Media

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—...

Anderson Cooper Is WHAT?

Flickr/dbking
Did anyone even notice, yesterday, that Anderson Cooper came out as gay? One person I know said, "You mean he wasn't out?' She wasn't kidding; she really thought he was as out as Ellen , who was indeed a trailblazer back in the day, and took a lot of hits for it—making it possible for Cooper's news to be just another item in everyone's Twitter feed. As June Thomas wrote , "The news was met with a whole lot of 'duh!' and a little bit of bitterness . It’s not like Cooper’s sexuality was a big secret—just last week I referred to him as ' openly closeted .'" (Andrew Sullivan, whose email to Cooper purportedly spurred the announcement, got this comment as a response.) So here's something even more groundbreaking, which I missed until now. Last month, the UConn men's hockey team posted a video announcement , as a team, saying that they welcome anyone who can play, gay or nay. As ESPN reported : ... the players pledge to support "any teammate, gay or straight, that can help us win games."...

Peggy Noonan Feels the News

She's feeling something. (Flickr/kylebogucki)
When he began his still-brilliant show a few years ago, Stephen Colbert said, "Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you." And there's nobody who feels the news quite like Peggy Noonan, America's most unintentionally hilarious columnist. Pretty much every time she writes a column or goes on television, Noonan can be counted on to tell us about a feeling out there in the land. It's seldom a powerful feeling; instead, it's more often a stirring, an inchoate emotion still in the process of crystallizing. It might be a yearning, or an unease, or a doubt or a fear, but it lingers just out of our perception until Peggy Noonan comes along and perceives it for us. Did you think the impact of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling was that millions of uninsured Americans will now be able to get health insurance, and after 2014 none of us will ever need to fear the words "pre-existing condition" again? Nay , good-hearted Americans: The ruling strikes me as very bad for the...

What CNN Could Have Done

Oops!
If you were watching cable news when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, you were probably confused at first. Initially, both CNN and Fox News announced that the individual mandate had been struck down, only to come back a few minutes later and correct themselves, after their screaming chyrons and web site headlines had already gone up announcing the administration's defeat. Let's forget about Fox, since they're just a bunch of nincompoops anyway. The more interesting question concerns CNN. The most common explanation for this screwup is that they have come to value being first over being right, which is true enough. But I think it also suggests that they don't really understand their audience. And by trying to be just as fast as MSNBC or Fox, they lost an opportunity to differentiate themselves. My guess is that the people who work at CNN have in their heads an imagined audience made up of people like them, people who think it matters if a particular piece of news is delivered...

Romney Campaign Puts the Screws to The Washington Post

Today's Washington Post
Campaign professionals tend to believe that the most potent attacks use your opponent's own words against him, preferably if they're on video and can be replayed over and over. If you don't have that, it helps to have third-party validation of your attack from the most credible, non-partisan source you can find. Which is why it's so helpful when an established news organization reports something damaging about your opponent, which you can then talk about and put in your ads. If the third-party source is credible enough, you won't have to argue about whether the allegation is true, but merely about what it means and how much it matters. Which is why the Obama campaign was so pleased when The Washington Post reported that under Mitt Romney (and after he departed), Bain Capital invested in a number of companies that specialized in helping other companies outsource work to foreign countries. Not only was this new information that could be used to attack Romney, but it had the imprimatur...

Back To School

Should summer vacation be a carefree time when children run around freely in the streets or fields? Does Anne-Marie Slaughter in fact have it all ? Was The Atlantic just trying to get us all talking ? What did Anne-Marie Slaughter get right ? And what about that byline gender gap ? In her Bloggingheads.tv show, Sarah Posner presses me to articulate some of the social history that got us into this extremely complex work-life conflict. Tune in if you want to know what my actual face and voice are like. Bonus: the most astoundingly loud thunderclap I've ever heard.

The Atlantic Has A Sense of Humor

So The Atlantic is clearly getting the message that while Anne-Marie Slaughter's article about was an extremely important addition to the contemporary work-life discussion, everyone hates, hates, hates the title, the picture, and the general way they framed it. (Here's their own round-up of responses , which pretty fairly represents the responses that I've seen, including my own.) And they have a sense of humor about it, posting this picture today, above the caption, "Asking the question that’s on everybody’s mind." Meanwhile, Karen Kornbluh—who's done absolutely essential research and writing on the work-life issues—and who is now an Ambassador in Obama's administration—tweeted at me the link to her past Atlantic article on what's needed. I hope that Slaughter and Sandberg read this stat, before their high-level pow-wow on how to change the workforce to make it friendly for human beings. She leaves out the need for humane policies for all stages of life, allowing working Americans to...

Who Loves You, Baby?

That Anne-Marie Slaughter article sure kicked up a lot of discussion, didn’t it? I heard about it in advance and knew it would be big, but I had no idea how big. Below, a little roundup of some relevant discussion—and a reason to have hope that your work may not always crush the rest of your life. First, a personal report. Atlantic editor Scott Stossel tweeted in reply to the title of my piece here yesterday, "Why Does The Atlantic Hate Women?" His answer: We don't. He and I had a brief, if intellectually sophisticated (cough, cough) Twitter exchange. I reproduce it below, stripped of some of the twitty formatting, and with some serial tweets merged: Stossel: We don't! RT @theprospect: Why does @theatlantic hate women? http://ampro.me/LIBRcz New @ejgraff post EJG: Then why not run articles that accurately reflect women's lives? Stossel: But you concede in your piece that Slaughter hits agonizingly close to the bone. And she's for policies that you support. EJG: Slaughter's piece is...

Why Does The Atlantic Hate Women?

The picture alone filled me with dread: a baby in a briefcase. (Do go look at Jessica Valenti’s hilarious compilation of images from this genre.) That sick feeling only increased when I got to the hideous ­headline: “ Why Women Still Can’t Have It All .” There they go again! Once again, The Atlantic has put on its spike heels to gleefully dance on feminism’s head, this time reviving the imagery of the “ mommy wars ” while trotting out an astounding successful woman to bemoan her failure. Veteran journalist Caryl Rivers has accurately diagnosed this as “ The Atlantic ’s Woman Problem .” Someone there doesn’t like us, except when we’re agonizingly single, or home with our babies, or killing off men’s careers. Someone there got stuck on some 1980s Time magazine misinterpretation of feminism as exhorting us all to be “career women” (does anyone really use that term?) in shoulder pads and sad little bowties, leaving our babies home alone, refrigerator open, to fend for themselves while we...

Journos Complain that Journos Aren't Taking 2012 Seriously

(Rex Features via AP Images)
The headline story at Politico is a look at the frustrations of journalists and other observers as they pertain to the 2012 presidential election. In short, they are frustrated with the “small scale” of the election, and the degree to which the campaigns are engaged in constant warfare over trivial concerns. Here’s Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns: Dating to the beginning of the cycle, 2012 has unfolded so far as a grinding, joyless slog, falling short in every respect of the larger-than-life personalities and debates of the 2008 campaign. There have been small-ball presidential campaigns before, but veteran strategists and observers agree this race is reaching a record degree of triviality. Nothing previously can compare with a race being fought hour by hour in 140-character Twitter increments and blink-and-you-miss-it cable segments. Not to mention an endless flood of caustic television ads. […] At the same time, the media bemoans the small campaign but is enduring its own...

Why is William Saletan Apologizing for Slate's Mistake?

Two days ago, I wrote that Slate’s editors should be ashamed of having published Mark Regnerus’s propagandistic tripe about his “study” comparing how children fare under intact families versus how they fare when their biological parents have a rocky time because one discovers or accepts that he or she is lesbian or gay. I’m honored that William Saletan has taken my criticism seriously enough to reply, naming me along with the major LGBT groups that took aim. As you may recall, I wrote that Slate clearly knew it was publishing dangerous nonsense, because right before Regnerus’s article, they put the link to Saletan’s analysis tearing it apart. Nevertheless, here’s what Saletan writes about the responses: Wow. Regnerus’ paper certainly has flaws. But before we all go get our stones, pitchforks, and kerosene, may I suggest an alternative? Trust science. Don’t bury this study. Embrace it. The evidence Regnerus collected can help all of us rethink our ideas about sexuality and marriage. It...

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