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The Alabama Blogger Who Spent Five Months In Jail Over His Journalism

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And, speaking of stupidity, check out the Alabama judge who locked a blogger in jail until he took down some posts from his blog, to which he of course had no access while in jail. When the blogger pointed out that if he was in jail, he could not remove the posts, the judge replied, “That’s your problem.” I would have to classify this judge in the “stupid” camp. Nicole Flatow has the report at ThinkProgress:

“You get down to survival mode.” That was blogger Roger Shuler’s state of mind after being arrested and hauled off to jail for writing about a politically connected Alabama lawyer.

“Once you’re arrested I mean there’s not much you can do,” he told ThinkProgress in a conversation after his release, explaining that he felt powerless to handle the legal defense of his case. “Your hands are tied literally and figuratively and just to try to figure out how to get out was almost impossible … I really was afraid for my life at times.”

Until last week, Shuler was the only known journalist in the Western Hemisphere jailed for doing his job. Shuler, a former sports reporter and university editor who developed the political blog Legal Schnauzer, is known as a controversial figure in his community. He has fielded other allegations of falsehoods and has been embroiled in numerous lawsuits over his blogging. But even his critics conceded that a court order banning him from writing anything about the alleged extramarital affair of a man rumored to be running for Congress was likely unconstitutional, and a First Amendment outrage.

First, a Shelby County judge ruled that Shuler could not continue writing about the alleged affair of Robert Riley, Jr., the son of former Gov. Bob Riley rumored to be running for Congress. Then, when Shuler refused to comply with the order, police came to his home one evening and arrested him for contempt of court. Contempt of court is a punishment for failure to comply with a court order. In many instances such as this one, it is a “civil” offense, meaning it doesn’t carry long-term criminal penalties. But officials use jail as a means of forcing compliance with the order. So Shuler sat in jail until he complied.

Shuler was initially resistant to the order. But even when he wanted to comply, he didn’t know how.

“At my Nov. 14 hearing, the only hearing I had in the case, the court gave me no direction on how I could purge myself of contempt,” Shuler told the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I noted that I had no computer or Web access to take down the posts, even though I knew it was unlawful to be forced into taking them down. The court’s response was more or less that I had to resolve that problem myself. With that kind of response from the court I felt caught between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place.’” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2014 at 8:51 am

Posted in Government, Law, Media

Why proportionately more PTSD cases from Iraq than from Afghanistan

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The wars were different in the nature and proportion of stress events.

This Washington Post article has graphs that highlight the differences.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2014 at 3:32 pm

The vital importance of an aggressive and investigative free press

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Although Obama really doesn’t like a free press, as shown by the way his Dept of Justice went after James Risen for publishing a whistleblower’s story, a free press that informs the public of abuses and failures in government and business is vital to a healthy society. Here are a couple of recent examples:

1. I blogged 10 days ago about how the Pentagon didn’t really want to be bothered by the effort of identifying the remains of fallen American troops who died in past wars. That report in ProPublica and on NPR has had a salutary effect: see this interesting follow-up.

2. An on-going story is the way the NHTSA failed in its duties, and the press is exposing that. For example:

Carmakers’ Close Ties to Regulator Scrutinized

U.S. Agency Knew About G.M. Flaw but Did Not Act

It’s long been known that whistleblowers and a free press help keep the government (and businesses) honest. Obama doesn’t seem to get that. His main interest so far has been to cover up government misbehavior and to intimidate the press.

UPDATE: And, of course, there’s the opposite of an investigative press.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2014 at 11:27 am

Media prefer false horror stories about Obamacare to true success stories

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Michael Hiltzik reports in the LA Times:

If there were fairness in this world, Rita Rizzo would be a media star.

Rizzo, 60, owns a management consulting firm for nonprofit groups and government offices in Akron, Ohio, with her husband, Lou Vincent, 64. Vincent, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, has gone without health insurance for 10 years. “We got 30 denial letters,” Rizzo told me last week.

Three years ago, Rizzo got a hip replacement. Her own insurance premiums were going to rise by $500 a month, to about $800, so she chose instead to triple her deductible to $6,000 to keep the increase to a mere $150 a month.

The couple used a $5,000 tax-deductible health savings account to cover her out-of-pocket expenses; Vincent’s medication, which ran to $178 a month; and his blood work-ups, at $2,400 a year.

In December, Rizzo signed up for Obamacare. She now has a policy that covers her and Vincent together, including all his meds and lab work, for $379 a month, with a $2,000 family deductible.

“I feel like I died and went to insurance heaven,” she says.

But you haven’t heard Rizzo’s story unless you tuned in to NBC Nightly News on New Year’s Day or scanned a piece by Politico about a week later. In the meantime, the airwaves and news columns have been filled to overflowing with horrific tales from consumers blaming Obamacare for huge premium increases, lost access to doctors and technical frustrations — many of these concerns false or the product of misunderstanding or unfamiliarity with the law.

While Rizzo was working her way to thousands of dollars in annual savings, for example, Southern California Realtor Deborah Cavallaro was making the rounds of NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, Fox and public radio’s Marketplace program, talking about how her premium was about to rise some 65% because of the “Unaffordable” Care Act. What her viewers and listeners didn’t learn was that she hadn’t checked the rates on California’s insurance exchange, where (as we determined for her) she would have found a replacement policy for less than she’d been paying.

With the March 31 deadline for 2014 enrollment in individual health insurance just days away, more questions are being asked about the mismatch in publicity about the Affordable Care Act by its opponents and supporters.

The millions of beneficiaries of the measure — families excluded from insurance because of high premiums or preexisting medical conditions, low-income individuals made newly eligible for Medicaid, seniors receiving a new subsidy for prescriptions, women granted the legal right to affordable maternity coverage for the first time — seem to be absent from the news media or political ad campaigns. But you can’t turn on your TV without seeing a well-produced 30- or 60-second spot featuring a purported tale of woe.

“Why aren’t Democrats taking this simple approach to defending Obamacare?” asked in a recent headline.

It’s a good question, but the answer is that the approach isn’t all that simple.

“This is a difficult environment to sell this product,” says Robert J. Blendon, an expert on policy marketing at the Harvard School of Public Health. “There’s lots of anti-government feeling; the IRS is at the lowest point in its public standing, and people are asking if it’s going to be checking up on them. People are very cynical.”

Indeed, Rizzo says that when she tries to tell her story online, including through items on the Huffington Post, “I hear in response, ‘You’re a media plant’ or ‘You’re an Obama plant’ or ‘You’re not a real person.’ I’ve heard some really crazy stuff.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2014 at 10:36 am

Posted in Healthcare, Media

TV as a force for social change and education

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Nicholas Kristof has a good column in the Times today:

In the struggle to break cycles of poverty, experts have been searching for decades for ways to lower America’s astronomical birthrate among teenagers.

We’ve tried virginity pledges, condoms and sex education. And, finally, we have a winner, a tool that has been remarkably effective in cutting teenage births.

It’s “16 and Pregnant,” a reality show on MTV that has been a huge hit, spawning spinoffs like the “Teen Mom” franchise. These shows remind youthful viewers that babies cry and vomit, scream in the middle of the night and poop with abandon.

Tweets containing the words “birth control” increased by 23 percent on the day after each new episode of “16 and Pregnant,” according to an analysis by Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip B. Levine of Wellesley College. Those tweets, in turn, correlate to increased Google searches along the lines of “how get birth control pills.”

Kearney and Levine find that regions with a higher audience for “16 and Pregnant” and the “Teen Mom” franchise had more of a drop in teenage births. Over all, their statistical analysis concludes that the shows reduced teenage births by 5.7 percent, or 20,000 fewer teenage births each year. That’s one birth averted every half-hour.

To put that achievement in context, I’ve been fulminating about the teenage birthrate for years, and I don’t think I’ve averted a single birth.

Because abortion rates fell at the same time, the reduced birthrate appears to be the result principally of more use of contraception. It’s also a reminder of the paramount need for clinics that offer free, long-acting contraception: When a teenage girl searches the web for birth control, let’s make sure she finds solutions.

Kearney and Levine, both economists, are experts in why teenage birthrates are so high in America (one factor: teenage births reflect poverty as well as transmit it to the next generation). Girls in the United States are almost 10 times as likely to have babies as Swiss girls, and more than twice as likely as Canadian girls. In no other developed country are teenagers as likely to get pregnant as the United States.

But here’s the good news: Teenage birthrates have plunged by 52 percent since 1991 — one of America’s great social policy successes, coming even as inequality and family breakdown have worsened. The steady drop in teenage births accelerated greatly beginning in 2009, when MTV began airing “16 and Pregnant.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2014 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

Revealing Secrets Akin to Drunk Driving According to Intelligence Official

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In The Intercept Dan Froomkin has a good report on how NSA is pushing back. From the report:

. . . Earlier in the day, New York Times national security reporter James Risen, who has become a symbol of the Obama administration’s assault on national-security journalism, called on his fellow journalists to “stand up against the administration” and its attempt to control the press. Risen is fighting a federal order to testify in the trial of a former CIA official charged with leaking classified information to Risen about a botched plot against the Iranian government. He acknowledged that many journalists shy away from political action, but said the industry is “really confronting a change in the landscape.”

Government officials, he said, are “trying to create a path for accepted reporting — and that if you as a reporter go outside those parameters, you as a reporter will be punished, and those sources will be prosecuted.”

The prospect of Risen’s imprisonment, rather than giving up his source, hung heavy over the gathering. Risen said that government officials “want to narrow the field of national security reporting,” making it more and more difficult for reporters to write stories “outside the boundaries that the administration itself sets down.”

And what is outside those parameters?

“Any story that doesn’t make them look good,” he said. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2014 at 9:06 am

Some facts about how NSA stories are reported

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An interesting comment at The Intercept from Glenn Greenwald:

Several members of the august “US Journalists Against Transparency” club are outraged by revelations in yesterday’s New York Times (jointly published by der Spiegel) that the NSA has been hacking the products of the Chinese tech company Huawei as well as Huawei itself at exactly the same time (and in exactly the same way) as the US Government has been claiming the Chinese government hacks. Echoing the script of national security state officials, these journalists argue that these revelations are unjustified, even treasonous, because this is the type of spying the NSA should be doing, and disclosure serves no public interest while harming American national security, etc. etc.

True to form, however, these beacons of courage refuse to malign the parties that actually made the choice to publish these revelations – namely, the reporters and editors of the New York Times – and instead use it to advance their relentless attack on Edward Snowden. To these journalists, there are few worse sins than “stealing” the secrets of the US government and leaking them to the press (just as was true in the WikiLeaks case, one must congratulate the US Government on its outstanding propaganda feat of getting its journalists to lead the war on those who bring transparency to the nation’s most powerful factions). But beyond the abject spectacle of anti-transparency journalists, these claims are often based on factually false assumptions about how these stories are reported, making it worthwhile once again to underscore some of the key facts governing this process:

(1) Edward Snowden has not leaked a single document to any journalist since he left Hong Kong in June: 9 months ago. Back then, he provided a set of documents to several journalists and asked that we make careful judgments about what should and should not be published based on several criteria. He has played no role since then in deciding which documents are or are not reported. Those decisions are made entirely by media outlets that are in possession of those documents. Thus, calling a new NSA story “Snowden’s latest leak” or asking “why would Snowden decide to publish this now?” – as though he’s doling out documents one by one or deciding which documents should be published – is misleading in the extreme: those decisions are made exclusively by the journalists and editors of those news outlets.

(2) Publication of an NSA story constitutes an editorial judgment by the media outlet that the information should be publicBy publishing yesterday’s Huawei story, the NYT obviously made the editorial judgment that these revelations are both newsworthy and in the public interest, should be disclosed, and will not unduly harm “American national security.” For reasons I explain below, I agree with that choice. But if you disagree – if you want to argue that this (or any other) NSA story is reckless, dangerous, treasonous or whatever – then have the courage to take it up with the people who reached the opposite conclusion: in this case, the editors and reporters of the NYT (indeed, as former DOJ official Jack Goldsmith observed, the NYT‘s Huawei story was “based on leaks other than the Snowden documents”). In most other cases where critics claim reckless disclosures, the decision to publish was made by the Washington Post. The judgment to which you’re objecting – that this information should be made public – was one made by those newspapers, not by Edward Snowden.

(3) Snowden has made repeatedly clear that he did not want all of the documents he provided to be published.
 . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2014 at 8:38 am

NY Times Budget Reporting Looks Like RT on Ukraine

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Dean Baker writes:

RT, the Russian government owned English language television network, has been the butt of much humor in recent days. It has mindlessly repeated Russian propaganda surrounding the events in Ukraine. The ridicule is well-deserved. News organizations are supposed to inform readers about the world, not make stuff up. Unfortunately, much of the U.S. media deserve comparable ridicule when it comes to budget reporting.

While news outlets don’t just invent numbers on the budget, it would not be much of a change for the worse if they did. The news stories that we saw following the release of president Obama’s budget followed the same practice we have seen in budget stories for decades. They threw very large numbers at readers that no one understands.

For example, a New York Times piece on the Obama budget told readers that Obama would increase spending by $302 billion over the next four years on infrastructure. It tells us that he would spend $76 billion over ten years on funding pre-K education. He would raise $1 trillion in revenue over ten years and he wants to spend an additional $55 billion on the discretionary portion of the budget in an unspecified number of years. Are you well-informed now?

This is joke reporting and everyone knows it. Suppose we added or subtracted a zero from these numbers. If NYT told us that Obama had proposed spending $3,020 billion or $30.2 billion on infrastructure would it have made much difference to how most readers understood this number? In all three cases this is a really large number that is virtually meaningless to the overwhelming majority of NYT readers. That’s true even though the NYT has a highly-educated and well-informed readership.

No one disputes this fact. Move-on and Media Matters pressed this issue with the NYT in a petition last fall. The NYT’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan strongly agreed that the budget numbers as presented were largely meaningless to the vast majority of its readers. She raised the point with David Leonhardt, then the national news editor. He also completely agreed, adding that in such cases people just see “really big number.”

According to Leonhardt, the NYT was taking steps to ensure that budget numbers and other big numbers would be expressed in a context that made them understandable to readers. Now it’s more than four months later and the budget reporting still gives readers the same big numbers without any context.

There is no excuse for continuing a pattern of budget reporting that clearly flunks the basic task of informing readers. The most obvious way in which to make budget numbers understandable is to express them as a share of the total budget. All the reporters at the major news outlets know how to do simple division with a calculator. CEPR has even constructed an online budget calculator that allows reporters on deadline to do this calculation in seconds. Why would news outlets not take a trivial step that would make their material much more informative to their audience?

And it does matter. Polls consistently show that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2014 at 11:53 am

Propaganda and nonsense: Even more New York Times hypocrisy

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Interesting column in Salon by Patrick L. Smith:

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext.” Thus spoke Secretary of State John Kerry on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, just as Russia took control of Crimea in the latest escalation of the Ukraine crisis.

This extraordinary remark appears to have gone briefly viral. And surely I am not alone in requiring time to recover from the sheer ignorance and presumption of it. Ignorant because even by the standards at State, where the past must evaporate on an almost daily basis, it is hypocrisy unlimited on the very face of it. Presumptuous because it implies a degree of stupidity among us that not even P.T. Barnum would dare take for granted.

We have before us a full-dress campaign to persuade the world that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military advances into Ukraine this week come to an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of a nation struggling to find its way to a remade polity on the model of the liberal Western democracies. This is the explicit part. Implicit are the clean hands of American and European policy cliques and the broad approval enjoyed by the provisional government that appointed itself after President Viktor Yanukovych was hounded across the border with Russia two weeks ago.

This is the Good Housekeeping perspective on Ukraine. Kerry’s silly remark last weekend is one among countless in the service of this wholesale rewrite of events.

The unapproved perspective is far more interesting and should be recognized for what it is. For the second time in less than a year we witness an American intervention that, in the age of social media and all the rest, is transparent such that we can actually study it in real time. This is new. In the old days—when Washington undermined Mossadegh in Iran, say, orArbenz in Guatemala, or even Allende much later in Chile—we had to wait years before the truth was unearthed beneath the macadam road of propaganda and lies laid quickly atop it at the time of events.

I should clarify. The first such occasion was last July, when the New York Times, in what was apparently deemed a one-off slip, provided a record of the telephone call Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, made to Cairo advising that the generals could go forward with the plan to depose President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi toppled within hours of the exchange.

And to clarify further, a third such occasion may shortly be upon us. This one, if it comes, will be in Venezuela, now ablaze with violent protests. Watch this space and know what you are watching: If the Maduro government in Caracas falls, it will mark the culmination of yet another American intervention.

This makes two, and maybe three, “19th century things” Americans insist upon doing in the 21st century. Not counting Iraq, Afghanistan, and threats of violence elsewhere, of course. Please speak into the microphone, Mr. Secretary.

Here is the strange part—or one of many oddities, I ought to say. In all three cases we are offered what evidence of the truth cannot be avoided, and then it is quickly dispatched to oblivion by those laying down the macadam.

In the Egypt case, the Times recounted the Rice telephone call and seemingly never again mentioned it. All it has since written amounts to a game of pretend.

In the Venezuela case, William Neuman, the Times’ man in Caracas (and an intellectually dishonest ideologue) recounted the press conference when the Venezuelan foreign minister read aloud the e-mail traffic revealing the covert American campaign to recruit students to the anti–Maduro cause. And then: Never again did he note it in his accounts of a supposedly spontaneous movement for the neoliberal democracy desired by everyone in the world, Ukrainians, too.

In Ukraine, we have the Victoria Nuland, “F the E.U.” tape, of course. This is the strangest of all. Amid all the tumult of the past couple of weeks, as the very people Nuland and her ambassador in Kiev were cultivating rose to the top, not a single mention of the tape and the red-handed evidence of American malfeasance. The coverage is all about the unjust intimidations of the Russian Bear, the silent, beady-eyed Putin being the perfect personification of the beast.

The media performance gives so astonishing an appearance of conspiracy at this point that you start to wonder if these people, correspondents and editors alike, are somehow getting dressed in the same locker room every morning. Please use the comment box if you can otherwise explain why not one correspondent finds it useful to cite prima facie evidence of American provocation on Putin’s doorstep.

(It is possible some are filing well from Ukraine and getting politically motivated edits in the newsroom. I know it happens because it happened to me, more than once, when I filed for the International Herald Tribune, a Times property.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2014 at 11:54 am

Others also have noticed the oddity of the US condemning Russia for invading another country

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With our adventure in Iraq—a completely unprovoked war based on lies from the Bush Administration—having ended so recently, it is curious to see so many in the US expressing outrage that Russia sent troops into Ukraine—which, it may be pointed out, is on Russia’s doorstep, whereas Iraq is far removed from the US. Worse, those expressing outrage never so much as allude to the US invasion of Iraq to explain what is different this time. They simply act as if the Iraq war never happened. It’s as if they have air-brushed that from their memory.

Glenn Greenwald points out this discrepancy and also applauds a reporter on RT who spoke against Russia’s invasion. (When reporters in the US spoke against the Iraq invasion, as did Phil Donohue (who had the most popular show on MSNBC), they were summarily fired. The US often does not, in practice, believe in free expression if the expression is contrary to government propaganda.) Greenwald writes at The Intercept:

The vast bulk of the commentary issuing from American commentators about the Russian military action in Ukraine involves condemning exactly that which they routinely advocate and which the US itself routinely does. So suffocating is the resulting stench that those who played leading roles in selling the public the attack on Iraq and who are still unrepentant about it, such as David “Axis of Evil/The Right Man” Frum, have actually become the leading media voices condemning Russia on the ground that it is wrong to invade sovereign countries; Frum thus has no trouble saying things like this with an apparently straight face: “If Russia acts the outlaw nation, can it be expected to be treated as anything but an outlaw?”

Enthusiastic supporters of a wide range of other US interventions in sovereign states, both past and present and in and out of government, are equally righteous in their newfound contempt for invasions – when done by Russia. Secretary of State John Kerry – who stood on the Senate floor in 2002 and voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq because “Saddam Hussein [is] sitting in Baghdad with an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction” and there is “little doubt that Saddam Hussein wants to retain his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction” – told Face the Nation on Sunday: “You just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” The supremely sycophantic Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer – as he demanded to know how Russia would be punished - never once bothered Kerry (or his other Iraq-war-advocating guests, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius) by asking about any of that unpleasantness (is it hard at all for you to sermonize against invasions of sovereign countries given, you know, how often you yourself support them?)

American invasions and occupations of nations halfway around the world are perfectly noble, but Russian interference in a part of a country right on its border is the supreme act of lawless, imperial aggression. Few things are worse than watching America’s militarists, invasion-and-occupying-justifiers, regime-change enthusiasts, drone-lovers, and supporters of its various “kinetic military actions” self-righteously wrap themselves in the banner of non-intervention, international law and respect for sovereignty. Does anyone take those denunciations seriously outside of the class of western elites who disseminate them?

American media elites awash in an orgy of feel-good condemnation in particular love to mock Russian media, especially the government-funded English-language outlet RT, as being a source of shameless pro-Putin propaganda, where free expression is strictly barred (in contrast to the Free American Media). That that network has a strong pro-Russian bias is unquestionably true. But one of its leading hosts, Abby Martin, remarkably demonstrated last night what “journalistic independence” means by ending her Breaking the Set program with a clear and unapologetic denunciation of the Russian action in Ukraine: . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2014 at 11:06 am

Posted in Media, Politics

Talk about getting a lemon and making lemonade

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2014 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Media, Movies

Bad faith shown by Eric Holder

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Eric Holder is not much of an Attorney General, IMO. Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a new set of guidelines designed to make it harder for law enforcement officials to seize the records of journalists:

Among other things, the rules create a presumption that prosecutors generally will provide advance notice to the news media when seeking to obtain their communications records….The rules also address a law forbidding search warrants for journalists’ work materials, except when the reporter is a criminal suspect. It says that the exception cannot be invoked for conduct based on “ordinary news-gathering activities.”

….The rules cover grand jury subpoenas used in criminal investigations. They exempt wiretap and search warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and “national security letters,” a kind of administrative subpoena used to obtain records about communications in terrorism and counterespionage investigations.

But Marcy Wheeler points out that most of the DOJ leak investigations that prompted media outrage last year and led to these new rules are, in fact, related to national security. And NSLs have the least oversight of any form of subpoena: they can be issued by just about anyone, and require no approval from a court.

Does this mean, as Wheeler pungently puts it, that these new guidelines are “worth approximately shit” in any leak investigation that’s actually likely to take place? I’m not sure about that. You can’t get a wiretap with an NSL, for example. Still, it certainly seems to be a Mack-truck-sized loophole in these new rules. There’s less here than meets the eye.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2014 at 4:29 pm

Interesting study of outrage media

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I watch a lot of movies, and I note that in some bad movies the characters appear to be angry a lot, with nothing motivating their anger. (One title that in my mind is tagged with this characteristic is Showgirls, but I cannot now recall the specific instances—and I don’t want to watch it again.) My take on that is that the apparent anger is just a quick way to get emotion into a scene, even when the anger is unmotivated.

So I was interested in the study discussed in this article in Pacific Standard by Jesse Singal:

If there’s one thing American media does well, it’s outrage. Take a quick glance at your favorite news source, whether The O’Reilly Factor orPardon the Interruption, and you’ll see it: wide-eyed, incredulous, puffed-up outrage that anyone could be so stupid!

Despite our nation’s saturation with outrage, argue two Tufts researchers, we know very little about how the genre works. So Jeffrey M. Berry, a political scientist, and Sarah Sobieraj, a sociologist, assembled a research team and dove into the spittle-flecked world of outrage media. They listened to and read countless transcripts, coding it for content; interviewed fans of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other superstars; and examined the regulatory and business shifts in American mass media that led to our current screamfest.

In a recent interview, Sobieraj spoke with Pacific Standard about the formula of outrage media, why the right wing dominates it, and the weirdly intimate relationship between talk radio hosts and their listeners. The below transcript is edited for length and clarity.

So what exactly is outrage media, and how do you differentiate it from a regular lack of civility?

When we think about outrage, we think of political speech that is intended to provoke an emotional response. So fear, anger, or moral indignation—that sort of thing. Most of the existing literature on incivility talks about interruptions or sighing or things like that, and what we notice is that outrage is such a muscular negativity that it’s not captured by those kinds of studies or questions. It’s just a whole different ballpark. The research on incivility tended to look at things like political advertisements, for example, and we were thinking about this whole other area, this genre where there is a mainstay of emotionally laden speech and behavior that is really designed to rile up the audience.

Emotion has a place in political speech. It’s actually quite important if you think about something like the civil rights movement or 9/11. People’s stories and the social problems they animate are often very important. But what’s different here are the calculated techniques that they use in an effort to evoke those emotions.

And it sounds like “calculated” is the right word, because you guys write that outrage media is pretty formulaic.

It is. It’s very predictable. In fact, sometimes when I’m having a better day or in a better mood or feeling more tolerant, I can find it in myself to find it amusing, the way that the techniques are so similar on the left and the right.

You know you could hear, for example, a host talk about the fringe far-left and if you’re on another network you can hear them talk about the fringe far-right, and so sometimes the language is literally the same. And not just the language, but the techniques, the things like misrepresentative exaggeration and belittling and conspiracy theories.

Are there any other big markers? Misrepresentative exaggeration, belittling….

Insulting language is another really important one. Calling people idiotic or pompous. Name-calling is definitely one too. I’ve heard, for example, bloggers refer to Obama’s supporters as “Obamatards,” things like that.

As for exaggeration, there is lot in political life, but this is a different level of a very dramatic negative exaggeration. For example, saying that something is intended to bring down capitalism. That would be a good example—very few things are actually designed to bring down capitalism. So I would say that misrepresentative exaggeration, mockery, definitely the ideologically extremizing language like “radical right-wing nut,” “socialist,” “fascist.” Those types of things are probably the most common.

I think a lot of people are skeptical of the claim that it’s as bad on the left as it is on the right, and you did a good job of pulling quotes from folks like Mike Malloy that really are angry and negative and out there. But you did find, overall, that there’s something about this sort of media that appeals more to folks on the right, and there’s a huge gap in the amount of outrage media between the two sides.

Yeah, so there are actually two different questions embedded in there. One is whether it’s the same or different in terms of the intensity and the volume and that sort of thing. Some people have suggested that when we point out that it happens on the left it’s a false equivalency. And that’s actually not what we’re doing at all.

What we notice is that the techniques are very similar on the left and the right. So something like belittling or exaggeration—you’re going to find that with Ed Schultz or Lawrence O’Donnell just like you’ll find it with Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. But the volume is very different, in terms of the sheer number of platforms on the right. Talk radio is over 90 percent conservative so there’s just more of it.

Now the other question that you’re asking is whether outrage is more attractive to those on the right, and I think it is for a number of reasons. It’s actually kind of complicated—there are a lot of things going on. One is that the left is less distrustful or more accepting, depending on how you want to say it, of conventional news. So the right has historically been less comfortable with the major networks or The New York Times, for example, and the left is more comfortable in those spaces.

Another thing that comes into play is that there is some research that suggests that conservatives have a personality type—this is, of course, not all of them—and that there’s a greater propensity for comfort with black-and-white argumentation, which is very common in the outrage genre. There are good guys and there are bad guys. You are with us or you are against us. So there is that type of appeal.

But also, and I think probably most interestingly, since the rise of multiculturalism, with words like “tolerance,” “inclusion,” and “diversity” being viewed as good and important, for those who are conservative, to share your political views on things like same-sex marriage or immigration—those views can be viewed as intolerant and you can feel as though you are being judged and stigmatized. So we think that these shows, or what we hear when we talk to fans, are that these shows and blogs really become a safe space where their views are validated and they’re not criticized.

That struck me actually, because I really did like the interviews you had with fans of Beck and Limbaugh and some other conservative hosts, and there was this genuine fear that I found surprisingly easy to empathize with. They said they feel like they can’t talk about these issues or they’re going to be tarred as racist. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2014 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Media, Mental Health

On the UK’s Equating of Journalism With Terrorism

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Excellent column by Glenn Greenwald:

As my colleague Ryan Devereaux reports, a lower UK court this morning, as long expected, upheld the legality of the nine-hour detention of my partner, David Miranda, at Heathrow Airport last August, even as it acknowledged that the detention was “an indirect interference with press freedom”. For good measure, the court also refused permission to appeal (though permission can still be granted by the appellate court). David was detained and interrogated under the Terrorism Act of 2000.

The UK Government expressly argued that the release of the Snowden documents (which the free world calls “award-winning journalism“) is actually tantamount to “terrorism”, the same theorynow being used by the Egyptian military regime to prosecute Al Jazeera journalists as terrorists. Congratulations to the UK government on the illustrious company it is once again keeping. British officials have also repeatedly threatened criminal prosecution of everyone involved in this reporting, including Guardian journalists and editors.

Equating journalism with terrorism has a long and storied tradition. Indeed, as Jon Schwarz has documented, the U.S. Government has frequently denounced nations for doing exactly this. Just last April, Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine dramatically informed the public that many repressive, terrible nations actually “misuse terrorism laws to prosecute and imprison journalists.” When visiting Ethiopia in 2012, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burnspublicly disclosed that in meetings with that nation’s officials, the United States “express[ed] our concern that the application of anti-terrorism laws can sometimes undermine freedom of expression and independent media.” The same year, the State Department reported that Burundiwas prosecuting a journalist under terrorism laws.

It should surprise nobody that the UK is not merely included in, but is one of the leaders of, this group of nations which regularly wages war on basic press freedoms. In the 1970s, British journalist Duncan Campbell was criminally prosecuted for the crime of reporting on the mere existence of the GCHQ, while fellow journalist Mark Hosenball, now of Reuters, was forced to leave the country. The monarchy has no constitutional guarantee of a free press. The UK government routinely threatens newspapers with all sorts of sanctions for national security reporting it dislikes. Its Official Secrets Act makes it incredibly easy to prosecute journalists and others for disclosing anything which political officials want to keep secret. For that reason, it was able to force the Guardian to destroy its own computers containing Snowden material precisely because the paper’s editors knew that British courts would slavishly defer to any requests made by the GCHQ to shut down the paper’s reporting.

That such repressive measures come from British political culture is to be expected. The political elite of that country cling desperately to 17th century feudal traditions. . .

Continue reading.

See also the Ryan Devereaux report that the link in hte story.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2014 at 9:40 am

Posted in Government, Law, Media

What “sea-level rise” means in practice

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This, of course, is merely the beginning. And in the meantime the Sunday talk shows—particularly the idiotic David Gregory—”debate” climate change as though it were an open issue (after 99% of climatologists agree that it is happening, and more rapidly than we projected). That’s when they mention it at all: NBC news went an entire year (2013) with no mention. And of course creatures such as George Will believe that if winter still occurs, then climate change cannot be happening.

We are following fools to our own destruction.

The article at the link is worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2014 at 9:12 am

Posted in Global warming, Media

The actual happenings in the Kitty Genovese murder

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It’s not at all what people have generally been told: heartless strangers observing a woman’s murder without lifting a finger to help. The actual events were quite different.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2014 at 9:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Media, NY Times

Stephen Glass reconsidered

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He’s unrepentant. But the story of his unmasking is very interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2014 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Media

Watch how a NY Times editorial turns a fact into “he said/she said”

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NY Times editorial today omitted a word in one sentence, which seriously changed the meaning, but it did produce the familiar “he said/she said” formulation so beloved by the Times.

Sentence as printed:

A group called the Marijuana Policy Project has even bought space on five billboards in New Jersey, where the game will take place on Sunday, asking why the league disallows a substance that, the group says, is less harmful than alcohol.

Sentence without the “he said/she said” twist:

A group called the Marijuana Policy Project has even bought space on five billboards in New Jersey, where the game will take place on Sunday, asking why the league disallows a substance that, as the group says, is less harmful than alcohol.

The fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol is well established. Alcohol damages the body in many ways, is much more addictive than marijuana, and is lethal in overdose while marijuana is not. This is not in dispute.

Perhaps the editors could try to be less timorous about embracing well established facts. It would be a nice change. (I’m not holding my breath.)

In the meantime, one-fourth of the male population of Russia dies before age 55. The reason: vodka.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2014 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Drug laws, NY Times

Obamacare lies in the traditional media

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Interesting post at Daily Kos by Egberto Willies:

Common knowledge to those who follow the ins and outs of Obamacare is that there is an industry out there to destroy it at all cost. The traditional media has been the major conduit of the lies and misinformation.

It isn’t only the smaller media outlets that are generating the barrage of misinformation. CBS News whose ‘60 Minutes’ has been compromised with Benghazi and NSA misleading stories has been a major culprit. After-all CBS’s Jan Crawford reported a story about a woman losing the insurance she loved and could afford. It turned out had CBS made one telephone call or just checked they could have informed the woman that she could get much better and reliable insurance for a comparable price.

It is a new day in media. Corporate owned major media that sometimes seem to purposely allow themselves to be a conduit to lies and misinformation are being challenged. Bloggers and other independent media that previously had little reach are now fact checking. They are using the power of the internet to inform with fact based information and not hit pieces that is now endemic in the traditional media.

Maggie Mahar, a prolific blogger at HealthBeat Blog and author of ‘Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So’ wrote the blog post Anatomy of an Obamacare ‘horror story’ detailing yet another misinforming story. It turns out the story in the Fort Worth Star Telegram was not only biased, it was simply not true. Maher writes.

 For months, health reform’s opponents have been feasting on tales of Obamacare’s innocent victims – Americans who lost their insurance because it doesn’t comply with the ACA’s regulations, and now have to shell out more than they can afford – or go without coverage.  Trouble is, many of those stories just aren’t true.

Yesterday I posted about a Fort Worth Star Telegram article that leads with the tale of Whitney Johnson, a 26-year-old new mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Her insurer just cancelled her policy, and according to Johnson, new insurance would cost her over $1,000 a month.

That claim stopped me in my tracks. Under the ACA, no 26-year-old could be charged $1,000 monthly – even if she has MS.

Obamacare prohibits insurers from charging more because a customer suffers from apre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

At that point, I knew that something was wrong.

Maggie Mahar did not just read the story, discount it, and go off to something else. She did something about it. She got involved. She checked and found out that a comparable policy with much better and secure coverage would cost Whitney Johnson $7 more than she was currently paying.

Maggie Mahar went further. She called the Fort Worth Star Telegrram. After calls not being returned, she finally got a callback. She was informed that the newspaper received an email stating Whitney Johnson did find insurance at a similar price. The newspaper would not confirm that they would correct the story.  It is evident the newspaper either has an agenda or is scared of revealing the truth for reasons that can be assumed. They came out with a defense of the story as well as a mea culpa for a less than complete story.

Maggie Mahar discovered that Whitney Johnson was a member of the Tea Party. The newspaper did not attempt to do any background checks. She finally reached the reporter of the story. The reporter told her that she had no experience covering healthcare. Moreover her assignment was to find people who were having problems with Obamacare. When she suggested doing a story on people helped by Obamacare she was not given a green light to do so from her editor.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram has over 200,000 readers. They chose to misinform these users maybe negligently, maybe willfully. What is sure is that so far they have chosen to willfully keep them misinformed.

If this isn’t yet another reason to disregard most of corporate and traditional media, what is? The consequences of misinforming the public are grave. It can even be fatal. The public must be informed constantly that the media that use to be the source of unbiased information that could be depended on is no more.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2014 at 11:23 am

Posted in Healthcare, Media

Concern trolling by the Kellers

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Mr. and Mrs. Keller offered a pair of columns (his is here, hers is here) lamenting how a woman in Stage 4 breast cancer is handling her illness: not as they would, they assure us (with the clear assumption that the Kellers’ way is the right way). The depth of Bill Keller’s understanding of the woman’s situation is revealed by a correction to his column: he wrote originally that she has two children; she has three.

The Public Editor of the NY Times has a good column on the Keller columns, and the comments are interesting as well. Similarly, Alexander Petri in the Washington Post explicitly tags the Kellers’ columns as concern trolling.

I do want to point out how Mrs. Keller tips her hand. She writes:

Social media has definitely become a part of Adams’ treatment (I wonder what her hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, thinks about that.)

The obvious step for a columnist to take when wanting to know the reaction from the hospital would be to call the hospital and get a quote that tells what they think about it. They probably would say, “Anything that helps the patient, costs nothing, and harms no one is all to the good.” Indeed, perhaps she did get that reaction, which doesn’t fit her preconceived agenda, so she fell back to “wondering.”

I point out the two columns because it’s unusual to see such high-placed concern trolling so clearly done.

(The link to Emma Keller’s column goes to the archive because the Guardian editors withdrew the column when it became clear that Mrs. Keller had used private communications from the patient in her column.)

UPDATE: Wow. Read this piece. She nails it. And Bill Keller’s protest that his writing is just fine, people have just misread it ignores the sage dictum that it’s not the chef who is judge of the cooking. It never seems to have occurred to Keller that perhaps people are not misreading, but it’s simply that his writing conveyed more than he realized. I think people have read it pretty well, particularly the writer at this latest link.

UPDATE 2: It occurs to me that the Kellers could (like almost all of us) profit from reading Daniel Goleman’s Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. It’s a fascinating book (link is to secondhand copies) and in the very opening it gives an excellent example of a young woman at a dinner party who communicates more than she realizes:

I am very close to my family. They were always very demonstrative and loving. When I disagreed with my mother, she always threw what was nearest at hand at me. Once it happened to be a knife and I needed ten stitches in my leg. A few years later my father tried to choke me when I began dating a boy he didn’t like. They really are very concerned about me.

I think the people at the table probably understand much more from the anecdote than the woman realized or was able to recognize. That seems to be what’s up with the Kellers: they cannot recognize that which they have communicated. (It’s also a general lesson that when people offer facts along with interpretation, it’s generally a good idea to pay particular attention to the facts and work out your own interpretation.)

Written by LeisureGuy

14 January 2014 at 11:33 am


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