The incredible shrinking Sunday audience

davidgregory_chucktoddOh boy, after months of rumor, NBC drops handsome, gray-haired David Gregory as host of ‘Meet the Press’. Average-looking Chuck Todd will take over.

As everyone knows, this has nothing to do with the show’s supposedly noble public purpose. It’s just a matter of declining viewership and thus revenue. That’s of course what draws attention at corporate headquarters.

Will this reverse the slide? Nope. This 67-yr-old show (and, yes, it is a “show”) is for and about Washington spin. Replacing one multi-million-dollar “host” with a different multi-million-dollar host who will — count on it — continue the same dismal questioning isn’t going to make it interesting. The whole hour deserves to be ignored by anyone who isn’t hospitalized and without a remote control.

And it’s equally true of the other Sunday morning shows.

Commenter ‘marylou’ at Politico explains:

These Sunday shows are geared toward Washington insiders rather than the audience that wants accountability, ideas and solutions. You can always tell when spin is about to occur. Gregory asks a question and the guest (usually McCain, Cheney, Kristol or Graham) will immediately belt out talking points they’ve been fed ahead of time, and often their answer has little to nothing to do with the question. And Gregory doesn’t stop them, doesn’t say you didn’t answer my question, doesn’t give facts that dispute the answer, and doesn’t do anything but let them off the hook when he should just keep repeating the question until the guest either answers or is rebuked and then not asked back…

 

Front page voter ID nonsense

This dismally stupid headline makes the routinely credulous reporting a real eye-catcher. Front page, Wisconsin State Journal – Voter ID ruling stirs confusion, raises fraud concerns. What?!?

Look, dear friends at the State Journal, there IS no evidence of felony-committing, fake “voters” masquerading as someone else on Election Day. Never was. It’s a scam, and a rather obvious one, intended to fool the gullible and the lightly informed, and to hide the real self-serving motives of powerful state politicians, to skew the vote, maybe just a percent or two, in their own favor.

Pixies! Babies!

If these same politicians offered a bill to stop pixies from kidnapping babies, how would you play it?pixie

How would you report this “problem”? Would you bring any kind of skepticism to it? Or would you just report what the politicians were saying? If the politicians didn’t have actual evidence of pixie criminals… if they claimed simply that lots of people were “concerned” about the possibility (and indeed, if you’ve ever read a poll, you can be certain that some us will say, yes, very concerned about pixies)… would you produce stories and headlines that seem to take this “concern” seriously? Because, you know, that not only misinforms readers, it makes you look very gullible. And “gullibility” is one of the last things we need in our journalists.

 

Madison Cap Times: Editor Fanlund fans on an easy pitch

Paul Fanlund — editor of the Cap Times (aka The Capital Times, aka CT…. Note to business office: too many brand names.) — pissed us off this week when he bungled what should have been a perfectly easy gripe about the sad state of our media information systems. And, hey, that’s our beat – “the incredible shrinking news”™! — but there’s plenty to go around.

Somehow, however, in mid-grumble, Fanlund lapsed into American journalism’s signature error! — pointless False Equivalence. In particular he seems to imagine that Fox News and MSNBC are similarly horrible. Has he ever really watched ‘em?

Let’s look at a recent YouTube in which British comedian Russell Brand is watching Fox News. Now Mr. Brand has a particular look. Often (but not always) he tends to look like a borderline maniac, the kind of guy who gets on the subway and causes everyone else to think, uh-oh…. Here, he’s watching an attractive lady who has her own show on Fox News. Can you guess which one of them will seem dangerously crazy?

There is nothing like that at MSNBC. Fanlund could search and search and search. He will never find. Now you could say — fairly — that both Fox News and MSNBC attract “tribal” audiences, right and left. That’s true. But that can’t possibly be a part of Fanlund’s gripe, can it? Fanlund is the editor of the Cap Times! (Here we will add, for the benefit of readers outside Dane County, the Cap Times is a distinctly and consciously liberal media operation which calls itself “your progressive voice”™.)

(Wait. “Your voice”? As in my voice? Well, not today, thank you.)

Look, Fanlund’s not always like this. He’s capable of good work. We can only assume he got some bad clams at lunch. Really bad clams, because he also held out PBS’s dismal Washington Week in Review  as commendable.

Jesus, he didn’t have stroke, did he? Well, no, we assume it was very bad clams. He’ll probably make a speedy recovery, but we’re keeping an eye on him, just to be sure.

***

Meanwhile, in actual news about why our news is pitiful, Rupert Murdoch — a man who has already done SO much to hurt so many — is hoping to add Time Warner to his gigantic portfolio of corporate media.

Supreme Court rescues one particular religious liberty

Joan Walsh at Salon.com asks:

How did it happen that the only issue on which religious liberty trumps existing employment law, for the court’s conservative majority, is the issue that pertains to women’s freedom and sexuality? 

US Supreme CourtIt’s a good question.

And it’s odd, too — or at least coincidental? — that the majority was all-male.

And all 3 female justices disagreed.

No doubt the prestige of being on the U.S. Supreme Court is nice, but there’s some chance the workplace environment stinks. The New York Times has a front page story, “Birth Control Deepens Divide Among Justices” — subhead “Female Minority Angry”.  It has — yow! — 2,476 online comments, now closed. Thar’s too many, of course, but always remember the Times’ comments are moderated (12 moderators, some of them part time). Trolls are bounced, and the readers vote for the best comments. The Times comments are different from the articles and often a welcome and thoughtful sidebar.

Thomas Friedman out of context…

Thomas FriedmanTom Friedman is confident. Neither the military autocrats in Egypt nor the Sunni insurgents in Syria/Iraq can survive for long

…because they cannot deliver for young Arabs and Muslims what they need most: the education, freedom and jobs to realize their full potential and the ability to participate as equal citizens in their political life.

Does anyone doubt that the same words apply also to young Americans?

 

Why we know so very little

It’s one thing for an ordinary person to be wrong. It’s quite another for a public figure to be just spectacularly, famously wrong. On-the-record. And with disastrous results. Like the people who brought us the 2003 Iraq War.

kristolwolfowitz

Remember Dick Cheney?

  • “And he [Saddam Hussein] is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.” (March, 2002)
  • “I think it will go relatively quickly. Weeks rather than months.” (March, 2003)
  • “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” (March, 2003)
  • I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.” (July, 2005)

Dick and daughter Liz are back, opinionizing in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. Well, not surprising. It’s Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.

There is no penalty for getting things wrong. 

And the famously wrong Bill Kristol (we “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East.” September 18, 2002) and the equally thick Paul Wolfowiitz (“We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” March 27, 2003) are back, too. They’re on the supposedly serious Sunday morning TV shows, discussing — believe it or not — what to do about Iraq’s current descent into sectarian violence. It’s very much like having the captain of the Exon Valdez offer advice on how to clean up oil spills. Except, to be fair, grounding an oil tanker is only a very small blunder compared to the colossal moral, military, planning and policy blunders advocated – insisted on! – by these wrong-way neocon blunderers.

The lesson? There is no penalty — in large swaths of our news media — for getting things wrong. Even calamitously wrong.

In real life, people do fail. They get fired. They’re effectively discredited. They lose reputation. After a big blunder, they never work in the same field again.

That’s real life. If you screw up, you will probably experience accountability. That captain of the Exon Valdez? He never captained another oil tanker. Probably he never expected to. And indeed he never got the chance.

Meet the Press and This Week weirdly operate with entirely different rules — the incompetents never need to leave. Observe, the incredible shrinking news.

 

Wisconsin State Journal gets gay!

Wisconsin State Journal, June 8, 2014The Wisconsin State Journal offers a nice editorial celebrating the sudden ability of same-sex partners to marry in Wisconsin. The news pages, too, had extensive and upbeat coverage of couples seizing the moment to marry, including this really heart-warming photo of Todd Kinsman and Ravi Manghnani outside the Madison City-County Building. And, of course, other pictures…

So, way to go, Wisconsin State Journal.

And, while we’re at it, let’s jump into the Way Back Machine and revisit the State Journal’s editorial stance eight years ago. Hey, that too was pretty good. In 2006, when conservatives had gleefully glommed onto “traditional” marriage as another cynically exploitable wedge issue, the State Journal actually got it right. In a strong editorial they argued against amending the Wisconsin constitution to prohibit same sex marriage.

Of course, that argument was lost later that year, as the people of Wisconsin approved the constitutional amendment (59%-41%) banning same-sex marriage. (Or even anything like it, no matter what it was called.)

That was a day for shame and regret. A solid majority of Wisconsinites voted to harm a harmless minority of fellow citizens. We might just as well have voted that Mormons shouldn’t marry, or left-handers. It was simple prejudice, inflamed by [some] preachers and [some] political interests. And now eight years later the fever is breaking.

But let’s not feel too good about this yet. The celebration has broken out only because of a court ruling, and by a federal judge, appointed by Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile our state remains entirely under the control of people who do not blink when they need to harm the harmless for their own political purposes. Look what they’ve done refusing Medicaid for the poor. Look what they did to teachers. Look what they did to voters (well, you know, “those” voters). Wisconsin’s Attorney General remains committed to wasting our money defending this deeply regrettable worse than pointless clause in our constitution.

The Wisconsin State Journal earned the right to crow a little about forbidden marriages breaking out now in Wisconsin. They earned the right when they spoke out in 2006. We’d love to say that sort of thing more often.

Now they didn’t manage to name the bad guys in this saga. That’s not the way we’d have played it. But just looking forward is OK for a day. And they get completely carried away when they say

Gay marriage isn’t going away because the public is committed to fairness.

You’d hope. But the public isn’t “committed to fairness” in any permanent way. It wasn’t so committed in 2006, and it remains divided. See the May 21st Marquette Law School Poll where support for gay marriage varies by which set of questions is posed (i.e., posed to the same people). We’d like to think this battle for progress is over. It seems, however, that nothing is ever really over.

 

Antarctic Ice Collapse: The Untold Story

Sometimes, the untold story is literally untold. It’s not reported. Doubtless many Americans live in a place — either physically or emotionally — where certain information will not likely penetrate. If you’re reading the Stinkvillle Weekend Advertiser and hearing occasional TV news, god only knows what you know.

For that matter, if you read our local daily or read on-line at Madison.com, carefully, you may discover this listicle“10 Things to Know: This Week’s Takeaways” from the Associated Press, including at #5…

5. NASA SPOTS WORRISOME MELTING OF ICE SHEET IN WESTERN ANTARCTIC

Two new studies show that the ice sheet is starting a slow collapse in an unstoppable way. Alarmed scientists said Monday that means an even higher rise in sea levels than they had feared. Scientists say that over hundreds of years, the ice melt that has started could eventually add 4 to 12 feet to current sea levels.

(The AP’s #1 “Thing to Know” was a tragic mine fire in Turkey. Is their list in any kind of order? Why is the eventual loss of many of the world’s great cities #5? The New York Times editors put it on page 1 above the fold, which is where it belonged, we think.)

Still, the week’s Antarctic Ice news wasn’t completely unreported in Madison, so that’s good. You could make a [weak] argument that Madison’s doing better than the mythical Stinkville. We hope it appeared also in the Wisconsin State Journal‘s print edition, but we don’t know. We just don’t see that anymore except for the Sunday giveaways over at Metcalf’s Sentry.

There’s no law that says adults living in an ostensible democracy need to inform themselves, and in fact many of us don’t. Less than half of us can name the three branches of government. About half of Americans can name one of their U.S. Senators; only a quarter can name both. Is this the best we can do?

Sure, it’s hard to keep up. It’s not just global warming; there’s also what’s up with the Kardashians, but it’s possible to follow both. What’s really grounds for pessimism is how many of us just really don’t want to know about certain important facts. Denialism is becoming a lifestyle. We remember when “denialism” wasn’t even in the lexicon, much less becoming a well-defined market. Now there are media outlets cashing in by ignoring certain facts or by sabotaging the facts when they cannot be ignored. It’s not just Fox News.

Polls show that climate concern goes up and down. Lately it’s down.

Gallop - environment trend It’s a particular problem among the usual suspects:

Americans are less worried about climate change than the residents of any other high-income country…. When you look at the details of these polls, you see that American exceptionalism on the climate stems almost entirely from Republicans. Democrats and independents don’t look so different from people in Japan, Australia, Canada and across Europe.

Toles - GOP Skates off the edge on climate change

Climate spurs debate — some thoughtful, some pretty frustrating

Antarctic Ice SheetThe Western Antarctic ice sheet has begun to collapse. There’s no scenario for reversal and the whole western sheet will be lost. It IS going to happen. This was the conclusion of two separate studies soon to be published in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters and reported lots of places but of course not everywhere (see below).

“it shook me a little bit”

Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University said he found the new papers compelling. Though he had long feared the possibility of ice-sheet collapse, when he learned of the new findings, “it shook me a little bit,” Dr. Alley said.

On the left (well, really the “center”) there’s a debate about how to communicate to the public. Basically the question is: should news about unfolding climate change emphasize urgency or actual somewhat-nerdy detail? (See: Climate Hawk vs. Serious People for example.)

  • Serious Person“: If you read the studies, this ice sheet “collapse” will be a slow-moving affair, in human terms, not really occurring rapidly until 200 years from now, or even later, at which point we’re on our way to seeing sea levels rise 10 feet or more.
  • Climate Hawk“:  Ya, sure, but we should still have “COLLAPSE!” in the headline just to get attention. If we’re going to avoid the worst of climate calamities, we must act now, now, NOW… within the next 15 years. Telling people that the real shit storm will arrive long after they’re dead is an ineffective motivator (for most of us) to do something NOW.

These are both reasonable arguments, and here at The Daily Tissue we weaselly endorse both, simultaneously.

But meanwhile what’s happening on the right?

Well, it’s unchanged. It’s now a very dumb discussion where facts don’t matter. Climate change is to be ignored, minimized or derided. It’s a foolish orthodoxy. In the week just past Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) reversed himself and said what “conservatives” (at least for now) simply must, must say,

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”

Republican candidates believe (or know?) that they cannot say anything else if they hope to be nominated. So Rubio says it, even though he’s from a state where parts of two major cities and all of the Everglades will drown in the future.

But it’s not just the craven politicians angling to a Republican base. It’s more extensive than that.

Jonathan Chait in his Daily Intelligencer column does a point-by-point takedown of two conservative, millionaire star-pundits — George Will and Charles Krauthammer who will never run for office.

Krauthammer and Will are (or used to be) as good as it gets in the world of conservative movement punditry, and yet there they are on Fox News just grasping for ways to cast doubt on an established scientific consensus, even on the whole scientific field of climate science. WHY? Would they be drummed out of the movement if they broke with Rush Limbaugh?  Would they lose their well-paid pundit gigs? How long can this bubble-think go on?

Remember “Bagdad Bob”?

Bagdad Bob was DOUBTLESS. THE. ONLY. amusing figure in the 2003 Irag war. As Iraqi information minister, “Bob” became hilariously famous for saying things like “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” as U.S. tanks were rolling by, on camera, in the background behind him. He was a figure of rich satire at a terrible moment. This is what Krauthammer and Will are doing, positioning themselves as American Bagdad Bobs denying climate change, even as — in the background — California’s fire season lasts 75 days longer than a decade ago, rain events become stronger and more frequent in the northeast, and on and on.  

Are we really doomed to do almost nothing at the highest levels of government because of a gridlock where one side enjoys its bubble of misinformation and magical thinking? That’s where the smart money would be wagering for now. Even though it cannot last.

***

 

This-Week-in-Racism update

Frank Bruni, in his NY Times column, discusses racism and wealth.

…[David] Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, just did the impossible. He wrested the racist-of-the-moment mantle from Cliven Bundy,

Interestingly, Mr. Sterling was just about to receive an honor from the NAACP… and not even for the first time.

…at a transcendently awkward news conference on Monday [Leon Jenkins, president of the N.A.A.C.P. Los Angeles chapter] was rationalizing the latest lifetime achievement award — which the N.A.A.C.P. has now rescinded — and its coddling of Sterling over time.

Turns out… if you give sizable donations to a routinely needy nonprofit, they in turn will speak well of you. They may even give you an award. This turns out to be true even if you are a known douchebag. This is the power of money, most particularly when a tiny few have piles of it and most others don’t. It seems almost corrupting, doesn’t it?

Ha. We kid. Of course it’s corrupting. Now the president of the L.A. NAACP has resigned (which is sort of a real penalty) and Sterling may be forced to sell the Clippers for some whopping number of millions (which isn’t a real penalty, is it).