Declining Democratic media advantage?

If more hackery favors Republicans, does that show the bias of the media, or of the facts?

Megan McArdle suggests that changes in the news business – away from financial structures encouraging “hard news” intended to be objective and toward more explicitly partisan media – might change what she sees as a Democratic advantage in media coverage. This advantage she attributes to “liberal media bias” as measured – predictably – by Tim Groseclose, whose methods are so obscure (and, I would add, grossly tendentious) that Megan doesn’t even try to describe them. What Groseclose does not do is attempt to investigate the actual truth or falsity of various claims; instead he merely assumes, implicitly, that liberal and conservative politicians tell the truth with identical frequency and that if claims made by liberals survive media scrutiny better than claims made by conservatives, that proves that the media (rather than the facts) are biased. The same methods would prove a media bias toward neuroscience compared to phrenology.

I think Megan’s analysis of the changes in progress is plausible: we’re going back to an era where outlets have well-marked ideological, and even partisan, labels. It’s possible that the result will be to benefit the Republicans, though Fox News’s declining share of the youth market raises questions about that, and the specific structure of the conservative media market might well contribute, not to Republican victories, but to the spiraling insanity of the GOP, turning off swing voters and electing more Democrats. (Hurrah!)

But as a matter of pure social science, the construct “liberal media bias” has zero independent explanatory power in Megan’s analysis, compared to the alternative construct “reporting.” Saying, “Changes in the incentives of media outlets leading to less reporting and more dishonest partisan hackery will tend to reduce the advantage the Democrats now enjoy” makes exactly the same prediction, while reducing the number of postulated entities by one.

Megan, may I introduce my friend Brother William?

Update More on Groseclose’s alleged methods from Paul Waldman. And Max Boot provides a current illustration.


Lawrence O’Donnell has become a pompous, arrogant, humorless jerk.  His tough-guy, soi-disant realist, Irish pol schtick is more irritating than Chris Matthews’ and his pretentious sermons more trying than Keith Olbermann’s ever were.

Last night, he made a big mistake, right up there with that poor Fox News interviewer’s minute of infamy in the ring with Reza Aslan, and then he went on making the same mistake, as bullies with imperfect sociosensory antennae tend to do.  Clueless and blathering, I think he may have actually left the set thinking he “won” the bout.  No he didn’t.

The suits at MSNBC should be thinking about who could make better use of his hour.  “Please confirm for our audience the amateur, uninformed conclusion I’ve jumped to about this issue” is not a good interview question, especially to someone who actually knows things you do not.  For an old white guy to browbeat a young woman is anyway very bad optics.  Lawrence, you’ve worked as legislative staff.  Even if you think someone is shucking you or getting into more and more trouble, didn’t you ever learn about letting out the string? Let alone, that many things that are obvious to you are not true? I never got good at the string stuff, but it was lesson one in Massachusetts government.

I would like to see guests mistreated in this fashion respond, on-air and otherwise, as Ioffe did.  I would like them to start by saying “you’re welcome”, not “thank you!” when the host says “thank you” at the end, and to thus undermine the meme that they are on the show for their own benefit rather than the host’s and the audience’s.

Logic and the marijuana war

Pot is safer than beer. Denying that fact isn’t “anti-drug;” it’s just anti-truth.

A pro-pot group rented video-billboard space outside the Indianapolis Speedway for the weekend of a NASCAR event to run a video with the following voicetrack:

If you’re an adult who enjoys a good beer, there’s a similar product you might want to know about – one without all the calories and serious health problems, less toxic so it doesn’t cause hangovers or overdose deaths, and it’s not linked to violence or reckless behavior.

Marijuana: less harmful than alcohol and time to treat it that way.

A group that calls itself “anti-drug” objected.

This campaign falsely claims marijuana is safer than alcohol and promotes illicit drug use in a state where marijuana is illegal.

The billboard company chickened out, either out of cowardice or because it didn’t want to offend its beer-company advertisers.

The New York Daily News repeats as fact the claim that the objecting organization is “anti-drug.” “Anti-truth” would be closer to the mark.

The logical negation of “Marijuana is safer than alcohol” would be “Alcohol is no more dangerous than marijuana.” How could anyone concerned about drug abuse make such a recklessly false claim promoting use of the intoxicant that kills, injures, and addicts more people than all the illicit drugs combined? “Less harmful than alcohol” is a low bar, but cannabis clears it easily.

WaPo v. WaMo: “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.”

How Big Media acts toward Little Media like Athens toward Melos.

According to Thucydides (that is, perhaps not in primary reality), when the Athenians demanded tribute from the Melians under threat of total destruction, the Melians rejected the demand as unjust. The Athenian ambassador replied that the concept of justice has a place only in dealings among equals; among unequals, the strong do what they will while the weak suffer what they must.

That appears to be the rule of big-league journalism: writers for large publications credit one another while ignoring the work of smaller publications. Continue reading “WaPo v. WaMo: “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.””

Relative Value and journalistic values

Medical price-setting is a scandal. So is the way the WaPo deals with being beaten by the Washington Monthly.

Saturday’s Washington Post runs a long story – breathlessly labeled “Exclusive” – about the Relative Value Update Committee, an AMA venture that effectively sets the prices Medicare pays for medical procedures. The committee meets in secret and consists entirely of people who represent those with direct financial stake in the outcomes. (Not, of course, including patients or taxpayers.) Fox, met henhouse.

Astoundingly, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, designed precisely to prevent this sort of abuse, doesn’t apply, because – even though the results of the committee’s deliberations are almost always accepted by CMMS, the group isn’t technically an “advisory committee.” That’s because it it’s run by the AMA rather than by the agency. Given how thoroughly FACA screws up the process of getting outside information to federal decision-makers, to find that it doesn’t apply in the case where it most needs to apply is pretty scandalous.

And, while we’re on the topic of scandalous behavior, take a look at the story on precisely the same topic by Haley Sweetland Edwards in the current Washington Monthly, which showed up on line about three days ago. Continue reading “Relative Value and journalistic values”

The Rolling Stone Tsarnaev cover

If you give mass murderers what they want, you get more mass murders. That’s what the RS Tsarnaev cover did.

Now that my blood pressure is back WNL, let me see if I can calmly explain why I’d like to see Jann Wenner and “the editors of the Rolling Stone(who lack the, errr … stones … to sign their own names) spend their next seven incarnations as arthritic, castrated hamsters for devoting a cover to a glamour shot of a mass murderer.

1. People who commit mass murder do it partly for notoriety.
2. They barely care what’s said about them; they want their pictures on the proverbial “cover of the Rolling Stone.” The actual photo the Stone chose to run portrayed Tsanaev as a rock star.
3. The more mass murder achieves its goal, the more likely people are to commit it.
4. Therefore, the Rolling Stone cover encourages mass murder.
5. People who, for money or from professional pride, encourage mass murder are lower than the whale sh*t at the bottom of the ocean.

Assuming, just for the purposes of argument, that there’s something valuable in the reporting, what did the cover contribute to that value, other than publicity? But it contributed substantially to the incentive offered the next Tsarnaev.

And to the newsstand sales and advertising revenues of the magazine.

For a better Memeorandum

I note that Memeorandum ignores the Cypriot deal and leads with some right-wing fantasy about Assad’s having been assassinated by one of his Iranian bodyguards.

Not knowing the Memeorandum technology, I don’t know how hard or expensive it would be to do the same thing without the Red-team tilt and the emphasis on whatever Drudge is pushing. Memeorandum fills an important niche, but fills it very badly. Right now, nothing else fills it at all.

Greenwald on Chomsky

How does a Chomsky hagiographer deal with Cambodia? If he’s Glenn Greenwald, he just ignores it.

If you wanted to write a hagiographic study of Noam Chomsky and a denunciation of his critics as character assassins committed to destroying a great man’s reputation to silence his dissent from “orthodoxies,” you’d have four options for dealing with Chomsky’s holocaust-denial about Cambodia (and denunciation of those who complained about it while it was happening):

1. You could deny that Chomsky said what he said.

2. You could claim that Chomsky was right on the facts.

[Chomsky’s own strategy seems to be a combination of these two.]

3. You could admit that Chomsky was wrong on the facts but argue that he was justified in supporting the Khmers Rouges, and in doing some violence to the truth in the process, so as not to give aid and comfort to Kissinger.

4. You could admit that Chomsky was wrong on the facts and figure out some way to make that an excusable mistake.

Or, if you were really, totally, completely shameless, you could just pretend the whole thing never happened, passing it over entirely in silence.

Guess which strategy Glenn Greenwald chose? Twenty-six paragraphs, in which the word “Cambodia” does not appear.

The first time I heard Chomsky speak was at the Philadelphia Moratorium rally October 15, 1968, which I’d done a tiny bit to organize. Chomsky gave one of the four most effective political orations I’ve ever heard live (the others were by Gene McCarthy, Cesar Chavez, and Andreas Panandreou). He had perfected the great rhetorical trick of seeming utterly unrhetorical; he simply recited a catalogue of facts, with citations, to show that the war was a terrible idea.

Of course, the key “fact” was that the NLF was an entirely indigenous movement of the South Vietnamese, that the Southerners hated the Northeners, and that, therefore, the certain result of American withdrawal would be the establishment of an independent South Vietnam.

It was a great speech, though. No wonder Greenwald admires Chomsky!

Why is cable news so stupid?

In which I repeat the same action – going on CNN – and expect a different result.

An old maxim (which I’ve seen attributed to Mark Twain – but what hasn’t been?) tells us “Never complain. Half the people won’t care, and the other half will figure you had it coming.”

Pardon me while I violate that rule.

After my appearance with Erin Burnett about the consulting assignment for cannabis legalization in Washington State, a producer at CNN emailed inviting me to come on again, today, with Fredricka Whitfield. She came across as very friendly and competent. We negotiated about how I would be identified (I explained why “pot czar” would be inaccurate). I had Oxford University Press FedEx a copy of Marijuana Legalization so CNN could put the cover on screen.

The interview itself went fine; straightforward questions, no giggling, no did-you-inhale. I got to make my key point – that every choice has disadvantages as well as advantages, and that the job of the consulting team is to help the Washington State Liquor Control Board understand the likely consequences of different choices – using the decision about the how many growers to license as an example. Brief, hardly profound, but basically OK.

That’s the good news. Everything else was bad news. The book was nowhere to be seen. They used exactly the same lead-in – Cheech & Chong, Bill Clinton not inhaling, some clips from the press conference with Steve Davenport deflecting the “How-many-of-you-smoke?” question – as they used before Erin Burnett, and during the interview there was background video of young people smoking and green cannabis plants. I guess I should be grateful the contract wasn’t to give advice on preventing teen pregnancy.

I’m coming to think that conventional explanations of the low intellectual quality of cable news might overestimate the importance of the networks trying to appeal to low-IQ, low-information viewers and underestimate the effects of sheer cheapness and laziness. CNN had that Cheech & Chong clip (which I’m told is technically called the “package,” and which does not go up on line) all made, so they used it, thus filling a couple of minutes of the downtime between commercial breaks without incurring any new expense or effort.

And with all of that, I think it was still worth going on. That’s the terrible thing.