May 9th, 2008 by Rightsideup

CNN reports on a study done by the Project for Excellence in Journalism into the Daily Show. That anyone would waste time on a project like this seems pretty funny to begin with, and it’s also not entirely clear what the purpose of the study was: whether to assess bias in the show, or to determine whether people who watch the show get their news from it.

At any rate, CNN reports the findings on bias as follows:

While Stewart aims most of his firepower at Republicans, the show is actually pretty balanced in its bookings, the study noted. Of the clearly partisan, 15 guests were conservative and 18 were liberal. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain was a guest on Wednesday’s show.

This appears to be an attempt to reduce bias to compliance with the Fairness Doctrine. If the Fairness Doctrine was the only measure of bias, then every news outlet could easily be exonerated of any bias. But we all know that the bias shows itself in many different ways. The questions asked of guests – whether softball or hardball questions, the views shared by anchors and commentators, the selection of news items to focus on etc. are all examples of bias which aren’t addressed by the Fairness Doctrine alone.

In fact, the first sentence of the paragraph quoted above explicitly states Stewart’s bias against Republicans. That’s the problem, and it seems bizarre to have an entire article about the rest of the investigation with this throwaway remark at the end, which confirms the bias in the Daily Show that should have been the focus of the article.

And it’s not just the opinion of the CNN journalist who wrote the article. That remark is based on one of the findings from the study itself:

Republicans in 2007 tended to bear the brunt of ridicule from Stewart and his crew. From July 1 through November 1, Stewart’s humor targeted Republicans more than three times as often as Democrats. The Bush Administration alone was the focus of almost a quarter (22%) of the segments in this time period.

Why wasn’t this the headline? Instead, the headline is about the fact that people don’t think the Daily Show is really a news show. Who knew?

April 29th, 2008 by Rightsideup

I experienced the BBC’s wonderful journalistic independence once again this morning during a visit to London. On Radio 4, which is probably the closest equivalent to PBS stations in the US because of its focus on spoken rather than music content, they had two guests on to discuss the notion of whether the US was morally bankrupt.

In the BBC’s version of balanced coverage, this meant that both guests agreed with the statement, but only disagreed on how far gone the US is and whether it can be turned around. One of the guests – Will Self – is a professional basher of America (and the UK, for that matter – perhaps that’s where the balance comes in). He trotted out the usual tropes about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what he called America’s “prison gulag” (no, not Guantanamo, though that also came up, but the prison system itself), gerrymandering of congressional districts, the influence of lobbyists etc.

The other guest was Simon Schama, who as a historian knows his history but apparently not current affairs. He made a bizarre comment at one point that “the Bush government was actually removed from office in Congress in 2006” which rather betrayed his ignorance of the US political process or at least a clumsy way of talking about it. (worryingly, he’s apparently working on a documentary called, “The American Future: A History”, which will be shown before the US elections in November).

Predictably the discussion varied only in the strength of the adjectives applied to the phrase “morally bankrupt” (completely, utterly, astonishingly etc), but perhaps the most telling moment was when Schama was trying to make a positive point about America’s exportation of democracy to Iraq. He said that, whatever one believed about democracy in the US, in Iraq they had recently had an election with no gerrymandering or lobbying, and asked the host Jim Naughtie whether those elected in this manner wanted the US to immediately pull out. Naughtie responded with a mumbling and entirely disingenuous “I don’t know,” to which Schama bravely responded, “Yes you do” but it was dropped at that point. Apparently having an opinion as a BBC host is fine unless that opinion agrees with the facts but is in conflict with the BBC’s narrative on a particular news story.

Having missed the beginning of the segment it wasn’t until the end that I realised the trigger for the discussion was a debate which is being held this evening in London on the topic, “America has lost its moral authority.” According to the event website, Schama is actually one of those opposing the motion, which is a little worrying. The other two opposing the motion are not the most obvious candidates either – Martin Amis and novelist Howard Jacobson. There are no Americans on the panel, on either side. It’s yet another reminder that the default position for most educated Brits is to hate America and believe that all its values amount to nothing more than a fairytale.

April 22nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

It appears there’s growing frustration among the media following the Obama campaign that the candidate has stopped talking to them. Toby Harnden of the UK’s Daily Telegraph writes in a blog entry today that details some of what’s going on in the minds of the press:

On Obama One, there’s a sense of growing mutiny. There’s been no press availability for 11 days and only two in April.

A few hours later, Obama was unrepentant, again rebuffing a reporter’s question. This time, it was Margaret Talev of McLatchy – who was in the press pool with Anburajan for the day – who had a go. Just as Obama was sitting down to tape a session of “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, Talev asked him why he felt it important to respond to the late-breaking Clinton television ad with an ad of his own and what he thought of her ad.

“Are you supposed to be doing this with the pool?” Obama responded, and laughed. Then he sat down and had his earpiece put in. Talev asked him if he’d comment after the taping. He said: “Maybe, it depends on how well behaved you are.” As Talev put in her poll report, however “after the taping, I was whisked off ahead of him and didn’t get to bug him again”.

On Obama One, the only official to venture back to the press seats was the affable David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, a former reporter who appears to enjoy relaxing in the company of us hacks and pops back fairly frequently. This time, however, we were so starved of access that he immediately had a dozen tape recorders pushed under his nose and was peppered with questions.

When we asked him why Obama wasn’t talking to us, he responded: “I’m sure that he’ll be spending time with you some time soon. He’s done a series of interviews today on national television, on local television with local press so he’s done a lot of media.”

The impression Harnden got – and one that’s difficult to escape, is that Obama has done so badly when he’s gone unscripted recently that essentially he’s almost always off message when speaking off the cuff. His handlers appear to have decided that the only way to keep him “on message” is to have him only deliver formal, scripted messages and essentially restrict him to “no message” in all other situations.

This is going to be problematic for a guy who is trying to avoid allegations of elitism. Not that journalists truly represent the common people, but they’re the only proxy there is in many cases, and his desire to avoid them smacks of a desire to avoid engaging with anyone in a real way. Perhaps he’s hoping that he can simply pull this strategy until Pennsylvania is over, then re-engage more afterwards once Hillary is seen off. Quite apart from the fact that CNN is currently projecting a Clinton win in PA, this strategy can’t pay off. There are almost seven months left until the general election, and Obama can’t simply hide out for that period. He must begin to engage again and no amount of spin and damage control can prevent him from putting his foot in it if that’s his tendency. The result may just end up being that it becomes too late for the Democrats to do anything about this tendency and then they’re stuck with him in the general election. Fine by me.

March 4th, 2008 by Rightsideup

cnnmakeorbreak.pngCNN has really outdone itself this time. In the headline of the main story on the site (at least at time of writing) it describes Tuesday 4 March as “another make-or-break, do-or-die primary day”. Now, I believe this is a make-or-break, do-or-die day for both Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee, but how can it be another? Did either of them do well enough last time they held a make-or-break, do-or-die primary day that they could be considered to have made and done whatever was necessary to avoid breaking and dying? By definition, this can’t be “another” one of those days, at least for the candidates still in it. And calling it “critical Tuesday” is not even as amusing as calling the big primary day “Super-Duper Tuesday”. Is it just me, or is CNN trying just a little too hard to make this more exciting?

February 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The Times has a ridiculous piece with this ridiculous image as the banner, suggesting that the fact that Clinton is carrying on and apparently in denial about the fact that she is about to lose makes her somehow soldier-like. The following quote is illustrative:

If she is not temperamentally suited to reckon with the possibility of losing quite yet, advisers say, she is also a cold, hard realist about politics — at some point, she is known to say, someone will win and someone will not.

“She has a real military discipline that, now that times are tough, has really kicked into gear,” said Judith Hope, a friend and informal adviser to Mrs. Clinton, and a former chairwoman of the New York State Democratic Party. “When she’s on the road and someone has a negative news story, she says, ‘I don’t want to hear it; I don’t need to hear it.’ I think she wants to protect herself from that and stay focused.

Firstly, as James Taranto points out in Monday’s Best of the Web column, there are at least a couple of things in here which seem to suggest something other than military toughness – the fact that she is not “temperamentally suited to reckon with… losing” and that when she is faced with bad news she simply says, “I don’t want to hear it”. The latter is particularly reminiscent of the worst facets of our current president, and I’m really not sure we need that again. For all that people worried about Romney’s tendency to want to wallow in facts, at least there was no suggestion he wanted to avoid negative ones. Then there’s the fact that her “cold, hard” realism boils down to a recognition that, in an election, “someone will win and someone will not.” What startling insight! It would be worrying indeed if she didn’t acknowledge this fact, although it appears she doesn’t yet acknowledge that, in the end, “he will win and I will not.”

Of course, given what we know the liberal media and politicians think of soldiers (“You, uh, get stuck in Iraq“), perhaps this makes more sense than it at first appears… But this has to be one of the worst puff pieces in recent memory. And all apparently for nothing, unless the Times has another McCain-style smear article up its sleeve for release the day before Ohio and Texas vote.

February 22nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

More on the NY Times / McCain story, thanks to the NY Times’ publication of reader questions and the responses of its senior staff. A couple of fun quotes:

Much as we prefer on-the-record (or even documentary) information, and editors and reporters push hard on sources to let us use their names, without the ability to protect sources newspapers would not have been able to report on important activities of the government and other powerful institutions, and political reporting would be much more a kind of event-driven stenography.

Nice to see the Times come out and say that simply reporting the news (“event-driven stenography”) is too boring, and it’s much more interesting to do something else. Of course, by this they mean investigative journalism, but it applies too to hatchet jobs, doesn’t it?

Another quote plays nicely to / helps explain the “Two papers in one!” narrative used by James Taranto of the WSJ occasionally in his Best of the Web column:

The short answer is that the news department of The Times and the editorial page are totally separate operations that do not consult or coordinate when it comes to news coverage and endorsements or other expressions of editorial opinion.

It also repeats the claim that timing was unaffected by anything other than the editorial process, and states that the endorsement process occurred entirely separate from the writing of the article (though it concedes that it was public knowledge from December onwards that it was working on the article, thanks to Drudge.

February 22nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

A huge dustup over the last couple of days about the New York Times’ article on John McCain and his ties to lobbyists, and in particular Vicki Iseman. The visceral reaction from the McCain campaign itself and many conservative commentators, bloggers, radio hosts and politicians is now been followed by a more measured approach to evaluating the article.

The Times has indeed erred in several key ways here:

  • it appears to have taken from December until this week to publish an article, virtually all of the details of which were known from the beginning of that period, and appears to have rushed the article to publication in response to a pending article from the New Republic. The Times denies this, but at the very least, this denial requires belief in a huge coincidence of timing. The timing is also convenient in that the Republicans now have their nominee, and the only way it can influence voters’ minds is in the general election, not the primaries, in contrast to, say, three weeks ago.
  • it uses innuendo and implication to suggest a romantic (if that’s the right word) relationship between McCain and Iseman despite the fact that none of its sources – even the unnamed ones – actually outright claimed this was the case.
  • it rehashes old scandals in great detail, even when one of them happened 20 years ago and the other was adequately explained as a non-scandal at the time.

The most egregious excerpt is the following:

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

That there was a romantic relationship – or any inappropriate closeness – has been denied by the one aide quoted by name in the article and by everyone associated with the McCain campaign now and previously. There is no doubt that the Times screwed up on this one, both in telling a story without basis in fact, and in its claims about the timing. It has also been ridiculously defensive since the publication:

Later in the day, one of Mr. McCain’s senior advisers leveled harsh criticism at The New York Times in what appeared to be a deliberate campaign strategy to wage a war with the newspaper. Mr. McCain is deeply distrusted by conservatives on a number of issues, not least because of his rapport with the news media, but he could find common ground with them in attacking a newspaper that many conservatives revile as a left-wing publication. [my emphasis]

Since the New York Times’ views on war are well known, it’s perhaps not surprising that it sees any counter-attack by an entity it doesn’t like (whether McCain or the United States) as “waging a war”, but this does seem a particularly long stretch even for the Gray Lady. At any rate, it puts its endorsement in exactly the light in which several of McCain’s Republican opponents suggested it should be seen: as ultimately self-interested from a paper with an agenda that includes electing a Democratic President. Since that endorsement came during the time between the paper’s first thoughts about publishing the article and its eventual publication, the contents of the article must have been in the editorial board’s minds as they wrote it. It neatly excludes any positive or negative references to McCain’s character or integrity, leaving the door open to the smear they published this week.

However, despite all this – and the likelihood that the suggestions of an affair are a complete fabrication, the article itself (four pages long in its online version) does make some reasonable points which have more substance to them. The article it should have written is the one the Washington Post wrote today. There are real problems with McCain’s ties to lobbyists, and a big part of the problem is that McCain himself doesn’t seem to realise it. This was also what Mitt Romney was referring to when he said he didn’t have lobbyists running his campaign, although that conversation turned into an argument about semantics as they related to Romney’s own campaign instead of heading where it should have. The Post article summarises as follows:

But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington’s lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O’ Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.

McCain really does have lobbyists running his campaign, but he doesn’t seem to think it matters. While doing all he can through McCain-Feingold and other means to restrict the kinds of activities candidates can engage in to avoid the appearance of impropriety, he seems to believe all he has to do himself to avoid such an appearance is to simply state “there’s nothing to see here”:

“I have many friends who represent various interests, ranging from the firemen to the police to senior citizens to various interests, particularly before my committee,” McCain said. “The question is . . . do they have excess or unwarranted influence? And certainly no one ever has in my conduct of my public life and conduct of my legislative agenda.”

And we’re just supposed to take his word for it? Aren’t there other campaign managers around who aren’t (or haven’t been) lobbyists? The problem is that McCain believes so strongly in his own integrity that he can’t see why others wouldn’t, even when faced with glaring conflicts of interest. It reminds me of Tony Blair (see this previous post) of whom it was said:

Mr. Blair suffered from a condition previously unknown to me: delusions of honesty.

McCain, too, seems to suffer from delusions of honesty, or at least integrity. And he is blind to the things he does which give an alternative view. This is a legitimate cause for concern and legitimate fodder for newspaper articles, from left-wing and right-wing organs alike. He must confront it head on, and ideally he should clean house, as he has occasionally done before when confronted with previous lapses in judgment. He also needs to have someone in his campaign who has his ear and is not afraid to tell him when he’s wrong. This has been a huge problem for President Bush (Rumsfeld’s Rule #20 notwithstanding) and McCain must avoid it being a problem for him too, not just in the campaign, but also in the presidency.

UPDATE: not a huge fan of the Boston Globe, but it appears they made the right call on this and actually did run the article the Post wrote instead of the one the Times wrote, despite being owned by the Times company:

But one interesting aspect of this combined political and professional controversy went widely unnoticed. The Boston Globe, which is wholly owned by the New York Times, chose not to publish the article produced by its parent company’s reporters.

Instead, the Globe published a version of the same story written by the competing Washington Post staff. That version focused almost exclusively on the pervasive presence of lobbyists in McCain’s campaign and did not mention the sexual relationship that the Times article hinted at but did not describe or document and which the senator and lobbyist have denied.

February 11th, 2008 by Rightsideup

My previous post took the IBD to task for misrepresenting the views of one scientist – Ken Tapping – in its article on global warming. Dr Tapping had responded to my email by saying the article was “rubbish” and explaining that in his view CO2-caused climate change is the biggest challenge facing us today, and that solar cooling might only mask the effects for a few years.

There was a second scientist quoted in the paper – Tim Patterson. Unlike Dr Tapping he apparently doesn’t check his work email late on Friday nights or over the weekend and so only responded this (Monday) morning. His response – as I had assumed from what I’ve read/heard about him elsewhere – was that his positions had indeed been accurately characterised in the article.

He attached to his email two papers from colleagues (which I’ve posted here and here) which support his thesis. So it appears that not every source quoted / cited by IBD in this case was misrepresented, which is a small mercy.

February 9th, 2008 by Rightsideup

On the whole I’ve been fairly sceptical of the whole global warming thing and have tended to side with those who suggested that either:

  • Too little was known to be as conclusive as some are and want us to be
  • A mountain was being made out of a molehill in terms of actual temperature change, or
  • We didn’t know for sure what was causing rising temperatures and so attacking one cause might be a big waste of time and money.

I haven’t changed my views on this, and so I at first read this article in Investors’ Business Daily with interest. However, something about it didn’t ring true, and I eventually realised that it cited several people without actually quoting any of them. I figured the two people actually mentioned in the article shouldn’t be too hard to find, and sure enough I quickly dug up email addresses for both. I sent them each an email asking whether their views had been accurately represented and whether they agreed with the gist of the article.

Dr Ken Tapping, who is cited in the article as follows:

Kenneth Tapping, a solar researcher and project director for Canada’s National Research Council, is among those looking at the sun for evidence of an increase in sunspot activity.

wrote back to my email. His first line is:

The article is rubbish.

An inauspicious start, to say the least. He goes on to say:

I believe that global climate change is the biggest problem facing us today. As yet we have no idea of exactly how serious it can get or where the tipping point may be.

The lateness of the start of the solar activity cycle is not yet enough to be something to worry about. However, even if we were to go into another minimum, and the Sun dims for a few decades, as it did during the Maunder Minimum, it could reduce the problem for a while, but things will come back worse when the cycle starts again.

So, in short, his views have been completely misrepresented (or, since he hasn’t actually been quoted and no views have explicitly been ascribed to him) he has technically only had his name used in a misleading way. Needless to say, he’s frustrated about this.

I note that the original article has no forum for comments of feedback so there’s no way to attach caveats to the article in a public place. In addition, it’s been picked up in other places across the web by global warming sceptics so it’s like any bad rumour and at this point very hard to rein in.

Since I’m largely sympathetic towards the thrust of the article, I find this all the more frustrating. Either there really are scientists out there who hold the views cited in the article, in which case they should have been the ones quoted, or there aren’t and therefore the article should not have been written. Either way, it’s extremely dishonest journalism. And it simply provides more ammunition for the global warming enthusiasts since it fits nicely with their narrative about scientific consensus.