Archive for the ‘The Media’ Category

The NYT and WaPo bet their reputations on contrasting approaches to climate emails.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

James Fallows:

Not to overdramatize, but: in a way the papers are betting their reputations with these articles. The Times, that climate change is simply a matter of science versus ignorance; the Post, that this is best treated as another “-Gate” style flap where it’s hard to get to the bottom of the story.

And it was said that bloggers shall inherit the earth.

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

A bit under the weather – but not with swine flu apparently. That accounts for the lack of Tuesday blogging.

So, let me briefly blog about…..blogging. Ezra Klein chews on something I’ve been thinking about, as I set my opinions into the public domain day after day, with my name attached to it.

As the Internet becomes more and more pervasive and job applicants have a longer and longer paper trail, prospective employers are going to have to overlook a public record containing opinions that, in previous eras, they would never have seen, and would never have tolerated.

Klein’s reflections note that both he (who had criticized and is now employed by the Washington Post) and economist Willem Buiter (who blogged extremely harsh things about Citibank and has now been hired to be their chief economist) support this hopeful point.

And Andrew Sullivan highlighted a Choire piece observing a little-noticed but significant event – as Joshua Micah Marshall, blogger for Talking Points Memo and Peabody Award Winner has now hired a publisher for his blog.

My friend’s point was: here is an editor, who built and owns his publication, who is now going to be the editor-owner, who will employ the publisher. For those of you who have worked at any sort of publication, the implications of this are staggering…[I]t’s high time media publishing—where, nearly everywhere across the industry, the business side that has failed so utterly at its duties is currently squeezing every last bit of blood out of editorial—tried something different.

And it was said that bloggers shall inherit the earth.

Dueling Op-Eds

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Last Friday saw two sets of dueling op-eds on the opinion pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

At the Post, Charles Krauthammer, professional pundit, accuses the Obama administration of aiding Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in giving “voice” to the “propaganda of the deed” that was September 11. Krauthammer accepts no justification offered and launches one after another attack on the very idea of trying KSM, and most of all, on the Obama administration for bringing him to trial. Reading Krauthammer, it is difficult to understand why Attorney General Holder made the decision he did. It seems unfathomable and downright un-American.

Elsewhere in the section, two former top Bush Justice Department officials – Jack Goldsmith and James Comey – make the case that Attorney General Holder’s decision was reasonable, though there may be reason to disagree with it. They go through some of the advantages of the Attorney General’s decision, and conclude:

The wisdom of that difficult judgment will be determined by future events. But Holder’s critics do not help their case by understating the criminal justice system’s capacities, overstating the military system’s virtues and bumper-stickering a reasonable decision.

Over at the New York Times, David Brooks and Paul Krugman have a more evenly balanced argument over Timothy Geithner.

Brooks’s conclusion was that Geither’s intervention was effective:

On the other hand, you would also have to say that Geithner, like many top members of the Obama economic team, is extremely context-sensitive. He’s less defined by any preset political doctrine than by the situation he happens to find himself in…In the administration’s first big test, that sort of pragmatism paid off.

Krugman though concludes Geither is part of the problem, and even if he got the short-term economics right, the political situation won’t allow for any significant course corrections because the initial steps were so against the popular mood:

Throughout the financial crisis key officials — most notably Timothy Geithner, who was president of the New York Fed in 2008 and is now Treasury secretary — have shied away from doing anything that might rattle Wall Street. And the bitter paradox is that this play-it-safe approach has ended up undermining prospects for economic recovery.

It’s interesting to see such jousting on the same op-ed page. As opposing sides make their case, one can often learn more than from reading mere news.

Chinese Racism, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Power, Andrew Sullivan’s Catholicism, America’s Decline (?), and Megan Fox’s Savvy Self-Creation

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Chinese Racism. Reiham Salam posits that China’s ethnocentrism will retard it’s development into a superpower – especially given the demographic obstacles it is facing thanks to it’s One Child Policy.

Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Power. Gabriel Sherman describes the world of Andrew Ross Sorkin, star financial reporter for the New York Times, in New York magazine. He describes the unique amount of power Sorkin has accumulated in financial circles, all from the paper that was traditionally lagging behind the others in financial journalism. Attending a book party, Sherman observes the way Sorkin is treated by the many powerful titans of Wall Street:

“What you noticed when you went was how many powerful Wall Street people were there to kiss his ring,” adds The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta, a party guest. “He’s a 32-yeard old guy, and there were all these titans of Wall Street crowding around to say hello and make nice to Andrew.”

That type of praise only makes your job harder of course.

Andrew Sullivan’s Catholicism. Andrew periodically writes these moving pieces about his Catholicism, and why he is still a Catholic. Yesterday, in an emotional response to a number of recent events, he writes:

Maybe I am too weak to leave and be done with it. But in my prayer life, I detect no vocation to do so. In fact, in so far as I can glean a vocation, it is to stay and bear witness, to be a thorn in the side, even if the thorn turns inward so often, and hurts and wounds me too.

I stay because I believe. And I stay because I hope. What I find hard is the third essential part: to love. So I stay away when the anger eclipses that. But the love for this church remains through the anger and despair: the goodness of so many in it, the truth of its sacraments, the knowledge that nothing is perfect and nothing is improved if you are not there to help it.

America’s Decline (?). John Plender writing in the Financial Times pokes several more holes in the growing consensus that China’s power will soon eclipse America’s. Rather, he sees China as returning to it’s historic position of economic power – increasing relative to America, but not eclipsing it given the various problems they are facing.


Megan Fox’s Savvy Self-Creation. When I saw the New York Times Magazine was writing a major article about Megan Fox I was intrigued. What about her might be interesting enough to hold up a feature? It turns out that there was quite enough. Lynn Hirschberg writes about a starlet whose main focus is her own image, the character she plays in the media. Fox deliberately holds herself apart from this character:

I’ve learned that being a celebrity is like being a sacrificial lamb. At some point, no matter how high the pedestal that they put you on, they’re going to tear you down. And I created a character as an offering for the sacrifice. I’m not willing to give my true self up. It’s a testament to my real personality that I would go so far as to make up another personality to give to the world. The reality is, I’m hidden amongst all the insanity. Nobody can find me.

As she studies Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and other Hollywood icons, almost all of whom were overwhelmed by their characters, Fox seems to be searching for lessons she can take herself:

Monroe was her own brand before branding existed. “She lived her whole life as a character playing other characters,” Fox said. “And that was her defense mechanism. But Marilyn stumbled and lost her way. She became overwhelmed by the character she created. Hollywood is filled with women who have tried to cope. I like to study them. I like to see how they’ve succeeded. And how they’ve failed.”

Hirschberg didn’t seem to know whether Fox’s obsession with Monroe and other starlets would foreshadow Fox’s own decline, or whether it could be managed. The last lines Hirschberg leaves her readers with are plaintive:

In a few short weeks, she had gone from happily outrageous to virginal and controlled. It was, perhaps, a healthier attitude, but pale by comparison. “I have to pull back a little bit now,” Fox said. “I do live in a glass box. And I am on display for men to pay to look at me. And that bothers me. I don’t want to live that character.”

Fisking Camille Paglia

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Camille Paglia’s Salon weekly Salon column seems a product of a different time. One of the consequences of this is that she neglects to provide links sourcing some of the more bizarre claims she makes. At the same time, Paglia’s ideologically-applied contrarianism leads her to make quite a few of these bizarre statements. Her columns read like a caricature of media attempts to be “objective” and “independent” dreamed up by Glenn Greenwald rather than a sentient mind. Paglia seems determined to make sure neither Democrats nor Republicans, neither conservatives nor liberals feel comfortable with what she was to say. Thus, she endorses every criticism made by one side of the other, and credits no one with solutions. The defining element of her style is to take seriously the hypothetical or actual criticisms of various groups whom she then stereotypes in the crudest manner possible:

Steel yourself for the deafening screams from the careerist professional class of limousine liberals when they get stranded for hours in the jammed, jostling anterooms of doctors’ offices. They’ll probably try to hire Caribbean nannies as ringers to do the waiting for them.

Paglia uses these stereotypes to demonstrate her disdain for and independence from those whose criticisms she is adopting. Her vaunted independence then serves only to mask an inability or unwillingness to differentiate between true claims and false ones as she navigates through policy issues without endorsing any coherent approach.

And today, she applies her mind to the health care debate. The result is predictable.

Paglia rather quickly demonstrates her complete ignorance of the basics of health care policy arguments by endorsing “portability of health insurance across state lines” as “the most common-sense clause to increase competition and drive down prices.” Paglia doesn’t see any reasons why Democrats might oppose this “common-sense” reform – so she presumes there must be some “covert business interests,” that Democrats are protecting. A simpler explanation might be that allowing the portability of health insurance across state lines would effectively deregulate the entire health insurance industry. Or at least, it would create a race to the bottom as health insurance companies would relocate to the state with the least regulation, after which states would compete to deregulate to attract this industry. Or maybe the Democrats are really in the pocket of some secret business that Paglia imagines.

Paglia goes on to ask “why are we even considering so gargantuan a social experiment when the nation is struggling to emerge from a severe recession?” She answers her own question without pausing: “liberals are starry-eyed dreamers lacking the elementary ability to project or predict the chaotic and destabilizing practical consequences of their utopian fantasies.” The idea that this moderate bill – which resembles nothing so much as the Republican’s counter-offer to Bill Clinton in 1993 – is actually a liberal “utopian fantasy” is an easy straw man. Instead, this bill explicitly seeks to stabilize our status quo.

As to the question of, “Why now?” – Paglia might have taken the basic step of listening to any presidential address on this or read almost any liberal op-ed from before August. The presented explanation was that health care reform has to be the first step in entitlement reform. And entitlement reform is the first step towards fiscal solvency. And with the bond market and the Chinese government getting nervous about America’s solvency in the long-term, steps to bring the long-term deficit (which is almost entirely driven by the rising health care costs) into line were necessary. You couldn’t read a liberal op-ed on health care without seeing the Peter Orszag phrase “bend the curve” until this August when concerns about “death panels” and “killing Grandma” became paramount.

Speaking of which, Paglia makes sure to trot out these charges yet again – warning of imminent rationing and the “gutting” of Medicare:

How dare anyone claim humane aims for this bill anyhow when its funding is based on a slashing of Medicare by over $400 billion? The brutal abandonment of the elderly here is unconscionable.

Truly, to brutally abandon individuals to live without health insurance is unconscionable. To forcibly ration by government fiat is certainly not anything most Americans would support. Perhaps because of this, neither of these is anywhere in any proposed health care legislation. The “slashing of Medicare by over $400 billion” was described slightly differently by Washington Post reporter T. R. Reid yesterday. He called it, a typical Washington spending “cut” – in that Medicare costs were budgeted to rise by $800 billion in the next 10 years, but now would be restrained to rise by half that. Medicare spending would still rise significantly. Washington is one of the few places where you can spend far more and still call something a “cut.” This reduction in the rate of spending would come from various places – one of which would be the Medicare Advantage program which would be subject to “a competitive bidding process that is designed to lower spending on the program.” What Paglia – along with most right wing critics – fail to understand is that health care reform is not about reducing spending, but about reducing the rate of growth of spending. If Paglia calls this “brutal abandonment,” one wonders how she might describe the state of the uninsured if she felt compelled to look to them!

Paglia’s other claims are similarly shallow – equal parts histronics and ignorance. The modest bill proposed does not “co-opt[...] and destroy[...] the entire U.S. medical infrastructure” nor create a “huge, inefficient federal bureaucracy.” In fact, because the bill makes great efforts not to co-opt or destroy the hybrid health insurance system we have that it creates a maze of small bureaucratic institutions to manage the maze of hybrid models that make up our system. They key innovation of the current bill is not any set of bureaucratic institutions but the creation of a managed marketplace, the health insurance exchange.

Paglia’s take on health care demonstrates a complete failure to differentiate between true claims and false ones, as she demonstrates independence not only from partisan forces but from any objective reality.

[Image by Ann Althouse licensed under Creative Commons.]

Lieberman Ready To “Stick the Knife” In Health Care Reform

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Ezra Klein doesn’t seem to believe Lieberman’s threat to filibuster health care reform will stand:

Lieberman’s argument against the public option is simply false. “I think a lot of people may think that the public option is free,” he says. “It’s not. It’s going to cost the taxpayers and people who have health insurance now, and if it doesn’t it’s going to add terribly to the national debt.” Soon enough, he’ll be looking at Congressional Budget Office numbers saying the exact opposite. The public option costs taxpayers nothing, adds nothing to the debt and saves everyone money. Lieberman won’t be able to hang onto this argument for very long, and then what? [my emphasis]

That seems to be almost willful naivete – as if facts get in the way of insisting something is true! Lieberman can – and probably will – continue to insist that the public option will cost tons of money and add to the deficit no matter what any “independent” body says – and if anyone in the media confronts him on it, they’ll let him off easy as he blows smoke in their face and talks about how, “Nothing is for free.”

The conversation will go like this:

Media guy: Independent estimates show that the public option will save money. The CBO – which you have often cited as a quality source – has said it will cut health care costs by $____ billion dollars. Yet you oppose the public option because you claim it will cost money. How can you do this?

Lieberman: Nothing is free, [name of media guy.] And a report came out just last week that showed how the public option would add $___ million trillion to the deficit. [Neglecting to mention that it was funded by some from for the health insurance industry.] With the public option, health care costs will skyrocket! Nothing is for free. And the public option will lead to rationing of care.

Media guy: Well enough on that, let’s move on to Iran.

Or perhaps Ezra just assumes Lieberman is a good guy who has genuine concerns that are based on policy, but just hasn’t taken the time to take an even cursory look into the main item of controversy in the major policy issue for the past three or so months.

I don’t think that is that likely. Which is why I think Jonathan Chait’s read on Lieberma’s motives is more accurate than Ezra’s:

[Lieberman is] furious with the party, resentful of President Obama (who beat his friend in 2008) and would relish a Democratic catastrophe…My guess is that ultimately he’ll vote for reform, but he’ll do so because the Democrats will scale back their plan and win over Olympia Snowe, making Lieberman’s opposition academic. Lieberman won’t join a futile filibuster, but if he has the chance to stick in the knife and kill health care reform, I think he’d probably jump at the chance.

[Image adapted from a photo by TalkRadioNews licensed under Creative Commons.]

Hillary Mis-Speaks Again!!!

Monday, October 19th, 2009

You have to wonder who’s pushing this story. It reads like a political attack by some opponent trying to undermine Clinton – as the facts are stretched so much to get the necessary spin – but she has positioned herself so masterfully over these past months that it’s hard to figure out who might stand to benefit from taking her down a peg.

In this case, Clinton mentioned during a speech to the Stormont parliament that when she stayed at Belfast’s famous (and famously bombed many times) Europa Hotel, “there were sections boarded up because of damage from bombs.” According to research by David Sharrok of the Times of London, this couldn’t have been true as the last reconstruction after a bomb blast at the Europa occurred almost two years before the Clintons arrived. The Clintons first visit to Belfast came just over a year after the ceasefire by the IRA. But while the Bosnia sniper incident could be seen as boosting her own political clout and experience, this seems far more innocent. I would presume she could have easily seen other buildings around Belfast boarded up from bomb blasts, and almost 15 years after the trip confused this detail. For a similar reason, I also never made a big deal of the sniper incident, though I think the controversy over that, while legitimate was exaggerated beyond reason. For this story to get any play at all – let alone to be featured as a major story by the Drudge Report – demonstrates how stupid our media culture can be.

It’s also interesting to see this story pop up shortly after the White House seemed to have fully embraced her, as Jon Heileman reported:

[A]lthough the president himself and Emanuel never had much doubt that she could be a team player, many others in the Obamasphere were supremely skeptical. But no longer. “In terms of loyalty, discretion, and collegiality,” says a senior White House official, “she’s been everything we could have asked or hoped for.”

H/t Kevin Drum who adds his own interesting take – which I wholeheartedly agree with.

[Image by Juska Wendland licensed under Creative Commons.]

Former Bush Speechwriter Takes on the Internet: Its all about “bullying, conspiracy theories and racial prejudice”

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Michael Gerson was apparently irked by fellow Washington Post writer Ezra Klein’s response to his recent article on the rise of hate on the internet.

The dispute evolved like this: Gerson wrote a column about the vast amount of hate on the internet in which he compared the rise of the internet to the rise of talk radio in the 1920s and 30s, and described how the former led the Nazis to take power. Gerson did a vast amount of research for this column, but he managed to premise it on this unsourced wonder of a statement:

User-driven content on the Internet often consists of bullying, conspiracy theories and racial prejudice.

Like an old man at a bumpin’ club, Gerson seemed confused and disoriented by the online goings-on around him. Ezra Klein, the hip young blogger who grew up with the internet, responded a bit mockingly but without personal invective. Klein pointed out that on the internet, almost everything is “fringe” and the “hateful comments” that Gerson uses as his source are almost all anonymous comments to more mainstream articles. In other words, they are little more than scrawlings on the walls of bathroom stalls. Those with the real power to foment hate – Klein argued – in a manner more similar to the rise of the Nazis than these fringe commenters, are the pundits on talk radio and on cable news. They have a soapbox that can reach millions – rather than the audience of tens or maybe a hundred that any particular web comment has – and a number of these talking heads, especially those on right-wing talk radio, deliberately attempt to foment hate. As Klein says:

I don’t worry about jewhater429, the 97th entrant in a comment thread. I worry about Beck and Limbaugh and Savage.

Their comments are arguably as bad – if not as crude – as any scrawls on bathrooms walls.

But Gerson – who used his position as a former George W. Bush speechwriter to work his way into a gig with the Washington Post – was so irked by Klein’s response that he immediately resorted to ad hominem attacks, starting his response by attempting to undercut Klein’s objectivity, calling him a member of “Barack Obama’s unpaid policy staff.” Gerson then goes on to equate Ezra Klein – a progressive blogger who writes mainly about policy – with Rush Limbaugh, an entertainer and propagandist who specializes in being outrageous, and Arianna Huffington, a right-winger-turned-centrist-turned-populist-progressive who has a knack for riding the zeitgeist. Each of the three figures is very different – but what they all share in common is a willingness to take a side – to be a partisan. Gerson, in another life as a speechwriter, was willing to do this; but now from his perch writing for the Washington Post blog which calls itself “Post-Partisan,” he looks at those mere mortals who take sides with disdain – and suggests doing so is the equivalent of lying.

Gerson ignores the substance of Klein’s reason for seeing talk radio as a bigger fomenter of hate – and instead imagines an entirely different reason: “Because Limbaugh interferes more directly with Klein’s political agenda.” Klein didn’t actually say this – he made a different point about control of the media – but Gerson, being “post-partisan” explains that the only reason Klein could have for seeing Rush Limbaugh as a more significant fomenter of hatred than a bunch of anonymous commentors must be “an excess of ideology [which] can affect the optic nerve — leading to complete moral blindness.” It calls to mind that line from the New Testament about removing the splinter from one’s own eye first.

Gerson is smug in his conclusion, as he takes the tone of a wise elder:

Those, like Klein, who trivialize evil are actually making its advance more likely. Their cynicism and ideological manias are the allies of genuine bigotry, because they blur its distinctive shape and cover its distinctive smell.

Of course, Gerson’s column – by giving great weight to anonymous internet commentors – trivializes “evil” by equating it with awful comments. In fact, prejudice has always existed, and it is not synonymous with evil. If it was, then free speech would be mere folly. Gerson could have written a column about how the internet – in encouraging communities of the like-minded, creates dynamics of escalating moral outrage which lead to conspiracy theories and even hatred along with reformist political movements and communities of knitters. But instead, he looks on the internet like a nun at a high school dance, frowning with disapproval at the whole thing. In doing so, he himself is blinded seeing a fallen world where it is instead a fallen-redeemed one.

Postscript: Amusingly, Gerson also has this to say in defense of his column comparing the rise of the internet to the rise of Nazism, and in attacking Klein’s disagreement with his analogy:

Beck, Huffington and Klein seem comfortable with this same, lazy tactic — the reductio ad Hitlerum. They are full partners in the same calumny.

But wasn’t reductio ad Hilterum exactly what Gerson’s original column was about?

[Creator of image unknown.]

A suggestion for Glenn Beck

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Since we’re on the subject of Glenn Beck, Eric Boehlert over at Media Matters has a good suggestion for the television host:

Why doesn’t Beck go on TV every day and simply defend his “racist” claim? Why doesn’t Beck stand up for the racist remark and stake his reputation on it? Because right now, the pathetic, squishy approach he’s taking where he limply lashes back while pretending the ad boycott sprang from some mysterious place — where Beck plays the victim and pretends he never made the “racist” smear — is just too lame for words.

The host has never apologized, so it seems logical that he stands behind the claim. (And that’s what he claimed one month ago.) And if he stands behind it, why doesn’t he set aside a few minutes on each program to detail how Obama is a racist? Why doesn’t he educate his viewers? In fact, I’m sure even folks who don’t regularly tune into Beck would be fascinated to know how Obama, whose mother was white and who was raised by his white grandparents, suffers from an abiding hatred of white people and “white culture,” as Beck claimed.

David Bauder Passes On Bernard Goldberg’s Dubious Claim

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009


I wonder how an inane comment like this can get reprinted in a news story (written by David Bauder of the Associated Press):

Since Fox is already the network of choice for conservatives, the ratings indicate it must be drawing in more moderates and even liberals, said Bernard Goldberg…

The claim being made here is ridiculous – that because ratings arae increasing, it must mean Fox News is attracting “moderatates and even liberals.” Fox News’s audience number in the millions; the number of conservatives and right wingers in America number in the tens of millions at least. I can see why a propagandist list Goldberg would want to make every disingenuous claim he can get away with – but why would David Bauder of the Associated Press pass on such a clearly dubious claim?

[Image by arellis49 licensed under Creative Commons.]