Posts tagged ‘Maureen Dowd’

Further Proving the Point of Modern Journalism is To Generate Clicks, And Not Necessarily to Be Accurate

I don't like tribal red-blue politics, but I read a couple of blogs both from team elephant and team donkey to at least make sure I am not living in a libertarian echo chamber.  From that I know that bloggers on the Right were complaining for years about Maureen Dowd's dishonest editing of quotations to make Republicans look bad.  Apparently, bloggers on the Left, in this case Kevin Drum, have had it with Dowd's dishonest quote manipulation as well.

Which all means that Dowd likely has a job for life at the New York Times, as journalism today seems more about generating controversy and clicks rather than delivering facts -- and controversies like this that send everyone running in circles on Twitter certainly generate attention.  From the New York Times : We have met TMZ and they are us.

What is it With the NY Times?

As a libertarian, I don't really have a horse in the race, but what is it with the NY Times editorial page?  Apparently, the right doesn't like the conservative writers, and Kevin Drum makes it clear that the left can be embarrassed by the liberal writers there:

I generally try not to read Maureen Dowd's columns because, you
know, they just don't pay me enough for that kind of hazard duty. But
today's column about Hillary Clinton was a train wreck of epic
proportions. I couldn't avert my eyes. Here's the final sentence:

she makes a last frenzied and likely futile attempt to crush the
butterfly [i.e., Barack Obama], it's as though she's crushing the
remnants of her own girlish innocence.

This would be
embarrassing coming from a 12-year-old. Shouldn't Dowd have an obscure
blog, not a biweekly column in the greatest newspaper in the world?

Good Sense Prevails

Every once in a while, good sense prevails, as in the case of a silly Arizona law intended to prevent people from using the names of dead soldiers as part of a criticism of the war.  As I wrote then,

This theory is absurd.  Printing it on a T-Shirt and selling it for
money no more converts this into commercial speech than printing
Maureen Dowd's column on paper and selling it for money makes her
editorials unprotected.

I wondered at the time if this would make Pat Tillman football jerseys (very popular here) illegal.  Fortunately, a preliminary court ruling seems to bring some good sense to the table.

The T-shirts don't fit within the "commercial speech" doctrine,
under which commercial advertising gets reduced First Amendment
protection "” the T-shirts aren't advertising (except insofar as the
cover of any work, such as a book or a magazine, advertises itself),
but rather speech sold for money. And the fact that speech is sold for
money doesn't strip it of protection (whether it's a book, a movie, or
a T-shirt). Even the advertising for the T-shirts is fully protected,
the court concluded, because it is advertising for fully protected
speech, rather than just for a nonspeech product.

I Can't Help But Laugh

I found this conjured up a terribly funny image in my mind.  JunkScience has a challenge to climate journalists to try the math to test for themselves whether current global warming estimates make any sense.  The challenge per se is not funny, but the picture of a journalist... well, read the challenge first:

We believe climate
models are programmed with excessive climate sensitivity based on a
flawed understanding of past ice ages. Moreover, climate models wrongly
magnify potential warming to accommodate positive feedback mechanisms
while comparison with empirical measure shows negative feedback dominates, reducing warming experienced to about half theoretical values.

The challenge is for you to actually check the numbers -- see for yourselves whether we are wrong or not. Look up Stefan's Constant or just use 5.67 x 10-8
(close enough for our purpose but look it up to be sure). The textbook
derivation of globally averaged greenhouse, using Stefan's Constant,
evaluates to roughly 33 °C and 150 Wm-2. The IPCC Third Assessment Report alt: Third Assessment Report (Equation 6.1) states: "The climate sensitivity parameter (global mean surface temperature response ΔTs to the radiative forcing ΔF) is defined as: ΔTs / ΔF = λ." A blackbody-equivalent Earth climate sensitivity parameter (λ) would be 33 / 150 = 0.22 °C per Wm-2. Real world measures (here) indicate Earth responds with only half the efficiency of a blackbody with a lambda (λ) value of just 0.1 °C per Wm-2.

Now use it to check the assertion: "Global climate forcing was about 6 1/2 W/m2
less than in the current interglacial period. This forcing maintains a
global temperature difference of 5 °C, implying a climate sensitivity
of 3/4 ± 1/4 °C per W/m2.
" Either consult your texts for Earth's temperature in Kelvin and any other numbers you need or see the numbers we've used here. Off you go -- we'll wait. If you can show us where we're wrong we'll retract and correct.

Can anyone out there picture your favorite journalist trying to do this?  Many journalists followed the tried-and-true career path of:  Avoid math altogether --> Become an English major --> Become a journalist as an alternative to playing the guitar in subway stations.  Who else would love to see Maureen Dowd taking on this analysis?

The Joy of Blogging

I guess it's become de riguer to take a shot at Joseph Rago's editorial in the WSJ the other day, saying in part:

Some critics reproach the blogs
for the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life. Blogs,
they say, tend to disinhibit. Maybe so. But politics weren't much
rarefied when Andrew Jackson was president, either. The larger problem
with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful.
Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.

Every conceivable belief is on the
scene, but the collective prose, by and large, is homogeneous: A tone
of careless informality prevails; posts oscillate between the uselessly
brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are
eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its
conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in
pronouncement than persuasion . . .

I haven't really posted on this editorial any more than I have posted on the commercials I hear every day for FM radio telling me how bad satellite radio is, and how much I should enjoy hearing 15 minutes of commercials an hour rather than paying $30 a month in fees.  There is a consistent human behavior which tends not just to be threatened but to be outraged by upstart competitors.  Remember this story on the milk cartel  -- entrenched interests are flabbergasted that anyone would even attempt to compete with them in a new way.  New competitors are not just bad and unworthy, they are portrayed as threatening all the good things that already exist.

Now that I am started, though, here are a few other random thoughts:

  • It is inappropriate to compare single blogs to individual newspapers.  The WSJ has hundreds of reporters, while most blogs have one.  In making such a comparison, one is comparing a brain on one hand with a single brain cell on the other.  Blogs have much of their value as a network or swarm, in how the individual "cells" interact with each other and complement each other.  We might read one or two iterations of the daily fishwrap each day, but I read at least 30 blogs, all aggregated together for me in a convenient form by Google Reader.  And these thirty are augmented by links that I follow to as many as a hundred other blogs each week to learn more about individual issues.
  • I don't particularly disagree with this statement:

The blogs are not as significant
as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism
requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital
age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead,
they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks,
picking at the scraps.

Few bloggers would disagree with this view that we depend on the reporting of the MSM for a starting point of much of what we do.  However, I would probably argue that some of the scraps we are picking up are larger than Rago would concede.  By the way, if you leave out a few papers like the NY Times, I could make the same accusation against 99% of the papers in this country, arguing that they are riding on the backs of the wire services, only doing a small percentage of their own reporting.  What's the difference?

  • One of the reasons there are so many scraps left for us blogger-remoras is that newspapers load up on people whose education and entire professional career is in writing and journalism, rather than in economics or business or law or science whatever they are writing about.  You can just see the institutional hubris in Rago's complaint quoted above about the quality of the prose and the humor, longing for real journalists who can use logorrheic and solipsistic in the same sentence (not to mention four commas, five semi-colons, one colon, and one set of ellipses).   So while newspapers load up on journalism and English majors who write lovely and witty prose, blogs are written by leading economists, legal practitioners and professors, successful business people, technology experts of every stripe, etc. etc.  No newspaper, for example, has even one tenth the economic firepower the combination of Cafe Hayek, Marginal Revolution, the Knowledge Problem, and the Mises Blog, among many others, bring to my desktop.  Ditto for Volokh / Scotusblog / Instapundit / Overlawyered / Tom Kirkendall on legal issues. [Update:  Oh, and a lot of those other bloggers are, uh, journalists]
  • One of the mistakes newspaper-types make in comparing newspapers to blogs is that they compare the reality of blogs with the ideals of newspapers, particularly on things like sourcing and fact-checking.  However, it's becoming clear that this comparison is increasingly unfair, because the reality of newspapers is diverging a fair amount from their ideals.  Of course, we all tend to fall short of our ideals.  But what is worrying about newspapers is that those who purport to be gaurdians and watchdogs of these ideals are increasingly becoming appologists for their violation.  How many times are we going to hear the "fake but accurate" response to blogger accusations of problems in MSM sourcing?
  • I will concede that the Mr. Rago's employer the WSJ is one of the few newspapers that really understand how they create value, or at least are consistent in their value story and their pricing policy.  If, as Rago and others argue, it is the reportage that is of value and editorializing is just the remora, then shouldn't it be the reporting behind the firewall and the editorials out front?  This is how the WSJ does it, but for some odd reason the NY Times does it just the opposite:  They let everyone have access for free to the output of their uniquely large and talented reporter pool, but put the confused economic rantings of Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd behind a paid firewall.  Huh?

Support the Online Coalition and Free Speech

Should Maureen Dowd have the right to more political speech than I?  Should George Will enjoy more rights than you?

I signed the petition from the Online Coalition opposing speech limits in the blogosphere.

We are concerned about the potential impact that Judge Colleen
Kollar-Kotelly's decision in the U.S. District Court for the District
of Columbia in Shays v. FEC, 337 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 2004) and the
FEC's upcoming rulemaking process may have on political communication
on the Internet.

One area of great concern is the potential regulation of bloggers
and other online journalists who distribute political news and
commentary exclusively over the web. While paid political advertising
on the Internet should remain subject to FEC rules and regulations,
curtailing blogs and other online publications will dampen the impact
of new voices in the political process and will do a disservice to the
millions of voters who rely on the web for original, insightful
political commentary.

Under the current rules, "any news story, commentary, or editorial
distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station,
newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication," is exempt from
reporting and coordination requirements. It is not clear, however, that
the FEC's "media exemption" provides sufficient protection for those of
us in the online journalism community.

As bipartisan members of the online journalism, blogging, and
advertising community, we ask that you grant blogs and online
publications the same consideration and protection as broadcast media,
newspapers, or periodicals by clearly including them under the Federal
Election Commission's "media exemption" rule.

I have always been opposed to McCain-Feingold's limitations on political speech, so my objection to current law goes beyond just extending the media exemption to blogs.  I support a broader extension of the media exemption from political speech restrictions to -- call me crazy -- all citizens, something I thought the First Amendment took care of but I guess we have to fight for again.  Actually, what might be more useful is to fight for an elimination of the media exemption altogether - this would likely raise such a howl from the media that McCain-Feingold (also known as the incumbent and MSM protection act) would soon be overturned.