Category Archives: media

Media Takes Some Well Deserved Hits

Press conference It’s been a miserable season for political reporting.  Some of the misery is self-inflicted.  Let’s admit that we’ve moved a long way from Murrow and Cronkite.  And, let’s also admit that what made the ‘Murrow Moment’ (March 9, 1954) significant when the broadcaster called out the invidious Senator Joe McCarthy was a matter of personal courage when most other stations were satisfied to repeat what the Senator had to offer without comment.   Many of the broadcasters today weren’t around on February 27, 1968 for Cronkite’s epic Vietnam War comments.  No anchor today has the gravitas to make the President say, as Lyndon Johnson remarked that day, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Nor can we look back to some Golden Age of political reporting without noting that Robert R. McCormick reigned supreme at the  “America First” newspaper, the Chicago Tribune – arduously attacking Franklin D. Roosevelt, all things New Deal, and any question that the U.S. should enter World War II on the side of the British.  The currently resurgent “America First” slogan got its initial patriotic veneer from the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst. [Atlantic]  The unhelpful press has always been with us.

“Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” [SPJ]

The statement above is the standard by which journalism is to be delivered.  There are two key words in that simple statement which seem to have become blurred — “accuracy,” and “honest.” The reading and watching public have been let down several times.

It took until 2004 for the New York Times to admit that the articles written by Judith Miller concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq 2001-2002 were inaccurate.  When they did, the blame was deflected to “bad sources,” and “everyone makes mistakes.”  There is a difference between being a journalist and being a stenographer using unexamined, “unreliable, and possibly partisan sources.” [MMA]

MSNBC host Chuck Todd received well earned flack for this bit of commentary in 2013:

“MSNBC host Chuck Todd said Wednesday that when it comes to misinformation about the new federal health care law, don’t expect members of the media to correct the record.” [TPM]

Really?  What was that first standard from the Society of Professional Journalists again?  Accurate and fair?  Yes, it definitely is a journalist’s responsibility to the accurate.  And, if your reporting isn’t accurate why should anyone watch, listen, or read what you have to say?

Todd got into similar territory during an interview with Senator Ted Cruz in April 2016:

“Cruz went onto accuse the Department of Justice of letting Planned Parenthood off the hook for supposedly selling baby body parts, which as we all know, is a bald-faced lie, and cited those doctored videos as proof, and what was Chuck Todd’s response? You guessed it. Crickets.” [C&L]

One can be a reporter, a stenographer, or a microphone – Todd did not choose to be a reporter.

The New York Times writer, Roger Cohen, got into an instructive exchange with Norman Ornstein a day ago, leading to Ornstein questions about the Times’ focus on Clinton ‘scandals;’

“Roger this is not about ignoring these issues. It is about obsessing on them to the exclusion of everything else.” [Storify]

Ornstein refers here to the questions about Trump University, the investigation into the actions of Trump University, and the possible bribes to Florida and Texas authorities concerning the investigations into Trump University.

Fox News, Chris Wallace, echoed the Chuck Todd defense yesterday:

“That’s not my job. I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad. It’s up to the other person to catch them on that. I certainly am going to try to maintain some reasonable semblance of equal time. If one of them is filibustering, I’m going to try to break in respectfully and give the other person a chance to talk….” [MMA]

So, if one candidate, the other, or both are being untruthful, it’s up to the viewers to discern the difference?  This is the very antithesis of informing the public.

If the main point isn’t to be the accuracy of the information given to the public what is the public getting?  Not much. Not as much as we could be getting because the press is almost as interested in covering its own interests as it is in covering the news.

“The Press Conference Flap” is informative in itself. David A. Graham (Atlantic) Callum Borchers (WaPo) Oliver Darcy (Business Insider) and Jonathan Easley (The Hill) are among those who have wondered and opined about why Secretary Clinton hasn’t had a press conference.  Paul Krugman’s column may provide a hint?

“So I would urge journalists to ask whether they are reporting facts or simply engaging in innuendo, and urge the public to read with a critical eye. If reports about a candidate talk about how something “raises questions,” creates “shadows,” or anything similar, be aware that these are all too often weasel words used to create the impression of wrongdoing out of thin air.”

If all the press conference is to be is a mob format Q&A in which Secretary Clinton can’t possibly say all the right things in just the absolutely right way to dismiss the innuendo and outright falsehoods of the email and foundation manufactured scandals, then why should she bother?

Besides which, contemporary press conferences don’t seem to get much accomplished.  I’ve (almost) joked before that press conferences are sessions in which reporters ask ten minute questions and then expect a ten second response; or, press conferences are where reporters ask complicated questions to which they seem to want simple, sound byte, answers.  Or, a session in which a reporter is asked for one question, squeezes in three, and then later complains that the respondent didn’t answer the second and third?

A sample:

“Chicago — August has been the worse month in violence and homicides in several decades.  Obviously, we focus on these things when we hit these milestones; I’m sure the President thinks about it all the time.  What is his response to this?  And more specifically, what is his response to the Trump statement that, essentially, he’s going to make these shootings stop, and that he’s the law-and-order candidate, and that the President has not done the job in this area generally, is the criticism?” [WHPC 8/30/16]

We could have shortened this question easily because it’s relatively obvious the questioner isn’t focused on the President’s reaction, but on the President’s reaction to Mr. Trump’s reaction.  So, the question becomes – do reporters want a press conference because they have essential, policy related, questions about Secretary Clinton’s domestic and foreign policy statements, or do they want to get on TV asking about emails, foundations, and a personal aide’s domestic arrangements?  Or, just to get themselves on TV?

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Dear Broadcast News Media, I Give Up Again

Television dump

At 9:05 AM this morning I gave up on cable news – again.  I’d finished washing up the breakfast dishes and a few of their comrades from last evening, and was ready to watch some “news” for an hour or so.  Five minutes into the viewing, including two channel changes, I remembered why I gave up on watching cable news broadcasts a short while back.  The three V’s: Vapidity. Vacuity. Vagueness.

Vapidity: Or, in the long form, a lack of stimulation, challenge, or sharpness; tepid, insipid, and bland.  This is characteristic of those broadcasters who believe that I might be remotely interested in yet another presentation of punditry discussing the semantics of e-mail transmissions.  Digging actual facts out of the morass of “process” punditry reveals that FBI Director Comey was correct – there is NO indication of any criminality in Secretary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. NONE. Done.  That someone has discovered a possible discrepancy in variations of the explanations isn’t news, it’s not even new.  It’s part of a continuous piece of propaganda floated by the Republican Party, and its allies among the Beltway Villagers, for some “Watergate-esque” issue to continue the Clinton assault they’ve enjoyed for the last umpteen years.

If the e-mail non-story were the only example I might not be so dismissive of cable news, but it isn’t.  There have been precious few attempts by the cable networks to treat any story with any depth. Sadly, many items are mentioned and the presenter quickly shifts to “what does this mean for Senator Sludgepump’s campaign?”  For example,  MSNBC, to its credit, did offer some actual context for the Flint Water Crisis.  And now the parallel universes take the stage – in the broadcast world the issue is “old news” even though the aftermath of the water contamination is far from over; in the real world we are discovering more communities with water supplies which do not meet the maximum contaminant levels for lead – and these are getting back page, below the fold, treatment – and not a minute on cable broadcasts.

The broadcasters are content, it seems, to offer a stream of sequels to stories of limited interest to the general public instead of presenting stories involving critical national issues.   Case in point: Immigration policy reform.  There is a bill, passed by the Senate, languishing in the House which offers comprehensive immigration policy reform, and the GOP House leadership can’t or won’t move it.  Instead of seeing and hearing intelligent discussions of the POLICY issues we are being treated to “how is the Hispanic Outreach project of the Trump campaign” doing?  How is the Clinton campaign doing in the polling among Hispanic American voters?

Vacuity:   In order to hit this level a broadcast needs to wade through Shallow and into Inanity.  Here we go again, we all know that U.S. national elections are composed of 50 individual state elections, and still the cable news networks – months from the general election – tout their national polling.  This adds a new level of nothingness to the abyss.  I might as well inform readers that I have five fingers on each hand and try to pass this off as “news.”

Vagueness:  This is the point in a campaign when the parties should be sharpening their messages, and providing actual examples of policy statements and plans on offer to the voters.  We’re not getting that from the Trump side of the ledger – we get speeches, analysis of the speeches, and follow up interviews with surrogates who inform us that the details will be provided later. When’s ‘later?’   At what point will the reporters on camera demand some solid answers? And, should that fail, when do they point out that those Statues in the Park have no more ‘clothing’ than the policy non-statements issued by the Trump campaign and its surrogates.

There’s nothing that pleases the Press quite so much as whining about the treatment of the Press.  The current whine is that Secretary Clinton hasn’t had a “full blown press conference” for X number of days and counting.  Really? Since when was August a major month for press conferences by any national campaign? And, Secretary Clinton attended a fund raiser and the Press wasn’t invited! Oh dear, and we saw Governor Romney’s comment about the 47% in pool tape? Or, uh-no, it was from a bootleg tape and the press hadn’t been invited to that fundraising event.  How this tells us anything about the POLICY of and plans for an administration is anyone’s guess; but, what it does tell  us is that the media loves to talk about the media.

At least I know I’m not alone.  There’s some comfort in reading this analysis of the situation in Crooks and Liars,

“People want truth. They don’t want talking points, or “both sides do it.” Donald Trump has broken all of the rules of party politics, and also the cable news formula. Some, like Stelter, Bolduan, Keilar and Reid have taken the cue, choosing to aggressively pursue truth-telling. Others are not.

To those who refuse to pay attention, beware. Consumers have moved on from the political pablum you serve. Only those who are bold enough to speak truth to the professional liars will survive.”

And Salon’s article about the long-lived conservative obsession with all things Clinton, especially from Judicial Watch:

“This is the same Judicial Watch that currently has the press panting over every release of the Clinton State Department emails they’ve received from their FOIA fishing expedition, rushing on the air and to print based upon the organization’s often erroneous and misleading press releases. Tom Fitton, the organization’s current president and author of the book “The Corruption Chronicles: Obama’s Big Secrecy, Big Corruption, and Big Government” proudly declared, “Judicial Watch has had more success investigating the IRS, Benghazi and Clinton email scandals than any House committee.”

Considering the outcomes of the IRS and Benghazi “scandals,” it would behoove the press to show a little skepticism. The history of this group is very clear. The first time it waged its campaign of character assassination against Bill and Hillary Clinton, it’s perhaps understandable that the press failed to recognize they were being manipulated by political operatives. The trumped-up Obama scandals added up to nothing as well. There’s no excuse for the media to fall for it again.”

However, it’s my guess they will fall for it – as long as the Three V’s are the mainstays of cable broadcasting practice.

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We talk about talking about race, but won’t talk about race

I made the mistake of watching some cable news coverage of the DNC this morning.  Several of the reporters were concerned – how I truly am beginning to loathe that word! – that Secretary Clinton’s polling numbers among white males weren’t as high as those of Donald Trump.  A couple of the presenters got close to the mark and then appeared to divert the channel into safer, softer, soil – they, meaning white males, are “angered,” or “feel outside the system..” or whatever.  No one mentioned R-A-C-E. Now, please consider the following three items:

“There’s a good deal of evidence that white resentment of minorities is linked to support for Republican candidates, their policies and conservative ideology in America,” said Robb Willer, a political psychologist at Stanford University. [WaPo]

“As the country has become more diverse, the Democratic Party has, too. But the demographics of the Republican Party have not changed much in recent years, according to Gallup. As of 2012, 89 percent of Republicans were non-Hispanic whites, compared to 60 percent of Democrats.” [WaPo]

“Across time points, racial prejudice was indirectly associated with movement identification through Whites’ assertions of national decline. Although initial levels of White identity did not predict change in Tea Party identification, initial levels of Tea Party identification predicted increases in White identity over the study period. Across the three assessments, support for the Tea Party fell among libertarians, but rose among social conservatives.” [PLOS journals]

The shorter version is the common summary: Republicans are not necessarily racist, but more racists tend to identify with Republicans; and, Tea Party identification was closely associated with “white identity.” Which goes a long way toward explaining this sighting at the recent RNC:

Trump Supporter Check List

No, Secretary Clinton is not likely to poll well with people who tend to focus on their white identity, white grievances, and white dissatisfaction.

If the cable broadcasters would like to fill up some vacant air time, there are deeper, more systemic questions that should be discussed.

Why are disaffected white males supporting a candidate who is not essentially Republican and not primarily a true conservative in the Everett Dirksen, Barry Goldwater, Sandra Day O’Connor, or William F. Buckley mold?

Perhaps interviewing Ezra Klein or Jonathan Chait might offer some insight:

“[Trump] … has exposed a Republican Party many in the GOP will wish had stayed hidden. The core truth he has laid bare is that Republican voters are powered by a resentful nationalism more than a principled conservatism. “Republican politics boils down to ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason,” writes Jonathan Chait. “Once a figure has been accepted as a friendly member of their tribe, there is no level of absurdity to which he can stoop that would discredit him.” [Vox]

Chait continued:

“…since reason cannot penetrate the crude tribalism that animates Republicans, it follows that nothing President Obama could have proposed on economic stimulus, health care, or deficits could have avoided the paroxysms of rage that faced him.” [NYMag]

If 89% of a political party in America is non-Hispanic white, and if women lean toward the Democratic Party by a split of 52% to 36%, then how do we describe the Republican Party other than a political party of white men? Or, as the Pew Research study found in 2014, a party of older white men:

Age GOP/lean Dem / lean
18-33 35% 51%
34-49 38% 49%
50-68 41% 43%
69-85 47% 43%

A better cable roundtable discussion might focus not on how Secretary Clinton is not capturing the votes of white males, but on why the Republican Party can’t seem to attract more women, minority group members, and younger people?

Pundits tell us solemnly that we “need” a national discussion about race relations in this country, however that is very difficult to do when broadcasters themselves shy away from the topic.  Simply having a few “specials” with “both sides” isn’t the solution.

Whether the corporate media likes it or not, race and ethnic divisions have significance when we converse about any major social, economic, and political questions.  It’s part of the mix, and can’t be separated out like an egg yolk from national conversations.

Someone, somewhere must have perceived the ludicrousness of the proposition that merely talking about racial relations is “racism.”  What this too often boils down to is the assertion that anything which makes white people uncomfortable is “racist.”  Witness Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly’s recent over the top whine about those who criticized his attempt to “soften” the plight of slaves in 19th century America.

Speaking about the unequal and deleterious incarceration rate of young African American men isn’t racist, it’s an acknowledgement of a problem, and therefore an opening to use the discourse as a way to solve or at least mitigate the issue.

Speaking about income inequality isn’t racist. It’s an acknowledgement that working people in this county, especially people of color, aren’t able to scale the social and economic ladder as easily as in times past.  We could help with this but we have to talk about it.

Speaking about police reform isn’t racist. It’s an acknowledgement that too often for our liking there are law enforcement personnel who are not helping resolve issues between the police and the communities in which they are assigned. There are some police forces which have made great strides, Pittsburgh and Dallas for example, and those can be models. But, we have to talk about it.

Speaking about climate change isn’t racist, but we have to acknowledge that people of color are more likely to be residents of communities and neighborhoods which are the most afflicted with pollution, water problems, and devastation from climate events which become more serious each decade, if not each year.  Again, all the stakeholders need to be at the table for this national discussion.  It’s not enough to worry about the beach front property in Miami, we also need to be aware of the 9th Ward in New Orleans.

Race certainly isn’t the only issue facing this country, but it does tend to permeate most of the major challenges we face.  NOT talking about it is actually hurtful – it allows the tribalism to grow and fester, it allows the problems to remain unresolved, and it feeds the polarization which leads to political gridlock. 

However, the most egregious part of the Great Silence is that it allows us to cling to our tribe, ever more unwilling or unable to discuss, converse, or debate our issues or to practice the great art of any democracy – compromise.

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Filed under media, Politics, racism, Republicans

Media Circus and Freak Show

Freak Show Cable News

It must be remarkably hard to fill cable news air-time. All too often the broadcasts are filled with anchors asking reporters for their opinions about what the anchor just proposed.  The questions are almost as long as the answers, and those answers are all too often not very illuminating.

When the reporters aren’t asking other reporters for their opinions about what was just reported, we are treated to “analysts.”  What passes for analysis is generally little more than conjecture at best and hyperbolic rants at worst.  In the best of times we get a bit of fact-checking as the dueling analysts structure their responses to fit with the quick retort formula. Nothing too deep, nothing too long, just a nice punchy sound bite.

The national audience is treated to whatever topic has grabbed the attention span of the Villagers within the Beltway.  The Republican Party has played the cable news media like the proverbial harp.  Get “outraged,” get on TV, and stir up more “outrage,” all manufactured of either whole cloth or thin threads, and repeat as necessary to hold the attention of the producers and broadcasters.

“News” is supposed to be entertaining, and thereby attract ratings, and thereby attracted advertisers… erectile dysfunction medication, strange household gadgets, aircraft manufacturers, automobiles, prescription medicines for conditions that used to be solved with a dose of aspirin or  baking soda.

There were a few bright spots in the recent spate of broadcasting in regard to the Black Lives Matter campaign, the killing of two more African American men at the hands of police officers, and the attacks on the police officers in Dallas.  At least one network actually interviewed one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter organization. One offered air time to a professor who has made a study of policing reforms.  But all together too much time this week was devoted to the Freak Show Media Circus.

There is a difference between presenting “both sides” and broadcasting nonsensical polemics.

Case in point, for some reason, known but to the management of CNN, it was decided to put a right wing radio jockey with absolutely no expertise in race relations, policing, or evidently not much of anything else, on the air. And then “let him defend” his threats against the President of the United States and African American supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. There is no rational defense possible. Nor did any of his comments enlighten the subject or provide historical context.  His air time was simply part of the Freak Show.    So much more could have been done if news were news and not merely vapid offerings for distraction and entertainment.

Perhaps if a cable news network were serious about broadcasting news there would be a higher standard for content?  For example….

Merely because an individual has an opinion on some matter doesn’t mean that the opinion is worthy of broadcasting.

Those who wish to place their opinions before the public have all manner of opportunities to do so in this technological present.  Write a blog, get on Twitter, Facebook, or do it the old fashioned way – stand in a corner of the park with a bull horn.  However, in order to be considered newsworthy the opinions must be supported by facts. Facts presented in context.  Adherence to this simple rule would banish many of the denizens of the Freak Show Media Circus to the margins they inhabited in the first place.

Fact checking is a fundamental part of good journalism.

It doesn’t take any great journalistic acumen or effort to do basic fact-checking prior to an interview with anybody.  News is supposed to be factual. The avoidance of fact-checking, or the assertion that fact-checking is someone else’s responsibility is simply LAZY.

A person allotted air time should have something relevant to say.

Unfortunately, this rule would cut off the microphones for several prominent current and former politicians. Not only should the commentary be factual, it should be enlightening.  Senator Sludgepump may believe to his core that global climate change is a hoax, but his position in government doesn’t necessarily mean he has anything either factual or relevant to say.  Though he may charge through a stampeding herd of bison to get to the first available microphone, that still doesn’t mean he has anything illuminating to reveal on the topic.

Speculation is not analysis.

If we want to have all the air time on a sports talk radio program filled to the brim – ask which major league pitcher was the best in the modern era.  Then, sit back and listen while the audience debates the merits of Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson, Bob Gibson….ad infinitum

If we want to fill up air time without actually doing much of any real work, ask “What will be the effect of a potential  great carrot shortage on the ______ campaign?”  Bring on the “strategists, analysts, and activists,” and let them blather on about the hypothetical to the hypnotic.

So, the television set was turned off again. I moved on, there was nothing much left to see.   And, I was never one for freak shows.

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DIY Business News: How to stop yelling at the TV screen and get some real news

Stock Ticker Old

Spare me the whining about Americans and their financial illiteracy.  It’s not like they are getting any help from institutions which ought to be assisting them. 

Media bashing gets a bit cheap at times, but in this realm the broadcast media isn’t delivering anything close to real “business news.”  For starters, most of what passes for “business” news on the cable TV outlets is nothing more than financial sector gossip and stock market reporting.   When everything is said and scrolled across the screen, what the consumer has gotten is information of the stock markets, by the stock markets and for the stock markets.  

If we take the most generous definition of an investor possible – one including individual investors, investors in retirement 401(k)’s, IRAs, mutual funds, and ETF’s – then we can claim that 48% of the adults in the U.S. have money invested in “the market.” [CNN]  Meaning, 52% of Americans have no investment in “the market” at all, and one could question how carefully those who have funds in the retirement accounts are attending to the investments made on their behalf.  Drilling a bit deeper into the numbers we find that only 13.8% of all U.S. families held any individual stock. [CNN] “Ownership of savings bonds, other bonds, directly held stocks, and pooled investment funds sustained sizable drops in ownership rates between 2010 and 2013, although none of the four types of assets are commonly held, with ownership rates in 2013 varying between 1.4 percent (other bonds) and 13.8 percent (directly held stocks).” [FED pdf]

The best face we can put on this is that what passes for business news in this country is stock market information of direct interest to at best 14% of the nation’s adult population.  Why? We can guess — (1) It pleases the managerial types who are focused on short term gains in stock prices? (2) It’s cheap to produce?  Reporting on stock prices is really easy, especially if the big driver is something accessible like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (3) It gives executives an opportunity to tout the value (whatever that might be) of their companies, thus moving their stock prices up?  However, what it doesn’t do is give anyone a clear overall picture of business in the United States of America.

Do It Yourself

If business news isn’t what’s on offer from the news channels which purport to provide it – then where to find it? 

The Federal Reserve has all manner of publications available online which will inform the inquisitive about consumer and personal finance.  Auto and Student debt is up at the moment, while the home ownership rate is falling, but not as many homeowners are now in default.  Interested in income inequality, or wealth gaps? Information is available from the FED on those topics as well.  Look and one can find all manner of information and analysis, unfettered from political punditry, on the subject.  In fact, one can discover that the way we talk about income inequality may be a function of how we measure it.

The San Francisco Federal Reserve is pleased to highlight its blog, with features ranging from how the FED recycles old currency to how Medicare payments may be curtailing inflationary trends.  If more generalized information is the target, then the Beige Book is as good a source as any:

“Commonly known as the Beige Book, this report is published eight times per year. Each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its District through reports from Bank and Branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by District and sector. An overall summary of the twelve district reports is prepared by a designated Federal Reserve Bank on a rotating basis.” [FED]

Think of the Beige Book as “one stop shopping” for general economic news in each of the FED’s regions.

 Hard Hat

Labor:  A steady diet of cable business news might leave a person with the idea that labor news doesn’t exist except so far as it concerns minimum wage issues, or the latest protest of less than living wages. It’s more difficult to find than information about economic trends, but it’s there.   A person might want to start with Labor Press.OrgLabor Notes, is another source.  Union labor issues are well publicized in AFL-CIO sites.  There’s more information available from the SEIU, and AFSCME.

Those cable shows – and they are just ‘shows’ – could fill a goodly amount of their time just from Department of Labor information.  They won’t because they’re too busy tossing softballs to CEOs, but they could for example offer the investor’s side of the argument about fiduciary responsibility and financial advisers from DoL information.  If it’s numbers that are wanted, there’s a whole bureau for those – the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Want the current consumer price index, the unemployment rate, payroll employment figures, average hourly earnings, the producer price index, productivity statistics, or the employment cost index? All these are available from the Department of Labor.

Doing Business:  Republican presidential candidates Cruz and Kasich both proposed eliminating the Department of Commerce.  This is taking the Tea Party Express right over the edge into the Silly Swamp.  One excellent source of information about our economy is the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles data regarding personal income and outlays – read: income and spending – what could be more “economic” than that?  Want information concerning the Gross Domestic Product? Consumer Spending? Corporate Profits? Fixed Assets?  Balance of Payments? State and Metropolitan GDP? Quarterly GDP by industry? It’s all available from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

When thinking of broadcast media it’s important to remember that what keeps the cable ‘business’ news going are advertising sales, and a commercial which might cost $2,000 to $3,000 for a network broadcast sponsorship could be as cheap as $175 on cable.  Little wonder their business seems to be limited to softball interviews and streaming the DJIA numbers on the screen – which you could do at home on any computer monitor.  Those shows are relatively banal because they probably can’t afford anything else.

Enterprises like Bush’s Baked Beans, Chef Michael’s Canine Creations, and Slap Chop are right in the mix with Ford, Chevrolet, and Wal-Mart sponsoring what passes for business and news reporting. [HuffPo] We’d be better served to Keep Calm and Do It Yourself.

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Filed under Commerce Department, Economy, labor, media, Tea Party Express

Candles, Fireworks, and Failures: The Colorado Springs Killings


There is purity in light.  Light illuminates all it touches.  We light candles in hope, in celebration, in reverence, and all too often in sorrow.  There will be candles in Colorado Springs, Colorado, some in the festive spirit of the season, others in sorrowful remembrance of those whose own light expired before its time.

French author Jean Paul Satre said of words: “Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.”  Words created the darkness that descended on Colorado Springs.  Silence created the darkness that descended on Colorado Springs.  Words and silences with consequences.

Anti-abortion radicals provided the words.  Edited words in the smear propaganda videos produced by the nefarious Center for Medical Progress. [C&L]  Provocative words from radical politicians in Congress as they launched five investigations into the activities of Planned Parenthood. [NYT]  Incendiary words, generating as the saying goes “more heat than light,” from Republican presidential candidates. [NYT] Manipulated, provocative, incendiary words created the darkness instead of providing illumination.  Worse still those manipulated, provocative, incendiary words were spread across the nation without filtration. [C&L]

It was almost as if the journalists and broadcasters who amplified these words had forgotten the power of the pen, or in these days, the pixel.  Someone decided that the “heavily edited words” in the propaganda videos counted as “news.”  And the words were unleashed before any illumination took hold. Yes, the tapes were edited for effect, certainly not for edification.  Yes, the tapes were controversial. However, no, the tapes were not authentic, truthful, or informative.  And  the message was further enhanced by the failure of editors and publishers to require that what they broadcasted and printed was authentic, truthful, and informative.

It  seems as though the editors, producers, and publishers were content with fireworks – ephemeral bursts of gaudy light, instead of a steady but less glamorous illuminating candle.

Words can challenge or comfort us.  Those manipulated, provocative, and incendiary words caused some to remember that since 1977 there have been eight murders, seventeen attempted murders, forty-two bombings, and one hundred eighty six arsons against abortion clinics and providers. [Vox] Others noted that in just the last four years states have enacted two hundred thirty one pieces of abortion restriction legislation. [Guttmacher]  Those manipulated, provocative, and incendiary words comforted and validated not only the radicals among us but also the  murderers, the bombers, and the arsonists.

Our words are our own. Once uttered they are released forever, and in the case of some media outlets may be repeated almost endlessly, looping along with stock footage and graphics.  There is a vast difference between freedom of speech, and freedom from criticism which is not always evident in the reactions to radical hyperbole.

The Center for Medical Progress, the creator of the propaganda videos, denounced the attack on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center, but without any acknowledgment that the attack may very well have been informed by the very videos and controversy it created. [HuffPo]  The attack began and ended at the Planned Parenthood center.  Three lives were extinguished there.

Are the radical anti-abortion advocates asking us to please don’t think ill of them because they never intended their words (and pictures) to inflame the murderers, the bombers, and the arsonists?  We’re cautioned about using scatological language in case “small ears” might be listening; do we take as much care when it’s possible small minds might be attending to the messages?

Words can’t be deflected easily.  Most of the Republican candidates sought refuge in generalizations — “everyone should tone down the rhetoric.” But whose rhetoric called abortion providers, “exterminators,” or “a criminal enterprise,” or “killers?”  [NewYorker] No one is arguing that all members of the so-called “pro-life” movement are murderers, bombers, or arsonists – only that the heated verbiage of the radicals provides inspiration and validation for those who are inclined in that direction.

And then there were the silences.

When those 231 pieces of anti-abortion legislation were being considered in State Legislature – how many voices were heard in opposition? How many pro-choice advocates crafted letters to members of those assemblies? To local editors? To local media outlets?  How many legislators decided it was safer to “go along to get along” with radicals rather than risk their wrath?

When the controversy over the video tapes flamed into the news, how many editors and producers succumbed to the temptation to air what was dramatic, flashy, and provocative before vetting the material for authenticity?  We might ask how many times news organizations must get “used” by political groups before they realize that the words and pictures they are disseminating are  propaganda and not really newsworthy?  How many times are these outlets cowered into the shallows of self referential exculpation, as in the convenient “both sides do it” narrative?

The best feature of a candle is its capacity to provide continuous illumination, without flares and flashes.  It may be dim in comparison to electric bulbs, but no illumination is without shadows.  However, to paraphrase Satre: Every candle has the capacity to illuminate. Every darkness the power of destruction.

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When there’s nothing new about news?

Issue Attention Cycles “Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution in the 1970’s began observing what he called “the issue attention cycle” in the American media.  The cycle is:  the news media and public ignore a serious problem for years; for some reason, they suddenly notice, declare it a crisis and concoct a solution; next they realize the problem will not be easily fixed and will be costly; they grow angry, then bored; finally, they resume ignoring the problem.” [DailySource]

The original Issue Attention Cycle was partially modified by Karen K. Petersen in her article for the Journal for Strategic Security in 2009.

Issues Attention Cycle modified Technical adjustments aside, there’s little to challenge the original assumption that modern American media is Alarmed, in Crisis mode, and then realizes the problem (usually of long standing) is not easily addressed much less immediately and cheaply solvable – and then we move on.

It may be time to resurrect the Issue Attention Cycle and give it more consideration as the news organizations plow onward and downward into more trivial and less informative media  which passes for “news.”

One problem which we ought to think about is that of manufactured news.   A media savvy group launches a “dramatic” press conference or releases sensational information.  The press picks this up, charges into print or air, and when the dust settles there was really very little Gertrude Stein-ian “there there.” We have some recent examples.

Consider the assault on Planned Parenthood.  A highly questionable group, organized for the purpose of attacking an organization which provides women’s health services (including abortions), releases heavily edited videos purporting to show illegal or immoral actions.   We assume that news organizations will provide some filtration – some background research – on the origin, credibility, and trustworthiness, of information selected for print or broadcast.

In the Issue Attention Cycle the attack took on the aspects of “alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm” as breathless headlines and TV teasers touted new “discoveries” about Planned Parenthood activities.  Those who were paying attention to some of the less sensationalized coverage quickly observed that the headlines didn’t match the reporting, which noted the lack of credibility of the accusers and the dismal nature of the video editing.  The initial phase of the Issue Attention Cycle is bad enough, combined with the lack of filtration (or even fact checking) by the media makes it even more susceptible to manufactured news.

The obviously political and almost perfectly partisan coverage of the Clinton E-mails offers a second example of manufactured news.   A bit of filtration by news media would have easily discovered that yes, Secretary Rice did use State Department e-mail – when she used e-mail at all, which was rarely [BusInsider]; and, Secretary Powell used a personal e-mail account in much the same way as did Secretary Clinton. [Media] However, there’s nothing like a perpetual fishing expedition to encourage the continuation of the “alarm and euphoric enthusiasm” stage of media attention.  Other stories related to the use of e-mail by government officials weren’t covered in quite such a dramatic fashion.  For example, the Bush White House “lost” some 22 million e-mails from 2003 to 2005:

“The e-mail controversy dates back to the Bush administration’s 2006 firing of the top federal prosecutors in nine cities. After congressional committees demanded the administration produce documents related to the firings, the White House said millions of e-mails might have been lost from its servers. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive sued over the issue in 2007, arguing the Bush administration violated federal laws that require presidential records to be preserved.” [CNN 2009]

However, without relatively constant references to the Bush e-mail issues – some related to the firing of 9 federal attorneys – the issue hit the “decline of intensity of interest” phase fairly quickly.  Other e-mail and records controversies have not received the unfiltered attention the current media assigns to Secretary Clinton.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s e-mail record has key points in his timeline missing, such as during the 2000 election, the voter purges, the Elian Gonzales Case, and the Terry Schiavo controversy. [MJReuters reported in 2011 that former Governor Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in an effort to keep his records private in 2007.   In short, we might logically conclude that the “alarm and enthusiasm” phase will give way to the “decline of intensity of interest” stage proportionately to the willingness of the media to reprint or rebroadcast statements from interested politicians.

Now a warning?  Remember, the issue cycle often begins with a situation presented as a full-blown crisis but actually represents a set of conditions which may have existed for years, or decades.  This is illustrated by the discussion of police use of force, especially against people of color. Pro Publica reports:

Our examination involved detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. The data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments across the country, confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force.

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater…

Pro Publica did the analysis, which raises the question why didn’t this analysis come from national broadcast or print media?  As of August 2015, NBC raised the white flag and asked why nobody knows exactly how many people are killed by police officers.

The topic of police use of force necessarily gets into the sticky nettles which trap an issue into the “decline of intensity of interest” and the “realization of the costs” territory.   The sub-topics range from local issues of police recruitment, training, and equipping, to national debates about race relations and voter participation in local and state elections.  In some cities, perhaps like Cleveland, OH which have had multiple allegations of excessive force, and notable and duplicated interactions with the Federal Department of Justice, the discussion trails into general issues of local government reform.

Once the glamour of The Crisis is over we’re into the part in which it’s realized that reforming the application of our laws, especially in minority urban settings, is going to be complicated, expensive, and time consuming, the cameras and reports are on to other “more pressing” (i.e. more dramatic) issues and the “post problem” stage begins.

Angry and bored?  These may be two of the more significant features of the issue attention cycle.  The attempts at comprehensive immigration reform may illustrate this portion of the issue attention cycle.  The public generally realizes this country does need to pay attention to immigration issues, indeed a bill passed the Senate only to languish in the GOP controlled House after the last mid term elections.   One of the key themes of the Trump Campaign taps into the anger portion of the formula. 

There are those who still believe that the solution to the “immigration problem” is mass deportation and the construction of a physical barrier between the US and Mexico.   In terms of the Issue Attention Cycle, these people supporting Trump’s rather vacant rhetoric are still in the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage, and haven’t yet made the intellectual excursion into the details of the issue, and the protracted, complicated, and expensive nature of the administration of immigration policy.  They can be informed that Trump’s “solution” will cost somewhere around $200 to $300 billion dollars, and perhaps take 20 years. [BusInsider] However, having not gone beyond the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage, his supporters cling to the generalized notion that the candidate will assuage what’s making them angry, somehow, by doing something…without serious consideration of the expensive implications and policy alternatives.

Continual press coverage of Trump’s litany of generalizations about immigration policy simply serves to extend the life of the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage without assisting the public in understanding the complex nature of the issue.

Heaven forefend we get bored. One unfortunate aspect of contemporary media coverage of almost any topic is the “both sides” format in which there are assumed to be two sides to each and every issue.  Welcome to the highly complex and extremely important debate about climate change.

Scientifically speaking there’s one side.  Global climate change is happening, and we’re responsible. However, the advocacy format, roughly analogous to the media version of a civil trial, lends itself to the presentation and publicizing of “alternative” theories, most of which are associated with energy corporation interests.   This is, for all practical purposes, a formula for the insertion of mis-information into public discourse.  It’s more obvious in the climate change discussion, but it also allows some absolutely astounding pronouncements on women’s health issues.

We’ve been treated to presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s statement that Planned Parenthood doesn’t do women’s health – which utterly dismisses 97% of what Planned Parenthood does.  What wasn’t “women’s health” about the 378,692 Pap tests, 487,029 breast health exams, 1,128,793 pregnancy tests, 18,684 prenatal care services, and 4,470,597 STI/STD tests and treatments in 2013? [Politifact]

The intense debate over the Affordable Care Act gave us one of the more poignant moments in the media’s view of its charge.  Chuck Todd, NBC news, told viewers in 2013 it wasn’t the media’s task to correct the record. [TPM]  It was, Todd asserted, the White House’s job to “sell” the ACA.  In simpler terms, by Todd’s lights the media should report what anyone says, without filtration or fact-checking, and the “other side” would have the responsibility for a response.  Nothing quite so dramatically describes the “advocacy format,” or serves the American public quite so poorly. The “advocacy format” can be used to effectively perpetuate misinformation because policy proposals are to be “sold,” and the sales will be made evident in “our latest polling.”

The Cycle and Foreign Policy:   If ever there were topics which lend themselves to the Issue Attention Cycle they exist in the category of foreign policy.  When discussing the labyrinthine politics of the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, eyes glaze over, and participants in the discussion can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and the team membership depends on which country’s foreign policy is being promoted by what other country’s diplomacy.  The Iranians are our enemies – except when they’re propping up the Iraqi government, supporting our efforts in Afghanistan, and helping fight elements of ISIS.  The Syrians are our friends? – except when the government is barrel bombing its own citizens, and we need help from the Russians to get the Nukes out of Syria, and it’s fighting with some elements of ISIS.  The Kurds are our friends – when they are fighting with ISIS but not so much when they attack our NATO ally Turkey…. 

This situation illustrates Petersen’s modification of the Issue Attention Cycle by highlighting the “key event re-ignites debate” element.  The Middle East is off the screen and the front page until there’s  atrocity (which ISIS seem to be very good at), and the issues between and among the US, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen usually raise up in the wake of a drone strike or Saudi Air Force attack.  Until the “re-ignition” there’s nothing much in the analysis and explication department unless we elevate the “Benghazi” syndrome to rational status; the attack on the consulate being reduced to  short-hand  for “I’m angry about US foreign policy in general and I want somebody to do something I like about it.”   Or, make it simple, make it dramatic, make it receptive to an easy and cheap solution, so I can comfortably ignore it?

And the cycle goes on.

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