Media

Two Days until Brief Explosion of Christie Mania

Flickr/Bob Jagendorf
Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia, hold their gubernatorial elections in odd years. Since there's generally a dearth of other political news at that time, Washington-based reporters usually decide that whoever got elected in Virginia is suddenly a national figure with a future as a presidential or at least vice-presidential candidate. They say this because they have become familiar with the Virginia race and therefore perceive it as important, and because Virginia is a swing state, which is supposed to mean that someone who got elected there might also appeal to voters elsewhere. This year, however, the Virginia race features two candidates no one much likes: Ken Cuccinelli, who seems like he might launch a campaign to reintroduce witch trials to the commonwealth if he became governor, and Terry McAuliffe, an almost comically smarmy operator whose most profound talent lies in separating people from their money. Obviously, neither of those two is ever going to be president, so...

Double Down to Dullsville

I suppose we should be pleased that every couple of months, a book , that old-fashioned communication form in which ideas are related at considerable length, is able to captivate official Washington for a moment or two. A while back it was Mark Leibovich's This Town , which cast a jaundiced eye on the incestuous world of press and politics in the capital, and the latest is Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Double Down: Game Change 2012 , which won't be officially released until tomorrow but already stands at #8 on Amazon. I haven't read Double Down , but if it's anything like the authors' previous work, there'll be no jaundice to be found. As in Game Change , their best-selling account of the 2008 election, the authors show themselves to be aficionados of the scoop for scoop's sake, giving us the inside skinny from campaign operatives with scores to settle but avoiding saying anything interesting about what it all means. That's perfectly fine—if you're interested in politics, reading...

How's about You and Him Fight?

White House photo by Pete Souza
Hillary Clinton has about a year and a half before she needs to make the final decision on whether she'll run for president in 2016. Between now and then, and after she becomes an actual candidate (if she does), we're going to be seeing an awful lot of stories that read as though an editor said to a reporter, "Give me a story about Hillary turning her back on Barack, and the two camps sniping at each other," and the reporter replied, "Well, I haven't seen much evidence of that, but I'll see what I can come up with." That gets you stuff like a piece in today's Washington Post , under the headline, " In the Clintons' talk of brokering compromise, an implicit rebuke of Obama years ." Let's get to the stinging barbs Hillary and Bill are aiming at the President: In recent stump speeches and policy remarks, Bill and Hillary Clinton have offered sharp criticisms of the partisan gridlock paralyzing Washington, signaling a potential 2016 campaign theme if Hillary Clinton chooses to run for...

Boob Jam: Keeping Abreast of a Changing Gaming World

The debate over depictions of women in video games has basically boiled down to “big boobs bad, small boobs good!” A few developers hope to change that.

Theboobjam.com
F ew things fan the fire in video-game culture quite like boobs. It started with Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. By the mid-1990s, games had detailed graphics and characters modeled in three dimensions. Lara came along at the right time. With her rather inflated attributes, she became the poster child for video games as they moved into an era of aggressively courting teenaged boys with sex and violence. It became accepted wisdom until quite recently that games that were actually respectful of women needed to have them be well-clothed and small-bosomed. If, on the other hand, a female video-game character had a large pixelated chest, the game was probably a dumb, anti-feminist male power fantasy. The Boob Jam Tumblr Perhaps the purest expression of this line of thought came from indie game developer Ryan Creighton, who described his efforts at feminism in his game Spellirium thusly: “I patted myself on the back for asking our character designer to give her a small chest, and for marring her...

Facebook Is Watching You

There's an old saying in media that if you're getting something for free, then you are the product. When you listen to commercial radio, the advertisers are the customers, and you're the product that the station sells to their customers. But if you're the company selling those eyeballs or ears, it's best to convince the humans attached to them that you care deeply about them and have their best interests at heart. So I'm wondering exactly how Facebook thinks it could persuade its billion users that this is anything less than horrifying: Facebook Inc. is testing technology that would greatly expand the scope of data that it collects about its users, the head of the company’s analytics group said Tuesday. The social network may start collecting data on minute user interactions with its content, such as how long a user's cursor hovers over a certain part of its website, or whether a user's newsfeed is visible at a given moment on the screen of his or her mobile phone, Facebook analytics...

The "War of the Worlds" Myth

Wikimedia Commons/Henrique Alvim Correa
Seventy-five years ago today, the CBS radio network aired Orson Welles' radio dramatization of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds . Welles took Wells' book and transformed it into a series of radio news reports, duplicating in form and presentation what people would hear if Martians were actually invading Earth. As you probably know, mass panic ensued, with millions of Americans running screaming through the streets, having heart attacks, and generally believing that the world was coming to an end. It's a great story; the only problem is, it didn't happen that way. Not that there weren't some people who flipped out, because there were a few. All indications were that those who believed it was real were socially isolated and highly suggestible for one reason or another. But there was no mass panic, nobody firing their guns at passing clouds, nobody committing suicide rather than be scooped up by the alien invaders. So why has this tale persisted? The simplest answer is that it's a great...

Another Phony Obamacare Victim Story

NBC News' Obamacare victim, who it turns out is not actually a victim.
In the last couple of decades, a particular technique of news-story construction has become so common that I'm sure you barely notice it as something distinctive. It's the use of a device sometimes referred to as the "exemplar," in which a policy issue is explained through the profile of one individual, whose tale usually begins and ends the story. It's ubiquitous on television news, but print reporters do it all the time as well. As the Affordable Care Act approaches full implementation, we're seeing a lot of exemplar stories, and I've been noticing one particular type: the story of the person who seems to be getting screwed. If it were true that most Americans were indeed being made worse off by the law, that would be a good thing; we'd learn their stories and get a sense of the human cost of the law. The trouble is that in the real world, there are many more people being helped by the law than hurt by it, and even those who claim to be hurt by it aren't being hurt at all. To see...

Conservative Does Journalism, Gets Hailed as Demi-God

The National Review's Robert Costa. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Back in 2009, Tucker Carlson gave a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he told the crowd that what the right needed was more real journalism. He even pointed out that, as much as they hate The New York Times , that paper has people who do actual reporting and care about accurately relaying facts, and conservatives ought to try the same thing. He was booed resoundingly. Then Carlson founded the Daily Caller , which is kind of like giving a speech to a group of overweight people about the importance of cooking moderately sized meals filled with vegetables at home, then saying, "Let's go to McDonald's—Big Macs are on me!" Conservatives aren't wrong when they say most journalists are liberals. That isn't because of a conspiracy to keep out conservatives, any more than the fact that most stock brokers are conservatives is a result of a Wall Street conspiracy to keep out liberals. It's primarily because of the kind of people who are attracted to that kind of...

Coverage of 2012 Campaign Disappointingly Unbiased

Fox News shows its blatant pro-Obama bias.
Everybody thinks the media are biased against their side, and conservatives are particularly likely to believe it. They themselves would say "That's because it's true!", but the real reason is that the complaint of liberal bias is one that conservatives hear all the time from all of their media sources. That isn't to say there aren't some issues on which the conservative side doesn't get equally favorable coverage, because there may well be a few, just as there are issues on which liberals get the short end of the media stick. But on some you can make a case that there are legitimate reasons. For instance, I wouldn't be surprised if a systematic analysis revealed that coverage of the gay-marriage issue was friendlier to the pro side. That might be because one side is arguing for equality and the other side is arguing for discrimination, and portraying the two as equally morally valid is itself problematic (I know, conservatives would disagree). Anyhow, if there's ever a topic about...

Outrage-Based Media and the Specter of False Racism Charges

Sadly, life does not embody the harmony of the black and white cookie. (Flickr/veganbaking.net)
I've often wondered how conservatives can tolerate a steady diet of the likes of Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Hannity. I don't mean why they find those kinds of programs appealing, because there are many reasons for that. I mean as a steady, long-term part of your daily routine. Doesn't the steady stream of outrage just become overwhelming after a while? Can you really shake your fist at the TV and sputter with rage every single night without making yourself crazy? That's not to say there aren't liberals with similar rhetoric, but there are fewer, and they aren't as successful. Keith Olbermann did it for a while, and Ed Schultz isn't that far off. But it does seem that liberals' taste in talk runs more to people like Rachel Maddow, who delivers her outrage with a smile and a joke, or the wonkishly thoughtful Chris Hayes. People on the left aren't averse to getting mad, but they don't want to be mad all the time . Which brings us to this very interesting paper by Sarah Sobieraj and her...

The Arbitrary Nature of Media Attention

Let's be realistic: neither of these guys is ever going to be president.
Do you have an opinion about John Boozman? How about Joe Donnelly? Any strong feelings about John Hoeven? Or Jim Risch? I'm guessing that you haven't heard of them, or if you have, you certainly know almost nothing about them. To most Americans they might as well be infielders for a double-A baseball team or Cedar Rapids-area plumbers. In fact, they're United States senators. So why is it that these guys are ignored (perhaps rightfully), while nobody can stop talking about Ted Cruz and Rand Paul? After all, the job of a senator is to make laws, and Paul has no more influence on that process than Boozman. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if no matter how long Rand Paul stays in the U.S. Senate, he never authors a law with any kind of meaningful impact on American lives. He'd hardly be the first; John McCain has been in Congress for over 30 years, and he wrote exactly one important piece of legislation, which eventually got overturned by the Supreme Court. But the news media (and I'm...

It's Not about the Video Games

No, these are not mass murderers in training. (Flickr/Abraxas3d)
The pattern has become familiar: There's a mass shooting, and while some liberals try to raise the issue of the fact that our society is drowning in guns, more "realistic" commentators quickly turn the discussion away to some of different questions. Did the mental health system fail? And what about those violent video games? Aren't they a big part of the problem? That's what people are asking now about Aaron Alexis. The answer is simple: No, video games aren't part of the problem of gun violence in America. Or more specifically, even if they're part of the problem, they're such an infinitesimally small part of the problem that blaming them for the endless gun slaughter in America is like blaming one of the leaves on the tree that fell on your house for all the damage to the roof. This shouldn't be difficult to wrap your head around. Think about it this way. Could an early intervention by mental health workers and authorities have helped Aaron Alexis before he turned murderous? Perhaps...

No One Has to Tweet

I really doubt Paul Krugman would do this.
I can recall, back in around 2008 or so, sitting in an airport listening to a radio story about this thing called Twitter, in which some tech booster was explaining how great it was to be able to send out little 140-character updates on what he was doing all the time, so the the people he cared about could have a sense of his daily life. I thought it sounded both inane and horrifying, but like most things governed by network effects , its value not just increased but changed in nature as more and more people got on it. I resisted going on Twitter for a long time (despite the pleading of my then-editor), in part because I was worried it would just be a distraction from my work. But it turned out, once I got on, that it became invaluable to my work. Most of the people I follow are writers or other people who point me to things I might need to know or want to write about; when I'm lost for something to say, Twitter will often send me on a path that will ultimately lead to a post or a...

Just What Cable News Needs: More Bickering

The new Crossfire, just as interesting as you'd expect.
Back in 2004, Jon Stewart went on the CNN show Crossfire and begged the hosts to "stop hurting America." The clip became an early viral video (this was before YouTube), and it was like the young boy shouting that the emperor has no clothes. Evidently, people at the network looked around at each other and said, "He's right. This is just awful. We have to cancel this show so we can look ourselves in the mirror again." Within weeks it was off the air. I'm not saying that in the entire two decades of its previous incarnation, Crossfire was uniformly pernicious. But by the end it had reached a truly ghastly low, with Tucker Carlson and James Carville shouting over each other while a studio audience whooped and hollered in the background. Why anyone voluntarily subjected themselves to watching it remains a mystery. And now, Crossfire is back on the air. The obvious question is one you might ask yourself after a hurricane flooded your house or a bear killed and ate your favorite great-aunt:...

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...

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