Media

Once Again, Conservative Media Treat Their Audience Like Idiots

Eat up what I'm serving, rubes. (Photo of Laura Ingraham by Gage Skidmore)
Dinesh D'Souza is one of a number of people who has made a good living over the years trafficking in anti-liberal screeds, culminating in his book The Roots of Obama's Rage and follow-on film 2016 , in which he charges that President Stokely Charmi—excuse me, President Barack Obama is consumed with anti-white racism, hatred of America, and generalized fury because he's living out the "Kenyan anti-colonialism" of the father he barely knew. It's a story pitched to the deranged, but there's a healthy market for that in the right, as we know. So when D'Souza was charged by a U.S. Attorney with violating campaign finance laws with a straw donor scheme, it wasn't surprising that some conservatives ran to his defense. You might think they'd take the opportunity to attack the law as unjust, particularly since D'Souza's lawyer all but admitted his guilt, essentially saying that sure, he violated the law, but he only did so out of friendship for the candidate in question and not for corrupt...

Roger Ailes and the Politics of Resentment

Bill O'Reilly yells at a liberal.
When New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman set out to write a biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, he knew that Fox's PR machine would do everything it could to discredit him. Sherman's answer, it seems (the book hasn't yet been released) was to be as thorough as he could (he conducted over 600 interviews) and hire fact-checkers to pore over the manuscript. Nevertheless, what's now beginning is essentially a political battle over the book, with Sherman on one side and Fox on the other. I would imagine that media outlets that report on it will do so in pretty much the same way they do any other political conflict. I'll surely have more to say once I get my hands on it, but for now I want to address one thing about Ailes and Fox This morning, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple takes Sherman to task for a portion of an interview he did with CBS This Morning in which Sherman failed to provide particularly good support for his contention that Ailes "divides the country." In...

Choosing the Right Filter for Presidential Image Making

This man was not actually a cowboy. (White House photo)
On Friday, Larry Speakes died. If you're under 35 or so the name probably doesn't mean that much to you, but for many people, he'll always be the symbol of a particular transformation in American politics. Whenever I think of Speakes, who served as White House spokesperson during the Reagan years, I think of a particular quote, one of those timeless utterances that sums up something fundamental about politics or a particular era. It came about because his boss, Ronald Reagan, liked to tell stories to make arguments about policy, or just to entertain people. The problem was that many of these stories were made up, and many others seemed to have come from movies he saw. One of the latter was a story Reagan told in a speech to a group of Congressional Medal of Honor winners, about an old soldier in World War II who was in a plane that was on its way to crash after being damaged by antiaircraft fire. Everyone began bailing out, but one terrified young soldier was caught in the gun turret...

The Answers to Two Big Questions about the Christie Bridge Scandal

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
Since there are probably only so many posts you want to click on about Chris Christie's Bridgeghazi (or Bridgegate or Bridgeica Bridgewinsky or whatever you want to call it—the scandal is not yet big enough to get its own name, at least one that doesn't reference another scandal), this post actually concerns two separate issues. If you're only interested in the question of why this is getting so much media attention, go ahead and scroll down. But first… Yesterday, in writing about this issue, I suggested that it was entirely possible that Governor Christie knew nothing about the intentionally created traffic tie-ups, since whatever else you think of him, "he isn't an idiot, and only an idiot would think screwing over a small-town mayor in so public a fashion, just before an election you're going to win in a walk, would be a good idea." Since then, a number of colleagues and friends have suggested that this is pretty tenuous logic, and I have to admit that they have a point, so I...

David Brooks and the Modern Marijuana Confession

I've long held that much of American politics is a neverending argument between the hippies and the jocks, as Baby Boomer politicians and commentators replay over and over the cultural conflict of their youth. And no issue brings that conflict more clearly to the fore than the question of marijuana legalization. Today, David Brooks wrote a predictably mind-boggling column on the topic, in which he reveals that he smoked pot as a teen but thinks legalization would mean "nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be." I'm not going to spend time dealing with Brooks' argument, since plenty of people have done that already (if you want to read one takedown, I'd recommend Philip Bump's ), but there is one aspect of this debate I want to take note of: the change in the nature of marijuana confessions. It isn't just public opinion on marijuana that has evolved. Now, it seems, offering your opinion on legalization requires you to reveal...

The Menagerie of Lesser-Known Experts

The New Yorker
expert : “An ‘expert,’ judging not by dictionary definitions but by common usage, is a young man who is hired by a newspaper to make prophecies which are never fulfilled and to express opinions which are ultimately proved to have been all wrong.” It's hard to flip through a newspaper without seeing the assembled attitudes of the world's many experts ( defined by Urban Dictionary as "someone with a blog or a dude with an opinion"). Each reporter has their go-to legal expert, their reliable election expert, their immigration and education experts, who can be called upon when a story gets just too chewy to tackle alone. A cursory examination of today's print editions reveals the opinions of environmental and health experts , climate experts , medical experts , earthquake experts , and Matthew McConaughey (expert-in-training). The sheer magnitude of experts referenced regularly seems to hint at a bit of expert inflation (we blame millennials), but sometimes an expert quoted in an article...

What Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson Can Teach Us about Empathy

Yes, I have something to add to the Duck Dynasty controversy, wherein reality TV star Phil Robertson got in trouble for expressing anti-gay views, was suspended by A&E, and has now become the cause celebre of nitwit conservative politicians from across the land. This won't take long. I'm not even going to bother addressing the idiocy of the "constitutional conservatives" who think the First Amendment guarantees you the legal right to (1) a cable reality show and (2) never be criticized for anything you say. Nor am I going to talk about Robertson's anti-gay statement, except to say that nobody buys you couching your bigotry in "biblical" terms just because you call yourself a Christian and throw out some scriptural references. Once you start campaigning to have people who eat shellfish and the sinners who work on the Sabbath executed (the Bible says so!) then we'll accept that you're just honoring your religion. It's Robertson's comments about how happy black people were living...

It's Not Washington, It's You

The seat of evil, circa 1835. (Wikimedia Commons)
I wasn't going to write about this, but then something shocking happened: Chris Cillizza wrote something I agreed with. So now I have little choice. Here's what I'm talking about: a reporter named Sam Youngman wrote a piece for Politico about how despicable Washington journalistic culture is and how he's so glad he went back to Kentucky to be a real reporter after his heady days of flying around on Air Force One. Now you might think that as someone who is often critical of the Washington press corps and sometimes of Washington in general (although it's complicated ) I would be saying "Right on, brother!" But I'm not. The first problem is that Youngman's story reads as much like a tale of his own douchitude as it does an indictment of Washington journalists. For instance, no one forced him to treat the image-making of national politics as though it were the beginning and end of every story. And certainly, no one forced him to do this: "The first couple years, I spent almost every night...

NYT Mag Offers Inexplicable 2006 John McCain Cover Profile in 2013

The cover of the next New York Times Magazine
In the last couple of years, every time something John McCain says makes "news," my immediate reaction—sometimes on Twitter, sometimes just in my head—is, "Remind me again why anybody should give a crap what John McCain thinks about anything?" I've never been able to get a satisfactory answer to this question. And here comes star reporter Mark Leibovich, author of the well-received This Town , with a 6,634-word cover profile of McCain for next week's New York Times Magazine . Do we need another one of these? I would have answered "no" before reading, but after, I'm even more sure. If you're doing this kind of profile, the first thing you have to do is answer, "Why?" Why do we care what McCain is up to? Did you learn anything important or interesting by following him around for a few days? Leibovich gives a shot to answering this question, and fails completely. He acknowledges all the clichés that have been attached to McCain over the years (maverick!), but then, without acknowledging...

NBC's Big Fat Gay Mistake

The network's half-hearted attempts to appear gay-friendly while broadcasting the Sochi Olympics only underscore its complicity with the Kremlin's crackdown on LGBT rights and freedom of the press.

Flickr/Edgar Zuniga
Flickr/Edgar Zuniga T here is no longer even the illusion of a free press in Russia—not after yesterday, when the Kremlin posted a decree on its website announcing the liquidation of RIA Novosti , the leading state news agency. “The move,” the news service wrote in its own account of the story, “is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.” That “tightening,” which intensified when Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to power last year and immediately set about silencing any form of opposition to his notoriously crooked government, has reached a fever pitch in the months leading up to Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi this February. The country and the games have come under increasing international scrutiny and criticism: First, in the wake of the Kremlin’s passage, this past June, of a trifecta of draconian anti-LGBT laws...

The Year in Preview: There Will Be Gaffes

AP Photo/Richard Drew, file
Lots of things happened in 2013. President Obama was sworn in for a second term. We got a new pope and a new royal baby. Two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon and scared a nation. The Supreme Court stripped power from the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act. But these are all stories we've heard before, and if you haven't, you certainly will in the millions of "Year in Review" pieces set to be posted between now and New Year's. Over the next two weeks, our writers will instead preview the year ahead on their beats, letting you know far in advance what the next big story about the Supreme Court—or the environmental movement, immigration reform, reproductive rights, you get the picture—will be. You're welcome in advance for not making you read a dozen more retrospectives on Ted Cruz and Twerking and fiscal cliffs and shutdowns and selfies. First up, the news. AP Photo/Byron Rollins A s we all know, this is the age of information, when the entire media world changes...

We Wrote a Heartbreaking and Terrifying Post about Viral Content without Lists or GIFs. Then You Clicked on It, and Magic Happened.

They had the formula down, and that was 40 years ago.
As long as people have been publishing, they've been trying to figure out what will make large numbers of people burn with a desire to read the things they're publishing. Like much of the study of human psychology, what we don't yet understand far outweighs what we do understand. But now, with the rise of social media, the search for the perfect formula to make people say both "I have to read that" and then "I have to encourage as many people as I can to also read that" has become an outright frenzy. Don't worry, this isn't some pretentious "Thus did America descend into the quicksand of triviality, never to return" pronouncement. I'll confess that I watch the number of tweets and Facebook likes all of my posts and articles get, and if a post takes off, I'm pleased. After all, writers want their work to be read by as many people as possible. We do a lot of serious journalism and analysis here at the Prospect, and we understand that much of it will never go viral, but we're no more...

CNN Losing Interest in News

Flickr/Gregor Smith
CNN has been having problems for some time, with anemic ratings and something of an identity crisis. In a world where people can get news of the moment from a million places, just what is the network that pioneered cable news for ? Not that the network doesn't still make plenty of money (it does), but unlike Fox and MSNBC, CNN hasn't seemed to have been able to figure out what its model is. In an interview with Capital New York, CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who has been on the job less than a year, said what the network needs is "more shows and less newscasts," in order to grab "viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E." It all adds up to "an attitude and a take." As easy as this is to mock, I think they should go for it. Because really, would our democracy suffer if, say, we only got one hour a day of Wolf Blitzer's vaguely befuddled "take" on the news instead of the current two hours? Let's take a look at the current CNN schedule . After the...

Will Zombie Marco Rubio Win in 2016?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Gage Skidmore / Flickr I f there’s one simple lesson from past presidential elections I wish reporters and pundits could learn, it’s this: Stop declaring candidacies dead before the primary even starts! Mistakes during the invisible primary can doom a campaign. But they usually don’t. The current burial that has me annoyed is the one for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who received terrible reviews for his handling of immigration reform this year. Rubio, up to that point, had been considered by The Great Mentioner as a very possible nominee. Now, however, you can’t shake a stick without coming across mentions of his early demise. I have no idea whether Rubio will be running for president once the Iowa caucuses roll around, let alone whether he’ll be a strong competitor. What I do know is that the press is far too quick to write off presidential-nomination candidates who encounter setbacks. Perhaps the classic case is their premature burial of John McCain in summer 2007 after he ran...

The Media Need to Do More to Help People Navigate Obamacare

Thanks, Fox Business Channel!
Yesterday, Tim Noah made a point in an MSNBC appearance that I think deserves a lot more attention. Media outlets have been doing lots of reporting on the problems of the Affordable Care Act rollout. What they haven't done is provided their audiences with practical information that could help them navigate the new system. Of course, most Americans don't have to do anything, since they have employer-provided insurance. But for all the attention we've been paying to the individual market, media outlets haven't done much to be of service. " The New York Times has published the URL for the New York exchange exactly twice," Noah said, "both before October first." My experience in talking to journalists about the publication of this kind of thing—unsexy yet useful information, whether it's how to navigate a new health law or understanding where candidates stand on issues—is that they often think that addressing it once is enough. When you ask them about it, they'll say, "We did a piece on...

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