Tags: Media

Actual Post Headline: ‘Smugness Was Lousy Election Strategy for Democrats’


Most newspapers printed the morning after Election Day are “put to bed” before all the votes are counted and races are called, so they can only give a partial view of how the night went for each party. But by the time the Thursday papers are put together, the picture of the election is much clearer. And they are, in a year of a Republican landslide, absolutely delicious.

For example, now he tells us:

Yeah, knowing what we know now, the next time a campaign strategist says, “Hey, let’s be smug this year!” the candidate should reject that proposal.

The real problem for Democrats is that “smug” isn’t really their strategy; it’s how they emotionally react to their conclusion that their viewpoint is better, more moral, smarter, wiser, fairer, more sensitive, more compassionate, and so on than the opposition. It’s not a campaign issue; it’s a character issue.

Tags: Democrats , Media , Election

Coming to North Carolina: An Attack Ad Against the Media


From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

It’s Come to This: Attack Ads Against The Media

A two-minute television ad?

Conservative War Chest unveiled its final ads of the 2014 midterm elections, with different ads running in North Carolina and New Mexico.

A new 2-minute TV ad airing in North Carolina asks voters to make the election a referendum on the “corruption of American journalism.”

“Conservatives can never gain final victory until they confront the problem of news organizations who are the real opposition party in America,” said Mike Flynn, spokesman of Conservative War Chest. “This content-heavy spot puts before the public case studies that establish these organizations as partisan not journalistic organizations that are dedicated to activism, not the fearless pursuit of the truth.”

Conservatives will relish every second of the ad hitting the New York Times, MSNBC, George Stephanopoulos, the critics of Sharyl Attkisson, and so on. But will it change a mind, or influence the decision of a North Carolina voter who wasn’t already going to vote for Tillis? Or is this the kind of argument against the media that the Right needs to make outside the realm of blogs, articles, and so on?

Here’s the group’s explanation of the New Mexico ad buy . . . 

Flynn also revealed that the Super PAC was “doubling-down” on its ad buys in the U.S. Senate race in New Mexico.

“We were the first outside group to hold U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) to account for his extreme liberal agenda and its threat to national security,” Flynn said. “Many pundits laughed that we were engaging with New Mexico voters, but since then the polls have tightened.”

“Tom Udall has spent his entire adult life in the family business of liberal politics,” Flynn said. “His family’s policies were wrong in the 1970s and they are devastatingly wrong today.”

Flynn said his group was increasing its buy behind its groundbreaking, 2-minute “Blame America First” ad, which details the national security failures of radical liberal policies like those espoused by politicians like Udall.

The group is also launching its ad highlighting the liberal “war on Hispanic dreams and values.”

Flynn said, “New Mexico has a proud Hispanic legacy stretching back generations. They understand that the liberal policies of taxes and regulations stifle dreams of economic growth. Their alliance with social issue extremists insults Hispanic values.”

As noted earlier, Allen Weh has improved his standing, but still trails significantly. New Mexico is a pretty consistently Democratic state, which is not to say that Republicans always lose in a landslide. In 2012, Heather Wilson lost the New Mexico Senate race, 51 percent to 45 percent, to Democrat Martin Heinrich. No one is going to argue that incumbent Democratic senator Tom Udall is a whirling dervish of raw political charisma, and the political environment is not good for Democrats. But there are no cases of an incumbent blowing a seven-point lead in a statewide race in the final week since 1998.

Tags: North Carolina , Media , Campaign Ads

The Nightly News’ Curious Disinterest in the Midterm Elections


The Newsbusters guys chuckle at a CNBC discussion of the lack of network news coverage of the midterm elections, compared to 2006.

The Media Research Center watched the network news broadcasts and counted up the news stories:

When Democrats were feeling good about their election prospects eight years ago, the CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC World News aired a combined 159 campaign stories (91 full reports and another 68 stories that mentioned the campaign). But during the same time period this year, those same newscasts have offered a paltry 25 stories (16 full reports and 9 mentions), a six-to-one disparity.

The Newsbusters guys take issue with CNBC Washington correspondent John Harwood’s explanations, including the claim that “this is an election where there isn’t a dominant issue, you’ve got a whole bunch of little issues.” But this fall’s news cycle hasn’t really had a bunch of little issues; it’s had two really big ones with lots of different daily developments: the Ebola outbreak and then the U.S. beginning (and continuing) air operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, along the blame game over whether the administration underestimated ISIS. Both of those can be covered outside of a campaign context, or within it . . . 

The simplest, and most likely, explanation is that the networks are eager and excited to cover elections when Democrats are expected to win and much less interested and easily distracted when Republicans are expected to win.

That having been said, there are one or two non-ideological explanations too.

First, the network news broadcasts may be a lot more light and fluffy feature stories these days compared to eight years ago. Last night’s NBC News broadcast featured “thousands of shelter dogs in need of new homes and families, and the armies of volunteers helping to get them there.” Hey, everybody loves footage of puppies.

Second, the 2006 wave election changed the House and the Senate, changing the dynamic of Washington from a Republican president working with a Republican Congress to a Republican president working with a Democratic Congress. Because this year is going to leave us with a Democratic president and a Republican House — and probably, although not yet certainly, a Republican Senate — the dynamic will change less dramatically. A lot of voters on both sides of the political divide feel that the stakes aren’t particularly high.

Andrew Ross Sorkin offers the theory “there’s not an interesting candidate in this whole situation”? That explanation isn’t particularly compelling. Joni Ernst isn’t interesting? Harvard Iraq veteran Tom Cotton isn’t interesting? Cory Gardner’s not interesting? Scott Brown trying to win two senatorial elections in two different states in a four-year span isn’t interesting?

Tags: Media , 2014 Midterms

R.I.P., Ben Bradlee, Although a Paper Is Not a ‘Public Trust’


As you have no doubt seen, legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee has died at the age of 93. Bradlee, who led the Post’s newsroom from 1965 until 1991, was a towering figure in the history of 20th-century journalism, and his contributions included overseeing coverage of Watergate and the publication of the Pentagon Papers, as well as what may have been his most lasting contribution — the introduction of the Post’s widely imitated (and often equaled or surpassed) “Style” section.

My impression of Bradlee is formed almost entirely by Jason Robards’ portrayal of him in Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 film All the President’s Men, which I believe is second only to His Girl Friday among great journalism movies. I have no particular insights on Bradlee, and while many people my age credit President’s Men with inspiring them to go into journalism, for me the reporting touchstone was (and remains) Kolchak: The Night Stalker. The Post has a fine obituary and Howard Kurtz has a good retrospective. (Interestingly, Kurtz counts indifference to suburban reporting as one of Bradlee’s vices, though in my experience — reading the Post more than 20 years after Bradlee’s departure — the paper’s two brightest editorial points are that its Virginia coverage is pretty good and its Redskins coverage is the best treatment of a local team by any paper in the country.)

President Obama Awards Presidential Medal Of Freedom; November 20, 2013 Win McNamee, Getty Images

President Obama weighed in on Bradlee’s death Tuesday night, and it’s a perfectly fine presidential statement. (I will not quibble at these proceedings over the self-dealing in Obama’s praising a paper so far to the left it actually made me say out loud, “Jesus Christ, I thought the L.A. Times was full of commies” when I got here a few years back.)

For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession – it was a public good vital to our democracy.  A true newspaperman, he transformed the Washington Post into one of the country’s finest newspapers, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told – stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better.  The standard he set – a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting – encouraged so many others to enter the profession.  And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life.

Every time I hear the phrase “public trust” or “public good” used in reference to newspapers, I rip up one of those environmentally incorrect plastic bags our excellent delivery lady puts the papers in. Newspapers in free societies are not, and never have been, public trusts. They are for-profit enterprises, and the use of the phrase “public good” around political corridors and publishers’ offices (even in today’s newsrooms, reporters are still realistic enough to avoid that kind of palaver) is always cover for either 1) pushing an obvious political agenda; 2) pleading for a public or private bailout of a dying medium (one which has already spent more than a century agitating to rig local and federal laws in its own favor); or 3) refusing to publish content that people actually want to read. I never met Bradlee, and I suspect this grandiose notion of the news media probably passed through his head a time or two. But he clearly had a strong sense of a good story, which will always be the most important thing in news.

Tags: Media

Will Hillary and Obama Make Up? Tune in Tomorrow to As D.C. Turns!


Also in today’s Jolt:

Will Hillary and Obama Make Up? Tune in Tomorrow to As D.C. Turns!

Notice this section at the tail-end of an AP story on the president’s week ahead:

Obama’s vacation has also been infused with a dose of politics. He headlined a fundraiser on the island for Democratic Senate candidates and attended a birthday party for Democratic adviser Vernon Jordan’s wife, where he spent time with former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

That get-together between the former rivals-turned-partners added another complicated dynamic to Obama’s vacation. Just as Obama was arriving on Martha’s Vineyard, an interview with the former secretary of state was published in which she levied some of her sharpest criticism of Obama’s foreign policy.

Clinton later promised she and Obama would “hug it out” when they saw each other at Jordan’s party. No reporters were allowed in, so it’s not clear whether there was any hugging, but the White House said the president danced to nearly every song.

We discussed this on Howard Kurtz’s Media Buzz Sunday morning, and I was left with the distinct impression that the Washington press corps has lost its collective mind.

The “hug it out” aspect of the recent Hillary Clinton–Barack Obama brouhaha is the absolute least important part of the whole matter. Think about it: The last secretary of state just said that Obama’s foreign policy had “no coherent organizing principle” and that “we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.” That’s a pretty damning indictment, well beyond the particulars of sending arms to the Syrian rebels. It goes well beyond Syria. But what makes the criticism so mind-boggling is that this was Hillary’s whole area of responsibility for four years, and she’s insisting that the disappointing results all around the globe are the president’s fault. If she’s telling the truth now, how would she characterize her praise for the president’s foreign policy from 2009 to 2013? How often did she suppress her objections and help enact policies she felt were doomed to failure?

In light of all that, who gives a flying fuchsia pantsuit about whether or not Hillary and Obama have patched it up, or who’s mad at who, or who’s still carrying a grudge against the other? It matters once it affects policy; until then, it’s part of a soap opera.

One of Ace of Spades’ keen observations, from last year:

For Obama’s fanbois [sic], this is not politics. This isn’t even America, not really, not anymore.

This is a movie. And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Republicans are the Villains. And policy questions — and Obama’s myriad failures as an executive — are simply incidental. They are MacGuffins only, of no importance whatsoever, except to the extent they provide opportunities for Drama as the Hero fights in favor of them.

Watching Chris Matthews interview Obama, I was struck by just how uninterested in policy questions Matthews (and his panel) were, and how almost every question seemed to be, at heart, about Obama’s emotional response to difficulties– not about policy itself, but about Obama’s Hero’s Journey in navigating the plot of President Barack Obama: The Movie.

As with a MacGuffin in the movie, only the Hero’s emotional response to the MacGuffin matters.

Once you hear about this phenomenon of seeing all events through the lens of the personal heroic narrative of the president, you start recognizing it everywhere.

Tags: Hillary Clinton , Barack Obama , Media

Surprising Support for Israel, Not Hamas


The current Hamas assault on Israel has lured the predictable coven of Palestinian nationalists, Islamists, Leftists, and anti-Semites from the woodwork to bash the Jewish state. But, more surprisingly, Israel is getting support, or at least restraint and fairness, from unexpected sources:

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Today we face the risk of an all out escalation in Israel and Gaza with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing.”

The Lebanese Internal Security Forces detained two persons for having fired rockets into Israel.

Egyptian security forces seized 20 rockets on their way to being smuggled into Gaza.

Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, attended a Ha’aretz “peace conference” in Israel the day the current fighting began and has infuriated Hamas by his willingness to continue to work with the government of Israel.

Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh demanded that Israel “stop its escalation immediately,” but balanced this with calls for “the restoration of complete calm and avoidance of targeting civilians” and “the return to direct negotiations.”

 The media too is displaying an unwonted fairness to Israel.

The BBC published an article, “Are #GazaUnderAttack images accurate?” about pictures claiming to show the effects of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and found that “some of the images are of the current situation in Gaza, but a #BBCtrending analysis has found that some date as far back as 2009 and others are from conflicts in Syria and Iraq.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper asked former PLO legal adviser Diana Buttu about a tape of Hamas spokesmen encouraging civilians in Gaza to protect homes of Hamas’s leaders with their bodies. When Buttu retorted by calling this a racist accusation, Tapper replied, “It’s not racist, we have video. . . . That’s not racist, it’s a fact.”

Overshadowing all these indications, but less surprising, Rasmussen reports that likely American voters by a nearly 3-to-1 margin (42 to 15 percent) blame Palestinians more for the conflict in Gaza than they blame Israel (according to a survey conducted on July 7–8, just as hostilities began). This is perhaps the single most important statistic from outside the Middle East, certainly more so than Security Council votes.

Comment: (1) In large part the coolness toward Hamas results from the belated realization that Islamists pose a greater threat than Zionists. But media sobriety suggests that, in part, it also follows from a weariness of Hamas’s vile tactics and revulsion against its hideous goal of destroying Israel. (2) As Hamas’s goal in this war is political, this lesser support is of supreme importance to it. 

Tags: Israel , Media , Hamas

Fox Hosts Talk Unaffordable American Dream -- Without Saying the Word ‘Inflation’


In a wide-ranging, six-minute conversation on Fox News Channel’s Outnumbered, five news personalities Monday explored a range of explanations for a recent study showing the “American Dream” had become unaffordable for most Americans — without ever once saying the word “inflation.”

The five Fox regulars were responding to a recent USA Today analysis “Price tag for the American dream: $130K a year.” The article has been getting attention because the figure McPaper came up with for a comfortable life is nearly triple the annual median income of $51,000. The Outnumbered gang considered a range of effects — including soaring education costs and poor lending practices in the government-supported real estate market. They also pointed to important deadweight losses for Americans, including high taxes and surging energy costs as a result of global warming initiatives.

But at no point did anybody refer to the monetary phenomenon by which the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States incessantly expands the supply of money, and as a direct result you end up paying more for less of everything until the day you die — and beyond. (Funeral costs are also skyrocketing.)

Inflation is widely claimed to be “moderate” or too low, even though inflation itself is an artificial creation of government, and the natural progression of prices against even a semi-reliable store of value is deflationary. (As was seen during the first 137 years of the U.S. economy, during which the dollar gradually increased in value while the economy experienced levels of growth and social mobility never seen before or since in human history.) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI inflation calculator, the dollar has lost 18 percent of its value since the beginning of the 2006 collapse in real estate prices — a severe and very unusual period of economic stagnation during which prices would have been expected to fall in a society governed by common sense. Over that period, the U.S. monetary base has increased more than tenfold, according to the St. Louis Fed.

The Outnumbered team did come close to acknowledging that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. “You’ve got food prices that are back on the rise right now. The devaluing of the U.S. dollar. The buck doesn’t go as far these days,” said host Sandra Smith. “Everything is more expensive,” said #OneLucky Guy Brian Kilmeade.

The hosts were responding to an article in which the word “inflation” is also strikingly absent. And it should be noted that the quality of the Fox economic discussion was on a par with The Wealth of Nations compared with a similar segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, in which the hyper-expensiveness of daily life in America was blamed on factors including the Wall Street boom, corporate profits, a too-low minimum wage, capitalism, and lack of a “moral imperative for shareholders” to make the American Dream more affordable.

But it is stunning proof of how deeply Keynesian mythology is embedded in American thought that (even though polls invariably list “rising prices” or some variation of that phrase as the first or second most important economic concern of Americans) the topic of inflation never comes up, even when people talk about how prices are increasing.

Tags: Inflation , Media , Fox News

Brookings Survey: The Most Trusted Name in Television News Is . . . Fox News!


Media analysts frequently describe Fox News Channel and MSNBC as mirror images of each other, one a conservative news channel and the other a liberal one. A Pew study contended the comparison wasn’t quite accurate, as commentary and opinion made up 85 percent of the programming on MSNBC, and only 55 percent on Fox News.

This new report on views on immigration from Brookings and the Public Religion Research Institute includes some fascinating figures on trust in particular media institutions:

MSNBC is “trusted to provide accurate information about politics and current events” by only 5 percent of respondents, while 25 percent feel the same about Fox News. CNN is in the middle at 17 percent. Obviously, Republicans and conservatives trust Fox News the most, and Democrats and liberals trust it the least. But what’s kind of fascinating is that only 10 percent of Democrats and only 10 percent of self-identified liberals trust MSNBC.

Self-described independents trust Fox News more than any other network, but self-described moderates trust it less than broadcast news, CNN, and public television.

Tags: Media , Fox News , MSNBC , CNN

Newspapers Still Exist


Indispensable economist Mark J. Perry updates his chart chronicling the rise and fall of the newspaper business.

In 2013, Digital and Other revenue accounted for almost a third of the total.

It’s puzzling that print ad revenue continues to plunge so much more steeply than print circulation. It’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen a substantial classified section in a newspaper, so I’m guessing the online devastation of classified/personals revenue has already been factored in. Yet print revenue continues to fall much faster than print circulation.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, circulation has dropped less than 30 percent since 2000. Yet revenue (most of that from advertising) has dropped more than 60 percent.

We can all agree that print advertising doesn’t have much of a future, but why does it have so little present? According to the N.A.A., in 2011 newspapers were reaching more than 44 million Americans. Yet they’re only attracting a fraction of what they used to get from advertisers.

Ad sales forces at newspapers are not exactly on the forefront of innovation. If you call your local rag and ask for a price for a print ad, chances are you, rather than the salesperson, will have to ask, for example, about prices to run your ad on the paper’s website as well — and you may even find that you’ve surprised the salesperson with such a novel idea. Even more instructive: As you go about your day, canvass local businesses to see if they have ever been actively approached by somebody trying to get them to buy an ad in the paper. The answer may not surprise you.

Presumably that lack of initiative is helping the great newspaper revenue collapse maintain its momentum. There are other reasons. Print papers are losing readers fast, but they’re perceived to be losing readers even faster.

Tags: Media

Ken Auletta: Abramson Done In by the Gender Pay Gap


New Yorker media reporter Ken Auletta has a thesis on the surprise departure of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times:

Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, has had to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. (I was also told by another friend of hers that the pay gap with Keller has since been closed.) But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy.

Sulzberger’s frustration with Abramson was growing. She had already clashed with the company’s C.E.O., Mark Thompson, over native advertising and the perceived intrusion of the business side into the newsroom. Publicly, Thompson and Abramson denied that there was any tension between them, as Sulzberger today declared that there was no church-state—that is, business-editorial—conflict at the Times. A politician who made such implausible claims might merit a front-page story in the Times.

A third issue surfaced, too: Abramson was pushing to hire a deputy managing editor to oversee the digital side of the Times. She believed that she had the support of Sulzberger and Thompson to recruit this deputy, and her supporters say that the plan was for the person in this position to report to Baquet. Baquet is a popular and respected figure in the newsroom, and he had appeared to get along with Abramson.

Los Tiempos de Nueva York, in both its news and opinion coverage, has been a leading light on the gender pay gap, having called the issue not “just a women’s issue, but a societal and moral one,” a problem that “comes from differences within occupations, not between them,” and an outrage that “persists even in workplaces committed to gender equality.”

It’s fully plausible that Abramson just had bad luck in ascending at the very moment the Grey Lady realized how dire its financial troubles were. The paper took a bath in building its ridiculous Renzo Piano–designed headquarters just as the real-estate bubble burst; the industry is in secular decline; and it’s telling that one of the tropes going around today is that America’s Newspaper of Record needs to take a “digital-first” focus — a reform that will bring the paper fully up to 1995. To be fair, the Times’ site is way ahead of most newspapers’ online offerings. But I believe they still have a paywall — I don’t look at it enough to know — and online paywalls are an offense against both journalism’s future and its past. (Subscriptions and newsstand sales were always nominal revenue sources that at best covered part of the cost of delivery. Anything that stands between you and your readers is bad mojo.)

Dean Baquet was fired by the Los Angeles Times on the very day that I started my own short career at that paper, so it’s interesting to see the wheel of fortune take another turn. I wish him the best, though I don’t see much in his CV that suggests he’s going to be the digital visionary the paper needs. It’s also pretty strange that “an issue with management in the newsroom” so widespread it led to the firing of the paper’s editor is a secret the paper’s own coverage of the firing can’t seem to crack.

Tags: Media , The New York Times , War On Women

Politico: Hillary ‘Knee-Capping Reporters Perceived as Unfriendly’


Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman have a long article about Hillary Clinton’s relationship with the press, and in the middle they drop this:

To this day she’s surrounded herself with media conspiracy theorists who remain some of her favorite confidants, urged wealthy allies to bankroll independent organizations tasked with knee-capping reporters perceived as unfriendly, withdrawn into a gilded shell when attacked and rolled her eyes at several generations of aides who suggested she reach out to journalists rather than just disdaining them.

In a sane world, this would prompt a lot of people to doubt they want this person in the Oval Office.

In a sane world, this would particularly prompt a lot of people in the media to doubt that they wanted this person in the Oval Office, both because it would mean their jobs would be particularly difficult and because it’s bad for the country to be led by an individual who entertains conspiracy theories, is paranoid, vindictive, unnecessarily secretive, and incapable of assessing criticism to see if it has any validity, and has a record of other deeply troubling behaviors.

In a sane world, a lot of people in the media would realize that for at least the past three presidencies, they have been complaining that the occupant is out of touch, vindictive, unnecessarily secretive, and incapable of assessing criticism, and has a record of other deeply troubling behaviors.

But we don’t live in a sane world.

“At this point, what difference does it make?”

Tags: Hillary Clinton , Media

Meet ‘Vox’! No, the Other One. No, the Other Other One.


Also from today’s Jolt:

Meet ‘Vox’ — Well, One of Them, Anyway

Sunday night, the Twitterverse was abuzz, after catching its first glimpse of Vox:

Wait, no, that’s not it. That’s Vox vodka. No, we got our first glimpse of Vox.

No, no, that’s the dirty book that Monica Lewinsky gave to Bill Clinton as a gift. I said, “Vox.”

Nope, that’s a Vox guitar amplifier. No, different Vox.

No. That’s Sarah McLaughlin’s debut single. I said the new Vox.

No, that’s from a Bioshock video game.

Ezra Klein unveils “Vox Media.” Which is quite different from, but destined to be mixed up with, Fox News.

Klein begins:

“I remember, beginning to follow the news, I remember the feeling of anxiety around opening a new article and knowing I was about to feel stupid, I was about to feel like I was outside the club. This is a real problem!”

Is it? Do you find yourself feeling like that a lot? Do you feel anxiety about opening a new news article?

Mollie Hemingway: “Not only have I never experienced anxiety upon reading articles, didn’t occur to me that anyone else would either. Am I missing something?”

Sonny Bunch: “Well, I was going to read this thing but then I felt like it might make me feel bad about myself so I chose not to.”

Matt Yglesias — remember him? — is the executive editor of this little endeavor, and he helpfully explains what will make this assembly of the Juicebox Mafia different from all the previous versions:

“Digital articles, at least in principle, last forever as web archives. That’s something that some people are taking advantage of today, but we don’t think that people are really writing articles with that in mind.”

[long silence]

Did you get that?

So everything is going to be literary nonfiction? Everything that will appear on the site is meant to be useful and worthy of reading five to ten to twenty years from now? You’re going to cover current events and breaking news in a way that will make every article a timeless classic, worthy of being bound in leather books and kept in the library?

On my bookshelf you’ll find collections of columns of Michael Kelly, Daniel Pearl, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, William F. Buckley, and a few others. If you’ll permit me to be the skunk at the garden party… not every column by even the greatest writers stands the tests of time. Sometimes it’s only of interest as a snapshot of the moment, or a perspective of how an issue appeared at that time. Remember Buckley and Ronald Reagan vehemently, but respectfully, disagreeing about the Panama Canal Treaty? While it’s easy to understand why the fate of the Panama Canal would be considered a top-tier foreign-policy debate at that moment; in retrospect, it turned out to be one of the less consequential issues in foreign policy going on in the late 1970s. Certainly the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan presented more pressing, and lingering, crises within a year or two.

Yglesias goes on,

“Success, in somewhat grandiose terms, is that we want to create the single greatest resource available for people to understand the issues that are in the news.”

That’s his somewhat grandiose definition of success for the site. The fully grandiose definition of success is that Vox Media becomes the basis of a new worldwide religion that unites humanity under its teachings.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Melissa Bell adds, “I can’t wait to see if what we think people need is actually what they actually need. If it’s not, we’ll change it.”

Wow, can you believe Amazon/Washington Post CEO Jeff Bezos passed on a pitch like that?

She concludes, “We want to move fast.”

And yet somehow make every article a piece that can stand the test of time for forever!

Anybody getting a Talk magazine vibe from this? Or Brill’s Content? Or even George magazine?

Tags: Media

The Inescapable Measuring Stick of Appearances


From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

The Inescapable Measuring Stick of Appearances

The good folks at the Heritage Foundation had a particularly interesting Blogger Briefing Tuesday, discussing the “Vanity Factor” in modern politics. A lot of the discussion revolved around candidate appearances, and how many voters are gained or lost as a result of a candidate’s appearance in this era of celebrity politics.

Panelist S. E. Cupp noted that Mitt Romney’s looks actually worked against him — he looked like “the guy they cast to play the president in a movie, and looked plastic and inauthentic.” Panelist Keli Goff observed that there’s a window of attractiveness for political candidates, and that being too handsome or too pretty undermined their credibility — and that according to research, a female candidate whose attractiveness is remarked upon in press coverage almost always subsequently suffers in the polls.

Very few of us have the appearance we wish we had, and as a result, we often say we wished we lived in a society where others wouldn’t judge us on our appearance. But the flip side is that almost all of us judge other people based upon their appearance, consciously and subconsciously, for good and for ill. (Women are probably judged on their appearance more harshly, and of course, almost every Internet comment section consists of people viciously mocking the imperfections of people who are probably more attractive than they.) A lot of people believe that they have “good instincts” about judging others, and I can’t help but wonder how much of that is fueled by assessing their aesthetics.

People infer a lot about you, based upon your:

·      Tattoos. (Check out the comments on this Corner post discussing tattoos.)

·      Weight.

·      Facial hair.

·      Glasses. What’s the first thing a girl does in movie’s ugly-duckling-into-swan cliché? She removes her glasses and lets down her hair…

·      Hairstyle. Or lack of hair.

·      Height.

·      Complexion.

·      Accent.

·      Clothes.

·      Smoking.

I asked the panelists why we have this fairly rigid standard for appearances in politics, but less so in other areas of life. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, and Richard Branson aren’t necessarily classically handsome, but they’re all variously widely respected and in many circles admired. They are (in Jobs’s case, were) entrusted with multimillion-dollar companies or in the case of Buffett, billion-dollar companies. Sure, some CEOs look like Ken Dolls, but clearly in the private sector, you can rise to the top without looking just right. The women who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are all professional-looking and pleasant, but few are movie-star gorgeous or glamorous.

Cupp pointed out that a political figure is seen as a representation of the region or state that they serve, and thus is meant to put that place’s best foot forward. People know their congressman, senator, or governor will be representing them on the national stage, and thus they want their face in Washington to be a slightly better-looking version of themselves. People don’t feel that same sense of identification to a company.

Heritage’s Genevieve Wood pointed out that as much as some particularly high-profile or charismatic CEOs have become identified with their companies, the company’s product is still what most people associate with that company. When people hear “Apple,” they’re more likely to think of iPhones than Steve Jobs, and he was a particularly famous CEO.

For a politician, the product is government. And that explains quite a bit, when you think about it. To most of us, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is an accelerating tsunami of humiliation, a live-action cross between a John Candy comedy, a cartoon, and Behind the Music special about an out-of-control addiction. But up in Toronto, he’s still polling fairly well — 43 percent approval rating, and never below 40 percent despite admitting to smoking crack cocaine. He remains competitive in all of the hypothetical reelection campaign match-ups and will face the voters in October.

Ford’s defying political gravity in part because a lot of people think that despite the crack-smoking, he’s been a pretty good mayor. (“I’ll take, ‘Sentences I Never Thought I Would Write’ for 500, Alex.”) He eliminated a personal vehicle registration tax, reduced spending, privatized garbage collection in one neighborhood, reduced city staff through buyouts, and has added more city workers to the legal classification that denies their ability to strike (paramedics and city transit workers).

Exhibit B would be President Bill Clinton’s poll numbers during the Lewinsky scandal.

There may be a lesson in this, suggesting that voters may be more substance-based, and less appearance-based, than the media and consultants would suggest.

Tags: Politics , Media

The Media Like Pretending Tel Aviv Is the Capital of Israel


Some, especially in the mainstream media, pretend that not Tel Aviv, rather than Jerusalem, serves as the capital of Israel. (Tel Aviv hosts the Ministry of Defense but not much else of the central government.) This parallels a tendency lately to pretend there’s a country called Palestine. Some of those delusions, which are appearing more often, in reverse chronological order:

Agence France Press: An article on January 23, “Israel PM urges European ‘fairness’ in Mideast,” states that four European Union states lodged “a formal protest against Tel Aviv’s drive to expand settlements on the West Bank.” (January 26, 2014)

The New York Times: A front-page headline today over a story by Mark Landler and Jodi Rudoren uses “Tel Aviv” as a synonym for Israel’s capital: “Mideast Chaos Grows as U.S. Focuses on Israel—Kerry’s Tel Aviv Push Raises Questions About Priorities.” (July 2, 2013)

CTV, a Canadian television station: The network reported on January 8 that “Tel Aviv is dealing with a heavy rain situation. The storms flooded roads and brought chaos to the Israeli capital.” (January 17, 2013)

BBC: A tweet from the news organization today announced that “#Gaza militants launch missiles at Tel Aviv in First rocket attack on Israeli capital since 1991 Gulf War” (November 15, 2012)

White House: The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, did not say that Tel Aviv was the capital. But he also would not say it was not, in this semi-comical exchange with reporters:

First Reporter: What city does this Administration consider to be the capital of Israel? Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?
Carney: Um . . . I haven’t had that question in a while. Our position has not changed. Can we, uh . . .
First Reporter: What is the capital?
Carney: You know our position.
First Reporter: I don’t.
Second Reporter: No, no. She doesn’t know, that’s why she asked.
Carney: She does know.
First Reporter: I don’t.
Second Reporter: She does not know. She just said that she does not know. I don’t know.
Carney: We have long, lets not call on . . .
Second Reporter: Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?
Carney: You know the answer to that.
Second Reporter: I don’t know the answer. We don’t know the answer. Could you just give us an answer? What do you recognize? What does the administration recognize?
Carney: Our position has not changed.
Second Reporter: What position?

Carney ignored him and moved on to another question. (July 26, 2012)

The Guardian: Its style sheet actually states that “Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel; Tel Aviv is.” (April 25, 2012)

Tags: Media , Jerusalem

‘Bridgemageddon,’ and the Lost Art of Taking Our Time


The first Morning Jolt of the week spotlights another big roundup of bad news for the Obamacare rollout and its new enrollees — the kind of news Obamacare fans would prefer to ignore — and then this note about the media’s sudden obsession with BRIDGEMAGEDDON, and what it says about our politics . . . 

The Lost Art of Taking Our Time

So why did the national press decide that BRIDGEMAGEDDON will dominate several news cycles? How much time will we spend discussing toll routes and foul-mouthed e-mails this week, compared to, say, Afghanistan, or long-term unemployment?

Christie is getting covered like he’s a presidential candidate because the national press has decided he is a presidential candidate, even though any official announcement from Christie is probably a year away. Big, national, horse-race coverage is now a staple of journalism large and small, and the beast commands you to feed it. Those hours of cable news aren’t going to fill themselves.

(Reader: “Hey, am I reading a complaint about horse-race coverage from the guy who writes ‘The Campaign Spot’?” Well, yeah, but the point of my blog — on its better days, at least — is that there’s always somebody running for something — governor, Senate, House races, special elections as lawmakers die in office or resign, etc. Campaign Spot doesn’t cover everything, but I hope it manages to provide decent coverage beyond the presidential cycles. Besides, by the time somebody’s running for president, they’ve been covered and profiled to death. On good days, this results in profiles of Marco Rubio back in August 2009, concluding “the smart money might be on Rubio” in a primary against Crist.)

James Poulos packs a lot of wisdom into just a few paragraphs, noting that the relentless pace of coverage is eating away at a once-natural process of leaders building confidence and winning trust:

This isn’t about “conservatism” versus “liberalism.” It’s about the moderate tempo at which our institutions of governance need to move in order not to malfunction. As Greg Weiner explains in the overlooked study Madison’s Metronome, our constitutional architecture is premised on the moral axiom that impulsive impatience breeds misrule. Rather than the anti-majoritarian fetish it is often mistaken for, “temporal republicanism,” as Weiner calls it, simply intends to slow the pace of democratic decision-making to more deliberate — get it? — speeds.

Sadly today we hate that idea. Hate it. Everything else moves at the speed of light, why not politics? Because racism! Or classism, or old boy networks, or fat cats, or the corrupting influence of money on politics — anything answer will do, including correct answers, so long as they elbow out the one scandalous truth: a democracy conducted at light speed will twist our judgments and disfigure our justice. It will give us a government of weapons that kill instantly anywhere, computers that know everything everywhere, and money that can be printed at whim in any quantity . . . 

Why do we suffer such a lack of confidence in our private and public-sector elites? In our big State and our big Market? “For a reason of biblical simplicity,” writes philosopher and urbanist Paul Virilio, “confidence can never be instantaneous. It must be built, earned, over time. Instant confidence, like instant faith, doesn’t work.”

It’s early. We don’t know what the world is going to look like in January 2016, when Iowa holds its caucuses, much less January 2017, when the next president will take office.

The real mission for the next American president may be to persuade us that we can be Americans again. Not this easily distracted, cynical, tuned-out, Balkanizing mob that hobbles along with an economy that hits 3 percent growth at the best of times, is growing acclimated to slogging along in a waist-deep bureaucratic morass, and endures a public discourse that alternates among the nasty, inane, and petty, punctuated by perpetual cycles of offensiveness and grievances of the offended. We deserve better than a government that falters and flails in the face of drug cartels and gang violence but that can come down like a ton of bricks on big sodas and incandescent light bulbs. The history of this nation was driven by those who overcame the siren call of acquiescence, the anti-rallying cry of, “What’s the use?”

Humans are hope-fueled creatures. Anybody who gets up out of bed with a spring in his step does so because he’s got some hope that the next day might be better than the last. Obama’s 2008 campaign tapped into this with remarkable power (and an enthusiastically helpful press). But then again, so did the Tea Party, in its own way. Entrepreneurs, pro athletes — everybody starts by “envisioning a compelling future,” as Tony Robbins, Oprah, and all the lifestyle coaches put it. Hell, even jihadists think that someday they’re going to reinstate the Caliphate and everybody on the planet will think the way they do or be dead.

The Left probably has an advantage here, as their core philosophy is “yes, we can” build utopia, and our core philosophy is, “no, you can’t, and you’ll do a lot of damage trying.”

Tags: Chris Christie , Media , Barack Obama , Conservatism

Rolling Stone, Begging the World to Pay Attention Again


Also from today’s Morning Jolt:

Like a Crazy Ex, Rolling Stone Desperately Hoping You’ll Pay Attention to Them Again

Look, we get it. It’s tough to run a print magazine, particularly if a magazine thinks of itself as a journal of cultural trends that entice and excite young people. Kids don’t read print anymore. People pass by the newsstand and don’t give it a second glance, their eyes pulled away by the latest starlet half-naked and pouting on the cover of Maxim. And if a publication’s editors start feeling financial pressure and a sense of declining relevance to the conversation they seek to influence, they can get desperate, resorting to shock headlines and a sneering tone . . . as we’ve seen:

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But Rolling Stone editors knew what they were doing by putting the Little Brother Bomber on the cover. They were getting the news world to talk about a magazine that had in past months become largely indistinguishable from Entertainment Weekly: Johnny Depp in full Tonto regalia, comedian Louis C. K., Mad Men lead actor Jon Hamm, Seth Rogan and his co-stars of This Is the End.

And in using the soft-focus, Dylan-esque image of Little Brother Bomber on the cover, they scrambled some of our usual political lines. The editor of ThinkProgress says the image makes the bomber look like Jim Morrison.

And some complaints are coming from on high:

Former White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor expressed concern on Wednesday about Rolling Stone magazine putting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, tweeting that “A disaffected US kid could see this and think terrorist are afforded rock star status.”

The same image once appeared on the cover of the New York Times; objections seem to primarily revolve around the fact that Rolling Stone almost only features celebrities on its covers — most recently Johnny Depp — and thus this image would put an accused terrorist into that category, of someone to be celebrated.

Bingo. A traditional newsweekly could have run that image with the headline, “Into the Mind of a Killer” or something similar, with little objection. The New Republic recalls Time magazine covers featuring Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden.

But this is the cover of Rolling Stone, where we’re used to seeing Janet Jackson’s cleavage, or Angelina Jolie’s cleavage, or Katy Perry’s cleavage, or Shakira’s cleavage, or . . . where was I going with this? Ah, yes! For most of the past decades, Rolling Stone covers have fit into three categories 1) celebrity cleavage 2) here’s a singer or band who is very hot at the moment and whose image will instantly date this magazine 3) “Isn’t Obama awesome!”

There really isn’t a strong tradition of “here’s a detailed look into the face of evil” cover pieces.

Let’s also note that the cover’s text doesn’t help matters, either.

How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster

To their credit, the editors label him a monster. But “failed by his family” seems to suggest his actions aren’t entirely his responsibility, and “fell into radical Islam” is a strangely passive way of describing the choice to commit murder. It’s not a pothole.

Also . . . had Rolling Stone editors personally known any of the victims, would they have made the same choice?

Apparently Rolling Stone editors are comfortable writing off Boston from their circulation area:

Pharmacy chain CVS has announced it will not sell copies of next week’s Rolling Stone featuring suspected Boston terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover.

“As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones,” the company said in a statement.

The cover, which was teased late Tuesday night, has incited a flurry of controversy, with Rolling Stone’s website being bombarded with complaints and a Facebook page started to boycott to the music magazine. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick have both criticized the cover as in poor taste.

Here’s Erik Wemple, a usually fair-minded reporter and blogger on the media beat for the Washington Post:

*This is good journalism, as the photo depicts the same Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that The Post and the New York Times — and others — depicted in deeply reported pieces. That is, a regular, good guy with friends, interests and activities — a “joker,” even.

*Showing this alleged bomber in his full humanity makes him appear even more menacing.

*Some are saying that Rolling Stone is exploiting this image — this story — for commercial gain. Well, Rolling Stone is a magazine. It exploits all its stories for commercial gain, some more effectively than others.

. . . I’ll leave the last word to two of the victims:

Brothers J.P. and Paul Norden of Stoneham each lost a leg in the attacks and they let the magazine know how they feel in this long Facebook post Wednesday morning.

Here you go Rolling Stones; if you required a cover and wanted marathon related, one would assume that you would have promoted a nation of continued healing, provided American heroes and encouraged moving forward. This is just one of several available shots that would have made sense if you were looking for togetherness.

Instead, your irresponsible behavior did more to tear open wounds and insult victims, survivors and families that have been slowly healing and accepting the horrendous acts of terrorism. There is a very long road that awaits the involved victims and your magazine ripped at the hearts in an instance and cut at the deepest levels and for what, “To increase sales of a magazine that usually is worthy of music celebrities.” Well, Rolling Stones, you just reclaimed your 15 minutes of fame, we only hope, it lasts only fifteen minutes.

What you did yesterday with your incredibly poor decision, was weaken extreme good that has been built from unimaginable evil.

Well, we are here to remind you that we are 2 BROTHERS 1 NATION. . . . Standing Boston Strong. . . . and no room for magazines intended on highlighting evil, hate and death.

Today, we take a step over that magazine and hold our heads up high and ask our supporters to do the same and to also ignore the sensationalism perpetrated by RS.

Tags: Boston Marathon Bombing , Rolling Stone , Media

Why Does Zimmerman’s Trial Get Round-the-Clock Coverage?


From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why Are the News Networks Serving Us Round-the-Clock Coverage of the Zimmerman Trial?

Yesterday morning, I tuned in to Daily Rundown . . . and found most of the show’s opening was consumed by George Zimmerman trial discussion, and soon pre-empted by live trial coverage. I had been scheduled to appear on The Lead with Jake Tapper as part of their roundtable today . . . and was told Monday evening that they’re likely to be pre-empted by live trial coverage this afternoon.

Egypt’s got a widespread, increasingly violent uprising — Turkey and Brazil, too, the death toll in Syria just hit six figures, the Obamacare implementation train wreck continues, and we get nonstop coverage of every witless witness in this case.

Monday, CNN “accidentally” showed viewers defendant George Zimmerman’s Social Security number, which spurred righteous rant from Allahpundit:

. . . the excuse will be that it was an accident, that they were caught by surprise when unredacted personal information was shown in court. Maybe. They know not to air images of the jurors, they know not to air grisly photos of the crime scene, but apparently they don’t know that sometimes police reports with people’s vital info are shown onscreen in court during trials.

Here’s the thing: Even if this shot is accidental, the only reason the proceedings are on TV to begin with is because the media’s obsessed with the idea that Zimmerman committed a racial atrocity and must be punished for it. Trials typically don’t get saturation coverage because the facts are interesting and tragic and there’s a legit dispute as to whether the prosecution’s or defense’s story of what happened is true. They get saturation coverage because there’s an obvious innocent victim/diabolical defendant dynamic that the media’s interested in.

From the beginning, with the Times pushing its “white Hispanic” description of Zimmerman, the press has strained hard to make the Trayvon Martin shooting a passion play about whites treating black life cheaply in modern, post-civil rights America. As terrible as the prosecution’s witnesses have been thus far, there is no scenario — zero — in which most of the press concludes that acquittal on the murder charge is just rather than unjust. Zimmerman must be guilty, morally if not legally. Progress demands it. Against that backdrop, why be surprised that CNN would show his social security number onscreen? The cameras are there because the press has issued its verdict. Intentional or not, this is part of the sentencing phase.

When some future PhD candidate is doing his dissertation on the total collapse of American news gathering and journalism in the twenty-first century, they’ll cite the coverage of this murder a lot. You recall the egregious “editing” of the defendant’s 911 call:

NBC News has completed the internal investigation into the edited tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call, which was aired on Today. The network admitted an “error” and apologized to viewers.

The edited call was aired on Today, but was aired repeatedly — including during MSNBC segments about the Trayvon Martin case. NBC’s audio made it seem as though Zimmerman voluntarily offered that Martin looked suspicious because he was black. The unedited audio, The Hollywood Reporter notes, “reveals that Zimmerman didn’t mention Martin’s race until the 911 operator asked him, ‘Is he white, black or Hispanic?’”

This March 2012 article from the Poynter Institute for journalism detailed and verified what seemed odd about the initial coverage of the case — i.e., all of the photos of the 17-year-old shooting victim made him look like he wasn’t old enough to go to high school.

Since the shooting of Trayvon Martin became national news, two photos have come to define the emotionally and racially charged narrative.

News organizations initially had just a few photos of Martin to choose from, and just one of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed him. More recent photos have emerged lately, but a month after the shooting, the narrative already has been established.

This is the most recognized image of Trayvon Martin, although it’s several years old. (Associated Press)

“The challenge we have is a lot of folks are getting a very surface view from the photos,” said Orlando Sentinel photo editor Tom Burton. “Photos can be used to get people emotionally involved and we need to be careful. It’s a concern if we had more of a choice, but we are limited by availability.”

The dominant photo of Martin shows him 13 or 14 years old, wearing a red Hollister T-shirt. Other photos, none of them recent, depict a young Martin in a youth football uniform, holding a baby and posing with a snowboard. He is the picture of innocence.

The most common photo of Zimmerman is a 2005 police mugshot. He is 22 in the photo, which was taken after he was arrested for assaulting an officer. (The charges were dropped.) He looks unhappy, if not angry.

The contrast — the two photos are often published side by side — has led to criticism that news media have tilted the story in favor of the 17-year-old victim and against the 28-year-old man who shot him.

“The images used are clearly prejudicial to both men,” said Kenny Irby, Poynter’s senior faculty for visual journalism and diversity. “If those are the repeating images, then we continually reinforce prejudice and negative emotions. We never get to appreciate the life experience or further context of either individual.”

You and I don’t really know what happened that night down in Florida. We may think we know, based on what we have seen and read, but ultimately, the trial is to determine whether a crime was committed. Yet since the shooting garnered national headlines, we have seen Americans on every social network furiously insisting that they knew what had happened, and that Zimmerman is guilty of murder, or that he is guilty of nothing more than deadly self-defense as a dangerous young man viciously attacked him. It’s an unfortunate, deadly circumstance that would seem to have limited ramifications for us, and yet the media treats it as if it is some sort of defining story of the ages, with deep meaning and revelations about the true soul of America.

Like the Paula Deen controversy, this is a he-said, he-said dispute that we’re supposed to line up and take sides over, screaming at each other with absolute certainty about facts that we cannot possibly know.

What’s the point of this coverage, media? What do you hope to illuminate by turning this case into the biggest trial since O. J. Simpson? If Allahpundit’s cynical assessment is wrong, how do the editorial directors of these large journalism institutions explain their coverage?

Tags: Media

How Trolls Turn Our Tragedies Into Partisan Food-Fights


The first Morning Jolt of the week looks at two dramatic developments in Syria, some big decisions coming down the line from the Supreme Court, and then this observation…

How Tragic Events Turn Into Partisan Foodfights, Faster Than Ever Before

Let’s examine a familiar pattern in news stories…

Something awful and shocking happens: A madman shoots up a kindergarten classroom.  Two jihadist wannabes blow up the Boston Marathon. A tornado tears apart an Oklahoma City suburb. A group of jihadists in the United Kingdom behead a soldier leaving his barracks and then bark tirades to the passersby, hands dripping with blood.

Some of those horrific incidents tie into some sort of policy debate, but for most people, that’s something to be addressed some time after a tragedy, not in the immediate moments after the news breaks. But almost immediately, people begin citing the horrible event as proof that their political worldview has been vindicated once again. Some writers seem to specialize in their ability to take a terrible event and have the first op-ed on an editor’s desk, tying the shocking event to their preexisting policy preferences. David Sirota may be the champion of this:

April 16:Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.”

May 16: “The Texas fertilizer plant explosion reveals that lax regulations are far more dangerous than any form of terrorism.”

May 21: “Anyone regret slashing National Weather Service budget now? With GOP-backed cuts to forecasting agency, experts warn future storms will go undetected and more lives lost.”

When people die suddenly and terribly, and an editorial page editor needs a column to argue it’s ultimately the fault of Republicans, Sirota’s always there to step up.

These horrible events are all distinct and separate, but they hit us with big questions – i.e., how could this happen? Where was/is God? Why must the innocent suffer, and why must we live in a world where evil exists and can strike us without warning? Should the sudden death of others remind us to live each day like it’s our last? How can you make long-term plans for the future, knowing that tragedy could strike at any time? Do we, or does any society, sufficiently thank and appreciate and honor those who risk and lose their lives in efforts to protect the rest of us?

Those are tough questions.  The political questions are pretty easy by comparison – and I suspect some people eagerly turn to them after something terrible happens, because it’s almost calming to turn one’s attention to bashing the familiar scapegoat of the political opposition. We can’t do anything to un-do the actions of jihadists, tornadoes, or a kindergarten gunman, but boy, can we tell the world how angry we are about the political opposition, who we’re certain is really to blame for the terrible event.

Almost immediately after a terrible event – sometimes while they’re still going on – we find someone throwing a political argument at us – sometimes some random yokel on Twitter, sometimes a semi-professional blame-thrower like Sirota.  Naturally, the public square is full of people who hate leaving any argument or attack unanswered. Before you know it, just as you’re getting your head around some sudden tragedy or abomination, you look up and your Twitter feed has become a food-fight of competing “how dare you!” shrieks.

This phenomenon is problematic for a lot of reasons. One big one is that each time this happens, the public debate becomes a little less focused on the terrible event – “X” -  and a little more on what somebody said about “X.” Perhaps this is my cynicism showing, but I’m no longer surprised that people say terrible and stupid things after awful events. I’m starting to get skeptical about the need to treat obnoxious post-tragedy comments as newsworthy. Half of these are cries for attention, anyway.

Recently a conservative blogger pointed out some cretin attempting to raise money, making light of the death of a figure that many on the Right respect. Some folks wanted to blog more about this cretin and denounce him and call him out for his outrageously vile behavior, etc. Of course, the cretin wanted attention, and it’s quite likely that his ultimate desire is precisely to get a bunch of conservative bloggers talking about how terrible he is – because that will bring his fundraising effort to the attention of more people. I would define vindication as his pathetic fundraising effort dying a quiet death – a reminder that no one wants to give him money to continue being obnoxious, no one really cares what he says or thinks, and that in the grand scheme of things, he doesn’t really matter.

How widely could we get a “don’t feed the trolls” policy adopted?


Tags: Boston Marathon Bombing , Media , Twitter

Spreading Our Ideas in the Era of Drug-Dealer Journalism


The first Morning Jolt of the week offers a look at complaints about the White House Correspondents Dinner, some truly jaw-dropping statistics about the increasing rate of gun sales in this country, and then these thoughts on what I learned, and shared, at last week’s conference in Orlando:

Spreading Our Ideas in the Era of Drug-Dealer Journalism

Things I learned at the Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank and the Franklin Center’s Future of Media discussions this past week in Orlando:

  • According to Anton Vuljaj, political advertising strategist from Google, YouTube’s search engine is the second-most used search engine on the web, after Google.
  • Direct mail brings in $36 million per year for the Heritage Foundation.
  • One of the big problems with modern groups that promise get-out-the-vote efforts is that they blur the line between voter contact and voter interaction — i.e., a robocall, a door hanger, an e-mail all count as voter contact, but the voter may or may not even look at them. The best get-out-the-vote groups aim for actual interaction with the voter, via phone or best of all, in-person by knocking on doors.
  • No Obama campaign offices in Ohio shut down completely between 2008 and 2012. Are any of the Romney offices still open?

Here’s an abbreviated version of the talk I gave on the panel, “Leading Voices in Conservative Journalism (Who Were Available)”:

Andrew Malcolm just observed that we’re no longer in the “Pharmacist Era of Journalism” — where an authority figure stands above you and gives you what experts have decided you need to know. Perhaps we’re in the “Drug-Dealer Era of Journalism” — where you may not completely know or entirely trust the source who’s giving you what you want to know, but it gives you a rush, and you’ll probably be coming back for more later.

Most of us in the world of conservative journalism are now aiming to reach that chunk of web users that go onto Facebook and never come off. Predicting which pieces, visuals, and ideas go viral remains a crapshoot. My graphic on foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority being spared by the sequester was viewed 334,000 times. I’ve had other ones that I thought were just as good get 1,000 views or so.

A good chunk of the Facebook-only audience is relatively apolitical, which is a way of saying we’re trying to offer political news and arguments and ideas to people who fundamentally aren’t that interested in policy and politics. We’re facing the challenge of trying to reach a new audience while continuing to serve a very good, loyal audience that is interested in what we do.

My favorite example of handling the loyal audience/new audience divide badly is when NBC decided they wanted to get more women to watch the Olympics, and thus large swaths of their prime-time Olympics coverage were devoted to documentary-style features about the hardships that the athletes had overcome — a seemingly endless cavalcade of relatives with cancer, or car accidents, or brutal injuries, or their dogs getting sick, or the Starbucks barista getting their drink order wrong — suddenly, every athlete’s life was like a country-western song. And the usual audience for the Olympics asked, with greater levels of irritation, “Hey, weren’t we supposed to be watching some actual athletic competitions? Wasn’t some skier supposed to be falling down a mountain by now?”

So while we need to be embracing social media and providing our news stories and arguments and ideas in ways that are more bite-sized, I have this nagging fear that we might lose, or perhaps slightly devalue, some of what we’re here to do. There is no such thing as investigative tweeting. A Facebook graphic is two sentences at most, a picture, and perhaps a hashtag. Theoretically, you can use Tweets and Facebook graphics as bait, designed to bring people to the long-form, meatier pieces, but I wonder how many people retweet a headline without actually clicking through to the story.

I’m a writer. I like long-form journalism. I like a good Fisking, where you dismantle a lousy argument by going through it line by line and exposing every falsehood or illogical conclusion. And I hope we can figure out a good balance that does all of the important work, the hard work, the work that takes time and resources — with the work that is fun and funny and quick and spreads quickly but that ultimately doesn’t stick with you.

Tags: Journalism , Media , Social Networks , Conservatism

The Horror the Media Can’t Bring Itself to Cover


Finally, here’s a section of the Jolt that was heavily shaped by last night’s Twitter discussion of Kermit Gosnell coverage — or how rare that coverage is:

Why Is One of the Most Horrific Crimes in Recent Memory Getting Almost No Press Coverage?

If you need to get up to speed on the Kermit Gosnell story, here’s a good place to start.

A doctor whose abortion clinic was a filthy, foul-smelling “house of horrors” that was overlooked by regulators for years was charged Wednesday with murder, accused of delivering seven babies alive and then using scissors to kill them.

Hundreds of other babies likely died in the squalid clinic that Dr. Kermit Gosnell ran from 1979 to 2010, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said at a news conference.

“My comprehension of the English language can’t adequately describe the barbaric nature of Dr. Gosnell,” he added.

It’s utterly, utterly horrible; I won’t blame you if you can’t read that story any further.

However, you may be surprised at how little you’ve heard  about this story so far. Seth Mandel lays out the utterly unforgivable decision-making on the part of the national media so far:

You may not have heard much about Gosnell’s case. That’s because the mainstream press has chosen by and large to ignore it. There is no area of American politics in which the press is more activist or biased or unethical than social issues, the so-called culture wars. And the culture of permissive abortion they favor has consequences, which they would rather not look squarely at, thank you very much. The liberal commentator Kirsten Powers has written a tremendous op-ed in USA Today on Gosnell and the media blackout. Powers writes of the gruesome admissions that Gosnell’s former employees are making in court, some of which amount to “literally a beheading” and other stomach-turning descriptions. On the media’s refusal to inform the public, Powers writes:

A Lexis-Nexis search shows none of the news shows on the three major national television networks has mentioned the Gosnell trial in the last three months. The exception is when Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan hijacked a segment on Meet the Press meant to foment outrage over an anti-abortion rights law in some backward red state.

The Washington Post has not published original reporting on this during the trial and The New York Times saw fit to run one original story on A-17 on the trial’s first day. They’ve been silent ever since, despite headline-worthy testimony . . .

You don’t have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy. This is not about being “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” It’s about basic human rights.

The media should be ashamed beyond description for this behavior. The American left should come to terms with what it means to talk about a human life as if it were a parasite, or merely a clump of cells. And they should most certainly stop lecturing the rest of us on compassion, on pity, on social obligation, on morality.

The Washington Post health-policy reporter, Sarah Kliff explains to Mollie Hemingway, “I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime, hence why I wrote about all the policy issues you mention.”

Except that a lot of “local crime” stories become national policy or politics issues, or at the very least get national coverage. Last night on Twitter I went on a tear: Trayvon Martin, the Cambridge police arresting Henry Louis Gates, O. J. Simpson, the Unabomber, Jeffrey Dahmer, Casey Anthony, D. B. Cooper, Bernie Madoff, Son of Sam, JonBenet Ramsey, Andrea Yates, David Koresh & the Waco compound, Amy Fisher . . . Heck, all of the gun massacres that drive our periodic discussions of gun laws are technically “local crime” stories.

You can argue about the importance of all of the crime stories listed above, but the point is that a lot of “local crime stories” become big national stories. You’d think Doctor Baby-in-a-Blender would make the cut.

Josh Greenman, editorial-page editor of the New York Daily News:

I humbly suggest: Whether you support abortion rights or oppose them, read the Kermit Gosnell coverage with clear eyes. It is wrenching.

Ace shouts what we all know is really going on here:

This story exposes fault lines between Democrats, who are by political necessity abortion absolutists, and Independents, who may lean somewhat pro-choice but sure the hell aren’t on board for infanticide. But to report this story at all would put the Democrats in the difficult position of angering its an element of its hardcore single-issue leftist coalition, or alienating independents.

Thus, the media — which just “wants to report the facts” and “takes no positions on policy questions” and which has no partisan leaning at all — simply doesn’t report the story at all.

After all, if the public hears of it, they may make The Wrong Decisions.

You don’t trust children with matches and you don’t trust the American public with information. It’s that simple.

Tags: Abortion , Media


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