Sally Ride (Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)
Yesterday, the day before Amelia Earhart’s 115th birthday, Sally Ride joined the skies for a final time. At 61, she died of pancreatic cancer—a horrible disease. Back in 1983, it was thrilling to watch her smash the American gender barrier as she zoomed into space. When she headed off into the final frontier, it was not as it was with the subordinate Lieutenant Uhuru on the Enterprise—the closest analogue there was at the time—but as an equal astronaut. Ride strode up to the Challenger as if she belonged there—which, of course, she did. She had degrees in physics, astrophysics, and English—what an underachiever! When she saw a NASA newspaper ad seeking astronauts, she applied and got the job.
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.
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.
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. The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 them
Campaign professionals tend to believe that the most potent attack you can make uses your opponents 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 of the Post. Within days, the story was showing up in the president's speeches and the campaign's ads. So the Romney campaign is doing what it can to wind back the clock on the story:
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."
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:
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.”
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.