Archive for the ‘MSM nonsense’ category

For Our Own Good

August 22, 2014

If there was a golden age for American media, it was long ago and it was short.

Over at The Atlantic, Torie Rose DeGhett has an excellent, utterly unsurprising article about a photograph taken in the last hours in the first Gulf War.

The work of  the the then 28 year old  photographer Kenneth Jarecke, the image captures a fact of war hopelessly obscured by the shots that angered  Jarecke enough to postpone a planned hiatus from combat photography.  “’It was one picture after another of a sunset with camels and a tank.” — or, once combat actually began, gaudy displays of gee whiz toys, the disembodied beauty of missile exhausts, or bloodless shots of tires and twisted metal.  War as video game, or a spectacle for the folks back home.

Here’s DeGhett’s description of Jarecke’s riposte:

The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.

Go to the link.  Look at the shot.

It’s a great photograph — great technically, and better as a work of art, in that it tells a story and commands empathy, all  in a single frame.  Most of all, though, it is essential journalism.  It said, clearly, what war costs.  It reframed — really, it guttted — the narrative of violence without pain that was so much the preferred description of the Gulf War in Washington DC.  Its viewers got to see what was done in their names.*

Or rather, it didn’t and they didn’t.  DeGhett documents the photograph’s journey from the battlefield to it’s near complete obscuration.  The in-theater Time photo editor sent it back to New York; Time passed and so did Life.  The AP in New York pulled the shot from the wire.  No one would touch it in the US, and in Europe, only the British Sunday paper The Observer, and the French daily Libération ran the image.

The key here, as DeGhett writes, is that there was no military pressure not to publish Jarecke’s photograph.  The war was over by the time his film got back to the facility in Saudi Arabia where the press pools operated.  The decision to withhold the shot from the American public was made by the American press, by editors at the major magazines, at The New York Times, at the wire service. The chokehold on information at the top of the mainstream media was tight enough back then that most newspaper editors, DeGhett reports, never saw the image, never got to make their choice to publish or hide.

You can guess the excuses.  “Think of the children!” For the more sophisticated, a jaded response:

Aidan Sullivan, the pictures editor for the British Sunday Times, told the British Journal of Photography on March 14 that he had opted instead for a wide shot of the carnage: a desert highway littered with rubble. He challenged the Observer: “We would have thought our readers could work out that a lot of people had died in those vehicles. Do you have to show it to them?”

Why yes, Mr. Sullivan, you do.

This is an old story, and as DeGhett notes, it’s not one that would likely play out the same way today.  It’s not as if, what with Twitter and ‘net journalism and the camera phones and all that, horrible images of value and images that are violence porn are not hard to find.  (As always, for each of us, YMMV in drawing the line.)  But her piece is still a very useful piece of journalism, for two reasons.  For one — the picture is really extraordinary, and it has a minatory value that exceeds the tale of the moment it was not allowed to tell.  When John McCain and Lindsay Graham and their merry band of bombers call for war here, war there, war everywhere — and even or especially when a situation like the rise of ISIS seems to a broader slice of our country to merit the attention of the US military — we should remember what such attention looks like on the ground.

For the other:  this reminds us what it looks like when the media — national press in particular — conforms its narratives to the needs of its sources, or even just to the wisdom that prevails among a handful of fallible, comfortable, Village elders.  They’re doing it still, as best they can — and their best is still pretty effective.  This shot is a reminder of that power, and the amoral disdain for the reader, the viewer, the citizenry with which that power is too often wielded.

Let me (as DeGhett does) give Jarecke the last word:

As an angry 28-year-old Jarecke wrote in American Photo in 1991: “If we’re big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it.”

*You’ll note the obvious.  Unusually for me, there is no image accompanying this post.  Jarecke’s photograph is under copyright and can be seen at the link.  No allusive work of fine art really works against that shot, I think, so, none is offered.

 

 

 

 

 

I Didn’t Know The FSM Loved TBogg This Much…

March 14, 2014

Or me, for that matter.  What fun we will have:

Fox News contributor and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will be launching her own digital video channel, tentatively called “Rogue TV,” a source familiar with the project told Capital….

The_Idiot_monument,_Monumental_Park,_Colorado,_by_Kilburn,_B._W._(Benjamin_West),_1827-1909

Palin’s channel will feature video commentaries from the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, discussing current events and political issues….

“Think of it as a video version of her Facebook page,” the source said….

Wait.

I have to hear that again:

“Think of it as a video version of her Facebook page,” the source said….

Oh joy! Oh rapture!  Television history in the making.

It will also have advice and guidance from Palin, such as tips for parents and recipes. There are also tentative plans to have subscribers engage in regular video chats with Palin.

My mom always told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say…

Oh hell. Why not.  Quick folks, tell me true: who among you wants to take parent advice from Sarah freaking Palin, that model of continence and … hell, I’m not going to fill in that blank.

Recipes, maybe.  You never know.

Go read the all the hilarious goodness here.

BTW:  Palin will go Rogue on TAPP — which is an online TV service founded by MSM types so beloved of the former half-term can’t-hold-a-job ex-governor who will now be able to serve word salad (with a side of bile) via the intertubes.  That’s not exactly the penthouse of contemporary broadcasting.  I do think that online video is the way we’ll receive all our programming very soon, at this very moment Palin on “Rogue TV” is kind of like Nickleback doing a gig at the local motorcycle shop.

On the upside, we’ll be able to get some more metrics on the true reach of Palin’s grift.  The article mentions it will cost $10/month to subscribe.  That’s real money.  Be interesting to see what Palin can actually draw at this point in her magnificent con.

And last — I’m so glad TBogg will have so much new material with which to hold us all in

Image: B. W. Kilburn, The Idiot Monument, Monumental Park, Colorado 1877.

David Brooks Goes One Toke Over The Line

January 4, 2014

This story has been covered plenty, and the deep problems with David Brooks and Ruth Marcus and their takes on marijuana legalization lie with the actual policy — the racism built into drug prohibition in the US, the folly and cost of the drug war, the relative risks of cannibis vs. such legal drugs as tobacco and the demon rum and all that.  David Weigel nailed both Marcus and Brooks for many of those stupidities yesterday, and there’s plenty more good work showing just how awful was the work issuing from these supposed paladins of public intellection.  I’ve got another axe to grind, perhaps just a hatchet, though, and it doesn’t seem to have been given much internet notice, so I’m back on my David Brooks is Always Wrong™ beat.

I have to admit, what first got me going on this one was Brooks relentless self-righteous self-congratulation — to wit:

We graduated to more satisfying pleasures. The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Adriaen_van_Ostade_024

I don’t have much to say there — others said it better* — and anyway, I couldn’t get much past thoughts of Brooks engaged in anatomically improbable auto-erotica, possibly involving oxidized farm implements.

Worse, to me anyway, was how swiftly this “moderate” least-government possible type went  for the jackboots.  He wrote about folks’ “deep center” and the moral decay that comes when we fail to do the right thing, like continuing to criminalize America’s favorite weed.  To Brooks, what’s wanted is

…government [that] subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

So much fail in so little space. You could fisk this almost word by word for the craptastic silliness on display.

I could go on.  As Weigel and many others pointed out, favoring prohibition is fundamentally racist; as Maia Szalavitz writes at Time.com, Marcus and Brooks are deeply, profoundly ignorant of basic science of marijuana use and its impacts.

Shooting one’s mouth off in the absence of any real understanding of a subject is the mark of the pundits that dominate so much of Washington discourse.  It’s a profound sin to me, a betrayal of the central obligation of any journalist: to get it right for their readers — where right doesn’t simply mean avoiding trivial errors of fact, but distortions of the frame of the story that leaves “accurate” quanta of knowledge utterly misrepresented.  Unfortunately, there’s no real penalty in modern elite journalism for simple deception, as long as Politifact doesn’t actually find out that you weigh less than a duck.

But Brooks did cross another journalistic line in this column.  In one six word phrase Brooks goes all Reefer Madness on his readers, emphasizing the damnable fury of ol’ Mary Jane.  He writes  in a list of the bad things about marijuana “that it is addictive in about one in six teenagers”…

That’s the complete quote, by the way.  I’m not leaving out any modifiers or expanded context.

And here’s the thing:  its simply wrong — and should have been obviously so.

I think I know where Brooks got his 1/6 figure.  One quick bit  of Googling led me to this summary from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  It states:

It is estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it. The number goes up to about 1 in 6 in those who start using young (in their teens)…

Already, you can see the error.  Brooks says marijuana is addictive for 1/6 teenagers, full stop.  Not so: it’s only 1/6 of those who use the stuff.

Neufchâtel_-_Bildnis_des_Nürnberger_Schreibmeisters_Johann_Neudörffer_und_eines_Schülers

Go one step deeper into the literature.  In the underlying paper [PDF/paywall] to which the NIDA document refers, it turns out

The lifetime risk of dependence in cannabis users has been estimated at about 9% rising to one in six in those who initiate use in adolescence.

Same problem: the risk of dependence is only for those who use.

Note one complication:  there’s an issue with what it means to use here.  Daily? Weekly? Annually? This paper implies that the term refers to at least a weekly date with Mssrs. Zig and Zag, but the underlying source for the figure on adolescent dependence is a book to which I don’t have ready access.  So take that as a bit of unfinished business.

In case a little more context might help, one more turn to the internet turns up the invaluable Monitoring the Future folks, who provide a wealth of data about what Kidz Theze Dayz are really thinking and doing.  (Thanks again to Maia Szalavitz for help getting to the right sources for this post.)There you find that regular (daily) teenage marijuana use (PDF) runs about 1% for 8th graders, and rises to about 7% for high school seniors.  Loosening the definition of user to all those who blow a little dope once a year, (PDF) you get the scarier numbers — about 17% for the younger cohort and close to 40 % of twelfth graders.  Those numbers still don’t get you close to any reasonable interpretation of Brooks’ throwaway remark.

This isn’t rocket science.  Rather, we’re talking journalism 101.   That line should have tickled any experienced newshound’s bullshit detector.   If you read Brooks as claiming that one in six teenagers will be addicted then you run up against the actual lifetime risk for marijuana dependence, which, depending on the study, runs between 4 and 8 % of the population.  You just can’t get from here to there.

And if you read him as saying that there’s some independent measure that whether or not they actually smoke, still, if they did, one in six kids would be unable to control their ganja jones, you have to ask, how could you know that?  What possible experiment could show how many of the majority of teenagers who do not use marijuana even once a year would nonetheless be utterly unable to control their urges after that irreversible first toke?  It’s just nonsense…

…which makes me wonder, first does no one edit the Op-Ed. pages anymore?  Even if Brooks can’t or won’t do the work needed to deliver a minimally competently reported piece, someone else had to have read it before it hit print.  If I were the boss of the Times, I’d be asking who missed what and why.

Quentin_Massys_030

The thing is, Brooks commits sins like this all the time, but usually disguises them better.  Here he just flat out blew it, which makes it easy to say that this is the kind of crap journalism a place like The New York Times simply shouldn’t allow to reach the outside world.  But don’t mistake this as an aberration; this is how Our David rolls.  The wonder is that the Times seems willing to trade little bits of its credibility with each new BoBo-ism for the clicks and visibility that the mysteriously but undeniably influential Brooks delivers.

Sad…and in the long run a bad bargain for the Grey Lady, if you ask me, which they didn’t — and won’t.

*Weigel really did nail it, but for sheer awesomeness, no one did better than Gary Greenberg, whose remembrance of bonging with Bobo had a lot of folks fooled earlier in the day.  Check this out:

…let’s just say that when Dave wrote this morning that in a healthy society “government subtly encourages the highest pleasures” I remembered a time we were parked out at French Creek and he stood up on top of the Vista Cruiser and gave a speech to us about what Jefferson really meant by the “pursuit of happiness,” and how a government should uphold our right to get as high as possible, and how George Washington grew pot and old Edmund Burke must have smoked it, and I wondered if Dave was sending his old posse a secret message.

Read the whole thing. Really. Just great stuff.  (Also — what’s great is the list of folks who believed Greenberg’s piece was true.  Andrew Sullivan, for one (appending a correction to his post after a bit) but my favorite reaction came from Tim Carney, who snapped at  those ridiculing the gullible, tweeting, “That’s about a dozen good journalist friends of mine you’re talking about.”

‘Bout sums up the state of the too much of the media, wouldn’t you say?

Images:  Adriaen van Ostade, Peasants Drinking and Making Music in a Barn, c. 1635.

Nicolaes Neufchatel,  Portrait of Nurenburg Schoolmaster Johann Neudörffer and a student, 1561.

Quentin Massys, An Allegory of Folly, early 16th century.

 

 

It’s Always Projection With These Guys

December 31, 2013

So, Dr. Strangelove Charles Krauthammer weighs in on the latest news out of Benghazi — which is to say the non-news that there was no conspiracy to cover-up whatever evil Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are supposed to have done in this latest round of conspiracy mongers.

You may recall that a few days ago, The New York Times showed what real newspapers can do when they put some muscle into a story, and dug into the events that led up to the four American diplomats’/intelligence officers’ last hours in Benghazi.  They concluded that it was a confusing situation, that (as reported at the time) an incendiary video helped gin up a crowd, and that (as President Obama noted, to Romney’s eternal embarrassment, the next day) local Islamic militants were also involved.  The key finding: no meaningful al Qaeda link, as the Benghazi dead enders have been trumpeting for a while now.

So, if you are such a dead ender — that is to say, if you are a member of the modern GOP and/or part of its supportive claque in the DC media — what do you do?

Sane people might say, OK, nothing to see here, let’s move along.  I mean, even the Birthers (in office — not the Orly Taitz variety) finally gave up.  Also: Benghazi does have a real political downside.  The more it becomes obvious that there is, in fact, nothing to see here, that bad things happen in the world and not even a Kenyan Moooslim arsenal of superpowers can prevent them all, then the blowback for using American dead for such obvious political purposes starts to bite.

Hell, it already did.  See, again, Mr. Romney, burned not once but twice on the campaign trail for overeager Benghazi baiting.

But, of course, the set of sanity does not overlap with the set of those professionally committed to the destruction of all things the Democratic Party might support, a gang which includes much if not all of the GOP congressional delegation.

Cold_Shower_by_Georgios_Iakovidis

For example, consider this, from Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, a shining light of Georgia’s delegation to the Capitol:

“Of course Secretary Clinton was in charge at the time, and you know there are just now a lot of rumors going and pushing about her running for president in 2016,” he said on Fox News, as recorded by the Hill. “So I think they are already laying the groundwork.”

OK — so utterances of rabid partisanship have become SOP in the House GOP, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked,  But what about that class of folks who consider themselves above the grubby world of politics — AKA the grandees of Washington’s media village.  Enter Charles Krauthammer.  There are none who combine the unmerited mantle of authoritative judgment and sheer malice more completely than our man Krauthammer — inexplicably treated as a serious analyst of modern politics and wholly engaged in the construction of the One True Narrative, reality be damned.

Hence, reacting to the news that the NYT op-ed editor had ridiculed Westmorland et al.’s claims Krauthammer erupted:

“By being defensive about this, he’s making it quite obvious the reason that the Times invested all the effort and time in this and put it on the front page is precisely a way to protect the Democrats, to deflect the issue, to protect Hillary, who was exposed on this issue as almost no issue in her tenure in the administration. It is obviously a political move.”

I actually think that’s what Krauthammer believes, along with Westmoreland and the rest of the GOP officeholders chasing down the Benghazi “truther” rabbit hole.  Why shouldn’t they? It’s what they would do.

Hell, it’s what they are doing:  to belabor the obvious, crying “Politics” avoids the necessity of parsing what the Times actually reported.  It saves having to defend the various claims of whatever it is that Clinton or Obama is said to have done wrong. Most of all, it ducks the obligation to take on what did happen in Benghazi with enough thought to inform deliberations that lead to, for example, not blowing up stuff in Syria.  Much easier to accuse the other side of doing exactly the vicious shit you would have.

These are not people to be allowed near the reins of government. They probably shouldn’t be allowed near scissors.  Danger to self and others and all that.

Image: Georgios Jakobides, “Cold Shower” 1898

 

David Brooks Agonistes, Outsourced to Mr. Charles Pierce

December 17, 2013

I was going to go all, “Look! David Brooks has written an inadvertent autobiography” in this, his latest and perhaps strangest column.

There are some in the Twitterverse who think that the piece, titled “The Thought Leader,” is actually triple-secret irony, with Brooks — that famously introspective savant — fully aware of the self-parody/indictment.

Me? I think Brooks has the self-knowledge of a capybara, and that he is (or was, until this morning’s point-and-laugh-fest) blissfully, almost heroically gifted with false consciousness, of such total potency as to blind him to the utter vacuum that lies at the core of his life and work.  It takes a special sort of man to surf past salad bars at Applebees to a self-appointed role as the always-wrong philosopher king of American public discourse.

Thomas_Eakins_-_The_Thinker,_Portrait_of_Louis_N._Kenton

Anyway, despite the end of term slough of despond/mountain of unchecked papers on which I descend/ascend,* I was all set to do a line by line fisking — until I reflected that in this vale of tears we are yet blessed by the FSM with the existence of Charles Pierce.

He does not disappoint.  Admittedly Brooks’ catastrophe of a column is an astonishingly target rich environment — but Pierce rises to the challenge of swatting each and every offering.

For example: here’s Brooks’ lede:

Little boys and girls in ancient Athens grew up wanting to be philosophers. In Renaissance Florence they dreamed of becoming Humanists. But now a new phrase and a new intellectual paragon has emerged to command our admiration: The Thought Leader.

If that’s Brooks’ serve, see in awe Pierce’s return, an untouchable backhand down the line:

Actually, most little boys and girls in ancient Athens grew up wishing they weren’t slaves, and wishing they weren’t chasing sheep across a rocky hillside, and hoping they wouldn’t be dead of cholera before they were 15. In Renaissance Florence, they dreamed of not catching the Black Plague. Brooks seems to believe antiquity was populated entirely by over-educated spalpeens. Who was left to herd the goats, I ask you.  And something can’t be both a phrase and a paragon, not even If You Capitalize It. Any little boy or girl in ancient Athens could have told you that.

It goes on from there.  It’s not pretty.   Read the whole thing.  Then lie back and grin.

*Just to show I can butcher metaphors with the best of them…

Image: Thomas Eakin, The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton, 1900.

This Just In: Still No Cure For Stupid

December 12, 2013

Timing, timing, timing.

The indispensable Charles P. Pierce draws our attention to Our Nation’s Capital’s Newspaper of Record and the piece found therein today on the stirring intellect of that paragon of right wing media, Megyn Kelly.

As Mr. Pierce points outThe Washington Post’s editors might have wished for a slightly different news hook for the ritual tongue bath offered Ms. Kelly:

Unfortunately for the Post, which must have spent hours turning a fire hose on the reporter when he was done, Kelly marked the occasion by having some interesting things to say about Santa…and Jesus

Kelly, it seems was all bent out of shape by a piece over at Slate by Aisha Harris, who wrote:

When I was a kid, I knew two different Santa Clauses. The first had a fat belly, rosy cheeks, a long white beard, and skin as pink as bubble gum. He was omnipresent, visiting my pre-school and the local mall, visible in all of my favorite Christmas specials.

Then there was the Santa in my family’s household, in the form of ornaments, cards, and holiday figurines. A near-carbon copy of the first one—big belly, rosy cheeks, long white beard: check, check, check. But his skin was as dark as mine.

Seeing two different Santas was bewildering. Eventually I asked my father what Santa really looked like. Was he brown, like us? Or was he really a white guy?

Two decades later, America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies. Isn’t it time that our image of Santa better serve all the children he delights each Christmas?

Yes, it is. And so I propose that America abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man and create a new symbol of Christmas cheer. From here on out, Santa Claus should be a penguin.

Adelie_penguin_chicks_molting

OK, that’s funny, and cute, and hardly the stuff of high dudgeon to most of us.  But as Charles knows very well, Fox News folks are most people.  And I’d have to say that “interesting” is only one word I can imagine to describe what Megyn Kelly had to say about Harris’s pro-penguin subversion:

…”For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white,” Kelly said. “But this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. But Santa is what he is…Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know?” she added. “I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa – I just want the kids watching to know that.”

Oh, my sweet FSM.  Verifiable facts at Fox are … not like the ones those with even a by-the-fingernail grasp on reality can recognize.

Which, to my pleasure, Harris was delighted to point out:

Santa isn’t real. 

Uh, yeah.
And just in case those with the meanest understanding (looking at you, Fox newsdesk) have trouble following that thought, Harris kindly explains why remembering that Santa is a made up confection loosely based on some old sainthood myths is actually kind of important, if only as a test of whether or not you can be allowed out on your own:
 I’ll be fine if no one else jumps on board the penguin train and Santa remains a white man. But if you’re seriously emphatic that he is white and must remain white, there’s a good chance that your view of the rest of the world is just as limited and unimaginative. I mean, we are talking about a magical man who slides down your chimney every Christmas Eve. Just so we’re clear.
Will that voice of calm reason have any effect on Kelly and her claque?  I doubt it.  Research into such utterly difficult questions as consciousness advances every year — but there is on the horizon still absolutely no cure for stupid.
Image: Frank Hurley, Adelie penguin chicks molting, Glass negative from the first Australasian Antarctic expedition, 1911-1914.

Work the Referee

November 15, 2013

1932.262~02

Following DPM’s post below on Michael Shear’s ACA website woes = Katrina piece, let me urge y’all to let Mr. Shear know directly of the problems you find in the piece.

Click on the link just below his bio to email him.  Again, please do so firmly, but politely.  The goal is to get better work out of Mr. Shear in the future, not to leave him in a “f**k the hippies” state of rage.

What I told him, more or less, is that most of his piece ain’t bad — he does note, albeit not strongly enough for my taste, that a crappy website aint’t a physical disaster, and that Republicans have set obstacles in the way of fixing Obamacare, a level of obstruction that Bush never had to deal with. The biggest problem lies, I said, with his lede, his framing of the story as one in which Obama’s troubles are the same as Bush’s accepts the premise of the Republican opposition. Instead, I said, he should have begun by asking if that attempted framing were true…and then the rest of the story would have followed a much more sensible (and useful) path

In other words: the goal is to get Shear from building stories on crap foundations — and if you can let him know you noticed this time in a way that suggests he can do better — that can  help.

Work the refs people. It’s part of politics these days, and if we want out side to come out on top, we gotta do so.

Image: Thomas Eakins, Taking the Count1898.


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