Media

Ezra Klein's Queer New Hire

Vox Media's decision to bring Brandon Ambrosino on board is click-bait contrarianism at its worst. 

AP Photo
Brandon Ambrosino (Photo Courtesy of Media Matters) An addendum to this piece was posted on Sunday, March 16. O n Tuesday, former Washington Post pundit (and Prospect alum) Ezra Klein sent a shock wave through the gay community by announcing he had hired gay anti-gay apologist Brandon Ambrosino to join him at Vox Media, the much-hyped digital venture that's aiming to remake journalism for the Internet age. Liberal watchdog group Media Matters was the first to sound the alarm , but within a day, gay-rights supporters—from Mark Stern at Slate to John Aravosis at AmericaBlog —had joined the chorus of voices asking Klein: What were you thinking? The problem with hiring Ambrosino is not that Klein isn't entitled to bring someone on board whose views the gay community finds distasteful. It's that Ambrosino's quick rise to notoriety—and now, his ticket aboard the profession’s hottest new upstart—is an object lesson in the way new media equates click-bait contrarianism with serious thought...

Meaningless Special Elections and the Press's Consequential Imperative

Failed congressional candidate Alex Sink, putting on her victory face. (Flickr/Village Square)
If it were up to me, I would eliminate special elections for the House of Representatives entirely. They make sense when it comes to the Senate, where every state has only two senators and terms run six years, meaning a vacancy can leave a state without significant representation for an extended period of time. But when a congressman dies or retires and there's another election to fill that critical 1/435th portion of the lower house's lawmakers in a few months, do we really need to mobilize the state's electoral resources, spend millions of dollars, and get a bunch of retirees to haul themselves down to the polls, only to do it all again before you know it? Hardly. The other objectionable thing about special elections is that because they're almost always the only election happening at that moment, they not only get an inordinate amount of attention, the results also get absurdly over-interpreted. This is a symptom of what we might call the Consequential Imperative among the press (...

Barack Obama Considers Punching Zach Galifianakis In the Face

Yes, this actually happened.
When people think back on the attempts of presidents and presidential candidates to engage directly with pop culture, they usually date the modern era to Bill Clinton donning shades and playing sax on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. There were a few awkward attempts prior to that, like Richard Nixon participating in the "sock it to me" gag on Laugh-In in 1968. But Barack Obama has probably done more of these appearances than anybody else, not just going on shows like The Tonight Show and The View to be interviewed, but actually becoming part of the entertainment. He slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, but in that case he was essentially the straight man, which is the safe place for a president to be. After all, he needs to be in on the fun, but not sacrifice his dignity. Nixon may have said "Sock it to me," but his advisers were smart enough not to let him get hit in the head with a giant club. This morning, however, we get a look at what may be a new high in presidential pop-...

This Is Your Camry On Drugs

The change in the social perception of drunk driving is one of the great public health success stories of the last half-century. It went from being perceived as an amusing bit of recklessness to something truly despicable, and today drunk driving deaths are half of what they were a few decades ago. And now that recreational marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado, almost surely to be followed by other states, there's a renewed need to discourage driving while high. The key to the success of the drunk driving campaign was creating a new social norm, one in which people would discourage each other from driving drunk. It also gave people a means to avoid it, by popularizing the idea of the designated driver. Washington state is starting a campaign to discourage driving while high with three PSAs soon to be airing in the state. No frying eggs here: OK, so that's kind of funny. But I'm a little skeptical about whether it will have a dramatic impact. The ad does include the idea of...

Can Political Coverage Ever Get Better?

Reporters at an Obama rally in 2007. (Flickr/Steve Garfield)
As we begin inching our way toward the next presidential campaign, it may be far too early to begin the idiotic speculation with which coverage at this stage tends to be consumed (Can anyone beat Hillary? Will Ted Cruz be the Tea Party darling? Who'll win the Iowa straw poll? Dear god, who?). But it's never too early to ask whether anything can be done to improve the news coverage through which Americans see campaigns. Political scientist Hans Noel points to the uneasy relationship between reporters and scholars, even as the latter work hard to improve that coverage: Every election cycle, journalists and pundits over-react to early polls that are not predictive of presidential nominations. They get excited about nonsense independent and third-party candidates who have no hope of being elected. They think an increasing number of voters are unaligned independents. They downplay and misrepresent the role of the economy and other fundamentals. And it's not that they don't know. They push...

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 1950's. Or maybe both! Either way, this may be of interest. A new report from Nielsen ( via AdWeek ) shows just how big TV still is. And though digital video is gaining fast, it still brings in only a tiny amount of money. Behold: I think that a substantial part of this gap comes from the fact that online, advertisers know exactly what they're getting. They know precisely how many people saw their ad, and if there was a click-through option, exactly how many people clicked through. On TV, on the other hand, they have almost no idea. During commercials, people go to the bathroom, they check their email, and most...

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. This has to do, you'll be happy to know, with Ted Nugent. Republican politicians have a soft spot for Nugent, partly because they're blinded by the celebrity of a guy who 37 years ago had a song that rocketed all the way to #30 on the charts, and partly because Nugent is kind of an expression of the conservative id. I'm sure there are more than a few people on the right who would like to hold up a pair of assault rifles and say , "I was in Chicago and said, 'Hey,...

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 . The quick take? They're going after SIM cards instead of people , which has led to the killing of innocent civilians. Nice first move, but does The Intercept have staying power? Describing Greenwald as "a former trial lawyer who tends to treat policy disagreements as blood feuds and is never reluctant to question motives and fling rather personal insults," the Daily Beast 's Lloyd Grove asks whether Greenwald's disdain for establishment journalism will make it hard to attract new talent. Then there's an ethics problem: Is it kosher to withhold and strategically release NSA documents to spur a journalism venture? Leveraging information that way makes you ... an awful lot like the NSA itself, The Dish 's Andrew Sullivan observes ...

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...

Left Grovels to Right, Achieves Nothing

Before yesterday's Super Bowl, President Obama sat for a ten-minute interview with Fox News's 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...

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. One of the distinctive things about the film was the absence of almost any talk of policy whatsoever. We do see Romney batting around some talking points to get them right, but the only moment in the film that features any discussion of an issue is when Romney delivers a little oration to his family about how Democrats support higher taxes because they're all lawyers and have never run a business, so they don't understand just how hard it is to labor under...

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...

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...

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...

The Answers to Two Big Questions about the Christie Bridge Scandal

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
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...

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