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In a Perfect World

September 26th, 2013 Comments off

Currently debunked at Snopes:

Article headline: Fox News classified satire by FCC written by Sarah Wood. States that Fox News will now have to run a disclaimer across the bottom of the screen stating “This is not a valid new source”. Is this true?

Indicative of how screwed up our world is, satire makes eminently more sense than reality. The satirical article specifies:

A statement put out by the FCC says, “The decision to classify Fox News as satire has come after several years of evaluation regarding the sources of their reporting and the bias of their programming. While much of their content is based on legitimate news, it is spun is a way that cannot not be deemed newsworthy to the viewing public. If Fox News so chooses to report actual news stories of legitimacy without skewing the content we may overturn our decision and reclassify the network to a valid news source once again.”

One can be assured that the FCC does not have the authority to do any such thing.

The thing is, there should be some group, somewhere, doing exactly that.

I have always believed that there should be a strictly non-partisan, independently-funded journalism ratings organization which sets several standards of responsible journalism—one which tracks accuracy, use of identified and reliable sources, relevance of news stories, use of objective language, clarity, etc.—and uses that data to rate everything from individual journalists to entire news organizations.

The freedom of the press was established as a primary right for the purpose of ensuring a well-informed electorate, one which would then be able to make informed decisions when casting votes. That system is now virtually destroyed, in large part because of Fox News and organizations like it. Something needs to be done to reverse that trend.

Categories: Journalism Tags:

Wanted: Journalist Who Can Write, Editor Who Can Add Good Headlines

February 19th, 2013 1 comment

I have to say, I am really getting tired of the quality of “news” and other “informative” content on the web. I know that this is the Internet, but when major sites regularly have headlines that just scream “I’m too lazy to work on it,” or “I want to jazz this up by saying something patently false,” it gets kind of pathetic. When you read an article and the reasoning is something I would give a “D” grade for in a freshman college writing class, it makes you wonder what kind of quality control these “major” sites have.

Two examples today. The first is from SlashGear. The headline: Microsoft secretly increases the price of Mac Office.

Um, how do you “secretly” change an open retail price? The support within the article: “not a lot of people noticed.” </facepalm>

The second is more involved, and comes from a much bigger fish: CNN. The headline: How Samsung is out-innovating Apple. CNN’s “Business Insider” writer claims that after copying the crap out of Apple’s mobile devices, Samsung is “now leapfrogging it with bunch of useful features you can’t find on iPhones and iPads.” And yes, they left out the article before the word “bunch.” That’s another thing, proofreading seems to be a bit of a lost art. I make mistakes now and then, but I’m a part-time blogger with a day job.

The article then promises to lay out how “The evidence is everywhere, but it’s most apparent in products made by Apple’s biggest mobile rival, Samsung.” OK, let’s see the devastating evidence.

First: they have a huge marketing budget. Um. “…but you can’t ignore the fact that the company has innovated a lot by creating popular new product categories that Apple is wary to try.” Start off an article with a huge piece of evidence that Samsung is successful for other reasons than innovation? OK, it’s a contrast, but it means that the writer has to have even stronger evidence following.

Second: Samsung had an unexpected hit with a larger, thicker form factor with a stylus.

This is innovative? Make things larger? Add something that’s been around forever? These are not innovative. The iPad was not innovative because of its size, it was innovative because it redefined what a tablet was, nailing the look and feel but more so the natural usability for such a device. Somehow I don’t think millions of people were so impressed by a big, thick design or an almost retro stylus. iPads don’t come with a stylus, but you can get one. Maybe they were drawn in by a big screen, but that’s not innovative unless there’s a new purpose behind it.

The writer’s take: “Samsung created a new category of smartphone that people didn’t even know they wanted, much like Apple did when it released the first iPhone.”

Not evidenced—and if so, why? Could it possibly have something to do with pricing, marketing, and niche?

Third: Samsung “tout[s] its cool factor,” making fun of Apple fanboys. This is innovation? No, that’s marketing. It supports the point contrary to the thesis. And the article makes no mention of how Samsung products, thick and stylus-wielding, are “cool.”

Fourth, the article offers what may be the only “innovation” in the entire article: “the ability to run two apps at once in a split screen or separate window.” But then the article points out that this is only available for a handful of apps… failing to show how this allows them to “leapfrog Apple” and sell millions of units.

Fifth: software updates from Android. Yes, that’s very innovative of Samsung.

Sixth: Samsung “takes user and reviewer feedback into account when preparing to deliver new software updates.” Focus groups! Focus groups are innovative! Not. That’s the opposite of innovative, you idjit. It’s how you get results like “bring back the stylus” and “make things bigger.”

Last: Microsoft has advantages over Apple with Windows 8. Wait, how does this have anything to do with Samsung?

Then the writer sums up: “Based on all this evidence, Apple feels behind.”

Really? Based on the fact that Samsung has a big marketing budget, sells tablets with thick form factors, big screens and styluses, touts its “cool factor” in ads, has an extremely limited split-screen function, uses focus groups, and runs software from Android and Microsoft… that’s how Apple falls behind?

The writer then explains:

Take a look at its newest fourth-generation iPad. It has a killer processor and other great hardware features, but the operating system doesn’t take advantage of any of that. The home screen is still just a grid of static icons that launch apps.

Double-facepalm. Yes, it’s all about leveraging the speed of the device to make the operating system perform new tricks. Not about what software it can run and how it performs. Got it. Grid of icons are boring, yes, unless you realize that the icons are apps and you can open them and do more interesting things. Are you kidding me?

Apple also isn’t nearly as versatile at adding new software features to its devices. Apple usually makes users wait a year or more for a new version of iOS, and even then some older devices can’t access all the latest and greatest features.

Um, not that must faster, and the updates are slower than iOS to reach hardware. And, I am not certain on this—do all of Android’s and Microsoft’s most recent OS versions run on all past devices? If so, great—but again, not innovative.

Long story short: when will “journalists” learn to write again? I’d love to see that.

Categories: Journalism Tags:

New Zimmerman Photo

April 23rd, 2012 11 comments

The media is atwitter again, this time over a newly released photo reportedly showing blood and a wound on the back of George Zimmerman’s head just minutes after he shot Trayvon Martin.

Many of the stories, especially from the conservative media, call the photo a “game changer” and suggest that it could help Zimmerman’s case. A few more responsible reports cautiously remind people that the photos might not mean what people think, and no reports I have seen take any note that the photos may not even be genuine.

An observer who does not think very long or deeply may jump to the conclusion: hey, Zimmerman was telling the truth, so these photos exonerate him. He’s innocent.

However, there are several problems, the last one being the clincher.

Problem #1: where did the photo come from? ABC News, which released it, says that the source wishes to remain anonymous and was very reluctant to release it. That a source may wish to remain anonymous is understandable for that person in a case like this. However, if this photo is to be treated as evidence, the identity of the source is crucial.

ABC claims that the image came from a witness who heard the incident but did not see it, and arrived at the scene just after the shots were fired. Reportedly, there are other photos ABC did not acquire or release. Lacking a specific identification of the source, however, verification of the photo is problematic at best.

Amusingly, conservative sites which, just a few days ago, were treating ABC as completely unreliable, are now taking their claims as rock-solid evidence.

Problem #2: how do we know the photo is genuine? ABC News said that they checked the “embedded” data, meaning the EXIF data. EXIF data is information attached to a digital image file which specifies most if not all of the information available about the image and the device which produced it. EXIF data includes a time stamp, GPS coordinates, identification of the camera and its settings for the photos, and technical information about the image. It is assumed that if the EXIF data shows that the photo was taken at the scene of the killing at the time one would expect, then that would assure us of the image’s veracity.

The problem is that, like any digital information, EXIF data can be altered and falsified. It is not a smoking gun, so to speak. Instead, a critical question is, when, if ever, did police take possession of the image? If they took the cell phone (reportedly an iPhone) at the scene on that night and checked it into evidence, then the data would be more trustworthy. If the police did not take possession of the device immediately, then grave questions arise over the data’s authenticity.

In this case, it seems apparent, though not specified, that the police did not take possession of the device. For one thing, the source, presumably a private individual, had possession of the images; if police had taken the device at the scene, the owner may have received it back, but almost certainly would not have received the images back with it. Second, when the prosecution filed its case, they cited that “Zimmerman’s wounds are not apparent,” which indicates they did not have this photo even as recently as a week or two ago. Other reports have the prosecution saying they have “seen the photo,” but did not specify if it was before or after the charges were filed; if before, then their affidavit claiming no visible wounds would be very problematic to their case.

That means that the owner of the image did not submit the image to the police, or that the police did not accept or log the information. Worse, it means that the chain of evidence is broken, and that the image was “in the wild” for more than a month–more than long enough for the image to be very cleverly faked. For example, Zimmerman could have posed somewhere with the exact same jacket and had the blood applied, then the EXIF data altered. It is not likely, but it is possible. If the data was not handed over quickly, this could raise serious doubts.

Problem #3: pieces that don’t fit. Certainly Zimmerman must have known the photos existed. Over all that time that people were claiming no images existed, why not mention that someone at the scene snapped the photos? Zimmerman probably consented to the photo being taken, and may even have requested it, which might mean he knew or came to know the photographer. Almost certainly he knew they had been taken. Why not get the images and release them himself?

For that matter, although the photographer’s desire for anonymity is understandable, why on earth would s/he be reluctant to release the photos? Any responsible person would have at least tried to hand them over to police. A very responsible person would have done so at the scene, a slightly less responsible one later, probably after they had downloaded copies for themselves. But to keep them until this late date? For what reason?

The witness also reportedly claimed to have seen gunpowder burns on Trayvon Martin’s hoodie. This seems oddly specific–an unusual thing to notice and comment on. Most laymen would not necessarily recognize such a thing, and may not even be qualified to make that conclusion. Was the person trying to say more about this and ABC truncated the statement? Not to mention, would not have blood around the wound occluded any such marks to a casual observer, or even if photographic evidence existed? Is Trayvon’s hoodie still in evidence? Examination would, of course, be revealing as to distance and so forth.

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Next comes the photo itself. It would appear to show a wound on the right side of the head, apparently the source of the lower and rightmost of the two evident blood streams.

However, there is another blood stream to the left of that with no apparent source. Even stranger, the blood in this area appears cut off in what seems to be a void, as if something had been covering Zimmerman’s head. The line appears too sharp for it to have been cleaned off, and there is no visible wound to explain where the blood came from. This would suggest that the blood came from an outside source, most likely Trayvon. This would seem to confirm that Martin was on top of Zimmerman when the shooting occurred. However, this puts into question the source of the other blood stream as well.

Additionally, the void is strangely located, near the crown of the head; a hat would not explain this, unless it was moved forward so as almost to cover the face. What created the void, if that’s what it is?

Then there is the question of how the blood is arranged, and if it is consistent with having one’s head slammed into the concrete several times. A blood expert would certainly have to examine the patterns and all other evidence to suggest how this whole pattern came to be.

Finally, ABC did not release the actual image file; no one aside from them and the authorities are able to examine the image clearly. What is apparent from ABC screen grabs is not enough to thoroughly check for telltale signs of manipulation or other possible distortions.

Problem #4: and this is the clincher–the image is not relevant to Zimmerman’s innocence or guilt. This is the major misconception going around, mainly due to the fact that evidence of Zimmerman’s wounds has been a central point of argument concerning the case. People make the mistaken assumption that evidence of a struggle is the key to the whole case, and if this photo is genuine, that exonerates Zimmerman.

What people fail to realize is that the evidence of wounds was a question, not a key point, concerning Zimmerman’s story. He claimed to have been beaten half to death, yet did not show the signs of it. It was only an inconsistency, however–it was never the crux of the case, never the piece of evidence upon which his innocence or guilt hinged.

If the image is authentic and we find that Trayvon did indeed injure Zimmerman, it only dismisses the supposition that Zimmerman lied about that detail only.

The key elements in the case remain: (1) who instigated the altercation, being relevant to the “stand your ground” defense; and (2) did Zimmerman have justification to use deadly force? Head wounds or not, a bloody scuffle is not justification for shooting someone to death.

The photo answers neither of these questions. If authentic, it may help Zimmerman in his case before the general public and the media, but not in a court of law.

Categories: Journalism, Social Issues Tags:

Assange, Censorship, and Impropriety

December 19th, 2010 Comments off

A few interesting points. First, Visa and MasterCard stopped processing payments for WikiLeaks. These companies have taken such steps in the past, such as with Russian sites selling copyrighted music for pennies a song, in which the legality of the company’s actions were in question. Visa makes an interesting case for doing so:

Visa Europe has taken action to suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks’ website pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules

In short, they don’t even know if WikiLeaks is doing anything illegal or not, but they’re shutting down the organization’s ability to collect money–apparently, just in case, or something.

MasterCard was more specific:

MasterCard said it was cutting off payments because WikiLeaks is engaging in illegal activity. “MasterCard rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal,” spokesman Chris Monteiro said.

This is interesting, considering that Assange has not been convicted of a crime. As for the leaks themselves, how about the chairman of the House judiciary committee’s opinion of whether or not a crime was committed:

“As an initial matter, there is no doubt that WikiLeaks is very unpopular right now. Many feel that the WikiLeaks publication was offensive,” Conyers said, according to prepared remarks. “But being unpopular is not a crime, and publishing offensive information is not either. And the repeated calls from politicians, journalists, and other so-called experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures make me very uncomfortable.”

Other financial organizations have taken similar bogus stands for cutting off WikiLeaks’ financial grounding. Here’s Bank of America’s rationale:

“Bank of America joins in the actions previously announced by MasterCard, PayPal, Visa Europe and others and will not process transactions of any type that we have reason to believe are intended for WikiLeaks,” the bank said in a statement issued on Friday. “This decision is based upon our reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments.”

Got that? If the bank has “reasonable belief,” based on unspecified evidence, they can cut your legs out from under you. And not just payments directly made to you, but payments that they even suspect might be headed your way, even indirectly–which could potentially include payments to defense funds and the like.

The Swiss postal service has closed Assange’s account on the grounds that he gave “false indications regarding his place of residence,” something which apparently never bothered them before.

PayPal has an interesting take as well:

“PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action.”

This is a bit more clever, as it refers to the criminality of anything that could be done with the data–and since the government has more or less restricted any of its people from reading any of the documents, the release of the information could be considered “facilitating” illegal activity. The problem is, taken to logical limits, this rationale could be applied to virtually anything you could imagine.

The entire assault on Assange and WikiLeaks is fairly obviously contrived, impelled by the U.S. government’s anger at having its internal communications revealed. However, these actions taken against Assange are troubling to say the least. The rape charges, for instance, whatever their actual truth, are obviously a pretext for reeling Assange in and getting him in a jail cell. If this is not made crystal clear by the timing of the charges, then it should be simply by the fact that international extradition treaties are usually not exercised in various directions so vigorously for similar charges of sexual misconduct. Let’s face it, we all know that if Assange had not released the documents he did he would not be facing the charges at all, nor would there be any calls for extradition. The action on the charges are at the very least opportunistic.

I am of the crowd that believes in more freedom of information release. I agree that releases such as these are more for the public benefit than anything else. While they might be embarrassing politically or diplomatically, they do more good than bad, and shed a light on the inner workings of political systems that are badly in need of light being shed. Too much goes on under cover of secrecy which in the full light of day would be clearly recognized as illicit or illegal.

The fact that Assange and his organization are being persecuted in such indirect and questionable ways only cements the impression that it is the U.S. government, and not Assange, which has acted improperly.

At Least MSNBC Is Being Consistent in Its Stupidity

November 20th, 2010 Comments off

I guess they felt that they had to have “balance”: MSNBC has suspended Joe Scarborough for making campaign contributions without alerting MSNBC brass first. It even makes sense in a “We’ve Been Stupid, Now We Have to Stick with It” kind of way. If the public found out that Scarborough had made campaign contributions in the same election as Olbermann but did not penalize the right-leaning guy, they would have been attacked for more than just stupidity.

It also seems clear that before Olbermann, their policy was a vague, unclear thing which had no application to real-world events, but one which they hastily decided to execute when they discovered Olbermann’s actions–thus the lack of clarity in its first application. This time, they’re more clear from the get-go: Scarborough gets a two-day suspension without pay. That pattern–sudden, rash execution with a hastily reduced penalty which quickly became the rule despite its arbitrary nature–has all the earmarks of a policy no one paid attention to until someone got upset all a sudden and groped for some rationale to act it out with.

In Scarborough’s case, the policy makes even less sense than it did with Olbermann: Scarborough gave money to family and friends in local races which were not competitive, the contributions being more for personal reasons than political ones.

To be quite honest, I would have respected MSNBC a lot more if, after the Olbermann affair, they had simply announced that a review of the policy found that it was a bad idea in the first place, and simply scrapped it. Now, instead, they doubled down and stuck with it no matter how idiotic it comes across as.

Categories: Journalism, People Can Be Idiots Tags:

Olbermann

November 6th, 2010 28 comments

I have to admit, Olbermann’s show is the commentary show that I watch the most (save for “The Daily Show”), although I stopped watching for a while back when he was going too far over the top. Snarky and informative (in partisan, tidbit form) is OK, but it’s too easy to “go Fox News,” if you know what I mean. As liberal as I am, I consistently find myself taking Olbermann’s claims with a grain of salt, or even sometimes just discounting a lot of what he says, knowing it for hyperbole or enthusiasm (if it can be called that). But it is snarky and often fun, and though filled with stuff that goes too far, it also covers much which is spot on. Like any other opinionated source, you simply have to check more unbiased sources first to substantiate what was said before accepting them as fact.

All that said, Olbermann’s suspension was a bit of a shock. You usually do not just yank your #1 primetime host off the air unless it is a damned important reason, and contributing to three midterm races does not seem to rise to that level. Yes, it’s a network policy, but it’s a questionable one at best. Yes, he did violate it–but immediate indefinite suspension makes you wonder if no intermediate penalties even exist. A one-week suspension, an on-air admission and apology, a fine, or something else along those lines might seem more in line. But doing what MSNBC did (a) seems over the top, (b) makes both Olbermann and the network look worse than need be, and (c) gives delicious fodder, not to mention “aid and comfort” to their chief competitor, Fox News. It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Let’s take a look at the policy itself. It is, in theory, intended to apply to journalists. Their policy says, “Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Now, as far as that does, penalizing Olbermann is just stupid–everyone knows that he is not impartial. For the serious reporting that Olbermann sometimes does, I don’t think many people mistake Olbermann for a journalist. He’s a commentator, an opinionated pundit, and to a certain degree a comedian. Yes, he appears on MSNBC’s election broadcasts, but so do lots of people who are partisan pundits.

The policy does not forbid political activity, but it does go on to say that anyone who participates in politics, including donations, “should” inform the network before doing so–and Olbermann didn’t. So, he’s caught, yes? Well, aside from the “should” part of that policy making the solidity of the policy questionable, we come to a point of reasonableness here: the policy is supposed to be there so the network can avoid embarrassment if a supposedly impartial journalist is caught making partisan campaign contributions–but in this case, MSNBC knew full well that Olbermann is anything but an “impartial” journalist. It’s like Comedy Central yanking Jon Stewart off his show because he was funny off the air as well.

Many are pointing to what Fox News does as justification for Olbermann, but as far as I am concerned, that’s irrelevant. Fox is Fox, and it does not apply to Olbermann and what MSNBC does. Many point to contributions made by right-wing MSNBC personalities Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan, but I can find no mention that they failed to inform the network of their contributions, supposedly the main reason Olbermann was suspended.

Instead, the central point is that even though Olbermann did break the rules, it was a pro forma thing–a matter of form and not substance, like spelling correctly but forgetting to cross your “t”s and dot your “i”s. In which case, immediate and indefinite suspension is way over the top in terms of punishment. It is simply out of scale with the infraction.

That, in turn, suggests that there is more to the story than we know about. And that may become clearer when one begins to learn about the fact that MSNBC is in the process of changing hands, being bought by Comcast–an organization with distinctly right-wing ties. That the head people at MSNBC who have cultivated Olbermann are no longer there, and the new heads may not be as enthusiastic about their primetime lead as the old ones were, and may be angling for a reason to demote or slap him down some. That, of course, is conjecture, but that’s what we’re left with in trying to figure out this overblown and self-injurious act of bizarreness.

On a side note, Kevin Drum tweeted that this was bringing the left and the right together, and while there do seem to be some on the right defending Olbermann–most notably Bill Kristol–most of the commentary I have seen from the right is simply smug and happy.

Categories: Journalism Tags:

Crime and Fraud in “Climategate”–on the Part of the Accusers

July 10th, 2010 1 comment

On November 17th, someone with an IP address apparently located in Turkey hacked the servers used by the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia. 160 MB of data was stolen before the breach was noticed and the server shut down. Within a few days, the stolen data was sent, via Russia (which is highly dependent upon oil and gas revenues), to groups opposed to climate change. Groups with vested interests in fossil fuels and heavily biased against the very concept of global climate change scoured the stolen emails and documents, cherry picked “random” information which, out of context, made it seem that climate change was fraudulent and the scientists who studied it were dishonest hacks, and then executed a “highly orchestrated, manufactured scandal” which the “liberal” media immediately lapped up and made a world-wide sensation.

The damage to the reputation of climate change studies is done; despite the fact that the accusations are now completely discredited and the scientists in the “scandal” cleared of any fraud or misdoing, people around the world now have the impression that climate change science is tainted by fraud. Those who disbelieved before now feel they are vindicated, many who doubted now are swayed away from the side with real evidence on its side. And everywhere there will be the stigma of mistrust, however undeserved.

And the liberal media whose agenda is supposedly to front claims like climate change? Are they covering the story of how “Climategate” itself was a fraud and a crime with anywhere near the same fervor and hype that they covered the fraudulent claims in the first place? Of course not. A few retracted, but none cleared the scientists with a fraction of the volume or intensity in which they smeared the researchers.

It is the sad fact of the nature of the media, and how it is so easily manipulated by those who have no scruples: scandals run on page one; stories about how the scandals were not scandals at all run buried in the back. Not only are they not as sexy, but the media don’t much like admitting very loudly how easily they were scammed. And so the scammers get what they wanted.

Categories: "Liberal" Media, Journalism, Science Tags:

Hilarious

October 14th, 2009 Comments off

This Daily Show segment was hilarious–and spot-on. An excellent showcase on how the TV “news” networks have completely given up on calling out any political lies at all, simply giving open mics to politicians and letting lay every stupid thing they say. They could fact-check, but no–that would mean politicians would be unwilling to appear on their shows. So instead, they only fact-check stuff like… well, watch it. If you haven’t seen this already, you probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.

We’ll have to leave it there.

Whining Crybabies

September 21st, 2009 Comments off

Poor widdle Fox News… dey got snubbed by big bad brezident Obama! Waaaahhhhh!!!!!!!

Obama went on a media campaign blitz around the Sunday-morning news show circuit today to push health care reform, visiting Face the Nation, Meet the Press (NBC), State of the Union (CNN), This Week (ABC), and Al Punto (Univision), in addition to 60 Minutes and David Letterman, and a few other appearances.

Fox News got left out. And now they’re going into full-force whining mode, with Chris Wallace appearing on O’Reilly’s show, complaining that the Obama administration is “the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.”

Oh, please. First of all, Chris, you’re the one who’s being a crybaby; the definition of that term is someone who complains like a child because they feel they’ve been wronged. The administration’s not being a crybaby–they didn’t whine when you snubbed them by not airing the president’s speeches (never did that with Bush, did you?), and now they’re just deciding not to visit your show. The only one whining is you. And this is not the first time, either–you guys do this every single time it looks like Fox News might not get treated like the news organization they’re not. When Democrats say they’re not going to let the propaganda arm of their political opponents run their debates, you whine about how they’re “afraid” of you and how they’re destroying journalism.

Face up to it, you schmucks: you chose to be the propaganda arm of the Republican Party, you take every chance you get to smear and attack and lie and fearmonger, you call the president a fascist and a Nazi and worse, you organize political events where the president’s life is threatened and crazies sport signs with racial epithets, you refuse to carry the president’s speeches and addresses while all the other networks run them… and guess what? Sometimes the president won’t appear on your talk shows so you can snub him in person. Surprise!

When Bush was president and you did nothing but carry water for him, you guys got the lion’s share of exclusives. That’s the deal you made. Live with it and stop acting like infants.

Believing What You Read

September 6th, 2009 Comments off

There is a rather significant danger in believing what you read without questioning it. I don’t know how many times I have encountered people who forwarded “facts” which were patently untrue. One over-the-top example we see today is the “Death Panel” claim, one of many claims made by the same crowd (Obama is creating death camps, Obama wants to indoctrinate kids with socialist propaganda, etc.) which millions of Americans are lapping up and believing without any question. Not that it doesn’t happen on both sides, of course, but currently the right wing is winning the prizes for volume and depth.

Most of the time, such things are far more subtle. We have a certain point of view which we feel strongly about. When we hear or read something that contradicts this, we will tend to dismiss such reporting out of hand, often without bothering to find out if it’s true. When we encounter something which supports what we want to believe, we will likely accept it without question. Goodness knows I’ve certainly been guilty of both in the past, and probably will be in the future, though I do try to avoid it if I can (being aware that it’s possible is the first step).

For example, take a report today from Talking Points Memo blog. Josh Marshall is on about a Republican gubernatorial candidate, and makes the following statements over several blog posts:

In 2002 he struck a motorcyclist while driving in the wrong direction on a one way street.

NJ Gov. candidate Chris Christie, when asked for comment about the 2002 accident in which he hit a motorcyclist while driving the wrong way on a one way street.

…NJ gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie hit a motorcyclist while traveling on a one-way street, but was not ticketed.

Reading this, one imagines the man driving his car and striking a motorcyclist head-on, likely causing serious injury, making the fact that he was not ticketed seem outrageous. I was set to be all indignant and stuff, maybe to pick this up for my own blog and show up another Republican for what he is. But I followed the links and read what was quoted directly from the police report:

Christie was driving a rented BMW sedan and apparently had lost his way when he attempted to turn right onto a street that was one-way in the other direction, according to the police report. A motorcyclist, Andre Mendonca of Elizabeth, was riding towards Christie, and both men saw one another and put on the brakes, police said. Christie’s vehicle came to a stop, and the motorcycle then “fell on its side and slid into his vehicle,” according to the police report.

While Marshall’s repeated use of words like “hit” and “struck” and “collision” could perhaps be considered technically true, they are just as misleading as Christie’s own statement that “the motorcycle hit me.” When you read that someone driving the wrong way down a one-way street “hit” a motorcyclist, it gives the impression of something quite different than what the police report expressed. Christie did do something worthy of criticism–he went the wrong way down a one-way street, caused an accident, and was not even ticketed–but it is not nearly as bad as the cursory reports on TPM make it sound. Describing the incident as “causing an accident” would be a more accurate way to report it–but if I just believed the report on TPM and reprinted that, I’d be opening myself up for a rebuttal attack that would make me look bad.

Speaking of police reports, the recent case of Henry Louis Gates Jr. is another excellent example of believing what you read. I accepted the officer’s report about what the 911 caller said–and that was a big mistake. Turns out the officer made stuff up in his report, making the caller seem like a racist when it was far more likely that any bias came from the officer himself. Sometimes you can find yourself believing stuff from sources you disagree with, when the matter is aside from central issue or facts you are contending. We believe a lot of stuff on faith even when we don’t want to believe it, like that Democrats are tax-and-spenders while Republicans are good for the economy, or that liberal protesters spat on Vietnam vets on the airport tarmac as they returned home.

Another example of believing what you want to believe from a different venue: here in Japan, a guy named David Aldwinckle, who became a naturalized Japanese citizen, is an activist for foreigner’s rights in Japan. He goes after the big and the small, fighting discrimination and corruption, and has made a bit of a name for himself in the gaijin community here. Recently, he blogged about receiving a message from a guy who claimed that his father, a 74-year-old American tourist, was arrested for possessing a pocket knife when he went to a police box and asked for directions. The story was one of those outrageous ones that are so often true about Japanese police officers treating non-Japanese improperly. The problem was, Aldwinckle was reporting it as fact, when all he had was an unsubstantiated report from a reader whom he apparently did not know at all. At the time of reporting, he clearly had not corroborated the story.

When a reader asked that caution be exercised before accepting the story as fully true, and asked for corroboration and/or the other side of the story, Aldwinckle treated it with disdain, and when the Japan Times, a full month later, did corroborate the story, Aldwinckle made another post announcing “SITYS” (See, I Told You So), calling for the “nasty” people who doubted the story to “capitulate.” The thing is, while his initial belief was eventually upheld, he was still dead wrong to simply believe it without supporting evidence; he could just as easily have been made a fool of.

You’ll probably find no end to examples of this kind of thing when you sit back and really think about it–times when people you oppose and people you admire have done it, and when you have done it as well. Sometimes it’s egregious, and sometimes it’s minor and subtle.

The broad lesson, however, is very clear: don’t believe everything you read, especially if it is what you want to hear. Find the sources, get to the original facts, and learn as much as you can before you accept something and present it to others in your own arguments.

Categories: Journalism Tags:

Walter Is Already Spinning

July 19th, 2009 Comments off

As if on cue, an excellent example of what right-wing “news” is today:

Of course, Coulter and Beck being in the same room is, by the laws of physics, bound to result in the kind of exchange you see above. Add Limbaugh and the television would melt. (Note: when Glenn Beck thinks you’re spinning out of control, that’s saying something.)

Even for commentary, this is sickening. Cronkite went to Vietnam, studied the situation, and gave a grave and thoughtful commentary on the war. Today we get people who–in all seriousness–are candidates for institutionalization, spouting this vomit.

This is a national “news” network, and what they believe deserves a daily, hour-long platform before millions of people.

The state of journalism today.

Cronkite

July 19th, 2009 3 comments

Walter Cronkite died today. He was one of the greats, and perhaps one of the last greats. The “most trusted man in America,” known for his signature sign-out, “And that’s the way it is.” But he also was an excellent example of what was right about avoiding bias in reporting, and a contrast to what has become so wrong with reporting today.

It was no secret that Cronkite was a liberal, proud and unreserved. He famously chided Kerry for shying away from his liberalism, and castigated Bush for Iraq. The staunchly conservative “Media Research Center” has a page documenting Cronkite’s liberal bias, but that page attacking Cronkite and holding him up as a prime example of the “Liberal Media” is notable in that (a) Cronkite (unsurprisingly) comes across as rationally and thoughtfully biased–this is the worst they can find?–and (b) it’s all stuff from after he retired–not one shred of evidence for any liberal bias in his actual reporting. In fact, they quote him in explaining why liberal journalists don’t allow it to taint their reporting:

I believe that most of us reporters are liberal, but not because we consciously have chosen that particular color in the political spectrum. More likely it is because most of us served our journalistic apprenticeships as reporters covering the seamier side of our cities – the crimes, the tenement fires, the homeless and the hungry, the underclothed and undereducated.

We reached our intellectual adulthood with daily close-ups of the inequality in a nation that was founded on the commitment to equality for all. So we are inclined to side with the powerless rather than the powerful. If that is what makes us liberals, so be it, just as long as in reporting the news we adhere to the first ideals of good journalism – that news reports must be fair, accurate and unbiased.

At least, that’s the way it was–I doubt that most “journalists” today do the same kind of early-career reporting by and large.

What Cronkite notes can be said of many similar professions, and is quite significant: educators, scientists, artists, serious journalists–in other words, people who make their livings looking hard at the world in an intelligent way–tend to be liberal. That’s no coincidence, as it is no coincidence that most people in the field of making money–looking at the world through a lens of greed–tend to be conservative.

But what is most important in his statement is that the personal politics of journalists do not bleed through into the reporting. This is key–the key–to the whole “liberal media” canard: it matters not one bit what the personal politics of journalists is, it matters only what bias comes through in reporting. That’s where the whole myth fall apart. If 90% of journalists are liberal but none let it color their reporting, and 10% are conservatives but they do let it color their reporting, then you have a conservative bias overall.

Conservatives see it a different way. They tend toward their general response toward almost everything: projection. They assume that everyone else acts the way they do. Conservatives do not rein in their personal politics in journalism, they let it bleed all over what they report–and so they simply assume that this is what the liberals do. I could spend all day detailing hundreds of cases of conservative “journalists”–anchors or reporters, not commentators–doing just that. In contrast, ask yourself when you’ve seen the same coming from a liberal journalist, and only one example will come up–Dan Rather and the National Guard story, and mostly because it’s just about the only example out there. And for it to be from a reporter who jumped on Clinton like all the others in the Lewinsky scandal, and who jumped onto the Bush Patriotic War bandwagon like all the others, is a poor example of excessive liberal bias.

Cronkite was the most trusted man in America not because he was a liberal, but because he gave it to the people straight. It used to be that’s what reporters did. But then Fox came along and made tons of money spewing political propaganda, and now it’s the norm.

It’s a damn shame that a principled, honest journalist like Cronkite, the man who along with Murrow defined excellence in broadcasting, had to watch while petty, small-minded political whores claimed the mantle of journalism and vilely desecrated the sacred temple of objective reporting. There should be no O’Reilly, no Olbermann, no Hannity, no Maddow. There should be people like Aaron Brown, a fantastic journalist whose broadcast came closest among the contemporaries in doing the kind of reporting that Cronkite did, the kind of reporter who should have inherited the anchor’s chair–and so naturally, CNN fired him. (Worse, they forced him completely out of the business for two years.)

There should be hourlong news shows that report the news, like Jim Lehrer became well-known for. There should be focus on issues–not celebrities and little blonde white girls who are kidnapped. There should be deep background, in-depth reporting, continuing coverage, measured delivery, tough questions, relevant points. Instead we get soft porn set to rock music, the new standard pioneered by Fox “News.”

To think that it was a big deal when Cronkite led the charge to expanding the evening news to half an hour from the previous fifteen minutes they were allotted, to think of Cronkite’s humanity during the Kennedy assassination and the moon launch, to think of the legacy the man left–and then to realize that today, Glenn Beck gets a whole hour to himself, makes you cry for the death of journalism.

Categories: "Liberal" Media, Journalism Tags:

In the Tank… for Whom?

November 26th, 2008 2 comments

The liberal bloggers are buzzing about a rather sensationalist claim being made by TIME Magazine’s Mark Halperin about the election:

“It’s the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war. It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.”

When asked for examples of this bias, he pointed to two pieces on the wives of the candidates, citing one piece blasting Cindy McCain and another piece admiring Michelle Obama. (Just a note as a writer–if you make a charge, best to back it up with direct evidence–stories about wives is about as weak as you can get in this case.) When asked why the media was so biased, he replied that they wanted to see Obama simultaneously “etched in glass” and “on Mount Rushmore.” Uh huh.

Now, E&P did a pretty good job pointing out multiple pieces of direct evidence that Halperin has been pretty right-wing this election, and normally I would simply let this kind of thing pass. But that’s what I thought about the whole “center-right” thing, and yet it seems that the media–er, the “Liberal Media™”–is picking up the meme and running with it. It’s certainly a natural theme for right-wingers to try to inflate for the next four to eight years; it has worked very well for them for the past fifteen or so years, they might as well pump it up even more, now that the Democrats will be in charge.

The basic idea, of course, is to “work the refs.” If you complain that the media is too leftist, this benefits you in at least two ways. First, the media, wishing to avoid the appearance of favoring the left, will create false equivalencies–in effect, creating positive news for the right if the news is good for the left, or negative news for the left if the news for the right is bad. They do not do this in reverse, as they do not fear being labeled a ‘conservative media.’ As a result, in general, media coverage favors the right, even with news organizations that are not overtly right-wing.

The second benefit is to create the impression among the public that whatever they see in the media is tilted to the left. Combined with the first benefit, this creates an enhanced effect: the public gets news that leans to the right, but believes that it leans too far to the left, and so has the impression that the truth is even farther to the right.

But what about the basic charge? Is it possible, in fact, that Obama got better coverage? Halperin is not alone; Deborah Howell wrote such a story in the WaPo a few weeks back claiming bias in favor of Obama; the right-wing blogs jumped all over that one. E&P again, however, competently debunks the claims Howell made.

One basis for the general claims of a tilt toward Obama is the fact that there were more headlines about Obama than there were about McCain. A few problems there. First, many of these tallies start long before Obama’s protracted fight with Hillary Clinton ended, so of course there was more coverage of Obama. Second, more news is not necessarily good news: a lot of those stories about Obama were on topics like Jeremiah Wright or William Ayers; the press did not similarly focus as much on McCain’s negative associations. In fact, studies found that the media ran more negative stories about Obama in terms of percentages–which means that more coverage about Obama meant even more media coverage showing him in a bad light. Finally, there was the source of the focus itself. A study found that while the most common word used on Obama’s web site was “Obama,” it also found that the most common word used on McCain’s site was… “Obama.” The media covered Obama more in part because McCain directed them to; while Obama was focusing more on the issues, McCain was focusing far more on Obama. You can’t call the media biased for Obama if they are following McCain’s lead and focusing more on Obama’s negatives.

Then we get to the fact that there was a lot more negative material about McCain out there than there was about Obama–and yet the media covered most of Obama’s and very little of McCain’s. A few examples: first, campaign financing. Early in the year, McCain clearly violated campaign finance law by using public financing as collateral on a loan, using the loaned money, then claiming they were no longer participating in public financing, exceeding legal limits on spending. Even the Republican FEC chief balked at that–and was rewarded with a pink slip, as a more pliant FEC head was appointed by Bush before the FEC could take any action. This was one of the big under-reported stories of the year: a candidate who touted himself as a campaign finance champion committing a federal felony with campaign finance evasions. And there was virtually zero coverage in the news. In contrast, when Obama, who had promised only to discuss public financing, decided to take the wholly legal route of private financing, there was an avalanche of bad press about him for a while.

Another example was religious connections. While Obama’s relation to Jeremiah Wright was front-and-center for months, McCain’s association with right-wing religious figures, people he pursued for their endorsements, were not covered except briefly when they made similarly outrageous comments. There was even video of Sarah Palin herself being blessed by a priest who talked of witchcraft, and had persecuted innocent women in Africa as witches. That got almost no coverage as well.

Yet another example is flip-flops; McCain had significantly altered or even reversed his stands on almost every single issue of importance, and yet not only did the media ignore this, it often claimed that he did not flip-flop on the issues. Even though McCain changed from “more drilling won’t help” to “drilling is absolutely vital” within just a few months, with video to mark both the flip and the flop–the media virtually ignored it. Contrast that with Obama reiterating his Iraq policy–with no changes or reversals–leading to a week of media coverage on how he was flip-flopping.

And one more example was McCain’s being neck-deep in lobbyists. Whenever some big story broke, it had links to lobbyists on McCain’s campaign staff, usually people high up. When the whole Georgia crisis erupted, it was learned that McCain’s foreign policy advisor was still being paid to lobby for Georgia. When the Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae scandal broke, it was learned that McCain’s campaign manager was still receiving lobbyist paychecks from both firms. And yet somehow, the media never picked up on this story–they instead created false equivalencies, saying that “both” campaigns had lobbyist ties, as if that meant both were equally corrupt.

So the media was often absent when McCain had bad news surrounding him, but almost never passed up a chance to report on bad news about Obama. In fact, there was that one time when CNN had video of McCain making a rather notable gaffe–and they re-edited the video to cover up the gaffe. They later claimed it was a “mistake,” as if it were accidental–I mean, what, did they trip over something?

Similarly, the media took very seriously the idea that one could not criticize McCain on a variety of issues because he was a veteran and a former POW. Bob Schieffer, on more than one occasion, became visibly angry when people suggested that McCain might not be presidential material; Tom Brokaw had similar man-crush moments regarding McCain.

Then there is the fact that all too often, there simply was no equivalent news to be covered. Take the day when Obama was delivering a stirring speech to 200,000 Germans in Europe, while McCain was giving a lame photo op outside the “Fudge Haus.” The media cannot be blamed for covering grand events as grand events and lame ones as lame ones. If Obama drew crowds of tens of thousands and McCain couldn’t fill a medium-sized room, if Obama gave brilliant oratory and McCain laughed with hideous awkwardness in front of an appalling green screen… there is no media bias if they simply cover what happened.

And finally, there were McCain’s atrocious decisions and performance. It was bad enough early on, but Sarah Palin was the turning point. Choosing someone who was so clearly unqualified and even disastrously unprepared after having gone on for months about Obama not being “experienced” enough, choosing such a blatantly political running mate who only jeopardized the nation’s future leadership while running under a “country first” banner, going before reporters and claiming himself that living near the outer reaches of Russia’s tundra really did qualify Palin in terms of foreign affairs and national security… these were not just gaffes, these were intended actions which demonstrated catastrophically bad judgment.

Add to that the fact that McCain refused to allow media access to Palin, held back medical records and other documents considered necessary for public review, and kept pulling badly managed and even bizarre publicity stunts, and you begin to realize that, if anything, the media’s coverage of McCain in the final month of the election was actually far better than McCain deserved from an objective standpoint.

Not only was there not a media bias for Obama, there was a demonstrable and sharply noticeable media bias in favor of McCain. And if you hear anyone say differently, shut them down. There’s a wealth of examples, only a few of which I have outlined above, to prove the case beyond any doubt. Let’s not let this meme go unchallenged.

What a Journalist Is Supposed to Do

September 27th, 2008 1 comment

Watch Jack Cafferty from CNN:

Note especially at the end how he contrasts with Wolf Blitzer. Cafferty calls the shot accurately: Palin’s answer was pathetic. He spoke the truth–baldly and clearly, he characterized exactly what we saw, and gave an accurate analysis of how this relates to her being McCain’s running mate. Blitzer, on the other hand, immediately–indeed, reflexively–began equivocating, making excuses and using euphemisms.

Why the difference? Well, part of it certainly is because Cafferty is a crusty old curmudgeon whereas Blitzer is somewhat of a putz. But I think more of it has to do with how journalists have been emasculated by politicians using access as a way to cow the media; Blitzer has to worry about his relationships with the campaigns, lest he lose access or not score the next big interview; Cafferty has no such worries.

This is more than just amusing (though you gotta love how Cafferty looks like he wants to slap Blitzer in the face there); this is actually an excellent contrast demonstrating an important quality now a rare commodity in journalism.

A journalist’s job is to report the truth, and if a politician is lying or failing, you don’t go all soft and fuzzy and say they are “playing with the truth a little” or “having a hard day.” When a politician is in the interview seat across from you and answers a question with a clear, easily provable lie, you do not enable that lie by nodding sagely and moving on, or even by pressing for details in the hopes of catching them up; you must simply look them in the eye and say, “that’s not true,” explain why if necessary, and then quiz them further on it.

The point is not to curry access, the point is not to score the big interview. Being a journalist is not a job just for show, nor is it a responsibility that can be casually regarded. Journalism is, after all, unless I am mistaken, the only profession outside of government service specified in the Bill of Rights and given specific notice as having protected rights.

There’s a reason for that: the press is the lifeline we depend on for clear transmission of vital information necessary to make the right choices in electing our public officials and maintaining our democracy. Politicians will of course try to game the system, but it is the job of the journalist to resist that. Most reporters, like Blitzer, have succumbed to that influence, and are worth than useless to the nation.

Categories: Journalism Tags: