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Tags: Media

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



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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



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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’



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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!



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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



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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



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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’



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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.



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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



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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



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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 bbc.in/QJkWK9” (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



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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



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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?



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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



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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



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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



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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

The U.S. Media Just Can’t Understand the Vatican



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From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

When It Comes to the U.S. Media, the Vatican Might as Well Be Speaking in Latin

Dear mainstream media: No, you were never going to get a liberal Pope.

You don’t have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to figure out what the U.S. media thinks are most important issues before the Pope:

Francis’ ascension, however, will not be without its controversies. Francis firmly opposes abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception, the last being a particularly significant position as the Church continues to expand in Africa, where contraception is seen as a vital tool to limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Was there any Cardinal in the mix who, upon assuming the Papacy, would step out onto the balcony, and declare, “Oh, hey, abortion, homosexuality and contraception are cool now”?

A couple times a year, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne writes a column that says basically, “the Vatican has a big problem, because lots of American Catholics don’t agree with the Pope.” It never seems to cross his mind that each Pope and the Vatican collectively don’t really care that lots of American Catholics don’t agree with them. Or, more specifically, they would like American Catholics to agree with them, but they’re not willing to change what they teach as right and wrong based upon what the Gallup organization says American Catholics think. They think they get that material from the Man Upstairs. You may or may not agree with that assessment of Divine leadership, but the point is that the Pope and the Cardinals believe it, and they’re not going to be talked out of it by some pundit.

This is an institution that weathered the storms of the schism with the Orthodox and the Protestant Reformation. They’re not going to suddenly abandon their positions in the face of criticism from Chris Matthews or Andrew Sullivan.

Dave Weigel: “Just a hunch here, but based on headlines it seems like members of the media are more liberal than Catholic church leaders.”

Peggy Noonan calls it like it is:

Right now every idiot in town feels free to tell the church to get hopping, and they do it in a new way, with a baldness that occasionally borders on the insulting. Whatever their faith or lack of it they feel free to critique loudly and in depth, to the degree they are capable of depth. I have been critical of the church over the sex scandals for longer than a decade. Here’s one column—but I write of it because I love it and seek to see it healthy, growing and vital as it brings Christ into the world. Some of the church’s critics don’t seem to be operating from affection and respect but something else, or some things else.

When critics mean to be constructive, they bring an air of due esteem and occasional sadness to their criticisms, and offer informed and thoughtful suggestions as to ways the old church might right itself. They might even note, with an air of gratitude free of crowd-pleasing sanctimony, that critics must, in fairness, speak of those parts of the church that most famously work—the schools that teach America’s immigrants, the charities, the long embrace of the most vulnerable—and outweigh a whole world of immediate criticisms.

But when they just prattle on with their indignant words—gender, celibacy, irrelevant—well, they’re probably not trying to be constructive. One might say they’re being vulgar, ignorant and destructive, spoiled too. They think they’re brave, or outspoken, or something. They don’t have enough insight into themselves to notice they’d never presume to instruct other great faiths. It doesn’t cross their minds that if they were as dismissive about some of those faiths they’d have to hire private security guards.

If your beef with the Catholic Church is the role it gives women, well . . . there’s another big global faith with about a billion adherents that you may want to examine, too. I mean, whatever you think of the role of nuns, they are allowed to drive themselves, you know.

Tags: Media , Religion

Obama, Cultural Indicators, and the GOP



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In the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt, a look at Obama tipping his hand on what he really wants out of the immigration debate out in Nevada, Massachusetts Democrats get ready to replace John Kerry, and then this bit of thinking about the GOP’s image . . .

Adding New Cultural Indicators to the Republican Brand Image

Since Election Night, the cry on the Right has been, “culture, culture, culture.” And we’re probably going to get a bunch of good ideas and a bunch of bad ideas coming out of this new focus.

I’ve talked in the past about Obama as a ubiquitous pop-cultural phenomenon, and looking back to Obama’s rise in 2007-2008, perhaps we ought to look closer at his coverage in the non-political media than in the political media. Because we’ve had a lot of black politicians before, a lot of liberal politicians before, and a lot of charismatic politicians before, but clearly Obama managed to achieve a level of public adoration (deification?) unique in modern political history.

In the end, maybe the institutions that we consider the MSM were less relevant to Obama’s rise than the glowing coverage of him in places like Rolling Stone, Us Weekly, Men’s Vogue, Fast Company, Men’s Health and so on. (We can put put Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, and the New Yorker in the quasi-political magazine category.)

Think about Obama’s embrace of Jay-Z and Beyoncé. There are a lot of Americans, particularly young Americans, who have no real interest in, say, how federal stimulus money gets spent. But they’re sure as heck interested in Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Almost every politician before Obama wouldn’t have touched Jay-Z with a ten-foot pole. One look at the lyrics of “Girls, Girls, Girls” (you’ve been warned, it depicts the rapper assessing and categorizing his harem by ethnic stereotype) and they would run screaming from any stage with Jay-Z. But Obama assessed, correctly, that the “cool” factor of having an association with Jay-Z would overwhelm any complaints about Obama’s de facto association with or approval of the seedier side of the life depicted by the hip-hop star.

So along comes Obama, and he’s worlds apart even from what we had seen nominated by the Democrats in recent cycles, like Al Gore and John Kerry. He’s black, he’s urban, he’s young, he’s only recently wealthy and tells tales of financial woes as recent as 2000. He can sound like a preacher when he needs to (listening to Jeremiah Wright all those years) but also is the kind of politician your average outspoken atheist could warmly embrace. As a result, you have large swaths of a not-usually-terribly-engaged, not-usually-terribly-interested voting public gravitating to him: African-Americans, obviously, but also young voters, urban voters . . . they look at him and see a cultural figure who reflects themselves, not merely a political figure.

What cultural markers is the Republican brand associated with? Two things come to mind, the aspects of life that Obama said rural Pennsylvanians cling to, guns and religion. And those are pretty good ones; the country is full of people who take religion seriously and there are a lot of people who enjoy their right to own a firearm, for reasons ranging from hunting to sport shooting to collecting to self-defense. But as we’ve seen, that’s not enough to get a majority of the popular vote or 270 electoral votes, and there are some pretty big swaths of the country – mostly the West Coast and Northeast – where those indicators either don’t help us or work against us.

So, thinking of new cultural traits the GOP could attempt to adopt as some of their trademarks, just off the top of my head…

Foodies? There are a lot of folks who are passionately interested in food, in a way they just weren’t a generation ago. (See Vic Matus’ great article from a while back on the rise of celebrity chefs.) Why can’t the GOP be the Foodie Party, the one that fights moronic dietary laws like Bloomberg’s ban on 32 ounce sodas, California’s idiotic foie gras ban, the ludicrous talk of the Food and Drug Administration putting even more stringent regulations on raw milk cheeses on top of the existing ones. (For Pete’s sake, slap a warning label on it letting people know about the risk of raw milk cheeses.) We ought to be standing up to the Nanny State, and making the case that grown adults who we entrust with a right to vote, a right to own a gun, and a right to speak their minds ought to have the right to eat whatever they want.

College-Age Drinkers: Propose lowering the drinking age to 18, on the argument that you’ll see less binge drinking on college campuses if 18, 19 and 20-year-olds can just go into a bar or restaurant and order a beer. If you’re really worried about lowering the drinking age across the board, make it legal for those between 18 and 21 to consume alcohol in a licensed establishment, so that a bartender or server could cut them off if there are signs of dangerous intoxication.

I guarantee this would make the College Republicans a heck of a lot more popular on campus. Speaking of which…

Wasteful college spending: Turn the highest-paid university presidents in America into the new villains of our economy, hiking tuition and letting standards slide while they take home ever-bigger paychecks and wildly generous payouts upon retirement. How soft are the Democrats on this issue? They ran the highest-paid university president in America (more than $3 million in a year) for Senate in Nebraska last year. At least the companies run by greedy CEOs are forced to compete in the marketplace; universities can keep going under bad management by sucking up government aid, forced tuition hikes, and alumni donations for a long while.

Isn’t it time to bring a salary cap to university administrators?

Tags: Barack Obama , Culture , Media

Which Entertainment Moguls ‘Glorify Murder’?



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Joe Scarborough: “Entertainment moguls do not have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America.”

So can anyone point to movies, television shows, video games, etc., that explicitly glorify and/or endorse murder, as opposed to depicting it? (This is aside from the rather important question of whether any particular piece of media spurred a person to commit a violent act.)

Sure, there are lots of movies, television shows, video games, etc., that depict murders, and there are quite a few in which the protagonist or hero murders others. But there are very, very few in which the protagonist murders “innocent” people and is still supposed to be seen as heroic by the audience. Our cultural sensibilities – even in godless, hedonistic, depraved Hollywood – won’t allow us to see the intentional killing of innocent people as consistent with a heroic character.*

I asked on Twitter for examples of movies in which murder was not merely depicted, but celebrated and glorified.

The first suggestion was the television series “Dexter”, which I admit I haven’t watched. The knew the protagonist was “a serial killer who targets other serial killers who have evaded the police,” but apparently he has killed innocent people to cover up his crimes.

(I think some of the later portrayals of Hannibal Lecter may best fit the description of  “glamorizing” an irredeemable, indisputably evil and murderous character as a hero, and may be the best example of Hollywood’s creative class reaching a total moral inversion. But I’m skeptical that either of the little-watched 2001 film “Hannibal” or the 2007 film “Hannibal Rising” are guilty of any crime to our society beyond fleecing gullible film-goers.)

Another person nominated the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” films, but I think that’s perhaps a perfect example of the “moral context” I’m talking about: Charles Bronson seems to shoot every mugger in late-1970s New York City after his wife is murdered and his daughter is raped. We can argue whether the muggers he encounters deserve to be shot for their actions, but Bronson’s character’s violent acts are only in response to those who threaten him or others.

Others suggested mob movies, but even there most of the portrayals (The Godfather series, HBO’s “The Sopranos”) often depict the strange code of honor among the mobsters, in that they’re not supposed to kill “civilians” (those not in the mob) and a common plot is the gangsters hoping to avoid an all-out gang war.

Some pointed to the “Call of Duty” video game franchise, although they started out as a World War Two combat game and have moved on modern or slightly futuristic settings. In those, the player is playing the role of a soldier and the antagonists are ultra-nationalist Russians and Middle East radicals. I fail to see how modern portrayals of good soldiers killing evil men is somehow more psychologically dangerous to view than, say, John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movies.

What kind of depictions of violence in media spur “mayhem in young minds”? The Star Wars movies? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Ben 10?

Lurking behind these arguments of “glorifying violence” is the matter of taste and sensibility; some works linger upon the terrible deeds of their villains to emphasize their moral degeneracy. Some audiences can appreciate it as part of the context of the story, others can’t. Very few people believe that the media they choose to consume is the type that manufactures murderers; it’s the television shows, movies, and video games of other people that ought to be banned for the good of society.

Of course, some depictions of violence will be inappropriate for young viewers; that’s why we have movie, game, and television ratings and parental discretion is advised. But I think Scarborough is attacking a foe that doesn’t really exist. There is no “In the Mouth of Madness“-style piece of work that we can identify as the trigger of murderous rampages. The world would be an easier place to live in if we could find those works and ban them.

Unfortunately, as we look at the shooters of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tuscon, and Newtown, we see intense mental problems in which any one of a wide variety of factors could have spurred the decision to slaughter others.

We’re fools if we decide to empower government to limit the creative arts depending upon what they think will cause a murderous rampage in disturbed minds already inclined to lashing out in that manner. It would make as much sense as banning dogs because David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” killer, believed that his neighbor’s dog was telling him to kill young women.

And while some might argue that self-censorship is a better option, I don’t want our storytellers in any medium limiting their work by thinking, “what will the murderously disturbed take away from it?”

(*I suppose I should specify “intentional”; one of the funnier bits of dialogue in Kevin Smith’s movie “Clerks” is speculation about the civilian contractors killed in “Star Wars” when the Rebels blow up the Death Star.)

Tags: Joe Scarborough , Media , Movies , Tom Davis

An Exciting, Fresh, Bold New Form of Media Bias



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In the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt . . . sent along to the editors at the usual time, and reaching readers a bit later under our new distribution system (we’re working on it) . . .

A Bold New Form of Media Bias

In light of the Washington Post basing its front-page headline on a survey with an astonishingly small sample and an astonishingly high margin of error, it is good to sum up what we’ve seen from the press in recent weeks.

ONE: For about eight days, the Obama administration told the public that their best assessment of the murder of our ambassador in Libya and three other Americans was that it was the result of a spontaneous protest against a tape mocking Islam on YouTube. This explanation sounded funny from the beginning — even in a place like Benghazi, who brings rocket-propelled grenades and mortars to a protest? — and it seemed surprising that so many in the administration, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, seemed to dismiss the idea that a terror attack against American targets on September 11 was a serious possibility. Subsequent reports have revealed astonishingly insufficient security for a site with American lives and American intelligence. The administration’s sustained focus on the YouTube tape seemed to make little sense, outside of a desire to deflect from the continued pervasiveness of anti-American rage in the Middle East and signs of a resurgent al-Qaeda, themes that greatly complicate the argument of the Obama campaign. As of Friday, 17 days after the attack, the FBI had still not reached the consulate site to conduct a forensic investigation.

To their credit, certain places like CNN and ABC News have pursued this story with more vigor than their critics acknowledge.

On a related note, violent protests and threats of violence against American embassies continue, barely mentioned or acknowledged by most venues of the U.S. press. I guess it isn’t newsworthy until someone dies again.

TWO: Univision, a Spanish-language channel, has done an in-depth, detailed, long-form television journalism about the “Fast and Furious” program, showcasing that the violence from the “walked” guns was much worse than previously claimed by the government, and demonstrating the cost in human lives in searing images. (Moe Lane talks a bit about it here.) This report is much more vivid, detailed, and outraged than anything from almost all of the U.S. media, which accepted an inspector general’s report that claimed that repeated warnings and information kept coming up from the field agents but somehow mysteriously never reached the Attorney General. The report claimed that both Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler and Counsel to the Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson were informed about the connection between the firearms found at the scene of fatal shootings and Operation Fast and Furious, but neither believed “the information was sufficiently important to alert the Attorney General about it.”

THREE: With unemployment above 8 percent for forty-four straight months and GDP slowing to 1.25 percent, BuzzFeed declares “one of the central mysteries of 2012” is “How did we stop focusing on the economy?”

FOUR: Day after day, our troops in Afghanistan are targeted and killed by the Afghan troops they are supposed to be training. This barely merits more than periodic brief mentions in the national press. As Walter Russell Mead puts it:

If George W. Bush were president now, and had ordered the surge and was responsible for the strategic decisions taken and not taken in Afghanistan over the last four years, the mainstream press would be rubbing our noses in his miserable failures and inexcusable blunders 24/7. The New York Times and the Washington Post would be treating us to pictures of every fallen soldier. The PBS Newshour would feature nightly post-mortems on “America’s failed strategies in the Afghan War” and every arm-chair strategist in America would be filling the op-ed pages with the brilliant 20/20 hindsight ideas that our pathetic, clueless, failed president was too dumb and too cocky to have had.

Ace of Spades observed something we’re seeing in this cycle that is different even from the hope-and-change euphoria of Obama’s 2008 coverage:

Let me explain why this is different than previous bias.

Previously, the press has been both biased in a partisan way and an in an ideological way, but usually the partisanship was driven by ideology. As you may have noticed, the press are great fans of gay marriage and abortion, and they shape their coverage to put the best possible face on these positions, and the worst possible face on opponents. (To the extent they feature contrary voices at all.)

That’s bias, of course. We’ve gotten used to that.

But in the Benghazi debacle, there is no possible ideological grounding to explain their bias.There is, I trust, no ideological movement that advocates for intelligence failures and the deaths of good-guy diplomats. There is no ideological movement in favor of reckless incompetence bordering on malice in providing security for consulates abroad (which, as a legal matter, are considered US territory).

There is no ideological movement — or at least there was not before — championing the government’s right to lie to the public about its failures in order to avoid accountability.

There is no room here where one can say, “Ah well, they can’t help but be pulled a bit to the left by their own beliefs.” Because no one champions the right of government to let people be murdered and then lie about it.

This isn’t ideological bias, then. This is pure advocacy for a political party. Obama’s embarrassment is not an ideological issue — or should not be. I hope we can all agree that a president should attend security briefings — especially as 9/11 approaches — and provide adequate warning and security for US government personnel. I hope we can all agree that the government does not suddenly gain a Right To Shamelessly Lie about its failures, simply because it finds it politically advantageous to do so.

But, as Nina Totenberg’s chuckle indicates, the press now in fact believes exactly these things — so long as the president we’re talking about is Democrat, and Obama in particular.

Tags: Afghanistan , Barack Obama , Economy , Fast and Furious , Libya , Media , Mitt Romney

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