Tag Archives: media

Before You See The Sunday Shows: Thoughts on Broadcast News

Television Set AntiqueEvery time there’s a rumor about replacing hosts on the Sunday morning political shows, or when the dismal ratings are released, we can easily project another gazillion tweets, posts, emails, etc. about the demise of the broadcast media and it’s lack of imagination, depth, and ‘truthiness.’  Before declaring we live in the Worst Times Ever, or that the corporate media is an accessory to the diminishment of ‘real news,’ there are a few things to consider.

Advertisers in the Wasteland

We, the viewing public, aren’t the real consumers of television broadcasting — or the newspapers for that matter.  The people who pay for the productions are the advertisers.  Always have been.  And who is paying the freight?

In 2013 AdAge reported that “Meet The Press” had about 3 million viewers, and that approximately 55% of them had annual incomes above $100,000.  Who would want to speak to that audience?

“Boeing Co., targeting an audience of military executives, is the exclusive sponsor of the show’s online content as well as its apps; it is also a major broadcast sponsor. Other advertisers include the American Petroleum Institute, Citigroup, General Electric Co. and Xerox. “It’s a gray audience and exceedingly affluent,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media. “These people are interested in politics and decision-making, and how that can impact business.” [AdAge]

A gray, affluent, audience.  Does this help explain why Meet the Press rounded up all the usual neo-conservative suspects for its discussions about the renewed violence in Iraq?  [MMFA]  When you target “an audience of military executives” what might the preferred guests want to express?  A gray, affluent, (read: Republican) audience doesn’t particularly want to watch the debunking of the various and sundry myths about Benghazi, so Meet the Press didn’t have that exercise on offer.  [MMFA]  This is an audience which wants to hear about politics, so that’s what they get — politics, not policy. They want to hear about decision making — especially people making decisions which relate to their (oil, energy, financial, banking, military weapons and supplies) businesses.

NBC has done some tinkering with the Meet the Press format, smaller segments, more interviews, but when the target audience is ‘gray and affluent’ and ‘military executives’  the network shouldn’t be surprised that it’s still running third in the 25-54 year old (people who spend money) demographic. [MediaBistro]

Progressives, liberals, independents, and others of a more centrist bent may watch the program — but they’re well advised that they’re the minority in the statistical universe of the Meet The Press audience.

Where’s the audience who is not ‘gray, affluent, and a business executive?’  Remember this chart from the Pew Research publications in 2012?

Where Get News ChartThey’re more likely to get their news from digital sources than from print or radio.

Getting news from television broadcasters? That percentage has dropped from 68% in 1991 to 55% in 2012.

It’s not that journalism is necessarily dead, or dying, but it’s increasingly digital.  In 2011 about 8.6% of newspapers were digital, a number which increased to 14.2% only a year later. By 2012, the digital readership of the New York Times was greater than its print readership.  [SMH]  And it’s not just newspapers and major networks:

“…the regular audience for cable news also has aged. In 2006 and 2008, there were only modest age differences in regular cable news viewership. But in the current survey, more than twice as many of those 65 and older as those younger than 30 say they regularly watch cable news (51% vs. 23%).” [Pew]

Rather more than tinkering with the ‘product,’ NBC, and perhaps the other Sunday Morning Shows, may want to consider this analysis from two years ago, and at the same time give some thought to another question:  In your eagerness to please a specific set of deep pocketed advertisers have you already written off efforts to connect with, and grow, a wider spectrum of audience members?

The Perils of Partisanship

Red ChannelsWe’ve seen this movie before.  The power of some advertisers can be a hazard to our public health.  There are fewer people now who remember Red Channels.  Most people have some familiarity with McCarthyism, or with the activities of House UnAmerican Affairs Committee, but the pressure on major networks to cancel programs because of the political beliefs of the participants was boosted in June 1950 by the publishing of Red Channels.

“…the process (of Black Listing)  became public in June 1950 with the publication of Red Channels, a 213-page compilation of the alleged Communist affiliations of 151 actors, writers, musicians, and other radio and television entertainers. The book, which appeared three days before the start of the Korean War, was published by American Business Consultants, an outfit established in 1947 by a trio of former FBI agents who wanted to make the public aware of the information about communism that the bureau had collected. Initially funded by Alfred Kohlberg and the Catholic Church, the group became one of the anti-Communist network’s main enterprises, offering its services in exposing and eliminating Communists to corporations, foundations, and government agencies. Red Channels was a special show business supplement to the exposes of individuals and organizations that appeared in the group’s regular newsletter, Counterattack.” [Schrecker UPenn]

The pamphlet had enough clout with advertisers and networks that as prominent a celebrity as George Burns dropped a cast member from his show in 1951 because his name appeared in the list.  [NPR]  Film and television actress Marsha Hunt was offer shows by three networks, all of whom backed out when her name appeared in the Black List. [NPR]  There is more complexity to the Case of Sam Spade. Was the famous detective, voiced by Howard Duff, taken off the air by NBC in 1950 because Duff’s name was among those in Red Channels? Or, was the main problem due to continued litigation by Warner Brothers who clutched the Maltese Falcon, and the rights thereto, with an iron grip? [Wik] [ROKradioRadio Spirits concludes that the program staggered to an end when the sponsor, Wildroot (hair product) refused to renew its support if Duff remained associated with the program.

Even a Syracuse, NY supermarket chain owner, Laurence Johnson, made an impact.

“Johnson, an owner of six supermarkets in central New York, pressured CBS to stop employing comedian Jack Gilford and any other “‘subversive'” (p. 124). With the war against the Communists in Korea heating up, Johnson sent telegrams to network sponsors, in which he wrote: “‘Why are you helping to kill our friends in Korea?'”  Small-city radio stations resisted Johnson’s strong-arm tactics, but the national networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors often capitulated.” [HNetRev]

One of the obvious lessons of the Red Channels/McCarthy Era is that pressure on commercial broadcasting networks can work to exclude both participants and their ideas from public  news and entertainment.  The more participants and perspectives are excluded the more narrow the range of the discussion.  If the advertisers prefer, as in the case of Mr. Johnson, that no views other than that which appeals to the gray, affluent, and 100% American, then how does a network hope to attract a wider audience?  If the networks have to please such advertisers, while alternately insulting, misinforming, or dismissing the views of those not aligned with them, then how do they cope with this modern incarnation of McCarthyism?

It may be physically impossible for a person to manually strangle himself, but it might just be possible for network executives to accomplish this in a corporate context.

The Financial Stakes Race

The struggles of CNN may be a case in point.

On May 1, 2014 CNN announced another round of layoffs across several divisions. [TheWrap] In January 2001, the network laid off about 10% of its workforce.  There were to be smaller news-gathering teams.  They would be emphasizing “breaking news.” [LATimes]  Neither of these announcements, 13 years apart, should come as any surprise to those who have been following the corporate career of Time Warner.  It’s not enough to merely provide the best news coverage, or even the latest — it must be done with an eye toward the old and familiar Blunt Instrument, shareholder value.

None of the networks are immune.

The restructuring of news gathering, be it streamlining, pooling, or team creation, has meant there are fewer reporters in fewer places covering fewer stories. The unintended consequences of all this paring and scraping is fewer experts, covering fewer stories, in less depth.  Little wonder opinion and speculation are winning the competition for news and context during broadcasts.

Nor does it seem as though “Creativity” is running well on the inside rail in this race.  Television can all too often be a derivative medium.  Is there a successful comedy show — then expect spin offs — not really new.  Is there a successful news magazine, a 60 Minutes for example, then expect the competitors to launch their own — not necessarily a new form of show. If it is necessary to sell commercial time, then there’s a coterminous pressure to tell the advertiser: Look how successful “Party Time in Los Angeles” is! We can replicate that with “Party Time in Pensacola!” It would be nice if all new shows, both news and entertainment, were truly new — but that would be to ignore decades of derivative programming.

We Interrupt this broadcast…

To tell you what you already know.  We have a commercial broadcast news structure which is dependent on advertising for its existence.  The dependency on advertising means that those who purchase commercial air time have a profound effect on the type of fare served to the public.  In the best of times this can produce a wide range of diversified views, in the worst it can stifle the production and the producers casting them into an ever narrowing range of acceptable perspectives.  And, given the need to ‘sell’ advertisers on the safety of their investment in commercial time, the past will always have  a heavy hand on the present.

The ‘kids’ may already have the answer to this problematic situation; as long as they have their fingers (and thumbs) clutching their mobile devices — Surfing, Googling, and Networking their way into more information than any old time newspaper could put into print.  Meanwhile, the Gray & Affluent will attend to the comfort of their convictions, secure in their recliners that they will hear from their sympathetic advertisers the message they meant to receive before they even hit the power switch.


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The Real and the Unreal: Bergdahl and the Boo Birds

I’m not usually put off by neologisms or phrases, but it wouldn’t disturb my soul one bit to wake to the day when “alternative reality” wasn’t in the popular lexicon.  It has its place in fiction, in science fiction, and in interactive narratives, but it’s been worked to death in political scripts.  There’s REAL and there’s fiction.


The United States has secured the release of a POW in Afghanistan.  I don’t really much care how Army Sgt. Bergdahl came to be a prisoner, anymore than I cared about the details of pilots shot down and captured over Vietnam some 45 years ago, or about members of units captured and held hostage by the Viet Cong.  It didn’t matter to me then, and it doesn’t matter now, if the pilot was off course, or the unit trekked into unnecessary risk, or whatever. We negotiated with the North Vietnamese, we got soldiers and airmen back, and all the Rambo movies to the contrary we didn’t leave members of our military behind when there was any possible way to retrieve them.

I have to admit I’ve never been much of an ally for those who complained about the deals made to secure the release of American diplomatic corps members in January of 1981. They were Americans, members of our diplomacy team, and if there were ways to secure their release (like gold from Federal Reserve vaults) then fine.

Fast forward to 2014, and in the parallel universe of Republican thinking (1) it’s wrong to secure the release of a hostage because … he might not be a perfect guy? Or, (2) it’s wrong to secure the release of a hostage because… we don’t negotiate with terrorists, as if the Iranians weren’t behaving that way in 1980? Or, (3) it’s wrong because … there’s an African American Democrat in the White House and some people can’t seem to stomach that fact?

And then there’s Sore Loser Senator John McCain, “concerned” about swapping high risk prisoners? [CBS] McCain — who was released by the North Vietnamese in March 1973 — and how was that negotiated?   Just for the record, if the five prisoners from Guantanamo are so “high risk” then why were they never officially charged with criminal activity, put on trial, convicted, and sentenced to appropriate terms?

U.S. negotiations weren’t even close to the numbers in the Gilad Shalit Exchange during which the Israeli government freed 1,027 Palestinian (and other) prisoners in exchange for the return of Corporal Gilad Shalit in 2011. [WaPo]  And, we do support the Israelis, right?  We didn’t become semi-hysterical when the Israelis negotiated this hostage release, did we?

Downright Unreal

None of this makes much difference to the Republican Poutrage Machine.  This latest temper tantrum requires that its audience ignore hostage negotiation positions since time out of mind, and indulge in the favorite game of conservative punditry — What IF all the forces in the universe converge to create a reaction we might have imagined in a novel in order to support a narrative of which we might approve — i.e. the President was wrong?

That isn’t an “alternative reality” it’s just downright fiction.  Worse still, it’s the easy fiction of hack writers and lazier editors who think they need “conflict” to sell print and commercial time, and will continue to interview the uniformed about the uncontested for the benefit of the unconcerned.

Reporting, especially on the cable news channels, has devolved into the interviewing of Frequent Flyers who can be relied upon to criticize any and all actions in any and all instances; the context, the content, and the repercussions be damned.

But that’s ever so much easier than, say … offering in-depth reporting on climate change, on unemployment insurance benefit legislation, on infrastructure needs, on global trade policy, on anti-discrimination legislation, on voting rights and civil rights, on income inequality trends, on comprehensive immigration policy reform…

You know… those things that make a difference in the REAL world?

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A Thought For the Day from Edward R. Murrow

Murrow QuoteEnough said.

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The Perils of Hyperbole

Hyperbole Sign

Hy-per-bol-e (n) A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. [FD]

Hyperbole is handy in conversation and public speaking, I can tell you that I am so tired I could sleep for a week.  Well, no I can’t really do that, but you’ll get the message and I don’t have to tell you how much or how little sleep I’ve had in the past 48 hours.  I can offer an opinion that you packed too many clothes for a week’s vacation by saying this suitcase weighs a ton.  OK, it doesn’t…it’s just inconveniently heavy.  Hyperbole can be a useful shorthand, but it should come with some cautionary stickers attached.

Hyperbole can distort conversation and discussion.   Suppose our hypothetical Senator Sludgepump has voted to eliminate the Food and Drug Administration, to abolish the Federal Reserve, to allow 10 year old children to work in coal mines, and to let the FBI investigate the records of public libraries.  This record isn’t going to endear him to me.  However, if I were to describe him as The Worst Congressman  Since Preston Brooks does my hyperbole obfuscate my more serious point — that a person who supports egregious labor practices and encourages the endangerment of personal privacy isn’t someone I would recommend, and that his philosophy is detrimental to good governance?  It does, especially  if we start comparing Sludgepump to Brooks, or to Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall and lose sight of the policy issues involved. * See some excellent nominees in the comments section!

Hyperbole tends to dramatize issues beyond their rational level of importance.   Conservatives are beginning to suffer some ridicule for their espousal of the notion that the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi is a huge issue.  [RMM audio] One of the obvious problems with hyperbole in political discussion is that as in the situation above, comparisons are required, and even if the conversation doesn’t get bogged down in comparative issues of little utility we still have to slog through historical references and evaluations which may (and often may not) have much historical relevance.  Was the attack one of the worst incidents I can recall? (former vice president Cheney)

The next logical step would be to find out what other items might be contained on that Worst Ever list?  Again, instead of discussing the issues related to diplomatic security, the conversation is shifted to comparative analyses of attacks on U.S. missions in the modern era. [List since 1958]

Hyperbole imposes the use of inappropriate superlatives.  Rhetorical shorthand which distorts or dramatizes issues and events nearly always relies on terms like Best, Worst, Greatest, Most, etc.  No, the Affordable Care Act probably isn’t the best law ever enacted, nor is it likely the worst.  Superlatives ought to send up flags that what we are hearing is someone’s opinion.   If something surpasses or is alleged to be superior to all other items in a category of things, we are in opinion territory.   A person may hold that the Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison was among the best ever rendered by that institution, others have argued that it significantly altered the course of U.S. history, and not in a good way.  Opinion should be noticed for what it is — opinion, not necessarily demonstrable fact.

Hyperbole may be useful for directing attention, but not for responsible discourse.   Hyperbole makes an excellent tease for cable news outlets, especially those seeking to prevent viewers from channel surfing during commercial breaks.  “Will Senator Sludgepump lose his seat??” teases the broadcaster, “stay tuned for our next segment…”  The next segment all too often pulls the curtain up revealing the hyperbole.  Sludgepump, it is revealed, has no credible opposition, holds a 52% favorable rating in his state, and has the backing of key donors.

Hyperbole also makes for some “high” drama during the Dueling Political Strategists’ segment of most cable offerings.  “The Dog Food  Ingredient Bill is the worst form of government over-reach imaginable,” squeals one of the participants. Meanwhile the opponent is eye-rolling and over-talking, repeating the mantra “But think of the valued family pets and distraught children…”  Neither one in this hypothetical is making much sense.

Would not a better format be to discuss how much information is needed by consumers in order to make judicious selections at the supermarket?  Must all ingredients be specified, or should consumers merely be informed of all ingredients?  Should some potentially dangerous ingredients be banned?  Should some ingredients be preferred over others?  Consumers might find this discussion more informative than a debate about whether Senator Sludgepump will face backlash at the polls over his support of or opposition to the Dog Food Ingredients Bill.  There’s at least one more reason to be careful with hyperbole.

There are people who will believe hyperbole in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  A young man walked into a terminal at LAX last week, with a Smith and Wesson M&P 15, caliber .556 purchased in Van Nuys.   He used it to shoot TSA employees:

“The gunman was carrying a signed, handwritten note in his duffel bag that said he wanted to “instill fear into their traitorous minds,” said David Bowdich, special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Division in the FBI‘s Los Angeles office.

“His intent was very clear in his note,” Bowdich told reporters Saturday. “In that note he indicated his anger and his malice toward the TSA officers.” [LAT]

Relatives weren’t sure where he got the ideas.  I think we can make some intelligent conjectures, most of which will have something to do with right wing hyperbole.  Unfortunately, they might also connect to the hyperbole that drove Timothy McVeigh, Anders Behring Breivik, James Adkisson, Richard Poplawski, and James W. von Brunn to assault their fellow human beings.

Hyperbole is a rhetorical device, our responsibility is to exercise enough restraint so that it doesn’t inform the actions of those who decide to transform rhetoric into horrific reality.

Updated: with corrections on 11/07/13

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Keeping Score When It’s Not A Game

Horse Race GateCongress isn’t the only Washington, D.C. institution that’s off the rails, add the Beltway Media to the mix.  Consider the coverage of the face off over Syrian weapons:

“So far, no American bombs have been dropped on Syria, not one American soldier has died in fighting there, and no Syrian civilians have been killed by U.S. forces. But that hasn’t stopped the chattering class from eviscerating Obama, often with a mocking and condescending tone. Deeply invested in the Obama’s-stumbling storyline that was attached to the president’s initial call for bombing strikes, pundits and reporters failed (or refused) to adjust as the facts shifted and the crisis steered toward a diplomatic resolution.

The Syria coverage represents a clear case of the press adopting style over substance, as well as channeling Republican spin. Of treating foreign policy as if it were a domestic political campaign and insisting that a story unfolding half-a-world away was really all about Obama and how it affected (and/or damaged) his political fortunes. It was also coverage that often lacked nuance and context, and that refused to allow diplomatic events unfold without minute-by-minute surveys of the domestic winners and losers.”  [MMFA]

And therein lies the problem — the situation with regard to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons isn’t essentially part of a domestic political campaign — it IS a foreign policy issue.

Those who wanted background information and now seek to keep up with the current negotiations are better served by visiting the BBC Syria Profile,  KQED prvides “Six Excellent Resources,” on the Syrian situation — no Washington pundits included.

Consider the current conflict between the House Republicans and the threat to shut down the federal government.   There is some excellent background information available — just don’t wait to hear about it from the Beltway Press.   Better  background information is available from the Congressional Research Service, which published “CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects,” August 2013. (pdf) The CRS also created a report, “Government Shutdown: Operations of the Department of Defense During a Lapse in Appropriations,” in April 2011. (pdf)   Looking at the 2011 budget battle/shutdown threat, Business Week compiled, “How a Federal Shutdown Could Affect Americans,” in February 2011.

One of the more depressing aspects of this coverage is that some of the major news outlets have, in fact, published summarized information pieces about the economic impacts of a government shutdown — to be evidently ignored by their own pundits.  There was this prescient piece in the Atlantic,  April 7, 2011.  CNN Money published this guide on September 16, 2013.

However,  the Chatterati persists in reporting the clash between the Democrats and the Republicans, and the Republicans and the Republicans as if the economic impacts of this brinkmanship were tangential.  “Oh, by the way, if you want your question answered by a person in the USDA office — good luck. Or, if you want to find out about the status of your small business loan application — better be prepared to wait.   Do you have a contract to provide goods or services to any agency of the federal government?  Put that on hold please.”

But, but, but… sputter the talking heads on my TV screen… What about the impact on the 2014 elections?  Having purchased the Horse Race Reportage template  bit, bridle, halter, saddle, blanket and all, the pundits are trapped riding their only topic — election results.

“Well, yes, that does make things challenging. President Obama has to lead, but not too much, and not in a way that may make his rivals feel uncomfortable. He has to be hands-on and hands-off, preferably at the same time. He should use the so-called “bully pulpit,” but not in a way that connects the presidency to any specific issue Republicans may need to vote on.

And it’s against this backdrop that a few too many pundits wonder aloud why the president doesn’t overcome Republicans’ refusal to compromise by “leading” more. Many more suggested “schmoozing” would alleviate GOP intransigence.

But if Republicans are going to balk whether Obama engages or not, the advice seems misplaced.” [Benen]

The Chatterati persist in submerging foreign policy, economic issues, and social issues under the restrictive confines of “all things are politics” categorization.  It’s tantamount to “keeping score when there’s no game.”

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Shut off the Set, Open your Mind?

television 3The Sin City Siren posts an article decrying the lack of quality reporting on LGBT issues in Nevada; what the heck… I’m going to go further.  I’m going to expound on the possibility that the current media (some in print and more in broadcasting) isn’t all that informative and we’d probably be better off shutting off the TV and hustling down to the public library.  The pontificators are becoming altogether entirely too predictable.

Sequacious Sycophants:  Having never had an original thought in their adult lives, our Sequacious Sycophants are pleased to talk about, muse upon, and otherwise parrot the well prepared themes devised for them by their ideological masters and mistresses.  From the right, having long ago decided that an African American, any African American, cannot approach the intellectual level of his or her White contemporaries, the President must be “bumbling, stumbling,” unable to function without a teleprompter, easily duped, and dependent upon the assistance of others.   Pick a topic, almost any topic, and the Sequacious Sycophant is pleased to blather on about how the Administration is stumbling, bumbling, lurching,and grasping at policy issues.   This, in observation of an Administration which has reversed the recession, revived the automobile industry, wound down actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, made better opportunities for equal pay for women it’s first legislative initiative, enacted the first major health insurance reform in decades, and is currently keeping the U.S. out of complete entanglement in the Syrian mess.

From the Left, having decided that former presidential candidate and current Senator John McCain is a “flip flopper,” a maneuver  he performs well and often, not much else is required.  All that appears to be essential is to find some video of the Senator saying one thing and then offering his latest verbiage on the subject.  This is easy. Too easy. The least difficult posts I’ve ever written were the old “deck bass” flip flop pieces.   One of the more strenuous was the post pointing out that McCain’s general bent is militaristic, it was laborious trying to find background information because few authors had attempted the lay the groundwork for this analysis.

Suggestion: Instead of listening to the Sequacious Sycophants,  lope down to your public library and check out Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.  While it may not be the “best ever” writing on diplomatic history before the Great War, it is one of the better ones, and should dispel any delusions that all diplomacy is necessarily rational or linear.

Stridulating Sensationalists:  Certatogyrus marshalli aren’t the only ones capable of making shrill noises by rubbing body parts to make un-ingratiating sounds.  Melodramatic anchors are equally capable.   Witness, CNN talent Blitzer asking the President to speak to the camera and address President Assad…and then witness comedian Jon Stewart eviscerate the moment.

If Blitzer were the only anchor pumping up the volume, if not the content, of explicating contemporary issues we’d be in better shape. Unfortunately, he is only one among many teasing major questions with hyperbolic palaver.

Suggestion:  Shut down the stridulation, and pick up a copy of Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality, “…It is not uncontrollable technological and social change that has produced a two-tier society, Stiglitz argues, but the exercise of political power  by moneyed interests over legislative and regulatory processes. “While there may be underlying economic forces at play,” he writes, “politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” [NYT]  Not exactly riveting drama, but a good answer to the technocrats from both ends of the political and economic spectrum.

Hysterical Histrionics:  One needn’t be loud (although it may help) to be a hysterical histrionic, even tones can be employed to announce the imminent demise of American civilization.  Evidently some people simply don’t have enough drama in their lives, and therefore some must be manufactured and foisted off upon the rest of us.

Blustering, irruptive to the point of stammering syllables, reductive to the borders of irrationality, all topics — no matter how nuanced — are compacted so that the Hysterical Histrionic can “discuss” them to his or her self-satisfaction.  Most of this ilk have forgotten the fact that most problems have more than merely political ramifications, but politics is easier and more convenient to debate, so discussions involving the economic implications or the social consequences are dismissed as “uninteresting?”  MSNBC has a collection of these, Fox has an impressive assemblage, and CNN is right in the mix.

Suggestion:  Instead of bounding from wall to wall with the head-banging hand wringing Hysterical Histrionics, take part of an hour to read William R. Polk’s article, “Your Labor Day Syria Reader, Part II,” in the Atlantic magazine.  While you may not agree entirely with the analysis — your blood pressure should resume a normal range after reading it.

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Recommended Reading: Syria and Silliness

Wheat ChaffThere is some rather insightful and serious thinking about the situation in Syria — as well as some of the sillier drivel ever put in print and pixels.

The Chaff

#1. Any article droning (pun intended) on about the internal political implications of the President’s proposal for limited military responses to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and the potential actions which might be taken by the House of Representatives.  Add to this category any article which weighs in on the hypothetical political results of actions taken on one side or the other.   Would the President “lose” something? “Win something?”  Would Republican leadership in the House “win” or “lose?”  Drivel.   Worse still, this is lazy drivel.  Heaven forefend those covering the issues would inform themselves about the nuances of the subject, the priorities of the various actors and regional interests, and the complicated diplomacy required to find a sustainable resolution?

#2. Any article or post playing the blame game. Finger-pointing is also lazy reportage and analysis.  It requires absolutely zero intellectual effort to sling ad hominem attacks back and forth across the complex terrain.

The Wheat

There are some far more thoughtful summations of opinions, and Nicholas Kristoff’s “Pulling the Curtain Back on Syria,” in the New York Times.   He has also written “The Right Questions on Syria,” also in the Times.   Kristoff supports limited military intervention in the situation, and presents it as the least worst option.

Richard Price, writing for Foreign Affairs, argues that military intervention is not required and offers his analysis to substantiate his position.   For a longer, and more in depth discussion of the military issues associated with the conflict in Syria, download Kenneth Pollack’s “The Military Dynamics of the Syrian Conflict,” from the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

James Fallows opines about “The Best Result from Congress: A No Vote,” in his piece for the Atlantic.  Fallows opposes military intervention and specifies his reasons for his decision.  The editors of The Nation magazine offer a similar piece in “Standing Up To The Hawks in Congress.”   Another perspective is on offer from Robert Kuttner writing in the American Prospect”s “Obama punts to Congress — and scores.”

Shibley Telhami looks at the question of “credibility,” and its relation to the foreign policy issues associated with Syria in “Questioning U.S. Credibility with Syria,” in which he contends that this focus blurs the lines between vital and non-vital interests.

Interests and regional issues are also discussed in Jayshree Bajoria, and Robert McMahon’s “The Dilemma of Humanitarian Intervention,” writing for the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Little Noticed? AB 4 and verification of public information

NewspapersNevada’s Assembled Wisdom will be looking at charitable donations, background checks for those who work with children and the elderly, and a proposal to fund school maintenance projects in Washoe County. [RGJ]  There are some other bills of interest getting some attention this week, including AB 4.

AB 4:  AN ACT relating to governmental administration; authorizing the State or a local government, under certain circumstances, to publish a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website maintained by the State or local government in lieu of publishing the legal notice or legal advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation; requiring the State or a local government to publish certain information in a newspaper of general circulation if the State or local government publishes a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website; authorizing a public body to charge and collect a fee for providing, upon request, a copy of certain public records under certain circumstances; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.

AB 4 will be discussed in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, on Thursday at 8:00 A.M.  I think we can assume that the Nevada Press Association will object to the measure, contending — as they do on their website — that:

“A fundamental reason for public notices is government accountability to its constituents. The notices are published through an independent party — the newspaper — to create a verifiable record of the date they were published and show that the content met legal requirements. Without such verification, government would be accountable only to itself.”

Delving a step further, public notices must be published in newspapers having a general circulation, as defined and refined:

“To meet the test of general circulation, a newspaper must publish some news of general interest and circulate to the general public. Under NRS 238.030, which provides for publication of legal notices in a newspaper “of general circulation,” a daily newspaper which contained only information taken from public records did not qualify because primary purpose of printing legal notices is to give widest publicity practicable, and a newspaper, in order to meet test of general circulation, must publish some news of general interest and circulate to some extent among general public. Nevada State Press Association v. Fax. Inc., 79 Nev. 82, 378 P.2d 674 (1963).”  [CCNLN]

Thus,  a newspaper which publishes daily, weekly, or semi-weekly, which has a “general” circulation, and contains some “general” news becomes the “independent verifier” of public notice and the requirements pertaining thereto.  This becomes controversial when we reach the part wherein counties must publish their property tax rolls.

The price tag for publishing the property tax information required of Clark County is a hefty $580,000.  [LVSun]  Advocates for the newspapers hold that the price is the cost of a transparent government, opponents argue that if the information is readily available on-line (and can be verified) there is no reason to pay for what is essentially a duplication of notice.

Another question which could be raised in this context, i.e. who’s being notified.  The Las Vegas Review Journal has a circulation of approximately 220,619 copies; the Las Vegas Weekly has a circulation of 75,000; the Reno Gazette Journal is reported to have a circulation of 43,095.  [link]  We could speculate that the major newspaper publishers in Nevada are facing some of the same numbers as their national counterparts — that is, they are looking at decreased circulation of approximately 5% annually. [LAT] The trends reported in the Los Angeles Times were predicated on (1) readership moving to on-line sources, (2) the reduction of distribution to outlying areas and bulk distributions, (3) increasing prices for print copies of newspaper publications.  Trends similar to the 2010 results were noted by the New York Times in 2009.

The Pew Research report of its study on newspaper readership issued in 2012 wasn’t very optimistic:

“In the new survey, only 29% say they read a newspaper yesterday, with just 23% reading a print newspaper. Over the past decade, the percentage reading a print newspaper has fallen by 18 points (from 41% to 23%). Somewhat more (38%) say they regularly read a daily newspaper, although this percentage also has declined, from 54% in 2004. Figures for newspaper readership may not include some people who read newspaper content on sites that aggregate news content, such as Google News or Yahoo News.”

Two graphics illustrate the issue concisely.

Sources of NewsIn terms of newspaper readership, the numbers aren’t reassuring:

Newpaper readershipWhen there’s an 18% drop in newspaper readership since 2002, the question should be raised: Who is being notified, to whom is information being verified, when the state or local governments are publishing information to a progressively smaller number of people?

The newspaper publishers have a valid point in saying that some independent agency should verify the context of the public notices required by law.  On the other hand, it’s hard to contend that the publication of notices and information doesn’t constitute a form of public subsidization of a private news enterprise.  Another issue concerns the type of information required.

Do we need to publish hard copies of the property tax rolls?  Yes, some readers do use the information to compare property values; but, yes, others are simply nosy parkers who delight in seeing which of the neighbors might be delinquent in their property tax payments.  Is there a substantive difference between publishing property tax rolls and information like requests for bids on government capital improvement projects costing more than $250,000?  Here’s hoping the Government Affairs Committee will take a careful, and thoughtful, look at the implications of public notice requirements.


A bit more blatant blog flogging:  The Fix is seeking nominations for state based political blogs to add to its annual list.  Your nomination for Desert Beacon would definitely be appreciated. Link Here.

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Filed under media, Nevada legislature, Nevada news, Nevada politics, Politics

Things that could get me to toss confetti in 2013

ConfettiThere are things that could get me to toss confetti for 2013.   Not many, mind you, which would justify the consequent vacuuming, but a goodly handful.

#1. The Senate of the United States of America does something constructive with the FILIBUSTER rule.   The original rule was intended to prevent the willful trampling of minority points of view, but the abuse of the rule is now part of the clichéd “Washington Gridlock.”  There is a delicate balance between Majority Rule and Minority Rights, but Obstruction for its own sake is not a laudable occupation.

#2. The Republicans in the House of Representatives eschew the  Hastert Rule , under which a majority of the majority party caucus must agree to the passage of a bill before a vote can be taken on the House floor.  This might have been a lovely idea if the current majority party caucus weren’t the replication of that other cliché– a wheelbarrow load of frogs.  Governance requires compromise, and compromise demands the admission that we don’t always get everything we want.  Ideological posturing is not a substitute for principled discourse.

#3.  Someone in a position to do something about it finally figures out that arguments over raising the debt ceiling are academic at best and consummately silly at worst — rather like announcing that because I overspent my budget for this holiday season I’m going to chop up my credit cards and not pay the bills.  Aside from being the most fiscally irresponsible action imaginable, it’s also a manifestation of the idea that the full faith and credit of the United States is some kind of bargaining chip in ideological squabbling.

#4. The National Rifle Association (aka No Rational Argument) stops pretending to care about the right of our citizens to keep and bear arms, and honestly announces that its ultimate intention is to promote the sale of as many firearms as its manufacturing donors can create.  After that, it should be far easier to discuss comprehensive background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and banning military style assault weapons.

#5. More people, perhaps even more people in the national media, stop referring to “The” government and start calling it what it is — OUR government.   “The” government calls to mind the institution which cracks down on Moonshiners, or enforces school integration, or ignores calls to make Jefferson Davis’s birthday a national holiday.  “The” government didn’t decide to integrate public schools — “our” government did. “The” government didn’t decide to enact regulations to prevent air and water pollution — “our” government did.  And, “The” government didn’t create the Food Stamp (SNAP) program — “our” government did that.  And so it goes.  Continual references to “The” government is an unfortunate holdover from the Reaganesque caricature of government designed to promote the financial health of the economic elite by appealing to the discontent with those laws “our” government enacted to promote OUR general welfare.

#6. Our representatives on Capitol Hill learn to say “____ isn’t the end of the world as we know it.”  I could do with a great deal less hysterical hyperbole.  “This is the Largest Tax Increase In The History of the Universe!”  Probably not.  “This is the worst violation of human rights ever!” Probably not that either.  “This will create the worst calamity known to man.” Probably not.  “This will destroy our ____.”  Again, probably not.  Excuse me while I chuckle at the pomposity of this meaningless prognostication.

#7.  Journalists who seek to inform me via the television set prove to be (1) knowledgeable about the subject under discussion, and (2) include fact checking as part of the “context” of which they speak so often.  If a statement made by a politician is factually inaccurate, they will tell me; and I hope they’ll be able to offer a correction.  I really don’t care if they are correcting the record in the wake of Left Wing Larry or Right Wing Richard’s pontification.  The object of the exercise should be to impart accurate information so far as it can be known — I can get my “entertainment” elsewhere.  Bluntly, the “he said, she said, and then he said” reactions from professional chatterati or elected representatives is less entertaining than a good professional wrestling match, which at least has the grace to admit it’s a scripted farce.

#8. Somebody finally declares the Culture Wars over and done with.  Our contemporary version appears to incorporate a toxic dose of good old fashioned misogyny.  Women make up about 51% of our population and telling them they cannot have an abortion (even in the cases of an ectopic pregnancy or as the result of a rape) is paternalistic to the core.  Worse still would be telling them that their employer can decide if their health insurance plan covers contraceptive medication.

#9.  On a related note, it really doesn’t do to blame God for everything.  I’d cheer the week that some blowhards weren’t showcased in the media for pronouncing God’s Wrath for … whatever.  Hurricane Katrina — God’s wrath for a Gay Pride gathering? Really?  God’s wrath because we don’t pray hard enough?  That certainly doesn’t explain the attack on congregants in the Knoxville Unitarian church.  God’s Wrath because we don’t have organized  prayer in schools? Huh?  No one at Columbine High School, Platte County High School, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech University, or Sandy Hook Elementary knew how to pray and practiced it regularly? Spare me the Westboro Wannabes who “know” the mind of God better than a six year old child.

#10.  The confetti will fly when we begin to have a serious discussion about global climate change without having to incorporate the phony “science” offered up by the fossil fuel industry.  No, there isn’t a “controversy” here. And, no reputable science deflects our responsibility as human beings for the contamination of which we are clearly capable.

Speaking of the Almighty, there’s an old story about the man caught in a flood which seems appropriate at the moment.  “Why, he cried out to God, am a trapped in these flood waters?”  The Almighty, sorely tired of listening to the wailing, said, “I sent you warnings.” “When?”  “When?” responded the Deity. “When indeed.” “I sent you warnings on the radio. You ignored me. I sent you warnings in television broadcasts, and you ignored me. I even sent a deputy sheriff to personally advise you to evacuate. And, you ignored him too.”  ….

We’ve been visited with major named storms, watched ice caps diminish, seen glaciers disappear… and all together too many people are ignoring the warnings.

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Filed under abortion, conservatism, ecology, energy policy, family issues, Federal budget, filibuster, Filibusters, Global warming, Gun Issues, Health Care, national debt, pollution, public health, racism, religion, VA Tech, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights