Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When a major newspaper throws in the towel

On Thursday of last week, the Diamondback, the paper at the University of Maryland, had a story about some students not liking changes to the wraps produced by the school's dining services.

That may (may...) be important on campus, but presumably it's not a story of any consequence to people beyond the campus, right?


Four days later, the Washington Post is on the case. Reporter Mike Rosenwald, an 8 year veteran of the Post, chimes in via his blog for the paper about Maryland. Rosenwald's got the cut-and-paste feature on his computer figured out, and throws in some painful commentary for good measure.

As FakeJimVandeHei would say, these people broke Watergate?

Rosenwald's piece is perhaps the embodiment of what we call the Hamster Wheel, of writing something for the sake of writing something. And it's a particularly ugly version of it. But then there's this:

Only the dead panda (RIP) is topping this within the Metro section. I don't have the data to know what's what. How are people getting to the wrap article? The piece has been featured high on the Metro page all day, even into the night. But it's hard to know which comes first here, the chicken (Post promotion of the article high on metro page) or the egg (that the article took off by itself, at which point the Post kept promoting it). Neither is pretty.

As awkward as this episode is, consider that the Post is going to continue dying a slow death, and there will be more of these ahead.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Car "accidents"

Aaron Naparstek: It's Time to Change the Way We Talk About Motor Vehicle Violence.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Income Inequality in the media, by the numbers

Interesting chart from Dylan Byers at the 1 year anniversary of Occupy: mentions of income inequality in the news went way up from Occupy, but are now back down to right around where they were pre-Occupy.

NYT Public Editor Takes up False Equivalence on Voter Fraud; Sifton and Bronner Make Fools of Selves; Blogosphere Laments

A few things to follow up on here.

I'm quoted in the Public Editor's column in Sunday's NYTimes, as a critic saying the Times shouldn't do he-said-she-said reporting. The focus of the column was a disappointing article from last Monday on voter fraud, which I critiqued here at the time ("Ethan Bronner goes murky on voter fraud on New York Times A1"). In that post and in my email to the new Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, I noted three examples (1, 2, 3) where the Times itself had reported pretty clearly on the matter in the past, explaining how the claims of voter fraud are mostly bunk.

And there's actually a good new example, on today's front page, a 3100-word piece from Stephanie Saul about how True the Vote and other groups are focused on "stopping" voter fraud, yet can't seem to come up with much evidence of it.

In Sullivan's column, NYT national editor Sam Sifton and national legal reporter Ethan Bronner give some rather horrid quotes doubling down in defense of Bronner's article, and that's rightly been criticized, starting with Kevin Drum. Andrew Cohen goes a bit further into how there's really not so much question at all on the substance of the issue. See more too from Jamelle BouiePeter Hart, and Choire Sicha. Bob Sommerby gives a comprehensive critique of Sullivan's column, happy that she brought up the issue and got these absurd quotes from Sifton and Bronner, but somewhat unimpressed where she left off.

I think it's somewhat hard to tell where she is -- on the one hand, her column itself sort of just presented two sides without saying who she thinks is right. On the other, she might have been letting the absurd Sifton and Bronner quotes stand by themselves, and she might come back to this, too.

Anyway, I really, really think there must be a number of NYT editors who do not like the Sifton and Bronner quotes. Those two are just wrong, and what they said is also an insult to all of the good work that is so often done in the NYT. People in the business side of the paper might not like the quotes either -- I mean what's the point of people paying for the NYT if it's just going to aggregate what both sides say? You can get that for free lots of places.

I'll wind this down with Eric Boehlert on the big picture:
Sullivan's piece serves as a reminder that readers are in search of the truth. But here's what was missing from Sullivan's exploration: The specific acknowledgement that the false balance conundrum journalists face stems from the conservative movement, and especially the conservative media, which have embraced misinformation as a central tenet. 
In other words, false balance is the intended byproduct of the Right-Wing Noise Machine, which was built to misinform followers and to intimidate the press into accepting, or legitimizing, that partisan misinformation. This is not a liberal-conservative or Republican-Democratic problem that journalists must wrestle with. It is without question a problem hoisted on the press by the far right. And that point is salient to this media debate.  
Look at the examples Sullivan cites where questions of false balance have arisen at the Times in recent years: Rep. Paul Ryan's convention speech, climate change, voter fraud and intelligent design. 
All of those topics germinated from the conservative movement and the conservative media, which have aggressively moved in recent years to construct their own parallel universe (or echo chamber) where their distinct set of 'facts' rule.
Update 9/21: More commentary I missed previously: Digby and James Fallows.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sneakers in the news!

If you are obsessed with the movie Sneakers, read this article. If not, nevermind. Actually, if not, go watch Sneakers.

Ethan Bronner goes murky on voter fraud on New York Times A1

The front page of today's NYT has an update on voting law developments ("A Tight Election May Be Tangled In Legal Battles.") We learn that "Republicans have expressed concern over what they call voter integrity. They say they fear that registration drives by liberal and community groups have bloated voter rolls with the dead and the undocumented and have created loose monitoring of who votes and low public confidence in the system." And then we hear that "[Democrats] say voter fraud is largely a myth" -- but that's set up simply as a counterpoint to the claims of conservatives. What about, what's the real truth?

The article later notes that "Courts have taken a mixed view of the two sides’ claims." Which is somewhat true, thanks to some rather conservative judges in some states. But putting this out there without explanation effectively muddles things for the reader into a mush where it's hard to know what to believe.

The reality on voting fraud, or the lack thereof, can be found explained in many places, including a number of NYTimes articles from the past.

Organic follow-up

A follow-up on the matter of the study out of Stanford bashing organic food: Sunday's NYT has an article that's quite a change from the general media tale on this. Really quite a feat (in a good way) for Kim Severson to get this follow-up into the news pages, bringing a far more critical look. Severson's article is hardly what the food-movement types would want to see if they could write the rebuttal; it comes across as very mixed, in fact, critiquing the Stanford study gently. But it's good and impressive it's there. Also on Sunday, Nicholas Kristof chimes in with a critique.

The NYT's original hard-news story, it should be said, while not good, was hardly like much of the crazy reporting on the study (including Roger Cohen's NYT column).

Friday, September 07, 2012

Obama Bashes Bank Bailouts He Voted For; Fact Checkers Yawn

From Obama's convention speech:
We don't want handouts for people who refuse to help themselves, and we certainly don't want bailouts for banks that break the rules.
Wait, what?

Senator Obama voted for TARP on 10/1/08. (Note, there's a common misconception that TARP was an Obama program, but Bush was president at the time. The Washington Post, for example, still hasn't corrected a front-page error on this).

The self-appointed fact checkers are happy to jump on anything they deem misleading, even if it doesn't include an outright falsehood, as Obama's statement does not. Obama's whopper was simply pretending that he is against something he actually voted for and publicly supported. Yet Obama's bailout statement went unmentioned in fact checks by the NYTWashington Post, Associated PressPolitifact and Factcheck.org.

Roger Cohen bamboozlement

Roger Cohen sometimes writes smart stuff. So it's a shame that his NYT column today is a tour of bamboozlement. Cohen is excited about a recent study out of Stanford saying that there is little health benefit from organic food. In reality, the premises of the study have been taken apart rather thoroughly (start i.e. with Jason Mark's piece on Civil Eats and follow the links from there). Cohen throws in a few paragraphs somewhat acknowledging the critics (though hardly giving their arguments a fair representation), and otherwise fills his piece fairly heavily with the standard anti-organic talking points.

4:30pm update: Cohen's column is currently sitting at #4 on the most emailed list (and this blogger is banging his head against a wall).

Thursday, September 06, 2012

What's top convention news and what's 2nd tier

Erik Wemple argues that newspapers are too closely following the convention agenda handed to them, and that the controversy over Israel's capital in the Dem platform should have easily been front page news.

Local Cincinnati tv reporter challenges Obama on kill list

Impressive segment, from Ben Swann, of Fox19 Cincinnati.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Undocumented protesters arrested at DNC Tuesday

Very neat.

Environmental politics today 101

Please, do read David Roberts from the other day. This piece captures things really well.

The DNC message

There are all sorts of ups and downs in the conventions. But it's worth noting that a central thrust of the Democratic message is, unfortunately, a right wing one. This seems not good. (Matt Yglesias: Democrats Reinvent Themselves as the Party of Fiscal Austerity).

Tomatoes 101

Slate had this article the other day about tomatoes -- what kind you should cook, what kind to eat raw. This sounds like basic stuff. I sure didn't know it.