Media

Ladies to Watch

I've mentioned here before that I'm an enormous fan of rising young editor Ann Friedman, whom I met when she was both an editor here at the Prospect and was involved in WAM! (Women, Action, and Media). Several people told me she was going to change the world, and I have come to believe it. She left the Prospect to become the editor of GOOD magazine, and made making it a must-read location on the interwebs until the owners of that online community changed its direction and fired most of the editorial staff. Since running a magazine wasn't enough to keep her occupied, she also created many smaller online projects that instantly went viral. If you like knowing about folks on the rise, Sam Meier has an excellent in-depth interview with Friedman over at PolicyMic. An excerpt: SM: I found something you wrote recently about work/life stories which target women. ... AF: It’s a self-perpetuating problem. If you say, OK, let’s talk about work/life balance only in terms that are gendered towards...

First Night of the DNC: A TV & Twitter Review

Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology. (CNN political commentator Erick Erickson got roundly swatted for tweeting, "First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.") Whoa. Way to respect your lady viewers! But he was right about this: The Dems were indeed standing up for the ladies’ power over their own bodies and paychecks. Up on stage, the speeches were just on fire...

The Media Whinefest Commences

Members of the news media arrive at RNC in Tampa, prepare to talk about nothing. (Flickr/NewsHour)
I have a lot of sympathy for campaign reporters. Their time on the trail can be exhausting, a weird combination of high stress and utter boredom. Every day they have to follow their candidate around to another event that was just like the last one, where he'll say exactly the same things and they have to figure out how to write a story that isn't precisely the same as what they wrote yesterday. And now that their news organizations want them to produce content for a wide array of platforms, it gets even harder. That being said, reporters can sometimes get seriously whiny. To wit, this story in Politico about how the members of the traveling press corps all think campaign 2012 is a total bummer: If there is one narrative to anchor what often feels like a plotless 2012 campaign, it is media disillusionment. Reporters feel like both campaigns have decided to run out the clock with limited press avails, distractions, and negative attacks, rather than run confident campaigns with bold...

No, National Review. Mitt Romney Is Not a Sex Symbol.

(Flickr/AlaskanLibertarian)
As election season slides into its final stretch, some members of the punditocracy, from lack of sleep and abuse of caffeine, start to lose their minds. Or at least that’s the most generous explanation for how Kevin Williamson came to write—and the editors at National Review came to approve—a bizarre love letter to Mitt Romney that falls somewhere between a hagiography and a letter to Penthouse . Williamson’s thesis—and you’re going to have to read his piece to truly understand that I’m not making this up—is that Romney’s wealth and fertility make him the sort of sex symbol that should be able to just waltz into the White House, if he just had the guts to be himself and stop trying to relate to the little people. While ordinary people might wonder about the decision-making process that led National Review to publish this bit of erotic fan fiction, those who watch the conservative movement closely have no doubts about the rationale. The piece is a smorgasbord of misogyny, contempt for...

Can Journalists Stand Up to a Candidate's Lies?

Maybe, but probably not.

Flickr/mnwatts
I've made my case that Mitt Romney just might be the most dishonest presidential candidate in modern history, but the question is, what should we do about it? Or more specifically, what should reporters do about it? One of the worst things about "objective" he said/she said coverage is that it basically gives candidates permission to lie by removing any kind of disincentive they might feel for not telling the truth. After all, candidates are (mostly) rational actors, and if lying isn't accompanied by any kind of punishment, they're going to do it as long as it works. I'm not sure that Mitt Romney's Medicare lies are actually producing a positive effect other than tickling the Republican base deep down in the secret corner of its id, but he's certainly sticking with it. All of which led Prospect alum Garance Franke-Ruta to suggest one possible solution: Fact-checking was a great development in accountability journalism -- but perhaps it's time for a new approach. It's no longer enough...

Back Off, Masculinity Patrol

This Olympics, we witnessed the results of an American gender revolution. Did you notice all those American women athletes who excelled on the field? As Amanda Marcotte noted here with pride and praise, our gals have clearly shaken off the pressure to overcompensate for their athleticism by playing sweetly feminine off the field. Once upon a time, you had to be seriously gender-nonconforming— i.e. , a lesbian—to risk your feminine credentials by playing sports. (Based on an entirely unscientific but extremely appreciative view of some of the other women's soccer teams, I would guess that dykes are still the ones venturing onto the field in some countries like, cough, Japan.) American women clearly know they can be strong, powerful, and kick some ass on the field. American girls can, from a very early age, play with trucks, wear pants, and run, kick, and throw without sanctions. As I've written about here several times, however, boys have no such freedom . Their behavior is overseen by...

The Boy Scouts' Learning Curve

(Flickr/David Blumenkrantz)
Since the Sandusky horror story first broke, we’ve seen a lot of articles exposing horrific behavior from the 1970s and 1980s. Serial abuse at the Horace Mann School. Philadelphia sprtswriter Bill Conlin 's long history of molesting children. Surely, there are more to come. This week's news comes from The Los Angeles Times, which has published an explosive, in-depth account of how the Boy Scouts of America have responded over the decades to child sexual abuse: by keeping a central file of volunteers banned for molesting Scouts, with detailed information about the relevant allegations and investigations. The headline, subhead, and introduction (the “nut graf,” in the lingo) suggest that the system failed: Boy Scout files reveal repeat child abuse by sexual predators Los Angeles Times review of Boy Scout documents shows that a blacklist meant to protect boys from sexual predators too often failed in its mission. A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to...

Why Mitt Romney Needs to Get His Instagram On

The presumptive nominee should follow in the footsteps of Ayatollah Khameini.

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
To say that Mitt Romney has a "Richie Rich" image problem might just be the political understatement of the century; there is the Romney-residence “car elevator,” Ann’s dressage horses, the bevy of offshore bank accounts, and the fact that some of his dearest friends own NASCAR teams. It ain’t the best time in American history to ooze money from all your orifices, but if you’re going to run for public office while doing so, you might at least desist with the robotic consultant-speak. But let’s face it, Mitt’s unlikely to change his marble-mouthed ways any time soon (and he can kiss that bid for mayor of the West Bank goodbye), so the Romney campaign needs to start leveraging their guy’s real strengths in order to gain some likeability points; his face, his family, and not speaking in public. Enter Instagram. Romney is perfect for the social media photo-sharing app; he should be seen, not heard. Those kind eyes, that strong jaw—who wouldn’t want to hand over the nuclear codes to a face...

Sally Ride's Right to Remain Silent

Astronauts of the STS-7/Challenger mission (Wikimedia Commons/NASA)
I’ve been startled by certain gay men who have petulantly demanded that it wasn’t enough for Sally Ride to be an astounding feminist hero, a role model for all girls; she also should’ve stood up for the gays. Andrew Sullivan ( and others ) had a tantrum about her postmortem announcement, as if coming out were the central patriotic duty of everyone who loves someone of the same sex: I'm not so understanding. We can judge this decision in the context of Ride's life. Her achievements as a woman and as a scientist and as an astronaut and as a brilliant, principled investigator of NASA's screw-ups will always stand, and vastly outshine any flaws. But the truth remains: she had a chance to expand people's horizons and young lesbians' hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to. She was the absent heroine. #Srsly? As if being lesbian or gay were a more important—or even equally important — identity than, say, being the first American female astronaut? Imagine what it must've been like to be a...

RIP, Sally Ride

Sally Ride (Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)
Yesterday, the day before Amelia Earhart’s 115th birthday, Sally Ride joined the skies for a final time. At 61, she died of pancreatic cancer—a horrible disease. Back in 1983, it was thrilling to watch her smash the American gender barrier as she zoomed into space. When she headed off into the final frontier, it was not as it was with the subordinate Lieutenant Uhuru on the Enterprise—the closest analogue there was at the time—but as an equal astronaut. Ride strode up to the Challenger as if she belonged there—which, of course, she did. She had degrees in physics, astrophysics, and English—what an underachiever! When she saw a NASA newspaper ad seeking astronauts, she applied and got the job. Sally Ride was one of a host of exhilarating barrier-smashers in that decade when young feminists like me thought all barriers would soon come crashing down, from Sandra Day O’Connor to Geraldine Ferraro. Of course women could do anything, including fly to the stars! It’s funny now to read The...

Explaining and Inspiring? Good Luck with That

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
When Barack Obama sat down with Charlie Rose recently, he scrutinized his past four years in office and named his failure to give equal weight to policy and narrative—what he termed "explaining, but also inspiring”—the biggest failure of his first term. His self-criticism sounded a melodious chord with the constant complaints the press corps has leveled against his presidency. After the 2010 State of the Union, George Packer called Obama’s inaugural year in the White House a “communications failure,” and Drew Westen, who laments Obama’s failures as a communicator with the fervor of a foreteller of Armageddon, reached his most apocalyptic heights when he wrote of Obama’s inauguration speech, “there was no story—and there has been none since.” Obama has agreed with these complaints before too. In November 2010, Obama went on 60 Minutes and said , “What I didn't effectively, I think, drive home, because we were in such a rush to get this stuff done, is that we were taking these steps not...

The Man Who Hated Liberals

The custom, I know, is not to speak ill of the recently dead, but it’s not a custom to which I’ve invariably adhered. Ronald Reagan’s death evoked so many hagiographic tributes I felt compelled to write a Washington Post column noting the damage he’d done to his country and to the liberal values that, when honored, made his country great. Like Reagan, columnist and controversialist Alexander Cockburn, who died a few days ago, was no friend of liberal values or of liberals, social democrats or democratic socialists. Like Christopher Hitchens and David Horowitz, he found his comfort zone on the fringes of the political spectrum, whether left, right or simultaneously both. The son of Claud Cockburn, a Communist Party journalist whose misrepresentations of the Spanish Civil War prodded George Orwell to write Homage to Catalonia , Alex never ceased casting Stalin in the best light possible, consistently downplaying the number of Russians (including virtually all the original Bolsheviks)...

The Power of Shame

Ink-stained wretches at work. (Flickr/thoth92)
Last week, The New York Times revealed that "quote approval" has become standard practice when reporters deal with both the Obama and Romney campaigns as well as with the Obama administration. The way it works is that a reporter interviews an official, then submits the quotes she intends to use in her stories back to the campaign, which only appear if the campaign approves them. Not only that, the campaign often edits the quotes to make them more to their liking. Lo and behold, news organizations are now announcing they will no longer submit quotes for approval. National Journal says it won't . McClatchy says no more. The New York Times is thinking about it . To tell you the truth, I'm a bit surprised. But I guess shame is a powerful thing. The reason I'm surprised is that stuff like this is made possible by the relentless competition between news organizations. If a reporter says what you'd think a reporter would say—"You said what you said, and I'm putting it in my story whether you...

Journos v. Political Scientists

Carlisle Rainey discusses a potential reason political scientists and political reporters have different views of campaign effects: they use different underlying counterfactuals, in two senses: First, political scientists tend to discuss the effects of small changes in campaigns, while journalists tend to imagine big changes. Second, political scientists construct counterfactuals in which campaigns are responding to each other and cancelling out, while journalists tend to hold one campaign constant and vary the other. The first means that political scientists imagine a world in which, say, a candidate did not commit a gaffe or air a particular ad, but journalists imagine a world in which that candidate did not campaign at all. The latter counterfactual leads journalists to infer big effects but the former leads political scientists to infer small effects. I disagree with this characterization, because I don’t think it accurately represents the thinking of journalists. I think...

Don't Blink

I've talked in the past about how unconscious bias works—and how it's an aspect of some very healthy parts of our brains and bodies. For very good reasons, we all navigate by intuition, habit, and practiced behaviors every single day. Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer have written about these neurological facts beautifully and well. Every parent knows how time-consuming it is to have to articulate and teach habits we don't even realize we navigate by. Walk on the right and pass on the left. The fork goes here and the knife and spoon go there. It's not polite to say that in public. You can't take that until you pay. Turn your head this way to breathe while you're swimming. That truck means that person delivers the mail. Don't talk back to the people in airport security. If our brains had to sort consciously through every action, behavior, and category (the way parents have to explain things all day) before we could act, we'd be paralyzed. If we didn't practice thinking in categories—...

Pages