Media

Stephen Colbert Isn't the Only One With a Fictional Character

Flickr/Reid Rosenberg

So Stephen Colbert will be replacing David Letterman when Letterman retires next year, and you'll be shocked to learn that at least one conservative is spitting mad about it. "CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America," said Rush Limbaugh. "No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservative values—now it's just wide out in the open." Funny, I thought Hollywood's assault on traditional American values was pretty overt already.

Sunday Show Becomes 10 Percent Less Awful

Look! People who know what they're talking about!

A week and a half ago, I wrote a post over at the Plum Line with a couple of suggestions for how the Sunday shows could become less terrible. Some commenters pointed out that the real audience for these programs isn't actual people, but those within the Washington bubble for whom status and influence are everything. So my suggestion that the shows should never again interview a White House communication director or a "party strategist" of any kind—in other words, people who are there solely for the purpose of spinning—was unlikely to get much of a hearing. And my suggestion to drastically scale back on interviews with elected officials, who are also exceedingly unlikely to say anything interesting, would likewise fall on deaf ears.

Some Notes on the Outrage Industrial Complex

The lead story today on Talking Points Memo.

In past years, I would marvel at the right wing's ability to take an obscure liberal from somewhere who had said something stupid and propel him to national prominence, through the use of Fox and talk radio. My favorite example was Ward Churchill, a professor in Colorado who became a celebrity after he made some comments of the "we had it coming" variety after September 11. During one stretch, there was some discussion of Churchill on every episode of "The O'Reilly Factor" save one for an entire month. The point behind Churchill and a hundred other such stories the right promoted wasn't just that their audiences should be angry at this one guy, but that liberals in general hate America and want to destroy it; the individual story is a stand-in for the larger group at whom they're trying to generate contempt.

But more recently, liberals have gotten, dare I say, just as good at this as conservatives were, maybe better. And I think it deserves a moment of discussion.

Your Virtual Future

Flickr/Sergey Galyonkin

Don't be alarmed—I'm delivering the traditional Friday technology post a day early, because I want to talk a bit about virtual reality (VR). Facebook just spent $2 billion to buy Oculus, a company that as of yet has essentially no revenue and no customers, since its first product, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, is still in its development stages (game developers have models, but they haven't been sold to the public). Facebook thinks it's buying the future. Is it? And should you care? Well, Oculus itself may or may not be the future, but virtual reality is, for real this time. And yes, you should care.

If a Candidate Goes to Iowa and No Reporter Pays Attention, Has the Presidential Campaign Begun?

Flickr/Angela Radulescu

There's a ritual we go through around this time, in which reporters and commentators start writing about the next presidential campaign, but while making sure to alert their readers that they feel kind of guilty about it. It's absurd to talk about this stuff when the actual election is still two and a half years away, and now that we've admitted that, let's go ahead and dive deep into who are the leading candidates to be Hillary Clinton's field director! After the midterm elections in November, the obligatory mea culpas, which were never all that sincere to begin with, will begin to disappear from the articles.

Some Thoughts On New Journalistic Ventures, Internet Time, and Your Media Diet

This man is unstoppable clickbait. (Flickr/Greg Peverill-Conti)

This week, I've been substituting for Greg Sargent at his Plum Line blog at the Washington Post, which has been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed getting exposed to a new and larger audience. But it has also been challenging, particularly since I've tried to keep posting here on the Prospect as well. Greg's blog runs on a pretty strict schedule—his readers expect a post to be there when they get to their desks at 9 am, then a couple more through the day, and finally a roundup of links to other stories at the end of the day. They also expect writing that is pegged to today's events, but gives a broader perspective that will still be relevant tomorrow.

So that's demanding, even if there are people out there who write a lot more than that every day (Bekah Grant, a former writer for VentureBeat, recently wrote how "I wrote an average of 5 posts a day, churning out nearly 1,740 articles over the course of 20 months. That is, by all objective standards, insane." And don't even ask about the demands made on the people who write for sites like Gawker.) In the few moments when I haven't been panicking about whether my idea for the post that's due in an hour will be sufficiently interesting (or when I have no idea for the next post at all), it has given me some perspective on what we do here at the Prospect and how our writing and reporting fits into readers' lives.

Ezra Klein's Queer New Hire

Vox Media's decision to bring Brandon Ambrosino on board is click-bait contrarianism at its worst. 

AP Photo

On Tuesday, former Washington Post pundit (and Prospect alum) Ezra Klein sent a shock wave through the gay community by announcing he had hired gay anti-gay apologist Brandon Ambrosino to join him at Vox Media, the much-hyped digital venture that's aiming to remake journalism for the Internet age. Liberal watchdog group Media Matters was the first to sound the alarm, but within a day, gay-rights supporters—from Mark Stern at Slate to John Aravosis at AmericaBlog—had joined the chorus of voices asking Klein: What were you thinking?

Meaningless Special Elections and the Press's Consequential Imperative

Failed congressional candidate Alex Sink, putting on her victory face. (Flickr/Village Square)

If it were up to me, I would eliminate special elections for the House of Representatives entirely. They make sense when it comes to the Senate, where every state has only two senators and terms run six years, meaning a vacancy can leave a state without significant representation for an extended period of time. But when a congressman dies or retires and there's another election to fill that critical 1/435th portion of the lower house's lawmakers in a few months, do we really need to mobilize the state's electoral resources, spend millions of dollars, and get a bunch of retirees to haul themselves down to the polls, only to do it all again before you know it? Hardly.

The other objectionable thing about special elections is that because they're almost always the only election happening at that moment, they not only get an inordinate amount of attention, the results also get absurdly over-interpreted. This is a symptom of what we might call the Consequential Imperative among the press (note: if you have a better moniker for this that could propel me to the front rank of contemporary neologism-coiners, hit me up on Twitter). The Consequential Imperative is the impulse, the desire, the need to assert that whatever a journalist happens to be reporting on is very, very important. So for instance, if your editor sent you down to Florida to do a week's worth of stories on the special election that just concluded there, you are extremely unlikely to write that this election was a contest between a couple of bozos, and means next to nothing for national politics (unless you're Dave Weigel, who for some reason seems to be almost the only reporter capable of saying such a thing). It's the same impulse that causes every gaffe, polling blip, and faux-controversy of every campaign to be presented as though it could dramatically alter the outcome of the election, despite all the experience telling us it won't.

Barack Obama Considers Punching Zach Galifianakis In the Face

Yes, this actually happened.

When people think back on the attempts of presidents and presidential candidates to engage directly with pop culture, they usually date the modern era to Bill Clinton donning shades and playing sax on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. There were a few awkward attempts prior to that, like Richard Nixon participating in the "sock it to me" gag on Laugh-In in 1968. But Barack Obama has probably done more of these appearances than anybody else, not just going on shows like The Tonight Show and The View to be interviewed, but actually becoming part of the entertainment.

He slow jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, but in that case he was essentially the straight man, which is the safe place for a president to be. After all, he needs to be in on the fun, but not sacrifice his dignity. Nixon may have said "Sock it to me," but his advisers were smart enough not to let him get hit in the head with a giant club. This morning, however, we get a look at what may be a new high in presidential pop culture performance. Believe it or not, Barack Obama sat down with Zach Galifianakis for an episode of "Between Two Ferns."

This Is Your Camry On Drugs

The change in the social perception of drunk driving is one of the great public health success stories of the last half-century. It went from being perceived as an amusing bit of recklessness to something truly despicable, and today drunk driving deaths are half of what they were a few decades ago. And now that recreational marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado, almost surely to be followed by other states, there's a renewed need to discourage driving while high.

The key to the success of the drunk driving campaign was creating a new social norm, one in which people would discourage each other from driving drunk. It also gave people a means to avoid it, by popularizing the idea of the designated driver. Washington state is starting a campaign to discourage driving while high with three PSAs soon to be airing in the state. No frying eggs here:

Can Political Coverage Ever Get Better?

Reporters at an Obama rally in 2007. (Flickr/Steve Garfield)

As we begin inching our way toward the next presidential campaign, it may be far too early to begin the idiotic speculation with which coverage at this stage tends to be consumed (Can anyone beat Hillary? Will Ted Cruz be the Tea Party darling? Who'll win the Iowa straw poll? Dear god, who?). But it's never too early to ask whether anything can be done to improve the news coverage through which Americans see campaigns.

Television Still Hugely Profitable, Also Dying

Like all readers of this magazine/web site, you're an up-to-the-minute, techno-savvy news imbiber, surfing the info waves like a Kelly Slater of the media, uploading data to the C-drive of your mind through your panoply of mobile devices, not letting your on-the-go lifestyle inhibit your endless search for knowledge. Or maybe you watch a lot of TV, just like people did in the 50's. Or maybe both!

Either way, this may be of interest. A new report from Nielsen (via AdWeek) shows just how large TV still is. And though digital video is gaining fast, it still brings in only a tiny amount of money. Behold:

Rand Paul Plays Ted Nugent Like a Fender Stratocaster

Flickr/David Defoe

Rand Paul continues to win my admiration, I have to say. There are people who come into the Senate with a kind of celebrity status and get lots of good press—one Barack Obama comes to mind—but I can't think of anyone who has gotten so much good press through their own initiative, coming up with one clever way after another to get people to pay attention to them in ways that are almost always positive. His latest move required a subtle ideological tightrope-walk, one that Paul played perfectly. And all it took was a tweet.

Daily Meme: Death by Metadata

  • Backed by billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Edward Snowden confidant and NSA antagonist Glenn Greenwald launched his superblog The Intercept today with a bang: new revelations about the National Security Agency's (NSA) role in targeted drone strikes.

Is Chris Christie Being Treated Unfairly?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

I have no doubt that right about now, Chris Christie believes he's being treated unfairly. He sees himself beset by his political opponents, by the media (both local and national), and even by some Republicans who'd like to see the guy who a few months ago looked like the most formidable 2016 presidential contender get knocked down a few pegs. And for what? Because a couple of knuckleheads who worked for him thought tying up traffic on the George Washington Bridge would be a good way to stick it to some two-bit mayor? That's what brings down a man whose destiny it was to be the leader of the free world? How can a just universe tolerate such a thing?

Like many a politician before him, Christie was elevated by an adoring media, and is now being laid low by that same media. But his biggest problem is not that unfair conclusions are being drawn about what he and his administration have done. It's that everybody's looking at everything. A reporter who gets a tip about some funny business happening with something connected to New Jersey state government doesn't have to work hard to convince his editors to let him pursue the story. People involved in politics who have interesting stories to tell, and who might never have considered them anything more than amusing tales to swap over drinks, now say to themselves, "Maybe I should call up a reporter." The snowball of Christie-related misdeeds starts rolling down the hill, grabbing everything in its path.

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