Media

Investigative Journalism Producing Change, Local Edition

Last Sunday's Post.
One of the main arguments for why it's a bad thing if the newspaper industry dies is that newspapers cover local affairs in a way that nobody else does, and that has demonstrable effects on people's lives. Most of the time we don't see those effects, but every once in a while, a story comes along that proves all over again why newspapers are so vital, not just because of what they can expose but because of the change that can come from it. The Washington Post is in the midst of a series of articles about an unbelievable scam victimizing some extremely vulnerable citizens of the District of Columbia. It's one of those combinations of government incompetence, private greed, and sheer immorality that just makes your blood boil. Here's what happened. The D.C. government, like any local government, has lots of outstanding tax bills from citizens it would like to see paid. Some of these are large, and some are small. Since it doesn't have the resources to go out and hound people to pay...

Amid the Unwashed Masses

Flesh pressed, opinions heard. (Flickr/Rep. George Miller)
Over the next couple of weeks, we'll probably be seeing a lot of stories in which a member of Congress goes back to the home district and is confronted by worried/angry/surly constituents demanding we stay out of Syria. Here's a piece in today's New York Times about Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) hearing from skeptical citizens. Here's a piece in today's Washington Post about Representative Gerry Connolly hearing from skeptical citizens. Here's a piece in Politico about John McCain hearing from skeptical citizens. This is almost invariably described as the politician "getting an earful." For some reason, we never refer to someone getting an earful of praise or support; the ears of our representatives can only be filled with displeasure or contempt. In the old days before polling, grizzled political reporters would literally go door to door and do their own informal polls to see what people thought about an election or a policy debate; they'd get a sense of the public will, along...

Syria Turns into a Political Story

President Obama announcing his intention to seek congressional approval for strikes on Syria. (White House video)
So last night I was watching NBC News, and a report on Syria came on, in which Andrea Mitchell spent five minutes talking about whether going to Congress for affirmation of his decision to attack the Syrian government makes Barack Obama "look weak." Mitchell is the network's "Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent," which is what you call someone who stays in nice hotels and gets talking points from top officials when she travels with the secretary of State to foreign countries. The news is full of this kind of discussion, about whether Obama is weak, whether he "bungled" the decision-making process, how this might affect the 2014 elections, and pretty much anything except whether a strike on Syria is genuinely a good idea or not. Here's The Washington Post 's Chris Cillizza talking up the "massive gamble" Obama is taking—not a gamble on what will happen in Syria, mind you, but a political gamble. Here's Chuck Todd and the rest of the NBC politics crew gushing that this is "a great...

Why GOP Debates Should Be Moderated by Limbaugh and Hannity

The Republican Men's Chorus, circa 2012.
Today, the Republican National Committee is expected to pass a resolution declaring that CNN and NBC are big liberal meanies and they don't want to go play over at their house ever ever ever again. Or more particularly, since the two networks had been planning to produce shows about Hillary Clinton, the RNC is going to protest by refusing to allow either of them to sponsor primary debates during the presidential campaign of 2016. This bit of foot-stomping has prompted some on the right to argue that the party should just forego non-Fox network-sponsored debates altogether and have their confabs moderated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I'm with Kevin Drum on this: It's a great idea. Republicans are convinced that previous debates have been problematic because the network talking heads who moderate them are a bunch of liberal activists trying to trip them up, a critique which is always wrong . The problem isn't that the network personalities are liberals, it's that they...

Post-er Boy Bezos

AP Photo/Richard Drew
AP Photo/stf/bd M ost liberals I’ve spoken with are appalled that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post . I’m no great fan of Bezos or of Amazon’s user-friendly though predatory retailing tactics, but here is a contrarian view of the Post purchase. A widely-shared concern is that one of the last family-owned newspapers with a sense of civic mission is being bought as a trophy property by a billionaire. But wealthy moguls have always been the owners of newspapers. Occasionally, we get lucky with a family that happens to care about the public wellbeing, such as the Sulzbergers at The New York Times , the Grahams at the Post , or the Bancroft family at The Wall Street Journal in the pre-Rupert Murdoch days. But for every one of those, there is a Murdoch or a Hearst. Alas, The Washington Post is no longer your father’s Post . It’s been a long downward slide since the glory days of Kay Graham, Ben Bradlee, Woodward, and Bernstein. The current publisher, Katharine...

Could Jeff Bezos Save the Newspaper Business?

The artifact of pulped wood and ink that was dropped at my house this morning.
There was a time in America when industrial tycoons would buy newspapers to be their playthings, using the editorial pages to reward friends and punish enemies, all while watching healthy profits from subscriptions and advertising roll in. Then a couple of decades ago, the newspaper industry began an era of consolidation, with firms like Gannett and the Tribune company scooping up one small and mid-size paper after another. The results were usually awful for journalism; if your local paper got bought by one of those behemoths, there's a good chance the newsroom would be gutted and you'd end up with a paper with little enterprising reporting and lots of wire stories. But now the billionaires are back. Last week the New York Times company sold The Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has quietly bought a couple dozen small papers, making him one of the largest newspaper owners in the country. And yesterday The Washington Post announced that the...

The Rise and Fall of a "Scandal"

He never quite got what he wanted. (Flickr/stanfordcis)
Remember the IRS scandal? Haven't heard much about it lately, have you? Yet for a while, it was big, big news, and so often happens, the initial blockbuster allegations were everywhere, penetrating down to even the least attentive citizen, while the full story, which turned out to be rather less dramatic, got kind of buried. News organizations aren't in the habit of shouting, "BREAKING: That Thing We Said Was Huge Last Week? Eh, Not So Much." Brendan Nyhan has looked at how this "scandal attention cycle" played out with the IRS and turned it into some charts : What that means in practice is that while pretty much everybody heard that the IRS was "targeting conservative groups," far fewer people have learned that there is now lots of evidence that the IRS wasn't targeting conservative groups (see Alec MacGillis for a good explanation). In the news organizations' defense, one could argue that the allegations were pretty dramatic, so they reported on it a lot when they emerged. But then...

Christian Identity Politics on Fox

Reza Aslan is surprised to find himself stranded in Stupidtown.
Reza Aslan is surprised to find himself stranded in Stupidtown. I try, with only partial success, to avoid spending too much time on the "A conservative said something offensive!" patrol. First, there are plenty of other people doing it, so it isn't as if the world won't hear about it if I don't remark on the outrage du jour . But second—and more important—most of the time there isn't much interesting to say about Rush Limbaugh's latest bit of race-baiting or Bill O'Reilly's latest spittle-flecked rant or Louie Gohmert's latest expectoration of numskullery. But let's make an exception for this interview Reza Aslan did on Friday with Fox News to promote his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth . You've no doubt seen Aslan on television multiple times in the last decade, and maybe even read something he's written. In the post-9/11 period, he became a go-to guest on shows from Meet the Press to The Daily Show as someone who could explain Islam to American audiences...

Nate Silver and Journalism's Non-Overlapping Magisteria

Flickr/JD Lasica
It was recently announced that Nate Silver would be leaving The World's Most Important News Outlet, The New York Times , to head to ESPN, where he'll work for that network and its parent company ABC on sports, politics, Academy Award projections, and whatever else he's inclined to think about. I'm only marginally interested in most of the internal politics that led to Silver's move, but from all the reporting and Silver's own comments, it seems that he felt he'd be better able to turn 538 into a more comprehensive, wide-ranging hub there than at the Times , which sounds pretty reasonable. And since he didn't rise up through the journalistic ranks where the Times is the be-all and end-all, he probably doesn't place the same importance on the Times ' prestige as many people do. But there is one interesting tidbit in the column that Margaret Sullivan, the Times' public editor, wrote yesterday about Silver that tells us something interesting about the state of political journalism: I don'...

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Face and the Power of Images

A lot of people are very, very angry over the fact that Rolling Stone put on their cover a selfie that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took (a photo that appeared in many newspapers) to accompany a long feature article about him. "The Bomber," the headline reads, with the subhed, "How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed By His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster." Nobody's mad about the article , which is pretty well described by that subhed, and isn't too different from many other articles written since the bombing. But the cover is getting people riled up; Boston Mayor Tom Menino wrote a letter to the magazine expressing his outrage, Boston's police commissioner says, "I'm disgusted by it," the news has been filled with person-on-the-street interviews with Bostonians expressing their displeasure, and stores like CVS have announced that they won't be stocking the issue. The people I've seen aren't having an easy time articulating what it is about the cover they find...

Tired Columnists and Lost Opportunities

Richard Cohen, opinion-shaper.
Richard Cohen of The Washington Post may not have written anything interesting in the last 20 years or so, but yesterday he found a way to achieve some momentary relevance, by writing an execrable column defending racial profiling. For the first time in forever, lots of people were talking about something Cohen wrote (read Ta-Nehisi Coates' incisive discussion of what makes Cohen's column so vile). But this leads to a question I'm sure more than a few people are asking: Why does this guy still have a column in one of the nation's most important newspapers? After all, it's hard to imagine that Cohen has some kind of large and fervent fan base. There are other columnists who are awful in various ways, but you can understand why they're still around. For instance, Charles Krauthammer's work is a festering cauldron of venom and absurd hyperbole, but conservatives think he's a genius, so they'd be heartbroken if he lost his perch at the Post . In terms of prestige, the Post 's opinion page...

The Temptation of Renown

Alas, there will be no Zimmerman juror book here; you'll have to content yourself with volumes about Duck Dynasty and people who go to heaven when they're unconscious. (Flickr/brewbooks)
*/ It's sort of quaint that when the winds of national attention float past someone who never would have otherwise gotten the chance to receive something resembling fame, their first thought so often is, "I should write a book!" The publishing industry may be dying and 99 percent of authors may never get sales out of the four figures, but everyone, even people who haven't written anything longer than an email since they were in their teens, thinks the world would be eager to read 300 pages of their thoughts and feelings. So it was that Juror B37—since she hasn't revealed her name, I'm going to call her Gladys—emerged into the bright light of a Florida morning and said to herself, "There's gotta be a way for me to cash in on this." And she decided to write a book, because like most Americans, Gladys isn't non-famous, she just isn't famous yet . She quickly retained a literary agent, who no doubt told her that this thing was going to be huge. After all, it's all over the news. Folks...

All the News that's Fit to Reprint

Todd Williamson/Invision/AP
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP T he opening scene of The Newsroom ’s second season, debuting Sunday on HBO, won’t do a hell of a lot to increase creator Aaron Sorkin’s popularity with women. Marcia Gay Harden guests as a brusque in-house attorney deposing news anchor Will McAvoy about a story the fictitious Atlantic Cable News channel blew badly—erroneously reporting that the Obama administration used nerve gas during a black-ops operation in Pakistan. “Fuck me,” our lady lawyer finally snaps, exasperated by Will’s arch banter. (She’s not alone in that feeling, believe me.) After a pause, Will—ever the gentleman—turns to the other dudes in the room. “Well, would one of you fuck Ms. Halliday, please?” he asks. You have to feel for Harden when her character is obliged to soften, smile, and concede that the joke’s on her. On this show even more than his earlier ones, or maybe just more noticeably, Sorkin tends to divide his female characters among bitches, waifs, annoying ninnies, and...

How the Conservative Media Are Eating Up the Zimmerman Trial

George Zimmerman during his interview with no-nonsense journalist Sean Hannity.
George Zimmerman's trial in the shooting of Trayvon Martin is coming to a close. For what it's worth, I think he'll probably get acquitted, since 1) the lack of any eyewitnesses leaves room for doubt, and 2) my impression is that in Florida it's perfectly legal to pursue somebody, confront them, and then when the confrontation turns physical and you begin to lose the fight, shoot them in the chest. You know—self defense. In any case, conservative media are feasting on the Zimmerman trial (as are some other media). Their basic storyline goes like this: Trayvon Martin was a thug. George Zimmerman's gated community was beset by roving gangs of vicious black teen criminals. Zimmerman was in the right. And most critically, this whole thing is being drummed up by racial provocateurs, most especially Barack Obama and Eric Holder, to continue their ongoing war on white people, who are the real victims of racism in America today. Let's take, for instance, this little story. After Martin's...

Drawing the Wrong Lessons from Egypt

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
AP Photo/Hassan Ammar T he military coup that removed Egypt’s elected President Mohamed Morsi from power last week marks a significant setback for Islamist movements in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood—to which Morsi belonged—is the most prominent and important. But, the coup also returns the Brotherhood to a position they are quite used to, that of the unfairly marginalized voice of the silent, oppressed majority. Egypt’s military government has signaled that it would move relatively quickly to new elections and a constitutional referendum. (It would probably be the first coup-led government in history to actually do so.) As for the future of the Muslim Brotherhood, as analyst Michael Wahid Hanna writes in Foreign Policy , “In the end, no functional political order can emerge, let alone a democratic transition, without the free, fair, and full participation by the Muslim Brotherhood.” Despite being removed from power, the Brotherhood remains a deeply rooted political force in...

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