in coffins. And I damn sure had some questions about that, even at age 8 or 9, and I remember my mother trying not to cry as she tried to answer them.

Doug Harlan J makes the same point at Balloon Juice:

 

What I’ve never understood about “what will the children think” is that it is always applied to something trivial, usually to consensual sexual relations among adults. No one ever asks “what will the children think about genocide in the Sudan?” or “what will the children think about the government torturing people?”

That’s actually not entirely true. I’ve had conversations with my kids before about Big Subjects. But it is a mark of the decadence of our national media that we find it more important to talk to kids about the legal, adult antics of some congresscritter most of them have never heard of than the fact that in countries around the world our government is kidnapping, torturing and killing people, some of them innocent, in our name; that we’re fighting three wars right now, two of which are illegal and the third of which has long outlived its usefulness; and that the richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans are using their money to rig the system and play the rest of us for suckers. Meanwhile, led by those mental midgets in Texas, we’re dumbing down our textbooks, shifting our educational focus to brute recall at the precise time in which we should be going in the opposite direction, and making it generally easier to foul the very air and water we depend on for survival.

In fact, when I think about it, I think it’s pretty clear we don’t give a damn what the children think.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 8:47 pm

Not quite “Fire in a crowded theater” …

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns!,Evil,Journalism — Lex @ 8:47 pm
Tags: , ,

… but, lord, not good. Memo to Matt Drudge: I realize it’s all a game to you, but this crap can do real harm to real people, not that you care.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 8:51 pm

You kids get out of my yard … and stop trying to get me to buy you beer.

Tom Scocca gets at something I’d sort of sensed but hadn’t really grasped. Maybe it’s because my parents didn’t make a big deal either way about drinking when I was kid. Maybe it’s because, with the legal drinking age then 18, I could get beer pretty much anytime I wanted it from about 15 on, and its very accessibility rendered its acquisition somewhat less urgent. Ida know. But as a quasi-responsible parent, damn, am I annoyed I didn’t grok this faster:

What are beer commercials about? The two central premises are these:

1. Beer—cheap, common, domestic beer—is a rare commodity that drives men mad with the desire to have it, at any cost.

2. Women are the great obstacle between men and the fulfillment of this desire.

Taken literally, this is baffling. Beer is cheap and easy to find. The only cost should be $6.99 for a six pack, at any convenience store. And rather than hiding from women to drink their beer, many single adult heterosexual men seek out female company when they’re drinking. “Drink our beer and avoid contact with women!”—who could possibly be the target for that pitch?

But it makes perfect sense if the target audience is—and it is—16-year-olds.

The girls aren’t really girls; they’re Mom. And Mom is the first hurdle in the thrilling obstacle course that makes up the world of the teenage beer drinker.

Geez. It’s the tobacco companies all over again. On the bright side, far fewer than one in three people who drink beer are going to die prematurely by using the product as intended, and secondhand beer, although certainly toxic (not to mention odoriferous), is more easily avoided and almost never lethal.

Saturday, September 25, 2010 10:17 pm

When Congress criticizes the media …

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 10:17 pm
Tags: , ,

… they usually show their rear ends to the world. But in assessing comedian Stephen Colbert’s congressional testimony on the problems faced by migrant farm laborers, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., got this exactly right:

[Chu] maintained that the pundits “ignored the actual issues at hand during the hearing, like the Agriculture bill and the migrant workers who need our help,” and instead “misdirected their outrage toward Mr. Colbert’s delivery and tone instead of the real travesties here.”

“I think that’s due in large part to the fact that it’s easier to write a story or newscript about how out of the ordinary it is to have a comedian testifying to Congress, than it is to really delve into problems facing migrant workers,” she continued. “Tragically, I think it’s safe to say that the lone day Mr. Colbert spent working in the fields earlier this year gave him a better understanding of this issue than many people covering this story possess.”

Ayep.

The larger Media Fail issue is that DC media spend way too much time and effort focusing on the political ramifications of whatever they’re covering than they do on the policy aspects. And why does that matter? Because the policy aspects are the ones that affect you and me and people like us.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 8:18 pm

Yet another example of how U.S. journalism sucks

Oh, to see ourselves as others see us:

Sarah Palin thinks Barack Obama has taken too “doggone long to get in there”. James Carville wants Mr Obama to “put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving.” Maureen Dowd doinked Mr Obama Saturday with her silly-straw-like wit, faulting his “inability to encapsulate Americans’ feelings.” Yeah, you know who would’ve killed as the president facing a deep-sea oil blowout? Philip Seymour Hoffman. Or maybe Meryl Streep. Did you see them in “Doubt“?

Ms Dowd’s involvement is fitting, as this may be the sorriest spectacle of content-free public hyperventilation since Al Gore’s earth tones. The difference is that in this case the issue is deadly serious; it’s the public discourse that is puerile. There is plenty of room for substantive critique of the flaws in governance and policy uncovered by the Deepwater Horizon blowout. You could talk about regulatory failure. You could talk about corporate impunity. You could talk about blithely ignoring the tail-end risk of going ahead with deepwater drilling without any capacity to cope with catastrophic blowouts. Precisely none of these subjects are evident in the arguments our pundit class is having. Instead we have empty-headed squawking over what the catastrophe is doing to Barack Obama’s image.

Who’s raising concrete critiques of administration policy? Chiefly Mr Obama.

All American journalists can worry about is the political ramifications, which is easy for them because you can claim any damn thing you want about the political ramifications and be proven right or wrong only in hindsight — and since Americans suck at hindsight, you can have a worse track record than a three-legged thoroughbred and still enjoy near-lifetime job security in the Washington media universe. (UPDATE: Excellent comment on this phenomenon from Jason Linkins at HuffPo: “I think that when the McLaughlin Group makes predictions, it should culminate in a monthly Russian roulette competition where each correct prediction removes a round from the chamber.”)

An even more annoying subset of journalistic worrying about the political ramifications of Deepwater Horizon is the amount of journalistic energy expended on the pointless question of whether Obama has responded with an appropriate show of emotion.

After spending 25 years in journalism, I’m reminded of the anecdote attributed to the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa of California. “When I first got elected to the Senate, I thought, ‘Wow, what am I doing here with all these really smart people?'” Hayakawa supposedly said, “and then after I’d been there awhile, I thought, ‘Geez, what am I doing here with these 99 idiots?'” That’s kind of how I feel about American journalism: Most days, I feel glad to be out of it, and the American media’s (lack of) coverage of the roots of Deepwater Horizon is just one example of why. Memo to young people: Being associated, day after day, year after year, with this kind of bone-dense thinking, like “fat, drunk and stupid,” is no way to go through life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010 8:27 pm

Shorter U.S. MSM: It’s only torture when other countries do it

John Cole calls out The New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR for their relativism, including not only being willing to call torture torture but also with respect to whether or not Human Rights Watch is a legitimate source.

What was it Jesus said about motes and logs?

Monday, November 23, 2009 10:28 pm

You’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you

Matt Taibbi tells Sarah Palin that, yes, the media really are out to get her. But it ain’t just the media. And it ain’t for the reasons she probably thinks. And it ain’t just her they’re out to get:

What the people who are flipping out about the treatment of Palin should be asking themselves is what it means when it’s not just jerks like us but everybody piling on against Palin. For those of you who can’t connect the dots, I’ll tell you what it means. It means she’s been cut loose. It means that all five of the families have given the okay to this hit job, including even the mainstream Republican leaders. You teabaggers are in the process of being marginalized by your own ostensible party leaders in exactly the same way the anti-war crowd was abandoned by the Democratic party elders in the earlier part of this decade. Like the antiwar left, you have been deemed a threat to your own party’s “winnability.”

And do you know what that means? That means that just as the antiwar crowd spent years being painted by the national press as weepy, unpatriotic [wimps] whose enthusiastic support is toxic to any serious presidential aspirant, so too will all of you afternoon-radio ignoramuses who seem bent on spending the next three years [exploiting] white resentment now find yourself and your political champions painted as knee-jerk loonies whose rabid irrationality is undeserving of the political center. And yes, that’s me saying that, but I’ve always been saying that, not just about Palin but about George Bush and all your other moron-heroes.

What’s different now is who else is saying it. You had these people eating out of the palms of your hands (remember what it was like in the Dixie Chicks days?). Now they’re all drawing horns and Groucho mustaches on your heroes, and rapidly transitioning you from your previous political kingmaking role in the real world to a new role as a giant captive entertainment demographic that exists solely to be manipulated for ratings and ad revenue. What you should be asking yourself is why this is happening to you.

I don’t know, but I’ll hazard a guess: With the Religious Right in decline, The Powers That Be are trying to replace it with the teabaggers. That would mean they would use the teabaggers for their votes while marginalizing them enough so that they don’t feel obliged to actually do anything for them.

But that’s just a guess. I could be wrong.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 8:41 pm

Roundup

Quick comments on some stuff bubbling up:

  • Apparently the president is “open” to the idea of some sort of tax break for newspapers that convert to nonprofits. Very bad idea — the government help, that is, not necessarily that type of conversion. For one thing, we can’t afford it. For another, it would be subsidizing an industry that has steadfastly refused to change its business model to adapt to changing market conditions. (Econ 101 was a long time ago, but I believe the technical term for such an expenditure is “throwing good money after bad.”) And news media need to maintain an arm’s-length relationship with the government if they are to do their jobs effectively. Converting to nonprofit status might or might not be a good idea (and some newspapers, such as the St. Petersburg Times, are owned by nonprofits already), but taking government money or tax breaks is bad for the industry and bad for the taxpayer.
  • Speaking of old media, Zero Hedge delivers the worst flaying of old media since the centurion scourged Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.” (Caution: that video link is beyond graphic)
  • It is way beyond time to stop talking about the economy in terms of the Dow and start talking about it in terms of jobs. (That said, this blogger seems not to grasp that we’re already having a class war, and as Warren Buffett has famously observed, the rich are winning.)

Health-care whoroscope

Betsy McCaughey appears in the news/cable arena a fair bit, typically as a health-care “expert.” Her qualification for this gig consists primarily of the fact that she published a piece called “No Exit” in The New Republic in 1994 that was a takendown of the Clinton healthcare-reform plan. Only here’s the thing: “No Exit”? Both wrong and the spawn of cigarette maker Philip Morris:

For the archenemies of Obamacare, however, [GOP pollster Frank] Luntz’s anti-Washington script didn’t go nearly far enough. To amp up the panic, they decided to spin the “takeover” fear to its most extreme conclusion: Washington bureaucrats plan to institute “death panels” that would deny life-sustaining care to the elderly. That portion of the script was drafted by Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, who insists that her expertise as a constitutional historian enables her to decipher the 1,017 pages of legalese that comprise the House health care bill.

McCaughey first unveiled her “findings” on July 16th, during an appearance on the radio show of former GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson. “I have just finished reading the House bill,” McCaughey declared. “I hope that people listening will protect their parents from what’s intended under this bill.” Citing page 425 of HR 3200 — a section that outlines the same kind of optional, end-of-life counseling that Republicans have voted for in the past — McCaughey uncorked a terrifying lie. “Congress,” she said, “would make it mandatory — absolutely require that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” The Obama plan, she added, is financed by “shortening your mother or father’s life.”

McCaughey has run this con before. During the debate over Clinton’s health care overhaul in the early 1990s, McCaughey — then an academic at the right-wing Manhattan Institute — wrote an article for The New Republic called “No Exit,” in which she claimed that Hillarycare would prevent even wealthy Americans from “going outside the system to purchase basic health coverage you think is better.” Even though the bill plainly stated that “nothing in this Act” would prohibit consumers from purchasing additional care, McCaughey’s claim was echoed endlessly in the press, with each repetition pounding a stake further into the heart of the reform effort.

McCaughey’s lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey’s writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton’s health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company’s strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to “work on the development of favorable pieces” with “friendly contacts in the media.” The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:

“Worked off-the-record with Manhattan and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan.”

This is the kind of “expert” who gets given a platform to discuss the key issues of our time. So talk to me again about the liberal media.

UPDATE: Yet another example of how McCaughey’s lying — and there’s really no other word for it — contaminates public discourse. Can we please let the people who know what they’re talking about and aren’t corporate shills have a turn discussing key issues now? Thank you.

Friday, June 26, 2009 8:27 pm

“The Year the Media Died”

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:27 pm
Tags: ,

A requiem for advertising/publishing/etc.

(h/t: Sheila)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 8:24 pm

Your liberal media

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:24 pm
Tags:

Barack Obama is the incumbent Commander-in-Chief. Dick Cheney is a private citizen, an erstwhile member of an administration thoroughly repudiated by the voters in the past two federal elections. So someone explain to me why “liberal” CNN and MSNBC are basically giving the two men’s scheduled speeches on national security tomorrow equal weight.

Friday, October 31, 2008 10:58 am

The fat lady ain’t even warming up

Filed under: Fun,Journalism — Lex @ 10:58 am
Tags: , , , ,

Rem Rieder at American Journalism Review points out something that everyone working in news media ought already have taken to heart but hasn’t:

… it’s important to remember that polls are just polls. They are not predictive; they are only snapshots of reality at a specific moment. They can change quickly. …

… you don’t have to go back to the dreaded time before Twitter, iPhones and Scarlett Johannson to find instances where the conventional wisdom was utterly wrong. I remember vividly when Hillary Clinton had a lock on the nomination, when John McCain was toast in the Republican primary, when Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani were formidable forces, when Obama was going to seal the deal in New Hampshire.

News media aren’t as good at predictions as they think they are.* Pollsters — reputable ones, anyway — don’t even claim to be predicting the future; in fact, most caution against it. News media and opining pundits alike should stow the predictions and wait for election night.

*The one notable exception to this rule was my friend and colleague Ed Hardin’s incredibly prescient column published the day of Super Bowl XXIX between San Francisco and San Diego. Not only did he predict a 49ers blowout, here’s exactly what he predicted:

  • Ed’s score prediction: 49ers 49, Chargers 16. Actual score: 49ers 49, Chargers 26.
  • Ed’s prediction: Steve Young would pass for 386 yards. Actual yardage: 325.
  • Ed’s prediction: Steve Young would pass for five TDs. Actual number: six.
  • Ed’s prediction: Jerry Rice would catch three TD passes. Actual number: three.
  • Ed’s prediction: Ricky Watters would catch two TD passes and run for a third TD. Actual numbers: two TD catches, one run TD.
  • Ed’s prediction: Natrone Means would rush for a TD. Actually: Means rushed for a TD.

To be fair, Ed was off on a couple of things, mainly that there would be a storm of biblical proportions at halftime and that a horse would break free along the sidelines, scattering photographers and cameramen in its path.

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