Media

Aaron Swartz’s Final Code

The death of an Internet freedom activist points to the future of popular resistance.

AP Photo/ThoughtWorks, Pernille Ironside
Flickr/okfn W hen I first became aware of Aaron Swartz about a year ago, I really felt like a dope. I had reported a story for the Prospect about online piracy, and so joined the foolhardy who ponder what the digital age meant for copyright law’s central tension—the vital act of sharing information versus the fair expectation of artists, intellectuals, and entertainers to be compensated when their creations get shared. I understood at least this much: The Internet had essentially reduced the cost of reproduction to zero (which heavily favored information, and seriously distressed creators) and in doing so, exploded an already fraught arrangement into atomic complexity. But I also thought I’d identified one clear-cut foe of intellectual freedom. Countless times foraging online for story ideas, I’d land on a journal article that I knew revealed a conceptual plain ripe for the cultivating powers of hard-hitting reporting, only to find all but the first page locked within JSTOR, a digital...

Bring Me Your Angry, Your Paranoid, Your Masses Huddled In Their Bunkers...

Beckistan is revealed.
Independence is the new media thing. Andrew Sullivan is doing it . Trey Parker and Matt Stone are doing it . And Glenn Beck, who did it already when he got booted from Fox News and created his own internet TV ... um ... thing in response, is taking it even farther. Inspired by "Galt's Gulch," the place in Atlas Shrugged where the Randian übermenschen retreated, Beck is unveiling plans for an entire city he will build, a city to embody all that is right and good and libertarian about America, a true refuge where those who have proven their mettle by watching hundreds of hours of his programs can come and live just as the Founders intended. It'll be called, naturally, Independence, U.S.A. Behold : Your browser does not support iframes. You'll notice how right at the beginning Beck says, "You will have to literally wipe us off the face of the earth and wipe us off the map before you can erase the truth that is America." Presumably in the regular America, the sinister forces can just come...

Media Violence versus Real Violence

In the days since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on violent movies and video games (in particular, for some reason, Natural Born Killers , a film that came out 19 years ago and was a critique of the media's obsession with violence), a number of people in the entertainment industry have been asked about whether their products contribute to real-world violence, and they've seemed extremely uncomfortable answering the question. They seem to have no idea what the answer might be. As it happens, this is a question that has been studied extensively, although the research is a bit ambiguous and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worthwhile to go over just what evidence there is for the assertion. So if you're a Hollywood big shot, read on so you'll have some idea what to say next time the question comes up. But before we get to that, I was prompted to write this by seeing this interview Quentin Tarantino did with the UK's Channel 4. When the...

More Downton Abbey, Less Grand Theft Auto? Not Gonna Happen.

AP Photo/Joe Skipper
Last week, my sort-of opposite number at ThinkProgress.org—culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, who also writes for The Atlantic and Slate —posted the kind of prescriptive think piece about Our Violent Culture that makes old geezers like me heave a hefty sigh as we finger our own dog-eared membership cards in the vast left-wing conspiracy. Just for the record, I should say that a) Rosenberg and I don't know each other at all, and b) she's someone whose work I enjoy and often glean dandy insights from, not least because our sensibilities and guiding premises are so different. If she's not at her best writing prescriptions, so what? That isn't really a critic's job in the first place. Even so, the assumptions in play in “ How To Change Our Culture's Reliance on Violence ” struck me as wrongheaded enough to deserve a hoot or two. To begin where Rosenberg ends, here's the clunker of a line I groaned at most: "It's time to retrain viewers in how to interpret violence.. . " She goes on to...

Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
AP Photo/ Dar Yasin Indian women offer prayers for a gang rape victim at Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi. H er intestines were removed because the six men used a rusty metal rod during the “rape.” That fact—the rusty metal rod—is what’s haunted me about the violent incident that has outraged India and the world. Six men held a 23-year-old woman and her male friend in a private bus for hours while they assaulted her so brutally that, after several surgeries to repair her insides, she died. What happened to this young woman was a gang assault. It can be called a sexual assault because among other things, they brutalized her vagina. Or it can be called a sexual assault because it was driven by rage at the female sex . Since Susan Brownmiller first wrote Against Our Will — the landmark feminist reconceptualization of rape — feminists have worked on clarifying the fact that rape is less about sex than it is about rage and power. Too many people still conceive of rape as a man’s...

Conservative Projection Takes a New Angle

Flickr/kylebogucki
Peggy Noonan is, without doubt, America's most hilariously ridiculous opinion columnist, someone forever pleading that we ignore piffle like "facts" and focus instead on the collective emotions that are bubbling just out of our awareness until she identifies them. But in her column today , she does something that we ought to take note of, because I suspect it will become a common Republican talking point. Noonan asks why Obama is so darn mean to Republicans, and answers the question thusly: Here's my conjecture: In part it's because he seems to like the tension. He likes cliffs, which is why it's always a cliff with him and never a deal. He likes the high-stakes, tottering air of crisis. Maybe it makes him feel his mastery and reminds him how cool he is, unrattled while he rattles others. He can take it. Can they? He is a uniquely polarizing figure. A moderate U.S. senator said the other day: "One thing not said enough is he is the most divisive president in modern history. He doesn't...

Conservatives Get Glum

Flickr/Kristina Alexanderson
A look around the web today makes clear that the crisis of American conservatism in general, and conservatives' relationship to the media in particular, is clearly our topic. First, none other than William Kristol, the very axis about whom the Republican establishment spins, is extremely worried about what has become of his movement: And the conservative movement​—​a bulwark of American strength for the last several decades​—​is in deep disarray. Reading about some conservative organizations and Republican campaigns these days, one is reminded of Eric Hoffer’s remark, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” It may be that major parts of American conservatism have become such a racket that a kind of refounding of the movement as a cause is necessary. A reinvigoration of the Republican party also seems desirable, based on a new generation of leaders, perhaps coming​—​as did Ike and Reagan​—​from outside the normal channels...

It Isn't Easy Being Fox

Karl Rove on election night, insisting it wasn't over.
Fox News has been in the news a bunch over the last two days, with stories like Roger Ailes' wooing of David Petraeus, and now the discovery by Gabriel Sherman of New York that the network has benched Karl Rove and Dick Morris, though for slightly different reasons. Morris is just an embarrassment because he's always so hilariously wrong about everything, while Rove apparently angered top management by challenging the network's call of Ohio for Obama on election night. "Ailes's deputy, Fox News programming chief Bill Shine, has sent out orders mandating that producers must get permission before booking Rove or Morris." This highlights something we liberals may not appreciate: it isn't easy being Fox. For starters, MSNBC and CNN don't get nearly as much attention for their internal conflicts as Fox does. That's not only because there's a healthy appetite among liberals for these kinds of stories, but also because there seem to be many people within Fox who are happy to leak to...

Insiderism in Action

Bob Woodward got himself a nice little scoop , an audio recording from spring 2011 in which Fox News analyst K.T. McFarland delivers a message from her boss Roger Ailes to David Petraeus, encouraging him to run for president, among other things. The facts that Ailes sees himself as a Republican kingmaker and that Fox is not just an observer but a participant in American politics are news to no one, of course. Nor is McFarland's fawning tone a surprise, nor the fact that she asks Petraeus whether there is "anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?" (Petraeus responds that he'd like the coverage to be a bit more fawning). Others have pointed to various parts of the conversation, particularly when McFarland passes on Ailes' advice that Petraeus should only accept the job of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, since from there the Obama administration would feel that they couldn't contradict him, which would put him in a good position to run for...

The Business of the Ideological Media Is Business

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
There now appears to be a healthy debate going on in Republican circles about the problems created by the information cocoon in which conservatives have embedded themselves in recent years (I wrote about this last week). That's good for them, but I doubt it's going to work. My guess is that a couple of years from now, the conservative media's rhetoric will be just the same as it is now—just as angry, just as prone to race-baiting, just as unwilling to acknowledge reality when it conflicts with their beliefs. Jonathan Martin of Politico took the time to interview a bunch of younger Repbublican operatives and thinkers, and they all seem to be in agreement that something has to change. But the right has a real generational problem, and it isn't about their leaders. It's about their audience. Conservative media is a political force, but first and foremost it's a business. And that business' primary customers have grown used to a particular product. Those customers are, above all, older...

Are Conservative Media Only Hurting Conservatives?

Liberals like me have spent a lot of time in recent years mocking conservatives for the silliness of their media, wherein Steve Doocy is a star, Sean Hannity is an insightful analyst, and Rush Limbaugh is a brave crusader for truth. Beyond the jokes, we've talked a lot about the pathologies produced by the self-reinforcing worldviews propagated in the conservative media ether. One of the key features of those media, and what differentiates them from partisan left media, is the way they talk about the rest of the media. Liberals may like to watch MSNBC, but if you watch MSNBC you won't be reminded ten times an hour that everything you see in your newspaper or on another television station is a vicious lie concocted by conservatives to deceive you as part of their plan to destroy the country you love. But that is what you'll get if you watch Fox, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or consume many other kinds of conservative media. It's not just a diet of information congenial to your beliefs; it'...

It’s Just Unbelievable to Be Freed

(AP Photo/Joel Page, File)
I regularly get all giddy and Tiggerish about how far lesbians and gay man have come from the bad old days of, say, the late 1970s when I came out. Back then, most of the mainstream didn’t quite notice we were human. I do remember the moment I first realized that I wanted to kiss a girl, and my stomach fell out of me with fear: I didn’t want to be one of them. It’s hard to convey to you all how different things are and how far we’ve come. I’ve been thinking about this because, on her Bloggingheads show last week, Sarah Posner asked me whether, ten years ago, I would have imagined we’d be as far along as we are on marriage. Ten years ago, yes. In 2002, it was pretty clear what path we were on. But in the 1970s, marriage was simply beyond conceivable. If you want some evidence, you can find it in an old All in the Family episode in which Edith loses her beloved cousin Liz —and learns that the cousin’s “roommate” was in fact her partner. I looked back at it recently when Dan Savage...

Free Speech Weirdness from Overseas

The Bill of Rights, nothing but trouble.
Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, "has been ordered to undergo 'factual accuracy' training, and to use fact-checkers." Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it's a good reminder that America's particular version of free speech wasn't handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press") are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn't have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking). In other countries where...

Why Do the Sunday Shows Suck So Much?

I know you're dying to know what these two have to say.
In the American media landscape, there is no single forum more prestigious than the Sunday shows—particularly the three network programs, and to a slightly lesser extent "Fox News Sunday" and CNN's "State of the Union." The Sunday shows are where "newsmakers" face the music, where Washington's most important people are validated for their importance, where issues are probed in depth. So, why do they suck so much? I live and breathe politics, yet I find these programs absolutely unwatchable, and I can't be the only one. On a typical episode, there is nothing to learn, no insight to be gained, no interesting perspective on offer, nothing but an endless spew of talking points and squabbling. Let's take, for instance, yesterday's installment of "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." We start off with dueling interviews with Obama adviser Robert Gibbs and Romney adviser Ed Gillespie. Were you expecting some candid talk from these two political veterans? Of course you weren't. "If you're...

David Brooks, the World's Most Gullible Man

Flickr/Newshour
A couple of weeks ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a scathing piece about Mitt Romney's "47 percent" video, saying "It suggests that Romney doesn't know much about the culture of America." But now that Romney has moved to the center , not only is Brooks back on board, he's here to testify that this new moderate Mitt is the "authentic" one. I kid you not: But, on Wednesday night, Romney finally emerged from the fog. He broke with the stereotypes of his party and, at long last, began the process of offering a more authentic version of himself... Most important, Romney did something no other mainstream Republican has had the guts to do. Either out of conviction or political desperation, he broke with Tea Party orthodoxy and began to redefine the Republican identity. And, having taken this step, he's broken the spell. Conservatives loved it! They loved that it was effective, and it was effective because Romney could more authentically be the man who (I think) he truly is...

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