Freedom of the press means little if audiences are trapped in bubbles

A free press won’t amount to squat as long as it has audiences who hear only what they want to hear, read only what their Facebook-sculpted algorithms tell them to read, and worship blissfully at the Church of Confirmation Bias.

It’s nice, I suppose, in this era of Trumpian Twitter bashing of the press, that journalists trumpet right back about bolstering freedom of the press, citing its absolutely necessity to the survival, let alone the maintenance, of democracy in the Republic.

google-bubbleIt’s nice, I suppose, that a satirical comedian hosts a “Not the White House Correspondents Association Dinner” (in prime time, no less) to, as she said, “celebrate the freedom of the press.” (She did this, of course, while occasionally mocking pack journalism and chiding CNN for not “setting free” its high-priced on-air talent to be journalists instead of entertainers).

It’s nice, I suppose, that the failing New York Times headlined the actual Donald-less White House correspondents’ dinner with us vs. them gusto: “For Journalists, Annual Dinner Serves Up Catharsis and Resolve.”

And it’s nice, I suppose, that the famed, once-young lions of an earlier Golden Age, Woodward and Bernstein, were trotted out at the latter dinner to extol the virtues of a free and vigilant press.

Continue reading

Unnamed sources? Journalists should teach readers why they were used

On Thursday, four journalists for CNN reported:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

CATEGORY: JournalismInformation. Indicates. Associates. Communicated. Suspected. Operatives. Possibly. Coordinate. Information. US officials.

Huh? Could this lede be any more vague? This lede is all may have — which leaves open the possibility of may not have.

The story, reported by Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, and Shimon Prokupecz, contains unnamed sources in 10 of the story’s 18 paragraphs. The FBI director is named, but only in reference to stories reported earlier. White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov are named, but only in chiding the findings of the story. Two paragraphs near the end of the story contain no sources and appear to be the conclusions of the reporters.

Continue reading

The overlooked battlefield in the war against the press

democracy-in-americaThe war against the press will be fought at the local and state level, but the war at the federal level will get the most airtime.

CNN reporter Jeremy Desmond asked Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, under fire because of four deaths at his jail, for an interview. On Friday, Clarke replied on Twitter:

Donald Trump has labeled CNN as fake news. When Pres. Trump says CNN is ok again, then I might.

The sheriff — an elected public official — has refused to respond to a press request for an interview. This particular sheriff has a nationwide reputation as a supporter of President Donald and has been considered for a position in the Donald administration. Continue reading

CNN (and others) and its overuse of anonymity: There’s more to the story …

First, there’s this headline:

Secret Service spoke to Trump campaign about 2nd Amendment comment

CATEGORY: Journalism Then there’s this lede graf:

(CNN) — A US Secret Service official confirms to CNN that the USSS has spoken to the Trump campaign regarding his Second Amendment comments.

Then there’s this second graf that does not identify “the official”:

“There has been more than one conversation’ on the topic, the official told CNN.

Then there’s this fifth graf: Continue reading

For 2016, re-elect Andrew Shepherd: Fiction trumps the Republican reality

the_american_president_28movie_poster29In my favorite bad movie, The American President, Michael Douglas as the fictional President Andrew Shepherd confronts his Republican challenger’s claims about Shepherd’s character.

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. … You scream about patriotism and tell them [who’s] to blame for their lot in life … [emphasis added]

Now remove Bob Rumson’s name and insert the name of any of the recent CNN main stage GOP presidential candidates (or even Wolf Blitzer, as he goaded them into ISIS hysteria). Continue reading

CNN’s ‘Courageous’ — recycling an idea that was bad decades ago

Move along, now. There’s nothing new here. Really.

From the Wall Street Journal’s Steven Perlberg:

CNN is creating an in-house studio that will produce news-like content on behalf of advertisers, a move that reflects marketers’ growing desire for articles and videos that feel like editorial work.

CNN calls its foray into “news-like content on behalf of advertisers” by the name “Courageous.” But it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Marketers know their ads generally compete with other content. Continue reading

The Daily Caller distorts the results of the latest CNN/Gallup poll on global warming

The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastach published another superficial and oversimplified story about global warming, this time about the latest CNN/Gallup poll.

The Daily Caller, a right-wing website founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, has a history of misleading its readers when it comes to the subject of industrial climate disruption1 (aka global warming or climate change). They have published error-filled commentaries by an established liar, Steve Milloy. They have misrepresented legal filings with the Supreme Court of the United States and when they were criticized for their blatant errors, the managing editor refused to correct or retract the false claims. And they have published shallow and oversimplified stories about global warming science, research, funding, and economics.

Today, one of their climate and energy contributors, Michael Bastach, published another story that either missed or ignored important details of the story. S&R looked at the actual poll questions and detailed results (linked from the global warming section of the CNN article) and found that the detailed results contained not just how answers from December 2014, but from prior polls going back to 2007 in one case and back to 1997 in the other. When considered in context, the detailed results paint a very different picture than that painted by Bastach. Continue reading

Building my own news machine, whether I like it or not

I didn’t realize it until this morning. I have not watched CNN in more than five weeks. Since Ted Turner set loose the Chicken Noodle Network in June 1980, I have watched it daily — in the morning as I stumble through waking up, at the office, and in the evening when I return home. It has been a staple in how I gathered information I need for more than three decades.

But no more. It’s not CNN’s wall-to-wall Zimmerman coverage or the Zuckerization of the network that turned me away. Maybe it was the departure of Howard Kurtz from Reliable Sources. CNN has simply failed to help me address the two questions that matter most to me: How does the world work? Why does it work that way?

It’s not just CNN, either. As I reflect on how I used to gather news (instead of the content proferred today), I realized that as little as a few years ago, I still heavily depended on mainstream staples I grew up with — The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe (I’m a native New Englander). Add in the local newspaper in the places I’ve lived.

Like many people, I have come to look askance at the ability of these long-time sources of news to tell me what I need to know. As their ability to generate reliable profit sufficient to sustain credible news gathering has declined, I am left with a diet of what they believe I want to know.

And they are so wrong: I do not want false equivalence or false balance in reporting, or one-source stories, or anonymous-source stories, or government or corporate flack-based stories. I do not want geographically limited stories, either: Bring me the floods in Bangladesh, the difficulties facing Greece and Spain in managing their debt, the urgency of fighting malaria in Africa. And I do not want happy talk, celebrity journalism, or shoutfests on air or in print.

I grew up in a media world in which each day what I needed to know was decided for me in New York City at the budget meeting at The Times. Those decision informed the national and international news budgets of The Associated Press. In my newsroom days, that’s the slate of meaningful information from which I selected a diet for the readers of my hometown paper.

No more. First, the nation’s roughly 1,400 daily newspapers — down more than a sixth from just 20 years ago — no longer deliver what they once did reliably. The loss of thousands of newsroom editorial posts have deprived the industry of the ability to produce well-considered news stories in reliable quantity and quality. (Yet every corporate press release following the layoffs of journalists promises “the quality of our journalism, so very important to us, will not suffer.”)

That has a democratic cost: The moral imperative of newspapers to hold government accountable has been terribly weakened. In the coverage of government, access to “official” sources has trumped penetrating reporting. In the coverage of large, multinational corporations — which have become governments unto themselves — business reporting falters before the weight of corporate lobbying, advertising, and image-management budgets.

And now, two of my mainstays of information have been sold to corporate titans: The Post to billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon and The Globe to the billionaire owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry.

Billionaires now own two of America’s once-great newspapers. Billionaires now routinely represent the money that best elects candidates to national office. How can we not view such developments as worrisome?

How are we to assess, now, how the world works and why it works that way? How can we do this, given that the newspapers of the past have morphed into “content providers” owned by entities that, frankly, I’ve always wanted news organizations to empower their journalists to probe at much greater depth?

I can only reflect on what I’ve done: I have evolved into my own wire editor. I still read The Times; I still read The Post; I still read The Globe. But so much less. Now, like many of you, I read Twitter, and, to a lesser extent, Facebook. I follow certain YouTube channels.

We’ve all been on these social media sites for years now. We have pruned our friends and followers to those we find useful.

We have constructed a web of people who routinely post either news they themselves have reported or links to information that we, over time, have come to find credible. Among the people I follow are former reporters and editors now running foundation-supported or non-profit journalism startups; brilliant people (like the “Newsosaur,” Alan Mutter) who assess the news industry; people who write books about subjects that interest me; people who travel and write blogs about places I’ve never been; students and former students who blog about the nature of being young today and the challenges they face; and, yes, politicians and lobbyists (you learn to sort the wheat from the chaff).

Most of this I do on my phone, usually in the morning and evening. Virtually all my “content consumption” is on my phone. CNN won’t be getting me back on a routine basis. Neither will these three major newspapers. As much as I like the smell of newsprint in the morning at a diner, those days are finito for me. My Kindle has breakfast with me.

I do not like this. It takes time to recreate a viable information system for myself. But the industry I toiled in for 20 years, and that I have now taught undergraduates about for nearly another 20 years, has lost its ability to reliably perform for me as needed.

Now, if I could only do something about my tendency toward confirmation bias …That’s the real problem in building your own news budget: You tend to lean toward intellectual agreement rather than challenge.

A final but important note: Only The Times gets money from me for a digital subscription. Frankly, we’re all screwed in terms of getting good journalism unless the “content provision” industry figures out how to get money out of me and you — so it can pay journalists sufficiently well and in sufficient numbers to do their jobs well on our behalf.

So you wanna be a citizen journalist? Good luck with that.

Citizen journalist. Citizen journalist?

How does that adjective modify journalist? What is a citizen journalist? How does a citizen journalist differ from a plain, ink-stained (or digitally adept), adjective-unfettered journalist?

CJs (let’s call them that; it sounds cool) are in demand. MSNBC wants them. It asks, “Be part of the dialogue of the issues affecting everyone. Tell us YOUR story by being a Citizen Journalist ” on its website. But, MSNBC cautions: “MSNBC will not pay you for your Submission. MSNBC may remove your Submission at any time. ”

A collaboration between CNN and IBN, the Indian Broadcasting Network, really wants CJs. It especially likes the whistle-blowing kind: “Do you know any cases of bad corporate governance, illegal business practices or corruption in a government scheme? Become a CJ and share your story with the world.”

CNN-IBA’s lawyers, however, appear to be less supportive. The disclaimers regarding citizen journalists (the “Parties,” of course, are CNN and IBA):

Under no circumstances will the Parties be liable in any way for any Content, including, but not limited to:

  • for any errors or omissions in any Content,
  • mistakes or inaccuracies of Content,
  • for any loss or damage of any kind incurred,
  • any interruption or cessation of transmission to or from the websites,
  • infringement of any third party rights

CNN, of course, runs the granddaddy of CJ operations with its “IReport” system. It really likes CJs (or IReporters, its preferred nomenclature): “Together, CNN and iReport can paint a more complete picture of the news. We’d love for you to join us. Jump on in, tell your story and see how it connects with someone on the other side of the world.”

CNN’s lawyers offer a different, fine-print view:

Users are solely responsible for anything contained in their submissions, message board and/or chat sessions. CNN does not verify, endorse or otherwise vouch for the contents of any submission, message board or chat room. Users may be held legally liable for the contents of their submissions, message board and chat sessions, and may be held legally liable if their submissions or chat sessions include, for example, material protected by copyright, trademark, patent or trade secret law or other proprietary right without permission of the author or owner, or defamatory comments.

And if that doesn’t impede your CJ career, read the 19-point “conduct” rules for IReporters, especially this: “You agree not to post or transmit through CNN iReport any material that is offensive to the online community, including blatant expressions of bigotry, racism, abusiveness, vulgarity or profanity …” [emphasis added]

Damned if I know what the “online community” would find “offensive.” So much for the commentary and analysis function of journalism. Stripped away by the adjective citizen in front of journalist.

Yahoo!, of course, welcomes CJs. It calls them “contributors” (and claims nearly 600,000 of them) or “voices.” But its legal backing of and confidence in these CJs is underwhelming:

Yahoo! Inc. (“Yahoo”) does not evaluate or guarantee the accuracy of any articles, videos or other posted information on the Yahoo! Contributor Network (“YCN”) (collectively, “YCN Content”). All YCN Content is provided by YCN Contributors in the YCN community, like you. None of the YCN content is written, or edited by Yahoo! employees. You agree that any use you make of such YCN Content is at your own risk and that Yahoo! is not responsible for any losses resulting from your reliance on any YCN Content on the YCN. YCN Content on the YCN Website should never be used as a substitute for advice from a qualified professional. [emphasis added]

Ouch. Your content, your neck. CJs get well paid for such risks, right?

Not really. Nearly eight years ago, Poynter’s Steve Outing, back in what he called the “very early days of citizen journalism,” said “psychic rewards” are insufficient compensation for CJs. Good work requires good pay, he said:

While most citJ content will remain uncompensated — because its quality isn’t high enough to get anyone to pay for it — the best of it will have a price tag. And publishers may have to adapt to paying for it. [emphasis added]

Remember how Arianna Huffington sold HuffPo to AOL for $315 million? Remember the details of the lawsuit? It claimed more than 9,000 people wrote uncompensated posts for HuffPo.

How many of these CJs can afford to be dedicated to a continual effort to further civil discourse on public issues supported by CJs’ continual research into their topics of coverage? How many of them have sufficient resources, both intellectual and financial, to keep their eyes on the ball, day after day, meeting after meeting, event after event, month after month, year after year?

No support, no corporate recognition beyond hype, no financial compensation. Citizen in front of journalist at the moment mostly means amateur.

The really good (or potentially good) CJs must figure out how to be compensated (beyond those “psychic rewards”), how to find more effective networks of promotion for their work, and how to find legal protections for their work (you know, like “shield laws”). When that happens, they’ll be just like the good folks at CNN and The New York Times and that little local daily in your home town.

They won’t be citizen journalists any more. They’ll just be journalists — and share the problems and opportunities professionals now face in a digitally mediated information universe.

Is CNN’s Howard Kurtz still credible? We’ll see.

How much credence should I place, beginning now, in whatever media reporter and critic Howard Kurtz says or writes? First came his ill-considered contretemps regarding NBA player Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay. That led to this morning’s mea culpa on Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” program on CNN, quizzed on his credibility by two other media critics.

Did Kurtz, in his phrase, “screw up”? Most assuredly. Did he fail to immediately amend and apologize? Yep. He admitted to both today under (somewhat predictable) questioning by Dylan Byers, media reporter for Politico, and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News.

His two (perhaps overly gentle) questioners noted that Kurtz had made other, serious errors in the past few years involving two members of Congress and a commentator at another network. Given that record, he was asked: “Why should we put stock in you as a media critic? Why should the audience of this show put its trust in you when so much of your recent work has been shown, at times, to be sloppy and even reckless?”

Given Kurtz’ decades-long body of work, which includes five books and, in his phrase, “millions of words,” so much might be an exaggeration. But given his profile — CNN’s media authority at “Reliable Sources” since 1998 — he faces a higher standard. And he said as much this morning. To be fair, he should be judged by that decades-long body of work, not on selected excerpts. But he’d better learn from this sensitivity fiasco. He’s becoming the Darryl Strawberry of media reporting in the past few years.

Should CNN fire Kurtz? No. He did nothing wrong on CNN’s dime and time. After all, CNN didn’t can Fareed Zakaria after his journalistic lapse (it’s called plagiarism). Why fire Howie? (It’s likely, however, this is Kurtz’s last contract with CNN. New honcho Jeff Zucker has been revamping, um, infotainment-ing, the network. Kurtz is a serious man doing a serious program about consequential matters. In the long run, he’s toast at ZNN … er, CNN.)

I’ve read and watched Kurtz for decades. I admire his skill. He’s first rate at what he does — reporting on the media. (He is, perhaps, not so skilled as a critic.) His face-the-music dance this morning — 15 minutes with no commercial breaks — required no small measure of guts. (Then again, CNN needed to do something to try to rehabilitate his reputation.)

Whether I continue to support him depends on whether he’s learned what he ought to from this insensitive episode: Speed is dangerous. He made errors of haste and carelessness (reminding me of some of my sophomores). He did not read the Collins piece in Sports Illustrated carefully. He made snap judgments about content and tone. He gave little time to careful consideration of what he wrote. Speed is dangerous.

So, Howie, here’s some advice.

  • Tweet less. Tweeting is about speed , and speed is dangerous. Twitter breeds haste. Cut back, Howie. Relentless tweeting breeds bad habits.
  • Shed some jobs. Decide what you most wish to do, then tackle it earnestly. Right now, you’re a walking bundle of conflicts of interest. You have too many deadlines at too many enterprises (which you shamelessly over-promote). That leads to … speed. Haste. Carelessness. As you said this morning:

Sometimes, under deadline pressure or when you’re doing something quick and short where it’s a little too hazy and decided when you should press a button.

Your problem, Howie, is that you have too many buttons to push. Rid yourself of a few. Get back to being the damn good reporter you used to be.

CNN commits journalistic malpractice. Again.

Remember Richard Jewell? He was accused of placing a bomb in Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics. He endured a horrific trial (and conviction) by media and had his life destroyed. Turned out he was innocent. The guilty party was anti-abortion terrorist Eric Rudolph. Jewell sued several media outlets (including CNN), reaching settlements in all cases save one (which was dismissed after his death).

Now, let’s say that you’re surfing CNN this morning and you come across an item where they report that Richard Jewell was the Olympic Park bomber. What would you make of that? What conclusions would you draw about the credibility of an organization that reported as fact something that has long been disproven?

Well, something painfully similar is happening on right now. The story, entitled “Ramseys’ attorney: Grand jury ‘likely confused’ about JonBenet,” centers on the revelation that the grand jury in the infamous Ramsey case wanted to indict her parents, John and Patsy.

The malpractice occurs in paragraph 24:

Investigators didn’t find footprints in the snow outside the home, there was no sign of forced entry.

CATEGORY: RamseyCaseThe problem? Well, there are a couple. First, the “footprints in the snow” meme was fiction from the start and was addressed years ago. You could have galloped an elephant through that yard without leaving footprints in the snow because there simply wasn’t much snow.

Another, key story emerged in March 1997 when it was reported that police found it curious that there were “no footprints in the snow,” around the house. The implication was obvious, and intended: no footprints, no intruder. The slight problem with this, as law enforcement knew and the crime scene photos from December 26 make clear, was that there was little or no snow around the house.

These facts have been long established. In addition, the “no sign of forced entry” meme has been dismissed. There was, in fact, an unlocked basement window and Lou Smit, who had established himself as Colorado’s premier murder investigator, demonstrates how easily an intruder could have gotten in. Watch the video, and there’s more here.

And yet, here are CNN reporters Carma Hassan and Greg Botelho parroting long-dead fictions as though they were fact.

FOX takes a beating for its “news” coverage, and rightly so. Not only have they helped pioneer a new age of post-truth “journalism,” they’ve actually gone to court and argued that it’s okay for them to lie.

The attorneys for Fox, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, successfully argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.

Better yet, the court agreed with them. Yay for America.

But FOX hardly invented cynical news entertainment. CNN has been in the business of “shaping” stories into ratings-generating narratives for a long time. For instance, remember Elian Gonzales? Before April 22, 2000, had been my home page. After that I killed it and probably haven’t been back ten times since.

Why? When the federal authorities broke in to take the kid, AP photographer Alan Diaz took a famous picture. CNN posted it along with their story. Here’s that picture.

elian gonzales original

I checked back a few minutes later, though, and something had changed. See if you can spot what happened.

elian gonzales crop

What do you see? What do you think was the point?

For the vision-impaired, picture one depicts the agent pointing a nasty looking automatic weapon at the man holding Elian Gonzales. Which is a pretty good photo. But it isn’t as thrilling as a picture of a federal agent pointing a nasty looking automatic weapon at six year-old Elian Gonzales, is it?

This was a deliberate editorial decision that served no legitimate journalistic purpose. However, it served the purposes of entertainment and marketing quite enthusiastically.

If it hadn’t been clear before, that was the day the facade came down and CNN revealed that they were not a news organization, they were a news-like entertainment product organization. Newz-Whiz®, if you will. It was the day that anyone who cared about being told the truth walked away and never came back.

So today’s little one-sentence transgression against journalistic competence and ethics is hardly anything new or surprising, although it is a reminder of how shoddy the standards are at the place that invented the 24/7 news entertainment cycle.

I would say America deserves better, but how can I until we start demanding better?

Peek-a-boo! Now you see it, now you don’t coverage of Boehner’s Sandy aid betrayal

Dereliction of duty

Getting one’s head around the flurry of headlines on this issue is a good trick.

First, I spotted an article earlier in the day at CNN about Rep. Peter King (R-NY) blasting Boehner and the House for failing to act on the $60 billion bill for Hurricane Sandy aid.  CNN subsequently updated that article, but by update I mean they replaced the old article in its entirety with new content.  The original points are present, tamed and muted.

Later in the day I spotted an article from the NY Daily news: Sources: hurricane aid tabled out of spite.  According to that article, Boehner yanked the bill, for which House Majority Leader Eric Cantor negotiated, in retaliation for Cantor’s refusal to vote for the “fiscal cliff” bill.  Good luck finding the text of that article.  At least for that one I can find some evidence that I didn’t just make it up at PR Newswire.

CNN subsequently replaced their original article with this one about the reversal in the face of outrage.  With a little digging, I was able to locate this footage at  Just in case they bury that deeper, here’s YouTube to the rescue, with Rep. Peter King on the House floor, by way of his own YouTube channel.

What the House leadership did was “absolutely inexcusable, absolutely indefensible.”

NY Daily News, on the other hand, completely shifted from the spite article to an article about the reversal.  Searches of news via Google as well as of my subscription list via Google Reader (fairly extensive, if I do say so myself) for “Sandy tabled spite” (without quotes for search) only yield reference to NY Daily News with that context, and NY Daily News no longer has that article available as originally presented.  The new content brings up the allegation of spiteful motive for tabling the bill, but cites Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, as calling the allegation absurd.  Two still unnamed sources, one Democrat, one Republican, maintain the allegation behind the veil of anonymity.  Even so, the heart of the original story is now thoroughly buried, nearly relegated to footnote.

Now, I’m quite sure the vast majority of us are far more concerned with the positive development that is now taking the lead in the coverage.  It is critically important that an aid package is passed for Sandy relief.

By the same token, I’m alarmed and dismayed at the manner in which both CNN and NY Daily News have buried their original coverage, as though, somehow, the sequence of events, as originally covered, are somehow no longer newsworthy.  The tabling of the bill for whatever the reason, the allegations of spite, the outcry from Rep. Peter King, and Boehner’s reversal, however partial, as a sequence of events, are illustrative of our current political crisis.  To bury any aspect of that sequence is, in my opinion, a dereliction of journalistic duty.

There I go again, assuming that our media feel some duty to anything other than shareholder value.  Silly me.


Image credit: Photograph by Ari Helminen, licensed under Creative Commons.

The 2011 Climate B.S.* of the Year Awards (corrected)

[*B.S. means “Bad Science.” What did you think it meant?]

by Peter H. Gleick
Crossposted at Forbes and Huffington Post. To see S&R’s climate-related posts, click here

[Correction: Katharine Hayhoe was misidentified as a Republican in the original post at Forbes and HuffPo. This has been corrected below.

Peter Gleick updated the original posts at HuffPo and Forbes and removed Ben Webster from the Second Place text. S&R has updated this post to bring it in line with Gleick’s update.]

The Earth’s climate continued to change during 2011 – a year in which unprecedented combinations of extreme weather events killed people and damaged property around the world. The scientific evidence for the accelerating human influence on climate further strengthened, as it has for decades now. Yet on the policy front, once again, national leaders did little to stem the growing emissions of greenhouse gases or to help societies prepare for increasingly severe consequences of climate changes, including rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea-levels, loss of snowpack and glaciers, disappearance of Arctic sea ice, and much more.

Why the failure to act? In part because climate change is a truly difficult challenge. But in part because of a concerted, well-funded, and aggressive anti-science campaign by climate change deniers and contrarians. Continue reading

The Tech Curmudgeon – "Technology" means more than gadgets, people

The Tech Curmudgeon looked up the word “technology” in his dead tree American Heritage Dictionary, and just in case he was dating himself, he looked up the word in an online dictionary too. Both dictionaries generally agree with each other that the word “technology” means the application of science or knowledge to achieve a practical objective. That’s a pretty broad definition that takes in anything from stereo systems to car engines to air- and spacecraft to oil extraction equipment. So the Tech Curmudgeon wants to know when was it that “technology” came to mean just personal gadgets, social media, and smartphone apps? Continue reading

Nota Bene #120: Crazy Ivan

“If you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #115: RIP No. 32

“If you’re really pro-life, do me a favor—don’t lock arms and block medical clinics. If you’re so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries.” Who said it? Continue reading

Forget Spitzer's errant penis: Think more about CNN's blunders

You remember this tableau, don’t you? It’s Monday, March 10, 2008, and the governor of New York state is standing in front of reporters and beside his stoic wife. In a story, Eliot Spitzer, the reporter wrote, “confess[ed] to an undisclosed personal indiscretion, saying he had acted ‘in a way that violates my obligations to my family, that violates my or any sense of right and wrong.'”

On that day, a story on posed this question: Is scandal enough to sink Spitzer for good?

We learned that, on Feb. 13, 2008, Spitzer spent three hours and $4,300 on a prostitute. She was “Kristen”; he was “Client 9.” On March 12, in a story, we learned Spitzer had spent $15,000 on prostitutes. Continue reading

Nota Bene #111: Mmmmm… Beeeeeer

Sorry for the long absence. Let’s carry on, shall we? “If you listen to the guys up in the stands, pretty soon you’ll be up there sitting with them.” Who said it? Continue reading

See no pollution, hear no pollution, speak no pollution — so no pollution, right?

Once again, the Discovery Channel is about to amaze its viewers with another “isn’t Nature wonderful” spectacular. The basic cable channel brought us “Planet Earth,” billed as “See the wonders of Planet Earth … from jungles to deep oceans, discover our stunning planet.” Remember “Blue Planet“? That series was an “epic journey” that served as “the definitive natural history of the world’s oceans, covering everything from the exotic spectacle of the coral reefs to the mysterious black depths of the ocean floor.”

In March, the Discovery Channel, teaming again with the BBC, plans to present “Life” — a “breathtaking ten-part blockbuster [that] brings you 130 incredible stories from the frontiers of the natural world … This is evolution in action.”

And again, viewers will be astonished by the remarkable videography done by the best pros in the world under arduous, even dangerous conditions. Viewers will park themselves in their Barcaloungers, appropriate beverage and salsa and chips in hand, and revel in the breadth and depth of the series. But are these series the most accurate portrayals of the state of the natural world? And do they desensitize us to reality?
Continue reading