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.

Left Grovels to Right, Achieves Nothing

Before yesterday's Super Bowl, President Obama sat for a ten-minute interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. The interview was about what you'd expect: a grab-bag of conservative grievances, discredited conspiracy theories, and attempts at gotcha questions. Why didn't you call Benghazi terrorism! Why haven't you fired Kathleen Sebelius! Why did the head of the IRS visit the White House! And my personal favorite, when O'Reilly read a letter from a viewer asking, "Mr. President, why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?" Ah yes, the "transform America" outrage, as though that 2008 statement must have been a coded message meaning Obama wanted to destroy America, combined with the old Why aren't you people more grateful?

The question is, though, why on earth would a Democratic president bother to grant an interview to an antagonistic conservative talk show host? The New York Times described the interview as "an unpleasant duty that was more or less unavoidable," but in truth it was nothing of the sort. A solo interview with the president is a relatively rare privilege given to only a few journalists. I don't remember George W. Bush inviting Keith Olbermann to interview him in the White House. So what gives?

Campaigns and the Human Condition

An image from "Mitt," taken at the moment when Mitt Romney realized he had lost the 2012 election.

Over the weekend I watched the Netflix documentary "Mitt," and true to its billing, it humanized Mitt Romney to an extraordinary degree. That's not all that surprising, given that the film was directed by a filmmaker who is friendly with the Romney family and obviously sought to give a behind-the-scenes view of the campaigns (it covered both the 2008 and 2012 races) that portrayed Romney in the best possible light. But in humanizing Romney, it did an excellent job of illuminating just how artificial all campaigns necessarily are.

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 purposes ("Simply put, there was no 'quid pro quo' in this case, nor was there even any knowledge by the candidate that Campaign Finance Rules may have been violated. Mr. D'Souza did not act with any corrupt or criminal intent whatsoever. He and the candidate have been friends since their college days, and at worst, this was an act of misguided friendship by D'Souza"). But no.

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 fairness, it came right at the end, and Sherman doubtless had plenty more to say. I'm not sure what Sherman's answer is, but I'll tell you my answer. Before that, here's the portion of the interview:

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. "He took the boy's hand," Reagan said of the older man, "And said, 'Never mind, son, we'll ride it out together.' Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded." Though the story has been retold in many fictional contexts, it never actually happened. When columnist Lars-Erik Nelson asked Speakes about it, the spokesman said, "If you tell the same story five times, it's true." It would be hard to come up with a better motto for the entire Reagan presidency, and for its legacy to American politics.

The Answers to Two Big Questions about the Christie Bridge Scandal


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 decided to revisit the question.

David Brooks and the Modern Marijuana Confession

I've long held that much of American politics is a never-ending 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.

The Menagerie of Lesser-Known Experts

The New Yorker

It's hard to flip through a newspaper without seeing the many assembled attitudes of the world's many experts (defined by Urban Dictionary as "someone with a blog or a dude with an opinion).

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 a cable reality show. 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 under Jim Crow that deserve our attention, because they have something to teach us about empathy and individual change.

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.

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.