Posted tagged ‘Fox News’

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.

You Just Can’t Make This Racist Sh*t Up: Fox News Owes Everybody a Great Big Honking Act of Contrition

December 23, 2011

Via TPM, and courtesy (sic!) of  rightist media flack Brent Bozell and Fox News, this gem:

“How long do you think Sean Hannity’s show would last if four times in one sentence, he made a comment about, say, the President of the United States, and said that he looked like a skinny, ghetto crackhead?” Bozell wondered. “Which, by the way, you might want to say that Barack Obama does.”

You also might want to suck down a Clorox shooter, with a Sterno chaser at its back.  The choice to do so would be less stupid.

Bozell might say he was provoked by Chris Matthews’ claim that everyone’s favorite amphibian gum disease “looks like a car bomber.”  Which is, in fact, a stupid thing to say on many levels, but does at least bear some connection to the very broadly shared view of the Newtster as a bomb thrower.  (See e.g. Bush I, and, by pretty direct implication, everyone’s favorite cyborg, Mitt Romney.)

But Bozell, were he to press such a “both sides do it” bit of weak sauce, would, of course, be (deliberately?) missing the real difference here.  Calling Gingrich a man of violence assigns to him a specific crime.  He has agency, individual choice, responsibility.  Dude blows sh%t up.

Describing the President of the United States as a “ghetto crackhead”* falls into different order of rhetorical abuse.  Bozell is saying that the President of the United States is defined by qualities, more or less immutable aspects of self and personality.  “Ghetto crackheads” are (if one were to channel the disastrous Brooks) lost to the culture of their desolate place, and have abandoned agency to their drug.  Such a person is inherently lesser than the non-addict, the non-cultural-determined poor.  Morally, intellectually, there’s no way anyone matching the image in Bozell’s oddly torqued frontal lobes — all that skinny (black, black, blackity black) ghettoness with a monkey on its back — could possibly rise to the fully human capacity for thought and action that a properly brought up (white, white, whiter-than-white male) bomb thrower automatically acquires.

Which is to say that Bozell is a racist f**k not even trying to use the dog whistle anymore.  He’s just flat out calling the President of the United States a drug-fiend slimeball (and did I mention, a black — oh no…please excuse me…a “ghetto” one?). He’s the kind of person a civilized society shuns; that he has such a bold megaphone tells you a great deal, not just about him, but about those who enable (endorse) the dissemination of those views.

Which is to say, if Fox News wants this as their brand, let’s make sure we don’t let them forget it.

Oh — and Main Stream Media:  would you please, pretty please, sugar on top do me a favor?

Could you just this once ask each of the major GOP candidates whether they condemn these remarks, and the network broadcasting them?  You could even ask if they think Fox owes Obama (and America) an apology.

Kthnxbai

*I’ll give him the skinny, I guess.

Image: Canadian War Bonds poster,  “Je fabrique des bombes et j’achète des obligations – Achetez des obligations de la victoire.” (English:  I’m making bombs and I’m buying bonds. Buy Victory Bonds!” before 1945.

 

Real Americans Don’t Slop Hogs

October 25, 2011

Apropos of Doug’s post over at Balloon-Juice — on Fox’s latest defense of addiction, lung cancer and related afflictions as badges of Real ‘Murkin-ness — here’s a completely pointless appeal to actual data.  I know that this won’t make a dent in the public discourse, but I get so damn sick of being told that my 53 years of coastal life are somehow hopelessly out of the common run.

To recap: the Fox News (sic!–ed.) personage defending the Cain guy’s on-air nicotine jones argued that those living “real lives” (as opposed to my own transparently fake one) embrace the death and destruction that follow the trail of discarded butts.  First on her list of such real Americans were farmers, as opposed to that terrifying scourge, the coastal elites.

I’m a farmer’s nephew.  I have [ineptly] driven a tractor as a summer hand, when that aforesaid uncle sucked it up, made nice to my mum, and allowed me to “help” him during the harvest.  I’ve shoveled grass seed into sacks (equipped with just about the only farm implement I’m actually qualified to wield, a shovel). I got nothing but admiration for those with the gift or the capacity or the sheer stamina to farm for a living.  For myself I’m desperately glad that after my teens, I never had to work that hard with my back and hands.

In which expression of gratitude I am not alone.  The actual farm population — working farmers, not folks who live on (relatively) big patches of ground — amount to a rounding error within the total US tally: one percent or less of American workers are farmers.  Combining wheat or running cattle may be iconic.  It just doesn’t occupy very many people anymore — at least not in any industrialized society.

It’s been that way for a while.  Rural life last claimed half of the US population more than ninety years ago.  By the late 1990s, fewer than one million Americans claimed farming as their principal job.  As of 1997, just 46,000 farms out of over 2 million listed accounted for 50% of all agricultural sales.

That translates into the fact that no one — defined here as very few — actually fits the romantic image of the American family farmer anymore.  That image of a spread large enough to support a family and small enough to be run by one has not entirely vanished into myth.  But assuming, (generously) a 20% margin on sales, farm income at or above the $50,000 level flowed to fewer 10 percent of all farms, again in data from the end of the last century..

All of which is to say, as I did through all that 2008 blather about Sarah Palin’s ability to channel the experience of what was in fact a distinct minority of Americans, that Real Americans live in cities and suburbs. In fact, contra that Foxbot, half of all Americans live in coastal watershed counties.*  We may not all be elite** — but there are a whole lot of us.

Yup:  I am that guy muttering obsessively, “quantum leaps are really small.“***

*To be sure, for the purposes of that calculation, Detroit is a waterfront community.  Remember: Duluth is America’s westernmost Atlantic port.

**Though we are, of course, all above average.

***Don’t even get me started on “decimate.”

Image:  Jan van Goyen, Peasant Huts with a Sweep Well, 1633.

“The Lupus of News” — Jon Stewart diagnoses Fox News

April 22, 2010

Bernie Goldman is a supperating boil on body of the punditocracy. Jon Stewart accurately diagnoses the underlying pathology that allows the expression of such a symptom.

Via Balloon Juice — which means that posting here is kind of duplicative, but still, more funny than this is hard to imagine. Smart too.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about ““The Lupus of News” — Jon Stewart di…“, posted with vodpod

Is Fox News, News? No…A proof.

October 26, 2009

…well, not formally so, but I think what follows could well fall into the bounds of an argument constructed to the requirements of informal discourse — and what could be more devoid of formality than this here blog?

The proposition, that Fox News is not a real news organization has been put forth, forcefully, by members of the Obama administration.  It has been disputed, vehemently, by Fox employees and network supporters — including some who should definitely know better.

Some might say that the nature of those defenses confirms the original proposition:  to compare a public statement that a given media organization is biased is obviously not the same thing as constructed and concealing an enemies list of people and organizations targeted for disruption and retribution.*

The former is a “we report, you decide” moment; the second is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.  Further support for this kind of dispositive dismissal of Fox’s defense comes from a couple of very recent media tempests, most notably the false claim that Fox was singled out for exclusion from an administration media event, credulously picked up by other media outlets.

But all of this is inferential.  After all, it’s just possible, I suppose, that Fox’s pattern of talking points – driven coverage slanted in favor of one party and against the current administration is simply the result of meticulous news gathering producing the patterns presented as news on Fox.

So, given that a theme of this blog is that the point of understanding a bit about science is to help one think about what’s going on around us, I decided to see if I could find some empirical measures to test the claim that Fox is not truly a news gathering institution.

So, in my ongoing tribute to Warner Wolf, let’s go to the videotape (or teh Google, as we now all bow to the sovereign of  the intertubes).

How can we determine whether or not Fox is a news organization?  Let’s try a version of the what in arithmetic would be called the transitive property.  If we can agree on the notion that some other entity nominally comparable to Fox or two are real news services, then we can see how well Fox matches up with them.  If Fox and its competitors are recognizably similar as institutions, then we can say that just as if a = b and b= c, then a= c, Fox is a real news enterprise.  If not, not.**

So let’s see, shall we?

According to Journalism.org’s latest review of the state of cable news, (from which most of the figures below have been drawn, unless othewise linked) Fox lags behind CNN and ahead of MSNBC in the raw calculation of budget for news — though with the major caveat that MSNBC uses the news-gathering apparatus of its sister organization, NBC News as its major source of journalism.  In what follows I’ll focus on the CNN vs. Fox comparison almost exclusively.

CNN had in 2008 the highest budget of the cable nets, coming in at 686 million and change.

Fox’s total was 521 million and change:  notably less, but still substantial.

CNN’s staff totaled about 4,000 last year.

Fox’s US staff was 1200, and while I could not readily find Fox’s overseas’ totals, these matter less than one might imagine, for reasons to be explained below.

For  a broad comparison, NBC News’ staffing total, as of the most recent round of cuts, is somewhere in the neighborhood, probably slightly below 6,000.

So:  in budget terms Fox is a competitor, though not the leader, but it’s staffing totals hint at a different story. Remember that news gathering is a labor intensive business — you need producers and associate producer/reporters to actually find out stuff that can make it on air — and the fact that Fox has one third the numbers of its rival CNN is suggestive.

Dig a little deeper, though, and the suggestion becomes a little more solid.

Back at Journalist.org, the budget totals get broken down into two broad categories: programming and general/administration.  These aren’t terribly informative categories, but let’s just look at the breakdown.

Fox spends 2/3rds of its budget on programming, about 316 million, leaving only 156 million for everything else.

CNN flips that ratio, almost, spending 273 million on programming and 380 million on G/A.***

Why does this matter?  Because, while it is difficult — impossible really — to get into the weeds of either CNN or Fox’s detailed spending priorities with this kind of top level numbers, broadly speaking, programming is not news gathering.

What it certainly covers is the cost of the on-air talent and the production of the stuff you see on screen.  And the disparity in spending totals and staffing priorities reflected in the CNN vs. Fox comparison reveals both a lingering effect of the history of each network, and the blunt fact that Fox is in at least one crucial way different from CNN.

The  history:  CNN as it was first conceived and executed by Ted Turner and his team followed the strategy of emphasizing the brand and the product and not personalities.  No one anchor or on-air personality was supposed to be seen as the face of the network; no one was to have the power of a Chronkite or a Jennings.

That’s changed, somewhat, obviously, with a prime time lineup including the likes of Wolf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, and Larry King.  These, however loathesome (and yes, I’m looking at you, Lou), are stars and are paid accordingly, costs attributed to the programming in CNN’s cost structure.

But the daytime lineup and the bulk of the news programming (as opposed to the talk/opining side of CNN), is not so personality driven, and the cost of on-air talent follows that relative (and deliberate) lack of star power. From 9-4 on weekdays, the net offers programming under a single title — “CNN Newsroom” — with multiple hosts, and a corresponding and house-culturally appropriate emphasis on the brand and the activity.  Follow that up with three more hours of “The Situation Room” and precede it by three hours of “American Morning” and you get the idea.

Fox, by contrast, emphasizes its on air talent throughout its schedule.  Fox shows with the names of the hosts attached start at 1 p.m. and continue with reruns through till the 6 a.m. debut of “Fox and Friends.”  It’s signature hosts command formidable salaries.  Bill O’Reilly, for example, is estimated to take in an approximate 10 million dollars a year under his latest Fox contract.

Whatever you think of O’Reilly, that is not an outlandish number by the outlandish standards of media star salaries.  Contrast that with Jay Leno’s reported numbers at the end of his Tonight Show run: a cool 27 million; or perhaps a more direct comparison would be to Katie Couric’s salary of approximately 15 million.

But if O’Reilly’s take-home and that of his fellow Fox headliners is in line with the prices networks are willing to pay for ratings success and advertiser interest, such sums still put an enormous amount of pressure on the total budget for a news operation.  Something has to give.

Just as one last illustration of the point.  When NBC recently cut about 5 percent of its news division staff — 300 people, it tried to whack those least likely to affect its capacity to gather news.  Dateline, a magazine program, got hammered — but the rest of the news division was to be left mostly alone.  Expensive talent was let go to preserve producer jobs — and those producers are the front line journalists in TV news.

At Fox, by contrast, its budget priorities emphasize on-air vs the nuts and bolts of actually gathering news.  This is where those staffing numbers begin to take shape.  Why, with  70% of the budget does Fox only deploy on the order of 1/3 the staff CNN does?

Answer number one is what is already obvious in the disparity in the programming expenditures of the two nets: Fox has a more expansive on-air operation than CNN does.  It relies on stars, and it has a very high standard (in cable terms) of production values on set — another expensive programming choice.

And the corollary of that is that the actual work of finding the news counts for less…with the confirmation coming directly from one of the few available direct measures of new gathering capacity, the number of bureaus a network supports.

Fox has been increasing its bureau coverage — as of 2008, it maintained 17 bureaus, up from 12 in 2007.

CNN, by contrast, staffs 46 bureaus, up ten from 2007.

Crucially, Fox maintains a risible international presence:  just six overseas offices with none in Latin America or Africa, just one in Asia — and that Hong Kong, and not Beijing or Tokyo,or Delhi, or Islamabad –only one in the Middle East (Jerusalem, and not Baghdad or Tehran), to accompany the usual suspects in Europe — London, Paris, Rome and Moscow.

Pitiful.

Even little, last place MSNBC does better, and CNN completely rolls up the pretender:  five bureaus in Latin America, seven in Europe, including Istanbul, which geographically straddles the line between that continent and Asia, six in the Middle East…and you get the picture.

So, to wind this up.  Is Fox News a news organization with sizzle?  Or is it sizzle in drag as a journalistic operation.

And the answer is that with some exceptions, (I’m looking at you, Shep Smith) Fox is not a news producing organization.  I wouldn’t call it talk radio either, pace the President.

Rather, Fox News is best understood as an entertainment service.  The way it spends its money is the way that entertainment divisions of networks parcel out the bucks.

They pay for high-profile, highly rated on-air talent.  They dress up that talent in the sets that look like a news operation — but then, so does Jon Stewart, so does Stephen Colbert, (hell, so did Lou Grant).  They do hire some folks to dig up stories, and they broadcast their work in the quietest moments of the day…but that’s a relatively low cost trick to apply the costuming of news to an operation designed mostly to engage the emotions of their audience, and not to inform them — which is, of course, the classic dividing line (honored often in the breach, to be sure) between entertainment and news.

But when it gets down to where they actually put the bulk of its resources, Fox News behaves strikingly different from  CNN and broadcast network news divisions.

They don’t put in the hours, the dollars or the people to do what they claim to do.  They decide (what to cover)…but they do not report, at least with nothing like the level of effortof their competitors.

So, to the proposition that Fox News is not a news organization: it has been shown that Fox News differs substantially from CNN in its journalistic efforts.

As CNN generally regarded is a news organization, then the fact that Fox does not compare with its rival demonstrates that it is not a conventional journalistic operation.

That which to be proved has been demonstrated…or more briefly …

Q.E.D.

Update: There is, of course, a reason that Fox has opted for the entertainment model over the news organization approach.  It works.

*Just in case you were wondering about what that distinction means in practice:  Obama and his aides say they take extra precautions when dealing with Fox, viewing them as an advocacy outlet for their political opponents.  Nixon’s men wanted to unleash the IRS (and CIA-trained burglers) on those that offended them.  What part of that difference is hard to understand.

**And yes, I do understand that applying the transitive property to objects like news operations, putative or otherwise, contains pitfalls not found in arithmetic.  Just havin’ some fun, y’all; don’t get too literal on me here.

***These numbers don’t match the above totals because they reflect the original budget plans for 2008, and the totals above reflect actual expenditures; I don’t have access to the updated breakdown, but the points that follow track the decision making of the networks, and these budget intentions contain the decision makers priorities.

Image: Norman Rockwell, “Fact & Fiction,” cover illustration for  Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, vol. 124, no. 3201, 11 January 1917

Dog Bites Man (Woman): Palin is Lying Again/Basic Arithmetic edition

October 4, 2008

Amazingly enough, when Sarah Palin got her Couric do-over in the friendly confines of Fox News, all of sudden she remembered some stuff she “forgot” when talking to someone who actually asked follow up questions.

Her court case nonesense is probably better eviscerated by someone who actually knows something of the law, but I want to take a whack at her claim that, oh yes, she does read the newspapers…or as she put it:

CAMERON: Well, what do you read?

PALIN: I read the same things that other people across the country read, including the “New York Times” and the “Wall Street Journal” and “The Economist” and some of these publications that we’ve recently even been interviewed through up there in Alaska.

Oh yeah?

Think Progress has already questioned the probability of Palin reading The Economist.  But the idiocy goes deeper than the mere likelihood that Palin was simply parroting a list of approved elite-friendly titles a leader of the free world would be expected to read.

Think about this with an eye toward real life.  In Palin you have a governor of a state who also happens to have five children still at home.  She is a moderately busy person.

She also has a certain media list she needs to monitor. She has a direct political and governance interest in reading local newspapers, especially that or those of record for her state; she would also, being a skilled thoroughly modern politician, have her eye and ear on local political TV and radio.

She is also a human animal, subject to the same physical constraints that anyone with this basic biology must face.  In this context, that means she is subject to the same limits on reading speed that anyone faces.  The reading speed for comprehension has a range of 200-400 words per minute; skimming can be accomplished at rates as fast as 700 words per minute.

So let’s confront The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  What follows is a mix of real data and inferences; the idea is to get a broad sense of the scale of the task Palin has set herself without spending half a day on the analysis.  It’s a first order “does this make sense” pass, nothing more.

On average the Journal is 96 pages long. A single broadsheet page of a newspaper, even in its modern, slightly shrunken form, can deliver roughly 3,000 words (actually more — the page used for this number is the Times’ op-ed, which typically runs three – four pieces c. 800 word pieces with some art).   Clearly art (in the newspaper sense) and advertising cut into the news hole available for words — and lets be conservative here too; say only one quarter of the average issue actually contains words to be read.

That would leave someone reading the WSJ cover to cover with something like 24*3000= 72,000 words to take in.  Give it another hair cut to acknowledge the ongoing constraints of print journalism.  So two national newspapers today could offer a dedicated reader 100,000 words (and quite possibly much more).  At 400 words per minute — fast for comprehension, slow for skimming, that many words would occupy someone for 250 minutes, or just over four hours every day.

Give it another haircut.  Throw out half the paper. Sarah Palin does not need to read the company news pages of the Journal or the New York Region report in the Times.  We’re still talking two hours (and we haven’t even touched the drag on the day that The Economist hits her in-tray.

In other words…all this is nonsense.  Palin does not read these papers in any meaningful way. Nor should she, in fact.

She’s the governor of Alaska, not of New York.  She needs to read her local stuff, and her staff should be flagging what she needs to get from the national media; certainly it would make sense if someone in Juneau prepared a digest of stories relevant to state-state issues and those national ones that impinge on her decision-space.

Palin could have said something like this during the Couric interview; she could have made this basic point to Fox — that she stays up on the information most relevant to her job, and relies on her staff to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.  The moment would have passed unnoticed.

Instead, she committed herself to an impossibility; that she as governor and mother still finds the time to read the papers for several hours per day.

Two last points:  First:  Once again we see in Palin someone willing to lie at any moment to reinforce the image she or her handlers think she needs to display.  I know that what you have just read is overkill — but there is something about the contempt in which Palin and her keepers hold their audience that makes me want to stomp each moment of stupidity until its cries “uncle.”

Second:  The running scream of this blog is that simple quantification exercises are essential for making sense of the world around us.  Journalists and everyone need to count.  I know that Fox News is not a journalistic enterprise; it’s Pravda with better graphics.  But as I hope the above back of the envelope exercise suggests, it would help the rest of us a great deal if we turned the niggling feeling, “but-does-it-make-sense,” into a reflex animated by a habit of quantification, approximation and inquiry.  Here the lesson endeth.

Image:  Johnny Automatic Children Reading Newspaper.  Source:  Clker.com.