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March 18, 2002

Cruel Israeli citizens interfere with innocent Islamic Jihad activist

For all the complaints about American media bias, at least we don't see headlines like this one from the Guardian too often:Truce hopes ebb as Israeli tanks reply to attacks. Got that? Two attacks, by Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa, a bombing and a mass shooting. But it's the Israeli reply that's the problem. Apparently "truce" is defined as "Israel meekly accepts getting attacked." I don't even want to speculate on how the Guardian would define "peace."

September 7, 2003

Self vs. Un

The New York Times reports on the latest unemployment data in its usual unbiased way.

The Labor Department announced yesterday that 93,000 jobs were lost in August, countering expectations that employment would finally begin to expand. The economic recovery in the United States is now in its 22nd month, without reversing constant job losses.

The unemployment rate declined to 6.1 percent from 6.2 percent in July, but economists said that was apparently because of a surge in the number of people who, having lost jobs, listed themselves as self-employed rather than unemployed. The Bush administration, however, cited the drop as a positive sign.

First, note how the Times sets up the story: to begin with, it describes what "economists" say, as if there's some well-established, undisputed Economic Truth here. Only then does it describe the Bush administration position, introducing it with a "however" to make it clear that the Bush administration is in opposition to "economists" generally, and hence wrong.

Second, note the phrasing: they "listed themselves as self-employed." The Times is apparently accusing these people of lying. No evidence is presented to support this accusation, of course. Why shouldn't we believe that people who list themselves as self-employed really are?


By the way, the few people who bother to read to the end of a story like this will find, in paragraph twenty-four, the one economist the Times quotes in support of this theory of dishonest unemployed losers:

"Whenever you see a spike in self-employment in this kind of economy, you know that is involuntary entrepreneurship," said Jared Bernstein, a senior labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute.
Ah. Count the problems with that:
  1. One economist is not "economists."
  2. The Times fails to identify the left-wing orientation of Jared Bernstein and the Economic Policy Institute.
  3. It's yet another statement made without any backing.
  4. Even if true, it doesn't support the Times' version of analysis. So what if the entrepeneurship is "involuntary"? Either the people have jobs or they don't. That they wish they had different jobs is in no way synonymous with them not having jobs at all.
I remember hearing, a few years ago, a radio interview with a self-styled advocate for the poor; he was talking about the "hidden homeless" in this country. But he wasn't talking about people who slept in sewers and couldn't be seen; no, he was talking about people living long term with friends and relatives. Well, that may not be ideal, but the only reason their homelessness was "hidden" was because it was completely imaginary. Same here; the Times and their pet economist are trying to spin possibly-less-than-ideal-employment as unemployment, because it fits their agenda. Can't the Times try not spinning things for a change?

September 10, 2003

Derbyshire Again

A sentence from John Derbyshire today: "The most left-wing U.S. administration in living memory, securely in power for 8 years, with all the revenues of the post-Cold War 'peace dividend' and the internet boom to spend, couldn't give us universal health care."

The most left-wing U.S. administration in living memory? Huh? Derbyshire doesn't remember the Johnson Administration? The Great Society? The War on Poverty?

Securely in power for 8 years? Huh? He doesn't remember, uh, impeachment?

All the revenues of the post-Cold War? Huh? President Clinton, like, ended the deficit. Started paying down the debt.

Couldn't give us universal health care? Huh? He tried. Tried real hard. It was defeated. Not by President Clinton. By the Senate.

Taking sides again

The Associated Press's version of the debate in Congress over proposed changes to overtime rules:

The 54-45 vote marked a rare defeat for business interests in the GOP-controlled Congress and left the fate of the emerging Labor Department regulations unclear. The House backed the new rules this summer, and congressional negotiators will have to resolve the issue.
Emphasis added. As I've pointed out ad nauseum, media bias doesn't generally show up in the big obvious ways caricatured by liberals and conservatives alike. It's the implicit assumptions in the stories, presented as if they were fact:

  • If it's a Republican proposal, it must be for the benefit of "business interests."
  • If it's for the benefit of "business interests," it must be anti-labor, because the world is always a zero-sum game.
  • The interests of all employees are aligned, so one set of labor representatives can speak for all.

    Here were have a set of policy proposals, which the Bush administration says will help employees, and Congressional Democrats say will hurt employees. And the reporter simply assumes that Democrats are correct -- after all, a Republican surely couldn't be motivated by a desire to help employees.

    It's this sort of bias, unstated, unmeasurable in the aggregate, which pervades the media. It's the bias which prevents a reporter from even considering the possibility that even if the policy helps "business interests," it might also help workers. This isn't malice; it likely isn't motivated by partisanship. It's just the result of ideological blinders; reporters have set views on the way the world works, and they convey them to all of us.

  • September 17, 2003

    Lies and the lying... well, you know

    Having failed to make any impact whatsoever on Bush administration policies, the left has come out strongly on the counterattack, with the biggest theme being that the whole administration is dishonest. That's to be expected in politics (both dishonesty and accusations thereof), but reasonable people need to learn the distinction between differences of opinion, mistakes, and actual lies. Most importantly, if you're going to accuse someone of lying, shouldn't you make sure your facts are correct first? It seems like a good rule of thumb. But if so, someone needs to explain it to The Nation. In a column entitled The Latest Bush Gang Whoppers, David Corn attempts to dissect Dick Cheney's weekend appearance on Meet The Press, where he cited the meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague as possible evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

    Let's start with Dick Cheney. He appeared on Meet The Press and was asked by host Tim Russert if there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. He replied, "Of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we've never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know." This was a deceptive answer.
    Now, the first thing to note is that Cheney was careful here not to make any claims of knowledge here. How can it possibly be "deceptive" to point out that this report is out there, unconfirmed, and that we don't know? Well, Corn has an answer:
    Shortly after 9/11, Czech intelligence officials did say they had a report from a source--a single source--that Atta had met with this Iraqi intelligence official in April 2001. Subsequent media reports in the United States noted that the source was an Arab student who was not considered particularly reliable. The FBI investigated and found nothing to substantiate the report of the meeting. In fact, the FBI concluded that Atta was most likely in Florida at the time of the supposed meeting, and the CIA questioned the existence of this meeting. (Even if there had been a meeting, one could not tell what it meant unless it was known what was said--and no one, not even Cheney, has claimed to know what might have transpired.
    Huh? Didn't Corn just repeat exactly what Cheney said? That is: there's a report of a meeting that the US hasn't been able to confirm, so we don't know. Where's the "deception"?

    Oh, here it is:

    Moreover, on October 21, 2002, The New York Times reported that Czech President Vaclav Havel "quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports" of the meeting. And it seemed that Atta had gone to Prague in June 2000, not April 2001. "Now," the paper noted, "some Czech and German officials say that their best explanation of why Mr. Atta came to Prague was to get a cheap airfare to the United States."

    For some reason, Cheney did not share with the Meet the Press audience the information about Havel's denial.

    Yes, that illustrates deception. The deception here, though, is not Cheney's, but the Nation's. The "some reason" Cheney didn't share the information about Havel's denial is because it never happened. The New York Times made it up:
    "It is a fabrication. Nothing like this has occurred," [Havel spokesperson Ladislav] Spacek said about Havel's alleged phone conversation with the White House.
    Oh. Yeah. Oops. Admittedly, it would have been tough for Nation to discover this... unless they read the Times two days later, where the Times admitted it.


    There is, of course, serious debate about whether this meeting took place, and what it would prove if it did. The evidence for the meeting is limited to a single source, and he provides no details about the substance of the meeting. But that in no way justifies calling Cheney a liar for citing this as possible evidence of a connection, and it in no way justifies citing a fabricated New York Times story as evidence that Cheney lied.

    September 24, 2003

    Close enough

    Once and future Oxblogger David Adesnik, guest-blogging over at the Volokh Conspiracy, notes that the Washington Post and the (shocker) New York Times seriously distort the coverage of President Bush at the United Nations.

    To begin with, there is a quick laugh to be had by comparing the NYT and WaPo ledes for the UN story. The WaPo informs us that
    President Bush got an earful of complaints from world leaders today but responded with a mild defense of his actions in Iraq and an understated request for U.N. help.
    In contrast, the NYT reports that
    President Bush challenged the United Nations today to put aside its sharp differences over Iraq and to help the Iraqi people build a peaceful and democratic country on a timetable that made sense to them.

    But he stoutly defended the United States' rationale for the war.
    "Stout" vs. "mild". An "understated request" vs. a "challenge". In my role as armchair referee, I'm going to call this one a split decision: Bush's defense of the war was absolutely unaplogetic. But his request for help in Iraq was understated.
    Oh, go ahead and read the rest; you know you want to.

    October 2, 2003

    Truth in advertising

    This article is not on the editorial page.

    Continue reading "Truth in advertising" »

    October 7, 2003

    It's more than a crowd, anyway

    I'm not any more certain than Partha that two people constitute a backlash.... but on the other hand, I think that 1,000 people do. (Link requires free registration.)

    October 18, 2003

    Survey says...

    I sometimes (okay, often) criticize the New York Times for the way it frames stories. But I don't know that I've ever seen bias from them quite as blatant as this Agence France-Press report about a Stars and Stripes survey, headlined "Morale of US troops suffers in Iraq."

    A survey of US troops in Iraq by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes has found that nearly three-quarters of those questioned said unit morale was low or average, and that nearly half did not plan to re-enlist.
    So what's the problem? Where to begin.
    1. Statistics without context: "nearly half did not plan to re-enlist." What does that mean? How many people normally don't plan to re-enlist? The article doesn't say. We have no idea if this is above or below average. (The article does cite Donald Rumsfeld for the claim that recruitment and retention remain good, but by not providing actual data, the article makes it sound like a he-said-she-said debate.)
    2. "Of those questioned." The phrase glosses over the fact that the survey was actually non-scientific; the article admits, lower down, that the survey "was taken among soldiers who were available to answer questions and so was not a random sampling of troops." Which soldiers are more likely to answer questions about their morale? Disgruntled ones or ones who are content? You can't draw valid conclusions from a self-selected sample.
    3. Both of those are just typical bad reporting; they're excusable. The big flaw, though, the one that tips the meter from "useless" to "biased," is the heart of that sentence: "Nearly three-quarters... said unit morale was low or average."

      What did the survey actually find?

      Some 34 percent of those surveyed said morale was low or very low, 27 percent said it was high or very high, and the rest said it was average.
      Yes, that's right. Only one third said that morale was low, not the "nearly three quarters" implied by AFP. They simply added up the people who said it was low with people who didn't say it was low, and pretended that they all gave the same answer. An equally valid story -- except that it wouldn't have been a story then -- would have been, "Nearly two-thirds of troops said unit morale was average or high."
    So what we have here is a non-scientific survey in which 1/3 of respondents complain about their morale, and AFP tries to spin the story as 3/4 of troops having morale problems.

    Moreover, the article provides no context: what percent of troops usually describe their morale as low? Presumably there are always some disgruntled people in the military, right? How much higher is this than normal? And wouldn't it be important to know whether their morale was low because they want better food or whether their morale is low because they think the mission is hopeless? It makes a big difference, don't you think?


    Update: Incidentally, most newspapers appear to have framed the story in the negative (sample headlines: US forces in Iraq admit morale is low, US soldiers losing fight to keep up morale, Iraq briefs: Troops say morale low, and Survey: US Troops Suffering Low Morale). But I was amused to see Fox News' spin: Stars and Stripes Survey: Iraq Morale Could Be Better. That cup is half full, dammit.)

    October 26, 2003

    Apt description

    The New York Times doesn't believe in enforcing immigration laws, which is fine. The New York Times makes that clear in its reporting, which is not fine. Illegal aliens are always treated in their pages as victims of the government. It's a point I make often in reading the paper. As such, I was amused to see Mosey's analysis of their reporting.

    A sob story in the New York Times with their usual "not getting the point, but trying to tug at your heart strings, anyway" style about two of the people busted in the WalMart third-shift cleaners raid.
    I think that ought to replace "All the News That's Fit To Print," don't you?


    I certainly think we may want to rethink our immigration laws, and I do think there are occasional circumstances in which we may genuinely feel sorry for the way an illegal alien is treated -- but even assuming this is one of those instances, that doesn't justify using the news section of the paper to make that case.

    October 27, 2003

    Like looking for hay in a haystack

    Andrew Sullivan is asking for assistance:

    If you find similar examples of headlines declaring things that the body of the piece denies, please send them in.
    Funny, I thought he already had a subscription to the New York Times. Pick a story. Any story.

    November 4, 2003

    Close enough for newspaper work

    There's a mini-controversy in Seattle, where the Post-Intelligencer decided to rewrite one of Republican George Nethercutt's speeches.

    "The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable," Nethercutt, R-Wash., told an audience of 65 at a noon meeting at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

    "It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."

    Nethercutt was promptly trashed by the Post-Intelligencer, in columns and editorial cartoons for his uncaring attitude towards American casualties. But -- Nethercutt didn't actually say what I quoted him as saying above. That's what the Post-Intelligencer claimed he said. What he actually said was this:
    It's a bigger and better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day, which, which, heaven forbid, is awful."
    Nethercutt actually took out ads in the newspaper to challenge this portrayal of his comments, since the paper refused to run a correction.

    Now, read this rambling response from the editor of the Post-Intelligencer's editorial page.

    For what it's worth: I thought the original news story did what it was supposed to do. It covered Nethercutt's speech and presented the news story in context.

    Then reasonable people can disagree about that interpretation -- as did the congressman from Spokane.

    A few days later our Editorial Board concluded that Nethercutt was part of a larger story, the coordinated effort by the Bush administration to change the story about Iraq. If the story is about progress in Iraq, then, we believed Nethercutt's view to be, the lesser story is about troops who have died or who face daily threats of death or injury. That was something our Editorial Board found unacceptable and said so. But then we erred because we allowed the discourse to slip into name-calling.

    This just goes to show I can be callow and shallow, too. And, I've learned something from this debate, too. We need to provoke passionate opinions in a way that promotes respect for the other side of the argument.

    Talk about "provoking passionate opinions," "interpretations," and "larger stories." But no response to the central complaint from Nethercutt: that the quote was forged. "Interpret" things however you want -- that's your right, as an opinion writer. But don't put a period in the middle of a sentence and pretend the rest of it was never said.

    November 9, 2003

    Ignore the elephant in the room

    Look, a whole article about the debate over media bias which doesn't mention the New York Times. I wonder where this article appeared?

    November 10, 2003

    Fun Facts, With MoDo

    In the course of using cutsey nicknames like "Rummy" and "Wolfie", and bringing up Vietnam references, Maureen Dowd includes this slight little fib:

    But some fret that the Pentagon -- growing desperate as the Turks, the Indians, the Pakistanis and other allies refuse to send reinforcements -- has been turning out new Iraqi police officers and guards as swiftly and sloppily as Lucy and Ethel turned out chocolates on the assembly line.
    (Dowd may be virtually unreadable, but it's interesting in a car-wreck-on-the-side-of-the-road sort of way to see which pop culture references she can use to best trivialize world affairs. In this column we get a two-fer: The Untouchables and I Love Lucy.)

    The Turks "refuse to send reinforcements"? That isn't quite right, is it? The Turks agreed to send reinforcements; it was the Iraqis that didn't want the Turks there. Slight difference, that Dowd might have noticed, if she had stopped watching Nick At Nite long enough to read the newspaper. (And then she might have seen that South Korea has also agreed to send troops.)

    January 8, 2004

    Good reporting is endangered

    Excellent deconstruction by Gregg Easterbrook of one of those absurdly overwrought environmental doomsday pieces that appear in the media so regularly. As is so often the case, a scientifically-illterate reporter credulously reports the scariest scaremongering he can find, barely pausing along the way to even get an opposing point of view -- and making sure, when doing so, to label the opposing point of view as "conservative" so that readers will know to dismiss it.

    January 29, 2004

    Trust but verify?

    So here's a philosophical question for you: if an advocacy group tries to mislead us, should we be more insulted if it hides its dishonesty, or if it actually has the audacity to provide citations which prove its dishonesty, hoping we won't check?

    The left-wing advocacy group MoveOn, a group which ironically never takes its own advice, has been whining lately about "censorship" because CBS has rejected an ad MoveOn wanted to run during the Super Bowl. (It isn't, of course; a private organization making an editorial decision isn't "censoring" anybody when it chooses not to publish a particular message.) MoveOn is trying to claim that CBS's decision is politically motivated:

    CBS will also claim that this decision isn't an indication of political bias. But given the facts, that's hard to believe. CBS overwhelmingly favored Republicans in its political giving, and the company spent millions courting the White House to stop FCC reform.(6)
    And when you go to that footnote?
    6. OpenSecrets.org: "CBS Television Network Soft Money Donations"
    http://www.moveon.org/r?482
    Okay, the logic is that CBS "overwhelmingly" favors Republicans, so it must be biased in favor of them. So let's check out their source, OpenSecrets.org...

    Yes, in fact, it's true: a whopping 98% of CBS's "soft money" contributions went to Republicans in the election cycle cited. Millions of dollars, all to Republicans. Right? Uh, no. In fact, here's what we're talking about:



    To Democrats: $250 (2%)
    To Republicans: $13,505 (98%)
    Total: $13,755
    That's right: a grand total of $13,000. Hardly the sort of giant fundraising bonanza MoveOn tries to portray.

    But wait, there's more...CBS is no longer an independent entity; in May of 2000, it was purchased by Viacom. Even if one wasn't aware of the relationship between the two companies initially, OpenSecrets.org provides that information on the page linked to by MoveOn. If you click on that link, you see Viacom's contributions. And if you look at that, you see the numbers change substantially:



    To Democrats: $24,900 (60%)
    To Republicans: $16,505 (40%)
    Total: $41,405
    Whoops. Suddenly, MoveOn's argument seems a little silly, doesn't it? And it gets worse. If you look at more than just a single election cycle, the contribution gap substantially widens, in favor of Democrats. Viacom and its subsidiaries gave $19,000 to Republicans in 2002... and $1.3 million to Democrats.

    Of course, this doesn't prove that the decision to reject MoveOn's ad wasn't partisan -- but it sure as heck refutes the limited evidence (*) provided by MoveOn that it was partisan. MoveOn couldn't have missed this data; as I said, the first set was linked to right on the page MoveOn cited.

    (*) MoveOn and its Democratic supporters also claim that CBS's excuse -- that it doesn't accept advocacy ads -- is just a pretext, because it has run antismoking and antidrug ads. Uh, yeah. Whatever. Because a partisan political position ad is clearly equivalent to an antismoking ad. Both are likely to be equally controversial.

    February 16, 2004

    Quis cusotdiet ipsos custodes?

    Let nobody say I've never agreed with lefty blogger Atrios -- because I've finally spotted a post of us that I agree with. He highlights an amazing bit of arrogance illustrated by ombudsman Dan Okrent's latest column in the New York Times. Written for some reason as an imaginary interview with Okrent on his brief experience as ombudsman:

    Q. So tell me, Dan. How are they treating you at The Times?

    A. I'm glad you asked. It has been both better and worse than I expected - better because a lot of people here believe that The Times should be as open to examination as those The Times itself examines each day; their welcome has been generous and heartening. What's worse than I expected is the overt hostility from some of those who don't want me here.

    Q. Is it aimed at you, or at the job?

    A. Both. One reporter ripped me up and down about how offensive it was that the staff had to endure public second-guessing, how it makes reporters vulnerable to further attack, how the hovering presence of an ombudsman can hinder aggressive reporting.

    [...]

    Others have complained that as a former magazine writer and editor, I don't know anything about newspapers; as a non-Timesman, I don't appreciate how The Times is different from all other media institutions...

    Sheesh. Okrent has barely written much of anything yet in his brief tenure as ombudsman; he certainly hasn't criticized anybody in any significant way. And yet the writers are "hostile" and "offended" at the mere possibility that they'll be asked to justify their actions? And then they wonder why there's such hostility towards their institution?

    February 20, 2004

    Constituent service

    Speaking of clueless, I happened to run across this story (via Crosblog) from a couple of weeks ago about a right-wing congressman who has attempted to use his political influence to help one of his cronies get leniency after raping a teenage girl.

    In what one Marin prosecutor called a situation that raises questions of propriety, U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey intervened on behalf of an acquaintance who raped a Marin teenager.

    Woolsey, D-San Rafael, used her official congressional stationery to tell a sentencing judge the sex felon had a "promising life ahead of him."

    Oh, wait, sorry -- Lynn Woosley isn't a right-wing congressman; she's actually a leftist Democratic congresswoman. Perhaps that explains why this story barely made the news anywhere. Can you imagine what the coverage would have been like if Trent Lott had done this?

    And Woolsey's explanation of her actions? Dodging and weaving:

    Pressed by the Independent Journal on why she sent the letter, Woolsey was initially defensive and seemed to draw a blank.

    "Obviously, in my eyes he is not a criminal," she said of the son of her office employee. But then she appeared to change her mind. "I knew nothing about the incidents. I had no idea what the courts had found out."

    Woolsey, who wrote her letter after Pearson pleaded guilty on Sept. 11, 2003, to raping the Marin teen, said she was advocating for Pearson's family, not for him.

    "What I said in that letter was that when deciding his sentence, he has a good support system - that was not based on what he did or didn't do. His family support system would be paying very close attention to what happened to him."

    So, her defense is that she decided to ask for leniency for a criminal without knowing what the criminal had done? I see.

    Leaving aside the twisting and turning over the letter, what about her use of official taxpayer-purchased government stationery to do it? Does that seem a little... improper to anyone else? A private citizen certainly has the right to provide input before sentencing; indeed, as I understand it, character witnesses are a normal part of the sentencing process. But a member of Congress has no right to officially intervene.

    This isn't a big deal (except to the victim); the only reason I'm blogging about it is because I was shocked to find out about it when it had gotten virtually no press coverage. As far as I can tell, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post, nor the AP nor Reuters has picked up this story. Not even as a brief mention. Why not?

    April 20, 2004

    Sauce for the goose?

    So does anybody think there will be a media feeding frenzy over this presidential candidate's coverup of his mlitary past:

    The day after John F. Kerry said he would make all of his military records available for inspection at his campaign headquarters, a spokesman said the senator would not release any new documents, leaving undisclosed many of Kerry's evaluations by his Navy commanding officers, some medical records, and possibly other material.

    Kerry, in an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press," was asked whether he would follow President Bush's example and release all of his military records. "I have," Kerry said. "I've shown them -- they're available for you to come and look at." He added that "people can come and see them at headquarters."

    But when a reporter showed up yesterday morning to review the documents, the campaign staff declined, saying all requests must go through the press spokesman, Michael Meehan. Late yesterday, Meehan said the only records available would be those already released to this newspaper.

    I seem to recall headlines and press conferences and the media generally acting like sharks sensing blood when they covered a similar story vis-a-vis George Bush. It's still early, and that could still happen -- but right now, it seems pretty quiet.

    Oh, and what's with this?

    Asked whether Kerry would release his evaluations, as Clark did during the primaries, Meehan responded: "We don't have Wesley Clark's evaluations." Asked directly whether Kerry would release all of his own evaluations, Meehan repeated that the campaign would release only the records already made available.
    I can't tell whether this was an attempt to be funny -- it failed -- or an attempt at evasion -- it failed.

    [Update: Mickey Kaus speculates that this is just a bait-and-switch by Kerry, that when the full records come out they'll make him look good. Nah. Kerry ain't that smart.]

    May 7, 2004

    So what explains "Fear Factor"?

    Donald Luskin has been covering a spat lately in which liberals accuse conservatives of distorting the truth regarding the date when the most recent economic recession began. The underlying issue, of course, is whether to blame Bill Clinton or George Bush; as such, it's a debate mostly of interest to flag wavers on the campaign trail.

    So what to make of gratuitous comments like this, from the New York Times' Arts section, on the occasion of "Friends" ending its ten year run:

    But timing was also an important factor in the show's success. The best sitcoms echo the larger mood of the nation. "M*A*S*H," whose finale in 1983 drew the largest audience for a single episode of a television series, provided gallows humor in the gallows era of Vietnam and Watergate. "Friends" came along after the Reagan-Bush recession of the late 1980's and early 90's, a period that had fostered shows like "Married . . . With Children," "Roseanne" and "The Simpsons," caustic comedy centered around dysfunctional, financially strapped, families.
    Emphasis added.

    The Reagan-Bush recession? Huh? Reagan, of course, had been out of office for several years when the recession of the early 1990s happened. What makes this so egregious is that not only is the statement wrong, but it's so totally unnecessary; the sentence would have been just as clear if "Reagan-Bush" had been omitted. The Times just can't help itself from having its partisanship leak from the editorial pages into news sections, can it?

    (I thought for a moment that perhaps this was common terminology that I had just missed, but a quick Google turned up just 43 hits on the phrase -- all, as far as I can tell, from partisan sources. Which, at least in theory, the Television column in the Arts section should not be.)

    Incidentally, "Married... with Children" started in 1987, "Rosanne" started in 1988, and "The Simpsons" started in 1989. The "Reagan [sic]-Bush recession" started after all of those did, in July 1990, so I'm not sure what that leaves of the theory that the recession is what led to these shows. I suppose technically the reporter could say that article isn't wrong because it said that the recession "fostered" these shows -- that is, she could argue that the shows started before the recession but were only successful because of it. The problem is that this too is wrong; Roseanne was the number two-rated show for two seasons before the recession began.

    Hmmm... maybe the TV columnist should stick to TV, and stop playing pop sociologist.

    May 12, 2004

    Throw me in that briar patch

    Mark Kleiman wonders why "right-wing bloggers" (his term) are upset that the murder of Nicholas Berg was not shown by the American media.

    What am I missing here?

    * Al Qaeda thugs murder an American on camera as a publicity stunt.

    * The mass media mostly refuse to give them the free publicity they want, not showing the snuff clip the terrorists released.

    * Right-wing bloggers object, thinking the media ought to do what the terrorists wanted them to do.

    Well, Mark doesn't quote or link to any of these "right-wing bloggers," so it's difficult to respond to his question with specifics, but perhaps what "right-wing bloggers" are upset about is the double-standard. Graphic photos of American abuses at Abu Ghraib prison are given prominent play, but Al Qaeda's terror is sanitized. It is proper to report on the prison abuse by U.S. forces, yes. It's also important to remember why U.S. forces are there in the first place.

    [UPDATE: I just want to add, in case it isn't obvious, that I'm not saying that the latter justifies the former. The two are unrelated. I'm talking only about the editorial decisions by the media, not about the incidents themselves.]

    And perhaps what Mark is also missing is that his premise is likely wrong; showing it would not be "what the terrorists wanted them to do." Either the video was primarily intended by the terrorists for an Arab audience or for an American one. To the extent that the video was intended for an Arab audience, the American media showing it wouldn't be relevant to Al Qaeda's wishes. To the extent that it was intended for an American audience, it would be, I think, an attempt to demoralize or intimidate us. But I don't believe that showing it to us would have that effect; I would suspect that it would have the opposite effect. While widespread violence in Iraq might convince the U.S. to pull out, targeted violence such as that will only make us more determined to stay there and eliminate those responsible.

    May 17, 2004

    How do you think we feel?

    They just can't help themselves, over at the New York Times. They write that the Vatican cautioned Catholics against interfaith marriage, and (apparently) singled out marriages with Muslims for special concern. (I say "apparently" because I don't trust the Times to report the story accurately.) But then the Times throws this in:

    The document, written by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, sets these issues in a context of globalism and easy travel that encourages the mixing of religions. Although it makes no mention of the conflicts in the Middle East, its release comes during a time of heightened anger in the Muslim world.
    Really? I thought there was pretty much just as much anger in the Muslim world as there always is. On the other hand, it seems to me as if there's more anger in the non-Muslim, Judeo-Christian world nowadays.

    Either way, does the comment really belong in the story?

    June 13, 2004

    What's in a name?

    Oh, That Liberal Media provides an example of one of those media code phrases used by journalists when they want to sneer at a colorful description of a particular group or practice:

    OK. Good set up against a heinous, barbaric practice, right? Well, um, maybe not. 'Cause in the eighth paragraph we read the following (emphasis mine):
    This was something her mother had done before her. She started as an apprentice while still an adolescent by holding down girls' legs for her mother to perform the rite, which opponents call genital mutilation. "I thought my mother would curse me from the grave if I didn't carry on the tradition," she said.
    As James Taranto notes (to whom goes the hat tip for this entry), this is yet another example of "...the press's use of Orwellian language to promote an attitude of moral relativism--Reuters' policy that "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter" and the pervasive formulation "what opponents call 'partial-birth abortion'. "
    That the media uses this phrasing wouldn't be so bad, if it were used consistently. Of course, it never is; when the media agrees with a characterization, they adopt it as their own. In a New York Times piece on a campaign by death penalty opponents to punish doctors who participate in executions, Adam Liptak uses this description:
    Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the director of health research for the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, said Dr. Rao and others like him should be disciplined. "The state medical boards should just yank the licenses of these people," Dr. Wolfe said.
    (Emphasis added.) To his credit, Liptak does point out that this has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with opposition to the death penalty. But what is it with the Times that every group to the right of the ACLU is described as "right wing" or "conservative" or the like, but Public Citizen is described as a "consumer advocacy organization"? How about "Public Citizen, what supporters call a consumer advocacy organization," or "Public Citizen, the self-described consumer advocacy organization"? Or "Public Citizen, the purported consumer advocacy organization that's actually a left-wing lobbying group and a front for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America"?

    It's bad enough that they pretend that Public Citizen is a neutral consumer advocacy group in articles about consumer advocacy. But Wolfe is conducting his anti-death penalty campaign not in an individual capacity, but in his role as a Public Citizen official. Whether one supports or opposes the death penalty, an honest person would have to admit that it has nothing to do with consumer advocacy. And yet the Times blithely goes on describing them as if they were an apolitical group with no hidden agenda.

    July 2, 2004

    Spin

    Gotta love the difference in the July 2, 2004 front pages of Newsday and the New York Post:






    (If the pictures are no longer available, both front pages show Saddam pointing his finger in his first day in court. Newsday's screaming headline reads "Defiant", while the Post's screaming headline reads "Nuts". No reason he can't be both, I suppose...)

    September 5, 2004

    Maybe the reporter should have put in some more hours

    The New York Times had a story this week on the effect of the Bush administration's new overtime rules.

    Only two problems with the article. The first is that, due to either very sloppy writing and/or editing, or the reporter's lack of understanding, a key statement in the article is wrong:

    But Mr. Ware fears that his inventiveness could cost him dearly, because under new federal labor rules it might cause him to be classified as a learned professional, making him ineligible for overtime pay. Since overtime is often one-third of his paycheck, Mr. Ware is fuming about the new rules, which the Bush administration put into effect last week.
    In fact, the new rules might allow his employer to not pay him overtime, but they do not, in any way, make him "ineligible for overtime pay." Even if the rules make him exempt, his employer is free to pay him overtime if said employer chooses to do so. And common sense tells us that if his skills are worth that much, his employer will either continue to pay him overtime, or will up his base salary to compensate.

    The second problem with the article is that it doesn't say anything. True, the headline -- "Overtime Rules Dispute Is a Numbers Game" -- is, for a change, an accurate representation of the article. But is there really much point in writing an article which has as its theme "People disagree on the effects of these rules, and it's all politics and we don't know the answer"? Are the new rules good or bad? Are they going to cost six million people overtime or just half a million? After reading the article, one is no more informed about the issue than before one read it.

    The truth, in fact, may be that the data just isn't there to provide a definitive answer. So what should the Times have said? Well, if it couldn't say what the answer is, it could have at least explained why there's such a wide discrepancy between one set of estimates and another. I've read numerous articles about the subject in the Times, and they've never managed to do that. But it's really not all that complicated, and this article explains better in a few paragraphs what the Times failed to do in several articles: the high estimate comes from counting everyone who potentially loses eligibility, regardless of whether those people actually ever got paid any overtime at all. There, that wasn't so hard, was it? So why couldn't the article say that, instead of throwing around numbers from lots of different people without any attempt to explain anything other than the politics of the issue?

    September 21, 2004

    Unanswered questions

    I suppose now that CBS has admitted they screwed up, Rathergate will die down as a story and the media feeding frenzy will turn elsewhere. But before it does, I thought this excellent USA Today post (?) mortem deserved to be highlighted, with a few points emphasized.

    CBS's source, Bill Burkett, insists he didn't do anything wrong:

    "I didn't forge anything," Burkett said. "I didn't fake any documents. The only thing I've done here is to transfer documents from people I thought were real to people I thought were real. And that has been the limitation of my role. I may have been a patsy."
    "To people I thought were real?" What does he think they are now? CBS has, what, androids working there? And if he got them from people he thought were real, who are they?
    In earlier conversations with USA TODAY, Burkett had identified the source of the documents as George Conn, a former Texas National Guard colleague who works for the U.S. Army in Europe. Burkett now says he made up the story about Conn's involvement to divert attention from himself and the woman he now says provided him with the documents. He told USA TODAY that he also lied to CBS.
    Does that mean he told the same lie to CBS -- that Conn had provided the documents? He says, later in this article, that he did: "He said he told the same story to CBS..." If so, why didn't CBS call Conn directly? If they did, did Conn lie? If so, shouldn't CBS have revealed that by now, instead of shrugging at the whole thing? On the other hand, if Conn wouldn't corroborate Burkett's story, why did CBS believe Burkett?

    And leaving Conn aside, whose name is Burkett giving now?

    Burkett now maintains that the source of the papers was Lucy Ramirez, who he says phoned him from Houston in March to offer the documents. USA TODAY has been unable to locate Ramirez.

    [...]

    By Monday, USA TODAY had not been able to locate Ramirez or verify other details of Burkett's account. Three people who worked with Killian in the early 1970s said they don't recognize her name. Burkett promised to provide telephone records that would verify his calls to Ramirez, but he had not done so by Monday night.

    Google doesn't help here; a search for Lucy Ramirez is far too broad, and when you qualify it with "Lucy Ramirez" and Texas you don't get anything useful.

    But Burkett's story gets stranger than merely describing a mysterious woman who made him a "patsy."

    Burkett said Ramirez told him she had seen him the previous month in an appearance on the MSNBC program Hardball, discussing the controversy over whether Bush fulfilled all his obligations for service in the Texas Air Guard during the early 1970s. "There is something I have that I want to make sure gets out," he quoted her as saying.

    He said Ramirez claimed to possess Killian's "correspondence file," which would prove Burkett's allegations that Bush had problems as a Guard fighter pilot.
    Burkett said he arranged to get the documents during a trip to Houston for a livestock show in March. But instead of being met at the show by Ramirez, he was approached by a man who asked for Burkett, handed him an envelope and quickly left, Burkett recounted.

    "I didn't even ask any questions," Burkett said. "Should I have? Yes. Maybe I was duped. I never really even considered that."

    By Monday, USA TODAY had not been able to locate Ramirez or verify other details of Burkett's account. Three people who worked with Killian in the early 1970s said they don't recognize her name. Burkett promised to provide telephone records that would verify his calls to Ramirez, but he had not done so by Monday night.

    An acquaintance of Burkett, who he said could corroborate his story, said he was at the livestock show on March 3. The woman, who asked that her name not be used, said Burkett asked if he could put papers inside a box she had at the livestock show. Often, she said, friends ask to store papers in her box that verify their purchases at the livestock auction. She said she did not know the nature of the papers Burkett gave her, and he did not say anything about them.

    Then cloak-and-dagger kicks in full blast...
    After he received the documents in Houston, Burkett said, he drove home, stopping on the way at a Kinko's shop in Waco to copy the six memos. In the parking lot outside, he said, he burned the ones he had been given and the envelope they were in. Ramirez was worried about leaving forensic evidence on them that might lead back to her, Burkett said, acknowledging that the story sounded fantastic. "This is going to sound like some damn sci-fi movie," he said.

    After keeping the copies for a couple of days, he said he drove to a location he would not specify, about 100 miles from his ranch, to put them "in cold storage." Burkett said he took the action because he believed the papers were politically explosive and made him nervous. "I treated them like absolute TNT," he said. "They looked to me like they were devastating."

    Uh huh. Right.

    In other words, if you believe Burkett's story, he received a mysterious phone call from a woman he had never met and didn't know, who claimed that she had the personal papers of a senior officer in the National Guard which would prove problems in Bush's past. Rather than going to the press with these papers, she decided to call some guest who she happened to see on Hardball. They rushed to arrange a clandestine meeting at a livestock show, but the woman didn't show up; instead, a mysterious man handed him an envelope and left. Then, rather than taking care to preserve this damning evidence, Burkett made a couple of photocopies at Kinkos, burned all evidence of the originals (or were they copies also?) and of his source, hid them in an undisclosed location, and even though they were "devastating," ignored them. Then, five months later -- rather than right when the AWOL story was in the news -- Burkett decided the time was right to release these documents. So he shopped them around to media outlets that would guarantee him anonymity, lied about where he got them, and walked away.

    Yeah. Oh, how would you like to buy a bridge? Got one for you, cheap. Oh, sorry; I don't. Dan Rather already bought it.


    By the way, you've got to love journalistic circumlocution:

    Burkett's own doubts about the authenticity of the memos and his inability to supply evidence to show that Ramirez exists also raise questions about his credibility. Burkett has strong anti-Bush views. He has posted comments on Internet Web sites critical of Bush and has chastised Sen. John Kerry's organization for what he called its inept campaign.
    His "inability to supply evidence to show that she exists" raises questions about his credibility? How about the fact that he admittedly lied about the source of the documents? Doesn't that "raise questions" about his credibility? Doesn't that by definition destroy his credibility?

    Who wants to know?

    Eugene Volokh laments that Rathergate teaches us that we can't trust the media.

    That's what's so sad: Surely the aggregate of Rathergate, the Jayson Blair scandal, the chronic misreporting about assault weapons, or any other individual incident, and everything else we've seen over the last several years often thanks to the media criticism of blogging (a medium that thrives on media criticism) has opened our eyes to just how little one can trust what one sees in the news media.

    And yet no matter how skeptical one tries to be, one can't double-check everything. We have to trust outside sources. But the same sources that claim to be so trustworthy are, it turns out, often untrustworthy, sometimes in huge ways (falling for outright frauds) but also often in many small ways (media bias, whether political, social, or personal, that repeatedly leads to erroneous and misleading information).

    I suspect this has been true all along it's just that we can't ignore it any more. We have to learn to live with a world of extraordinarily imperfect information. And that's a lot more work than assuming that the media (or at least certain media) is highly accurate.

    Of course one shouldn't blindly trust the media; one shouldn't blindly trust anybody. Yes, it would be nice if we could rely on the media without having to be skeptical, but that's impossible.

    Still, it's not quite as bleak as Eugene portrays it; there may be con men who are so slick that we never detect them, but most of the time there are warning signs. Here's a good rule of thumb -- for both news reporters and news consumers -- which can help us avoid the sorts of problems revealed by Rathergate: anonymity is a bad idea.

    This entire Rathergate story turned into such a mess because it was based unnecessarily on an anonymous source. I don't suggest there are never reasons for anonymity. Sometimes a valuable source would be too afraid of losing his job or even his life if he came forward publicly. There are legitimate whistleblowers out there; there are people who testify against mafia defendants. There are alleged CIA agents whose husbands are lying ambassadors. But Bill Burkett was none of those. There was no rational reason why Bill Burkett should have been granted anonymity by CBS. The only reason he needed it was if he wanted to lie with impunity. (Oh, there could be innocent reasons why someone would want anonymity-- perhaps the simple desire to avoid being in the media spotlight, which admittedly can be overwhelming. But (a) that's just not a good enough reason, and (b) that doesn't apply to Bill Burkett, who has been all over the news in his campaign against Bush.)

    If CBS had refused to grant Burkett anonymity, one of three things could have happened:

    1. He could have agreed to go public, in which case we have the ability to judge for ourselves whether he has any credibility, and CBS is off the hook even if the documents are forged. (Not that it absolves them of their responsibility to vet a story before putting it on the air, but they're no longer covering anything up.)
    2. He could have refused, and the phony documents never get publicized.
    3. He could have shopped the story to some other, less scrupulous, news outlet. In which case CBS is again off the hook.
    Of course, it's easy to see CBS's thinking: if the story is true, they risk losing a scoop to some other news outlet. And that's true. But, then, that's a risk they may have to be willing to accept. After all, CBS would refuse to pay a source for a story, even if it caused them to lose the scoop, wouldn't they? Legitimate media outlets don't pay sources for news; that's ingrained in the profession. And so it doesn't happen. And yet, they still manage to report. They lose a few greedy sources, but that's a reasonable price to pay for confidence in the integrity of the story. If these mainstream outlets would collectively stop granting anonymity unnecessarily, the same thing would happen: they'd lose the people with hidden agendas, but they wouldn't lose many legitimate stories. And they'd rarely blunder into Rathergate-type debacles.

    End anonymity. It's not a panacea for all that ails journalism -- Jayson Blair, media bias, dumb reporters who don't understand guns will all still be issues -- but it will eliminate at least one type of problem.

    October 9, 2004

    Wearing blinders

    From an article in the New York Times purporting to fact-check the presidential campaigns:

    In his critique of Mr. Kerry's record, Mr. Bush has often left out facts that might make some of the Democrat's positions look different.

    In one speech, Mr. Bush said in quick succession that Mr. Kerry had voted for higher taxes on Social Security benefits and voted for a formula that "helped cause the increase in Medicare premiums."

    Mr. Bush's statements were technically correct. But the tax on Social Security benefits, adopted in 1993 over Republican opposition, helps to pay for Medicare, and without it the government would have to raise other taxes or add to the budget deficit. In voting for the Medicare formula in 1997, Mr. Kerry was joined by 43 Republicans.

    "Without it the government would have to raise other taxes or add to the budget deficit?" Are those really the only two options? Leaving aside the possibility of cutting Medicare, the thought of cutting other programs doesn't even occur to Adam Nagourney or Richard Stevenson, the Times reporters who wrote the story?

    March 2, 2005

    Transitive properties

    Remember how opponents of the Bush administration, like the New York Times, opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom in part because of the effect it might have on Middle Eastern stability? Well, now that it has happened, the Times has no trouble spinning the positive developments of the last few weeks into "threats of instability," from Iranian nuclear power to Iraqi violence. But there's one thing the Times is certain that the administration isn't responsible for: anything good.

    Administration officials say Mr. Bush's calls for democracy in the region have been secondary to the ripple effect of the elections, however imperfect, held by Palestinians and Iraqis in January, and the open, messy but still invigorating political jockeying among those peoples after the balloting.

    "You can't dismiss the argument that the themes we're hearing from Washington are helping to cause changes in the Middle East," a senior State Department official said. "But you have to give the main credit to the elections in Palestinian areas and in Iraq. The Iranians, the Syrians and the Iraqis have to be reacting to the elections."

    Ah, I see. So the possibility for Egyptian and Lebanese democracy has nothing to do with Bush. It's the Iraqi elections that deserve the credit. Remind me again what prompted those?

    Someone reading this "News Analysis" in a vacuum would think that they just sprung up spontaneously. So you can "give the main credit" to these "elections." That's fine. That's safe. As long as you don't give it to Bush, because lord knows that all the people who work at the Times are smarter and more sophisticated than he is.


    Incidentally, there elections in Iraq and Palestine may have gone smoothly, Syria may be forced to end its occupation of Lebanon, and Egypt may hold multiparty elections, but that doesn't mean that we -- assuming we work at the Times -- can't report on all the reasons the Bush administration had nothing to do with it, according to "administration officials," "a senior State Department official," "many experts," "some European diplomats," "an American official," "Arab officials," and of course "an Arab diplomat." All of whom are perfectly willing to steer plaudits away from the president... as long as they can do so anonymously.

    This is journalism.

    March 9, 2005

    Less is more

    Suppose you owned a convenience store. Suppose you didn't change sticker prices, but you instituted a new policy of "keeping the change," so that when customers paid for $15 items with a $20 bill, you retained the extra $5. Would customers consider this to be (a) a reduction in company expenses, or (b) a price increase? Let me phrase the question a different way: suppose the government put out its annual budget proposal. Suppose that programs weren't eliminated ; suppose further that under this proposal, taxpayers had to give more money to the government at the end of the day. How would you describe this situation?

    Well, that depends. If you're a taxpayer, you'd of course call this a tax increase. On the other hand, if you're the New York Times, you might describe it as a "spending reduction." In fact, I can almost certainly guarantee that you'd describe it that way.

    New Jersey is facing a large budget deficit for next year. As usual. And to mitigate this problem, our unelected Acting Governor, Dick Codey, has proposed a budget for next year which cancels a property tax rebate program. In other words, they keep more of our money. Astonishingly -- or perhaps not so, knowing the political leanings of the Times -- the paper doesn't seem to realize that this represents a tax increase. Under the proposal, the government will keep about $1.5 billion extra of our money. And yet the Times claims:

    The proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 does not raise any of the three major taxes: sales, income or corporate business. And Mr. Codey scrapped a proposal to tax 401(k) retirement accounts.

    Rather, the biggest source of new revenue would be $500 million from the sale of state assets.

    Taxpayers having to give an extra $1.5 billion to the state isn't a "source of new revenue"?

    The minor fiction here is that the property tax goes to the municipality, while the rebate comes from the state so the rebate is a "spending program" because it involves a transfer from one government pocket the state's to another the town's. This is a dual fiction first, because the towns are just creatures of the state anyway and their budgets are intertwined, and second, because from the point of view of the taxpayer, what on earth difference does it make? The fact is that at the end of the day, we're paying $800 extra per year in taxes.

    The major fiction, of course, is the oft-repeated liberal idea that tax cuts "cost" money. The Times -- and keep in mind that this was a news story, not an editorial -- wants to convince us that the money belongs to the government, and hence that it is "giving" it to people -- "spending" it -- when it doesn't take as much as it usually does. Of course, from a pure bookkeeping standpoint, a tax cut has the same effect on the deficit as a spending increase does. But no rational person would confuse the two -- just as no rational person would think that a store returning change to a customer is the same thing as a store spending more money (even though, from a pure bookkeeping standpoint, it has the same effect on the bottom line.)

    May 16, 2005

    Won't have Paul Krugman to kick around anymore?

    No, don't get your hopes up; he hasn't been fired. Rather, the New York Times has decided to hide him from the gentle criticism of the blogosphere. And it's not just him:

    The New York Times announced today a new online offering called TimesSelect, which for a modest fee will provide exclusive access to Op-Ed and news columnists on NYTimes.com, easy and in-depth access to The Times's online archives, early access to select articles on the site, as well as other exciting features.

    While most of the news, features and multi-media on NYTimes.com will remain free and available to users, the work of Op-Ed columnists and some of the best known voices from the news side of The Times and The International Herald Tribune (IHT) will be available only to TimesSelect subscribers beginning in September.

    Hmm. Interesting. As I understand it -- and I'm certainly not an expert on web economics -- advertising dollars on the web are making a big comeback. And yet the Times chooses now to cut off some of its content?

    Anyway, I wonder what this means for blogging. The first step in a trend of shutting down our raw material? Probably not. I doubt many media outlets, other than the Times, would be able to justify charging readers for web access. In fact, I'm not sure that the Times will be able to do it, either. I mean, I like bashing Krugman and wondering what the heck Maureen Dowd is babbling about as much as the next guy, but I surely can't justify spending $50/year to do it. (Not that I have to, exactly; as a print subscriber, I apparently will still get access. But it's difficult to blog about something you can't link to. I'm always annoyed when someone blogs a story in the Wall Street Journal, for instance.)

    I wonder what the over/under is on how long the Times gives this experiment. A year? Then they realize that readers have noticed that Bob Herbert and Frank Rich don't give you anything you can't read in a million other newspapers, for free.

    May 17, 2005

    Whine, wine, whine.

    I commented on this over on Reason's blog, but I thought it was worth mentioning in its own blog entry.

    One of the reasons that fights over judicial confirmations are so nasty is because so many people believe that judges make decisions based on their views rather than the law. It is commonly assumed that a judge is deciding what the law ought to be instead of what the law is -- and with the low quality of reporting we see so often from the media, it's not hard to understand why. For instance, yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the constitution for states to discriminate against out-of-state wineries. The decision was 5-4; Clarence Thomas wrote the primary dissent. The decision turned upon the somewhat esoteric question of whether §2 of the Twenty-First Amendment trumped the so-called "Dormant Commerce Clause" in relation to the interstate sale of wine. The majority reviewed the relevant history and caselaw and found that it did not; Thomas, on the other hand, interpreted the historical record differently in opining that it did.

    Unfortunately, here is how the Associated Press (which supplies content for so many print media outlets, of course) characterized this dissent:

    In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued the ruling needlessly overturns long-established regulations aimed partly at protecting minors. State regulators under the 21st Amendment have clear authority to regulate alcohol as they see fit, he wrote.
    Amazingly, that first sentence effectively manages to contain, in just eighteen words, three key errors in it.
    1. Thomas did not argue that the ruling "needlessly" did anything. He said absolutely nothing about "need." He argued that the ruling misinterpreted the relevant statute and the constitution.
    2. The sentence is badly drafted so that it splices together two different ideas: (A) Thomas argued that the ruling needlessly overturned regulations, and (B) the regulations were aimed at protecting children. Thomas, as already noted, did not say the former; he certainly did not say the latter.
    3. That the laws (not "regulations") are "aimed partly at protecting minors" was a claim by the states that were defendants in the cases. It was not a fact agreed to by all sides, not a holding of the court, and not the least bit credible. The laws were certainly aimed at protecting domestic wineries from competition from out-of-state; unless wine can be downloaded from a P2P filesharing network, the idea that minors are going to illegally obtain it from the internet is ludicrous. And even if it were plausible, these laws would do nothing to prevent it, since they allow(ed) minors to order wine, online, from domestic wineries.

    Of course, this is simply an isolated throwaway line in a story about a case that is of interest only to winemakers, drunkswine connoisseurs, and constitutional scholars. I'm not claiming any deeper significance. But that's hardly an excuse for this sort of sloppy journalism. Even if purely unintentional, such erroneous reporting still contributes to the belief that judges are making policy -- deciding what alcohol-related policies are "needful" -- rather than interpreting law -- deciding what the constitution requires. That criticism applies to the first two errors; the third seems to me to likely reflect unconscious bias: reporting a claim by one side in the case as if it were fact.


    Incidentally, while Steven Bainbridge discusses it extensively, the AP story fails to note the unusual lineup of justices in the majority and minority -- and in particular, ignores the fact that Antonin Scalia and Thomas, so often derided as puppetmaster and puppet, were on opposite sides of the case.

    July 11, 2005

    Safe harbor

    You know, one consolation for the New York Times about the Judith Miller situation: they'll never have to worry about Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd going to prison in a similar situation. That would require that these people actually talk to sources.

    July 18, 2005

    Slow news day

    Did you know that lots of politicians know each other, and the people that work for them? Having run out of things to say about the opening on the Supreme Court, that's what the New York Times wasted a front page article on, today.

    Unfortunately, actually covering the merits of the various judges would take work (by "actually covering," I don't mean "reprinting the People for the American Way talking points"), and there's no substantive news, so the Times is reduced to a gossip column about which staffer was invited to which judge's slumber party.

    I really hope Bush hurries up and nominates someone soon. It will be nasty and repetitive, but at least it will involve actual news developments. Otherwise, the media is going to be reduced to asking Janice Rogers Brown questions like How long have you been a black quarterback?

    Continue reading "Slow news day" »

    August 20, 2005

    Blogging in the NYT

    Yes, this is yet another post about Paul Krugman -- but I'll leave the details to others. Power Line comments on our favorite New York Times columnist:

    Krugman's second Ohio nugget relates to Miami County: "Miami County reported that voter turnout was an improbable 98.55 percent of registered voters." Well, that would be quite a turnout, all right--impressive even by the standards of Democratic Philadelphia. I think I know where Krugman got that figure; it is on page 58 of the Conyers report authored, as noted above, by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee.

    Of course, Krugman has never been one to trouble himself by actually doing research. As far as I can tell, he never does any: he simply reads a far-left book or a Democratic National Committee press release, and summarizes it in his column. (And for this the New York Times pays him?) I'm not talking about hard, obscure research here; I'm talking about going to the website of the Ohio Secretary of State's office, where official voter turnout numbers are recorded. Miami County's turnout in 2004? 72.2 %.

    How true. I don't know why many people haven't caught onto this already: Paul Krugman is a blogger. The vast majority of his pieces are simply passing along what other people have already written. He does no original research; he never picks up the phone to talk to an actual source. (Most bloggers don't do these things, either -- but they aren't paid by the Paper of Record, either.) What he does is find a news report, or story, that superficially "proves" what he wants to say -- Republicans are evil, of course -- refuses to dig any deeper, and then spends 750 words ranting about it.

    In other words, he's a blogger.

    Say what you want about Tom Friedman's ridiculous name-dropping and overextended metaphors, or Bob Herbert's tired warmed-over 1960s liberalism, or David Brooks' oversimplified sociological essays, but they all get out of their offices long enough to learn something about the subjects they write about. Krugman can't even be bothered to ask, "Is this really true?" before reprinting Democratic talking points.

    September 26, 2005

    Didn't do the reading assignment?

    I usually assume that the New York Times' bizarre theories of constitutional interpretation come from the fact that they just don't care what the constitution says; they think their own personal ideology is more important. But perhaps there's another, simpler explanation; perhaps they've just never read the constitution at all:

    In Iraq, the elimination of expectations is on display in the disastrous political process. Among other things, the constitution drafted under American supervision does not provide for the rights of women and minorities and enshrines one religion as the fundamental source of law. Administration officials excuse this poor excuse for a constitution by saying it also refers to democratic values. But it makes them secondary to Islamic law and never actually defines them. Our founding fathers had higher expectations: they made the split of church and state fundamental, and spelled out what they meant by democracy and the rule of law.
    They did? I suppose it's arguably true, if you ignore the constitution and look at documents such as the Federalist Papers. Seems strange to complain about omissions in the Iraqi constitution by pointing to documents extraneous to our constitution, though.

    But while that's arguable, the next sentence is not:

    It's true that the United States Constitution once allowed slavery, denied women the right to vote and granted property rights only to white men.
    Quick quiz: can anybody point me to the section of the Constitution that "denied women the right to vote" or "granted property rights only to white men"? The latter claim is particularly odd, because while women generally didn't have the right to vote, free blacks certainly did have the right to property.

    So, maybe the reason that the New York Times is regularly so horrified at the thought of the Scalia/Thomas originalism doctrine of jurisprudence is because they simply have no idea what the constitution originally said.


    The Times is lying, by the way; the Iraqi constitution does "provide for the rights of women and minorities" and does not make democratic values "secondary to Islamic law." (It's true that the document does not create a wall of separation between church and state, but (a) neither does our constitution, (b) neither does that of almost any other country, and (c) it does protect religious liberty.)

    November 6, 2005

    Dog bites man

    Headline of an Editorial in the New York Times: The Time Is Wrong for Tax Cuts

    About Media

    This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in the Media category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    Law is the previous category.

    Middle East is the next category.

    Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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