aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Clinton on Colbert tonight & the state of political debates
I’ve got a guest post up at The Moderate Voice commenting on my hopes for Hillary’s appearance on Colbert tonight titled, Matthews, Clinton & Colbert: retributive justince in the modern mediascape. A snip:
There’s nothing saying that appearance will be an interview and it’s too bad, too… A Clinton on the Colbert set the day after a debate that some say could have been scripted for her by a sycophant press caught up in all of the non-issues of the day is all of the license Colbert needs to go for comedy of epic Correspondents Association Dinner proportions.
I had another post at The Moderate Voice on Monday that I am quite proud of and would have pointed to earlier had I had the time. Stephen Colbert: A Media Maestro Plays Philly is an interview with Dr. Robert J. Thompson, Professor of Television and Popular Culture and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
We discussed Colbert’s four day Philadelphia run, Comedy Central, journalism and the news media. I was very complimented that Ms. Interpreted of the Colbert fan/news site No Fact Zone called it “one of the more thoughtful analyses of The Colbert Report that I can recall reading.”
Thompson is a really terrific interview; a fascinating guy, I revel in our conversations. In that same discussion we talked about the state of political communication as practiced by modern politicians.
As I watched Obama struggle last night under the primitive form of what passes for televised political debate in the twentyfirst century, I thought of what Thompson said about the state of political communication in general, using Al Gore as an example:
Poltical rhetoric and speeches are, like the news, stuck in a time warp a lot further back. At least the evening news is behaving like it’s 1975. A lot of political speeches are behaving like it’s the age of Cicero or before the microphone. I think Al Gore really hit on something and he’s an especially interesting character because he wasn’t a good speechmaker. He was known as being wooden and not terribly compelling and all the rest of it, and he discovered that there’s been a few advances in media since the age of the podium, and he made a movie using those advances in media. Nothing too fancy. Film. PowerPoint. That kind of thing. And all of a sudden he scored one of the most victorious rhetorical coupes to come along in a long time: he got an entire nation to embrace an idea that they had been kicking and screaming against. He got people to take their dates to the movie to watch a political presentation. Essentially, a speech! But not a speech that uses the old nineteenth century, eighteenth century, second century, notion of somebody just getting up and saying some wordsâ€¦ he went to the clips, he showed some graphs, he showed all the stuff. Ross Perot was about the most modern political candidate we’ve had maybe up until now. He at least brought some graphics to his presentations.
Thompson went on to point out that one of the problems is we, the public, tend to criticize the use of technology as a kind of cheating, when in fact it is an entirely appropriate and just means to a desired end. As Gore proved. So we lock our politicians in a box, then complain about them because they’re wooden while locked inside it!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Sick Around The World
...isn’t afraid to talk about the problems in other countries. In England, the film notes, patients frequently wait for elective services; in Germany, physicians are unhappy that they don’t get paid more; in Japan, the government’s hyper-aggressive price controls have led to chronic underfunding. And yet the new film also puts these drawbacks in their rightful context. Every system the film portrays has its problems, but overall each one seems to deliver a better total package than the one in the U.S.
The most interesting case study is probably Taiwan. A few years ago, when Taiwan decided to revamp its health care system, it studied other countries to determine which system might work best. Its conclusion? A single-payer system - one in which the government insures everybody directly - made the most sense.
Virtually alone among health care commentators in the U.S. - a category that includes me - Paul Krugman has been touting Taiwan for a while. The film makes it easy to see why. Today, the people of Taiwan have guaranteed access to health care - and, according to the film, it’s very good health care. There are no chronic waiting lists, like you find in Britain, and the care is very advanced. Among other things, Taiwan is among the world leaders in establishing electronic medical records - an innovation that should significantly improve care by keeping doctors and nurses better informed about patient histories and, no less important, avoiding potentially dangerous drug interactions.
Critics of national healthcare are always able to come up with reasons why the success of systems in other countries doesn’t mean they’d work here. The Japanese are healthier than us. Belgium is smaller than us. Sweden is more homogeneous than us. Germans are more willing to pay higher taxes than us. Etc. Etc. It’s always something.
But the opposite is true too. National healthcare, it turns out, is pretty effective in big countries (Germany, Japan), diverse countries (France, Britain), tax-phobic countries (Switzerland), and countries with health profiles similar to ours (Canada, Britain). And as [the reviewer] says, even warts and all, each one seems to deliver a better total package than the jury-rigged, pseudo-private mish-mash that we have here. So tell your skeptic friends to tune in tonight [watch online] and watch the show. Maybe they’ll start to understand that we can, indeed, do better if we put our minds to it.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Vote for Stephen Now!
On Alan Abel’s sophisticated media criticism
It would be so wonderful if it turned out that yesterday’s Today Show nursing home predator problem segment was a hoax perpetrated as commentary on the shortcomings of our corporate media system, on the need for better funding and better policy around elder-care, and as a call for a more enlightened approach to the very serious problem of sex offenders in our society.
If Alan Abel had done it, that’s what it would be.
I fear that it was none of that. I fear that it was, instead, what passes today for serious journalism from “one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news, and information to a global audience.”
Garbage in. Garbage out.
Alan Abel is an American prankster, hoaxter, writer, mockumentary filmmaker, provocateur and, I would say, a very sophisticated media critic famous for several hoaxes that became media circuses. He and his daughter were interviewed for On The Media recently. This is his description of what the media looks for in a story:
Well, you’re looking for perversions and calamities. Really, you want obscene, offbeat stories.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
NBC on nursing home sexual predator problems
NBC’s today show had a “Consumer Alert” report this morning that had me screaming at the television set. It told the story of a Jacksonville, FL, woman who was raped by an 83-year-old man with a criminal record 20 pages long that included convictions for sexual assault and child molestation.
And so begins the sensational story of an
epidemic apparent wave of sexual predators preying on nursing home residents:
MORALES: Elder rights advocate Wes Bledsoe says this is not an isolated case. He’s tracked more than 1600 registered sex offenders living in nursing homes across the country.
Mr. BLEDSOE: We’ve uncovered over 50 murders, rapes, sexual and physical assaults committed by criminal offenders while they were residing as residents in long-term care facilities.
MORALES: In 2006, this government report also raised concern. It found registered sex offenders living in nursing homes were considerably younger than the general nursing home population, making other residents attractive targets. Despite this, it found most homes do not impose different supervision or separation requirements on residents who are offenders.
Mr. BLEDSOE: Two questions remain: who’s next and when? Because when you put predators in with the prey, somebody’s going to get bit.
Now, I just want to say that I do sincerely sympathize with anyone victimized by a predator in a nursing home. But on its face this report is problematic.
Mr. Bledsoe’s numbers do not show an
epidemic overwhelming problem. Out of 1,600 offenders in how many homes he comes up with a whopping 1 crime per state over an indeterminate period of time (the government report wasn’t tied to Bledsoe’s findings and apparently only raised “concerns"), and the assortment of crimes he sites varies widely (from murders and rapes—how many, who knows?—to physical assaults—how severe, who can say?).
For comparison purposes, how many cases of neglect do you image we might find in nursing homes? Or malnutrition? Or missed medication leading to serious, even deadly, complications? Or abuse of patients by staff? Do you want to bet it’s more than one per state???
But let’s go ahead and call the problem of sexual predators in nursing homes severe. Let’s call it heinous. What’s causing it?
Well, first we’ve got underfunded, understaffed, under-regulated nursing homes. And then I’d throw some blame at our star-spangled health-care system given that the geriatric set is not its favorite population.
Let’s move on to the sex offenders.
Our “brand-them-for-life, track-them-by-bracelet, or GPS, or any means necessary, and put in place residency restrictions that don’t allow them to live near schools, or day care centers, or bus stops, or churches, but by all means DON’T!!! TREAT!!! THEM!!!” approach means that they, of course, HAVE NO PLACE TO GO!!! So is it really, really, surprising that they are winding up in those under-funded, under-regulated, under-supervised nursing homes?
I don’t think the Iowa County Attorneys Association would find it surprising. Two years ago they put out a potent and important prosecutorial statement against sex offender residency restrictions saying that the broad sex offender residency restriction in place in Iowa then “does not provide the protection that was originally intended and that the cost of enforcing the requirement and the unintended effects on families of offenders warrant replacing the restriction with more effective protective measure.”
Even Georgia’s parole officers—not exactly the liberal elite—called for earlier parole for some sex offenses. That was quickly shot down. But these groups are seeing a problem and proposing a real fix, not just whipping up paranoia then pandering to it!
Back to the topic at hand…
The horror of stories like this is the distorting effect it has on public perception. I have no doubt that there are stories to be told here. But the one NBC is telling is so dramatically warped that I honestly had to wonder if it was an elaborate hoax. A bad joke. Of course, it wasn’t. It was a tragedy. Because the consequence of this story will be bad policy. Money spent in bad ways when there is so much real need.
For example, this is what the NBC report proposed as the solution to the nursing home predator problem:
MORALES: Now, [Wes Bledsoe has] rallied lawmakers in his home state of Oklahoma to introduce new legislation to create separate nursing home facilities for registered sex offenders.
That’s right. A whole separate system of nursing homes, just for sex offenders. And just exactly who is going to pay for that? And is that going to solve, or exacerbate, the problems described?
LATER: I have removed the word “epidemic” from my post. NBC didn’t use it, I don’t need to. Their report is incendiary; I was playing their same game. The change is intended to clean up my act.
Couric likely to leave CBS before contract is up
After two years of record-low ratings, both CBS News executives and people close to Katie Couric say that the “CBS Evening News” anchor is likely to leave the network well before her contract expires in 2011—possibly soon after the presidential inauguration early next year.
Ms. Couric isn’t even halfway through her five-year contract with CBS, which began in June 2006 and pays an annual salary of around $15 million. But CBS executives are under pressure to cut costs and improve ratings for the broadcast, which trails rival newscasts on ABC and NBC by wide margins.
The story speculates that Couric could replace Larry King on CNN. How pathetic! Now, I had very high hopes for her move to CBS. In fact, I saw it as an opportunity and kept quoting former ABC News producer Paul Friedman that they should completely reformat and rethink the show along the lines of the old Nightline:
Summarize the news of the day in five minutes or so; spend a big chunk of time-10 minutes or so-on covering one really good story; and give people even more to think about by ending with opinion.
I thought it could easily be ported out to other platforms and she could really become a new kind of evening news star.
So Katie still gets crap for doing the crappy show that I sure as hell don’t watch while the guy who I was quoting calling for a revamp was overseeing the stagnation!
I have no idea who is heading up the show now but I have to hope that the notion of Katie taking Larry King’s CNN spot was some disgruntled production assistant gloating at how successfully they have duped the Wall Street Journal. Howard Kurtz puts the kibosh to that flight of fancy:
Couric had lunch earlier this year with CNN President Jon Klein, a former CBS executive, prompting speculation that he might be eyeing her as a potential successor to Larry King. But another source said the two are friends and that there are no plans to replace King, 74.
Kurtz has some more reasonable speculation:
If Couric is eased out as anchor, CBS plans to offer her either a syndicated talk show or a full-time role on “60 Minutes.” Otherwise, executives have signaled they would release her from her contract to seek a better deal elsewhere. [...]
CBS considers Couric, 51, a valuable franchise, whether she remains as anchor or not, but economics will be a factor. Network executives could not justify Couric’s $15 million annual salary through 2011 if her only role were at “60 Minutes,” and Couric has indicated she wants to ensure a successful launch if she assumes a new role, the sources said.
Whatever happens I think Couric a terrific talent and would like to see it put to good use somewhere. God knows it’s needed.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Ellen tops Oprah in popularity poll
The results of a March 26, 2008, AOL Television popularity poll of television hosts reveal Americans may now embrace Ellen DeGeneres over Oprah by a wide margin. Forty-six percent of the 1.35 million people who participated in the poll said the daytime talk show host that “made their day” was Ellen, compared with only 19 percent who chose Oprah. Nearly half (47 percent) said they would rather dine with Ellen, compared with 14 percent who preferred Oprah.
To be sure, Oprah remains one of the most popular figures in America, but recent data suggest her popularity has eroded. One possible explanation for this decline is that her endorsement of Obama and her support for him may have done more to damage impressions of her than to strengthen support for Obama. Then again, Obama may become the next president of the United States, and he may feel he has Oprah partly to thank for going out on a limb for him - not a bad situation for the talk show queen.
If this analysis is correct, daytime chat viewers don’t much like overt political endorsements by show hosts, but are comfortable with Ellen ("Yep, I’m Gay") Degeneres, who doesn’t browbeat her audience over the issue but did recently movingly address the murder of young Lawrence King.
As both Rosie O’Donnell (back when she was seen as the Queen of Nice) and Ellen have shown, gay women have broken through a media barrier. But no out and proud gay man has come anywhere close to such onscreen success as of yet.
I’m not so sure I agree with the analysis of wither Politico’s Panagopoulos or IGF’s Miller. But I can’t say that I’ve got a theory of my own either!
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
We believe what we want to believe
It’s always worth remembering and science backs it up:
Psychologists have long known that humans have a remarkable ability to tune out facts that don’t jibe with pre-existing beliefs. Farhad Manjoo, author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, says the natural draw toward “truthiness” has run amok in the modern media age.
Manjoo was interviewed last week for On The Media:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you show how false facts on both the right and the left make their way through partisan echo chambers, but you do suggest that conservatives have a different relationship with their media.
FARHAD MANJOO: Right. People have studied how conservative blogs, for instance, link to each other and how liberal blogs link to each other, and they found that the people on the right generally have a tighter network and are more likely to indulge in only those sources.
And this has been a longstanding pattern where psychologists have noticed that people on the right are more efficient at filtering out things that kind of don’t really support their views.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We all know it’s really easy to manipulate audio, video, and especially with Photoshop and digital images. But it was interesting â€“ you said that the biggest effect of the Photoshopification of our society is not that it’s easier to fool people but that now they have even more reason not to believe the evidence of their eyes and ears if they don’t want to.
FARHAD MANJOO: If you live in a world where everything is possibly fake, where every photo you see could have been Photoshopped, it gives you license to dismiss that photo. This is true not only of photos but of basically all kind of documentary evidence that comes at us these days. We can always assume that there’s been some digital foul play there and that it’s possibly not a truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do we have an informed society if you can disbelieve anything you aren’t likely to approve of?
FARHAD MANJOO: Well, in a number of areas I argue that we don’t have an informed society; that one of the problems of this age is that we have people disagreeing over things that in the past I don’t think they would have disagreed about â€“ over the basic science behind global warming, for example, where you have huge numbers of Americans who simply dismiss the science.
And one of the difficulties about this situation is that the whole system sort of operates unconsciously. You can’t really tell people that your truth is not true. They’re not going to believe you.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
The Colbert Bump is real. For Dems.
Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, claims that politicians who appear on his show will become more popular and are more likely to win elections. Although online discussions cite anecdotal evidence in support of his claim, it has never been scrutinized scientifically. In this article I use “facts” (sorry, Stephen) provided by the Federal Election Commission to create a matched control group of candidates who have never appeared on The Colbert Report. I then compare the personal campaign donations they receive to those received by candidates who have appeared on the program’s segment “Better Know a District.” The results show that Democratic candidates who appear on the Report receive a statistically significant “Colbert bump” in campaign donations, raising 44% more money in a 30-day period after appearing on the show. However, there is no evidence of a similar boost for Republicans. These results constitute the first scientific evidence of Stephen Colbert’s influence on political campaigns.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
RELATED: Columbia Journalism School announces the 2008 Peabody Award Winners.
SEE ALSO: Robert Thompson, a professor of Television and Popular Culture at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, on how Stephen Colbert is like (and not like) Edward R. Murrow.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Alterman on newspapers: Dewey gets his due
Eric Alterman’s The death and life of the American newspaper in The New Yorker includes a terrific telling of the heated intellectual debate in the early twentieth century between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey over the relationship between democracy and the press.
In the 1920s Lippman came to believe that the world was too complicated a place for the average citizen to comprehend. His new “progressive” theory of democracy called for an educated elite expert journalist to comprehend and interpret it for us. Lippman is credited with inspiring both the public-relations profession and the academic field of media studies.
Dewey understood that it was a complicated and challenging world, but thought that participation was a vitally important part of the democratic process. He didn’t believe it could be handed off to journalist experts:
Dewey did not dispute Lippmann’s contention regarding journalism’s flaws or the public’s vulnerability to manipulation. But Dewey thought that Lippmann’s cure was worse than the disease. While Lippmann viewed public opinion as little more than the sum of the views of each individual, much like a poll, Dewey saw it more like a focus group. The foundation of democracy to Dewey was less information than conversation. Members of a democratic society needed to cultivate what the journalism scholar James W. Carey, in describing the debate, called “certain vital habits” of democracy-the ability to discuss, deliberate on, and debate various perspectives in a manner that would move it toward consensus. [...]
To the degree that posterity can be said to have declared a winner in this argument, the future turned out much closer to Lippmann’s ideal… As the profession grew more sophisticated and respected, in part owing to Lippmann’s example, top reporters, anchors, and editors naturally rose in status to the point where some came to be considered the social equals of the senators, Cabinet secretaries, and C.E.O.s they reported on. Just as naturally, these same reporters and editors sometimes came to identify with their subjects, rather than with their readers, as Dewey had predicted. Aside from biennial elections featuring smaller and smaller portions of the electorate, politics increasingly became a business for professionals and a spectator sport for the great unwashed-much as Lippmann had hoped and Dewey had feared. Beyond the publication of the occasional letter to the editor, the role of the reader was defined as purely passive.
Some of us have been remembering that Dewey/Lippmann divide for decades. And we’re not all worrying that the decline of the corporate behemoth media means anything bad for democracy.
While Alterman does a fine job of summing up the state of the newspaper today, he’s not telling the story of the death of the American newspaper. New communications paradigms don’t eclipse old paradigms. Instead we get new business models. And a bigger pie.
Still, I’m hoping Alterman’s right. And Dewey’s finally going to get his due:
And so we are about to enter a fractured, chaotic world of news, characterized by superior community conversation but a decidedly diminished level of first-rate journalism. The transformation of newspapers from enterprises devoted to objective reporting to a cluster of communities, each engaged in its own kind of “news"â€“â€“and each with its own set of “truths” upon which to base debate and discussionâ€“â€“will mean the loss of a single national narrative and agreed-upon set of “facts” by which to conduct our politics. News will become increasingly “red” or “blue.” This is not utterly new. Before Adolph Ochs took over the Times, in 1896, and issued his famous “without fear or favor” declaration, the American scene was dominated by brazenly partisan newspapers. And the news cultures of many European nations long ago embraced the notion of competing narratives for different political communities, with individual newspapers reflecting the views of each faction. It may not be entirely coincidental that these nations enjoy a level of political engagement that dwarfs that of the United States.
Alterman’s on Colbert tonight. Don’t miss him.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
‘Cuz that’s what reporters do, Tweety!
Since I already quoted The Chris Matthews Show once, I figure why not go for the gusto and point to my favorite exchange.
Tweety ends his show with a BIG QUESTION. This week it was “Deep down, do you think the Clintons believe it’s over?” Here’s York Magazine’s John Heilemann:
Mr. HEILEMANN: I think, though, she’s starting to see some of the writing on the wall a little bit, and I think one thing that’s happening internally is that some of her top people are starting to say to her, `We won’t stick with you, we won’t keep working for this campaign if it’s going to destroy Barack Obama in the end.’
Mr. HEILEMANN: And she’s starting to hear that from her people and it’s starting to make her kind of start to see it.
MATTHEWS: How do I know that?
Mr. HEILEMANN: [incredulously] How do I know that????
MATTHEWS: [obliviously] Yeah.
Mr. HEILEMANN: [duh!] Reporting.
Mr. PAGE: Look out!
MATTHEWS: What a great rejoinder. And a happy Easter to you, buddy.
I’ll assume Heilemann will be invited back on the show despite the smackdown. It was a good one.
Monday, March 17, 2008
The politics of attendance in the GA legislature
Well today Blogs for Democracy’s Mel helpfully follows-up with a letter Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield sent to her constituents:
If you woke up Monday, March 10, morning and saw the front page of the local newspaper (as I did), with my photo among ten state representatives who were described as missing the most votes in the Georgia House of Representatives, you would have been treated to about half of the real story.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to fill you in on the details that the newspaper story failed to mention.
Vote Tally Misleading. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s method of tallying voters is misleading because it failed to count the actual number of total votes missed, choosing instead to count only “unexcused absences.” Given that excused absences are automatically given upon the request of a legislator without any explanation, there is no meaningful distinction between excused and non-excused absences. The reality is that I missed a couple of mornings at the Legislature this session to take my children to the doctor during the cold and flu season. I made the technical mistake of not calling in for an excused absence. Had I done so, I would not have been included in the AJC’s ranking.
Vote Tally Reality.
It is also not particularly meaningful to have a quantitative voting ranking without a qualitative examination of what was actually being voted on. Of my 53 missed votes, almost 70% (36) of the measures passed unanimously, including twelve local calendar votes, two motions to adjourn and two privileged resolutions honoring special Georgians.
Read on. She makes some remarkably good points.
I started out wanting to chew out the AJC reporters for not making the excused/non-excused distinction clearer. But those reporters, Ben Smith and John Perry, apparently went to our good government watchdogs and this is what they got:
A leading advocate for open and responsible government said he found the statistics troubling.
“A fundamental responsibility of being in the General Assembly is to be there, casting votes,” said Bill Bozarth, executive director Common Cause Georgia. “If not for every vote, at least a large majority of the time.”
Excused absences were not included in the totals, although some lawmakers had high numbers of excused absences from voting. Lawmakers don’t have to state the reason why they’ll be absent.
“Ordinarily they tell us,” said Robbie Rivers, clerk of the Georgia House. “We don’t question why â€”- we just take their word for it.”
A fundamental responsibility of being the director of Common Cause Georgia is to provide something more than wrote fodder for a boiler-plate story that obfuscates more than informs.
Monday, March 10, 2008
NPR changes: further thoughts
Reading more over the weekend I’ve had some less pessimistic thoughts on the future of NPR in the wake of Ken Stern’s leaving.
Dennis Haarsager, the interim CEO, posted a message on his personal blog yesterday:
I’m not going to comment on the reasons for this change except to say they were multivariate and that much of what’s been speculated about this is dead wrong. Rather, I’d like to continue on the themes I’ve raised in this blog in the past because I think they inform the future. I invite the curious reader to visit John Proffitt’s excellent list of articles and posts on the subject of this management change. This is not a coup by Luddite station CEOs who want to stop or slow down effective responses to very types of disruptive change we’ve been trying to strategically accommodate. NPR can’t and won’t do that.
Sure there is a diversity of opinion about disruptive change within public broadcasting. A small number of people feel that spending a dollar on emerging media is taking it away from core functions. Another small number of professionals feel that the legacy media are doomed (see, e.g., Jeff Jarvis’s post). Of most concern, though, is that the largest number of people have no position on this at all because they’re “up to their asses in alligators” just trying to make this year’s budget come out right. There is no organized opposition, especially at the station management level, to investments in emerging media.
In comments we learn that “Stern chose the time and day when he left the building...no malfeasance or misfeasance should be imputed” and that “Arguably, transparency is an important ideal; his privacy is a right.” The whole post is a calming salve.
Significantly, it includes this graphic to describe the very different world that public media managers now face. As Gordon Borrell says, “The deer now have guns.”
LATER: Must listening - Dennis Haarsager with Stephen Hill, Steve Gillmor (the host), and Doc Searls on this NewsGang podcast.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Toodleloo Tucker (at long last)
Insiders tell TVNewser Tucker Carlson‘s 6pmET show Tucker is getting the axe, but Carlson stays on as a political contributor to all MSNBC shows at least through the 2008 election. The official announcement, expected tomorrow, will include details about who will replace Tucker at 6pmET as well as other political programming additions. Sources say the network is going to beef up its schedule with more NBC News talent.
In recent days, Jossip, as well as other blogs, ratcheted up the talk that Tucker would be replaced “for a new project.” In its 33-month run, Carlson’s show has had two names, four time slots and multiple formats. At 6pmET, it builds on its Harbdall lead-in on some days, but loses audience on others.
Carlson is expected to host the show through next week, with his new role and title to take effect March 17. We’re told he’ll also be reporting from the campaign trail.
Tucker earned my unyielding enmity for his August claim that he was “bothered” in a public restroom so he got a friend, went back and “hit him” before getting the cops to come arrest the guy. A claim he later backed down from that to me reached Imus-like levels of offense. I was appalled that he was allowed to get away with.
That’s what passes for journalism on cable these days, I know, so we’ll have Tucker to deal with for a long, long time to come. For now I’m just glad to see him go.
Age of consent: young love as sex crime
Frank and Nikki Rodriguez are married with four children. He is on the Texas State Sex Offender registry because the couple had sex when he was 19 and she was 15, below the age of consent in the state. [...]
Twelve years ago, Frank Rodriguez pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a child.
Faced with two to 20 years in prison on the charge, he signed a plea bargain that gave him seven years probation. He was told he must never be near children. That meant he couldn’t be any place where children gather, like playgrounds or parks, which made it tough to find work.
It’s a story we’ve heard all too many times before. What’s the crime here? Still, he’s a registered sex offender for life. And still, the lawmaker defends the law saying, “it’s the law.” As if that’s some kind of rational justification when we know the laws don’t work, residency restrictions don’t work, judges need leeway in teen sex cases, and parents need to start talking to their kids about sex.
What’s particularly striking about the Texas case highlighted in the 20/20 piece is that the girl’s mom knew about the boy, took the girl to the birth control clinic, then brought in the police. She regrets that now:
“If I would have known that the seriousness of what I was doing I would not have filed charges,” she said. “I love Frank and he is good to my grandbabies and he is good to my daughter, and it just breaks my heart that for the rest of his life he’s gonna be labeled a sex offender.”
I am struck that people think the police are there to be the enforcers of their private disputes. I have my nephew living with me now. His parents divorced when he was very young and throughout his life both his mother and his father would call the police on one another to try to enforce this or that provision of their animosity on the other. My nephew now wants to act that out in my home. I fight against it.
The law is a blunt force instrument of last resort; a fuse that once lit can’t be stopped. All of us are too quick to use it. These are difficult problems that we don’t know how to handle so it’s easier to hand them off to someone else. Unfortunately, it seems elected officials are all too happy to go there (cops, on the other had, are put in the uncomfortable situation of having to walk into the middle of it and deal).
If the legal solutions are bad—and to date, they have been—those we have seen from the media are even worse (Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” is just one egregious example). So into that now 20/20 weighs in with a viewer poll asking how old we think the age of consent should be. They promise a follow up next week.
Much as I might hope they’d shed some light, I’m not optimistic. The question, as phrased, is too simplistic for the age we live in as I learned from William Saletan who writes for Slate in this piece on rethinking the age of consent.
He begins by walking us through some history—“The original age of consent, codified in English common law and later adopted by the American colonies, ranged from 10 to 12”—and then points out that as the age of consent has gone up, the age of puberty has gone down:
Having sex at 12 is a bad idea. But if you’re pubescent, it might be, in part, your bad idea. Conversely, having sex with a 12-year-old, when you’re 20, is scummy. But it doesn’t necessarily make you the kind of predator who has to be locked up. A guy who goes after 5-year-old girls is deeply pathological. A guy who goes after a womanly body that happens to be 13 years old is failing to regulate a natural attraction. That doesn’t excuse him. But it does justify treating him differently.
He looks at research that finds differences in the age of physical, cognitive and emotional readiness and in that finds the beginnings of a logical scheme for regulating teen sex:
First comes the age at which your brain wants sex and your body signals to others that you’re ready for it. Then comes the age of cognitive competence. Then comes the age of emotional competence. Each of these thresholds should affect our expectations, and the expectations should apply to the older party in a relationship as well as to the younger one. The older you get, the higher the standard to which you should be held responsible.
The lowest standard is whether the partner you’re targeting is sexually developed as an object. If her body is childlike, you’re seriously twisted. But if it’s womanly, and you’re too young to think straight, maybe we’ll cut you some slack.
The next standard is whether your target is intellectually developed as a subject. We’re not talking about her body anymore; we’re talking about her mind. When you were younger, we cut you slack for thinking only about boobs. But now we expect you to think about whether she’s old enough to judge the physical and emotional risks of messing around. The same standards apply, in reverse, if you’re a woman.
It’s possible that you’ll think about these things but fail to restrain yourself. If you’re emotionally immature, we’ll take that into consideration. But once you cross the third line, the age of self-regulatory competence, we’ll throw the book at you.
I sent the piece to the 20/20 producers. Let’s see what they come up with next week.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Old Guard Broadcasters JUST DON’T GET IT!!!
I am very, very worried about what we’re about to see happen to NPR in the wake of the Ken Stern firing. I’ve been out of the biz for a while and always on the (cable) periphery anyway, but my 2Â¢ is that they’re really invested in their model and will find it hard (impossible!) to break out of it.
Jeff Jarvis is my jumping off point:
It appears that the stations did him in as they gun for his digital strategy because they fear the internet will hurt them.
Well guess, what, local yokels, hate to tell you this butâ€¦ You’re screwed! You bet the internet is going to hurt you. There is no need for you as a distribution arm anymore. Unless you add valuable local content and service to the mix, you might as well tear down the tower now. Or in a year or two. Getting rid of Stern et al won’t get rid of reality.
This is the problem I see in all media: They think that protection is a strategy. It’s not.
Local public TV and public radio stations today pay hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions to NPR, PBS, APTS, PRI, APM and other content providers (with NPR and PBS being the most obvious). This has stifled the local public media companies’ ability to produce local content. They blow all their cash paying the networks.
Reverse syndication in this world, to my thinking, is to have the networks sell their content to the public (ads, membership revenue) and give all the content to the local media outlets for free â€” with the caveat that embedded ads pass through with the content. Local outlets could then produce local media and still pick from the best national media and arrange it into locally-relevant streams/blocks on the web, on transmitters, etc.
And I especially like these observations from Robert Patterson:
In a forest, when a big tree falls, light pours in and there is a huge growth burst. Such an event is taking place at NPR. The press say that this event is because the board is anti media. We all know that the opposite is true
In the light of the press’ view of what is happening, I feel compelled today to offer up a few attached insider’s views of what a new CEO could find in this clearing.
First of all some issues that are now visible in the environment:
- NPR cannot go it alone - Go for the "System" - Networks trump everything that is not a network. We were maybe not sure about that after New Realities but many had that insight. There is now abundant evidence that this is true - look at Senator Obama’s fund raising - so a public media system that is a real network including NPR and producers and the stations that pulls in the full creativity and energy of the public will trump any other system. The best way forward is together. Not because it is "Nice" but because it is the best! The resources that are latent in a system are vast. In a system that includes the public - are stupendous
- The money will dry up really fast - Our economic model is now as bad as for newspapers or the music industry - The shift to the web is faster and more complete than many thought in 2006 - By 2010 the web will be the centre of how life is lived and the economics for those that rely on other ways of connecting will fall off the cliff. Inaction is a decision to die. Action means a huge push to 2.0. No one is able to do this right now.
- We are all stuck. We know where to go but can’t even take a first step to get there - the participative person centered system - the destination is no longer in doubt - BUT we don’t know how to get there. Most are completely stuck - the Friction of the current world is overwhelming. At the moment death is very likely.
So we know where the "City on the Hill" is. We know that we have to get there. But we are stuck.
I close back at Jeff’s post with a comment from Dennis Haarsager, interim CEO:
Seldom do you get it from the horse’s mouth, and this will be short, but go to my blog sometime tomorrow and I’ll publish a longer version. Until mid-day yesterday, I was chair of the NPR board, and since yesterday afternoon, I’m the new interim CEO. The scenario you outlined in your opening paragraph is dead wrong and so was the first part of the Washington Post story today. It’s what happens when speculators become sources. If station management wanted to kill off or slow down emerging media, their board picked the wrong boy. Read my blog archives for the past four years. More to come Saturday at http://www.technology360.com/. Regards, Dennis Haarsager
I’ve been watching Haarsager’s blog and have yet to see his promised post. This has got to be one of the most fascinating media stories of our era.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Troubles at NPR?
In an announcement that surprised staff, NPR’s board of directors said Thursday that CEO Ken Stern is leaving after 10 years at the network. [...]
Many staffers in NPR’s Washington headquarters were stunned - and confused - by the announcement.
One source familiar with the situation said Stern was leaving because of board criticism over his management style. Another source said the board concluded Stern was not the right person to lead a creative media company forward.
Stern arrived in 1999 as the network’s chief operating officer. Since then, NPR’s weekly audience doubled from 13 million to 26 million as it launched new programs and became a leader in podcasting.
During his tenure, Stern had pushed the radio network to expand into digital news. In an increasingly competitive media landscape, he often told staff that NPR had to find new ways to reach its audience or it could become irrelevant.
A third source said - though - that Stern had never articulated how NPR’s hundreds of member stations would fit into that multi-media future.
Stern declined to speak on tape.
Uh, to the average Joe, that sounds like a pretty successful tenure.
People at NPR said, however, that Stern and the organization’s 17-member board had clashed repeatedly over several of Stern’s initiatives, including NPR’s expansion into new media. Those initiatives often riled station managers, who saw them coming at the expense of serving the hundreds of public stations that pay dues annually to NPR. [...]
Stern is the latest in a recent string of high-level departures at NPR. Bill Marimow, who had been NPR’s vice president for news, left the organization in late 2006 to become editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer after serving only eight months in the top editorial job. Jay Kernis, who developed several NPR shows over two long tenures, left in January to become managing editor of CNN. And Barbara Rehm, NPR’s managing editor for news, announced her resignation in July.
It’s true. Why put up with, why pay for, those legacy stations when we can go straight to the podcast. Capitalists talk the talk but are not so big on walking Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction walk (even if they are state-sanctioned Kroc-Granted non-profits).
I will be eager to read more about this story.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
More than half of us don’t trust the press
A new Harris Interactive poll finds that over half of Americans — 54 percent — say they tend not to trust the press, “with only 30 percent tending to trust the press.” More Americans (41 percent) trust “Internet news and information sites” than they do the mainstream media. Radio tends to do best among Americans as 44 percent say they tend to trust it.
The Harris results reflect the findings of a Harvard University study conducted last year, which found “nearly two-thirds of Americans do not trust campaign coverage by the news media.” A few other recent surveys offer some explanation for the public’s distrust:
– Two thirds of Americans - 67% - believe traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news.
– The harshest indictments of the press come from the growing segment that relies on the internet as its main source for news. The internet news audience is particularly likely to criticize news organizations for their lack of empathy, their failure to “stand up for America,” and political bias.
– Democrats, Republicans and independents have decreased confidence in the accuracy of media reports on the war.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
What should the Times ask its users to do?
Jeff Jarvis got a comment from someone calling him or herself Timesman:
...what, specifically, should journalists at the Times ask its users to do? Let’s hear some very concrete next steps. We’re listening.
Jarvis offered up a number of very fine suggestions:
* Put large amounts of data or documents online and ask the public to help find the stories there. The Dallas Morning News did this with the just-released JFK documents. The Ft. Myers News Press did it with a FOIA on a botched hurricane-relief effort. The Sunlight Foundation has us exposing earmarks in spending bills. Someone, I can’t recall who, did it with Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before Congress. Use your access to get such data and then ask us to help dig into it because we know what’s going on or simply because you want the help. I’d start with Congress and get help from Sunlight and bloggers to strategize that.
* Ask the public to help gather data points around a story. The quickly classical example of this was Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show asking listeners to find out the prices of milk, lettuce, and beer to find out who is being gouged where (which then enables the journalists to ask why — put their price maps against maps of income and race in New York and stories emerge). This should work particularly well on a local level: Ask people to tell you the price they pay for drugs and doctors and map that. Ask them to tell you just how late or dirty their trains are. And on and on. If you get enough data, you can pay attention to the center of the bell curve; the outliers are either mistakes are damned good stories.
* Get the public to help file no end of FOIAs to birddog government. Create a FOIA repository where you can help train them how to do it and record the responses (that bit’s a great idea from Tom Loosemore in the UK) and collect what’s learned.
* One of the great ideas that came out of my entrepreneurial journalism class — inspired by an idea from an intern I worked with at Burda last summer — is to have the public help assign reporters. Now that could get unwieldy quickly. But my CUNY student, Danny Massey, came up with a very smart structure for capturing what the public wants to know so news organizations can allocate at least some of their resource accordingly. I’ll introduce you.
* Establish communities of experts to help on stories, their reporting and checking and even their assignment. This could take the form of Jay Rosen’s beat-blogging idea or of the Ft. Myers panel of experts. Of course, every reporter has such panels in their Rolodexes. But Ft. Myers has learned that people want to be of service before the reporter happens to call. The Times’ crowd is very wise and filled with experts and so why not use the networking and linking power of the internet to help harness that to help with reporting? Imagine a social network around expertise.
* Hand out camera and recorders and ask citizens to capture meetings, lectures, events of all sorts and turn those into podcasts. Most of the time most of them will not get much audience, but the resource that went into each one is minor and the opportunity to spread a wider blanket of coverage on a community is great.
* Get the advertising side involved in supporting curated, quality blog networks: New York, political, business, and so on. The Washington Post has networks for travel and other topics, the Guardian for environment, Reuters for financial blogs. The Times could support the very best of these blogs and benefit from having a wider net of content and reporting at a low cost and risk. And this is the part they’ll like: They can set the definitions of quality. The Times also has an in-house advantage here because About.com knows how to manage and pay large, distributed networks of contributors based on ad and traffic performance.
In the comments to the post, it’s not looking like the Times’ Bill Keller is particularly smitten with any of these ideas.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Going to bat for Obama
We can only hope the tide is turning and people will really push back against the media machine.
After AP reporter Nedra Pickler wrote a news story highlighting how some fringe Republican operatives were raising questions about Sen. Barack Obama’s patriotism, angry readers dispatched nearly 15,000 electronic letters protesting the piece. Why? Because instead of providing balance and context, which is what good journalism does, the article simply offered a platform for Obama’s opponents to roll out their smears, to broadcast their dark doubts about the senator’s character. [...]
What prompted the organized outpouring of angst last week against the AP was when the website Firedoglake took action, embraced a new organizing tool, tapped into a wellspring of enthusiasm for Obama, and pointed angry readers not in the direction of the AP itself, but toward their local newspaper clients. Why? Because newspapers are more responsive to complaints filed by nearby readers, and because the newspapers pay the AP’s bills as newswire customers.
The riddle, though, was how to help readers contact hundreds of individual newspapers nationwide. “It’s like trying to wrestle an octopus,” says Jane Hamsher, founder of FDL. The solution centered on customizing a software tool that allowed online activists to effortlessly contact their local daily. The tool FDL modified was created by the online communications firm Blue State Digital. Readers simply entered their ZIP code into an on-screen box. The next screen displayed the local newspaper (or newspapers) in their region to be contacted and asked readers to enter their name and other personal information to be sent to the newspaper. The screen provided readers with pre-approved text (i.e., “I hope that in the future we can expect reporting that focuses on the candidate’s positions rather than trying to call into question how much they love the country they tirelessly serve.")
If they wanted to, though, readers could personalize, or create, the letter themselves. Approximately half the letter writers in the FDL campaign wrote their own text. With the third click, the reader’s letter was sent to the newspaper.
FDL’s call to action was posted February 25 and was quickly trumpeted by fellow bloggers, who urged their readers to participate.
The results, according to FDL, as of March 3: 14,252, letters sent to 649 different newspapers located in all 50 states, and from 1,735 ZIP codes. That included more than 1,500 letters to The New York Times, 1,400 to both USA Today and The Washington Post—not to mention 52 to The Denver Post and 21 to the Florida Times-Union.
I keep getting alerts about McCain winning this and that primary. I don’t give a hoot about McCain! But I’m not thinking no news is good news for Hillary.
Could a new media day really be dawning?
As we wait to see if the results are persuasive enough to move Hillary to pull out, let’s look back at some of last week’s media on the medias crush on Obama.
In October of 2006, On The Media talked with National Journal columnist Bill Powers about Obamamania, and he said then that the candidate would go through seven defined media milestones, as every candidate does, and that the press’s passion for Obama would eventually peter out. They had him back last week because it hasn’t:
WILLIAM POWERS: There has been no flop. I laid out the stages five or six years ago. I think I said in the piece, actually, that they tend to happen quickly. And Obama is really the exception to that. He has had a very long, fertile period with the press without a major flop.
He’s had a lot of quasi-flops, mini-flops, you might call them, but he has an amazing ability to bounce back from those, to deflect bad press and sort of move on. I think he’s got the best Teflon we’ve seen since maybe Ronald Reagan. [...]
I know the Kennedy comparisons have been flying fast and furious for a long time, but it is something that we haven’t seen the like of since John Kennedy in terms of being up there on the spot. How are you going to respond to X, Y, Z? And he just slips out of it like a gazelle. I mean, it is incredible, the lightness of foot. He really makes Hillary look like a piker. And that’s something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So let’s say, let’s just say that next week we find out that Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee. Does that mean the flop is inevitable and it occurs during the general election?
WILLIAM POWERS: I hate to say “inevitable” because that’s a dangerous word for a media critic. I mean, this could be the first time someone doesn’t have a flop, let’s say, between now and November.
But I think it is highly likely, because once he’s got the nomination this storyline of Obama’s rise is over. And reporters will be looking for the next storyline. You basically have to do a correction. Like a sailor, you have to tack in the other direction if you’re a political journalist on a campaign.
Then they talked to New York Magazine’s John Heilemann, who covers Hillary:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Don’t we assume that when Obama says something he is both sincere and tactical and yet we in the media never put the emphasis on the tactical?
JOHN HEILEMANN: He has managed, I think, very successfully over the course of the last year to portray himself as a man of sincerity and a man of authenticity and a man of conviction. And so when we hear him say something that is tactical, we sort of say, well, it’s a necessary evil. He’s being a politician because he kind of has to right now.
And so there is, yes, there’s a huge amount of subtext and supra-text that has served them incredibly, incredibly well throughout the campaign whereas she, Hillary, that is, came into this campaign with a reputation for being calculating and a reputation for being manipulative.
And so everything we see that she does that is actually kind of standard political fare, we all kind of nod sagely and say, ah, there she goes again, just being the manipulative, calculating Hillary Clinton.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So when are the media going to look themselves in the mirror and say, this isn’t fair â€“ in fact, it isn’t even serving the public?
JOHN HEILEMANN: Well, gosh, I don’t know when that’s going to happen.
That’s, you know, in Never-Never Land that’s going to happen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Fair enough.
JOHN HEILEMANN: But if you mean when do I think the media’s going to turn on Obama, I think it’s the day that she’s gone.
And, of course, that day could be tomorrow. But so long as we’re talking Never-Never Land, let’s close with a wonderful thought given voice by one of Slate’s cultural critics, Stephen Metcalf.
In their new feature the Cultural Gabfest while speaking of the late night fake news shows’ stock in trade—poking fun at elected officials—Metcalf wonders if it’s not possible that a new day is dawning [Feb. 28 @ 16:23 min]:
Is it possible that because we’ve become so acclimated to ninnies in public office and officialdom as being home to double-dealing morons that our habits of cynicism are so highly developed that we’re going to train them on this person who doesn’t deserve them and maybe we should accept our good luck. We have a public figure that we should be proud of… We’ve developed these highly-honed, sophisticated, wonderful and entirely necessary habits of cynicism, the vehicle for which is humor, and we may just suddenly enter an era of public life in America where they’re obsolete.
Of course I wonder if there haven’t been—no, I’m quite confident there have been—other elected officials who have not deserved the kind of media pounding and scrutiny our market-driven system demands.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Press on/Press off
Digby defends Clinton beautifully, as always. But her point in this important post is to critique both the press and those among us who went along for the ride, and to prepare us for what we’re in for in the months ahead. This passage follows a sampling of the kind of unhinged vitriol Hillary’s stood up to for nearly two decades:
The fact that Clinton kept going, becoming a senator, becoming the first woman to ever win a presidential primary and continues to put herself out there in the face of that kind of psychopathic bile is a testament to her tenacity and commitment. Everybody says they want a fighter. Regardless of who you vote for, the woman deserves respect for refusing to back down from that lizard brain sludge.
And I would warn that if unfair and biased press coverage is now a disqualification for elected office, then I think we’d better think long and hard about whether the Democrats are going to be viable as a political party. Bad press for Democrats is part of the package. ( I would also add that I think it was part of the Netroots job to help fight back media bias against all Democratic candidates, even if as individuals we were pulling for a particular one. That did not happen and I think the Netroots failed miserably in one of its primary missions this time out.)
So what happens now? Well, as I and many others predicted months ago, the media is beginning to feel pressure from Republicans (and perhaps their own professional embarrassment) and are starting to go negative on Senator Obama. Rather than examining their biases and adjusting their coverage to be more fair and dispassionate across the board, they will now “even things out” by being equally derisive, shallow and trivial toward his campaign. We’ve already seen the outlines of it in the last debate.
Read the whole post. In the end, she’s not entirely hopeless:
If he wins the nomination, I am actually quite hopeful that Obama will continue to get somewhat better coverage than our recent candidates. Certainly my limited window into liberal journalism leads me to believe that he will have the support of the liberal political establishment. And that is, unquestionably, a huge asset, certainly compared to Clinton and Gore who were despised by the entire Village.
But if you’ve been observing the way the political and media establishment works for any period of time, you will not be too sanguine that it will make much difference. There are many wealthy, powerful interests out there that do not want a liberal Democrat to have the power to withdraw from Iraq or renegotiate trade deals or create universal health care and they will not make it easy for Obama to win. Those interests also run the media and a fund a fully functional right wing infrastructure that works to guide the election narrative.
Perhaps it won’t happen this time. It’s possible that the era of GOP smears is over or that Obama has personal characteristics that render them impotent and useless. But considering the egregiously sexist Clinton coverage in this campaign and the history of terrible coverage for Democratic presidential candidates since 1988, I think the Democrats would be foolish to assume that. The Republicans are very good at feeding these narratives to the press and the press has always shown itself very eager to gobble them up.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Telco immunity: who’s shielding who?
President Bush said last week that telecommunications companies that helped government wiretapping efforts need protection from “class-action plaintiff attorneys” who see a “financial gravy train” ahead. Democrats and privacy groups responded by accusing the Bush administration of trying to shut down the lawsuits to hide evidence of illegal acts.
But in the bitter Washington dispute over whether to give the companies legal immunity, there is one thing on which both sides agree: If the lawsuits go forward, sensitive details about the scope and methods of the Bush administration’s surveillance efforts could be divulged for the first time. [...]
Peter Eliasberg, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney involved in cases against AT&T and Verizon, said that if the cases proceed, the plaintiffs could submit an interrogatory to the carriers seeking answers to the questions: Did you turn over customer phone records en masse to the government? Did you receive a warrant or a subpoena?
Answers to those questions, he said, might reveal that “everybody in the country” has had their phone calls “combed through, and lots of people will be outraged.”
Kevin Drum has a lawyer commenter who says:
“The general counsels and legal departments of telcos are extremely accomplished and always protect their company’s interests meticulously. They have been dealing with wiretapping and surveillance agreements with the government and law enforcement for over seven decades, this was not a matter of first impression to them; and in difficult and unique cases, I have never seen them not insist on indemnification. Never.”
Kevin’s thinking some enterprising national security journalist ought to start prying into indemnification:
Obviously some of this stuff is guesswork, though pretty well-founded guesswork, and [commenter] bmaz suggests that the press ought to show some interest in the possible existence of indemnification agreements. I agree. If they exist, it would mean the telcos have never been exposed in any way, and immunity would have no effect on their willingness to cooperate with the government in the future. It would also explain why the Bush administration was able to keep the telcos on board so easily even after the Protect America Act expired three weeks ago.
Billionaire gives it all away
As I say, its hands-down the best Sunday morning show on television. Still, I tend to watch it last, too. This from CBS Sunday Morning last week. I only watched it just now…