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  • 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...
  • Why Is President Obama the Only One Not Trying to Make the Public Afraid?

    Remember this? Good times.
    There's something odd going on with regard to this ISIL situation (and by the way, it would be good if we could agree on a name for it), or odd if your point of reference is the Bush era, the consequences of which we're still grappling with. Back then, the way things worked was that the president and his advisors would come out and tell us some swarthy Middle Easterners were coming to kill you and your family, and therefore it was imperative that we assent to the policies the administration wanted to pursue. When asked for evidence, they'd respond with statements like, " We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud ." The secretary of Homeland Security told us all to stockpile duct tape and plastic sheeting so you'd be able to survive when al-Qaeda launched a chemical weapons attack on your street. But over time, when most Americans were not actually killed by terrorists, the fear began to subside. Today, we have a president once again asking for support for a new military...
  • Just How Big a Threat to the U.S. Is ISIL?

    It didn't surprise anyone that most Republicans were displeased with President Obama's speech about ISIS (which he called ISIL, another of its names) last night, and it would be natural to conclude that the key division at work is between a president and party reluctant to use military force abroad, and an opposition party with near-limitless enthusiasm for military adventures. There's plenty of truth there, but there's an even more fundamental divide, even if it's not going to be spoken by President Obama or that many Democrats. The real question is whether ISIL actually constitutes a threat to the United States. For Republicans, it's so obvious that ISIS does threaten us that there isn't any use debating it . ISIL has seized large swaths of territory and picked up weapons left behind by the Iraqi army, they're well-funded thanks to pillaging banks and selling oil on the black market, and they have dreams of a caliphate spanning the entire Middle East. So of course they're a threat...
  • 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...
  • Quotes of the Day: On Obama's 'Deep Belief'

    Everything this guy said was true, except for the stuff that wasn't, which means nothing. (White House Photo by Eric Draper)
    Every once in a while, a politician speaks the truth. Today, that politician is Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, talking about the possibility of Congress voting on a resolution authorizing President Obama to use force in Iraq and possibly Syria against ISIS. Behold : "A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, 'Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,' " said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. "It's an election year. A lot of Democrats don't know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don't want to change anything. We like the path we're on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long." Now that is some serious candor. Not that it isn't anything a hundred pundits might observe (because it's true), but it's not often you catch a politician being so forthright, particularly when he's talkiong about his own party. How can such a thing be...
  • Can Republicans Be Convinced to Help Improve the Affordable Care Act?

    Eventually, they may find their way to ignoring this guy. (Flicir/Fibonacci Blue)
    When the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, people made lots of predictions about how its implementation would proceed, in both practical and political terms. While the law's opponents all agreed that it would be a disaster from start to finish, the law's supporters were slightly less unanimous, if nevertheless optimistic. Most figured that though there would probably be problems here and there, by and large the law would work as it was intended, enabling millions of uninsured Americans to get coverage and providing all of us a level of health security we hadn't known before. And that's what has happened. But there was one other assumption among the supporters that's worth examining anew, now that most of us agree the law isn't going to be repealed. Like every large and complex piece of social legislation, it was said, the ACA would have to be tweaked and adjusted over time. For instance, when it was passed in 1935, Social Security excluded agricultural and domestic workers...
  • The Top 10 Percent of White Families Own Almost Everything

    Chart: Demos - Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire (Press Association via AP Images)
    This article was originally published by Demos. T he Federal Reserve released the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances on Thursday. The overall wealth distribution picture is grim and getting worse: The top 10 percent of families own 75.3 percent of the nation's wealth. The bottom half of families own 1.1 percent of it. The families squished in between those two groups own 24.6 percent of the national wealth. The present wealth distribution is more unequal than it was in 2010, the last year this survey was conducted. Specifically, the top 10 percent increased their share of the national wealth by 0.8 percentage points between 2010 and 2013. The bottom half and middle 40 percent saw their share of the national wealth fall by 0.1 and 0.7 percentage points respectively. These wealth figures bring to mind a 1955 Red Scare era educational film , which presses at one point: In order to have a proper appreciation of the American economic system, we must know how the national income is divided in...
  • No, Democrats Can't Win Back the House -- At Least Not Just Yet

    Wikimedia Commons
    (Photo: Flickr/freshwater2006) A re Republicans going to hold on the House of Representatives forever? That's the question Nate Cohn examines in a piece in Sunday's New York Times called " Why Democrats Can't Win the House ." Cohn's basic argument will be familiar to readers of this blog and many others, because it's been around a while. What it boils down to is that while the post-2010 redistricting dominated by Republicans didn't help Democrats' prospects of taking back the House, the real problem for them lies in the way the two party's voters are distributed throughout the country. Democrats are more concentrated in cities, where many of their votes are essentially surplus; if all it takes to make a district an iron-clad lock for your party is something like a 65 percent majority, having a 90 percent majority doesn't do you any more good. Republicans, on the other hand, are distributed much more efficiently; they have almost no districts with that near-unanimous majority, but lots...
  • Doomed Jeb Bush Presidential Campaign Moves Closer to Reality

    Flickr/Gage Skidmore
    The Wall Street Journal tells us today that we shouldn't forget about Jeb: WASHINGTON—Republican strategists and fundraisers say Jeb Bush's closest advisers have been quietly spreading the word that they should avoid committing to other possible presidential candidates until he decides on his own course after the November election. The message from Mr. Bush 's inner circle during the past few months is in part an effort to bat down speculation that the former Florida governor has ruled out a 2016 run, say GOP donors and strategists who have spoken with the Bush camp. The message, as one put it, is: "Before you do anything, let us know." Jim Nicholson, a Bush supporter who served in President George W. Bush's cabinet, said: "I think the chances are better than 50-50 that he runs, and that is based on some conversations I've had with members of the Bush family." Mr. Bush's aides aren't actively making calls but responding to supporters who are fielding inquiries from other potential...
  • Mitt Romney, the Charles Atlas of International Relations

    Ha! Terrific! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
    In today's Washington Post, one Willard Mitt Romney — you remember him — has penned an op-ed lamenting the fact that the United States military has grown so itty-bitty that it's left us unable to accomplish anything on the world stage. In an epic feat of straw-man construction, Romney boldly takes on those who want to leave America defended by nothing more than a few pea shooters and sling shots, demanding that we vastly increase our defense budget. Let's take a look at some of what he has to say: Russia invades, China bullies, Iran spins centrifuges, the Islamic State (a terrorist threat "beyond anything that we've seen," according to the defense secretary ) threatens — and Washington slashes the military. Reason stares. "Reason stares"? I'll have to confess my ignorance of whatever literary reference Mitt is tossing in here (the Google machine is unhelpful on this score, so I can't be the only one who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about), but is Washington really "slashing...

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