Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 7:19 pm

Well, that was different

I didn’t plan this blogging hiatus; it just happened. So what messes have y’all gotten into during my absence?

Trump and Clinton are now their party’s presumptive nominees. (Sorry, Bernie backers — of whom I am one — but math is math, and you know as well as I do that the superdelegates aren’t going anywhere.) Clinton is everything wrong with modern politics except that she’s not a racist or bigot, she doesn’t hate women (or men), and she’s not anti-science. Trump? Well, as some guy on Twitter said, I am voting against Trump because I am a single-issue voter, and my single issue is not opening the seventh seal and ushering in the Apocalypse.

Related to Trump, it is fascinating to watch all the GOP leaders like Paul Ryan condemn Trump’s racist remarks and then say they’re going to support him anyway. Oh, it’s simple enough to understand. The GOP has spent the past 50 years whipping its base into a frothy mix of bigotry and know-nothingism. Donald Trump is the natural, predictable and predicted outcome of that approach. Now, GOP politicians who don’t embrace Trump lose their base. And given our current political schism — as a country, we’re more divided than we’ve been since 1860 — without that base, their careers are over.

Relatedly, #OneAndDone N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has officially endorsed Donald Trump for president, which, as Facebook commenter Mike Conway sagely noted, is like two albatrosses wearing each other around their necks.

Also here in North Carolina, the GOP’s ill-begotten HB2 “bathroom bill” is not looking long for this world. Earlier, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a very similar Virginia law. Then, last week, the full 4th Circuit refused to hear additional arguments. So, for the 4th Circuit, which includes North Carolina, equality is settled law. The problem is that there are parts of that law as evil or worse that aren’t within the scope of the Virginia law the 4th Circuit ruled on. To fix that, I fear, we’re going to need a Raleigh housecleaning, and I don’t think even the prospect of losing billions in federal aid will be enough for that this time around.

In my neighborhood but not where I can do anything about it, Eric Fink is trying to get onto the ballot to face otherwise-unopposed Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger. All best to Fink; Berger’s an evil little shit, and it is a mark of the state Democratic Party’s ineptitude that it could find no one to face him in a year when Trump may lead the GOP to the biggest defeat since Mondale. (No, it won’t be as big a defeat as Mondale’s; the political chasm is too big for that. But Clinton wins with 310+ electoral votes and will have some coattails, I bet.)

I have watched with a combination of outrage, horror, and fascination, as the Brock Turner rape case has gone viral. He’s an entitled, sociopathic little shit, enabled by an entitled, sociopathic little shit of a father and a mother who thinks that posting a Facebook photo of a teenage girl fellating a kid in a Franzia box-wine costume while her son’s case is being adjudicated is somehow a good idea.

The judge in the case, Aaron Persky, could have given Turner 14 years; he gave him six months, which was much too much for Daddy, who bemoans the fact that Brock no longer enjoys eating steak or some such shit. The judge is unopposed for re-election (why are the shits of the world always unopposed for re-election?), but there’s a recall movement afoot. And just today we learned that Judge Persky also is a Stanford graduate and was captain of the lacrosse team there. I suppose it’s possible there’s no white male athlete privilege going on in this case, but, Lord, it sure don’t LOOK that way, do it?

Related to that case, it took until yesterday — after Turner’s sentencing and many months after his arrest — for Turner’s mug shot to finally show up on social media. That’s because the arresting agency, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department in California, played a shitty little public-records game until national media finally called them out on it. I’ve argued for years that intentional withholding of public records ought to be a crime, and episodes like this are Exhibit A for the prosection. Maybe when cops start losing law-enforcement certification and (and they and bureaucrats start doing time) behind this shit, they’ll start doing their jobs right.

Oh, if you’re considering asthmatic bronchitis as a hobby, I strongly recommend you pursue something else instead.

 

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Sunday, April 5, 2015 10:35 pm

The post-mortem on Rolling Stone’s rape-at-UVa article: You say your mother loves you? Check it out.

UPDATED below.

Report by Columbia here; the key bits (emphasis mine):

The particulars of Rolling Stone‘s failure make clear the need for a revitalized consensus in newsrooms old and new about what best journalistic practices entail, at an operating-manual-level of detail. … The magazine’s records and interviews with participants show that the failure of “A Rape on Campus” was not due to a lack of resources. The problem was methodology, compounded by an environment where several journalists with decades of collective experience failed to surface and debate problems about their reporting or to heed the questions they did receive from a fact-checking colleague.

In retrospect, [Will] Dana, the managing editor, who has worked at Rolling Stone since 1996, said the story’s breakdown reflected both an “individual failure” and “procedural failure, an institutional failure. … Every single person at every level of this thing had opportunities to pull the strings a little harder, to question things a little more deeply, and that was not done.” …

Yet the explanation that Rolling Stone failed because it deferred to a victim cannot adequately account for what went wrong. [Article author Sabrina] Erdely’s reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths even when Jackie [the pseudonym the magazine used for the purported victim] had made no request that they refrain. The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie’s position. …

In hindsight, the most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was to accept that Erdely had not contacted the three friends who spoke with Jackie on the night she said she was raped. That was the reporting path, if taken, that would have almost certainly led the magazine’s editors to change plans.

I may or may not have more to say about the details later, after I have re-read the report, but I can say this just as I did soon after questions about the report arose: Failure to independently verify a primary source’s claims is journalistic malpractice, and the article’s author, Sabrina Erdely, manifestly failed to independently verify her primary source’s claims — and in some instances didn’t even try. And the article’s editor, Sean Woods, and the magazine’s managing editor, Will Dana, were aware of holes in Erdely’s reporting and let the article run anyway.

Rolling Stone’s fact-checker assigned to the case raised questions that the editors ultimately failed to answer. The report quotes Coco McPherson, the fact-checking chief, as saying, “I one hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed. I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.” It’s not clear whether McPherson means “around” as a synonym for “about” (an increasingly common usage I despise precisely because it creates confusion like this) or whether she means that the policies are fine but were bypassed in this case.

At any rate, fact-checking is worthless if discrepancies that are found aren’t fully investigated. Rolling Stone’s fact-checker (who isn’t named in the report because she had no control over the ultimate content of the article) appears to have done her job — and to have been ignored by Erdely, with the complicity of Woods and Dana. McPherson, the fact-checking chief, is basically saying that Woods and Dana ignored her employee’s work because of the sensitivity of working with a primary source who claimed to have been a sexual-assault victim. If in fact that was the case, well, that’s not good enough.

I don’t think, contrary to some accusations, that Erdely fabricated the story. But she deferred excessively to a source whom even minimal attempts at verification would have shown to be questionable. And Wills and Dana didn’t demand enough documentation. The question remains why. McPherson has her theory, but Wills and Dana themselves don’t say. We may never know. We can only speculate. And I imagine that the culture warriors all along the spectrum are ready, willing, and able to serve up piping-hot scenarios that might or might not bear any relationship to reality.

Beyond that, this episode has probably made life harder for women who have been sexually assaulted — it provides fodder for people of bad faith who want to argue that sexual assault isn’t a big problem or a big deal, and that false reports are common. Erdely, Woods, and Dana owe their readers an apology, but they owe these survivors an even bigger one.

As of this writing, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner is saying no one at the magazine will be disciplined, and Erdely will continue to write for the magazine, because he believes that the errors were unintentional. Not that what I think matters, but I think all three should be fired. Checking facts is Journalism 101, even for news outlets without the resources and fact-checking infrastructure of a Rolling Stone. The quantity and quality of the unforced errors that led to the publication of this unsupported story are simply too egregious to be ignored.

UPDATE: Reaction from some others in or formerly in media.

UPDATE: Columbia Journalism Review interviews the report authors.

UPDATE: Erdely’s public apology. Note that she did not apologize to Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity named in the article and an organization that suffered real, albeit not life-shattering, consequences.

UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple summarizes the report and lists those victimized by the Rolling Stone article.

I also recommend that you read press critic Jay Rosen’s take whenever it appears on his site, Pressthink.org. As of midnight Sunday, he hadn’t posted yet, but he has said his take is in progress. UPDATE: It’s here, and I quote from it Rosen’s discussion of an important angle that the report authors didn’t consider in any depth:

5. The most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was made at the beginning: to settle on a narrative and go in search of the story that would work just right for that narrative. The key term isemblematic. The report has too little to say about that fateful decision, probably because it’s not a breach of procedure but standard procedure in magazine-style journalism. (Should it be?) This is my primary criticism of the Columbia report: it has too little to say about the “emblem of…” problem.

6. Not that it’s entirely missing. The basic facts are there:

Erdely said she was searching for a single, emblematic college rape case that would show “what it’s like to be on campus now … where not only is rape so prevalent but also that there’s this pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture,” according to Erdely’s notes of the conversation.

Idea: Maybe “a single, emblematic college rape case” does not exist. Maybe the hunt for such was ill-conceived from the start. Maybe that’s the wrong way for Rolling Stone to have begun.

7. This is from Paul Farhi’s Nov. 28 account in the Washington Post:

So, for six weeks starting in June, Erdely interviewed students from across the country. She talked to people at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. None of those schools felt quite right. But one did: the University of Virginia, a public school, Southern and genteel, brimming with what Erdely calls “super-smart kids” and steeped in the legacy of its founder, Thomas Jefferson.

None of those schools felt quite right. What kind of “feel” is this? It’s feeling for a fit between discovered story and a prior — given — narrative.

8. “Mr. Dana said the article stemmed from a feeling he and other senior editors had over summer that the issue of unpunished campus rapes would make a compelling and important story,” read Ravi Somaiya’s Dec. 7 report in the New York Times. There’s the prior narrative I mentioned. It didn’t start with Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She was sent on a search for where to set it.

Rosen also makes clear just how badly Rolling Stone screwed up in its reliance on “Jackie” as a primary source:

14. Part of what made Rolling Stone editors vulnerable to the “emblem of…” problem was some seriously dated thinking about credibility, in which it’s said to be sort of like charisma. You have charisma or you don’t. You “have” credibility or you don’t. If a source is felt to be credible, the entire story can ride on that. Your colleagues are credible, so it doesn’t occur you to ask if they could all be missing something.

A dramatic high point for this kind of thinking comes during Hannah Rosin’s incredible podcast interview with Sabrina Erdely. Rosin asks near the end of it: If you were Jackie’s lawyer, how would you prove her case? (Go to 6:35 on this clip and listen.) The author’s reply: “I found her story to be very— I found her to be very credible.”

15. It’s almost like, if you have credibility you don’t need proof. That’s an absurd statement, of course, but here’s how they got there (without realizing it.) Instead of asking: what have we done in telling Jackie’s story to earn the skeptical user’s belief? you say: I’m a skeptical journalist, I found her story believable, so will the users. Voilà! Credibility. Will Dana is one of the best editors in New York. Who “has” more credibility than him? No one! He finds her story believable. Doesn’t that “give” it credibility too?

In short, journalism is supposed to be built around the discipline of verification … and the people and process that led to Rolling Stone’s story were utterly undisciplined.

UPDATE: Mediagazer links to other sources on the story, some of which duplicate items above, here.

UPDATE: Several years ago, the Center for Public Integrity published a series of articles on campus sexual assault. While the details of the cases discussed might not be as spectacular as those in Rolling Stone’s article, the reporting is far better documented.

UPDATE: I should have disclosed earlier that I once sold an article to Rolling Stone, back in 1986. I’ve had no dealings with them since.

Monday, December 21, 2009 10:40 pm

Odds and ends for 12/21

Let God sort ’em out: A new book makes both Bill Clinton and the FBI that went after him look bad.

Release the e-mails: There’s more to know about AIG before we let it off the taxpayers’ hook, and the taxpayers deserve to know it. (More interestting but depressing details here.)

Relatedly: How ’bout we claw back some of that taxpayer money that went through AIG to Goldman Sachs at 100 cents on the dollar, thankyouverymuch?? Goldman was pretty much the only bank in such dire straits at the time that didn’t end up settling for 10 to 13 cents on the dollar from AIG, and now it wants to take that tax money and pay it out in employee bonuses. Homey don’ play dat.

Another banking shock: What determines how suitable a bank is for a federal bailout? Size? Nature of its business? Try … wait for it … political ties to the Federal Reserve. Yup, and there’s gambling going on in this casino, too. So can we just audit the damn thing already?

Decade of (self-) deception: Farewell to the ’00s, in which we begged to be suckered and found no shortage of those eager to accommodate us, from “compassionate conservatism” and Enron to Goldman Sachs and Tiger Woods. One other parallel: None of the hucksters, besides maybe Ken Lay, has been held accountable.

Democrats throwing women under the bus. Again: Tbogg on Twitter, for the win: “Bart Stupak will not be happy until he has had a close personal relationship with more vaginas than Tiger Woods.”

Boulevard of broken dreams promises: Jon Walker walks us past the mileposts of broken Obama campaign promises that constitute the current Senate version of health-care reform.

He just can’t quit you: Jon Walker, who apparently has no commitments in life besides health care reform, offers 35 ways to fix the current Senate bill. I’d say it’s unlikely at best that more than one or two will happen, and quite possibly none of them will. But if nothing else, this is a good road map of the kind of crappy legislation that comes out of unified GOP opposition and an undemocratic Senate hidebound by the filibuster.

Speaking of the filibuster, here’s some interesting background on how its use has grown of late. Memo to the mainstream media: Guilt is not equitably distributable.

Ask and ye shall receive: LA Times blogger Andrew Malcolm wants a caption for this picture. OK, here’s mine: “Andrew Malcolm is such an idiot that I could grab his head and smash it into this table like this and the experience would actually make him smarter.”

Memo to Ceci Connolly: Defining being “smart” in Washington as “disagreeing with what two-thirds of the country wants” doesn’t make you look, well, smart.

Related: Time was, and not all that long ago, a David Broder column, whether you agreed with it or not, would be undergirded by some reporting. Now, not so much. (Besides which, on the substance, what appears to be surprising him is that Congressional Democrats are opposing something that Obama himself opposed. This is wrong, or surprising, or even news, how, exactly?)

John McCain fought Teh Stoopid and Teh Stoopid won: He goes on the teevee to claim, laughably, that Ted Kennedy wouldn’t have liked that health-care reform passed on a partisan vote. He crowns that particularly serving of Teh Stoopid topped with whipped Teh Stoopid with this maraschino Teh Stoopid: “There has never been a major reform accomplished in the history of this country that wasn’t bipartisan.” Uh, John, that’s because there has never before been a major reform that one party unanimously rejected purely on partisan grounds.

Top 10 reasons to kill the Senate health-care bill, from Firedoglake, with background links on each. I don’t know whether the bill should be killed, but I do know there are a lot of things about it I absolutely do not like. (One “bug,” starting the taxes before the benefits take effect, could be sold as a way of reducing the deficit. But I’m unsure of the exact math over the long haul, and whether you choose to look at that item as a bug or a feature, I don’t think it makes much difference in the big picture.)

How I would decide on whether or not to pass the health-care bill (Senate version), if I had a vote: Which saves more lives, passing it or killing it? And by killing it, I mean, “killing it,” not, “killing it and immediately passing some fantasy better version that in the real world may or may not ever happen within my lifetime.” Anyone with a documentable answer to this question is welcome to weigh in.

Conservative of the year: Human Events picks Dick Cheney, although, as more than one pundit has pointed out, the actual, substantial policy differences between Cheney and, say, Barack Obama on foreign-policy and civil-liberties issues are much less than meets the eye.

Kentucky legislator wants to prosecute mothers of alcohol- and drug-addicted newborns: Because treating addicts like criminals instead of people with health problems has done so much to reduce addiction over the years.

Gathering storm: The “shadow pool,” the nation’s pool of homes that haven’t yet gone on the market but are about to because of delinquency/foreclosure, has increased more than 50% in just one year, to about 1.7 million. A lot of those homes are or will be vacant, which spells trouble for their neighbors, too.

Some good news for a change: Obama signed the military appropriations bill, which is good because it contained Al Franken’s amendment barring contractors from forcing employees into arbitration when they get raped. Which, in turn, is good not only for those employees but also because it gives candidates who give a damn about rape victims, be they competing in the GOP primary or in the general election, a big ol’ hammer with which to hit the 40 current incumbent Republican senators over the head.

And more good news: The signed consolidated appropriations bill DIDN’T ban federal funding for needle-exchange programs, the first such bill since 1988. Now that a smidgen of common sense has crept into the War on Some Drugs, expect the end of the world before lunchtime tomorrow.

I don’t know who Drew Westen is, and I don’t know if he’s right. But I do know that his perceptions are remarkably similar to mine.

Thumbsucker: Long journalism pieces that raise lots of Big, Serious Questions — often without offering answers, sometimes because no answers can be found — are known in the journalism biz as “thumbsuckers.” In the era of dying print and shorter attention spans, thumbsuckers are a dying breed, in part because the form is attempted far more often than it is mastered. But here’s a good one, asking whether the GOP has any relevant ideas to contribute to discussion of some of the biggest issues that face us. (My short answer: Yes, but to find them you’ll have to listen to the party members who, right now, aren’t doing most of the talking the public hears.)

Quote of the day, by Jonathan Chait of The New Republic in the thumbsucker linked above: “If government intervention appears to be the answer, [Republicans] must change the question.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 7:35 pm

“I have just returned from hell.”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 7:35 pm
Tags: , ,

So writes playwright Eve (“The Vagina Monologues”) Ensler of her experience interviewing victims of the most brutal kinds of sexual assault in the Congo, and the doctor who tries to heal them, insomuch as that is possible. And this piece is in Glamour, of all places.

Go read, but be warned: This will stay with you.

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