Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blogroll updates

I'm sorry team but if you don't update your blog for like several months, I move your blog to the 'defunct' section. I think you know what you need to do to get it out of the 'defunct' section. (Yes, buy me chocolates, very good.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

BREAKING AT WAPO: Facebook Loses Comment Button, Just Hit Enter

So I get this daily afternoon update email from the good folks at the Post. It's called "Afternoon Buzz" (really) and sometimes it's useful. But, today! There was this:

But wait, didn't this news happen, like, two weeks ago? Is the Post really first catching this now?

No. The Post reported it at the time (March 16), as I found out when I clicked through the link.

It's just that for whatever reason, the news was being promoted in today's afternoon email. I'm not sure which is worse: that they're that desperate for clicks or that someone messed up so badly to link to news from two weeks ago.

Post Holding Off So Far on Correcting Shallow Water Drilling "Moratorium" Error

The Post has run several corrections recently on op-eds and letters. But it hasn't done anything yet with one of the biggest recent gaffes.

The Post actually published an op-ed last Thursday about oil drilling that referred to the "moratorium on shallow-water operations." The government's moratorium, however, was only on deep-water operations.

Today the paper ran a letter noting the error, but didn't correct the record.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Buyer picked for Politics & Prose

From the Post:
Former Washington Post reporters Bradley Graham and his wife Lissa Muscatine are purchasing the iconic upper Northwest bookstore, which has continued to turn a profit despite catastrophic change in the bookselling industry.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Raising Awareness

Series of tweets from David Roberts the other day:
I've really come to loathe the term "raise awareness." All the left's misunderstandings & dysfunctions are baked right in there.

Awareness is far short of *understanding* & ever farther short of *inspiration*. It is the absolute minimum cognitive state to shoot for!

But "awareness" is not a goal in and of itself. ACTION is. Changing behavior is. Awareness, in and of itself, is inert.

Implicit in "raise awareness" is the notion that awareness deficit is the problem & more information is the answer.
Sorry to be all depressing and all, but I basically agree.

Bill Keller jumps the shark

Now the NYT editor seems to think that James O'Keefe and Julian Assange are sort of equivalent.

The real shame in all of this (Bill Keller and the NYT getting super defensive and obnoxious of late) is that there's a good amount of truth to their side of the arguments about the value of the Times and the importance of original reporting. Or at least I agree with them partly, rather. The Huffington Post does some great work, but its aggregation is taking away advertising money from organizations like the NYT that are more focused on producing original reporting, and that's at least somewhat not good. But Keller did a stunningly bad job of making this case.

Similarly, there's a decent argument that the NYT charging people for online content is fair or okay; the NYT itself is not doing a very good job of making that argument, instead being pompous and obnoxious.

I really want to be open minded, but Keller is just making it harder and harder for me to believe he's something other than a close-minded jerk. He runs a newspaper that does a lot of really impressive work, but he digs in when critiqued, and rarely admits fault.

The use of the word 'torture' is a good example. It's been thoroughly documented that the Times (and many others) used the word 'torture' in previous decades to describe waterboarding committed by other governments, and still use the word 'torture' in reference to other governments. But they will not use it when waterboarding is performed by the US government, because it's "controversial." Under criticism, Keller simply dug himself in deeper.

The ACORN case is another example; the paper played a major role in propagating the lie that O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp, among other falsehoods. Under relentless criticism, the paper continued to write the same errors, only backing away from some of them after weeks or months. Some of the errors were corrected; others remain uncorrected to this day.

In his column in today's magazine, Keller tries to show off how much the Times loves detail and getting it right, citing a few examples of recent corrections. He presumably doesn't get that the Times' refusal to correct many errors is actually the bigger current theme.

Update 3/28: Turns out Keller used a quote very out of context in his Sunday magazine column. See nytpicker.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Post Fronts Facebook for 19th Time

This one is a bit borderline, because it touches on several social media services, including Facebook. Some of the previous ones have, too. So I'd like to make clear that my definition for counting is that the article has a focus on social media, with Facebook being a significant component of that, but the piece can also include a significant focus on other social media sites as well.

Friday's front pager is about teachers using social media, and the Virginia Board of Education voting on Thursday to
encourage school districts statewide to adopt policies regulating social-media use by teachers. The move was not as bold as an earlier proposal but still ranks the state as among the first to address such issues.
In other words, Virginia considered doing something significant, but didn't. Not usually the kind of thing that makes front page news. But it provided a peg for the rest of the story, which looked at issues including sexual misconduct via social network.

Here's the updated honor roll:

Sept 2006, Oct 2006, Feb 2007, Nov 2007, March 2008, April 2008, May 2008, June 2008, July 2008, Sept 2008, March 2009, April 2009, Aug 2009, Aug 2009, Oct 2009, May 2010, July 2010, Dec 2010, March 2011.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dana Milbank Makes a Sloppy Mistake. Again.

In Dana Milbank's column today, we get this:
As thousand-pound warheads pounded Libyan forces, Obama was kicking a soccer ball, seeing the sights and watching cowboys in sequins.

It was perilously close to George W. Bush’s My-Pet-Goat moment, when then-President Bush continued reading a storybook with children on Sept. 11, 2001, after he was told that the second World Trade Center tower had been hit.

It's called The Pet Goat, not My Pet Goat.

Turns out Milbank made the same error in 2008. Oh, and in October 2004.

Look, it was a fairly common error back for a stretch there. It took off in June 2004, with Fahrenheit 9/11, where Michael Moore got it wrong. But just weeks later, the Wall Street Journal got to the bottom of the matter, finding that it was a story, not a full book, and that it was The Pet Goat, not My Pet Goat.

The New York Times had made the error multiple times, but had the dignity to correct the record in early 2005.

Probably Milbank and the Post will correct it promptly!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

DOJ releases report on New Orleans Police Department abuses

Sure enough, it looks like the report (158 pages) is pretty devastating and covers a wide range of abuses. Here's the Times-Picayune story, or a shorter write up from ProPublica.

I just glanced through the section on use-of-force policy. Start with this:
We found that many officers, supervisors, and commanders have a poor understanding of use of force policies.
They found the use of force policy is lousy anyway (a new one is currently being developed).

And then there's this:
NOPD's statistics-driven approach to policing appears to contribute to the strong community perception of bias in stops, arrests, and other encounters. Individuals we spoke with, particularly youth, African Americans, ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBT community, told of frequent stops and of being targeted, booked, and arrested for minor infractions. They consistently described how these tactics serve to drive a wedge between the police and the public, antagonizing and alienating members of the community.
Of course, I don't mean to sound like this stuff is unique to NOPD. Because it's not. But the NOPD has particularly serious problems, and that's why the DOJ is involved here. I hope progress could one day be on the way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sari Horwitz Plagiarism Scandal Rocks the Washington Post

Washington Post reporter Sari Horwitz got caught plagiarizing from the Arizona Republic on the Tucson shootings. Details via Michael Falcone; the Post's editor's note; the Post's article published Wednesday evening.

But obvs here's the real question: could race have been a factor???

Saturday, March 12, 2011

David Broder post

He was awful.

And in this case, probably a good majority of the tributes you've seen in the last few days are not just people saying nice things about him because he's dead, but because they actually believe it. Sort of makes it even worse.

If you're in the center-right (varying on the issue and the time), he may be your man. But there is little good in what he did and what he stood for.

Here FAIR looks back across some of Broder's history, including his truly prescient column after Katrina:
We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public.
Broder was a defender of the Bush Administration, including its torture policies. He only turned against them once it was safe to do so (Greenwald).

There is a real thing that's centrism; Broder was worse than even that.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Introducing Ryan's DC Gardening Blog

Check out idigdc, a DC urban gardening blog by Ryan!

Ryan's been blogging from across town for just a few weeks now. And in addition to the photos of plants, there is also a photo of the "little manure machine" -- Ziggy the rabbit!

More on jobs and deficits

From Froomkin today:
The usual beef against Beltway politicos is that they spend too much time reading the polls. But to a group of progressives gathered on Thursday to talk about jobs, the problem is that the capital's elites don't heed the polls nearly enough.

Survey after survey of public opinion finds that unemployment and the struggling economy are the most troubling issues for most Americans. But policymakers from both parties are madly pursuing a different priority instead: deficit reduction.

More in "Progressives Bemoan Focus On Deficit, Call For Stronger Job Creation Agenda."

NYT uses "torture" again after saying it won't

Glenn Greewnald catches the NYTimes using the word "torture" again for waterboarding, after top editors have said repeatedly they will not do so. Of course, the use this week was in the context of the Nazis, not the US...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Oops! WashPost Editorial Cites October Bomb Plot on Metro in Support of Bag Searches. Too Bad it Was the FBI's Plot.

The Washington Post editorial page served up a new gaffe Tuesday in an editorial in favor of bag checks in the Metro system. In attempting to build the case for the searches, the Post argued:
... Metro remains an obvious and tempting target for terrorists who wish this county harm, and Metro officials would be remiss to ignore that fact. In October, federal officials arrested a local man in an alleged plot to bomb three Northern Virginia Metro stations.
That's nice of them to use the word "alleged" -- but it still gets it wrong. The October incident demonstrated that there was someone, Farooque Ahmed, who was willing to work on a terrorist plot, and that's indeed newsworthy. But as for the targeting of Metro specifically, that wasn't Ahmed's idea. It was the FBI's.

The Department of Justice's press release at the time said that Ahmed was "Arrested for Plotting Attacks." And there were a lot of headlines about a "metro bomb plot" -- making it seem like Ahmed was planning something, and that the US stopped it. But the Justice Department has not even accused Ahmed of actually initiating such a plot. The DOJ has said lots about how Ahmed assisted FBI agents in preparation to carry out such an attack, including allegedly casing stations and giving suggestions for where to place bombs. But as for actually coming up with the idea to attack the Metro, DOJ has not alleged that Ahmed did so. As the indictment put it, Ahmed "attempted to assist others whom he believed to be members of Al-Qaeda in planning multiple bombings" (p2) and "attempted to assist in the planning of multiple bombings" (p8).

The situation was clear enough that the AP was confident to report that "The bombing plot was a ruse conducted over the past six months, the FBI said..." And as the Washington Post put it in its news pages at the time:
But Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Loudoun County never suggested any attacks inside the United States, and the plot to attack Metro was hatched by government operatives posing as terrorists, according to court records unsealed Thursday.
The Post's editorial page is either too incompetent to understand the facts or just doesn't care about them if they get in the way of making their case.

Update: Thank you GGW for the link!

Monday, March 07, 2011

The LA Times, still looking beyond LA (in a good way)

The LA Times has a long history of extensive international coverage. In the last many years, though, amidst the ownership changes and other struggles, the LAT has cut back its staff significantly. And the newsroom has been pushed to make the paper more locally-focused.

Yet despite all of that, the Times still impresses. Looking at today's front page, I was struck by how worldly the paper can still sometimes be. Sure, there's a lot going on internationally right now, and it's also a Monday edition (more a feature day than a breaking news day). But still. The five front page articles today were out of Libya, Japan, Mexico, Sacramento, and Stockton.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Scott Brown and defining the new "Moderate"

Saturday's Boston Globe checked in on the tenure of Scott Brown, not surprisingly reporting that he has made himself a moderate power-broker in the mold of Collins and Snowe.

Well, okay, right. But I think reporter Mark Arsenault missed the real point and the bigger picture.

Yes, Brown has defied his party's leadership on several key votes, and that's important. But these things Brown are doing, while notable, are mostly not exactly "moderate" in any traditional sense.

Arsenault's top example is on healthcare:
The full extent of Brown’s evolution was highlighted this week when Obama — in a move that could help deflect criticism from states — endorsed a measure cosponsored by Brown to relax some of the biggest mandates in the health care law, including the requirement that nearly all Americans purchase medical insurance.

Despite his bipartisan effort to change it, Brown said, he remains against the president’s reforms: “I’d like you to get this very clear: I’m opposed to the health care bill. I always have been. I’ve already voted to repeal it.’’

He said he sees no conflict between wanting a full repeal and cooperating with Democrats to make the law more palatable to states and businesses. “Do we do nothing? I want to repeal it and until we get to that point I’m going to keep chipping away,’’ Brown said.

The healthcare bill, of course, is similar in general design to one signed by former governor Mitt Romney. Like it or not, it's not progressive policy.

Yet Scott Brown is trying to chip away at it -- in fact, more effectively than most of his fellow Republicans. Where is the "moderate" part in this?

Similarly, the Globe notes that Brown was one of a relatively small number of Republicans to vote to approve the Start treaty. But the treaty was supported by the bulk of the Republican foreign policy establishment (the former secretaries of state, etc).

This is not a story about Scott Brown being moderate; it's a story about the bulk of current elected Republicans being very conservative.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

NYT Op-Ed Contributor Richard Dooling Likens Rachel Maddow to Rush Limbaugh

There was one Richard Dooling, with an op-ed this morning in the NYT trying to be funny about civility. In the satiric piece, Dooling has this:
Later, reporters were allowed inside the institute to tour the facilities, which include padded quiet rooms and soundproof time-out cubicles where the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow were sequestered between shock treatments and remedial civility lessons.
Get it? There are crazy wild extremists on both sides! There's Rush Limbaugh on the right, and Rachel Maddow on the left, and they're both extreme and uncivil!

Of course, some commentators do this stuff all the time -- the "Rachel Maddow is the left's extremist!" thing. But usually the NYT op-ed page is better about not letting this kind of trope through.

There's a name for this kind of writing, and it's Lazy.

(Quick note: I'm no advocate of "civility" -- I'm just an advocate of fair comparisons. I don't dislike O'Reilly or Limbaugh because they are uncivil; I dislike them because of what they are for.)

Today several commenters on Dooling's blog wrote of how the comparison was nonsense. As n lamb wrote,
The editorial was silly enough to begin with, but to class Rachel Maddow, or even Olbermann for that matter, with the likes of Limbaugh and O’Reilley, ruined whatever satire you had attempted. The art of satire means you have to look for real equivalencies to make it funny...
I baited Dooling into responding on the matter. His defense was only to claim that she is "snarky."

Patrick Pexton, New WaPo Ombudsman, Meet Struggling Paper. Tough Love, Please.

The seat may have gone cold for a few weeks, but no more: the Washington Post's new ombudsman starts his gig today. Patrick Pexton, formerly deputy editor of National Journal, will be the ombud, serving for two years, the paper announced last week.

Pexton has his work cut out for him.

The situations is this. Whole magazine articles could be written on the decline of the Post (right). It sounds tacky when people say it, but it's true: the Post doesn't know what it is, and is struggling to hold on to a niche. Is it for DC insiders? Or is it for a general audience? It's not exactly either. That's a problem.

Ultimately, the Post cannot save itself by trying too hard to save itself. Putting stories about Facebook on the front page, or trying to use hip headlines, is not going to help; it only comes across as forced and awkward.

To compete nationally, the Post can't keep playing catch-up; it needs to be more aggressive. The paper needs to focus its web content on being unique and high quality, and not try to do things it can't do well. And the paper needs to correct clear errors when it has been informed of them.

Andy Alexander, the last ombudsman, said he thought the Post's journalistic quality had declined ("Can The Post regain its legacy of excellence?"). In the end, he said, it's all about the quality.

The new ombudsman will surely investigate and offer his opinion on the debates du jour (i.e., was the Post right to withold the CIA affiliation of Raymond Davis in Pakistan?). But the worst thing Pexton could do would be to spend too much time calling a series of balls and strikes. Instead, he ought to spend many of his column inches on the bigger picture systematic problems, like the over-the-top use of anonymous sources, the still-broken corrections process, and the tendency toward he-said-he-said political reporting.

These are the kinds of things that need to be taken on and improved, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because they will help the Post's future business chances. Would fixing these problems suddenly bring the Post a wave of new paying subscribers? Of course not. But a path to continued viability, whatever exactly that looks like, will ultimately need to include better news reporting, and fewer front page gimmicks. As tempting as gimmicks are, you can't out-Gawker Gawker, because Gawker will always be better at what they do. You have to go for the quality niche, and win there.

That's the challenge for the Post. For it's own good, the Post needs some tough love to get there.