Tag Archives: The Media

So What?

Andrew Sullivan’s latest on Trig Palin’s maternity is uncomfortable reading. After wading through the muck, I’m left wondering why he feels the need to badger the poor woman over the circumstances of her son’s birth. Even if everything he says is true – the pregnancy was staged to protect her daughter; the entire story is fraudulent; the press is silently complicit – I still have no idea why we should care. If Palin is lying to protect her daughter, I have nothing but sympathy for the poor woman and her family. And after all this time, the justification behind Sullivan’s one-man inquisition is still incredibly weak:

And yet in the campaign, the pregnancy and baby were offered at every moment as a reason to vote for Palin. If the Bridge To Nowhere is worth checking out, why aren’t the pregnancy’s bizarre details? Without the Down Syndrome pregnancy, Palin would not have had the rock-star appeal to the pro-life base that contributed to her selection. She made it a political issue by holding up the baby at the convention.

To suggest that a staged pregnancy is the root of Palin’s political ascendancy is absurdly reductive. Anyone following the campaign could point to ten other reasons why she immediately connected with the Republican base.

But beyond all this is the issue of basic courtesy. Politics, of course, is a full-contact sport, and when it comes to contentious issues or even personal failings that illuminate a candidate’s character, I’m all for roughing the other team up. But when it comes to someone’s family or personal life, there are certain things that simply aren’t done. As a practical matter, making politics even less palatable by propagating mindless conspiracism is a good way to discourage civic participation, but even if this weren’t the case, I think people deserve a certain degree of privacy and respect. Basic courtesy should still apply when someone decides to run for office. Sullivan, who devotes so much time and effort to defending the dignity of historically marginalized groups, ought to know better.

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Filed under Alaska, Free Speech, Politics, The Media

Purchasing Power

Culture11 has a heartbreaking piece on the demise of the New York Sun. Now that the paper is dead and gone, I feel slightly guilty for never subscribing. That said, I would have missed out on the Sun entirely had Eli Lake (the paper’s national security correspondent) not appeared regularly on Bloggingheads, which probably says something about the challenges facing print journalism in a changing media environment.

The Sun’s untimely death has prompted me to reconsider subscribing to print newspapers, however. In high school, I was an avid user of several file-sharing platforms, including Napster and Kazaa. My convenient rationalization was that most bands were already quite rich and could easily afford to lose revenue to media piracy. Of course, the bands I enjoyed listening to tended towards the obscure, which eventually made me realize that I should start paying something for their products. To this day I try to buy CDs and attend shows fairly regularly. Given how much (free) media I consume, I think shelling out a few bones to keep the endangered newspaper business afloat is a worthy enterprise.

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Filed under Culture, The Media

Objectivity Versus Expertise

Via Glenn Greenwald, McClatchy Newspapers’ DC Bureau Chief John Walcott delivered a barn-burner of a speech on media objectivity the other night. A lot of it is spent lamenting the decline of newspapers’ resources, but he also takes a hatchet to mainstream journalism’s tendency towards equivalence:

That brings me to may last point: Relying on The Times, or McClatchy or any other news source, for all the truth is dumb, but it’s infinitely preferable to the pernicious philosophical notions that there is no such thing as truth, that truth is relative, or that, as some journalists seem to believe, it can be found midway between the two opposing poles of any argument.

My father, who’s with us today, made his living designing navigational instruments for aircraft, missiles and submarines, and although my mathematical and engineering skills are, shall we say, less evident than his, I learned two important lessons from his work.

The first is that if you want to know where you are, it’s helpful to know where you started. The second is a concept that’s called “ground truth,” which in a nutshell means checking your calculations against information collected on the ground. In other words, reporting.

I know that I’m wading into deep and muddy water here, but I’m doing so in deference, or rather, in reverence, to the fact that I.F. Stone was a scholar as well as a journalist. He taught himself ancient Greek to write about the trial of Socrates, and I still struggle with modern French, but I’ll wade in nevertheless.

Does the truth lie halfway between say, slavery and abolition, or between segregation and civil rights, or between communism and democracy? If you quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Winston Churchill, in other words, must you then give equal time and credence to Hitler and Joseph Goebbels? If you write an article that’s critical of John McCain, are you then obligated to devote an identical number of words to criticism of Barack Obama, and vice versa?

The idea that truth is merely a social construct, that it’s subjective, in other words, first appeared in academia as a corruption of post-modernism, but it’s taken root in our culture without our really realizing it or understanding its implications.

I’ll leave the discussion of truth versus subjectivity to the experts, but I did find his criticism of the media’s “on the one hand, on the other hand” formulation telling. The question is: are journalists unable to render judgment because they’re weak-kneed, lily-livered liberals who quake at the very mention of “media bias?” Or is it because they’re nonspecialist writers who aren’t equipped to evaluate competing empirical claims?

Needless to say, I find the latter explanation a lot more compelling. In his speech, Walcott (rightly) observed that print media still does a lot of things (original reporting comes to mind) that blogs can’t do. One thing blogs can do, however, is serve as a platform for experts to discuss their particular fields. When the Connecticut Supreme Court hands down a pro-gay marriage ruling, for example, I find it’s a lot more informative to go to the Volokh Conspiracy for commentary rather than the Hartford Courant for on-the-scene reporting. Most of what you need to know can already be found via open source documents (i.e. the justices’ opinions), so what I’m really looking for in the wake of a controversial decision is quality analysis from a legal perspective.

Blogs tend to introduce a lot of subjective opinion (which is less valuable in this context), but I’m not sure why newspapers couldn’t adopt some of their habits for news analysis and straight-up reporting. If I was in charge of the New York Times‘ hiring practices, I’d emphasize finding writers with a background in a particular field. More importantly, I’d encourage them to focus their reporting on a relatively narrow range of issues within that field. Having a journalist with an MBA (or even an undergraduate econ degree) and some background in financial reporting would allow papers to print more than react quotes and excerpts from public documents the next time we’re debating the wisdom of a massive bailout fiscal rescue package.

Upon further reflection, this may also change the way some stories are reported. An initial news item might include little more than background information and a few good quotes. As the story progresses, reporters would retain the option of adding more details and analysis. This process might make a developing news story more like a blog in the sense that it would undergo several different iterations, but the finished product would be tailored to reflect new developments.

Maybe print journalism is unable to adapt to a more responsive media environment, but I’m not so sure. What’s to stop traditional papers from emphasizing continuity and context from issue to issue? Papers do multi-article investigations pretty frequently – perhaps it’s time to apply that model (on a smaller scale) to breaking news stories.

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Filed under The Media

Have I Soured On Palin?

In a word: yes.

And this sort of thing isn’t helping. Here, for example, is Palin on the freedom of the press:

“As we send our young men and women overseas in a war zone to fight for democracy and freedoms, including freedom of the press, we’ve really got to have a mutually beneficial relationship here with those fighting the freedom of the press, and then the press, though not taking advantage and exploiting a situation, perhaps they would want to capture and abuse the privilege. We just want truth, we want fairness, we want balance.”

Here’s Palin on her inability to understand American jurisprudence:

“And that’s fair, right, and on that one, true, I shouldn’t have been so flippant and just sort of brushed aside that,” Palin said, “because it was an important question and I should have answered it, and yeah, I can cite a lot of cases that I absolutely disagree with the Supreme Court on.”

If this is Palin’s idea of being flippant, I’d hate to see it when she simply doesn’t know the answer to a question.

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Filed under Presidential Politics, The Media

Wired

There’s been plenty of commentary on The Wire’s astonishing lack of critical accolades, but did this woman even watch the show? Sample graf (emphasis mine):

“The Wire” was grand, sprawling, magnificent tv, but it was not the kind of show where you could latch on to a main character or characters. No one was especially sympathetic. And the closest the show came to having a flesh-and-blood central protagonist was McNulty, who was a complete asshole. I myself was in love with Stringer Bell–but they killed him off without a backward glance in Season 3. And Omar was fabulous, but he flitted in and out and was never fleshed out enough to work as a lead. This dearth of characters to relate to or even pull for likely goes a long way toward explaining why viewers never flocked to the show. (Well that, and it was so relentlessly grim.) But it may also go a long way toward explaining why Emmy voters never embraced it: “The Wire” was easy to appreciate but tough to love. And the series’ artistry aside, many members of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (who, after all, aren’t exactly a bunch of high-brow critics) may prefer their shows more personally and emotionally engaging than David Simon was ever willing to allow his to be.

Maybe it’s my fratboytarian instincts, but I always thought McNulty was a lovable rogue. That said, her larger point is so far off the deep end I’m seriously questioning if we were watching the same show. A paucity of lovable characters? Really? Bubbles? Prezbo? Kima? Herc and Carv? The kids from Season 4? Am I going insane or did she just doze off in the middle of season one?

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Filed under Culture, The Media, Uncategorized

Well Said

I have a frustrating relationship with the Corner: I can’t stop reading them entirely, but NRO’s authors have a tendency to drive me up the wall. Kathryn Jean Lopez is one their worst offenders, but I’ll be damned if she isn’t right on the money here:

Anyway, I guess I’ve heard the script and would like to see her [Palin] tell a little more of her story — of why she’s a conservative and how she’ll influence the ticket from that perspective. I’d love to hear more about what she did in Alaska and why she believes that makes her the perfect addition to the ticket. I’m curious what kind of influence she’d like to have on the Republican party’s future.

Hot damn, girl! As someone who is tentatively encouraged by Palin’s reformist tendencies, I couldn’t agree more. Even by our attenuated standards, the vacuousness of the Hannity interview is astounding. Here, for example, is Palin on the economy:

“Through reform, absolutely. Look at the oversight that has been lack, I believe, here at the 1930s type of regulatory regime overseeing some of these corporations. And we’ve got to get a more coordinated and a much more stringent oversight regime…government can play a very, very appropriate role in the oversight as people are trusting these companies with their life savings, with their investments, with their insurance policies, and construction bonds, and everything else.

Palin on the roots of our current crisis:

I think the corruption on Wall Street. That’s to blame. And that violation of the public trust. And that contract that should be inherent in corporations who are spending, investing other people’s money, the abuse of that is what has go to stop.”

On reforming the system:

“Yes it is gridlock and that’s ridiculous. That’s why we don’t have an energy policy, that’s why there hasn’t been the reform of the abuse of the earmark process. And real reform is tough, and you do ruffle feathers along the way. But John McCain has that streak of independence in him that I think is very, very important in America today in our leadership. I have that within me also. And that’s why John McCain tapped me to be a team of mavericks, of independents coming in there without the allegiances to that cronyism, to that good ole’ boy system. I’m certainly a Washington outsider and I’m proud of that because I think that that is what we need also.”

Hannity’s no scholar, so perhaps Palin was constrained by the venue’s limitations (I can imagine her handler’s pre-interview brief now: “Try to keep your word choice at three syllables or less, repeat variations of “maverick” and “independent” whenever possible, praise “Main Street” etc. etc.). But I’m still left in awe of the sheer meaninglessness of it all. What does “1930s type regulatory structure” even mean, and how do you propose to fix it? Are bad investments really “a violation of the public trust?” To me, at least, that suggests a pretty broad conception of corporate responsibility. What exactly does that entail?

But this line takes the cake: “John McCain has that streak of independence in him that I think is very, very important in America today in our leadership. I have that within me also. And that’s why John McCain tapped me to be a team of mavericks, of independents coming in there without the allegiances to that cronyism, to that good ole’ boy system.”

Growing up, one of my favorite science fiction novels was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. The book follows the efforts of a small group of scientists to preserve civilization amidst the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire. When the outer provinces lapse into barbarism and declare independence, the scientists (who live on the fringe of the Milky Way) are abruptly cut off from Imperial protection. They seek assurances from a foppish Imperial envoy, Lord Dorwin, that the Empire will continue to defend their planet. Dorwin, who turns out to be a preternaturally skilled diplomat, proceeds to allay their fears of Imperial abandonment. After he departs, the scientists review Lord Dorwin’s comments and belatedly realize that the canny envoy avoided making any firm commitment to their defense. Lord Dorwin, in short, was a master of saying nothing.

After reading the Hannity transcript, I can only wonder if Palin is a closet Asimov fan.

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Filed under Conservatism, Economics, Presidential Politics, Science Fiction, The Media

The Last Gasp (II)

Via TAC, I see that “Newsbusters” – a putatively conservative organization – has published a “response” to a favorable Washington Post book review of Professor Bacevich’s The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. I use quotation marks because I’m unsure if the author actually makes any arguments – fortunately, Clark Stooksbury says all that needs to be said on the subject.

The author’s evident inability to grasp the very idea of a conservative critique of Bush’s absurd foreign policy continues to astonish. In his mind, criticizing the President is tantamount to allying oneself with CodePink (If pressed, I could imagine worse bedfellows). As I’ve written earlier, until the conservative movement comes to grips with Bush’s ideological failures, it can’t hope to permanently revive its flagging political fortunes. Needless to say, this sort of thing isn’t helping.

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Filed under Conservatism, The Media