Lady C's InfoNapsterizer

It slices, it dices, it chops, it analyzes...


Narratives -- GWB's "lies" meet the needs of his audience

Maryscott O'Connor over at MyDD provides a handy itemization (with some personal additions) of David Corn's encylopedic compendium of President Bush's falsehoods, distortions of facts, and misrepresentations.

And it's stimulated an excellent response from a reader, who notes that "They're not lies, they're stories."

There is a difference. It is extremely important to 1) understand Mr. Bush as a storyteller, and 2) in the moment of understanding that, turn away from the storyteller and look instead at his audience. Who does not do these things understands nothing and can accomplish nothing

And in a followup post: Think about storytelling.

Think about what it is, why it is done, and what its audience gets from it. I am not making any excuses for the Republicans. What I am pointing out is that there is a huge and authentic demand for today's Republican stories. Mr. Bush is not the only one who tells them; many others tell them, in both paler and more lurid forms. It doesn't matter who tells them. What matters is who listens, and why.

The prevailing top-down understanding of totalitarianism is completely wrong. It must be supplanted by a bottom-up view. For example, no one has ever come close to grasping the real evil of Nazism, because they focus on Hitler, which is cheap, easy and completely uninformative. True understanding begins when you realize that Hitler (like every totalitarian dictator) was a figurehead, and start to ask what he was a figurehead for.

Excellent! Though I don't agree with "Hitler as figurehead" -- he was a leader who succeeded because he invented an explanatory narrative that helped his audience make sense of a great deal of confusion and anxiety.

Why hasn't this become a meme whizzing through the internet? Probably because the reverse story -- "Bush lies" -- is equally necessary for his opponents as a powerful explanatory narrative.

Is this really what all this Alice-in-Wonderland (courtesy The Poorman) we're experiencing comes down to?

So, I have a question: are we really talking about this? I'm not dreaming? Because I have dreams this weird sometimes. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, really, when you think about who made this ad, and who they made it for. People who believe that dinosaur bones were planted by Satan to trick unsuspecting archaeologists into atheism. People who think that the National Academy of Sciences is a front organization for radical leftists who want to take away your freedom by saying that climate science is real. People who think that Jesus talks to George Bush. (Jesus hasn't suffered enough for you, now he has to spend his free time with that smirking pussy? Give Jesus a break already.) People who think that FOX News is, actually, fair and balanced. Basically, people who think that if the facts don't support what you want to believe, you probably aren't believing hard enough. Oh, and they run the country. Yeah, this one. Nice.

How far gone are we? We're so far gone that Chris Mathews thinks it's ridiculous. That's how far gone we are. We're completely through the looking glass here, people.

Are we all the way through the looking glass because we have ferociously competing narratives that suit distinct audiences and the MSM can't begin to disentangle specific stories or incidents from the emotional needs of their respective audiences?


Convention Blogging -- Best Photo

DNC Boston - July 2004 - The Prince of Darkness in Full Flight

New Jersey citizens take another hit

To add another gratuitous bruise, this time courtesy The Onion of August 18. But they're a tough crowd are New Jerseyites, and they're ready for the next big one, surely coming before November 2, and surely more Onion-fodder.

Homosexual Tearfully Admits Being Governor of New Jersey


MSMedia coverage of candidates' war stories -- fair & balanced?

From World o'Crap's review of this week's Town Hall features:

Brent Bozell

It's SO UNFAIR that the "cream of the liberal media crop" won't report on the Swift Boat Vets allegations, but they DID cover Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. It's like they are in love with Kerry or something, because they NEVER give Bush any favorable media coverage!

In February, when the story was George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, Bush's most prominent accusers weren't his colleagues in the Texas Guard.

That's because nobody remembered serving with him. Brent, honey, is that something you really want to be bringing to everyone's attention?


Blogs and journalism - 3 -- content-free cable?

Ken Layne does an interesting exercise, checking the standard story-fodder of cable TV -- especially trials and abductions -- against the top topics in the blogosphere. And he finds a pretty big disconnect.

Anyway, this morning I was trudging through the mud flats where the desert used to be right behind the house -- a "new development" is being built, which means it's almost time to move again -- wondering why the teevee news loves the "missing what's-her-name" stories so much, when I never see anything about these worthless Court-TV events on the blogs. I look at a lot of these blogs. Lefty, Righty, legal, libertarian, jokey, group blogs ... blogs about books, movies, technology, comics, business, music, travel, dogs, specific cities or countries, food, etc. Blog writers and readers have got to be the biggest "news consumers" in the world, and yet I never see much of anything about these court cases & dead pregnant women. Was I missing something? Was there a secret world of blogs where people were as interested in these police melodramas as the news networks seem to be?

Apparently not. I checked the DayPop for mentions of the two big U.S. murder stories that seem to take up about half the news time these days, and found just 15 blogs referencing Laci Peterson and 16 mentioning Lori Hacking.

Compare that to 940 matching George W. Bush and 1,330 talking about John Kerry. Iraq? 1,640 citations. These murder cases, which are always about a white suburban woman, don't show up in the Top 10 stories or news searches. Not even in the Top 40 news posts on the entire InnerNut.


Yet ... it would be nice if the news producers and assignment editors paid attention to what the bloggy folk consider "Headline News." But they probably won't. The truth is, covering the murder du jour is so embedded in the TeeVee News Culture that it probably won't ever go away. Plus, it's really cheap and easy, compared to covering real news -- especially international stuff.

Here are some other factors that might be part of reason for the obsession with trials and abductions on cable.

  • The stories have a "plot" or "storyline" -- like soap opera or a mystery serial, "tune in next to find out what happens." "Hard news" may eventually have a storyline, but it will often take months-years for the tale to really take shape. And the story only really gets interesting qua coherent narrative when we the advantage of a long time perspective -- historians will be doing revisionism to the tale for centuries to come.
  • Like a soap opera, if you miss one epsiode it doesn't take long to get filled in on the key action you missed in the saga of a trial. So frequent snippets are an easy way to carry the story forward. With hard news, other than specific events (e.g. election day, a vote in Congress, a widely anticipated confrontation in a congressional hearing), the ideas that need to be conveyed -- and the background to understand them -- are usually too complex for a snippet. They also don't fit well in a serialization format because if you miss one installment you may find it difficult to understand future parts in a series.
  • The cable news stories are "character-driven," so there's much more to the tale than just reporting events of the day. Entire family histories are there to be unearthed and explored for explanatory value, both by reporters and by viewers at home who require only their imagination to get engaged in the story. Yes, political campaign stories have characters, but they're a lot harder to link to the positions taken by a candidate on issues.
  • The "on the courthouse steps" has a feel of immediacy, however artificial. And immediacy seems to be one of those defining features of our expectations in a Tv-videogames culture.
  • The trials and abductions set up additional programming for the cable 24/7 cycle. What would Larry or Greta talk about for an hour each night without them? The news programming throughout the day provides a built-input 12-hour promo form prime-time programming.

Layne concludes with a couple of intriguing thoughts. First is the (relatively common) observation that cable is ignoring a potentially attractive audience. Second, that cable may also be ignoring some potentially dangerous competition.

Just wanted to say that I know some teevee-news people follow the blogs. We are your Top Customers. How about some news? Let goddamned Court TV deal with the dumb trials that don't matter at all. I know, it's expensive to get real news. But if you don't figure out how to afford it, soon, you're going to be up against the video equivalent of news bloggers, and you will be sad about that.

Polling stories - 2 -- Billmon follows the post-DNC spinning balls

Dead Fox Bounce I've been resisting the impulse to join in the witless debate over whether Kerry did or did not get a "bounce" out of the Democratic convention - both because I'm trying to break my own unproductive and unhealthy fixation with the latest polls, and because I think the basic premise of the argument, at least as it's been presented in the mainstream media, is dead wrong. The conservatives are trying to spin the story as if Kerry is the one who desperately needs to change the dynamics of the race, when in fact, it's Bush who has to figure out a way to open up a lead in the key battleground states. While it's not a given that undecided voters in those states will break towards Kerry at the end, it's definitely the smart way to bet - as even some Republican strategists have conceded. That being the case, Kerry simply needed to use the convention to solidify his support, narrow the gap with Bush on national security, and establish his street cred has a potential commander in chief. By all accounts, he did all those things - and appears to have tangibly improved his position in several key swing states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Missouri and Arizona. All this, however, was obscured by the freaky USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll that showed Bush, not Kerry, picking up points from the DNC. True, none of the other findings in the poll were consistent with the horse race numbers - Bush's approval fell slightly, Kerry gained ground both on the issues and on voter perceptions of his character, etc. But, as usual, the message discipline and sheer volume of the conservative echo chamber allowed it to frame the pseudo-debate.Which is why I just can't help but point out that the latest Fox News poll shows a five-point swing towards Kerry among registered voters, and a three-point swing among Fox's definition of "likely voters," following the Democratic convention - the same one the Fox talking pinheads spent four days trying to redefine as a liberal hate rally.Meanwhile, Bush's approval rating has dropped to 44% - a record low for the Fox poll. That's down three points from before the convention. His disapproval rating has risen to 48% - a record high - from 45% before the convention.Clearly, there's been a glitch in the Matrix. In fact, I'd say the CPU has melted on to the motherboard.Now ordinarily I can't stand to watch Fox News for more than about 30 seconds (it's like watching old Soviet newsreels, but with more expensive production values). Tonight, though, I think I'm going to have to tune in, just to hear the Flatulant Ones trash their own fucking poll. I fully expect to see the smoke pouring out of Bill O'Reilly's ears as he rails against those biased liberals at Fox News.Update 6:15 PM ET: Well, I don't know what kind of weasel talk they're spouting on the air, but the spin game has already started on the Fox News web site. Here's the headline on the poll story:Small Convention Bump for KerryBut check out these numbers:According to Fox, Kerry's support among men has increased by six points since the network's last poll, before the convention. He's now even with Bush among male voters. Kerry still leads among women by nine points.Kerry has increased his support among independents by four points since the pre-convention poll.When asked which candidate is a "stronger leader," 44% said Bush and 40% since Kerry - a 4 point advantage for Shrub. That's down from a 19 point advantage before the convention.Bush's edge on who would do a better job of fighting terrorism went from 15 points (50% to 35%) to just 6 points (44% to 38%). Kerry now holds a 7-point edge over Bush as being "more honest and trustworthy," versus and 11 point deficit on the trust issue in Fox's June poll.Fox respondents also rated Kerry as more genuine (+2 points), more optimistic (+4 points) and harder working (+5). On other hand, Bush and Kerry ranked roughly equal (40% to 39%) on the question of which man is more courageous, which I suppose just demonstrates what Ronald Reagan already taught us - that it's as politically efficacious to play a war hero as it is to actually be one. Still, the poll is full of encouraging numbers for Kerry, most of them tied to the themes of strength, decisiveness and heroism that the Dems tried to hammer home at their convention. Based on Fox's own numbers, it looks like they succeeded about as well as could be expected, and maybe even more so.This doesn't, of course, stop the Fox spinmeister/reporter from misrepresenting the numbers as best he can. My favorite example:By 43 percent to 34 percent, voters think it would be bad for the United States to change presidents during a war, with 17 percent saying it would not make a difference.That exactly reverses the significance of the responses, which show that 34% of those polled think it would be a positively good idea to swap this particular horse for another, even if it is in midstream, while another 17% don't think it makes a damn bit of difference either way. Both those numbers, by the way, are up from the last time Fox asked the question, back in May. When you're trying to run for re-election as the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln, that's a big problem.

Blogging and journalism - 2 -- The commenters comment

Atrios' readers have some interesting angles on the "blogs and journalism" topic discussed below.

From veritas 20001, on the quality and levels of analysis found on blogs, highlighting the "self-disciplining" feature of blogs:

I have been a recent guest to this blog and others. I guess this was for a reason: I used to think of blogs as self-indulgences promoting a certain opinion -- and we all know that opinions are like . . . Then, I tried a few.

What I found was intelligence, lucidity, attention to detail that is sorely missing from the "professional journalists" who constantly confuse the world's oldest profession with the world's second oldest profession.

I am impressed with both the quality, reasonableness, and the attention to details that many fine blogs represent. Atrios and Kos and JMM and Kevin Drum and Corrente and Juan Cole and the rest do an excellent job. They have to, if they start speaking BS, many people will tell them so.

So, this is a mea culpa from a former news elitist. In truth, the quality of the journalism on these sites far exceeds the meaningless and deferential "parroting" being done by our media. Blogs: I salute you!

On quality and indepth knowledge or understanding of a matter, Alan8 adds:

Also people with a diverse set of backgrounds read and respond to blog articles. Often someone with rare, specialized knowledge and experience will clarify a point for the rest of us. There's no way TJ [traditional journalism] can match this massive, collective experience.

Kryptic thinks the pros expect us just to take what they give us on faith or, because the reporter presents "both sides" of a story, that somewhere the truth can be found. This is superficial and misses important facts and analysis, it's not just leaving out "opinion" or "bias".

I think the problem with current journalism is that in all their search for balance, they fail to search for actual facts, instead leaving it all to be a matter of opinion or trust. Either, 'well, that's just what they seem to say', or 'hey, trust us, this happened/is happening!'.

It's only in editorials (at least the decent ones) nowadays that do any sort of analysis (biased of course, but that's the nature of editorializing), while news is 'as is'. And despite what some in the business might think, leaving news 'as is' isn't the best thing to do, when there's likely so much more beneath the surface that the report.

In otherwords, Journalism lacks the one thing it needs most: SKEPTICISM.

The "Jon Stewart" theme that reporting that uses the "balanced" approach doesn't ensure that it's objective is echoed by jac, who notes that two spins don't make the truth:

I think the problem with current journalism is that in all their search for balance, they fail to search for actual facts, instead leaving it all to be a matter of opinion or trust.

My take is close to this. "Balance" has replaced "objectivity" in reporting, and the two are NOT the same.

Putting Democratic lies and spin (yes, it exists) one paragraph after Republican lies and spin is balanced, but it's not objective.

Case in point, the "deulling headlines about productivity posted earlier today. Both headlines contained analysis "best increase since Pabst Blue Ribbon was first brewed" - an "objective" headline would have said "Productivity Up" or "Productivity Rises N%."

It's not subjective to report that what the President said contradicts the known facts. Neither is it analysis or commentary (the other two components of "journalism").

Some commenters opined on "what's the matter with news these days." Carter stressed two reinforcing problems: "journalism" has shifted from "hard" to "soft" stories, led by TV which works for those type of features. And he sees this exacerbated by the poor preparation of journalists to deal with complex issues.

Journalism has veered away from hard news into the realm of character portrayals & asocial behavior events, exs. Kobie Bryant, OJ, the Utah child kidnapper etc. TV news is the greatest culprit but newspapers have followed.

A major part of the problem is that newsreporters have neither the historical nor a technical knowledge of things. Basically, the prime value is fire truck chasing. It is obvious, from my interactions with reporters, that they have, at best, superficial knowledge of the important policy areas that affect ordinary people's lives. They know nothing about health policy, economics, foreign affairs, military policy, environmental issues, poverty dynamics etc. These are all very complex matters that take years to really get a handle on. So instead they report on verbal gaffes, personal failings, character. Of course, these are things that are completed disconnected from the important things that affect people's lives but its the best reporters can do.

Great one-liner by anonymous in nc:

Modern journalism reports the facts of what people are saying, rather than whether what they are saying is factual.

That is, if Scottie says 'The president has made it clear that the sky is green', it gets reported as 'White House: Sky Is Green', with an additional 'the Kerry campaign asserted, in contrast, that the sky is blue.' There's no room for reporting that the sky, in fact, is blue.

And now for what blogging is that journalism isn't. Karmakin makes the claim, quite seriously, that blogging can extend beyond "information' to put together the political with the substantive policy.

Blogging is the "renaissance" of journalism. Now I don't mean that as the rebirth, or anything like that.

What I mean, is the bloggers, working together basically form a "renaissance man/woman" type infrastructure that can basically put the political together with the policy.

It's pretty much right that most field reporters, whatever, either don't have the time or the inclination to really get knowledgable..even from a layman standpoint about the wide variety of subjects...that all link together mind you...that make the world we live in, and how things affect the average person.

However, for bloggers, commentators and lurkers, it's almost a given that you are expected to get that knowledge in order to follow along. If you don't know something. Ask a question. Someone will help you out or give you a link to a place you can go to learn.

Education, information and learning are the currency. And it's very refreshing.

To go back a step, the other major factor is that it links the diciplins together into a more coherent vision. One of the problems with the liberal/left side of things in the past was that it relied on a variety of mostly single-issue based advocacy groups to push for specific legislation/change/education whatever. The problem with this is when bad priorities are set, and two heads end up butting against one another. (Think enviromentalism. It might push up prices which drives the consumer advocates nuts, or drive wages down which labour doesn't like)

In reality, the coherent vision you're seeing from the Democrats now, is pretty much that was born, brought up and being raised here, where you're sitting.

So in a nutshell, political blogging is....political blogging. And it's a powerful and wonderful thing in and of itself. Why lower yourself to call yourself a "journalist"?

You don't have to buy Karmakin's entire claims for blogging's power to produce a coherent platform for the Democratic party to grasp his notion of a some-thing that's not journalism because it's collective in some sort of way (his "renaissance man/woman"), and that collective can be quite powerful.

Anonymous picks up on the special things the collective nature of blogging can do that any one journalist can't achieve:

TO me journalism would be:

  • -reporting fact
    -checking fact
    -contextualize the fact.

In traditional newspaper/TV. it's done by one person and happen only at one point.

IN Blogging, the task is seperated:one person doing the reporting, another fact check, yet another contextualize it (link, connect disseminate)

A blog report become far bettr than newspaper reporting once it is commented and contextualized. (ie. everybody jump in the reporting and text it)

It's the whole system that is journalism, hence a properly done blogging is more powerfull than newspaper print or TV.

The theme of the collective is extended by Chris, who emphasizes the "conversation" and "community-building" aspects of blogging are tied to the voice or perspective of the blogger.

Thank goodness someone mentioned the likes of Amy Goodman and Greg Palast.

Journalism is alive and well, though perhaps not thriving if viewed solely through the myopic lens of broadcast TV and cable news networks.

The key to blogging - what makes them unique and powerful, is a combination of immediacy and interactivity. A blog without comments is basically churning out the digital equivalent of press releases. Blogs can empahsise content and substance over flash because a small thread of an idea is constantly chirned through and added to by a variety of commenters. But it is directed commentary, by the original post itself and the norms imposed by the site it is contained in, the voice behind the writing, and even the links to other sites.

Blogs are a more intimate form of communication, breaking down the more formal one to many mode of news broadcasting, and bringing it back to the community-defining role that news is designed to serve.

And that was just a tiny fraction of the comments posted in the first HOUR of the thread!

More highlights to come.


Blogging and journalism

One of the most to-the-point notes on how blogging compares with journalism -- in this case TV journalism--comes from Atrios:


One question I find rather silly is the "is blogging journalism?" question. The fact is, most of what we've agreed to collectively call "journalism" isn't really "journalism" -- or, to the extent that it is, much of it isn't any different from blogging.

A big chunk of television journalism, particularly cable and local news, though less the nightly network newscasts, involves recycling wire stories or other stuff from print journalism, adding in additional analysis, facts, opinion, debate, and some funky graphics and catchy theme music. Hey, that's almost just like blogging, though my graphics usually aren't so funky and I have no catchy theme music.

Interesting that Atrios would focus on TV journalism as a comparison, which in fact is probably much more apt than regular newspapers or even magazines.

There's more of a filtering process -- newscasts have to squeeze a lot into 22 minutes, so what they choose to cover, and the video bits they edit and play, are as important as deciding what's on A1. So there's a different dynamic of filtering mechanisms. And of those items that are chosen out of the vast number of new stories a day hit the wires, only some will really have legs. Not just that they extend over time, but they're worthy of drilling down, exchanging, exploring, widening, linking to other goings-on current and past.

A TV news story, like blogs and unlike print, has multiple voices, although presented in the context of the story's producer (reporter or blogger). The other voices may be links chosen by the blogger and/or comments to the story itself.

There's a time dimension here that needs a bit more thought. Regular TV news doesn't provide the absolute immediacy of the wire services or the event live broadcast. What's the equivalent for the blogosphere of the network news cycle?

Partisanship -- The artificial divide?

Not a nation divided, just a nation deafened

So says Jeff Jarvis, with some interesting evidence:

I've been saying for sometime that we are not a nation divided -- that's just how media and politicians want to portray us because it fits their agendas. The truth is that we all have lives; they don't. So they spend their time shouting at us, deafening us. But they don't represent us.

I'm not alone in this view. In this week's Time, Joe Klein says it's "only the blabocrats":

We are a divided nation, it is said. There is a cultural chasm between the red states and the blue, between the religious and the secular, between Michael Moore's America and Rush Limbaugh's. The "culture war" has become a pillar of the conventional wisdom. But is it real? Is it possible that the great partisan divide is a media-induced mirage, little more than an exaggerated case of squeaky-wheelism? There is plenty of evidence that the very real disputes pushed by political activists and chair-throwing media yakkers—call this the Anger-Industrial Complex—are being carelessly extrapolated to include a far less vehement populace.

Take the Moore/Limbaugh divide. A new Annenberg poll shows that the two infotainers are little more than postmodern tribal leaders: an estimated 8% of Americans saw Fahrenheit 9/11 in July, and an estimated 7% listened to Limbaugh. Their tribes are hilariously antithetical on a range of issues—83% of Rushites support the way Bush is handling Iraq, 87% of Mooreists are opposed; 85% of Rushites support Bush's handling of the economy, and 82% of Mooreists don't.

And yet, these extremist clumps throw disproportionate weight in the public square....

Maybe we're just busy living our lives. A new book by the Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, argues that a closely divided nation isn't necessarily a deeply divided nation.


It's deceptive and destructive to insist that we are at each others' throats because it skews the public debate toward venomous trivia and away from matters that matter. And it sets a bad example for public discourse: When I talk about politics and issues with family and friends, we disagree, but we don't bulge veins and shout the way they do on TV. But on TV and too often on the Internet, the shouting is drowning out the reason. This fosters hatred.

Look at the comments under the Tit for Tat post below: I -- evenhandedly, if I do say so myself -- said I didn't care about the efforts to find military gotchas about either Bush or Kerry -- because it doesn't affect (a) the future or (b) our lives. What ensues in the comments is a fair volume of venom spitting. So listen to yourselves, folks: You sound like a bad cable "talk" show. You're not arguing about matters that matter: I'd prefer to you see you go after each other -- or better yet, go after solutions -- on health care in an effort to find common ground for improvement. Or homeland security. Or stem-cell research. Or education. Or tax reform. Not this. All this blab produces nothing but bile. It's not productive. It's not helpful. It just stinks.

Says Klein:

Scream journalism — Crossfire, Hannity and Colmes, the various "gangs" and "groups" of Washington blabocrats assaulting our senses — was always nauseating, but it was more understandable in a world where the most important issue was the definition of the word is. It was the only way to scare up an audience in those days. But this is a different world now. And we are being forced to examine the most serious, complicated sorts of issues—war and solvency—through an anachronistic, irresponsible political-media lens created for more trivial times. Right. We have real issues in this election, real choices, real questions. But we're wasting time talking about this crap. Worse, we're falling into the media-political complex trap: We are believing our own PR that we really do hate each other. We don't. You know damned well that if you met any of the people you're shouting at, you'd end up having a civil disagreement over beers.

This is not a call for us all to get along. The last thing I want to see is a group blog hug. Perish the thought!

No, instead I'm merely arguing -- in line with Klein -- that most of us on most issues most of the time are not filled with division and hatred; that's just TV. Most of us are getting on with our lives. Most of us care about trying to do what's right.

And so it is time to call media and politicians on their libelous lie about us, the people. We're not a nation divided. They are the divisive ones. I intend to keep calling them on it.

The real division in the end is not red from blue or right from left. The real division will media from audience, politicians from constituents, the powerful from the people. That is the "us" vs. "them" at work here. : UPDATE: And also I'm not alone in the argument that we've had enough of presidential hatred.

See Namoi Klein in The Nation -- The Nation! -- taking lefties to task for their politics of snark:

It's not that the President is dumb, which I already knew; it's that he makes us dumb.... You know the line: The White House has been hijacked by a shady gang of zealots who are either insane or stupid or both. Vote Kerry and return the country to sanity.

But the zealots in Bush's White House are neither insane nor stupid nor particularly shady. Rather, they openly serve the interests of the corporations that put them in office with bloody-minded efficiency. Their boldness stems not from the fact that they are a new breed of zealot but that the old breed finds itself in a newly unconstrained political climate.

We know this, yet there is something about George W. Bush's combination of ignorance, piety and swagger that triggers a condition in progressives I've come to think of as Bush Blindness. When it strikes, it causes us to lose sight of everything we know about politics, economics and history and to focus exclusively on the admittedly odd personalities of the people in the White House. Other side effects include delighting in psychologists' diagnoses of Bush's warped relationship with his father and brisk sales of Bush "dum gum"--$1.25.

It is as if we have turned over the body politic to a People magazine mindset -- the dark side of People magazine: It's all about personality. It's predicated on the belief that a single famous person actually matters. We might as well pick our winner on American Idol, the way this is going.

But wait: The people, I have faith, are ignoring these fringe fits of feistiness. They're sitting back and asking what is best for the nation and themselves. And they will give their answer in November. All the rest is merely a tabloid nightmare. [via Daniel Radosh]

: See also Radosh's sum-up of various reviews and views of Nicholson Baker's book about a would-be Bush assassin. My take -- not on the book, but on a review of it -- here.

Polling Stories - 1 -- The "no" or "baby" bounce?

Tamara Baker makes a useful distinction between the headline numbers and the internals. But even with the headline numbers, the MSM provides a rather puzzling story of the post-convention bounce that wasn't. Kerry clearly made headway across a variety of indicators. Given the size of the electorate that (1) said it had already made up its mind pre-convention and/or (2) wasn't watching, the Dems didn't do half bad. But it wasn't the 6+ points pundits had predicted Kerry would need to come away with from the convention.

Galluping Nonsense
I Won't Touch This with a Ten-Foot Poll
by Tamara Baker

August 2, 2004 -- SAINT PAUL ( -- Well, well, well.

First we have Newsweek with a poll that allegedly only shows a so-called "baby bounce" for Kerry -- even though the portion of the poll conducted AFTER Kerry's convention speech shows a ten-point bounce for him!

Next, we have the Gallup Organization, at the behest of USAToday and CNN, stating that in fact NO bounce happened -- even though the internals of their poll show Kerry either gaining on Bush, or increasing his lead over Bush, in every single poll category!

Something is rotten in Denmark, folks. And it's not Kerry's campaign.

There are two things to bear in mind:

Gallup polls are usually outliers with a decidedly pro-Republican bias. This has especially been the case with Bush the Lesser. As this Pollkatz graph shows, Gallup is on the whole right behind FOX News/Opinion Dynamics in terms of pro-GOP-ness.

Even some Republicans have complained about Gallup's notoriously wild poll swings, especially in their tracking polls.

But of course, we all know that the So-Called Liberal Media, or SCLM for short (thank you, Dr. Alterman), will not report any of the data behind this Gallup poll -- much less note how wildly it varies from the Newsweek one.

And this was only the Monday following the convention. The deviations of reporting from polling results (or rather the relative silence of the MSM on Kerry's continued gains) have been puzzling. What's the "script"?

Constructing identity - 1 -- Hispanics

An interesting example today of how, at least theoretically, over time widespread perceptions of an ethnic group can be modified by care for accurate stories and language.

"A PBS mind in an MTV world."

Mrs. B today passes along a request from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists asking us not to use the term "Hispanic" as a physical description:

~Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. There are Hispanics who are white, black, light tan, dark tan, etc. Our physical features are varied to the extent that the term Hispanic conveys no distinct physical information. Some of us look like baseball player Sammy Sosa. Others look like actor Andy Garcia.

~When police tell the public that the person they seek is Hispanic, it is our job as journalists to ask how they arrived at that conclusion. Asking that question will elicit relevant details about the individual being sought.

~What was the perpetrator's skin tone? Did he have an accent? Did he actually speak Spanish? Those are the details that should be reported, along with sketches, if they are available.

~Providing accurate detailed information is crucial to a physical description. Calling a person Hispanic in this context does nothing to differentiate him from anyone else. As a result, police and the public may end up limiting their search to Hispanics even in cases where the perpetrator turns out to be of another ethnicity.

If you'd like to know more about the NAHJ, go to

Worth giving some thought to the evolution of stero-types of other ethnic groups when the printed press was king. Does "corrective language" have a greater impact today because (1) it's hitting the ears of audiences who are accustomed to seeing on TV and in the movies Hispanic stars who in fact do come in all colors and accents, from all sorts of economic backgrounds, and with very different behavior styles; (2) the "corrective language" is may be accompanied by pictures of the person in question.

If we get better at handling ethnicities, any chance we can someday report about "black" people by each person's distinguishing characteristics and not by simply as "black"? Will we be able someday to report on a suspect being sought by the police by describing distinguishing features rather increasing public danger by avoiding any description at all if the suspect is a "black male"? IIRC, that was the basis for the outrage of a group of parents in Virginia when the person being sought was not identified as black.

MSMedia formula for audience success? - 1 -- Viewing Fox News with a German accent

The NYT carries an article translated from Der Spiegel discussing the Fox News phenomenon (hat tip, sub req'd). While acknowledging Fox's success vis a vis other cable networks, the author, Jan Fleischhauer, writes that "an alliance is beginning to form against the troops of Australian-American Bush champion Rupert Murdoch."The article rehearses the well-known accusations of political bias against Fox and its leader, Roger Ailes, as well as the standard defenses, including the number of "quality" anchors and reporters who have been lured to the network from other broadcasters.

The most interesting part of the article, however, deals with the distinctive Fox News style.

Fox News is something like the busty blonde among news channels: colorful, loud, in-your-face, and always wearing a little too much make-up. All kinds of graphics constantly appear on the program, the camera seems unable to remain stationary for even a minute, and whenever it's time for another "news alert" (which, at Fox News, can be triggered by as little as the arrest of a sufficiently brutal murderer), the entire screen turns orange.

The aggressive visuals are part and parcel of the Ailes package.

When Roger Ailes was still making a living as a media consultant, television networks would occasionally ask him to take a closer look at a moderator on local TV station. Ailes would then sit down in a hotel room, switch off the sound on the television, and watch the candidate soundlessly go about his or her work.

In explaining his method of searching for stars, Ailes later said: "If nothing happened on the screen that I felt was interesting enough to make me stand up and turn on the sound, it was obvious to me that the moderator was not a particularly effective actor."

Ailes was always convinced that the first thing about good TV is delivering a perfect performance, whether the subject is hosting a game show, delivering the weather report, or reporting on the beginning of a war. No one had ever thought that this was a principle that could also be applied to news programs.

"Television is an entertainment medium," says Ailes. The result of his efforts is called Fox News.

Mainstream Media (MSM) News Scheduling - 1 -- Why not in prime time?

Brian Lambert asks in the Twin Pioneer Press "Why don't the networks put news in prime time?"

I have a stock question for network news and programming honchos. It's a question that never fails to set the gurus' eyes rolling, and it invariably elicits a big sigh, as if to say I must have just fallen off a turnip truck or something.

It is: "Why not move the nightly news into prime time? Either at 7 or 9, you pick it. But something other than 5:30 in the Midwest, when the only guaranteed audiences are retirees, the homebound and agoraphobics. At 5:30, your target audience --working men and women with families, mortgages and, presumably, an interest in the news of the day -- is either stuck in rush-hour traffic or dealing with after-school activities/chaos.

"At the very least, it might help you with that upper-end household income demographic."

Having been blown off on this question countless times over the years, most recently by NBC's Jeff Zucker (president of their news, entertainment and cable group) at a bash at the Universal Studios theme park in Los Angeles, I was surprised to hear it come up as a topic in a discussion with Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw this past weekend.

The discussion, which also included CNN's Judy Woodruff and PBS' Jim Lehrer, was held in Boston during the Democratic Convention and aired on C-SPAN.

The Big Three were quick to say their respective networks -- now subsidiaries of giant, bean-counting corporations with as much interest in their washing machine divisions as their news operations -- had no intention of changing anything.

"It's not even a topic of discussion," said Rather.

But each thought it should be. Rather said when he got into the anchor game lo so many years ago (he took over for Walter Cronkite in March 1981), he hoped and maybe even believed the network would eventually expand into an hourlong newscast.

He said he continues to hold onto the dream, against all evidence that CBS and its big broadcast competitors will ever think of a larger edition of nightly news in prime time. He said he thinks of it as a kind of hybrid, with elements of "Nightline" mixed together with the day's headline news and longer feature packages.

The standard reply, from the Zuckers of the world, is, "Why? There's news all over cable. Anyone who wants it can get it in a half-dozen different places."

Well, yes and no. Last time I checked, CNN's Headline News, with its constant updates on Laci Peterson and Lori Hacking (stories the Big Three largely ignore) is your only stop for actual news. By prime time, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are all into some level of info/op-ed entertainment. Some of that is very good (Keith Olbermann). But most are circus acts (Bill O'Reilly).

The point is, with the arguable exception of CNN's Aaron Brown at 9 p.m., none of it comes with the depth, breadth and production quality of any of the networks' 22-minute nightly newscasts.

For example: How much better would viewers be served by actually being able to see all of Brian Ross' investigative pieces in ABC's (woeful and chronically underperforming) prime time? Or, how about some prime-time exposure for briefings from Pentagon correspondents like CBS' David Martin or NBC's Jim Miklaszewski?

My argument is always that for all we, critics and public, carp about stories the networks screw up, ignore, soft-pedal or mince around, the news divisions of ABC, NBC and CBS are still the gold standard for electronic news. Cutbacks, shuttered foreign bureaus, etc., notwithstanding, these people are as good as it gets here in the States.

More to the point, with so many critical issues crying out for something better than op-ed infotainment, primetime broadcast news seems as good a way as any to genuinely serve the public, and, I'm willing to bet, revitalize each news division's bottom line with some fresh, younger viewers.

These are pertinent questions. How are the networks going to defend what marketshare is left to them if they don't renew their sudience with younger viewers? Won't their "low cost, decent ratings" prime-time news magazines suffer from lack of audience connection in the coming years? Audiences tuned in to Barbara Walters, Hugh Downs, Jane Pauley and Dan Rather in prime time because they were known and well-liked brands.

How will the networks connect with those viewers in the future if they don't make their "star reporters" personalities whom viewers find engaging and informative? How do folks know they don't like the news unless they try it? And they're not given much chance on the networks' current schedules. It's not as if the cost of production would be dramatically greater, given the sunk costs already put into their current staff of reporters, bureaux and production facilities.


Rants on mainstream media -2 -- {DNC night 2}

So what if it's scripted -- they're just lazy -- Comments by Pandagon on the Democratic convention

This Dan Rather piece reveals every single stupid thing wrong with convention coverage. I respect Rather a great deal less after reading this, because it's the laziest, soppiest sack of sh*t I've ever read. Nothing's dropped into the media's lap, so instead of trying to find a story about something, anything, he just bitches.


Yes, this thing is scripted. It's political theater. Take it apart. Do something with it. Why is it so scripted? Who was in charge of the scripting? What is the impression left by the scripting? Is it a good idea or a bad idea? How are people influenced by the fact that the media told them they were going to be watching the worst thing ever produced, and then showed it to them? Right now, Rather and many of his compatriots sound like teenagers at an art film - it sucks because there's nothing really blowing up and the naked chick had small tits.

There's almost no analysis of the convention, because all I'm reading is how f***ing bored these people are and how much everything f***ing sucks. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is more f***ing boring and sucky than anything I've seen on the floor.

Do any of these people even realize that they didn't carry the single most important moment of the convention (Obama's speech) thus far live? One of the truly great political moments of the past few years, and because there's no bands in the parking lot or anyone doing crazy sh*t, it's just not important.

Instead, we get to hear about Kerry's god**m**d space suit a hundred times, because the media only cares about scripted appearances when there's something to demolish.

What is the message that Democrats are sending? If you're watching television, it's this vague idea of "themes" (whatever the group at hand decided the people were saying, so long as it fits into the storyline of anti-Bush Democrats trying to put on a poorly constructed facade for the sake of swing voters) combined with the suspenseful watch to see if Talking Head X is bored enough to play Snake on his cell phone.

Oddly enough, I'm not that bored at the convention. But that's also because I'm not waiting around for KISS to parachute in from the ceiling. If nothing interesting's happening on the floor, I go look for something else. Strange...yet exciting.

Posted by Jesse Taylor at Pandagon at July 28, 2004 02:47 AM


Rants on mainstream media -- 1 {DNC Day 3}

Is the media reading from an out-of-date script?

From Nadezhda at Tacitus, in response to posts on convention content.

Day 3 Convention Open Thread

Update [2004-7-28 17:49:47 by Macallan]: This is rather interesting. From NRO's Kerry Spot, apparently the Bush campaign "have measured, in seconds, the total time in seconds the major convention figures have spoken, and then counted how much time was spent attacking Bush, praising Kerry, and "filler" which was neither." The link has breakdowns by speaker, but here is the total:

    Speaking Time 5011.8
    Total attack Time 2324.95
    Total Kerry Time 1162.23
    Total Filler Time 1524.62

So twice as much time has been spent attacking Bush as opposed to being "positive" about the nominee.

Update [2004-7-28 20:57:19 by Harley]: Baseball reference!! Mike Barnicle described the Dems as being a lot like the old school Oakland A's. A lot of internal squabbling, but an overriding desire to win the World Series.

Misunderstanding the Democratic base -- Nadezhda July 28, 2004

IMO the media (and I may add the venerable Mr Barnicle) have got the story out of Boston all wrong. This isn't a bunch of squabbling factions united only by their hatred of George Bush and putting on a unity facade for the duration of the convention while the TV cameras are on.

Kerry doesn't have anybody aside from a handful who are passionate Kerry believers. What he has is a Democratic party that has discovered to its delight that it believes in itself as a party (with a common history and future) that is a profoundly different creature from what they think the Bush and DeLay folks have made of the Republican party. Kerry is their standard bearer, he's one they can be proud of, they've realized they don't have to love him like some of them did Clinton, and they're going to do their utmost to get him elected. Nobody's going to hang back on the sidelines in this one, whether it's throwing all their money at this election or being out on the hustings every day between now and November 2, or being prepared to challenge every vote count in the nation.

This isn't the Democrats in 1992 who hadn't bought into the New Democrat stuff yet, were still the party of Mondale and Dukakis with 200 page platforms, and figured this Bubba with charisma just might get them back into the WH after almost 24 years in the wilderness. There was a lot of hanging back and covering their backsides, and a lot of IOUs Clinton had to deal with in the first 2 years until Gingrich knocked the stuffing out of them, and they had to do it Clinton's way.

This crowd in Boston believe that they have the right approach for America and that Bush et al are going in a profoundly wrong direction. It's not how to exit from Iraq. It's not "giving a veto to the UN." They're embarrassed by the rapid erosion of the US brand. They totally disagree with fiscal priorities and consequences. They think Bush has been a fraud on the "compassionate conservatism" and want to hold him to account. They see health care as a much bigger and more urgent reform that must be tackled before SS. They think Bush has been all talk and no action on homeland security and intelligence reform. And don't underestimate how much John Ashcroft represents what they think is wrong -- incompetent, all politics and no real delivery, fearmongering, misleading or manipulating information, misusing executive power, undermining the appropriate relations between the executive branch and the other two branches, and totally screwed up priorities (like wasting resources on busting people for medical marijuana).

Kerry isn't going to have a lot of IOUs. True, a bunch of the super-progressives and traditional groups have their hopes up, and like always when the rubber hits the road, they're going to be disappointed. But they're not his base. His base is the Dems in the House and Senate, the DLC/NDN, etc., and on a few purely domestic issues, a few big groups like teachers. Otherwise, to govern, he's got to go with things that he can get moderate Republicans to buy into. The idea that he's going to be beholden to an anti-war crowd on Iraq is a total misreading of the past year of Democratic politics.

BTW -- I must respond to the update with the silly "negative" seconds count. How may I ask would you count Ed Rendell's speech on energy independence. On the one hand, it could be rated 90% negative, because it was talking about things that have been ignored or rejected by Bush (or rather Cheney) so it had a non-stop implication that Bush is doing a lousy job on energy policy. On the other hand, it was primarily a discussion of the things that would be promoted in an energy independence policy. But it didn't talk about Kerry constantly. So would that be 90% Kerry, or 40% Kerry, 50% filler, or what? and I don't know what filler is. Was "filler" the description Sharpton gave of the history of blacks with the Republican party from Lincoln to Hoover? Was that negative Bush? I don't guess it was "Kerry."

A convention is politics, regardless of whether the media have decided the Fleet Center is a content-free zone. It is about power and purpose -- stuff people have fought about for millennia. Its goal is to highlight what this party believes in and how that differs from the other party. Its immediate objective is to make the case that their candidate is the right standard bearer and has a team of other elected officials or candidates that's strong and attractive. The most successful communication (whether its at this convention or in NY) weaves positives about the party and candidates with negatives about the other party and candidates, packaged in the right atmospherics.

What this convention has not had, with few exceptions, is personal belittling such as "poor George he was just born with a silver foot in his mouth," or the sloganeering-with-a-sneer of "taxachusetts." It hasn't paraded a litany of twisted statistics or accusations out of context in the manner of classic negative advertising. It has abolished the "L" word (liar) from the entire convention's vocabulary. With few exceptions, the worst accusation has been "mislead." And in fact that's what the vast majority of Democrats believe the WH did in the run-up to the war, as well as in its aftermath. The worst accusation on the "compassionate conservatism" front was that it was "fools gold." Again, something the Democrats sincerely believe is an accurate assessment of the Bush Admin's performance.

I'll stop before I get really wound up. Just the stupidest thing I've ever heard. The media will eat it up, and they will be even more stupid and lazy for doing that than they have been so far for having the only stories to date be "shove it," the NASA picture, bloggers, and the DNC editing the red meat out of speeches. Jeez Louise!

For the first time in living memory, the speeches at a Democratic convention are really talking about important stuff that matter to us all, and that are why you and I read and write on this blog. Principles. Major structural changes that could affect US employers and employees profoundly. What's the model of an international political economy that we are going to try to create/maintain. What are the real threats to the US, and how best to meet them. What "unity" means. Why minorities should be interested in one or another party. Why Americans should care about this election for a reason other than that one group of politicians wants to beat another group of politicians, or one group of donors wants to get their guys into power.

But the smug reporters don't catch any of that. They've already got the script written. All they have to do is pick up the texts of the prepared speeches. And they don't read them for ideas. They read them for "how will this play in Peoria." They read them for campaign technique, for "on message" or "off message," for "negative Bush," for "will this be good enough to sell Kerry."

I have a suggestion. Today (Thursday) don't watch any of the networks, watch the proceedings only in the evening, and then watch from about 7:30PM to its finish on CSPAN with no commentary. Before you watch it, read the blogs coming out of the convention to get a range of tone and topics. Don't read the text of the speeches until you've watched them. And while you watch, split your brain in half -- one half critiquing it as a "performance," and the other trying to get a feel for what's going on there. I think you'd find it interesting and, at the very least, you'd know your enemy better.

Misunderestimating? -- Macallan -- July 28, 2004

I appreciate the thoughtful and exhaustive response, but I will have to disagree that I am misreading the situation. I believe the flaw in your rebuttal is "The idea that he's going to be beholden to an anti-war crowd on Iraq is a total misreading of the past year of Democratic politics." There is no small difference between saying that his base isn't primarily obsessed on a specific issue, than saying he'll owe an IOU to one interest group.

I was also sincere when I said the party is only united in context. If Kerry were to win, that context is then removed and things will splinter. Unlike Clinton who could play off the Gingrich Congress, there's no sharing of responsibility as commander in chief like there is with domestic policy and spending. There will be no context to unify. Given how many times Kerry has stridently shifted his own views in response to the prevailing winds of the base, it will be difficult to see how he'll operate effectively off a splintered minority base, the mushy middle, and a rather annoyed opposition. Not to mention the fact that he'll have to come to grips with the reason so many of our "allies" our jerking us around has absolutely nothing to do with George W. Bush and everything to do with what they want counter to our interests.

As to misreading the past year of Democratic politics, I suppose that is a matter of opinion, but I'm comfortable that I haven't. The nearly complete lack of internal consistency of the last year alone should give anyone serious pause -- that Bush is simultaneously a fascist mastermind turning librarians into Gestapo agents, but a bumbling fool who isn't doing enough to protect us, and so forth. It's the politics of opposition, without any clear vision beyond "we won't do it that way".