October 05, 2005

Most Pointless and Uninformative Headline of All Time

From today’s Washington Post. The big banner headline:

“Bush Defends Supreme Court Pick.”

Well, duh.

Is that in any way news, that a President would defend the person he selected for the Supreme Court? Is it in the slightest way unexpected or surprising?

Was there really nothing else even remotely newsworthy yesterday?

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:52 AM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2005

People Who Live in Glass Houses...

Like, say, David Brooks of the NY Times, shouldn’t throw stones. But, of course, they do anyway:

When asked why, according to surveys, the public loathes the (liberal) press, David Brooks replied that it was “because people are idiots. The press is more honest and less salacious now than ever before.” Brooks also said that “the Bush administration is even boring off the record.”

Does Brooks even read the newspaper he works for? More honest and less salacious than ever before?

And it’s telling that the worst thing a Presidential administration can be, in his opinion, is boring.

Brooks is a twit. Which makes him just one of many on the editorial pages of the NY Times, I guess.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 07:58 AM | Comments (1)

July 19, 2005

Free speech, Unless We Don't Like What They're Saying

Check out this article from Ryan Sager at TechCentralstation:

In April, Washington’s Legislature passed a 9.5-cent-a-gallon gas-tax hike — which would give the state the nation’s highest gasoline tax. Public outcry was followed by the formation of a grass-roots group, No New Gas Tax, intent on overturning the new levy via an initiative — Initiative 912. Two talk-radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson of Seattle’s KVI-AM (a Fox News affiliate), embraced the signature-gathering drive to put I-912 on the ballot. And that’s when the trouble started. The radio hosts were a bit too effective at getting the word out about the anti-gas tax initiative, so a county prosecutor with ties to the initiative’s opponents decided to try to shut them up by making clever use of the state’s campaign-finance-regulation machinery. San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord sued No New Gas Tax, alleging that the group had failed to list KVI-AM’s commentaries as contributions to its campaign. Advocacy on Wilbur and Carlson’s shows, Gaylord argued, was really just an “in kind” contribution — no different than a check written to a political committee. And, amazingly enough, a judge agreed with him. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham argued in his opinion that he was merely requiring “disclosure” of the contribution. But when it comes to campaign-finance regulation, disclosure is virtually always a precursor to restrictions. So, what might a principled newspaper do at this point, regardless of its stance on the gas tax? Well, of course, it would see the clear threat this judge’s line of thinking poses to journalists everywhere. It would see that when we start to blur the line between campaign coverage and campaign contributions, we risk preventing the press from doing its job. And it would see that petty squabbles over state transportation spending are hardly something over which it’s worth tossing one’s First-Amendment-protected brethren to the wolves. And, so, if that’s what a principled newspaper might do, what would the Seattle P-I do? Well, of course, it would write a flippant editorial under the headline: “Jabber Over Journalism.” And it would declare that while it’s fine for “broadcast pundits, newspaper columnists and editorial pages” to “discuss issues and recommend action,” the KVI hosts deserve to be harassed for “acting as political activists, not journalists.”

Sager got hold of the editorial page director of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

I asked him the question that was pressing on the minds of First Amendment partisans across the country. If a couple of radio-talk-show hosts can be regulated under campaign-finance law — their very spoken words considered contributions — what exactly protects the P-I (or any other publication) from such regulation? After all, the P-I has editorialized regularly on the gas tax (in favor of the tax and against the initiative) for months. “We’re not participants,” Trahant said. “We have no vested interest, other than as citizens.” Trahant went on to note that one of the hosts, Carlson, had given money to the I-912 campaign. “They actually coordinated on air, telling people where to get petitions.”

This is what campaign finance “reform” is all about: it is expressly designed to stifle speech by people that its supporters don’t like. Note that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, like the NY Times and the Washington Post, and many other mainstream media outlets, strongly supported McCain-Feingold and other “reforms” to campaign finance laws; while at the same time acting as though such restrictions on speech don’t apply to them.

It’s amazing that the utter hypocrist and moral bankruptcy of their position doesn’t cause the brains of folks like the Post-Intelligencer’s editorial page editor to explode.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 07:40 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2005

All the News That's Fit to Print?

I’m not sure what I find more mind-boggling; that the NYTimes printed this horrific column, or that the author wrote it in the first place.

It’s from yesterday’s paper, and it’s written by a woman who fired her nanny because, when you get to the bottom of it, reading the nanny’s blog made the author feel old and unhip:

She hadn’t been with us long when we found out about her online diary. All she’d revealed previously about her private life were the bare-bones details of the occasional date or argument with her landlord and her hopes of attending graduate school in the fall. Yet within two months of my starting to read her entries our entire relationship unraveled. Not only were there things I didn’t want to know about the person who was watching my children, it turned out her online revelations brought feelings of mine to the surface I’d just as soon not have to face as well.

It gets worse. Much, much worse. It’s difficult to imagine a so-called “professional journalist” writing something so self-obsessed, meanspirited, hateful and idiotic, but the author, Helaine Olen, somehow managed it.

Here’s the blog of the fired nanny; the latest post there is her response to her former employer’s attack on her.

Truly amazing.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2005

Freedom to Shield Criminals?

Apparently that’s what the WashPost thinks the First Amendment is all about. Check out this story about a notorious DC-area vandal (I’m sorry, “graffiti artist” doesn’t work as a description for me):

The mysterious, ubiquitous and eminently destructive graffiti artist known as Borf was arrested yesterday after waging a months-long campaign that may have been intended to enlighten Washington, but mostly just confused us. The man primarily responsible for Borf is, it turns out, an 18-year-old art student from Great Falls named John Tsombikos, according to D.C. police inspector Diane Groomes. He was arrested along with two other young men in the wee hours of yesterday morning after officers received a tip that graffiti artists were spray-painting at Seventh and V streets NW.

Take a special look at this paragraph:

In four interviews over several months, a young man claiming credit for the Borf graffiti spoke extensively about why he did it. He did not give his real name. The Post was able to ascertain his identity as John Tsombikos independently, but did not publish a story because the man’s condition for granting interviews was anonymity. He agreed, however, that if he was arrested or his identity became public, The Post would be released from this condition.

John Miller at National Review has this to say about it:

So let me get this straight: Post reporters learn the identity of a mystery man whose vandalism is costing the city, its taxpayers, and property owners a fair bit of money—and they feel bound to some kind of non-disclosure agreement with him? Reading the story, it would seem that they even met with Tsombikos/Borf before he was apprehended. And while the Post doesn’t say that for certain that its crack team of journalists did not cooperate with police, it sure seems like they didn’t. Not even priests are bound to their vows of silence when they learn about crimes in confessionals. The Post needs to explain its exact relationship with this criminal.

I agree. The Post knew that crimes were being committed, and they knew who was committing them, and they, apparently, didn’t bother to report this to the authorities.

Why, exactly? Is the Post’s right to produce a sympathetic (fawning, even) puff piece about an admitted criminal more important than the duty its reporters and editors have as citizens? I guess so.

Besides that little issue, this “Borf” is a real piece of work. Check out some of these gems from the article:

He said he was an activist long before he got into graffiti. The first protest he attended was against capitalism in September 2002. It’s possible he would have been arrested if he’d gotten there on time, he said, but the protest was “too early.”

and

It bothers him that those younger than 18 can’t vote, “as much as I don’t believe in voting or anything.” He complained that folks in stores assume “all young people shoplift,” and when he’s reminded that he himself shoplifts spray paint, he says that’s just more evidence of how messed up society is.

and

Borf recently turned 18, a fact he revealed with hesitation because “I’m against age. It’s just another way of dividing people.” At least until recently, he lived at home — where exactly he would never say — and cut cardboard stencils on his parents’ living room floor. He spoke sneeringly of “rich people,” though sometimes when he parked in the city his parents gave him $14 for the garage.

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. It’s a wonder his brain doesn’t explode from trying to believe so many self-contradictory thoughts (if that’s the word; I think that might be giving “Borf” a little too much credit) at the same time.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2005

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Well, two out of three, anyway, are on display in today’s WashPost.

The good is baseball writer Dave Sheinin, whose byline I haven’t seen in the Post in a while. He’s writing today about legendary broadcaster Vin Scully. I only point this article out because Sheinin is a great writer, with a unique voice - and a writer who keeps himself out of his writing. When he writes, it’s clear that he’s talking about his subject and not about himself. Here’s just a bit:

His might not be the Voice of God — not deep enough, someone might quibble, not scary enough — but surely it is the Voice of Heaven. Surely, Vin Scully’s is the voice you hear, elegant and neighborly, as you lower yourself into the Great Easy Chair in the Sky and reach for the dial. “Hi, everybody,” the voice would say, “and a very pleasant good afternoon to you wherever you might be. It’s a beautiful day here in heaven …”

Anyway, go read the whole piece, either because you care about baseball, or because you want to read a genuine rarity: a good writer at the WashPost.

And then there’s the bad: Richard Cohen. Unlike Sheinin, Cohen manages to inject himself into pretty much every column he writes; whether the topic is local affairs or international goings-on, the real subject of every Cohen column is Cohen himself.

Today is no exception:

In the future no one will ever die. This is what a friend once told me. He said that as a person aged — maybe when he got very old — the contents of his brain would be downloaded onto a computer disk and his decrepit body would be discarded (or maybe recycled — who knows?). Then everything on the disk, which is to say our mind, our brain, our personality with all its quirks and disorders, would be transferred to a new, synthetic body, which would — if servicing was done on schedule — last approximately forever. I am here to say part of this has already happened to me.

Cohen actually comes sort of close to making a vaguely interesting point:

But now I am denied denial. I have been at this column business since 1976, writing most of the time three times a week, more recently just two. That comes to about 3,500 columns, my opinions on just about everything — a huge memory dump straight from me to the printed page and thence, alas, to the dour computer that lacks remorse or romance and is nothing but rebuke: But you said in 1980. But you wrote in 1990. But … aw, shut up.

The solution to Cohen’s problem, of course, is to be willing to admit that one is sometimes wrong, that what one thought 5 or 10 years ago, while it might have made sense at the time, was, looking back, kind of silly, or dumb, or insufficently-thought-out, or just plain wrong. But Cohen doesn’t want to do that:

I yearn for the freedom to be what I want to be. I don’t want to lie, but I want to be comforted by my own version of the truth. I want to own my life, all of it, and not have it banked at Google or some such thing. The trove of letters that some biographer is always discovering, the one that unmasks our hero and all his pretensions, has been moved from the musty attic to sleek cyberspace. I am imprisoned by the truth, a record of what I wrote and the public’s silly insistence on consistency — a life sentence without hope of parole. For me, the future is the present. It’s not that I cannot die. It’s rather that I cannot lie.

I think that you could take this paragraph and use it as a textbook definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Let’s see. The DSM IV indicates that NPD is indicated if five or more of the following are true. The subject:

has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

Check.

is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

Check.

believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

Check

requires excessive admiration

Check

has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

Check.

is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

Check.

lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

Maybe not this one.

is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

Check.

shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Check.

So, based on what we know of Richard Cohen from his writings, and from reports of his personal behavior, he fits 8 of the 9 criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Let’s get the man medicated - and off the pages of the WashPost, and let’s do it stat.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2005

New Math

Hit and Run comments on a survey of professonal journalists. The results are interesting:

“45 percent of journalists are less trusting of the professional behavior of their own colleagues — up from 34 percent in 2003.” Many of these journalists were unhappy about the recent unpleasantness involving Dan Rather: “78 percent believe that Rathergate has profoundly altered the media’s credibility.” The welcome news is that “93 percent of journalists said they are being ‘excruciatingly careful’ in fact-checking their stories in 2005 — a huge increase from 59 percent in 2003, likely a reflection of the press’s declining credibility.”

So 93% of journalists believe they themselves work to an “excruciatingly careful” standard; but 45% do not believe that their colleagues do so.

And:

The survey actually focused on journalists’ attitude toward blogs. “[O]nly 1 percent believe blogs are credible,” yet “more than half of journalists use Weblogs regularly, with 28 percent relying on them for day-to-day reporting.” Assemble those responses as you wish. Many pro journalists use blogs, the survey reported, to find story ideas and sources.

Let’s do the math. Only 1% of journalists surveyed believe that blogs are a credible source of information; but 28% rely on blogs for their reporting.

That would seem to imply that 27% of the surveyed journalists rely on sources they believe not to be credible in order to do their reporting.

Interesting, no?

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2005

An Exaggerated Sense of Self-Importance

If you want the very definition of arrogance and self-importance, try this sentence, with which Tom Friedman opens his NY Times colun today:

Every time I visit India, Indians always ask me to compare India with China.

Amazing. Talk about an over-inflated ego…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2005

Two Sides to Every Story?

There’s a great article posted at Ragged Edges about the general tone and content of U.S. media coverage. It’s all well worth reading; here’s a quote:

What is wrong with the Media is not that they diligently report American misdeeds, errors, and failures. And even though Newsweek really messed up, even that is not at the center of what’s wrong with the Media and the culture to which it plays. Rather, it is simply this: while the graphic photos of the abuses of Abu Ghraib are endlessly shown, re-shown, and shown some more by the major news networks, it takes an independent author/photographer with a little-known blog to bring us Major Mark Beiger. For the forest of trees killed reporting the scandalous behavior of a handful of soldiers at Bagram three years ago, our nation’s newspapers leave the good news to a blogging Australian. With a Watergate-inspired focus on breaking the next scandal, the Media’s message is all negative, all the time. Their reporting microscopically analyzes the negative, while glossing over, assuming, or outright ignoring the positive. The result is an informational product that is completely devoid of perspective, context, and balance.

I think this is exactly right. The press should report American misdeeds, errors and failures. But when they are reported, it needs to be put in context.

The same holds true for local news; if 80% of every newscast is filled with news of murders and robberies and arsons, with a sprinkling of corrupt local politicans and investigative reports on fradulent or dishonest businesses, it’s only natural to think that that’s all that’s going on, that society is crumbling at the seams, that criminals lurk behind every corner, and corruption behind every door.

Which is not the case, of course. But tell people that it is often enough and loud enough, and…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:07 AM | Comments (2)

April 12, 2005

Arrogance, Crimes and the Media

Nick Kristof muses about those topics in his NY Times column today.

He begins by lamenting the attempts by proescutors to force reporters (includiing one of his Times colleagues) to reveal sources:

Jim Taricani, a television journalist for an NBC station, was freed last weekend after four months of house arrest for refusing to reveal his sources. And Judith Miller of this newspaper and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine have been ordered to jail for up to 18 months for protecting their sources, although they remain free until their appeals run out.

In short, the climate for freedom of the press in the U.S. feels more ominous than it has for decades. One appropriate response is to protest vociferously and seek the passage of a federal shield law for journalists.

I don’t know about Taricani, but Miller and Cooper are being questioned about the Valerie Plame investigation, in which it’s alleged that a CIA covert operative was outed by a leaker in the government (the protected source in question). Given that the leak itself was (at least possibly) a federal crime, what the reporters ar doing isn’t protecting a source, but protecting a criminal.

Kristof wants a shield law that would, I presume, codify the presumption granted to journalists by the courts that they can’t be forced to reveal anonymous sources. Kristof doesn’t discuss whether anonymous sources are a good thing in the first place, since leaks are often used by the leaker not to inform a public that needs to know the leaked information, but as political moves to advance the leaker’s own cause, or to hurt an adversary’s cause.

I’m not sure that the Framers intended the First Amendment as a shield to allow government officials to anonymously undermine political opponents in the press without the possibility of retribution. But maybe that’s just me.

Kristof does make a good point later in his column:

More openness, more willingness to run corrections, more ombudsmen, more acknowledgement of our failings - those are the kinds of steps that are already under way and that should be accelerated. It would help if news organizations engaged in more outreach to explain themselves, with anchors or editors walking readers through such minefields as why we choose to call someone a “terrorist,” or how we wield terms like “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”

We also need more diverse newsrooms. When America was struck by race riots in the late 1960’s, major news organizations realized too late that their failure to hire black reporters had impaired their ability to cover America. In the same way, our failure to hire more red state evangelicals limits our understanding of and ability to cover America today.

I think we’re nuts not to regulate handguns more strictly, but I also think that gun owners have a point when they complain that gun issues often seem to be covered by people who don’t know a 12-gauge from an AR-15.

He’s right, as far as he goes.

But it’s not just “more corrections,” it should also be corrections that are placed as prominently as the original error. And it’s not just more ombudsmen, it’s ombudsmen who actually listen to the readers, and who, when they point out something the news organiztion is doing wrong, are heeded (unlike the Times’ Dan Okrent, for example).

And it’s not a question of hiring “red-state evangelicals.” Because you don’t have to be an evangelical to, say, oppose campaign finance reform, or occasionally vote Republican. His point is certainly valid, though, that more ideological diversity is needed in the newsrooms.

And his statement that “gun issues often seem to be covered by people who don’t know a 12-gauge from an AR-15” is absolutely right, and it’s true of science issues, military issues, legal issues, etc.

That’s one of the big advantages of the blogosphere. There are experts on pretty much everything. I’d bet money that there isn’t anyone on staff at the NY Times who knows as much about space policy as Rand Simberg, for examle. And I doubt that the Times’ legal correspondents are as knowledgable about the law as are the many practicing lawyers and law professors who blog.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:24 PM | Comments (0)