The Progressive Review MEDIA UNDERNEWS
Thomas Frank, Salon - Plutocrats have always been a self-regarding bunch, but it is obvious that the species of zillionaire that subsidizes magazine journalism today suffer from a form of upper-class delusion that was unknown just 50 years ago. This is because they now know that they are not merely people who got lucky; they are geniuseseveryone tells them so. Chris Hughes, breaker of the New Republic, earned his millions by being Mark Zuckerbergs college roommate, but nevertheless he was one of the most celebrated figures in publishing a short while ago. When he and his handpicked CEO lapse into indecipherable management talk, they apparently mean it. Thats not a Dilbert joke; thats the language of genius. (According to a recent story by Chris Lehmann, the same sort of thing goes on at First Look, a troubled journalistic project launched by a different Internet mogul.)
Whats more, unlike media barons of the recent past, our modern zillionaires dont refrain from direct meddling in the production of ideas and opinions. Not only are the new press lords blithely steamrolling the old ethical wall that used to separate journalisms owning elite from the news gathering process; they are repurposing the act of reporting into something much closer to PR.
The new press lords deeds are all made possible by the shrinking significance of everyone else. Compared to the patois of power, the language of journalism is but meaningless babble. Compared to once having been a friend of Zuckerberg, no form of literary genius matters any more.
Eric Alteman, American Prospect - During his reign, [Marty] Peretz has done lasting damage to the cause of American liberalism. By turning TNR into a kind of ideological police dog, Peretz enjoyed the ability -- at least for a while -- to play a key role in defining the borders of "responsible" liberal discourse, thereby tarring anyone who disagreed as irresponsible or untrustworthy. But he did so on the basis of a politics simultaneously so narrow and idiosyncratic -- in thrall almost entirely to an Israel-centric neoconservatism -- that it's difficult to understand how the magazine's politics might be considered liberal anymore. Ironically Peretz's stance ultimately turned out to be not only out of step with most liberals but also most American Jews, who consistently cling to views far more dovish, both on Israel and on U.S. foreign policy generally, than those espoused in TNR.
It is a sad but true fact of American political life that liberals rarely exercise so much influence as when they happen to be endorsing conservative causes, and this temptation has proven consistently irresistible to Peretz and his magazine. TNR under Peretz has been a vehicle that proved extremely helpful to Ronald Reagan's wars in Central America and George Bush's war in Iraq. It provided seminal service to Newt Gingrich's and William Kristol's efforts to kill the Clinton plan for universal health care and offered intellectual legitimacy to Charles Murray's efforts to portray black people as intellectually inferior to whites. As for liberal causes, however well, not so much.
Zaid Jilani, Alternet - The irony is that while a cast of scribes clamor about a Silicon Valley uber-capitalists rapacious ways, the [New Republic] has itself promoted neoliberal economics for decades, castigating those who worried about the unleashing of market forces that created widespread job insecurity. With the Hughes-Snyder makeover, in ways its staff refuses to acknowledge, TNR is getting a dose of its own medicine.
Contributing editor Jonathan Chait, who no longer regularly writes for the magazine but has a perch at New York Magazine, was one of those who asked TNR to remove his name from the masthead. Chait was offended by the idea of upending TNR's tradition to turn to Internet-based profitability, though he never showed such regard for other workers facing off with neoliberal tradition.
In 2008, he wrote a TNR review of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Kleins book explains how neoliberal economic policies like downsizing, deregulating and mergers are implemented beneath a cover of political crisis and reform, or what is known as disaster capitalism. To Chait, the book was evidence of a Dead Left that was tied to a classic Marxist-materialist analysis. He chided Klein for castigating right-wing planners for exploiting tragedies, writing that she repeatedly implies that there is something immoral about using crises to advance the right-wing agenda without explaining why this is so. He mocks the idea of the corporate accountability left-wing that protests business outrages, declaring with contempt that it once believed the most sinister force on the planet...was Nike. To Chait, the idea of disaster capitalism was just a conspiracy theory that lacks internal logic.
Chait mocked critics of the Facebook economy in a 2011 post at New York Magazine, writing that there is a reason the movement is called 'Occupy Wall Street,' not 'Occupy Main Street' or 'Occupy Silicon Valley.' It is no doubt because most of the participants, or sympathizers, understand that Wall Street is not the same thing as free enterprise that it is one element that, unlike Apple, poses a unique threat to the functioning of the free marketplace. If you define the problem as 'corporations,' then you lose the capacity to make these distinctions.
The case of former TNR editor Peter Beinart is similar. Back when he was on the fast-track to being TNRs senior editor, a handpicked acolyte of publisher Marty Peretz, Beinart denigrated opponents of free trade agreements and global trade rules that expanded corporate rights as the flat earth and black helicopter crowd. Beinart said the anti-globalization movement was motivated by hatred of the United States and promoted neoliberal trade policy as necessary for human betterment....
The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza was the first of the contributing editors to ask for his name to be removed from the masthead. He was also behind a 1999 hit piece in TNR that attempted to link free-trade critics to South Carolina textile magnate Roger Milliken, arguing that the movement was really about enhancing Milliken's profits as a textile importer, not about genuine opposition to a project that would produce record-level inequality and hollow out the middle class.
1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.
2. The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country.
3. The Washington Post is read by people who think they should run the country.
4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand the Washington Post. They do, however like the smog statistics shown in pie charts.
5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country, if they could spare the time, and if they didn't have to leave L.A. to do it.
6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.
7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country, and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.
8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country either, as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.
9. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country, or that anyone is running it; but whoever it is, they oppose all that they stand for.
10. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country, but need the baseball scores.
Infrequently asked questions: Why does PBS News Hour always open with lengthy foreign news? The answer appears to be that PBS News Hour is really an international broadcast, not an American one. See Wikipedia for details
US has 4-6 public relations specialists for each journalist
@pewtrusts - Full time newsroom jobs in 2012 slipped to 38,000, lowest since 1978
The Denver Post is hiring an editor to oversee the development and maintenance of a recreational marijuana website. Current employees should express interest in the position by contacting news editor...
Q: What did we used to call long form journalism?
Why Newsroom is hard to follow: Finally figured out why the Newsroom plot is so hard to follow. It's the first TV script written entirely on Twitter.
Journalists who like NSA more than the Constitution
- David Gregory
- Matt Miller
- David Brooks
- Richard Cohen
- Chris Matthews
- Tom Friedman
Infrequently asked questions
If you want to complain about anonymous sources in journalism, is it okay to quote "leading experts" in order to bolster your case?
Over the past thirty days, CNBC has referred to groups or individuals as "left leaning" 219 times but "right leaning" only 43 times. Does this make CNBC "right leaning?"
Why did everyone get mad at the Rolling Stone cover
but not at the New York Times?
You don't get this impression from the rest of the media, but while Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are indeed the top rated radio talk shows, Morning Edition and All Things Considered get 88% as much listenership.
Twenty-two journalists who worked for Al Jazeera quit in protest after being told by their Qatari masters to support Egypts Muslim Brotherhood.
Personal to David Carr: There are two types of journalists: those who admit their biases and those that don't. You work for an activist paper whose biases have been the most influential of any journal in American history yet still pretends it doesn't have them. - Josiah Swampoodle
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone - "Objectivity" is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, sort of like the Santa Claus myth. Obviously, journalists can strive to be balanced and objective, but that's all it is, striving.
Personal to Washington media: Before writing about how Social Security and Medicare are going broke, tell us what the status of the Pentagon would be if it also could only get money from a trust fund. All we have to do to take care of Social Security & Medicare is to budget some of the money we spend on useless wars.
NY Times executive editor Jill Abramson: "No story about details of government secrets has come near to demonstrably hurting the national security in decades and decades."
Chinese news anchor interrupts her wedding to report on major earthquake
Since 2008 newspaper circulation in America has fallen by 15% to 41m while advertising revenue has plummeted by 42%, accounting for three-quarters of the global decline in advertising revenue in the same period. In Europe, circulation and advertising revenue have both fallen by a quarter. And revenues from digital sources such as websites, apps and so on have not made up the shortfall. Digital advertising accounts for just 11% of the total revenue for American newspapers. -Economist
Luke Russert referred to the AFL-CIO as "far left." Guess that makes him far right.
Fact checking: "I'm the President" receives a rating of "True" from third-party fact-checkers.
Personal to editors: You did build that lie
The National Journal joins the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers, and the Washington Examiner in opposing quote approval
Passings: Washington Post columnist Bill Raspberry
The Gallup Poll reports that only 21% of adults have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in television news a drop from 27% last year and from 46% when Gallup started tracking confidence in TV news in 1993.
To express your thanks for 25 years of puzzlers and advice, write your note on the back of a 32" Sony Bravia LCD TV, and send it in to Car Talk Plaza, Cambridge (our fair city), MA - Fark
The European Union's competition regulators are examining whether France is providing unfair state aid to French news agency Agence France-Presse.In a letter to France's mission to the EU, the European Commission says that subscriptions from the French government make up 40 percent of AFP's revenue.
The people who have been chief White House correspondents are legendary and the very best journalists in American history - Norah O'Donnell
BACK TO TOP
BACK TO TOP
BACK TO TOP
Obama and the media
BACK TO TOP
BACK TO TOP
Richard Brenneman - In the ten years between 2001 and 2011, newspaper employment dropped from 404,072 to 239,375, while the number of papers dropped from 9,300 to 8,280 and the average number of employees per paper dropped from 43.4 to 29.
There were 95 newspapers with weekly science sections in 1989; today there are 19.
Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News owners are seeking $8 million in cost cuts from the papers Guild unit through wage cuts of up to 13% and buyouts.
News Corp posts $1.5 billion loss in last quarter
The Washington Posts circulation continues to slide: the average daily circulation during the first six months of 2012 fell 9.3% from the same period of 2011.
Chicago Tribune has dropped from 15 staffers covering the Olympics in 2000 to 9 in Beijing to 5 in London this year
Spins new owner lays off a third of magazines staff and decides not to publish a November/December issue
Pentagon's role in the media
BACK TO TOP
How journalism has changed:Your editor has noted from time to time that when he started in journalism in the late1950s over half the reporters in the country only had a high school education. Now Harper's Index reports that the split continued for more than a decade. As late as 1971 only 58% of journalists had a college education. Today, 92% do.
Black journalist employment at daily newspapers has plummeted from 2,948 in 2013 to 1754 today.
- Number of corporations controlling mass media in the 1980s: 50. Today: 6
Television is Americas No. 1 pastime, with an average of four hours and 39 minutes consumed by every person every day.- NYT
Main source of news for young and old
This chart, from the Pew Center, illustrates the bias of the major news media as well as any we've seen.
BACK TO TOP
TV still tops the Internet (55% vs. 21%) for the main place Americans turn to for news. Nine percent say newspapers or other print publications are their main news source... 8% rely on Fox, 7% on CNN and 1% on MSNBC. 4% rely on radio. Only 2% rely on social media such as Facebook or Twitter. The age divide splits at 50 but 50% of those under 30 still rely on TV most.
BACK TO TOP
BACK TO TOP
John Cleese analyzes Fox News
Why does the media call "militants" anyone
killed by American drones?
Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon sent an e-mail to staff last December offering guidance on how to handle the climate debate, three weeks after the Climategate scandal broke and in the midst of the Copenhagen climate summit. "Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data," Sammon wrote, "we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies." - Politico
BACK TO TOP
BACK TO TOP
BACK TO TOP
The New York Times just ran a story on Justin Bieber in which the subject is referred to as "Mr. Beiber." Some things never change.
BACK TO TOP
From our overstocked archives
LEONARD DOWNIE LEAVES THE WASHINGTON POST
SAM SMITH, PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 2000 - Behind the mediocre and mirthless miasma of the Washington Post lurks the quiet influence of St. Leonard the Incorruptible, AKA executive editor Len Downie. As Charlie is to his Angels, so St. Leonard is to his media minions. Only on special occasions does he step forward to issue a Postic bull, including the other day when he actually wrote the following: "As I am often reminded, journalists are people, too. They cannot be expected to cleanse their minds of human emotions and reactions to highly charged political campaigns or controversial issues. But we do ask Washington Post reporters and editors to come as close as possible to doing just that. In my own case, as some know, I no longer exercise my right to vote. As the final decision-maker on news coverage in The Post, I refuse to decide, even privately, which candidate would make the better president or member of the city council, or what position I would take on any issue. I want my mind to remain entirely open to all sides and possibilities."
If this true of Downie, it would make him the only person in the history of journalism to possess such qualities. Certainly there is no evidence of it in his paper, one of the most persistently biased journals of the nation. We recommend to him instead of such idiotic cant a more sensible goal of well-reasoned, perceptive, and honest subjectivity which, among other things, would permit the employment of actual human beings as journalists. In any case, at least one member of the Post establishment does not share Downie's view. In 1992, your editor was accosted on 15th Street by publisher Don Graham who asked whom I was supporting for president. When I told him I was backing Jerry Brown, he grabbed my arm, raised it, and shouted to all adjacent citizens, "Look I've found one, an actual Jerry Brown supporter!"
Great headline writer retires
Jim Romenesko - Page Six reports Vincent A. Musetto "was given an affectionate send-off by his colleagues" Thursday night after 40 years at the tabloid. (He notes that he's been with the paper "since it was a left-wing daily.") Musetto, who wrote the classic "Headless Body" headline in 1982, says the favorite of his own heds is "Granny Executed in Her Pink Pajamas.
FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD
(Daily News, 1975)
(Koch re-elected; News, 1985)
KISS YOUR ASTEROID GOODBYE!
(Meteor misses earth; Post, 1998)
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
(Senate fails to convict Clinton; News, 1999)
FROM A BIG HOUSE TO THE BIG HOUSE
(Lizzie Grubman sentenced; News, 2002)
How to tell NPR isn't too liberal: This afternoon, discussing the budget negotiations and the possibility of a federal government shutdown, Mara Liasson said it would remain to be seen what the reaction would be on the part of "the voters, and, more importantly, the financial markets." - Pablo Davis
JPMorgan Chase & Co. has cut its holding in the Gannet Co. the country's largest newspaper corporation. Gannet now has only 8.9% of its assets controlled by the controversial financial biggie. It formerly had 10.2%. We hope these papers tell you about this while covering bailouts and the like: USA Today, Arizona Republic, Indianapolis Star, Cincinnati Enquirer, Tennessean, Louisvile Courier-Journal, Des Moines Register and Detroit Free Press.
NBC still doesn't know how the Internet works
When NBC found out which of its employees had uploaded this 1994 video of Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric mulling over this strange thing called the Internet, it fired the guy. Help NBC figure out how the Internet works by spreading this video as far as possible.
Headline of the day
Vitriol that doesn't seem to bother the media
Mike Huckabee called for the execution of WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange on his Fox News program last November
Fox News commentator Bob Beckel, referring to Assange, called for people to "illegally shoot the son of a bitch."
Rush Limbaugh: "Give [Fox News President Roger] Ailes the order and [then] there is no Assange, I'll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it."
Washington Times columnist Jeffery T. Kuhner titled his column "Assassinate Assange" captioned with a picture Julian Assange overlayed with a gun site, blood spatters, and "WANTED DEAD or ALIVE" with the alive crossed out.
John Hawkins of Townhall.com: "If Julian Assange is shot in the head tomorrow or if his car is blown up when he turns the key, what message do you think that would send about releasing sensitive American data?"
Christian Whiton in a Fox News opinion piece said the US should "designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them."
I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. -- Glenn Beck, May 17, 2005
On the other hand. . .
Joel Simon,executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists: ""If he is prosecuted, it will be because he is a journalist."
Media wimps of the day. . .
The freedom of the press committee of the Overseas Press Club of America in New York City declared Assange "not one of us." The Associated Press, which once filed legal briefs on Assange's behalf, refuses to comment about him. And the National Press Club in Washington, the venue less than a year ago for an Assange news conference, has decided not to speak out about the possibility that he'll be charged with a crime. With a few notable exceptions, it's been left to foreign journalism organizations to offer the loudest calls for the U.S. to recognize WikiLeaks' and Assange's right to publish under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says Julian Assange is not a journalist. Wonder if she would have said the same thing about Mark Twain or Frederick Douglass.
Bob Woodward, who has made a handsome profit exposing government secrets has refused to coment on the situation.
Alarmed by Helen Thomas' charge that much of Washington was under Israeli influence, the executive committee of the Society of Professional Journalists responded forcefully by voting to recommend that a lifetime achievement award given in her name be abandoned. This puts America's professional journalist association somewhat to the right of the European Union which is drafting anti-apartheid policies aimed at Israel.
And you might think the SPJ might be as least as willing to talk about Israel honestly as, say, the former editor of one of that country's leading papers.
PBS didn't air the full acceptance speech Tina Fey gave in its Sunday night broadcast of the Mark Twain Prize for American humor. Here's the graf that PBS cut: "And, you know, politics aside, the success of Sarah Palin and women like her is good for all women - except, of course --those who will end up, you know, like, paying for their own rape 'kit 'n' stuff,.But for everybody else, it's a win-win. Unless you're a gay woman who wants to marry your partner of 20 years - whatever. But for most women, the success of conservative women is good for all of us. Unless you believe in evolution. You know - actually, I take it back. The whole thing's a disaster.
GALLERY: PHOTOS OF MUSLIMS SO JUAN WILLIAMS
WILL KNOW WHEN TO BE SCARED
BBC - A small radio station in southern Sao Paulo has discovered how to turn radio into a new medium. Radar Cultura is allowing listeners to vote for songs, chat to other people and create their own playlists via the station's website. The idea was created in late 2007 by Andre Avorio, who drew inspiration from sites like Digg.com and last.fm to produce a novel type of radio experience. . .
Mr Avorio created Radar Cultura's website using free open source software called Drupal that helps them manage the content they produce - be that radio shows or playlists. Screengrab from Radar Cultura homepage, Rada Cultura The site lets listeners decide what they want to listen to.
The whole station and its website is run using Drupal and the tools that have grown up around it.
"Any other radio station who wants to use the same system behind Radar Cultura, is able to download the software from Drupal's website," he added.
Much of the information published on the site is also released under the Creative Commons license so anyone can take and use it freely.
"The idea is to create collaborative radio and the audience is invited to produce everything," said Leah Ranja, the station's internet producer.
"The audience can vote for the music that they want and we then play the music with the most votes.
"You can also see all the other people who have selected the same track as yourself," she added.
Maegan Carberry, Editor & Publisher - Karen North, director of the online communities master's degree program at USC's Annenberg School of Communication, notes that research shows teenagers believe text messaging is the form of interaction they own, while "only their parents and teachers use email."
Karen explains further, "Gen Y has already shown that they prefer and 'trust' news and information from their friends rather than from expert sources. Add to this that, as is true with pretty much all generations, Gen Y has created their own slang, but in this case, it is in the form of the communications technology and it's language and code rather than spoken slang. The adoption of mobile as the language of this generation, and the ability of mobile to transmit short messages virally and almost instantaneously, makes it more difficult to share expert or even aggregated news, and instead may lead Gen Y to rely on viral news sound bites rather than news as we have known it.". . .
[According to] research findings from Northwestern's Media Management Center, many younger members of Gen Y expressed that it's just too much to follow along with news incrementally. We've lost our sense of momentous occasions in context. Editors now need to accentuate key points and distinguish major news from drivel - with the ADD set in mind.
As my friend Marc Mitchell, former operating officer of UrbanDaddy.com and founder of Celbrifantasy.com and other online content businesses, pointed out to me this weekend after he attended yet another mobile media conference: The kiddos are looking for instantaneous results.
"They consume news and info faster," he said. "They expect it to be delivered faster. It's more about speed than depth of knowledge. They want the headline, not the story.". . .
Mark suggested, however, that if executed properly, news organizations will be able to gain new users on mobile devices and use the medium as an entry point to their more substantive offerings online.
"It's less about altering content, but rather to make the experience enjoyable for the user," he said. "News organizations shouldn't change their content or the way they report. It should just be easier for people to get the content. They'll have to work to make sure that they are fast, usable and enjoyable via mobile devices."
We have noted before that, contrary to popular image, among the biggest readers of Matt Drudge are other journalists and that more than a few of his stories are planted by these journalists in order to drive readers to their copy. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post confirms this:
Chris Cillizza, The Fix In interviews with more than a dozen operatives -- many of whom are rightly classified "Drudgeologists" for their intimate study of the likes and dislikes of the man and the site -- two major reasons are offered.
First and foremost, is the depth -- and the quality -- of Drudge's readership. Drudge's number of unique visitors is regularly touted but what is more important, in terms of his ability to drives news cycles, is that every reporter and editor who covers politics is checking the site multiple times a day.
Phil Singer, former deputy communications director for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign and now a Democratic consultant, called Drudge's "elite readership" a key to his influence. Singer added that a walk through any press filing center at a debate reveals every other laptop, at least, has Drudge's website up on its screen.
The second major reason for Drudge's influence, according to the Fix's informal poll of Drudgeologists is his ability to sniff out a potentially big story when others -- including reporters -- miss it at first glance.
"He can identify what's a big deal even when the reporters who actually cover and report on an event don't realize what they have," said one GOP strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. "He scoops reporters' scoops."
Kevin Madden, a Republican operative now with the Glover Park Group, said that Drudge's site serves as a "national political assignment editor of sorts for those covering the campaign trail."
Katie Levinson, former communications director for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, echoed Madden's sentiment: "The Drudge Report has become the must-read for TV anchors and radio personalities before they go on air, for bookers sorting out what's 'newsy' in a non-stop news cycle, and for political candidates looking to avoid getting blindsided by the press."
Regardless of the reason given for Drudge's power, to a person, everyone The Fix spoke to agreed that there is no single tool more powerful in the modern media for breaking a story or turning up the volume on a little-noticed comment.
The trouble with MSNBC & CNN is that they can't tell the difference between breaking news and broken news - Josiah Swampoodle
CHRIS HEDGES, TRUTHDIG Washington has become Versailles. We are ruled, entertained and informed by courtiers. The popular media are courtiers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are courtiers. Our pundits and experts are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games. We are being had.
The past week was a good one if you were a courtier. We were instructed by the high priests on television over the past few days to mourn a Sunday morning talk show host, who made $5 million a year and who gave a platform to the powerful and the famous so they could spin, equivocate and lie to the nation. We were repeatedly told by these television courtiers, people like Tom Brokaw and Wolf Blitzer, that this talk show host was one of our nation's greatest journalists, as if sitting in a studio, putting on makeup and chatting with Dick Cheney or George W. Bush have much to do with journalism.
No journalist makes $5 million a year. No journalist has a comfortable, cozy relationship with the powerful. No journalist believes that acting as a conduit, or a stenographer, for the powerful is a primary part of his or her calling. Those in power fear and dislike real journalists. Ask Seymour Hersh and Amy Goodman how often Bush or Cheney has invited them to dinner at the White House or offered them an interview.
All governments lie, as I.F. Stone pointed out, and it is the job of the journalist to do the hard, tedious reporting to shine a light on these lies. It is the job of courtiers, those on television playing the role of journalists, to feed off the scraps tossed to them by the powerful and never question the system. In the slang of the profession, these television courtiers are "throats." These courtiers, including the late Tim Russert, never gave a voice to credible critics in the buildup to the war against Iraq. They were too busy playing their roles as red-blooded American patriots. They never fought back in their public forums against the steady erosion of our civil liberties and the trashing of our Constitution. These courtiers blindly accept the administration's current propaganda to justify an attack on Iran. They parrot this propaganda. They dare not defy the corporate state. The corporations that employ them make them famous and rich. It is their Faustian pact. No class of courtiers, from the eunuchs behind Manchus in the 19th century to the Baghdad caliphs of the Abbasid caliphate, has ever transformed itself into a responsible elite. Courtiers are hedonists of power.
BRIAN STELTER, NY TIMES According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been "massively scaled back this year." Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The "CBS Evening News" has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC's "World News" and 74 minutes on "NBC Nightly News." (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.) CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.
HELEN THOMAS ASKS TOUGH QUESTIONS
ABOUT TORTURE; ONLINERS SEND HER FLOWERS
PHOTO BY FITCHMICAH
It's not just ABC that is distorting the story. Above are the number of mentions, according to Google, in the last month of major presidential candidates in combination with controversial figures in their past. Most striking is the the near total media blackout on Hillary Clinton's past personal and business with later convicted criminals like Webster Hubbell and the McDougals.
JOSSIP About a month ago, [David Gregory] joined NBC colleague Tim Russert at a Washington D.C. restaurant for dinner, where he showed his lack of appreciation for the help. . . The twosome's waitress somehow messed up their dinner order, and Gregory - whom CBS is supposedly "enamored" with in their hunt for a Katie Couric replacement - let's say, caustically reminded her how bad she erred. . .Russert chewed Gregory out for his tactless behavior. "Russert warned Gregory never to behave that way in front of him again," says a spy. And once MSNBC got wind of the story, they made Gregory "promise up and down to change his behavior" before they handed him the 6pm slot, we're told. . .
DANNY SCHECHTER, EDITOR & PUBLISHER - "It is somewhat surprising," Larry Elliott, economics editor of London's The Guardian observed recently, "that there is not already rioting in the streets, given the gigantic fraud perpetrated by the financial elite at the expense of ordinary Americans." If such a fraud was taking place, and if Wall Street's financial crisis, according to the usually staid Economist, was on the edge of "disaster" with a "financial nuclear winter" waiting in the wings, why were American news consumers among the last to know?
On the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, our press was papered with retrospectives that dealt with every aspect of the conflict except its own miscoverage. At the same time, another and, arguably, more serious crisis had been underway longer and covered even more poorly.
The New York Times finally got around to examining war reporting as a business not journalism story on March 24 (below the fold), well after the unhappy anniversary. The story cited as a prime excuse for the fall-off in coverage, a study suggesting a "decline in public interest" as if that was not influenced by the lack of the issue's visibility. Other factors were the expense and danger of covering a Iraq.
Those excuses cannot justify the fact that most of the reporting on Wall Street's woes started only after the market melted down in August 2007,and not as this crisis built in intensity since 2001 when a housing bubble was engineered to replace the failed dot.com bubble. The financial world is not in Baghdad, not risky or expensive to cover. In fact, most media outlets have correspondents on the scene every day.
Was the press just not paying attention as hundreds of billions of dollars were swept into exotic structure investment vehicles over years, and then sliced and diced into CDO's and so-called asset based securities? A New York Times columnist even admitted that experts and advocates first warned them in 2001 that predatory lending practices were devastating poor neighborhoods but the issue was not covered in any depth for five years. This has resulted in nearly three million families facing foreclosure and the rest of us losing share and home values. . .
Most of the coverage has been relegated to not widely read business sections that focus on the ups and downs of the markets and the way the collapse of these arrangements have affected the fortunes of CEOS and business enterprises, not citizens, consumers and most of all homeowners, many of whom are or will be losing their homes.
Dean Starkman ,who studied the spotty "business" coverage in detail for the Columbia Journalism Review, concluded: "Today, as the credit crisis unravels, the business press can be fairly blamed for inattentiveness to the growing strains on middle-income borrowers. Maybe that's why so many middle-income people don't read it."
There is more to this very sad failure. Many newspapers and TV outlets were complicit. They accepted and made tons of money carrying slick and often deceptive advertising for shady mortgage lenders and credit card companies encouraging readers and viewers to accept more debt. Some major newspaper are tied into local real estate syndicates and get kickbacks from sales tied to their extensive advertising of homes for sale. . .
What's worse is that the coverage may have missed the truly criminal aspects of this crisis, the issue so far being raised mostly overseas. This will be fought out in courtrooms worldwide when those who purchased worthless mortgages sue the companies who sold them knowing their true value. Why are the RICO laws not being used to prosecute a scam involving so many "entangled" companies? There is no shortage of data on this fraudulent and discriminatory scheme.
Already the FBI is investigating 17 mortgage companies. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who never figured out that waterboarding is torture, now says his department is trying to figure out whether there is a larger criminal story.
Don't hold your breath for him to figure it out. Where is our mighty media that devoted so many acres of print to investigating Eliot Spitzer's victimless hypocrisy in looking into a far deeper failure that affects all of us and the future of our society?
ENDANGERED SPECIES: THE NEWSPAPER CARTOONIST
MEDILL REPORT - "Newspapers are getting rid of cartoonists at an alarming rate. They're trying to make themselves as irrelevant to readers as possible," said Milt Priggee, former cartoonist for Crain's Chicago Business. "The first thing a human being recognizes is visuals. Children can recognize images before they can read the written word. The very first person you should be hiring when you start a newspaper is a cartoonist."
According to Kent Worcester in a 2007 article by the American Political Science Association, "the waning of two-newspaper cities, the consolidation of the newspaper industry, and outsourcing in the form of substituting syndicated material for staff-generated material" are all to blame.
The result has been a drastic cut in staff cartoonist jobs, from 2,000 in the early 20th century, to nearly 200 in the 1980's, to less than 90 today. . .
Ted Rall, an editorial cartoonist whose work appears in more than 140 U.S. newspapers, has witnessed a "continuing trend away from editorial cartoons to illustrations of the news."
"These are cartoons that kind of don't tell you anything you didn't already know," said Rall.
Nick Anderson is a staff cartoonist for the Houston Chronicle and the 2005 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.
"Occasionally I will indulge in something funny, and it's fine to keep readers engaged with something lighthearted," said Anderson. But "the operative word in editorial cartoons is editorial."
"What you see printed in national editions is definitely watered down and safe," said Anderson. "But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of good, pointed commentary going on."
A DIFFERENT KIND OF NEWSPAPER WAR
JONATHAN ROWE, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW - Out here in West Marin County, California, we live in a quiet, constant state of siege. The rolling ranchlands and ocean beaches are iconic. Point Reyes National Seashore, which occupies much of the coastland, draws more than two million visitors a year. You scan the unspoiled hills and it is not hard to imagine encampments of developers, waiting like guerrillas for their moment to descend. . .
The protected seashore is expanding literally to the edge of Point Reyes Station, which is the closest thing to a hub. More tourists are coming, traffic is increasing, and second and third homes are proliferating. . . The resulting tensions are ripe journalistic fodder, but instead of just covering them, the local paper itself has become a focal point.
The Point Reyes Light is almost as iconic as the landscape it inhabits. In 1979, the Light became the little paper that could, when it won a Pulitzer for its investigations of the cult-like Synanon, a local drug rehab center whose officials once left a rattlesnake in the mailbox of a critic. But the prize meant less to local readers than did weekly news about the National Seashore's expansion plans, run-off into Tomales Bay, and reckless motorcycle riders who accelerate into blind curves and fly off coastal Highway One (not that anyone's grief would be less than total about that). It was our forum.
But a couple of years ago, the Light changed hands, and the new owner soon became an embodiment of the worst fears for the area the newspaper used to symbolize.
Now West Marin has a second weekly, the West Marin Citizen, which has made a strong start with the Light's disaffected readers. "Newspaper war" may be too strong a term; the competition is low-key, as is most of life out here. Like former spouses at a social gathering, the two weeklies barely acknowledge one another's presence. But the advertiser and subscriber bases are limited (total population is about 15,000) and few people expect that two papers can survive for long. . .
EDITOR & PUBLISHER - In a message that probably is not going down well in The New York Times' front office, the paper's public editor, Clark Hoyt, has called the controversial hiring of William Kristol as an op-ed columnist a "mistake."
He also wrote, in his column today, that of nearly 700 messages he has received about the selection, only one praised the pick. Arthur Sulzberger, he revealed, "was surprised by the vehemence of the reaction.". . .
Hoyt concludes the column: "This is a decision I would not have made. But it is not the end of the world. Everyone should take a deep breath and calm down.... If Kristol is another [William] Safire, he has the chance to prove it. If not, he and the newspaper will move on, and the search will resume."
THE ALTERNATIVE NEWSPAPER CON
Having been putting out alternative publications since before they had a name, I have long been fascinated by the claim of certain free urban weeklies that they are "alternative." As I wrote early in their existence, when you read them you got the impression that when the revolution came, the guerillas would come down the mountain wearing jackets from Bloomingdales, on Head skis and listening to Walkmen. Jack Shafer, then editor of the Washington City Paper put me straight, explaining, "Look, we're not an alternative news medium; we're an alternative advertising medium."
More recently, these urban weeklies have become the voice of the gentry moving into our cities, modestly seeing themselves as part of a great renaissance and perpetuating the corporate-friendly myth that cool and hip are something you buy, attend or listen to rather than something you are.
Now the executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies is taking the con a step further: suggesting that these faux alternatives have some sort of proprietary interest in the word. As you read the following, it may help - or merely amaze - you to know some of Richard Karpel's own history as an alternative voice taking on the system as provided by his bio:
"Richard Karpel has been executive director of AAN since July 1995. Before joining AAN, he worked for nine years in varying capacities with the Video Software Dealers Association, the Encino, Calif.-based trade group for the home video industry. . . While working for VSDA when it was still jointly managed with the National Association of Recording Merchandisers -- which represents retailers of recorded music -- Karpel led NARM's government affairs program.
"In May 1980, he received a BS in Business Administration from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and three years later he received a Juris Doctorate from Chicago-Kent College of Law."
RICHARD KARPEL, AAN - Apparently, a guy named Leland Lehrman is running for the Democratic nomination to represent New Mexico in the U.S. Senate. I know this because I subscribe to Google Alerts set to the term "alternative newspaper," and I've received at least a dozen alerts notifying me of newspaper stories about the Senate race in which Lehrman is invariably described as an editor of "an alternative newspaper in Santa Fe."
I've got nothing against Lehrman, but his publication, The Sun News, is most assuredly not an "alternative newspaper." To its credit, The Sun News is pretty unique and doesn't fit comfortably under any label. I guess I'd call it a local journal of politics and opinion -- left-wing, "9/11 Truth Movement" - type politics and opinion, to be precise.
This isn't the first time that a publication that is not an alternative newspaper was mistakenly characterized as one. Community weeklies, GLBT papers, arts and entertainment tabloids -- they are all occasionally called alternative newspapers by confused reporters. Usually I just shrug it off. But today I decided that perhaps I could make some small contribution to human understanding and the brand equity of our member papers by pointing it out every time I see the term used incorrectly. . .
On behalf of the members of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, I hereby plant our flag in the white space between the words "alternative" and "newspaper." We intend to defend this turf to the death!
A big part of the problem is that many people use the term "alternative newspaper" too literally. In the present case, for example, The Sun News is a "newspaper" -- can't deny that. And it certainly is "alternative," in the American Heritage Dictionary definition sense of the word, i.e., "Existing outside traditional or established institutions or systems," and "Espousing or reflecting values that are different from those of the establishment or mainstream."
But "alternative newspaper" is more than the sum of its parts. It is a term of art that describes newspapers that share a certain set of characteristics, which are roughly as follows:
Free-circulation tabloid. . . General interest coverage primarily focused on local news, culture and the arts. . . Extensive entertainment listings. . . Informal and sometimes profane writing style. . . Emphasis on point-of-view reporting and narrative journalism. . . Reporting that often concerns issues and communities that don't receive much attention from other media. . . Political philosophy and organizational culture based on tolerance for individual freedoms and social differences
With two or three minor exceptions, those characteristics apply squarely to all 130 AAN member newspapers. They do not all apply to The Sun News.
One final thought: At this point in our history, we are not interested in defending our use of the term "alternative." As I have explained to many reporters who have asked me accusingly, "So what makes your papers alternative, anyway?": In the 70s, when alternative newspapers first began appearing in large numbers in urban areas across the U.S. and Canada, we really did represent an alternative to the two daily papers, three television networks and handful of magazines that most North Americans were forced to turn to for news prior to the advent of cable TV and the internet. Now, with the explosion in media choices wrought by technology, we are just one of many alternative news sources. We recognize that and don't mean to imply we are the only media option outside of the mainstream. But after more than three decades of dropping the F-bomb in print and sticking it to the man, we've built up a certain amount of brand equity in the term "alternative newspaper," and we'd rather not share it with the likes of Leland Lehrman, thank you.
MEDIA COVERING UP FOR HR CLINTON
AS it did for her husband in his first run for the presidency, the mainstream media is busy covering up for Hillary Clinton. We're talking history here - although there is plenty in the past that should be in the news and isn't. What we're talking about is current stories that are being suppresses. Three examples:
- HRC is using national secrets thief Sandy Berger as a major advisor. Berger's outrageous lifting of government documents never got the attention it deserved and he never got the punishment he deserved, but one might have imagined that he at least would not be on the fast track back to the White House again. Why Berger stole the documents remains a mystery although a reasonable assumption is that they were originals with embarrassing notations on them by HRC's husband.
- A lawsuit concerning HR Clinton's claims of non-involvement in a major fundraising scandal has been kept from view by most of the major media. While we don't know the outcome of the case, we do know that there is an allegedly smoking gun video and the possibility of criminal charges should HRC lose the case. Whatever the outcome, this is news right now.
- HRC just withdrew her strange baby bond scheme less than a month after presenting it. Buried in an AP account is this: "Clinton first mentioned a so-called 'baby bond' last month in an appearance before the Congressional Black Caucus, saying it was just an idea and not a policy proposal. The idea was criticized by Republicans, and she told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Tuesday that it's off the table." As John Edwards' spokesman Chris Kofinus said, "Apparently, new polling data seems to have pressured the Clinton campaign to throw out the baby bond with the bathwater." We can't recall another major issue being dropped by a candidate so quickly. Again, that's news, but you'd only rarely know it from following the big media.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: "Worst interview I've ever had in my life" TPR: One of Stewart's best
JOURNALISTS AND QUOTATIONS MARKS
DEBORAH HOWELL, OMBUDSMAN, WASHINGTON POST - I asked Post staffers and readers to comment on Post policy that using quotation marks means "those exact words should have been uttered in precisely that form. . . At The Post, the opinions varied from "we treat quotations as gospel" and "Any change of any comment put within quotation marks is an ethical breach" to "I just don't see the reason for quoting someone verbatim . . . unless it adds something to the story." Some reporters told me they follow their instincts rather than Post policy. . .
Some readers and Post staff members feel that preserving embarrassingly ungrammatical quotes is not fair and that cleaning them up is fine. . .
The reporters and readers who agreed that cleaning up quotes is okay used the same reasoning as Teresa Galloway of Ithaca, N.Y.: "The larger point is that people -- even very educated ones -- almost never speak according to the conventions of standard written grammar."
Post reporter and funnyman Gene Weingarten said: "What does 'exact' mean? Does it mean we are compelled to include every momentary digression, every cough or mid-sentence sneeze, and every little illiteracy or word-choice imprecision that someone might utter in the course of answering a question? I don't think so. I think we are held to several responsibilities, as journalists, and sometimes these rub up against each other a little bit. We are supposed to tell the truth as best we can. We are also supposed to be clear and concise, and communicate thoughts efficiently. . . . I think our responsibility to write clearly and compellingly requires us to be more than just a tape recorder."
In fact, Style editor Henry Allen blames tape recorders. "Before, we were told to quote the person as exactly as possible, and above all to get the sense of what was said. Then we got tape recorders. The exact quote was possible. But with the exact quote we sometimes lost the sense of what was said because the hesitations and digressions in the quote steered readers away from the context.". . .
Bob Steele, an ethics scholar at the Poynter Institute, which trains journalists, said: "Quotes should accurately and authentically reflect the words used in an interview. If we start changing words inside quote marks, then we raise questions about all other quotes. We will increase the distrust factor about the veracity of our journalism."
[The Review policy is to be as faithful as possible to the original, with a few exceptions such as:
- We routinely eliminate day references - "said last Thursday" - from the stories we cite as this becomes confusing when they are archived.
- We eliminate - including in the story above - gratuitous capitalization of words, exclamations points and capitals in the middle of words. We call this translating the quote into English, although lately things like corporatized capitalization has become so common that if we're rushed, we leave it in. Here's a question: why does the media and academia let corporations determine how English is used? Why shouldn't iTunes be Itunes? Apple has a right to make gadgets but not to screw up our language.
- We use ellipses heavily to indicate where matter is missing.
- We use obscenities without dashes and have done so ever since one of your editor's sons came home from pre-school and called his father a "doo-doo fucker." The battle for purity appeared to have been lost.
- We do not help lawyers ruin English by such things as putting capital letters in brackets where they weren't in the first place: "[W]e also went. . ." Neither do we include gratuitous abbreviations after every name in capital letters as in "the Society for the Prevention of Putting Parsley on People's Plates in Public Places [SPPPPPPP]." We regard our readers sufficiently intelligent to guess what SPPPPPPP means when it is used in the next paragraph.]
TV FAIRER TO CANDIDATES THAN PRINT MEDIA
An amazing chart accompanying a NY Times story about Fox News' bias towards Rudolph Giuliani shows that - in terms of interviews at least - the major networks have been far fairer to the range of Democratic and Republican candidates than has been the print media. As we have noted, in the first six months of this year the print media massively favored Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in its coverage. But despite Fox's obvious bias towards' Giuliani, the other networks have not only been fairer, they have shown almost a reverse prejudice, with Joe Biden getting twice as many interviews as Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee getting more than Giuliani. We suspect this has something to do with the ease of booking lower ranked candidates and who makes an interesting interview, but it certainly has produced some surprising results:
TIM RUSSERT INTERVIEWED BY ALAN COLMES
Colmes: What do you read everyday?
Russert: I read a lot. I read six and seven newspapers. I read the New York Times, the Washington Times, I read the Washington Post, [New York] Daily News, [New York] Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today.
Colmes: All those every single day?
Russert: I read the Weekly Standard, the New Republic. I love to read left, right, center. I want to know what everyone is thinking and why.
FAIR COMMENTS: We count two right-wing papers, five centrist papers (two of which have right-wing or right-leaning editorial pages), a centrist magazine and a right-wing magazine.
RADAR - A respected former Dateline NBC investigative producer is claiming that her opposition the "To Catch a Predator" franchise got her wrongfully canned by the network. Marsha Bartel, who spent 21 years with NBC, was laid off last year as part of NBC's "TV 2.0" reorganization. But in a lawsuit filed against NBC in Illinois last week, Bartel claims she was actually fired after she refused to participate in the "Predator" stings because the network's arrangements with Perverted Justice and local police violated NBC News ethical guidelines.
According to the lawsuit, which was posted at the Smoking Gun, Bartel complained to network brass that "To Catch a Predator" presented a host of ethical problems and made quick work of NBC policies that she, as a producer, had a duty to comply with: The network pays Perverted Justice, a shadowy online vigilante group that trolls for perverts by posing as children; it "unethically pays or directly reimburses law enforcement officials to participate in the 'Predator' stings"; and "unethically provides unfettered access to live video feeds . . . to law enforcement officials." The lawsuit describes the filmed arrests of "Predator" targets as "dramatically staged" and claims that "NBC unethically covers up the fact that law enforcement officials act improperly . . . and goo[f] off by waiving rubber chickens in the faces of sting targets while forcing them to the ground and handcuffing them."
Bartel referred a telephone call to her attorney, who did not immediately return a message. A spokeswoman for NBC said in a statement, "We have been transparent about our reporting methods, including the role of law enforcement and Perverted Justice. Although the reports have been subject to some controversy, audience reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. NBC News is proud of its reporting and we believe this lawsuit is without merit."
MEDIA SPINS FALSEHOODS ABOUT CHAVEZ
FAIR - The story is framed in U.S. news media as a simple matter of censorship: Prominent Venezuelan TV station RCTV is being silenced by the authoritarian government of President Hugo Chavez, who is punishing the station for its political criticism of his government.
According to CNN reporter T.J. Holmes, the issues are easy to understand: RCTV "is going to be shut down, is going to get off the air, because of President Hugo Chavez, not a big fan of it." Dubbing RCTV "a voice of free speech," Holmes explained, "Chavez, in a move that's angered a lot of free-speech groups, is refusing now to renew the license of this television station that has been critical of his government."
Though straighter, a news story by the Associated Press still maintained the theme that the license denial was based simply on political differences, with reporter Elizabeth Munoz describing RCTV as "a network that has been critical of Chavez."
In a May 14 column, Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl called the action an attempt to silence opponents and more "proof" that Chavez is a "dictator." Wrote Diehl, "Chavez has made clear that his problem with [RCTV owner Marcel] Granier and RCTV is political."
RCTV and other commercial TV stations were key players in the April 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez's democratically elected government. During the short-lived insurrection, coup leaders took to commercial TV airwaves to thank the networks. "I must thank Venevision and RCTV," one grateful leader remarked in an appearance captured in the Irish film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The film documents the networks' participation in the short-lived coup, in which stations put themselves to service as bulletin boards for the coup - hosting coup leaders, silencing government voices and rallying the opposition to a march on the Presidential Palace that was part of the coup plotters strategy.
On April 11, 2002, the day of the coup, when military and civilian opposition leaders held press conferences calling for Chavez's ouster, RCTV hosted top coup plotter Carlos Ortega, who rallied demonstrators to the march on the presidential palace. On the same day, after the anti-democratic overthrow appeared to have succeeded, another coup leader, Vice-Admiral Victor Ramírez Pérez, told a Venevisión reporter: "We had a deadly weapon: the media. And now that I have the opportunity, let me congratulate you."
As FAIR's magazine Extra! argued last November, "Were a similar event to happen in the U.S., and TV journalists and executives were caught conspiring with coup plotters, it's doubtful they would stay out of jail, let alone be allowed to continue to run television stations, as they have in Venezuela."
What RCTV did simply can't be justified under any stretch of journalistic principles. When a television channel simply fails to report, simply goes off the air during a period of national crisis, not because they're forced to, but simply because they don't agree with what's happening, you've lost your ability to defend what you do on journalistic principles.
The Venezuelan government is basing its denial of license on RCTV's involvement in the 2002 coup, not on the station's criticisms of or political opposition to the government. Many American pundits and some human rights spokespersons have confused the issue by claiming the action is based merely on political differences, failing to note that Venezuela's media, including its commercial broadcasters, are still among the most vigorously dissident on the planet.
The RCTV case is not about censorship of political opinion. It is about the government, through a flawed process, declining to renew a broadcast license to a company that would not get a license in other democracies, including the United States. In fact, it is frankly amazing that this company has been allowed to broadcast for 5 years after the coup, and that the Chavez government waited until its license expired to end its use of the public airwaves.
MEDIA REVOLUTION HASN'T PRODUCED A BETTER INFORMED PUBLIC
PEW SURVEY - A new nationwide survey finds that the coaxial and digital revolutions and attendant changes in news audience behaviors have had little impact on how much Americans know about national and international affairs. On average, today's citizens are about as able to name their leaders, and are about as aware of major news events, as was the public nearly 20 years ago. The new survey includes nine questions that are either identical or roughly comparable to questions asked in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 2007, somewhat fewer were able to name their governor, the vice president, and the president of Russia, but more respondents than in the earlier era gave correct answers to questions pertaining to national politics.
In 1989, for example, 74% could come up with Dan Quayle's name when asked who the vice president is. Today, somewhat fewer (69%) are able to recall Dick Cheney. However, more Americans now know that the chief justice of the Supreme Court is generally considered a conservative and that Democrats control Congress than knew these things in 1989.
The survey provides further evidence that changing news formats are not having a great deal of impact on how much the public knows about national and international affairs. The polling does find the expected correlation between how much citizens know and how avidly they watch, read, or listen to news reports. The most knowledgeable third of the public is four times more likely than the least knowledgeable third to say they enjoy keeping up with the news "a lot."
Well-informed audiences come from cable (Daily Show/Colbert Report, O'Reilly Factor), the internet (especially major newspaper websites), broadcast TV (News Hour with Jim Lehrer) and radio (NPR, Rush Limbaugh's program). The less informed audiences also frequent a mix of formats: broadcast television (network morning news shows, local news), cable (Fox News Channel), and the internet (online blogs where people discuss news events).
More than nine-in-ten Americans (93%) could identify Arnold Schwarzenegger . . . An equally large proportion of the public identified Hillary Clinton as a U.S. senator, a former first lady, a Democratic leader, or a candidate for president. Clear majorities can also correctly identify Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (65%) and Sen. Barack Obama (61%). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is recognized by about half of the public (49%).
DANA MILBANK, PLAYGROUND BULLY
SAM SMITH - There are few more repugnant journalistic habits than to making fun of the weak. We journalists were put on this earth to keep the powerful under control, not to ridicule those without power. But it's a principle without value in Washington, especially by playground bullies such as Dana Milbank of the Washington Post who - like bullies everywhere - shores up his insecurities by making fun of those he feels it's safe to beat up. The latest example is a Milbank article ridiculing Dennis Kucinich's efforts to impeach Richard Cheney, even making fun of Kucinich's size by noting he was " standing perhaps 5 feet 6 inches tall in shoes" and wearing "a solemn face as he approached the microphones, which nearly reached his eye level."
As a political tactic, Kucinich's effort is certainly debatable, but in a decent world - by any standard of traditional American values - Cheney would be eminently impeachable. Cheney and his boss have done more damage to the American republic than any White House in our history.
The fact that we are logistically and politically unable to deal with this problem is no joke. But for Skull and Boner Milbank, it is far more important to stay in tight with the local power structure than to worry about the future of the republic. The fact that Kucinich is right - as he has been about a lot of things - makes no difference; he's just not preppy and conventional enough for Milbank's taste.
But Yalie snobbery won't change the course of history for the better in the slightest. Milbank should consider the fact that during over two-thirds of the quarter century or so that America has been going down the tubes, a fellow graduate of Yale has been in charge of this country, two of them members of this own infantile secret society. That is nothing to be snobbish about.
SAM SMITH, JUNE 2005 - Dana Milbank's snotty attack on critics of White House behavior as revealed in the Downing Street memos illuminates a carefully concealed truth about the media: its definition of objectivity stops at the edge of anything left of center. Standard Democratic policy is okay, even a liberal quote or two, but anything further to the left is simply excluded from coverage unless - as in Milbank's case - it is there to ridicule.
Milbank's dislike for the left began long ago and writes of it in a style that might be called unmaturated preppie. For example, in September 2000 the Washington Post reporter said one of the presidential candidates, Ralph Nader, that his "only enemy is the corporation." Skull & Bonesman Milbank also described Greens as "radical activists in sandals." Since your editor was soon to speak with Nader at an event in Washington, I brought along a pair of sandals so Milbank's description would not be totally false. Of course, he didn't show up because Nader and the Greens fell into that classic media category: important enough to scorn but not important enough to cover.
Being among the last progressive journalists in the capital I am conscious of the massive disinterest of the rest of the media in anything left of center. When I started in 1964, my work was appealing enough to mainstream journalism to be offered jobs at the New York Times and the Washington Post. I was frequently called by journalists wanting to know what was going on in the civil rights or anti-war movement. These calls were seldom hostile: the left was a reality that needed to be covered and even the Post had some good reporters on the case. I tried, then as now, to serve as an helpful interpreter rather than as a rhetorical advocate and even developed a few friends along the way.
But these days I rarely get calls from the conventional media. Jim Ridgeway of the Village Voice, down the hall from my office, reports a similar phenomenon. Two guys with decades of history and background about progressive politics that is considered totally irrelevant by establishment Washington. The left, progressive movements, and social change are simply not thought to be worthy subjects by the corporate media - or by NPR for that matter.
The exception is that it is generally presumed amongst the media that progressives are fair targets for mockery. In a recent article in the faux hip Vanity Fair on Jeff Gannon, David Margolik and Richard Gooding offered as a positive that Gannon "balanced off some of the left-wingers in the room such as Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, and a Naderite, who once asked McCellan whether, given the administration's support for the public display of the Ten commandments, President Bush believed that the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' applied to the U.S. invasion of Iraq."
The fact that the authors considered that a stupid question tells much about the sorry state of Washington journalism. Further, Russell Mokhiber often tells more important truths in one column than Vanity Fair does in a whole issue.
The trend is also confirmed by Harry Jaffe of the Washingtonian who has published a list of a score of political blogs that DC journalists like. Not one is to the left of Democratic Party liberalism, which these days means saying, "right on" to whatever conservative Democrat is in charge. Of the 20 sites, only two are on my list - the libertarian Hit & Run and the poll-heavy Real Politics. The common characteristic of many of the others is their utter predictability.
Put simply, the media doesn't like the left, social change, Greens, or progressive thought. It deals with them by ignoring them or mocking them, in either case excluding them from its own perverted definition of objectivity.
FAIR, 2005 - After over a month of scant media attention, mainstream U.S. outlets have begun to report more seriously about the "Downing Street Memo," the minutes of a July 2002 meeting of British government officials that indicate the White House had already made up its mind to invade Iraq at that early date, and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of invading rather than seeking a peaceful solution.
A June 7 White House press conference with George W. Bush and Tony Blair offered the first public response from Bush to the memo, and with that came an upswing in U.S. media attention. But some in the media took it as a chance to lash out at the activists who have been bringing attention to the story all along. On June 8, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank referred to Downing Street Memo activists--some of whom were offering a cash reward for the first journalist to ask Bush about the memo--as "wing nuts." He also offered an illogical explanation for the memo's low media profile:
"In part, the memo never gained traction here because, unlike in Britain, it wasn't election season, and the war is not as unpopular here. In part, it's also because the notion that Bush was intent on military action in Iraq had been widely reported here before, in accounts from Paul O'Neill and Bob Woodward, among others. The memo was also more newsworthy across the Atlantic because it reinforced the notion there that Blair has been acting as Bush's 'poodle.'"
Milbank had reported the same day that his paper's latest poll showed that only 41 percent of Americans approved of the Iraq war--which makes one wonder when exactly the war would cross Milbank's threshold and become unpopular enough to make the memo newsworthy. . .
Davis Brooks tries to grab Imus' slot
PROSECUTOR HARASSMENT OF MEDIA DOESN'T PRODUCE EVIDENCE
GENE POLICINSKI, FIRST AMENDMENT CENTER - Unless I've missed something, the outcome of the [Josh] Wolf case - and the apparent non-news contained in his video of a clash between police and protesters - is yet another non-result for prosecutors in a host of cases where journalists have been jailed or threatened with jail for not disclosing sources, confidential information or other newsgathering material.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for 85 days in 2005 for not honoring a grand jury subpoena seeking her source in a CIA leaks case. Ultimately, former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI for not disclosing to investigators his role in leaking the identity of former officer Valerie Plame. Significance of Miller's information in convicting Libby: none.
Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters were on track to follow Wolf into prison for refusing to identify the source of leaks about federal grand jury testimony in an athletes-and-steroids investigation. But officials discovered the identity of the leak's source without hearing from the journalists. Significance of the reporters' confidential information in the ultimate disclosure - and punishment - of the source, an attorney: none.
Providence, R.I., television reporter Jim Taricani was placed under house arrest for four months for defying a court order to reveal who illegally gave him a secret FBI videotape showing a Providence official taking a bribe. The case was concluded by the time Taricani - who as a heart-transplant recipient was permitted to serve his sentence at home rather than in a jail cell - was incarcerated. Significance of his confidential information in terms of the bribery case at hand, and in the ultimate disclosure - and punishment - of the source, an attorney: none.
There's a pattern here. Journalists have been jailed or threatened with jail in various high-profile cases - no small matter to them, no small matter of expense and angst for their publications and no small challenge to the First Amendment's guarantee of a free and independent press. Apparent value of the journalists to prosecutors and the process of justice: None in the cases at hand, and minimal in terms of adding legal luster to a well-established 1972 Supreme Court decision that says journalists have no legal "shield" in federal court from being compelled to testify.
This is not to say that resisting court orders is a lightly done thing. But in terms of results, and the occasional bureaucratic bluster involved in bringing reporters to heel, Shakespeare described it best: "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
SAM SMITH- One of the ways that journalists and their employers dismiss or trivialize a problem they don't want to deal with is to call it a conspiracy theory. Journalists didn't always act that way. There was a time when broad skepticism was one of the hallmarks of a good reporter. But that changed as American democracy, global reputation and culture began to disintegrate even as journalists gained status in a failing establishment responsible for these declines. With a major vested interest in elite decisions, those who criticized or doubted them were increasingly assigned the role of conspiracy theorists, whether out of journalistic bias, ignorance or indolence.
Despite the ubiquity of the canard, Lizzie Widdicombe of the New Yorker deserves notice for taking it all to a higher level. The New Yorker, which too often serves as an intellectual Leisure World for smug liberals, ran a trivial piece by Widdicombe about electronic voting that began:
"Nothing excites an electoral conspiracy theorist like electronic voting machines. There's the latest foul-up in Florida (eighteen thousand votes lost in the Thirteenth District in November), or the Princeton professor-you can watch him on YouTube - who in less than a minute hacks into a voting machine and plants software redirecting votes from candidate - George Washington" to "Benedict Arnold." In 2002, the federal government mandated that states upgrade their voting systems. New York is among the last in the country to do so-the slowness, depending on whom you ask, derives either from caution or from incompetence. In the meantime, the city's Board of Elections has called in an unlikely authority: the voting public.
"A couple of weeks ago, a notice appeared in local papers announcing that all voting-machine venders being considered for a state contract would give a demonstration of their wares in Staten Island. The event was part of an "American Idol"-like series of shows around the city, to culminate in a hearing at which voters will voice their opinions about the machines. . . "
A serious journalist might at least wonder why New York is treating such an important matter as a popularity contest rather than as an objective examination of one of the most important issues of our democracy. But even more significant in this case is an article by Ronnie Dugger that appeared in 1988, one of the first to point out the dangers in electronic voting. If media and politicians had paid attention to Dugger (and similar work three years earlier by David Bernham in the NY Times) we might have saved ourselves a lot of misery. As Dugger's article noted two decades ago:
"As of the most recent tests this year, errors in the basic counting instructions in the computer programs had been found in almost a fifth of the examinations. These 'tabulation-program errors' probably would not have been caught in the local jurisdictions. 'I don't understand why nobody cares,' Michael L. Harty, who was until recently the director of voting systems and standards for Illinois, told me last December in Springfield. 'At one point, we had tabulation errors in twenty-eight per cent of the systems tested, and nobody cared.'
This piece of rank conspiracy theory appeared in the New Yorker.
The moral is: be careful whom you call a conspiracy theorist. It may just take 20 years for the truth to begin to seep out.
LARRY BENSKY will be leaving Pacifica radio and KPFA at the end of April. Bensky has long been a model of alternative journalism at its best and is one of a handful of alumni of Ivy League media (Jim Ridgway, Bill Greider and your editor are others) who chose a journalistic path outside the conventional media. He survived a number of difficult institutional struggles at Pacifica to remain a beacon in an ever darkening American night.
LARRY BENSKY - This decision has been difficult. First, to leave an organization with which I first began working thirty-eight years ago. And, at the same time, possibly ending my work in broadcasting, having first started in junior high school.
While many factors have gone into my decision, the principal and overwhelming element has been demographic. I will be 70 years old on May 1. . . With whatever years and energy I have left, I would now like to explore other means of being, and of expressing myself. . .
Throughout these many years, and in the many different types of programming I've done, I've never gone on the air without a thrilling sense of connectedness. And an equally deep sense of how much being a broadcaster is a privilege, as well as a responsibility.
Throughout this time, as I hope you've been able to hear, I've tried not to "leave my game in the dressing room," as they say in sports. Everything I could bring to broadcasting, all the knowledge and wisdom I could summon from myself and others, I've tried to provide. . .
SUNDAY SALON - Perhaps best known as national affairs correspondent for Pacifica Radio from 1987-1998, Bensky covered numerous national and international events for Pacifica, including the Iran-contra hearings in 1987, the confirmation hearings for four Supreme Court justices, the 1990 elections in Nicaragua, and numerous demonstrations and protests in Washington and elsewhere. Most recently, he anchored Pacifica's live coverage of the September 11 Commission hearings, and co-anchoring Pacifica's coverage of the 2004 Democratic and Republican conventions, as well as the Presidential debates. He was anchor for Pacifica's extensive coverage of the post 2004 election controversy in Ohio.
He won the George Polk award for his coverage of Iran-contra, and has won five Gold Reel awards from the National Association of Community Broadcasters. Before his work for Pacifica, Bensky was one of the original "underground" newscasters and talk show hosts on "alternative rock" stations KMPX and KSAN in San Francisco. He has also been a political activist since the 1960's, working with nuclear disarmament and anti-war groups in New York, Paris, and San Francisco.
Before (and during) his broadcasting career, Bensky has been a print journalist and editor, including positions as managing editor of Ramparts Magazine in 1968, Paris editor of The Paris Review (1964-66) and as an editor of the New York Times Book Review. For fifteen years he was a political writer and columnist for the East Bay Express, and a contributor to the Los Angeles Times book review, and The Nation.
THE IDEA MILL: FACTS AS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES
SAM SMITH - One of the characteristics of government at every level is how much harder it has become to get basic facts. Washington, DC, for many years had an annual report called Indices that was jammed with factual information about what was happening in the city. After the federal government put the city into a form of colonial receivership and a purportedly reform administration was named, the book became one of the first things to disappear.
At the other end are the well documented assaults on public information by the Bush administration. While there is much variation in between, it remains true that many aspects of governance are becoming conveniently complicated and obscured so that no one - including the media - really know what's going on.
Here's one example: once you could tell what a city was doing in the housing field by how much public housing there was. Now the number and complexity of subsidies is enormous and no one really knows what is happening. As a result it doesn't get reported.
What if you had a generally accepted standard developed my reporters and public interest groups that defined just what information people deserved to know about housing? It might include
- Number of public housing units
- Number of subsidized housing units identified by name of subsidy, average percent of cost subsidized and number of units
- Number of subsidzed housing units provided by non-profit groups identified average percent of cost subsidized, and number of units
- Distribution of subsidized units by ward or other subdivision
- Number of persons on waiting list for subsidized or public housing.
- Average length of wait
- Number of persons in city who can't afford the median rent
- Ten year trend in all of the above.
At first the standards could be put forth by a group like the Society of Professional Journalists or a consortium of journalism schools or public interest groups. It could be initially done at the local, state or national level. It would not be long, I suspect, before you would find candidates for mayor, governor and even president bragging that they observe these standards.
There could also be annual ratings of these governments as to how well they are doing.
One journalist - formerly with Jack Anderson - wrote me:
I think this is an incredible idea. As an old journalist who came up through the ranks covering City Hall, the County Commission, the School Board, the police, etc., etc. I am perpetually stunned by the total lack of information the local newspaper provides these days about where public funds are going. (and even more stunned at the total passivity of the readers)
This kind of "open government" reporting used to be routine, and started to be obfuscated (I believe) in the Reagan years. Now it's gotten so murky that none of the young journalists even know what real reporting actually looks like. . .
I think it's really about returning to what the original standard of openness in a democratic society started out to be and continued to be for two centuries. It's really only in the last few decades that it's fallen by the wayside, in my opinion.
I think that your idea of getting urban journalists together to compile a list of essential facts every city should provide its citizens would be a fabulous reminder to every community of what the relationship between the local government and the community is supposed to be. Such a dialogue would then naturally become an issue in all campaigns.
[Given in memory the late New York columnist who, as AJ Liebling put it, never \permitted "facts to interfere with the exercise of his imagination."]
Media mythology is giving a big boost to the campaigns of Clinton and Obama by constantly referring to the fact that they would be the first woman or black elected to the White House. While this is true, it obscures a basic question: so what?
Behind the mythology is an assumption that this would be hard for Americans to do. A recent Harris poll shows, on the contrary, that over 85% of Americans would be comfortable voting for a Catholic, black, Jew, female, or Hispanic candidate for president. In other words the election of Clinton or Obama would be a statistical novelty but not a social hurdle.
Furthermore, the media never mentions the two types of candidates Americans would be most prejudiced against: gays and atheists. Only 55% say they would vote for a gay, and 45% for an atheist.
ANOTHER STINGO TO THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA for the myth that Israel defines American Jewish opinion on the Mid East. For example, while Prime Minister Olmert strongly supported the Iraq war, American Jews are the religious group most in opposition (77%) followed by rationalists (66%) and Catholics (53%)
SCRIBES ESCHEW SPARKLING INTRODUCTORY SEMANTICS
YOUR EDITOR has a new hobby: collecting Washington Post headlines that seem to have been written by his high school history teacher, Lucinda Iliff, in her faded print dress and bullet proof shoes. We have already mentioned one concerning the recent massive one-inch storm DC experienced, but to get the full flavor here are three days' worth of snow headlines:
Bracing for an unwelcome glaze
Across area a gusty wintry wallop
DC still in winter's frozen grip
And it's not just the weather that produces this sort of dainty announcement. Here's another from today's paper:
250,000 condoms deployed for HIV awareness, prevention
That George Bush; he'll do anything to win in Iraq. Hope they got a farewell party
WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS MUZZLE CRITICISM OF BUSH AT THEIR DINNER
ATTYWOOD - Look, we realize that the White House Correspondents Association dinner is a "fun" event, and it would be nice, in theory, to free it from the shackles of the supposed adversarial relationship between the press corps and the president it covers.
But sometimes, life and art imitate each other just a little too closely. When we saw earlier this week that the WHCA had chosen Rich Little -- who we used to watch imitate Richard Nixon and Bob Hope on Johnny Carson in the early 1970s, if we were allowed to stay up that late -- to follow last year's ruckus over in-your-face funny Stephen Colbert as the main entertainer, we were willing to let it go.
But then we read this. The cowardice of these people -- who sat there on mute for months while the president made plans to start a war under false pretenses -- is astounding. Little now says he has an understanding not to bash Bush or mention the war:
"Little said organizers of the event made it clear they don't want a repeat of last year's controversial appearance by Stephen Colbert, whose searing satire of President Bush and the White House press corps fell flat and apparently touched too many nerves.
"'They got a lot of letters,' Little said Tuesday. "'I won't even mention the word Iraq.'
Little, who hasn't been to the White House since he was a favorite of the Reagan administration, said he'll stick with his usual schtick -- the impersonations of the past six presidents.
"They don't want anyone knocking the president. He's really over the coals right now, and he's worried about his legacy," added Little, a longtime Las Vegas resident.
OK, free speech means you also have a right not to say anything or criticize anybody. But for the White House press corps to instruct Little not to "knock" the president smacks of a kind of censorship, from the very people that we've placed in the front line trenches of free speech.
America desperately needs a press corps that's more eager to offend the White House, not less eager.
AMERICAN MEDIA OUTSOURCING JOURNALISM TO FOREIGN LANDS
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE - The rush of job recruiting ads on Monsterindia.com tells the story of the latest class of workers to watch their trade start migrating to another continent. "Urgent requirement for business writers," reads one ad looking for journalists to locate in Mumbai. "Should be willing to work in night shifts (UK shift)."
Another casts for English-speaking journalists in Bangalore with "experience in editing and writing for US/International Media.". . .
Remote-control journalism is the scornful term that unions use for the shift of newspaper jobs to low-cost countries like India or Singapore with fiber-optic connections transmitting information all around the world. But the momentum for "offshoring" to other countries or outsourcing locally is accelerating as newspapers small and large seek ways to reduce costs in the face of severe stresses, from sagging circulation and advertising revenue to shareholder pressure. . .
WAN, a Paris-based organization representing 72 national newspaper associations, conducted a global survey of about 350 newspapers in Europe, Asia and the United States, and company executives reported that they expected the outsourcing to increase, although few were willing to farm out all of their editorial functions.
BLACKS AND LATINOS PREFER ABC EVENING NEWS
RICHARD PRINCE, JOURNAL-ISMS - NBC's Brian Williams "Is First Among Anchors," a New York Times headline reported, citing new "sweeps month" Nielsen ratings - but the "first" ranking does not hold true among African Americans and Latinos. At evening news time, those viewers continue to prefer ABC's "World News with Charles Gibson," according to ratings breakouts made available to Journal-isms by Nielsen Media Research.
The overall ratings from Nov. 2 to Nov. 29 show "NBC Nightly News" in the lead with 9,566,000 viewers; followed by ABC's "World News" with 8,920,000 and "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" with 7,782,000 viewers.
Among African Americans, ABC comes out on top, with 1,387,000 viewers, followed by CBS with 1,056,000 and NBC with 961,000. Among Hispanics, ABC is even more dominant, although the Hispanic numbers are low for all the broadcast networks. The numbers do not include cable, where Spanish-speaking Latinos might be watching Spanish-language Univision.
The Hispanic figures show 509,000 watching ABC, 258,000 tuning in NBC, and 220,000, CBS.
"'World News' strives to reflect the diversity of this country, and we are thrilled that our audience has responded to that," ABC News spokeswoman Natalie Raabe said.
Paul S. Mason, senior vice president of ABC News, the only African American to hold such a position at any of the three major broadcast networks, added for Journal-isms that ABC's owned-and-operated stations, which are in major markets, tend to do very well. Those markets have higher concentrations of African Americans and Latinos. It's also true that the "Oprah Winfrey Show" serves as a strong lead-in for those stations' evening news shows in many cities.
LIBERAL BLOGGERS ON THE TAKE
MEDIA CHANNEL - It turns out that sections of the blogosphere are selling out to get in, taking money from the very politicians they write about. This sounds like the old state subsidies that were a staple in the old Soviet Union and in today's China. Years ago, the CIA was exposed for similar practices.
Is this part of the larger corruption of our politics? It's hard not to think so. It certainly shows why so much of the "journalism" and opinionizing about politics is so divisive and polarizing, to the detriment of our democracy which is already being poisoned by so many attack ads and negative campaigning. . .
The New York Times, an institution that, of course, has a strong self-interest interest in discrediting a popular medium that competes with its own, carried an almost page-long chart showing how political parties are paying off certain bloggers for placing items and by hiring them as "consultants."
K. DANIEL GLOVER, NY TIMES - This year, candidates across the country found plenty of outsiders ready and willing to move inside their campaigns. Candidates hired some bloggers to blog and paid others consulting fees for Internet strategy advice or more traditional campaign tasks like opposition research.
After the Virginia Democratic primary, for instance, James Webb hired two of the bloggers who had pushed to get him into the race. The Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont in Connecticut had at least four bloggers on his campaign team. Few of these bloggers shut down their "independent" sites after signing on with campaigns, and while most disclosed their campaign ties on their blogs, some - like Patrick Hynes of Ankle Biting Pundits - did so only after being criticized by fellow bloggers. . .
Potential presidential hopefuls like Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain already are paying big-name bloggers as consultants, and Julie Fanselow of Red State Rebels said on her blog she would entertain job offers from Howard Dean, Barack Obama, John Edwards or Al Gore.
"This intersection isn't going away," Jerome Armstrong of MyDD, an elite blogger hired by campaigns, wrote earlier this year, "and I hope more and more bloggers are able to work to influence how campaigns are run."
[Daily Kos appears to be the biggest offenders but others include writers for Huffington Post, MyDD and Salon
LIST OF BLOGGERS ON THE TAKE
The Ritual of the Words
My view has long been that news is something that has happened, something that is happening or something that is going to happen. News is not what someone said about what is happening nor what someone perceived was going to happen nor what the editors thought the impact of something happening would be on its readership.
Once again, I find myself in the minority. It turns out that by current media standards about the only thing that matters any more is what someone said about something.
Thus we find ourselves being forced marched through the semiotic swamp left by the Dixie Chicks, Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, newly elected senator Jim Webb, Jimmy Carter and others who have said things some thought they shouldn't have. In some cases, such as Richards, it was instantly clear that the words were stupid and wrong, a fact that could have been covered in less than one column inch. In other cases, such as Webb, the comments were refreshing enough to merit passing praise but hardly in the category of hard news. In a few instances, such as the Dixie Chicks, the words had such clear economic effects and social implications that they were worthy of further examination.
But together with numerous other examples - such as Tim Russert playing a decades old video tape to Jimmy Carter to find out whether he still agreed with what he said when he was governor - the media is teaching public figures that it's not what you do that matters; it's what you say about it.
The obsession seems to stem from the boomer blarney that life is all about branding. Act wrong and you can easily cover it up with the right words, but use the wrong words and you've had it. The fact that the words may be the product of inebriation, the apology for them the product of hypocrisy, and the discussion of them the product of mass cultural insincerity is of no import. It is the Ritual of the Words that matters, the closest many in America's elite come these days to a religious practice.
The key factor is that the certain words are unacceptable. It doesn't make much difference if the words are truly offensive - as in the case of Richards - or only out of step with conventional thinking as in the case of Jimmy Carter speaking of Israel's apartheid or the Dixie Chicks being embarrassed about Bush coming from Texas. When deportment is the issue, and the media is the judge, you don't get time off for being right.
On the other hand, some figures do get immunity. For example, I'm still waiting for the mainstream media to point out the irony of Jesse Jackson - who once referred to New York as 'Hymietown' - serving as an arbitrator in the Richards matter. I have yet to see a conventional journalist tackle the several reports of Hillary Clinton's past anti-Jewish remarks. And, of course, the mainstream media has been a leading participant in the most vehement display of ethnic prejudice since the days of the old south: the current campaign against Muslims and Arabs.
Further, as it has been demonstrated in the Richards case, the media can take a bad incident and help make it far worse, in this case including the unprecedented damper on free speech of a prospective financial settlement by a comedian who annoyed members of his audience. Will comedy nightclubs now require signed releases from their customers?
Finally there is the hypocrisy of a society that treats blacks as badly as ours getting so much more easily upset about an ethnic slur than it does about continued discrimination in all its tangible forms. This is not accidental. One of the ways a society maintains invidious distinctions is by creating an aura of politesse about it all with the repeated inference that the problem is really just a few Michael Richards.
In the end, we're not going to be able to talk our way out of climate change, find the right spin to end the Iraq war, brand ourselves into a decent diversity, or find the phrases to bring more economic fairness. It would be nice if the media recognized this and went back to covering more of the reality of life and less of what someone said about it.
NOMINALLY PUBLIC RADIO STATION DITCHES HEARTLAND PLEASURE FOR HOMELAND SECURITY
SAM SMITH - It occurred to me recently that Nominally Public Radio has its red and blue states, too. Car Talk and Whadya Know? are among the red states, Diane Rehm and Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me among the blue.
It's not much about politics; it's about humor and attitude. Whadya Know is consistently funny; Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me just tedious.
The Magliozzi brothers and Michael Feldman leave you feeling that there is still an America worth loving. Wait, Wait makes you feel like it's just full of itself. Ira Glass in This American Life treats it all like reporting a distant colony back to London. And Diane Rehm, after one of her sycophantic exchanges with a carefully conventional guest, leaves you feeling that life is just one big policy difference nuance.
Now one of the capital's two public radio stations - WAMU - has confirmed my red state - blue state hypothesis by turning sharply to the blue. On Saturdays, it is dumping the funniest man on radio - Michael Feldman - in favor of a decidedly coastal elite schedule including such things as "Calling All Pets, featuring down-to-earth advice to help listeners bring out the best in their pets. . . moving This American Life to noon; and adding the award-winning sports show Only a Game at 1 p.m., award-winning host Lynne Rossetto Kasper's culinary and lifestyle program The Splendid Table at 2 p.m., and Marketplace Money's insights on personal finance at 5 p.m." In short, Saturdays on WAMU, like the rest of Washington, is being aggressively gentrified.
Worse, the station is becoming a covert outlet for rightwing and government propaganda. WAMU is going to broadcast a program called Homeland Security, disingenuously described as "news and insight from key homeland security officials at the federal, state, and local levels plus private sector leaders, the academic community, and the media. Homeland Security is produced by the non-partisan, non-profit Institute for Homeland Security based in Washington D.C., in partnership with Texas A&M University and KAMU-FM in Central Texas."
Disingenuous because, to begin with, homeland security is a rightwing concept fostered following 9/11 as the answer to the effects of 50 years of bad foreign policies in the middle east. The amount of homeland security we actually need is inversely related to how good our foreign policy is.
Secondly, the group behind the program raises more than a few questions. This from Source Watch:
SOURCE WATCH - The Institute for Homeland Security is an off-shoot of the ANSER Institute, which was established by the RAND Corporation in 1958. As Margie Burns wrote June 29, 2002, in Online Journal: "Although funded and initiated in October 1999, the institute was formally established only in April 2001, following a month of high-tech and heavy-hitter-security-type buzz assisted by its ties to the military and to the intelligence community. . .
Burns continued: "A now-gone web page from the Institute for Homeland Security answers a question posed on March 30, 2002, by Mark Bower of the Air National Guard: why homeland?" The Institute's answer conceded that the catch phrase homeland defense had only "recently entered the lexicon of public discourse," although "the concept of 'defending the homeland' is an idea dating back through the better part of human history. To the best of knowledge, the Burns added, the term homeland defense is attributed to a 1997 report by the National Defense Panel.
"News reports credit it to panel member Richard L. Armitage, former CIA officer and now deputy secretary of State, though Mr. Armitage has not taken full credit for it -- understandably."
Writing for Buzzflash, Margie Burns postulated, "If Congress actually creates a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security [which occurred through Executive Order on February 28, 2003], we will have a cabinet office named after a corporation. Members of the House Committee on Government Reform and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee should be watchful. The government has already given the company lavish free advertising, with assistance from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's publications. In spite of the Institute, the phrase homeland security was little seen in the popular media before September 2002 (at least in this country); aside from a sprinkling of journals and think tanks, only the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times newspaper, Insight Magazine, and UPI boosted the Institute and its central catch phrase with any frequency."
Burns continued in Online Journal, "Immediately after September 11, the Washington Times was foremost in aggressively touting and defending -- indeed, insisting on -- instant adoption of homeland as the term of the hour, also citing ANSER. Predictably, the institute's web site also references articles from the Washington Times."
According to the ANSER Institute web site, in May 2001, the ANSER Institute of Homeland Security "was established to enhance public awareness and education and contribute to the dialog on a national, state, and local level." . . . Additionally, at a plenary session presentation held at MORS from February 29 to March 2, 2000, and attended by Dr. David, ANSER was described as a "Federally Funded Research and Development Center."
And this about the man behind the radio show:
SOURCE WATCH - The following comes from the ANSER Institute web site: "Since 9-11, numerous senior government officials, including Vice President Richard Bruce Dick Cheney and Governor Tom Ridge, have sought his advice and counsel. He has served as an expert witness in hearings held by the Senate and the House of Representatives and provided informational briefings to numerous Members of Congress, the military, the Intelligence Community, and business audiences. His recent speaking engagements include the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Association, the International Institute for Security Studies (London), the German Marshall Fund (Brussels), the Young Presidents' Organization, the Washington State Police Chiefs Annual Conference, numerous universities, and World Affairs Councils. . .
"He previously served as the Chairman of the Department of Military Strategy and Operations at the National War College, as a government advisor to the Defense Science Board. . .
"He was a co-developer of the nationally acclaimed Dark Winter exercise. Key players in this exercise included the Governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating; former Senator Sam Nunn; special assistant to four presidents David Gergen; former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, Jr.; and former FBI Director William Sessions.
100 ABC ADVERTISERS BLACKLISTING LIBERAL SHOWS
MEDIA MATTERS - An internal ABC Radio Networks memo obtained by Media Matters for America, originally from a listener to The Peter B. Collins Show, indicates that nearly 100 ABC advertisers insist that their commercials be blacked out on Air America Radio affiliates. According to the memo, the adverstisers insist that "NONE of their commercials air during AIR AMERICA programming." Among the advertisers listed are Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, Federal Express, General Electric, McDonald's, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and the U.S. Navy.
HOW THE ESTABLISHMENT KEEPS THE MEDIA IN THE STABLE
[Up to ten percent of the members of the Council on Foreign Relations have also been members of the "objective" press. Some 400 reporters got in bed with the CIA during the Cold War. Top media names regularly attend the notorious Bilderberg conferences. Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria helped the Bush administration plan its Middle East policy at an early meeting called by Paul Wolfowitz. And on it goes. . .]
MICHAEL CALDERONE, NY OBSERVER - For media figures who have previously made the climb to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, a new peak beckons: In planning the January 2007 edition of the event, Davos organizers are quietly passing around a list of prospective members of an even loftier sub-organization, to be known as the International Media Council. Start polishing up those crampons, David Remnick. The New Yorker editor joins Fareed Zakaria, Graydon Carter and other name-brand media figures on the draft, which runs to more than 100 names. "It's kind of like a list of who we think would be wonderful," W.E.F. spokeswoman Claudia Gonzalez said. . .
The W.E.F. already has a few other separate "communities," like the International Business Council (the C.E.O.'s of Mittal Steel and Chevron are members); the Arab Business Council; and the Young Global Leaders (which includes young university professors, elected officials and high-powered executives).
"They told me that they wanted to create something like it," said Mr. Zakaria, the Newsweek International editor and multi-year Davos veteran, about the proposed council. "That's the extent of my knowledge. They have had groups like that in the past. I think they used to have a group grandiosely called the Club of Media Leaders."
Arianna Huffington - who knows from critical-mass assemblies of celebrity - is also on the wish list, though she said she did not help to write it and doesn't know what other names are on it. The Huffington Post founder is already planning to show up at the regular Davos conference next year, to take part in a panel on new media. . .
- Alternative media
- Fox News
- Just the facts
New York Times
- Obama and the media
Pentagon's role in the media
- Pocket paradigms
- Print cutbacks
- Public broadcasting
- Rupert Murdoch
- Writing & books
- A great list of media ethics and media law sources
- Justice Black on freedom of the press to print classified material
- 150 journalism cliches
- Carl Bernstein on the CIA and the media
BACK TO TOP
IN THESE TIMES
OP ED NEWS
BACK TO TOP
The average American is subjected to 3,000 commercial messages a day. If you have a good day, a half dozen people will tell you a truth worth remembering. Thus the lies win out 500 to one.
Increasingly, our lives are being run by logos rather than logos, symbols rather than reason.
The so-called alternative weeklies, with sadly few exceptions, foster a compliant corpacool culture in which hipness is defined by one's purchases; dissent is limited to critiques of style, activism is something you do at the gym, and politics the last refuge of the hopelessly dull.
With writing, the standard for politicians should be at least as high as that for college freshmen. If the latter were to pay someone to write their papers, the full weight of academia would come crashing down upon them. At the higher levels of society, however, such behavior is considered normal and even admirable. At the very least, however, politicians should be required to list the names of their ghostwriters on the ballot and to resign from public office should their scribes decide to change clients.
I have tried to help keep alive the beleaguered tradition of plain speaking and truth-seeking that I understood to be at the heart of good journalism. But in a time when much of the media prefers perceptions to facts, bullet quotes to understanding and spin over reality, such efforts are seen as eccentric at best, apostasy at worst. The proper journalist has become, wittingly or not, the accomplice of a system in which news, advertising and agitprop are hopelessly mingled and the facts fatally adulterated. Truth has little to do with it anymore. It is as if we are living in a new Middle Ages, only with the myth being driven by cable TV rather than by the church.
I belive journalists may safely interrogate, investigate, predicate, cogitate, debate, relate and even advocate, but they speculate, anticipate or prognosticate knowing that the best prediction to come of such behavior is that they may end up looking foolish. I know. I try it from time to time and it doesn't work.
The journalists' job is not to make the stew but to gather the ingredients. So don't jump to too many conclusions about what I dump on the table. It's only the result of today's forage.
Today's diuretic discourse over journalistic values largely reflects an attempt to justify the unjustifiable, namely the rapid decline of independent sources of information and the monopolization of the vaunted "market place of ideas." In the end, the hated Internet is a far better heir of Peter Zenger, Thomas Paine, Frederick Douglass, and Mark than is the the typical American daily or TV channel; and H.L. Mencken would infinitely prefer a drink with Matt Drudge than with Ted Koppel.
Media bias is not limited to bad politics; it includes bad math, typically manifested in an inability to count above the number two. According to the mass media, our world is one giant 'Crossfire' show divided into pro and anti, liberal and conservative, war and appeasement, free market and socialism. When such bifurcation fails because of the number of participants - as in sports, Democratic primaries, or reality shows - the media solves the problem by ultimately reducing the number to one, with everyone else a loser.
In the end journalism tends to be either an art or just one more technocratic mechanism for restraining, ritualizing, and ultimately destroying thought and reality. If it is the latter, the media will take its polls and all it will hear is its own echo. If it is the former, the journalist listens for truth rather than to rules -- and reality, democracy, and decency are all better for it.
The press needs to learn the difference between a con and a concept.
The media teaches us that life is a vicarious experience.
The trouble with MSNBC & CNN is that they can't tell the difference between breaking news and broken news
Wouldn't it be nice if the media covered the breakup of the republic as well as it covered the break-in of an office?
The media has been on the take big time - but instead of bribes, it has taken endless bromides - freely and without skepticism - from the most corrupt and damaging leadership this country has even known.
Gone is the ground rule that once required social and political change to be covered -- even if the publisher didn't approve of it. Gone is the notion that if you made news, they would come. In an age of corporatist journalism, in which Peter Jennings has become the professional colleague of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, it no longer matters. News is just another item in the multinational product line with little value outside of its contribution to market share and other corporate objectives
Shouldn't a business like journalism that yaps so incessantly about ethics run somewhat fewer, shorter, and less repulsively self-promoting stories about its trade association dinners? Or at least give equal time to the corrugated steel manufacturer's annual gathering?
Many reporters aren't reporters anymore; they're just semiotic sharecroppers on some corporate plantation.
A news conference is a device by which the establishment keeps large numbers of reporters in one place to keep them from covering the news every place else.
If you want to complain about anonymous sources in journalism, is it okay to quote "leading experts" in order to bolster your case?
Why does the media always refer to people defending our civil liberties and the Constitution as "activists" or "advocates?" Wouldn't "citizens" do just as well?
TV treats politics much as it does wide screen movies; it snips off the right and left sides until the frame fits comfortably within the more equilateral shape of its eye. The edges of our experience are lost and we find ourselves staring at a comfortable center -- which in the case of politics, means we find ourselves endlessly watching the President while much of the rest of American democracy passes unnoticed.
It is in the nature of democracy that we are constantly being called upon to act before we have all the facts. It should not surprise us that writing about democracy is as incomplete as its subject. Journalism, after all, is to thought and understanding as the indictment is to the trial, the hypothesis to the truth, the estimate to the audit. It is the first cry for help, the hand groping for the light switch in the dark, the returns before the outlying precincts have been heard from.
This writer proposes to serve not as an expert, but rather in the more modest and, I would argue, more constructive journalistic role of being the surrogate eyes and ears of the reader. Consider me simply someone who has traveled this trail several times before and thus might remember where the clean water is to be found, the names of some of the rarer plants and possibly even a shortcut home.
Absent a smoking gun, editors often favor stories that explain import, perceive perceptions, and reveal meaning. Detailed chronicles of the daily joys, inanities and mishaps of politics have faded. News is being replaced in no small part by the reflections of various writers about what the unreported news means to them or is supposed to mean to us.
The first rule of media survival is use it; don't let it use you. We must ignore the role the media has prescribed for us -- audience, consumer, addict -- and treat it much as the trout treats a stream, a medium in which to swim and not to drown. The trick is to stop the media from happening to you and to treat it literally as a medium -- an environment, a carrier. Then you can cease being a consumer or a victim and become a hunter and a gatherer, foraging for signs that are good and messages that are important and data you can use. Then the zapper and the mouse become tools and weapons and not addictions. Then you turn the TV off not because it is evil but because you have gotten whatever it has to offer and now must look somewhere else.
The media is purportedly our surrogate priest, parent, and teacher, but is, in fact, gangs of burglars breaking and entering our brains and stealing time and space from us in a way not even our parents experienced. What was once extraordinary became merely unusual and finally universal as we moved from manuscript to microphone to camera and cable. With each step, context, environment, and points of reference became ever more distant and external. With each step, we became ever more dependent on things and people we would most likely never see in their unprojected, unfilmed, unrecorded nature.
Today, outlets such as C-SPAN and PBS function as karioke bars of political centrism. Far from encouraging the sort of vibrant debate our country needs, they apply a gag on democracy by limiting how one may speak about it. In fact, what shocks many people about less restrictive talk radio is really just the sound of democracy happening.
Reporters became the first group in human history to dramatically improve their socio-economic status simply by writing about themselves, self-casting themselves among the very elite from whom they had once been expected to protect their audience.
Journalism has always been a craft - in rare moments- an art - but never a profession. It depends too much on the perception, skill, empathy and honesty of the practitioner rather than on the acquisition of technical knowledge and skills. The techniques of reporting can be much more easily taught than such human qualities and they can be best learned in an apprentice-like situation rather than in a classroom.
The point of a democracy is not to prohibit crooks or demogogues from running for public office, but to defeat them. Similarly, the First Amendment says nothing about objectivity, professional standards, national news councils, blind quotes, deep backgrounders, or how much publicity to give a trial. Its authors understood far better than many contemporary editors and journalistic commentators that the pursuit of truth can not be codified and that circumscribing the nature of the search will limit the potential of its success. Nor can there be an institutionalization of the search for the truth; it always comes back to the will and ability of individuals.
There is the media, purportedly our surrogate priest, parent, and teacher but in fact functioning like gangs of burglars breaking and entering our brains and stealing time and space from us in a way not even our parents experienced. What was once extraordinary became merely unusual and finally ubiquitous as we moved from manuscript to microphone to camera and cable. With each step, context, environment, and points of reference became ever more distant and external. With each step, we became ever more dependent on things and people we would most likely never see in their unprojected, unfilmed, unrecorded nature. Sitting in a bar, riding an exercycle at the gym, or waiting in the airport, we trade proximate reality for a distant, visible, decibled, but ultimately unreachable substitute.
Here then is the real sin of America's media: It has created an America it chooses to see, not the one that exists. It has denied access to its pages and its channels to voices representing the majority or even greater percentages of Americans on key issues. And it has made us dislike each other even when on many of the critical issues that it ignores or distorts we have much in common.
Journalism has never been the art of the ideal. Its basic problem is that it attempts to perpetrate the truth, relying for financial support on readers, listeners, and advertisers, who have relatively little interest in the pursuit of this goal. It's a bit like a priest being supported by the proceeds of a whorehouse. .
Part of my love of the craft of journalism has been the simple joy of possessing the license to go wherever curiosity leads, to consider no place in the planet alien to my inquiry, to use words as a child uses little plastic blocks. Part of it has been the pleasure of deliberately learning more about something than any reasonable person would want to know..
The design of a daily newspaper is the result of - among other things - tradition, market surveys, the prejudices of the owner and the editors' attempt to figure out what these prejudices are. It can be, by consequence, a product that nobody really wants.
Contrary to the view of many editors, most people still like finding out who, what, when, where, why and how more than hearing in the first sentence how it all affected Roberta Mellencamp, 46, of East Quincy. Try to sneak the news as near the beginning of the story as your editor will allow.
Reporters don't have to be smart; they just have to know how to find smart people.
News conferences are just a way to keep large numbers of journalists away from the news for awhile.
Act like a homicide detective. Follow and report the evidence but only as far as it takes you. Be prepared for lots of unsolved stories.
We don't have to worry about Trojan horses much any more. The real danger comes from Trojan words and phrases â appealing statues of rhetoric concealing the enemy.
Speak United States. Avoid the private languages of academia, technocracy and corporations.
As an English teacher wisely noted, you are allowed only three exclamation points in a lifetime. Use them carefully.
Remember that you are talking to a reader, not your therapist. Since you're don't pay your readers what you pay your therapist, you should give them something they will enjoy.
If you're having a hard time, write for one reader: a friend, a relative, your child, Barack Obama. This helps remove the speechifying and makes the task less confusing.
Capitalized words can be used for anything that would go on a door, a map, a gravestone, in an address book or at the beginning of a sentence. They are not for words you just think are important.
If you're being funny or ironic, don't feel you have to say so. Never explain a joke. It annoys your good readers and the dumb ones still won't get it.
Avoid abstractions. If the evening was indeed 'fabulous,' give us some solid evidence. And if you do a good enough job of describing an incident, you won't need to call it 'racist.' Think of yourself as a photographer using words instead of a camera. Good photographs speak for themselves.
Stories are almost always more interesting than opinions. Use the southern approach and argue by anecdote.
Filler items for young journalists
The basic rules of good journalism are fairly simple: tell the story right, tell it well and, in the words of the late New Yorker editor, Harold Ross, 'if you can't be funny, be interesting.'
Journalism is to thought and understanding as the indictment is to the trial, the hypothesis to the truth, the estimate to the audit. It is the first cry for help, the hand groping for the light switch in the dark, the returns before the outlying precincts have been heard from.
Serve not as an expert but rather in the more modest and constructive role of being the surrogate eyes and ears of the reader. Consider yourself a guide who has traveled this trail several times before and thus might remember where the clean water is to be found, the names of some of the rarer plants and possibly even a shortcut home.
Help citizens tell their government what to think instead of helping government tell the people what to think. Serve your readers, not your sources.
The greatest power of the mass media is the power to ignore. The worst thing about this power is that you may not even know you're using it.
Contrary to the view of many editors, most people still like finding out who, what, when, where, why and how more than hearing in the first sentence how it all affected Roberta Mellencamp, 46, of East Quincy. Try to sneak the news as near the beginning of the story as your editor will allow.
News is something that has happened, something that is happening or something that is going to happen. News is not what someone said about what is happening nor what someone perceived was going to happen nor what the editors thought the impact of something happening would be on its readership
One of the traits of a good reporter is boundless curiosity. If you can pass a bulletin board without looking at it, you may be in the wrong trade.
Reporters don't have to be smart; they just have to know how to find smart people.
Strive to match A.J. Liebling's boast: 'I can write faster than anyone who can write better and I can write better than anyone who can write faster.'
Objectivity, it has been said, is just the ideology of journalism. I've never met an objective journalist because every one of them has been a human. Try going after the truth instead. It's an easier and more fulfilling goal.
The best way to get past writer's block is to write crap. Then, the next morning, save what isn't crap and finish the story.
Don't be afraid of seeming a bit dumb. It's a good way of getting both the kind and the pompous to open up to you.
Think of journalism not as a profession but as a trade, a craft or an art. Your copy will be a lot better as a result.
Avoid the rituals of journalism whenever your boss will let you. For example, news conferences are just a way to keep large numbers of journalists away from the news for awhile. Eugene McCarthy once said that reporters are like blackbirds on a telephone wire. One flies off and they all fly off. If you have a choice, do something else.
Study anthropology. The greatest unintended bias in journalism comes from being a part of a culture different from that about which you are writing.
If something happens that makes you say, 'Holy shit!,' it may well be news. Check it out.
Act like a homicide detective. Follow and report the evidence but only as far as it takes you. Be prepared for lots of unsolved stories.
I.F. Stone noted that most of what the government does wrong it does out in the open. Don't assume that the story is buried. It may just be on page 27 of the report.
Repeat what people say to you as a question and often they'll think you haven't understood and will try to explain it better to you.
Find an easy shorthand on the web or elsewhere and learn it.
G. K. Chesterton said that 'journalism consists largely in saying 'Lord Jones died' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive. If you're writing well about Lord Jones that will no longer be true by the end of the story.
Learn to hear the real story and best quotes as you interview someone. If you approach an interview just as a stenographer, you'll be so busy writing you may miss your own story.
Some of the best stories out there are numbers. Most journalists are educated in the social sciences or English and so tend to ignore numbers. Some even treat them as just another adjective. Go after numbers as if you were an IRS agent and you'll be surprised how many scoops result.
Following some of the above may get you fired. Find out which before it happens.