Archive for the ‘Media and the Press’ Category.

Infinite Recursion and Avoiding Debate

The increasing popularity of vilifying one's intellectual opponents as evil in order to avoid debating them (after all, why bother debating people who are, well, evil) will not be a new concept to readers here.

To see how the frontiers of this tactic are being pushed, one can best look at the climate debate.  I want to link a spectacular example, but let me give some background:

About a year ago, a professor of cognitive science wrote a paper (Lewandowsky 2012) that tried to correlate being a climate skeptic with holding any number of other conspiracy theories (e.g. moon landings were faked).  You can read the whole sad story, but in essence the survey used small sample sizes of people who may not actually have been skeptics (the survey was not actually advertised at any skeptic web sites) and compounded its own problems with bad math.  In fact, the study has not actually been formally published to this day.

Anyway, a lot of folks criticized the paper.  So what did the author do?  Amend the paper to fix the errors?  Defend his methodology?  No, he wrote a second paper that used the critiques of his first paper (often selectively edited by himself) as further evidence of "conspiracist ideation."  Seriously.  The fact that critiques exist of his paper proves the paper!  And then, for double extra recursion points, when the author published the paper online, he front-loaded the first five comments with friends who accused all subsequent commenters criticizing the second paper as conspiracists who are merely proving the point of the second paper.

All of it here.  (and hilariously, this -- Lewandowsky calls totally reasonable comment by mainstream climate scientist "conspiracist".)

Seriously, this is the group calling me "anti-science"!  And no matter how much of a nutter this guy is, he got tons of mainstream ink for his initial "study."   In our post-modernist world, the media uncritically laps this stuff up as real science because the results fit their narrative.

End Sports Cronyism

Florida editorial via the Crony Chronicles

The problem with [the theory that sports subsidies help the economy] is that there is scant evidence that such economic benefits actually occur. Numerous studies done over the last 25 years have found that professional sport teams have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy. Usually, a new team or a new stadium location doesn’t increase the amount of consumer spending, it merely shifts it away from other, already existing sources. Entertainment dollars will be spent one way or another whether a stadium exists or not. Plus, the increase in jobs is often modest at best — nowhere near enough to offset the millions invested in the projects.

It's amazing they got the local paper to print this.  Most local papers would be defunct without a sports page.  As a result, local newspapers generally bring to bear tremendous pressure in favor of subsidies to attract and keep new professional sports teams.   Our local paper the AZ Republic tends credulously publish every crazy, stupid benefit study of sports teams on the road to promoting more local subsidies for them.

One Reason the Press is Always So Statist

Why is the media always so deferential to the state?  The reasons may be in part ideological, but there is a public choice explanation as well -- the state (particularly local police and crime stories) generate most of its headlines, and so they have a financial incentive to retain access to the source of so much of their content.

Perhaps even more revealing, though, was this:

To start, [San Diego County Sheriff's Office] spokeswoman Jan Caldwell explained to the room full of journalists why it is so important to be nice to her: "If you are rude, if you are obnoxious, if you are demanding, if you call me a liar, I will probably not talk to you anymore. And there's only one sheriff's department in town, and you can go talk to the deputies all you want but there's one PIO."

Here we have the heart of the matter. "Professional" journalists may, indeed, be brilliant, talented, well-trained, professional, with an abiding appetite for hard-hitting but neutral reporting. Yet professional journalists also depend on relationships. Ms. Caldwell calls that fact out, sending law enforcement's core message to the press: if you want access, play the game.

The game colors mainstream media coverage of criminal justice. Here's my overt bias: I'm a criminal defense attorney, a former prosecutor, and a critic of the criminal justice system. In my view, the press is too often deferential to police and prosecutors. They report the state's claims as fact and the defense's as nitpicking or flimflam. They accept the state's spin on police conduct uncritically. They present criminal justice issues from their favored "if it bleeds it leads" perspective rather than from a critical and questioning perspective, happily covering deliberate spectacle rather than calling it out as spectacleThey accept leaks and tips and favors from law enforcement, even when those tips and leaks and favors violate defendants' rights, and even when the act of giving the tip or leak or favor is itself a story that somebody ought to be investigating. In fact, they cheerfully facilitate obstruction of justice through leaks. They dumb down criminal justice issues to serve their narrative, or because they don't understand them.

This "professional" press approach to the criminal justice system serves police and prosecutors very well. They favor reporters who hew to it. Of course they don't want to answer questions from the 800-pound bedridden guy in fuzzy slippers in his mother's basement. But it's not because an 800-pound bedridden guy can't ask pertinent questions. It's because he's frankly more likely to ask tough questions, more likely to depart from the mutually accepted narrative about the system, less likely to be "respectful" in order to protect his access. (Of course, he might also be completely nuts, in a way that "mainstream" journalism screens out to some extent.)

Which is why, despite Joe Arpaio's frequent antics that make national news, it falls to our local alt-weekly here in Phoenix rather than our monopoly daily paper to do actual investigative reporting on the Sheriff's office.

Sequester Fear-Mongering, State Version

The extent to which the media is aiding and abetting, with absolutely no skepticism, the sky-is-falling sequester reaction of pro-big-government forces is just sickening.  I have never seen so many absurd numbers published so credulously by so much of the media.  Reporters who are often completely unwilling to accept any complaints from corporations as valid when it comes to over-taxation or over-regulation are willing to print their sequester complaints without a whiff of challenge.  Case in point, from here in AZ.  This is a "news" article in our main Phoenix paper:

Arizona stands to lose nearly 49,200 jobs and as much as $4.9 billion in gross state product this year if deep automatic spending cuts go into effect Friday, and the bulk of the jobs and lost production would be carved from the defense industry.

Virtually all programs, training and building projects at the state’s military bases would be downgraded, weakening the armed forces’ defense capabilities, according to military spokesmen.

“It’s devastating and it’s outrageous and it’s shameful,” U.S. Sen. John McCain told about 200 people during a recent town-hall meeting in Phoenix.

“It’s disgraceful, and it’s going to happen. And it’s going to harm Arizona’s economy dramatically,” McCain said.

Estimates vary on the precise number of jobs at stake in Arizona, but there’s wide agreement that more than a year of political posturing on sequestration in Washington will leave deep economic ruts in Arizona.

Not a single person who is skeptical of these estimates is quoted in the entirety of the article.  The entire incremental cut of the sequester in discretionary spending this year is, from page 11 of the most recent CBO report, about $35 billion (larger numbers you may have seen around 70-80 billion include dollars that were going away anyway, sequester or not, which just shows the corruption of this process and the reporting on it.)

Dividing this up based on GDP, about 1/18th of this cut would apply to Arizona, giving AZ a cut in Federal spending of around $2 billion.  It takes a heroic multiplier to get from that to  $4.9 billion in GDP loss.  Its amazing to me that Republicans assume multipliers less than 1 for all government spending, except for defense (and sports stadiums) which magically take on multipliers of 2+.

Update:  I wrote the following letter to the Editor today:

I was amazed that in Paul Giblin’s February 26 article on looming sequester cuts [“Arizona Defense Industry, Bases Would Bear Brunt Of Spending Cuts”], he was able to write 38 paragraphs and yet could not find space to hear from a single person exercising even a shred of skepticism about these doom and gloom forecasts.

The sequester rhetoric that Giblin credulously parrots is part of a game that has been played for decades, with government agencies and large corporations that supply them swearing that even trivial cuts will devastate the economy.  They reinforce this sky-is-falling message by threatening to cut all the most, rather than least, visible and important tasks and programs in order to scare the public into reversing the cuts.  The ugliness of this process is made worse by the hypocrisy of Republicans, who suddenly become hard core Keynesians when it comes to spending on military.

It is a corrupt, yet predictable, game, and it is disappointing to see the ArizonaRepublic playing along so eagerly.

Fact-Checking

Matt Welch no the fact-checking genre:

But the real problem with such lists isn’t the lack of partisan diversity; it’s the glaring lack of lies told to the public in the service of wielding government force. Only one of PolitiFact’s Top 10—Obama blaming 90 percent of the 2009−12 deficit increase on George W. Bush—involved an official lying about his own record. The rest all focused on the way that politicians (and their surrogates) characterized their competitors’ actions and words. This isn’t a check on the exercise of power; it’s a check on the exercise of rhetoric.

And when it comes to rhetoric that motivates journalists into action, nothing beats culturally divisive figures from the opposing political tribe. So it was that in May 2011, the respected Nieman Journalism Lab set the mediasphere abuzz with an academic study of more than 700 news articles and 20 network news segments from 2009 that addressed a single controversial claim from the ObamaCare debate. Was it the president’s oft-repeated whopper that he was nobly pushing the reform rock up the hill despite the concentrated efforts of health care “special interests”? Was it his promise that “if you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan,” something that has turned out not to be true? Was it the way Obama and the Democrats brazenly gamed and misrepresented the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the bill, claiming it wouldn’t add “one dime” to the deficit?

No. The cause for reconsideration of the ObamaCare coverage was not the truth-busting claims made by a sitting president in the service of radically reshaping an important aspect of American life but rather the Facebook commentary of a former governor, Sarah Palin.

Here is the issue with media bias:  It is not that journalists sit in some secret room and craft plans to overthrow their ideological opposition, Journolist notwithstanding.  It is that a monoculture limits the range of issues to which the media applies skepticism.  I am as guilty as anyone.  Hypotheses and pronouncements that do not fit with my view of how the world works are met with much more skepticism, checking of sources, etc.    The media is generally comfortable with a large and expansive role for government and seldom fact-checks the arguments for its expansion.

In fact, as I have written before, the media has an odd way of covering itself against charges of being insufficient skeptical about new legislation:  They raise potential issues with it, but only after it passes.

Who Is Important to NBC News

I almost never watch the network news, but I happened to be in the room when NBC News had a year in review video where it paid tribute to famous people who passed away in 2012.  The people they chose were incredible -- probably 85% entertainers and sports figures and 15% government / military figures.  And that is NBC's world.   I vaguely remember there may have been one exception, but essentially there were no producers, no scientists, no inventors, no business people.  Not even someone like Carroll Shelby, a business person who also had a place in pop culture.

Some Predictions I Made in 2007

Blogging has been light during the holidays, but here are some predictions I made back in 2007 I feel pretty good about (note these were made a year before Obama was elected)

What I will say is that folks who have enthusiastically supported the war should understand that the war is going to have the following consequences:

  1. In 2009 we will have a Democratic Congress and President for the first time since 1994.
  2. The next President will use the deficits from the $1.3 trillion in Iraq war spending to justify a lot of new taxes
  3. These new taxes, once the war spending is over, will not be used for deficit reduction but for new programs that, once established, will be nearly impossible to eliminate
  4. No matter what the next president promises to the electorate, they are not going to reverse precedents for presidential power and secrecy that GWB has established.  Politicians never give up power voluntarily.  [if the next president is Hillary, she is likely to push the envelope even further].  Republicans are not going to like these things as much when someone of the other party is using them.

1.  The prediction was 100% correct, and in fact even went further as the donkeys gained a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, at least for a year.  Though the war likely had little to do with the outcome, which was driven more by the economy

2.  Dead-on.  Five years later Obama still blames the deficit on Bush.  This is no longer true -- Obama has contributed far, far more than Bush to the deficit -- but the Republicans' fiscal irresponsibility during their tenure have robbed them of any credibility in criticizing Obama

3.  Mostly true (and usually a safe bet with government).   Tax increases were deferred for four years due to an economy I had not foreseen would be so bad, but they are coming.  At the time, it seemed logical to blame a lot of the deficit issues on war spending.  Today, though, 1.3 trillion is barely 8% of the debt and is almost trivial to more recent money wasting activities.

4.  Absolutely true.  In spades.  The only thing I missed was I thought Obama might be less likely to go overboard with the whole executive authority and secrecy thing than Hillary, but boy was I wrong.  Obama has absolutely embraced the imperial presidency in a way that might have made Dick Cheney blush.  Accelerated drone war, constant ducking of FOIA and transparency, increased use of treason laws to prosecute whistle blowers, claiming of power to assassinate Americans on the President's say-so, accelerated warrant-less wiretapping, using executive orders to end-run Congress, etc. etc.  And I never guessed how much the media which so frequently criticized  Bush for any expansions in these areas would roll over and accept such activity from a President of their party.

Government Influence Over the Media

From Walter Olson

According to the New York Times, French Socialist president François Hollande demanded and received the dismissal of the editor of Le Figaro, the country’s leading conservative newspaper. If that sounds impossibly high-handed, consider the background, as reported in the Times:

The publisher, Serge Dassault, is a senator from [ousted President Nicolas] Sarkozy’s political party [and thus opposed to Hollande]. But Mr. Dassault also heads a major military contractor, and there was widespread speculation that [Figaro editor Étienne] Mougeotte’s ouster was meant to put the Dassault group in good stead with the new president.

For an American reader, it would be natural to turn the page with a murmur of thanks that such things don’t go on in our country. Don’tbe so sure:

[Since-convicted Illinois Gov. Rod] Blagojevich, Harris and others are also alleged [in the federal indictment] to have withheld state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field. The statement says this was done to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members who were critical of Blagojevich.

Read the whole thing.  He has an interesting story about Ted Kennedy passing legislation to force a change in ownership of the Boston paper most consistently critical of him.

Maybe Another Reason To Vote Romney

OK, there are lots of reasons to get Obama out of office.  The problem is, that for most of them, I have no reasonable hope that Romney will be any better.  Corporatism?  CEO as Venture-Capitalist-in-Chief?  Indefinite detentions?  Lack of Transparency?  The Drug War?   Obamacare, which was modeled on Romneycare?  What are the odds that any of these improve under Romney, and at least under Obama they are not being done by someone who wraps himself in the mantle of small government and free markets, helping to corrupt the public understanding of those terms.

So I am pretty sure I cannot vote for Romey.  I really like Gary Johnson and I am pretty sure he will get my vote.  Republican friends get all over me for wasting my vote, saying it will just help Obama win.  So be it -- I see both candidates undertaking roughly the same actions and I would rather that bad statist actions be taken in the name of Progressives rather than in the name of someone who purports to be free market.

To test my own position, I have been scrounging for reasons to vote for Romney.  I have two so far:

1.  Less likely to bail out Illinois when its pension system goes broke in the next few years

2.  I might marginally prefer his Supreme Court nominees to Obama's

That is about all I have.  Stretching today, I have come up with a third:

3.  If we have a Republican in the White House, the press will start doing its job and dig into the facts about drone strikes and warrant-less wiretapping.

You know the press are in full defense mode protecting their guy in office when the only press that reports on the ACLU's accusation about sky-rocketing wire tapping under Obama are the libertarians at Reason and the Marxists at the World Socialist Web site.  Four years ago the New York Times would have milked this for about a dozen articles.  It may take a Republican President to get the media to kick back into accountability mode over expansions of executive power.

Evidence We Are Winning the War on Poverty

Over the last few days I have heard the same radio commercial three times, trying to raise awareness about hunger and poverty.  A little girl's voice says that when she goes downstairs and looks in the refrigerator, she does not see any food.  I too aspire to eliminating hunger from the world, but if our poor have electricity, refrigerators, and two-story houses, we must be doing something right.

Savage Austerity

It seems very popular to publicly declare, even continually reiterate, that there is a trend without actually, you know, showing the trend data.  I won't declare this to be a media trend, but this summer we were plagued with news reports about the drought "trend" when in fact no such trend exists in the US data  (NOAA data from this article). Something similar holds for the supposed British austerity.  Here is British government spending in real dollars (via here)

Summer of the Shark, Toyota Edition

A couple of weeks ago I discussed media coverage of summer temperatures in the US in the context of the crazy 2001 "summer of the shark" panic, where the media took a below-average year for shark attacks and played it up with constant coverage into the work shark attack year ever.

In 2010 we had another summer of the shark, this time with the fears over Toyota sudden accelerations.  We even were treated with an OJ-White-Bronco-like real-time video of some moron in a Prius who supposedly couldn't find the brake peddle for scores of miles on an LA freeway.  I expressed skepticism immediately that there was really a hardware / electronics problem behind the accelerations, and wondered whether the US government's ownership of Toyotas competitors might not have something to do with all the Senate hearings and government attention.  Eventually, the NHTSA and other government agencies determined there was no flaw with the Toyotas, that the sudden acceleration was merely due to operator error (ie jamming a foot on the wrong peddle).  This happens a lot, as it turns out, and I remember Walter Olson once found a stat that a huge percentage of sudden acceleration cases that make it to court seem to involved people over 70 or under 20.

ABC led the parade on this particular shark attack.  They used "safety experts" who were actually in the pay of plaintiff's lawyers, without disclosing this conflict of interest.  They actually tampered with their tested Toyotas and claimed they replicated the "spontaneous" acceleration:

It is hard to spot the lowest behavior in the affair so far, but that honor can arguably go to ABC and the lengths to which it went to pretend it had recreated the problem.  In fact, they had to strip three wires, splice in a resistor of a very specific value and then short two other wires.  They made it sound like this is something that could easily happen naturally  (lol) but this is an easy thing to prove – and inspection of actual throttle assemblies from cars that have supposedly exhibited the sudden acceleration problem have shown no evidence of such shorting.  So the ABC story was completely fraudulent, similar to the old Dateline NBC story that secretly used model rocket engines to ignite gas tanks.   Its amazing to me that Toyota, acting in good faith will get sued for billions over a complex problem which may or may not exist in a few cars, while ABC will suffer no repercussions from outright fraud.

Basically ABC proved that if you bypass a potentiometer with a resistor, you can spoof the potentiometer setting.  Duh.  The same hack on a radio would cause sudden acceleration of your volume.

So, given some time and reflection, eventually the rest of the journalistic community has brought some accountability to ABC by publicly shaming them for this shoddy journalism.  Ha ha, just kidding.  They just gave ABC and its reporter one of their highest awards for the story

Congratulations to Brian Ross, America's Wrongest Reporter, for winning a coveted Edward R. Murrow Award honoring his coverage of the Toyota unintended acceleration story. The award, oddly, is for "Video Continuing Coverage" rather than "Fostering Global Panic Based on Bullshit Story." Still, a Murrow is a Murrow, right? Let's go to tape.

Ross, you will recall, was one of the driving forces behind the Runaway Toyota Panic of '10, which was later determined by NASA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to have been largely the result of idiots stepping on the accelerator when they intended to step on the brake, and of other idiots talking about it on TV. Ross was one of those idiots. For some reason, ABC News submitted four of Ross' Toyota reports to the Radio Television Digital News Association for award consideration.

One report they didn't submit was the one where Gawker caught Ross staging footage to make it seem like a Toyota was accelerating out of control when it was in fact parked with the emergency brake on, doors open, and someone stepping on the gas. We're told by an ABC News insider that, even though it didn't nominate that segment, the network "acknowledged and owned that mistake" in its awards submission. Good for them! Now let's see them acknowledge and own these mistakes from the segments it did submit. For instance:

In two of the winning reports, Ross quoted safety expert Sean Kane criticizing Toyota and insisting that there were cases of unintended acceleration that "couldn't be explained by floormats," which Toyota had recalled in 2009 after some mats became stuck under gas pedals. What he didn't report was that Kane was being paid by plaintiff's attorneys who were suing Toyota over unintended acceleration cases, and so had a financial incentive to argue that there was more to the Runaway Toyota scare than just floormats. Indeed, in other ABC News segments that the network didn't nominate, Ross showed Kane saying—again without disclosing his relationship to plaintiff's attorneys—"We clearly think that Toyota has a larger problem on their hands that involves the electronics with these vehicles." That position—that electronics were involved—was later eviscerated by the NASA/NHTSA report, which found "no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents."

Time Magazine Trumpets Another Creepy Non-Trend

Time channels Game of Thrones for its cover

Global Warming Ate My House

This has already made the rounds but I can't resist mocking an HBS professors whose classes I assiduously avoided when I was there.  Her house was hit by lightning.  Apparently, this was not the fault of poor lightning protection for her house, but was due to your SUV:

I am not a climate change scientist, but I have come to understand that I am a climate change victim. Our daughter took the lead investigating destructive lightning in Maine. She found that the NASA Goddard Institute estimates a 5-6% change in global lightning frequencies for every 1 degree Celsius global warming. The Earth has already warmed .8 degrees Celsius since 1802 and isexpected to warm another 1.1-6.4 degrees by the end of the century. Maine's temperatures rose 1.9 degrees Celsius in the last century and another 2.24 degree rise is projected by 2104. I learned from our insurance company that while the typical thunderstorm produces around 100 lightning strikes, there were 217 strikes around our house that night. I was shocked to discover that when it comes to increased lightning frequency and destructiveness, a NASA study concluded that eastern areas of North America like Maine are especially vulnerable. Scientists confirm a 10% increase in the incidence of extreme weather events in our region since 1949.

This is one of those paragraphs that is so bad, I put off writing about it because I could write a book about all the errors.

  • The 5-6% lightning strike estimate comes from one single study that I have never seen replicated, but more importantly comes from running a computer model.  Though it may exist, I have found no empirical evidence that lightning activity has net increased with increases in temperature
  • The world has warmed about 0.8C over the last century or two. Congrats.  Infinite monkeys and Shakespeare and all that.
  • We could argue the forecasts, but they are irrelevant to this discussion as we are talking about current weather which cannot be influenced by future warming.
  • Her claim that Maine's temperature rose 1.9C in the last Century is simply absurd.  Apparently she got the data from some authoritative place called nextgenerationearth.com, but its impossible to know since in the few days since she published this article that site has taken down the page.  So we will just have to rely on a lesser source like the NOAA for Maine temperatures.  Here story is from 2009 so I used data through 2009

Annual Averages in Maine:

Oops, not a lot of warming here, and certainly not 1.9C.  In fact, there has not even been a single year that has been 1.9C above the average for the century since the early 1900s.  And 2009 was a below average year.
Well, she said it was in summer.  That's when we get the majority of thunderstorms.  Maybe it is just summer warming?  The NOAA does not have a way to get just summer, but I can run average temperatures for July-September of each year, which matches summer within about 8 days.

Whoa!  What's this?  A 0.3-0.4C drop in the last 100 years.   And summer of 2009 (the last data point) was well below average. Wow, I guess cooling causes lightning.  We better do something about that cooling, and fast!  Or else buy this professor some lightning rods.
And you have to love evidence like this

I learned from our insurance company that while the typical thunderstorm produces around 100 lightning strikes, there were 217 strikes around our house that night

What is this, the climate version of the Lake Wobegone Effect?  If all our storms are not below average, then that is proof of climate change.  Is this really how a Harvard professor does statistical analysis?  She can just look at a sample and the mean and determine from that one sample that the mean is shifting?

Finally, she goes on to say that extreme weather in her area is up 10% from some source called the Gulf of Maine Council on Marine Environment.  Well, of course, you can't find that fact anywhere on the source she links.  And besides, even if Maine extreme weather is up, it can't be because of warming because Maine seems to be cooling.

This is just a classic example of the observer bias that is driving the whole "extreme weather" meme.  I will show you what is going on by analogy.  This is from the Wikipedia page on "Summer of the Shark":

The media's fixation with shark attacks began on July 6, when 8-year-old Mississippi boy Jessie Arbogast was bitten by a bull shark while standing in shallow water at Santa Rosa Island's Langdon Beach. ...

Immediately after the near-fatal attack on Arbogast, another attack severed the leg of a New Yorker vacationing in The Bahamas, while a third attack on a surfer occurred about a week later on July 15, six miles from the spot where Arbogast was bitten.[6] In the following weeks, Abrogast's spectacular rescue and survival received extensive coverage in the 24-hour news cycle, which was renewed (and then redoubled) with each subsequent report of a shark incident. The media fixation continued story with a cover story in the July 30th issue of Time magazine.

In mid-August, many networks were showing footage captured by helicopters of hundreds of sharks coalescing off the southwest coast of Florida. Beach-goers were warned of the dangers of swimming,[7] despite the fact that the swarm was likely part of an annual shark migration.[8] The repeated broadcasts of the shark group has been criticized as blatant fear mongering, leading to the unwarranted belief of a so-called shark "epidemic".[8]...

In terms of absolute minutes of television coverage on the three major broadcast networks—ABCCBS, and NBCshark attacks were 2001's third "most important" news story prior toSeptember 11, behind the western United States forest fires, and the political scandal resulting from the Chandra Levy missing persons case.[11] However, the comparatively higher shock value of shark attacks left a lasting impression on the public. According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 76 shark attacks that occurred in 2001, lower than the 85 attacks documented in 2000; furthermore, although 5 people were killed in attacks in 2001, this was less than the 12 deaths caused by shark attacks the previous year.[12]

A trend in news coverage <> a trend in the underlying frequency. If these were correlated, gas prices would only go up and would never come down.

Media: Turning Isolated Bizarre Incidents into National Trends

Teens ditilling hand sanitizer

By the way, why is it so easy for the media to see, say, back room abortions as a symptom of prohibitions on abortion but not see stories like this in the same light.

Totally Irresponsible

I am seldom surprised at NBC's behavior -- after all, this is the network that ran the exploding pickup truck story, only to admit later that it put model rocket engines in the fuel tanks to ignite the cars during simulated crashes because the they weren't catching fire on their own.

But NBC's editing of the Zimmerman 911 tapes to make them more inflammatory really sets a new low.  The country was practically on the verge of race riots, with groups actually posting dead-or-alive bounties for Zimmerman, and NBC purposefully edited the tape from neutral to incendiary?

Diversity in Journalism

Because its important to have a diversity of skin pigment and reproductive plumbing in our intellectual mono-culture.

Update:  Wait, wait!  We aren't a mono-culture!  For example, some of us think Ralph Nader would make a great President and voted for him and some of us think Ralph Nader would make a great President but we didn't vote for him because we thought he was unelectable.  That's some real diversity.

Journalistic Ethics

This is an interesting story on the AP and journalistic ethics

The Associated Press purchased an advanced copy of the book. It is set for release on Nov. 15.

Let's start with the second paragraph.  It's a lie, pure and simple--and the papers that reprinted the stories know it.  Giffords didn't sell any "advanced copy" of the book.  The book is strictly embargoed so that she can control the timing of the media stories that surround it.  Bookstores, however, have copies locked up in storage rooms so the copies can all be put on the shelves at the same time.  Someone stole one of those copies...or perhaps stole a proof text from the publisher...and then sold it to the Associated Press.

Rather than admit that they illegally purchased and then printed excerpts from a stolen copy, the Associated Press lied and said that they "purchased an advanced copy of the book."  That would be a big story by itself, but the newspapers that have contracts with the AP didn't want to blow a good story, so that meekly reprinted the lie.

What's worse is that the AP not only stole Giffords' book and disrupted the timing of her planned roll out...they botched the story and made Giffords issue a denial. ...

...faced with an ambiguous quote in a stolen book and no chance to verify it, the AP did just what they teach you in the ethics classes in Journalism school...they ran with the most tantalizing, headline grabbing interpretation and then made Gabby deny it.  Nice.

The Onion, September, 2001

Ten years ago today, we were arguing over whether it was appropriate to even hold professional football and baseball games, much less enjoy ourselves in any way, in the aftermath of 9/11.

No one even contemplated trying to deal with it humorously.  Heck, I am not sure I have seen many attempts even a decade later to do so.  But just days after 9/11, the Onion published an amazing issue dedicated to 9/11.  It was funny without being disrespectful of the victims, and in many ways still on point.  They should have had a Pulitzer for it.  The articles are archived here.

What Liberal Reporters Used to Do

Lefties are struggling with the concept of a libertarian doing a good deed (in this case, Radley Balko's great journalism leading to the release of Cory Maye.

Here is the real problem for the Left:  This is exactly the kind of story -- a black man  railroaded into jail in Mississippi -- that leftish reporters used to pursue, before they shifted their attention to sorting through Sarah Palin's emails.  A lot of investigative journalism has gone by the wayside -- in Phoenix, it has really been left to independent Phoenix New Times to do real investigative journalism on folks like Joe Arpiao, as our main paper the Arizona Republic has largely fled the field.

Newsweek Has Totally Lost It

Newsweek has for a number of years been the poster child for the lost traditional media trying to find its way in the digital age.  Tina Brown was supposed to have been the brilliant media mind brought in to save Newsweek, but if anything she has made Newsweek even more of a joke.

Her major focus seems to be to use Newsweek as a platform for self-promotion, beginning in her first issue when she used the cover to promote her upcoming women's conference and stroke her friend Hillary.  This week, she gives the cover over to promoting her biography of Lady Diana with a concept that People Magazine would probably have passed on -- what would it have been like if Diana were still alive.  Seriously.  This is how far this magazine has fallen, trying to envision how the recent Royal Wedding would have been any more of a circus for the rich and over-dressed had Diana been in attendance.

But I probably would not have bothered to blog about it had it not been for this cover I saw in the airport.  Check out the horrible zombie Diana.  Jeez, is this a real story or a preview of Left 4 Dead 3?  Pre-order now and get custom DLC including the solar-powered chainsaw and the zombie Lady Di.  (You may have to click to enlarge to see the full horror).

Pray I Don't Alter It Any Further

So a bunch of bloggers agree to write for the HuffPo, a profit-seeking venture, for free.  The HuffPo gets bought by another profit-seeking company, though this one is less successful in shrouding its financial goals in a cloud of feel-good progressivism.  So the bloggers get mad.  But instead of just quitting, they are actually suing the HuffPo for back wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

A few observations:

  • I blog for free at Forbes.  It's not like the arrangement was hard to figure out.  They get some free content, I get some exposure and a bit of cache from being associated with Forbes.   Seemed like a good deal to me.  When it ceases to be so, I will quit.
  • The fact that everyone agreed to the deal in advance and it was completed by both parties to their mutual self-interest is NOT a defense under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  I have employees who beg to work for free all the time (e.g. they have a disability arrangement that allows no outside income).  I have to tell them no.  Any defense from the HuffPo will come through convincing a court that the writers were somehow exempt or not actually employees.
  • This same problem arises with internships as well as in my work.  In short, people sometimes value non-monetary aspects of jobs that are not given any credit in the FLSA.  My son would love to have a good summer job and for the right one would work under minimum wage for the experience.   Even the experience of showing up on time, functioning in an organization, working in a hierarchy, etc.  are important skills those outside of the work force gain from obtaining.  (In an interesting parallel to this, probably the most important skill I am gaining at Forbes is simply writing to a regular weekly deadline.  It's harder than it seems from the outside).

In short, I would say that these folks are utterly without personal honor for filing the suit, but in the current state of labor law they potentially have a case.  How sad that would be.  And what would be next?  A class action suit by product reviewers at Amazon for back wages?

CBS Anchor Suggestions

These were the suggestions I made 6 years ago to replace Dan Rather.  Some of the names are a bit dated, but I think many would have worked out as well as Couric.  I think the last suggestion is, if anything, even more timely.

Improve ratings approach #1:  Finally get rid of the pretense that anchors are journalists rather than pretty talking heads.  Hire Nicollette Sheridan, or maybe Terri Hatcher.  Or, if you feel CBS News deserves more gravitas, in the Murrow tradition, how about Meryl Streep?

Improve ratings approach #2:  Go with comedy.  Bring in David Letterman from the Late Show to anchor the evening news.  "Tonight, we start with the growing UN oil for food scandal.  Uma – Anann.  Anann – Uma."  Or, if you want to segment the market differently, how about Tim Allen and the CBS News for Guys.  Or, if CBS wants to keep hitting the older demographic – what about Chevy Chase – certainly he already has anchor experience from SNL.

Improving Credibility Choice:  No one in the MSM really has much credibility left after the last election, but there is one man who would bring instant credibility to CBS News — Bob Costas.  CBS should hire him away from NBC, like they did with Letterman.  Make him the evening news anchor.  Heck, if Bryant Gumbell can make the transition to the news division, certainly Costas can.

Become the acknowledged liberal counterpoint to Fox:  Hire Bill Clinton as anchor.  Nothing would generate more buzz than that hire, and he is at loose ends anyway (and think about all those wonderful business trips away from home…)  If Bill is not available, try James Carville.  I might even have to watch that.

Let the public decide:  Forget making a decision, and just create a new reality show like ESPN’s Dream Job to choose the next anchor.  Each week the 12 finalists can be given a new task.  In week one, they have to pick up incriminating evidence about the President at a rodeo.  In week 2, they have to forge a believable set of documents from the early 70′s, and survive criticism from about 10,000 bloggers.  They can kick one off the island each week based on the viewers votes.

Get Down In The Mud With The Rest Of Us

I wanted to leave Glendale's proposed $100 million subsidy of the purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team by Matthew Hulzinger behind for a while, but I had to comment on something in the paper yesterday.

The Arizona Republic, which is an interested party given that a good part of their revenues depend on having major sports teams in town, had an amazing editorial on Tuesday.  Basically, it said that Goldwater, who has sued to bock the bond issue under Arizona's gift clause,  needed to stop being so pure in its beliefs and defense of the Constitution and that it should jump down in the political muck with everyone else.

I encourage you to read the article and imagine that it involved defense of any other Constitutional provision, say free-speech rights or civil rights.  The tone of the editorial would be unthinkable if aimed at any other defense of a Constitutional protection.  Someone always has utilitarian arguments for voiding things like free speech protections -- that is why defenders of such rights have to protect them zealously and consistently.  The ACLU doesn't get into arguments whether particular speech is right or wrong or positive or negative -- it just defends the principle.  Can't Goldwater do the same?

My thoughts on the Coyotes deal are here and her.  Rather than dealing with the editorial line by line, which spends graph after graph trying to convince readers that Darcy Olsen, head of the Goldwater Institute, is "snotty,"  here are some questions that the AZ Republic could be asking if it were not in the tank for this deal

  • How smart is it for the taxpayers of Glendale to have spent $200 million plus the proposed $100 million more to keep a team valued at most at $117 million? (several other teams have sold lately for less than $100 million)  And, despite $300 million in taxpayer investments, the city has no equity in the team -- just the opposite, it has promised a sweetheart no-bid stadium management deal of an additional $100 million over 5 years on top of the $300 million.
  • The Phoenix Coyotes has never made money in Arizona, and lost something like $40 million last year.  Why has no one pushed the buyer for his plan to profitability?  The $100 million Glendale taxpayers are putting up is essentially an equity investment for which it gets no equity.  If the team fails, the revenue to pay the bonds goes away.   The team needs to show a plan that makes sense before they get the money -- heck the new owners admit they will continue to lose money in the foreseeable future.     I have heard folks suggest that the Chicago Blackhawks (Hulzinger's home town team) are a potential model, given that they really turned themselves around.  But at least one former NHL executive has told me this is absurd.  The Blackhawks were a storied franchise run into the ground by horrible management.  Turning them around was like turning around the Red Sox in baseball.  Turning around the Coyotes is like turning around the Tampa Bay Rays.  The fact is that the team lost $40 million this year despite the marketing value of having been in the playoffs last year and having the second lowest payroll in the league.  The tickets are cheap and there is (at least for now) free parking and still they draw the lowest attendance in the NHL.  Part of the problem is Glendale itself, located on the ass-end of the metro area  (the stadium is 45 minutes away for me, and I live near the centerline of Phoenix).
  • If taxpayers are really getting items worth $100 million in this deal (e.g. parking rights which Glendale probably already owns, a lease guarantee, etc) why can't the team buyer use this same collateral to get the financing privately?  I have seen the AZ Republic write article after article with quote after quote from Hulzinger but have not seen one reporter ask him this obvious question.  I have asked Hulzinger associates this question and have never gotten anything but vague non-answers.  A likely answer is what I explained yesterday, that Hulzinger is a smart guy and knows the team is not worth more than $100 million, but the NHL won't sell it for less than $200 million (based on a promise the Commissioner made to other owners when they took ownership of the team).  Hulzinger needed a partner who was desperate enough to make up the $100 million the NHL is trying to overcharge him -- enter the City of Glendale, who, like a losing gambler, keeps begging for more credit to double down to try to make good its previous losses.
  • Glendale often cites a $500 million figure in losses if the team moves.  Has anyone questioned or shown any skepticism for this number?  My presumption is that it includes lost revenue at all the restaurants and stores around the stadium, but is that revenue really going to go away entirely, or just move to other area businesses?  If your favorite restaurant goes out of business, do you stop going out to eat or just go somewhere different?
  • We hear about government subsidies to move businesses from other countries to the US, or other states to Arizona, and these tend to be of dubious value.  Does it really make sense for Glendale taxpayers to pay $400 million to move business to another part of the Phoenix metropolitan area?
  • Why do parties keep insisting that Goldwater sit down and "negotiate?"  Goldwater does not have the power to change the Constitutional provision.  Do folks similarly call on the NAACP to "negotiate" over repeal of Jim Crow laws?  Call on the ACLU to negotiate over "don't ask, don't tell"?  This may be the way Chicago politics works, with community organizers holding deals ransom in return for a negotiated payoff, but I am not sure that is why Goldwater is in this fight.  The Gift Clause is a fantastic Constitutional provision that the US Constitution has, and should be defended.
  • Jim Balsillie offered to buy out the team (and move it to Canada) without public help and to pay off $50 million of the existing Glendale debt as an exit fee.  Thus the city would have had $150 in debt and no team.  Now, it will be $300 million in debt and on the hook for $100 million more and may still not have a team in five years when, almost inevitably, another hubristic rich guy finds he is not magically smarter about hockey and can't make the team work in Arizona.   Has anyone compared these two deals?  Private businesses cut losses all the time -- politicians almost never do, in part because they are playing with house money (ours).

Taking Local News Too Far

Perhaps this is just a pet peeve of mine, but I really hate it when local news organizations try to find a local angle to a huge international story.  This headline from the Arizona Republic today is a good example:

No injuries reported to workers in Japan employed by Arizona companies