Media

No Love for Obama as Election Day Approaches

Official White House photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza I f Republicans win a significant victory in next Tuesday's election—and it now looks like they will indeed take the Senate—get ready for a whole lot of Obama-bashing, not only from the press and Republicans, but from liberals, as well. Some will go so far as to declare his presidency over, and I suspect more than a few genuine leftists will heap scorn on their liberal friends for their naïve embrace of a politician promising (as politicians always do) to change Washington. We can see one variant of this critique, the Jimmy Carter comparison, in a piece by Thomas Frank , based on an interview he conducted with historian Rick Perlstein: The moral of this story is not directed at Democratic politicians; it is meant for us, the liberal rank and file. We still "yearn to believe," as Perlstein says. There is something about the Carter/Obama personality that appeals to us in a deep, unspoken way, and that has led Democrats to fall for a whole string...

Rand Paul Continues Record of Brilliant Media Manipulation

Flickr/circulating
As I've probably made clear by now, I am 1) abundantly skeptical of Rand Paul's ability to be president of the United States, and only somewhat less skeptical of his ability to win the presidency; and 2) in tremendous admiration of Paul's skill at working the media. There will be abundant time to explore #1 in the months ahead, but today offers us yet another example of #2. Paul, you see, is convening a super-secret meeting of his brain trust to discuss his upcoming presidential campaign, and somehow, news of the meeting found its way to the National Journal and reporter Shane Goldmacher: Sen. Rand Paul is summoning his top strategists and political advisers to Washington one week after the November election for a strategy session over his widely expected 2016 presidential bid. The gathering of Paul's top lieutenants in the nation's capital has been quietly organized by Doug Stafford, his chief political strategist, who began reaching out to key figures in Paul's political world...

Why Liberals Love (and Trust) NPR

Flickr/MrTinDC
The Pew Research Center has one of its ginormous studies out today, this one about polarization and media use, and as usual it's full of interesting stuff. I want to make a point about news in general and NPR in particular, and then after that, for those who care about these things, I have a methodological point to make about how we measure ideology. One of the distinct things about the Pew results is that conservatives love, love, love Fox News, while no single news outlet has the same kind of near-universal use among liberals. Look, for instance at this chart showing which sources each group cites as their main source of news: But the really interesting difference emerges when they ask which sources people trust: You'll notice that for the consistent conservatives, trust is basically a function of ideology and partisanship. The only sources that over 50 percent of them trust are Fox and a bunch of conservative radio hosts (and yes, conservatives would argue that that's because all...

Whether Lies or B.S., Netanyahu's Interviews Pose Special Challenges for Journalists

The storyline and most of the details of a tale told by the Israeli prime minister on American television were deliberately untrue.

Face The Nation/CBS News
Face the Nation/CBS News Benjamin Netanyau, prime minister of Israel, is interviewed by Bob Schieffer of CBS News on the October 5, 2014, edition of Face the Nation . A journalist colleague in Jerusalem sent me a link to the prime minister of our land speaking to a faraway audience on CBS News’s Face the Nation . She expected the video clip to make me laugh and choke at the same time. She was right. It also made me think of philosopher Harry Frankfurt's immortal essay , "On Bullshit," because the unavoidable question, while watching Benjamin Netanyahu responding to White House criticism of settlement activity in Jerusalem, was whether he was deliberately speaking untruths, or was spinning words with absolutely no concern about whether they were true or not. As Frankfurt demonstrated, this is the difference between lying and bullshitting. (Understand that I follow Frankfurt in using the latter word strictly as a philosophical category. In contrast to the New York Times , therefore, the...

It's Not Your Senator's Job to Stop Ebola

Flickr/Krysten Newby
To the endless list of inane things candidates accuse one another of, we can now add this: My opponent has not done enough to stop Ebola! Or actually, in this case it's local media , and the politician in question is Pat Roberts; but Roberts' opponent is picking up on it (and may have been the source of the story, since a nearly identical report appeared on a second local news station ): On the stump and in television interviews, Senator Pat Roberts has taken aim at the White House's response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and in the United States, including calling for a travel ban to effected [sic] West African nations. But when Roberts had a chance, as a member of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, to attend a special joint hearing with top public health officials briefing lawmakers on the virus and the fight against it—he was a no-show. If only Pat Roberts had been at that hearing, we'd all be safe. There are few criticisms more meaningless and yet...

Americans In the Grip of Irrational Fears, Just Like Usual

Flickr/NIAID
Thomas Eric Duncan, the American who contracted Ebola in a visit to Liberia, died today in Texas. That tragedy will obviously be big news, and it will lead more people to freak out about the disease, something that will be heartily encouraged by the cable news channels (or at least by Fox News, which has apparently been going a little crazy on the "We're all going to get Ebola because Obama hates America Benghazibenghazibenghazi!" line). And freaked out we are. Let's look at some poll numbers: Gallup asked people "did you, personally, worry about getting the Ebola virus yesterday, or not?" Twenty-two percent of people said that they worried yesterday about getting Ebola. Then they asked people how likely it was that they or someone in their family would get Ebola. Four percent said "very likely," 10 percent said "somewhat likely," 34 percent said "not too likely," and 49 percent said "not at all likely." On one hand, almost six in seven Americans are still tethered to reality on this...

Social Contagion and Facebook's Mea Culpa: An Interview With Deanna Zandt

The social media giant may have misfired with its secret manipulation, but a leading technologist says that such mapping—done right—can be a tool for good.

(Photo by: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)
Sophia Wallace Deanna Zandt, technologist L ast July, Facebook came under fire for a social contagion experiment that manipulated users’ news feeds in order to test users’ emotions. Employing a technique known as social contagion mapping, the experiment used the newsfeeds of 689,000 users; manipulating their newsfeeds, Facebook sought to find out if putting negative posts at the top of the experimental group’s newsfeeds would cause them to experience negative emotions. Facebook issued an apology and released a statement on October 2 claiming that future research on users would be “subjected to greater internal scrutiny,” according to the New York Times . But the details of how the new standards would be implemented remain unclear. Since its launch over a decade ago and now with over one billion users, Facebook propelled the entire world into a new era of communication, socializing, relationships and emotions. Though everyone from your Great Aunt Mildred to the president of the United...

Contraception, News Coverage, and Identifying Fringe Groups

The story of the day comes from The New York Times , which reports on this study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing the results of a project that provided long-term contraception to teenagers. The results were both stunning and completely predictable (we'll get to that in a second), but I want to raise a small objection to something in the Times story. It concerns how groups should be identified, and when it's necessary to alert readers to the fact that you're quoting somebody on the fringe. But first, the news: it turns out that if you offer long-term contraception (mostly IUDs and implants) to teenagers, they don't get pregnant. Take a look at this graph, which compares teens in the program (called CHOICE) to national data on young women of the same age: As I said, these results are remarkable in that the reductions in pregnancy are so dramatic, but also predictable—birth control works well at controlling birth! If you have a teenage daughter, you should probably think...

Separating the Presidential Wheat from the Chaff

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Just what does it mean for someone to be qualified to be, or even run for, president? I thought of that question when watching this interview on Fox News Sunday with Ben Carson, who is preparing to be the first member of what we might call the nutball caucus of the 2016 Republican primaries, occupied last time around by Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and to a lesser extent (since he was actually briefly competitive) Rick Santorum. I've always found Carson to be a puzzlement. On one hand, he was a highly successful neurosurgeon, and you can't become that without being a relatively smart person. On the other hand, when he talks about politics and policy, it quickly becomes clear that the man is a complete lunatic. In this interview, Wallace asks him, "You said recently that you thought that there might not actually be elections in 2016 because of widespread anarchy. Do you really believe that?" Carson responds, "I hope that that's not going to be the case, but certainly there is that...

Black Wealth On TV: Realities Don’t Match Perceptions

African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but have less than 3 percent of total wealth.

Bill Cosby, Carsey-Werner Company, National Broadcasting Company (NBC)
Carsey Warner/NBC R aised by a single mother in South Central Los Angeles in the 1990s, I didn’t realize just how poor my family was until I filled out my FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) when applying for colleges. That is when I learned that my total family income was below the poverty line. Instead of being embarrassed by the discovery, I was blown away by how my mom managed to do so much with so few resources. My family wasn’t rich, but I didn’t feel poor. Perhaps it was because I grew up watching reruns of Good Times , where the parents worked multiple jobs to ensure shelter in a high rise project. In other sitcoms such as Martin , The Jamie Foxx Show , and Steve Harvey , non-traditional family units shared one similarity: The main characters all had jobs. Sure, The Cosby Show (celebrating its 25th anniversary this season) was also a big hit and it showcased an upper-middle-class family. The Huxtabels depicted wealthy African Americans, and demonstrated the...

People Facing Death: ISIL, Vietnam, and the Impact of Images

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, fires his pistol, shoots, executes into the head of suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street Feb. 1, 1968, early in the Tet Offensive. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)
(AP Photo/Eddie Adams) B arbie Zelizer is a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches and conducts research about the cultural functions of journalism. Her latest book, About to Die: How News Images Move the Public , surveys the history of a particularly powerful kind of image, that of people in the moments before their death. We spoke last week about the way certain images are affecting the debate about recent news events. According to an NBC/WSJ poll , 94 percent of Americans say they heard about the beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, a higher percentage than claimed to have knowledge of any other news story in the past five years. Paul Waldman: You wrote a book, About to Die, about news images of people in the moments before their deaths. How do the images of James Foley and Steven Sotloff before their beheadings fit into that history? Barbie Zelizer: They absolutely follow that history. They're...

The Power of Images, Real and Assumed

(Rex Features via AP Images)
In the last couple of weeks we've seen two interesting examples of the power of images to change public discussion in a way facts alone often can't. I'm talking, of course, about the video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee unconscious in an elevator, and the images of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff just before they were beheaded by ISIS. You can say that images have a unique power, which is true in some ways but often overstated in others. What's indisputable though, and evident in both these cases, is that the dissemination of a powerful image makes powerful people change the decisions they make . And that can be what changes everything. Let's talk about Foley and Sotloff first. There's a narrative developing which says that the American people were tired of war and reluctant to act against ISIS, then they saw the pictures of those two Americans moments before their brutal murders, and that hardened their hearts and gave them the thirst for revenge that fed support for...

Republicans Make Big Advances Thanks to Citizens United

The increase in corporate money in elections has favored one party over the other.

(Cartoon by DonkeyHotey via Flickr)
This article originally appeared on Facing South , a website published by the Institute for Southern Studies. I t's been more than four years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , a ruling that expanded the ability of corporations and unions to influence politics. Now, with two election cycles completed, a series of studies have emerged to assess what impact it's had on our political system. One of the first and most thorough investigations into Citizens United 's effects on elections, published in July by professors at the University of Alberta and Emory University and a researcher at Competition Economics, concludes that the ruling has significantly benefited Republican candidates for state legislatures -- especially in North Carolina and Tennessee. Before the January 2010 Citizens United decision, corporations and labor unions were prohibited from making so-called independent expenditures for federal races --...

The Stupidity of Hating Your Senator for Living Where You've Sent Her to Work

(MSNBC/Morning Joe)
(MSNBC/Morning Joe) T his year, not one, but two, incumbent senators up for re-election have been dogged by the "issue" of the precise location where they rest their heads at the end of a weary day of lawmaking. First it was Republican Pat Roberts, who, we learned in February , lists the home of some friends as his official residence in Kansas; apparently he crashes there when he's in the state. And now it's Democrat Mary Landrieu, whose heretofore unimpeachable Louisiana roots (her father Moon was the mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s, and her brother Mitch holds that office today) are now being questioned. It seems that although Landrieu owns a home in Washington, she's registered to vote in the New Orleans house she grew up in, where her parents still reside (even though it's technically owned by Mary and her eight siblings, all of whose names begin with "M"—make of that what you will). The opposition researchers have certainly been earning their keep. But should the rest of us...

The Fire This Time: America's Withdrawal From the Fight Against Racism Guarantees More Fergusons

(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes)
(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes) A protester shouts as she moves away from a line of riot police in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes) This article originally appeared on the Policy Shop website of Demos . I remember the stunned reaction of so many Americans back in the summer of 2005 when legions of poor black people in desperate circumstances seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized in New Orleans during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina. Expressions of disbelief poured in from around the nation: “How can this be happening?” “I had no idea conditions were that bad.” “My God, is this America?” People found themselves staring at the kind of poverty they thought had been largely wiped out decades earlier. President George W. Bush seemed as astonished as anyone. He made an eerie, oddly-lit, outdoor appearance in the city’s French Quarter on the evening of September 15 to announce that...

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