Media

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...

Why Rand Paul Is a Press Management Wizard

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
How does Rand Paul do it? He's not someone who can give a speech that'll make you cry, like Barack Obama can, and he's not someone who lights up a room like Bill Clinton. He's never written a law, let alone an important one that improved people's lives. Nobody thinks he's some kind of super-genius. When he first came on the political scene he was stumbling all over himself to reconcile his quasi-libertarian beliefs with mainstream opinion. And yet he gets way more attention than anybody else running for president. While it would be foolish to talk about anyone being a front-runner at this point, he seems to have at least as good a shot as anyone at being at least one of the main contenders vying for the Republican nomination. So how does he do it? Let's take a look at today's case study, a front-page article in the Washington Post about a trip Paul took to Guatemala to do some charitable ophthalmological work. (Paul is an ophthalmologist.) The Post sent a reporter down with him, at no...

How Chuck Todd Can Save Meet the Press

He's ready for his close-up. (Flickr/PBS NewsHour)
It's now official: Chuck Todd will be replacing David Gregory as host of the august NBC Sunday morning program Meet the Press , after a long period of declining ratings. If you're familiar with my previous criticism of the Sunday shows (see here or here ), you might imagine that I'd encourage Todd to bring more substance and an eclectic mix of guests to the program, freeing it from the endless and deathly recitations of competing talking points that characterize the genre. But no. In fact, I'd suggest that the path to success is to take everything that makes the shows so terrible, and do more of that. Meet the Press had its heyday under the late Tim Russert, who was revered as "Washington's toughest journalist." After his death in 2008 at a relatively young age, Russert was given the equivalent of a state funeral, as though he were a president and not a TV host. While his death was certainly tragic, I sometimes felt like the only person who, while he was still alive, thought Russert...

Trying to Learn From Criticism, Even When It's Misguided or Rude

This gentleman has a quibble. (Flickr/Craig Sunter)
Writing about politics for a living is a terrific job, the best I've ever had. But one of the things that comes with the territory is that because you put your work in front of the public, anyone is free to criticize that work, which sometimes includes not just saying "I disagree with you about this," but also saying, "You're scum and I hope you die." As a man I'm generally spared the rape and death threats that women writers endure, and on the whole the criticism I get doesn't bother me too much. It may not be particularly pleasant to be told you're a fool, regardless of who's doing the telling, but I developed a pretty thick skin for that kind of thing a long time ago. The question that's concerning me at the moment, though, is how one should handle a wave of criticism when you think that there might be glimmers of merit in it, even if you're convinced that 99 percent of it is crap. In the last week or so I've been on the receiving end of two such waves (mostly on Twitter), and I'm...

Why It's So Idiotic to Complain When the President Takes a Vacation

History's greatest American, attending to matters of state. (White House photo)
There are a lot of stupid ways people attack presidents from the other party, but there can't be that many as stupid as the complaint that he takes too many vacations. Since Obama is now on Martha's Vineyard, despite the fact that there are things going on in the world, the volume of these complaints has grown, like the inevitable rise of the tide. Conservatives are in full on mockery mode (did you know he plays golf!!!), and the press is getting into the act as well. For instance, the Washington Post 's Dana Milbank took on the vacation issue in a piece colorfully titled "Obama Vacations As the World Burns," explaining that "Even presidents need down time, and Obama can handle his commander-in-chief duties wherever he is. But his decision to proceed with his getaway just 36 hours after announcing the military action in Iraq risks fueling the impression that he is detached as the world burns." That pretty much sums up the problem with how the press discusses this issue. There's no...

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