Media

Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it

The public interest is what the public is interested in, bitches.

Thanks to Facebook, we all see new memes every day. Some of them are funny, some insightful, and a lot are of the preaching to the choir variety, which even though they’re right as rain, they occasionally get tiresome. Like a lot of us, frustrated as hell with the sorry shape of our society and the deteriorating condition of our planet and the sheer hopelessness of mounting an assault against the mountain of cynical, corrupt cash standing between us and a solution, I guess I suffer from bouts of what we’ll call Fact Fatigue. If we’re intelligent, I fear, the truth is too much with us.

Every once in awhile, though, somebody sends one around that’s so on-point you can’t ignore it. Today, for instance, it was my friend Heather Sowards-Valey (she of Fiction 8 fame) sharing this one from Sciencegasm: Continue reading

Limbaugh brays on: louder, emptier, closer to the end

By Robert Becker

The smoldering ruin of Rush Limbaugh dramatizes one political truism: seemingly impregnable fortresses are most vulnerable to suicidal implosions. Despite decades of volcanic vitriol, no outside force had yet penetrated Rush’s propaganda bubble chamber, full of pretend entertainment. No doubt, the fall of the Dittohead Dynasty reflects both the gratuity of Limbaugh’s latest abuse and the wholesomeness of the victim. For the record, Sandra Fluke’s noble decency stared down a serial miscreant. After all, other fringe charlatans haven’t suddenly lost 140 sponsors, nor did some new-found Democratic charge deter Rush’s grotesque buffoonery.

Though the bully pulpit resides in the White House, shifty, snarling bullies still sneer their way to fame and fortune. Continue reading

The Komen "reversal": a crushing failure of America's newsrooms

Yesterday I attempted to shed a little light on the PR crisis strategy behind the Komen Foundation’s sudden Planned Parenthood “backtracking.”

Contrary to what Komen’s highly-paid PR crisis hacks and gullible headline writers at newsdesks around the nation would ask you to believe, The Susan G. Komen Foundation does NOT promise to fund Planned Parenthood in the future. They promise to let PP APPLY for grants in the future. Applying and receiving are different things, as anyone who ever applied and got rejected for a job ought to know. Continue reading

NASA, American exceptionalism, and me: older, and less viable

Fourth in a series

As a child turning teen in the late 1950s, the black-and-white RCA in the living room received only three channels … well, four, but we didn’t watch PBS. So I read. Newspapers, of course (after Dad finished sports and Mom finished news). And books. The library was only two blocks away, so I spent afternoons there sampling the stack. I was a small-town boy at the end of the idyllic “Father Knows Best” decade of Eisenhower placidity, a geeky kid feeling the first pangs of puberty.

I longed for adventure beyond being a Boy Scout or tossing a football with neighborhood pals. In the library I found adventure stories set in space, spun with well-chosen words and exquisitely crafted plots.

I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” Then Robert A. Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire.” Science fiction (or, in Clarke’s case, science prediction) captivated me. I became a sci-fi cognoscente.

Then, in 1957, came the shocker: Sputnik. Continue reading

News-of-the-World-gate: the empire strikes back

This just keeps getting better and better. Alexander Cockburn is right—this is just like Watergate. The steady drip, drip, drip of bad news. The iconic hate figure, a man who pretty much singlehandedly created a global media empire against very significant odds, which in any other context might be seen as plucky and admirable in some way, but who wrecked that accomplishment through political blowback once some transparency revealed the depths to which members of his organization would go. (There’s that whole Fox News thing too, for good measure.) The scuttling of politicians for cover, or at least better defensive positions. And a few heroes popping up, occasionally from unexpected quarters.

So what’s happened since our last update? Well, what hasn’t happened? Except for Rebeka Brooks’s resignation, which Rupert has said is not gonna happen. We’ll see—some folks are giving it until Wednesday. In other expected and unexpected developments, Andrew Coulson, former News of the World editor and former press advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron, has been arrested, question, and released. Continue reading

Trouble in Murdochland redux

A couple of months ago we noted that things were not going all that well in Murdochland, what with investigations heating up over allegations that phone hacking–that delightful pastime of hacking into someone’s voicemail so you can read and/or hear their messages—was far more pervasive than anyone had guessed. Or, certainly, than Murdoch and his News Corporation team were prepared to admit. Since then, it’s gotten worse, with lots of lawsuits, and allegations, and to-ing and fro-ing all over the place. But it wasn’t until this past week that the whole situation finally exploded, and explode big time it did.

Because it’s one thing to hack the voicemail of movie stars and politicians—the public turns out to be supremely indifferent to that. It’s quite something else to hack into the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl and delete messages, leading her parents to think she was still alive. Or the families of other murdered schoolgirls. Or the relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the victims of the July 7 bombings. Not only is this beyond the bounds of decency by several orders of magnitude, the public actually recognizes this. And they’re steamed. Continue reading

The Fourth four years later: Nothing’s changed

As I predicted four years ago on the Fourth of July, little has changed. This year’s fireworks and barbecues offer only a brief respite from the problems of the nation, how they are worsening, and how those who are supposed to address them remain mere chanters of their respective ideologies.

Four years ago, I predicted that the cost of federal elections would continue to rise, that the role of money would increase dramatically. I did not predict — or even dream it could happen — the outcome of the Supremes’ consideration of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that deepened the hole in which corporate money could hide while paying for “electioneering communications.”

Sadly, I did not predict that more than 30,000 journalists would lose their jobs in the past four years, lessening the ability of the press to hold government accountable. To me, corporations are now essentially the American government; more journalists, not fewer, trained in the same accounting chicanery that allowed Enron to flourish, are necessary to hold corporate government accountable, too.
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Haste, cost erode editing of online and mobile news

In 1976, I was a general-assignment reporter of limited experience and minimal accomplishment. So my editor kindly fired me, then said: “Now get your ass up on the copy desk where you belong.”

I knew little about copy editing. So I asked my newsroom godfather: “Neil, what do copy editors do?”

He looked over the rims of those 1950s spectacles he favored and said, “Defend your reader.”

“Against what?” I asked.

Error,” he said. “Any error possible.”

The memory of, or, perhaps, even the desire to exercise that dictum may remain in today’s newsrooms. But the ability of copy editors today to defend readers against error has inexorably been eroded. That decimation of editing capacity has been fueled by computerization beginning in the late ’70s and continued in this past decade by the sacking of newsroom staffs and the insatiable demand of management to get stories online or winging to mobile devices right now.
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FCC: Move to digital hasn't improved local news reporting

From the “The Feds Are The Last To Know Department”:

The Federal Communications Commission released a study today reporting that an “explosion of online news sources in recent years has not produced a corresponding increase in reporting, particularly quality local reporting …” The study, titled “Information Needs of Communities” takes a broad but somewhat shallow look at the media landscape. It reads as more of a history of how modern media arrived at its current state than as a clear, practical recipe for change.

The study — which looks at the local reporting performance of all media, not just that of newspapers — was undertaken by senior FCC adviser Steven Waldman, a former journalist for Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. According to his study:

In many communities, we now face a shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting. The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism — going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy — is in some cases at risk at the local level.

Well, duh. Continue reading

Dr. Death avoids suicide, chooses natural causes

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Jack Kevorkian (aka Dr. Death) died early Friday in a Michigan hospital from complication of pulmonary thrombosis, not suicide. He was 83. He was frail and failing, weighing around 75 lbs.

It was breaking news on Detroit’s local TV stations and within minutes spread to the national media.

Physician-assisted suicide’s most prominent advocate died, in a hospital where he was being treated, of natural causes. Curious that. He was a long time proponent of the right to die and ended up doing prison time, eight years, when one of his patients decided he did not want to commit suicide in the middle of the procedure that Kevorkian, against his then-lawyer’s advice, was videotaping. Kevorkian gave the tape to CBS’s 60 Minutes, and the local prosecutor was finally successful in getting a conviction. In all, he helped 130 people to commit suicide. Continue reading

If a news story claims knowlege of public opinion, test the claim

When a news story claims certainty in expressing public opinion — or uses sources that claim such — readers should be wary.

Such is the case with a Friday NPR story that commingled analysis, reporting, and commentary (without a commentary label) about the impact of “tough economic news” on President Obama’s re-election prospects.

Some phrasing in the 1,081-word story represents guessing or labeling instead of reporting: seems, perhaps, hardly has a pulse, appears, near certainty, dismal harbinger, liberal wing, political environment, seems a distant memory, progressive community, recent experiences, some in his own party (tell us who, please), and a pervasive view.

But it is proclamations of knowledge of public opinion that irritate most.
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Presidential polls: Much ado about nothing 17 months early

Egads! News flash from pollster Gallup Inc.:

PRINCETON, NJ — Mitt Romney (17%) and Sarah Palin (15%) now lead a smaller field of potential Republican presidential candidates in rank-and-file Republicans’ preferences for the party’s 2012 nominee. Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain essentially tie for third, with Cain registering 8% support in his initial inclusion in Gallup “trial heat” polling. Notably, 22% of Republicans do not have a preference at this point. [emphasis added]

Yawn. This poll conducted May 20-24 with a random sample of 971 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents tells me nothing I want to know or need to know. I’m not necessarily picking on pollster Gallup; my objections apply to most of these almost weekly presidential preference polls. They mislead and misrepresent more than enlighten. In sum, they represent manufactured noise with little signal.
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City Forward & Other Technologies Change Our Understanding Of Our Environs

<by Rafael Noboa y Rivera

I’ve written in the past–whether it was about IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge or City Forward projects–about the different ways that cities can serve as laboratories of government and how cool it is that these projects can be part of this process. Given their size and immediacy in our lives, they are the level of government we are most intimate with. You may think state and national government is more exciting; still, nothing comes close to the city in terms of its impact on our day to day lives, and as they are more immediate, we can also have a much greater impact on them. Continue reading

The American Parliament: our nation’s 10 political parties

Part two in a series.

Forgive me for abstracting and oversimplifying a bit, but one might argue that American politics breaks along the following 10 lines:

  • Social Conservatives
  • Neocons
  • Business Conservatives
  • Traditional Conservatives (there’s probably a better term, but I’m thinking of old-line Western land and water rights types)
  • Blue Dog Democrats
  • New Democrats
  • Progressives Continue reading

Conservatives, Progressives and the future of representative democracy: what would an American Parliament look like?

Part one in a series.

A little thought experiment for a Monday morning…

Over the past few years I have tried to make as much sense as I could out of the American political landscape. By nature, I’m a theoretically minded thinker, and the point of these exercises has been to try and articulate the structures, shapes, motivators and dynamics the define who we are so that I might develop better theories about why so that I might then think more effectively about how we might be nudged in a more productive direction. Facts → Theory → Action, in other words.

I have observed a few things along the way.

Presidential preference polls: how media create a fake horse race

You can smell that foul odor wafting through the air — presidential politics. Wannabees who won’t say they wannabee are peddling books. Sharply dressed and coiffed “I haven’t decided yet” politicians descend on Iowa and New Hampshire. Explorations of exploratory committees are explored. Websites and Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts multiply like lobbyists at a fundraiser.

And, if it’s the beginning of the presidential campaign season, then it’s the beginning of the presidential polling season as well. Newspapers and broadcast entities partner with polling organizations to tap likely voters’ preferences for candidates. Even though this is early in 2011 and the election is in late 2012, poll respondents are expected to know now whom they’ll pencil onto their ballot.

So the horse race begins. But it’s fixed. All because of one question:

If the election were held today, who would you vote for?
Continue reading

Detroit, the once grand Motor City, reels from census losses

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Poor Detroit. Still reeling from a decade when the three auto companies, formerly known collectively as the Big Three, imploded with two of them taking federal loans to survive, the Motor City lost almost 25 percent of its residents, according to U.S. Census figures released this week.

In its heyday in the mid-20th Century, Detroit was the fourth largest city in the nation. Now it languishes at 18th.The new population count by the census folks is 713,777, the lowest in a century. One in every four residents left the city during the past decade. Michigan, as well, was the only state to lose population despite an increase in the U.S. population during the past decade.

The implications are harrowing for a city with huge deficits, a school system with a state appointed fiscal manager, decaying neighborhoods and vast swaths of empty lots. Downtown, a vibrant retail area in the 1950s and 1960s which once boasted three major department stores along its main artery, Woodward Avenue, now has none. In the old neighborhoods where small clusters of houses remain, selling prices, if there are buyers, are in just the four and five figures.

And to add insult, it looks like ABC will cancel the show Detroit 187 after just one season. How much more of a battering can the city take? Continue reading

America's wild horses and burros need your help!

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Wild Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act that guaranteed some level of protection and humane treatment for the nation’s mustangs and burros.

These canny horses and burros are under scrutiny once again as equine advocates are embroiled in yet another skirmish with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program and the U.S. Forestry Service (both agencies under separate federal departments are charged with managing the populations) over round-ups, birth control and the genetic viability of the herds spread across public lands in 10 western states.

To weigh in on the BLM’s plans for the future, email comments to wildhorse@blm.gov  and type “Comments on Strategy” in the subject line. The deadline for comments is March 30, 2011.

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The painted kipper (pt. 5): an end note

Part 5 in a series.

In a piece about the American cult writer David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide on September 12, 2008, James Ryerson writes: Continue reading