Re: Peeve

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Wow. W-lfs-nian political commentary.

Which is, of course, correct, and also will make zero difference i the real world. Plus Yglesias is wrong; apparently about 1 in 4 Americans watched last night. In this case, "that may people" actually did watch the event themselves.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:21 PM
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It's really more commentary-commentary.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:27 PM
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Holy shit this is long. Is it some kind of involuted parody of political meta-commentary, or should we actually read it?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:28 PM
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You just do whatever you like and the good lord will provide, honey.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:29 PM
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Nice post, smarty-pants.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:29 PM
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Everyone should read it. ben should ignore the haters -- but only just this once, otherwise he should internalize their critiques.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:31 PM
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Does this mean, ari, that I should ignore the end of your comment?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:33 PM
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I mean, thanks.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:33 PM
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Wow.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:38 PM
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Made me think of this:

http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2008/08/seeking-swing-s.html


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:40 PM
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Wow, did the New York Times link to us again?

Really though, this is an excellent post.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:41 PM
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I'm finding myself unable to parse the sentences in this post, but it's inspired me to order Moran's book. Thanks, W-lfs-n!


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:42 PM
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Well, it took a few decades for the TV to realize that 'reality tv' could be big, and is cheep to make.

Maybe 'reality punditry' is the next thing. Random dudes going on the tv.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:50 PM
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is cheep to make

Wipeout was done for chicken feed, even.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 5:53 PM
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you say 'wipeout' and all i can think of is hawai'i 5-0


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:10 PM
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Hi BitchPhD, wherever you are...

Go to

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/08/29/palin_pick_leaves_bruised_feel.html

and consider the comments the Palin SUPPORTERS have left regarding her candidacy.

It seems the GOPer's can't accept a woman in a position of power without instantly reducing her to a sex object.

Somebody should get a screen grab and start making an issue of this.

Peace.



Posted by: Adam | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:11 PM
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Wipeout is the show where people fall in the mud all the time, after being bounced off various apperati. My kids love it.
http://abc.go.com/primetime/wipeout/index?pn=index


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:13 PM
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I didn't make it all the way through Authority and Estrangement. Maybe it's time to try again.


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:15 PM
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Let's say Peoria has a basketball team. The coach retires. Should the press report on how fans will react to particular potential candidates for the job?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:19 PM
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Hey Ben, you are actually writing like a normal person who wants to get a point across for most of this post. I like it. There is still a lot of persona-Ben in here, but some persona-creep is to be expected. As a fan, I urge you to develop this voice further.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:19 PM
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This here from the link in 16 is a gem.

Barry hussein obambi has lesser experience than our Governoer Sarah. I see her in downtown Juneau alot. She is so friendly and kind. And she is really hot, too. I think of her alot and I think she would look great as VP getting off of planes and heliocopters on the white House lawns.
I saw her hunting one time with her hussband and sometimes they go fishing alot. People underestimate her potentials because she's a women. I think she gets a bad wrap and I think her sisters exhusband ratted her out. She is the Governer and should be able to fire anyone she wants to.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:20 PM
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I'm a bad person, the comments linked to in 16 made me laugh very hard. It's


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:20 PM
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To respond to the actual content:

I would rejoice to the end of my days if the media started reporting on truth rather than perceived truth, and were willing to do this for issues more controversial than whether there is, right now, a turd the size of the Washington monument directly in front of the offices of the New York Times.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:23 PM
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Palin as mayor.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:24 PM
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21 is brilliant.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:24 PM
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Added to 19: let's say this is a college team, and that "fans" includes alumni and donors.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:25 PM
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I would rejoice to the end of my days if the media started reporting on truth rather than perceived truth, ...

I thought we agreed that truth is constructed, and that a turd doesn't exist until it's been discussed and endorsed by the community. I mean, if a turd falls on 42d street, and no one notices, it didn't really fall at all.

I'm having way too much fun with this image.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:33 PM
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As multiple people have noted, excellent post.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:33 PM
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19. 26. Fans are always interviewed about the new coach. Doesn't change anything, but there is usually some "man on the street" stuff.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:34 PM
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Random dudes going on the tv.

Sort of like this?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mncsmjs1-Xk


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:37 PM
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23: We care about about perceived truth presently as it helps to parse more perceived truth down the road.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:41 PM
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Adam, I really wish you hadn't brought my attention to that Washington post post and comments. Don't they know that you can DELETE COMMENTS.

God, that shit just makes me feel really sick. I wrote an outraged letter to the WaPo.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:46 PM
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sorta offtopic: best politician gif in forever http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v492/SeriesFinale75/waqa6u.gif


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:48 PM
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An awful lot of those comments seem to have been written by the same person.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:50 PM
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16: Can't be sure all the nasties are from supporters, though some seem to be.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 6:59 PM
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OT, but apropos of politics, at least inasmuch as I was thinking of irritating assholes like the WaPo commenters and McCain and Norquist and that ilk, here's my awesome new political platform:

from here on out, anyone who complains about "spending the taxpayer's money" can stop paying taxes. All they have to do is give up their right to vote.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:02 PM
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27: I'm basically with Peirce on this one. The truth always outstrips any finite collection of perceptions of it. The best you can do to capturing the whole truth is to imagine an X at the end of an infinite inquiry by an infinite number of infinitely rational investigators.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:03 PM
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More evidence on the beauty of anonymity on the internets. Cuz Gov. Palin has shown a certain willingness to go after those who cross her, or her family. I'm sure some of the commenters would not be pleased if an Alaska State Trooper showed up at their door, inquiring as to the nature of the "off color" remark about the Governor.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:03 PM
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36: You have to throw in opting out of all government sponsored benefits, including driving on the roads. Otherwise too many lazy non-voters will just stop paying taxes.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:04 PM
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36: Hmm, I might take that deal....


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:04 PM
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36: I would totally take that deal.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:07 PM
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36: I'd take that deal in a second.


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:09 PM
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And rob's prediction is borne out!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:14 PM
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Hey, who's he calling a non-voter?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:16 PM
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Here's a radical suggestion: it would be taken a lot differently if, instead of just talking about how it would be taken, it were pointed out that it was a lie (or whatever it was).

I really, really, really wish this were how journalists conceived of their jobs. It would certainly not do away with spin or slant or even the editorial process of choosing which lies to highlight or call people on. But it would be so much less artificial than what currently goes on.

I have this fantasy that if journalists didn't want so badly to be liked, they would be better at this stuff. Certainly the fact of socializing with policymakers has influenced how the national political press covers things, but I'm even thinking of small-town papers. I just bought a copy of the one in my new neighborhood and got started on a whole thought-process of the personal and social consequences of being a good small-town newspaper reporter or editor. Truly, if you're any good at all, you cannot be close to the people you're covering.

there seems to be a fundamental bit of self-deception on the part of the talking heads [...] they participate in a fantasy that they aren't part of the political discourse, but are free to comment on it third-personally, as it were, without their comments having anything to do with the unfolding spectacle.

What astounds me is how deeply they believe this. I've had 20+ years of talking to reporters and I'm still blown away by the depth of delusion. It must just be a natural structural result of how the industry is set up, because I can't think of any other reason for it to be so bone-deep and widespread. It's like "where you stand depends on where you sit" taken to the nth degree.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:17 PM
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43: I'm not a lazy non-voter. I'm an avid voter. But I can do a lot more political good with the money I'd save on taxes than with my vote. And still have some left over for Hookers 'n' Blow.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:17 PM
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I'm not a lazy non-voter. I'm an avid voter.

Why, some years I even vote three or four times for my favored candidate!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:19 PM
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Look, I'll admit that there are some issues with the comments linked in 16, but you're fooling yourselves if you can't see the truth behind

W-lfs-n is dead set on being a destructive, divisive force. I'd say he was being petulant if I didn't suspect a more directed agenda - but on whose part?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:23 PM
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I have this fantasy that if journalists didn't want so badly to be liked, they would be better at this stuff...Truly, if you're any good at all, you cannot be close to the people you're covering.

OTOH, how can you hope to understand who's doing what to whom, who can be trusted, etc., without developing some sort of personal relationship? Where it breaks down is in trying to be everybody's friend and treating the relationships as more important than the stories, but I think the answer probably has more to do with moving away from the "objectivity" game than in trying to take the personal element out of journalists' relationships with their sources.

46 is more or less my thought process as well, although I'll cop to some degree of laziness.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:25 PM
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Should the press report on how fans will react to particular potential candidates for the job?

No, unless knowing how some fans will react might be important for forming one's opinion as to the merits of a coach (which will be the case if "fans" includes donors).

Why would you think they should?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:26 PM
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how can you hope to understand who's doing what to whom, who can be trusted, etc., without developing some sort of personal relationship?

I dunno, you could pay attention and be guarded?

I deny that there is any more or less "persona ben" in this post than in any other.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:27 PM
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51: How does that work when you're trying to report on events that you can't observe directly?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:29 PM
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Well, maybe if all you meant by "personal relationship" was "relationship involving persons", you do need some sort of personal relationship. But if you meant a relationship that's, like, personal as opposed to (strictly) professional, then that needn't be deleterious, as long as you're, you know, guarded and observant.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:31 PM
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Not that I'm a reporter or anything. What do I know? I doubt that effective reportage requires palling around with one's informants/subjects, though.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:32 PM
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I deny that there is any more or less "persona ben" in this post than in any other.

I don't know; I think posts by other posters might have less "persona ben" than Ben posts do. We'll have to do a study.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:38 PM
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Hm, you're right. You go write up the grant application and get back to me.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:40 PM
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I'm even thinking of small-town papers

He modelled the newspaper upon the modern conception, through which the country press must cease to have any influence in public affairs, and each paper become little more than an open letter of neighborhood gossip. But while he filled his sheet with minute chronicles of the goings and comings of unimportant persons, and with all attainable particulars of the ordinary life of the different localities, he continued to make spicy hits at the enemies of Equity in the late struggle, and kept the public spirit of the town alive.


Posted by: howells | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:46 PM
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On the sports analogy: the sports press seems to be much more OK with the separation between reportage and commentary - the beat writer says, "There are these 3 candidates for new coach," and then the columnist writes a piece, and sports radio goes nuts for awhile. Except as part of the most basic reportage ("Coach Y is an ex-player for the local squad, and so could be a fan favorite"), the beat guys stay the fuck away from the spin stuff. With the political press, it's like it never occurred to them that they could leave all that stuff out. They need to prove that they, too, could be columnists or radio talkers.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:49 PM
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Mostly I was trying to provoke Ben into blogging about sports now that he's blogging about politics. And I don't mean just contingency, solidarity, and gridirony. But somewhere in the last few years I remember reading something by either a sports or political reporter saying along the lines that sports reporting often is done better than political reporting.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:54 PM
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You can routinely and easily check the accuracy of scores.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:56 PM
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how can you hope to understand who's doing what to whom, who can be trusted, etc., without developing some sort of personal relationship?

I think we're working under entirely different definitions of "personal relationship." Look, if I want to write about a mayor's affordable housing policy, I can read through public records, watch video of hearings, trace financial transactions, go out and interview people in the affected neighborhoods, compare his achievements to his previous rhetoric. I can call on informed observers (and they shouldn't always be the same ones that other reporters call, although it can be useful if they sometimes are the same over time) for comment and analysis. I can read national studies and see how his policies stack up. I can dig around and see if a local professor has done a case study on the issue for an urban studies or planning class.

What I should not do is to write a "personalities" article on how this mayor is going to be able to pull off the affordable housing coup of the century because, well, he's a really smart guy. And personable! And well-intentioned!

Or, hey, imagine you're a small-town reporter. Your local town council members get paid $5,000 a year for a pretty thankless job. All of them have day jobs, most of them as lawyers. A development project comes before the council and after some fairly thoughtful debate it is passed. Does the fact that one councilmember's law firm represents the developer on other issues matter? Should it at least be mentioned in the newspaper coverage, so that readers can make their own call about whether the council member should have recused himself?

What if you, the reporter, are on the PTA with the council member? What if he's a jovial guy who stayed the longest and worked the hardest at the Summer Fun Day the year before? Can you see how that "personal relationship" or at least personal experience you have of him might shape your willingness to write about him as a good guy, to give him the benefit of the doubt, to not call him out publicly?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 7:57 PM
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(I'm not meaning to deny how strong the pressure are -- good grief, I'm not even a reporter, nor do I have a personal relationship with W-lfs-n, and I'm still trying to figure out how to politely say that the reason this post is so exceptionally good is because he trusted the readers enough to be a little earnest, and follow his own train of thought without detouring into baroque asides.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:01 PM
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nor do I have a personal relationship with W-lfs-n,

We can fix that, you know.

and [...] the reason [...] is because

Hm. Maybe not.

You'd almost think that I'd never posted anything reasonably straightforward before, ever.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:05 PM
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In small town life all these issues are multiplied. You end up with a moderate, cautious, only moderately corrupt old boy network which is resistant to outsiders, reluctant to take initiatives, especially if they hurt anyone, and respectful of existing hierarchies and traditions.

Around here there's a land-use dispute and I know both principals, the developer and the nimby. The guy who want to develop is losing a ton of money on a fairly marginal issue. Basically the town is united against him and he's lost most of his friends.

I'm a lot more ambivalent than I would have guessed, or than anyone would have predicted, but a lot of the liberalism around here is nimbyist.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:05 PM
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Part of the meta answer to this was written by Jonathan Schwarz at tinyrevolution.com this afternoon in his post entitled "Memo to Jamison Foster" ...

"The media's readers and viewers aren't the media's customers. The media's advertisers are their customers. The media's readers and viewers are their product."

"And like all businesses, the media must act as though the customer is always right. There is no business that acts as though the product is always right."



Posted by: ehj2 | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:24 PM
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I can do a lot more political good with the money I'd save on taxes than with my vote.

You personally, fine. The entire bloc of Republican "small gubmint" assholes? They'll do no political good with "their" money whatsoever, but if they can't vote and can't opine, they won't do much fucking political damage, either.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:35 PM
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61,62: We're talking past each other. I'm not suggesting that reporters and pols ought to be hanging out together, just that any human interaction, including the gathering of information, works better with some degree of mutual understanding and trust. Reporters shouldn't want politicians to trust them not to report information that reflects badly upon the politicians, but wanting to be trusted to play it straight is a different matter.

The underlying problem, of course, is that people suck.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:35 PM
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B! Welcome home.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:36 PM
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Daniel Boorstin beat you to this in 1961, in his book The Image, wherein he discusses contrived "news" and what he calls "pseudo events." He was on the leading edge of observing the trend 47 years ago, and it's exponentially worse now. See Here.


Posted by: mistersmed | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:49 PM
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66 ... lol ...

That would be even better if you give progressives a similar deal ... I'll pay twice my share of taxes if I can pick the "opiner" I can shut down ... and I pick George Will ...

Wait ... I'll pay four times my share if I can also shut down Charles Krauthammer ...


Posted by: ehj2 | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:56 PM
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oh, i forgot to add, "that way they still have to pay their taxes."


Posted by: ehj2 | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 8:57 PM
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--


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 9:02 PM
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--


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 9:10 PM
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--


Posted by: ehj2 | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 9:12 PM
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Ben, in several other posts this week I've made my opinion of the journalistic mission, as perceived by too many journalists, clear. Obviously, it would be preferable if they saw their role as being, as far as possible, tellers of truths.

My point was that if they insist upon talking about how things played, it would be more informative (and cheaper!) to just ask the target audience. If knowing what Peoria thinks is useless, knowing what Wolf Blitzer thinks Peoria thinks is worse still. But I'm also genuinely curious to know what Peoria thinks, for reasons I explain in the original post.


Posted by: ryan | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 9:15 PM
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68: Thanks! I don't get home until late tomorrow night, however. LeBlanc and I are hanging in Denver trying to recover enough to be able to make it to the airport tomorrow.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 9:20 PM
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Unless you meant "home" as in "to Unfogged," in which case, thank you, sans qualifications.

EHJ2, that's a decent amendment. I'll take it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 9:21 PM
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--


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 9:31 PM
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Not having read most of the comments, I merely note that the full-justified text of Ben's post made it harder for me to read than if it had been ragged-right. I admit I'm Becks-style, and I think I agree with Ben, but, you know, ragged-right has been scientifically proven to be easier to read, and that makes a difference when one is reading shit like this.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 10:13 PM
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Sigh. My dissertation addresses all of these issues, from a philosophical standpoint. Why can't you just fucking WAIT?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 10:20 PM
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79: Yeah. And there should be two spaces after the little dot thingies at the end of sentences.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:16 PM
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You can't really expect us to consider seriously an argument made with such brevity. You'll need to expand on your ideas for me to really know what you're on about.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:29 PM
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really...


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:29 PM
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Sigh. My dissertation addresses all of these issues, from a philosophical standpoint. Why can't you just fucking WAIT?

From a philosophical standpoint, eh?

Ryan, this is only tangentially a reaction to anything you have said. However, if the "original post" is the one Saiselgy linked (this one), then as far as I can tell I addressed that in my post: you've already taken a position and you want to know how the speech has fared with others, who aren't decided. Fine. That's a totally legitimate reason to want to know how it played in wherever (or rather, among whomever). But it's the stuff of polls, not commentary or analysis.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:29 PM
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Daniel Boorstin beat you to this in 1961, in his book The Image, wherein he discusses contrived "news" and what he calls "pseudo events."

There was a conspiracy earlier this year to set me up with Daniel Boorstin's granddaughter's husband's sister, but it didn't take.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:32 PM
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But it's the stuff of polls, not commentary or analysis.

W-lfs-n to qualitative research: DROP DEAD


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:40 PM
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I'm offending you, aren't I, eb?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:40 PM
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(I sort of meant to confine this to the context of news shows/papers &c., if that helps, which it probably doesn't; I'm aware of overreaching in some claims, but.)


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:42 PM
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87: No, not really. I mostly agree with this, but I do think there is a limited place for commentary/analysis of public opinion. Potential public opinion is a little trickier, but to the extent that they're reporting on what the campaigns are aiming for (which can be known and reported on from actual sources) rather than what effect the reporters are guessing the campaigns' actions will have among some hypothetical group of people (which is making stuff up, however informed the reporters are), I don't think it's invalid as a part of journalism.

"[Source within campaign] says action A was taken to appeal to group of voters B" seems ok. A 5 minute segment/10 minute segment/entire talk show in which people not working on the campaign or reporting from the campaign yell at each other about whether action A will actually appeal to group of voters B - not ok. Most of the coverage is more like the latter and it's crap.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:55 PM
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I'm prepared to call this comity.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-29-08 11:56 PM
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Good post, Ben, and this is something I'd been ranting about only a few days ago.

The Financial Times published an editorial last weekend that was a perfect example of this pattern that I hate. I'm pretty sure it was written by Clive Crook, their top US political analyst, but I can't find it at the moment. Anyway, he framed the piece as advice to Obama and began by talking about how his answers to the Saddleback questions were mealy-mouthed and overly long while McCain provided decisive, clear answers to every question.

Then, about half to two-thirds of the way through the piece, he sort of throws in "Well, of course, Obama's longer answer was actually more correct, and acknowledged the complexities of the issue which the question tried to ignore. While McCain's answers were trite and unconnected to reality. But really, that's hardly the point." And he finishes up by talking yet more about how McCain was really giving the right answers because the actual content doesn't matter, so really Obama should just come up with four talking points in four short sentences and run them into the ground exactly like (and yes, this was his exact advice) George W. Bush when campaigning.

It's a really despicable thing to read, this sort of nodding and winking to intimate "we may know some policy and empirical data regarding this issue, since we're all intelligent and well-educated folks. But it's beside the point because all the real voters are too stupid, so let's just speculate on how to win this beauty contest through image." I was really hoping the behavior would stop after the Gas Tax Holiday fiasco, when the media finally seemed to realize that if they just put on all the experts in a given policy area, and really try their best in editorials to explain the pertinent facts and theory behind a given policy, suddenly and magically the voters become better informed and seem to move toward a more logical viewpoint!

But nope, nothing was learned. Weeks later, it's straight back to pretending like they have no idea what's meant when Obama claims that "when life begins" is a tricky and nearly impossible to answer question in and of itself, or that "defeat it" is a great answer to the question of what should be done about evil in this world because it's so pithy! and shows power and grit!

Fuck it. At least blogs are starting to address this, and take over the proper media job of researching the issues and facts behind the 10-second allowable soundbite in order to inform the voters instead of pretending to be as dumb as their mental image of the voters.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 12:14 AM
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91: Wow that was long. Sorry people, this was something that was really bugging me this past week, and I was delighted to see Ben post pretty much the same thoughts.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 12:15 AM
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Daniel Boorstin's granddaughter & hubbie.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 12:20 AM
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I too am prepared to call this comity. But what will the lurkers in Peoria think?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 12:22 AM
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Testing


Posted by: Nworb WErdna | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 2:07 AM
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Sorry about the last thing. I was reduced to a mac, and for some reason, trying to post from it gave me a 403 error, though posting from a PC from the exact same IP address works fine. Mysterious indeed are the ways of Jobs.

In any case, the short form of my argument is that reporters in general have to know the poeple they are writing about, and of course it is a two-way street, with costs as well as benefits. I wrote a most elegant proof of this, but it would not fit in the margin of the error message.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 2:12 AM
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91: I read the exact same piece and thought it most illuminating. Remember, it is aimed at a British audience, for whom it is still entirely incomprehensible that Bush should have been reelected in 2004. The process that could have led anyone to choose him over Kerry is completely opaque to us. A proven draft-dodger and incompetent was chosen over a war hero with a record of competence. So there is obviously some way in which the American voting public processes information that needs explanation and I thought Crooks's piece was an excellent stab at reminding us that an air of ferocious competence rather than the fact of its presence may be what the TV watching public is looking for.

Obviously this argument is nonsense if McCain does in fact lose heavily. But that doesn't look inevitable right now. After Palin I'm inclined to think he will win. Note that this has nothing whatever to do with the question of whether the system chooses the best candidate or even punishes the worse for obvious failures. We already know that doesn't have to happen.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 2:19 AM
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Remember, it is aimed at a British audience, for whom it is still entirely incomprehensible that Bush should have been reelected in 2004

Yes, that still boggles the mind. That Bush v Gore in 2000 should be tight is entirely comprehensible. That Bush v Kerry wasn't a landslide for Kerry seems incredible.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 5:27 AM
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The real masters of the people-in-Peoria story are people like David Brooks, and his problem isn't shallowness or inaccuracy but malice. Things he writes of this kind are normally calculated to spread confusion, or make Democrats and liberals look silly, as fluently and amusingly as possible. If he has to make up facts, as in the famous Red Lobster story, that's a problem too, but because of the way he works his stories are about equally bad if he only uses carefully cherry-picked real facts.

When you get down to the talk radio / talk TV level, their job is pretty clearly to tell people what they think. There are lot of people who actually don't know what they think (low-information whim voters) who are grateful for the assistance. "I'm from Peoria, I'll tune in and find out what I think".*

It's argued that the reason for the right-wing near monopoly in free media is supply and demand -- Fox gets more viewers. Probably in the past I've underestimated that part. Gut thinkers are natural conservatives and all you have to do is play to their prejudices and entertain them with lightweight stuff. (When Olbermann started he had a lot of infotainment type crap, Britney and Paris; he's been able to reduce that a lot.)

But that doesn't explain why before Olbermann there was absolutely nothing even for the left-center; the few liberals on TV / radio were either stooges or centrists. Even if the left is a smaller market than the right and center-right, say 30%, their share of the programming shouldn't be zero, especially because there are large areas where they're dominant. Some combination of monopoly plus political agenda has to be the explanation. (The way the industry is structured, apparently broadcast media has to compete to be #1 nationally; no one will cater to a national niche market). And if the liberal-Democratic-left-center points of view were actually being persuasively and entertainingly presented, a lot of low-information voters might realize that they actually weren't conservatives after all.

One way to express this is to say that ambient political opinion in the US is strongly right wing, and not because that's what most people think, but because that's what you pick out of the air if you aren't looking very hard.

I've said this all before, of course.

*This reminds me of the grad student leaving a movie whose friend asked how he liked it. He answered "I don't know, I haven't read the reviews yet." Self reliance is uncharacteristic of most people of any class, says Emerson.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 6:45 AM
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I've said this all before, of course

Yeah, but this is a well-done restatement.

The way the industry is structured, apparently broadcast media has to compete to be #1 nationally; no one will cater to a national niche market

There must be some well-known explanation for the phenomenon of which industries are allowed to have niche players, and which ones aren't. You often see companies that are obviously in a bad position to compete for #1 nonetheless trying to, and wrecking themselves in the effort, but you also see companies that are able to stick with their niche for decades on end. Some part of the dynamic is stockholder-driven - you have to maximize stockholder profit, and that is presumed to be done best by going big. I guess kind of an obvious example is Apple vs. Microsoft - for awhile in the 90s, it was taken as a given that, if Apple couldn't go toe-to-toe with MSFT, they'd vanish. Jobs came in and identified a sustainable niche, but everyone was sure he was wrong.

I guess the bottom line is that, if you position yourself as a niche player, then you're always vulnerable to someone bigger swallowing you up. But then, often as not, the conglomerations break back apart (remember when Pepsi owned Frito Lay and Taco Bell?).

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Juan Williams, get off my fucking radio
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Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 7:05 AM
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Ben is of course correct that horse race coverage is pernicious, DC is insular, and words are best deployed in glorious profusion.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 7:45 AM
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101: Gloriously succinct, Tweety.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 8:44 AM
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Yes, that still boggles the mind. That Bush v Gore in 2000 should be tight is entirely comprehensible. That Bush v Kerry wasn't a landslide for Kerry seems incredible.

Don't you have a "media" in your country? Through which all news has to be filtered before it reaches the people, and therefore determines what the truth is and what kind of behavior from politicians is either worthy of praise or worthy of scorn? And isn't the media owned by corporate interests and aristocrats who depend on the advertising of other corporate interests?

It's incredible to me that all countries aren't handicapped by this in the way the US and Italy are.


Posted by: Satan Mayo | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 9:11 AM
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Good analysis.

However, a minor quibble. I would expect that the actual proposal to which a multi-paragraph post is primarily responding would either be directly quoted or specifically described in the post itself. Especially one in which a fair bit of space has already been devoted to quoting another blog's lead-in to that proposal. A direct link would have been nice as well. Words, html and column space are precious I guess and I'm sure that it was all part of a well thought-out rhetorical strategy; nonetheless I found it a bit jarring.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 9:15 AM
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re: 103

My impression of the US media is that it's something of an outlier in terms of the sheer stupidity of the content. Not that other countries don't have dumb media -- the UK tabloids are a case in point -- but the US 'newspapers of record' seem moronic as well.*

And isn't the media owned by corporate interests and aristocrats who depend on the advertising of other corporate interests?

Not as such, no.

I suspect that the BBC has a fairly useful influence in the UK. It's not owned by corporate interests and, while it's not perfect, it does do a reasonable job.

The UK also has newspapers at different points on the ideological spectrum, running from populist-right through to the centre-left, so, while they are each beholden to their share-holders or owners they aren't monolithic in the way that they sometimes seem in the US.

* bearing in mind that I may be working from a biased sample.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 9:47 AM
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Words, html and column space are precious I guess and I'm sure that it was all part of a well thought-out rhetorical strategy; nonetheless I found it a bit jarring.

Actually, it's an artifact of the way the post developed.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 10:34 AM
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This idiotic situation is produced by the incentives the media are responding to. People won't watch detailed and accurate reporting of facts in the numbers needed to pull down billions in advertizing dollars. The media simply cannot be understood without reference to the fact that the audience is not the customer: The audience is the product. The customer is the advertiser. The principle is simple - if you're not paying, you're not the customer.

I'd gladly pay a substantial premium for a news source that was focused entirely on factual reporting. Unfortunately most people aren't willing to do that, so the news needs advertiser support, which immediately creates a lowest common denominator dynamic as the incentives switch from satisfying the news consumer to satisfying the advertiser.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 11:18 AM
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bearing in mind that I may be working from a biased sample.

Not too much. The situation with journalism in general here is pretty dire, and the `good' papers are no exception.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 11:25 AM
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99: there is ideological hegemony. There are boundaries of permissible opinion. It's that simple, that complicated. Ideas aren't commodities.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 08-30-08 8:23 PM
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