Presswatch

Presswatch

Church and State

By From the July/August 2014 issue

Jill Abramson overflowed with praise when the New York Times promoted her to its top editorial position. “In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion,” she said in a June 2011 interview with her own paper. “If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”Abramson probably meant to sound humble, but she instead came across as arrogant, like a new pope boasting about his infallibility. Someone at the Times must’ve been embarrassed, because the quotes appeared only online in the initial report of Abramson’s appointment. They had been excised by the time the next day’s paper rolled off the presses. For Times religionists, that presumably created a theological quandary: If the Times says it only on the website, is it still ex cathedra?
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All You Need to Know

By From the June 2014 issue

All you need to know” was for years the slogan of KNX 1070, a CBS-owned and -operated news radio station in Los Angeles. I was there, as a college intern, when management introduced the catchphrase in 1987. It met with wide derision from the newsroom staff, who were embarrassed by its condescending, if not vaguely totalitarian, overtone.

KNX abandoned both the slogan and the all-news format in 2003 and restored both in 2007, but the station seems to have dropped the slogan again since then. Which is just as well, for this year a new website debuted that uses a nearly identical tagline to promote what its founders tout as a new kind of journalism.

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No Cameras, Please

By From the May 2014 issue

Before this year I never had much of an opinion on the perennial debate over cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court. I had a vague aversion to the idea, but no clear argument to back it up.

That changed in February, after the court heard oral arguments in Octane Fitness v. Icon Health and Fitness, a patent dispute. It was the sort of case that would normally make no headlines outside specialty publications. But the proceedings were interrupted when a spectator, Noah Kai Newkirk, rose and allegedly delivered a “harangue or oration” in violation of federal law. (He entered a not-guilty plea the next day.)

In the alleged harangue, Newkirk denounced the court’s 2010 free-speech ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and demanded that the justices rule in favor of the government in the then pending case of McCutcheon v. FEC, which challenged certain statutory limits on campaign contributions. (McCutcheon won, as it so happens.)

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CINs of Omission

By From the April 2014 issue

It was an idea so frail, it quickly died from exposure. The Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs—or CIN, pronounced “sin,” for short—was the brainchild of Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission and daughter of Rep. James Clyburn, the lone Democrat in South Carolina’s congressional delegation. Tim Cavanaugh, then of the Daily Caller, reported CIN’s existence in October, but it was a February 11 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that gave the study national prominence. The latter article’s author, Republican-appointed commissioner Ajit Pai, explained:The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”
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Duck Soup

By From the March 2014 issue

Phil robertson makes duck calls, but nobody can accuse him of using dog whistles. “He’s got lots of thoughts on modern immorality, and there’s no stopping them from rushing out,” Drew Magary observed in a profile of the Duck Dynasty patriarch for the January issue of GQ.In an interview with Magary, Robertson bluntly expressed his bewilderment about male homosexuality: It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical. “What, in your mind, is sinful?” Magary asked, to which Robinson answered:Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.
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Circular Writing Squad

By From the January-February 2014 issue

Everyone loathes the media, including the media. In late November, as the Obamacare disaster continued to unfold, there was so much blame to go around that even journalists who aren’t conservative started directing some of it at other journalists. Appearing on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor, Mark Halperin of Time told guest hostess Laura Ingraham: “There is no doubt that the press failed to scrutinize this program at the time of passage and during the context of the president’s re-election. I think any reporter who would argue otherwise would be putting their head in the sand.”Although that’s a familiar critique to readers of this column, it’s a surprising one coming from Halperin, a journalist who is not known to be conservative and thus can be assumed to be at least somewhat leftish. But there was a critique of Obamacare press coverage from the left as well, offered the day before Thanksgiving by Paul Waldman, on the website of The American Prospect, of which he is a senior editor.
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Now They Tell Us

By From the December 2013 issue

The disastrous October 1 launch of Healthcare.gov surprised even those of us who expected Obamacare to fail. The economics of the law are impossible, but who’d have thought just building a functional computer system would prove an insurmountable challenge?

As it turns out, Henry Chao, the project’s “chief digital architect,” had grave doubts months earlier. The New York Times reported on October 13 that in March, Chao “told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. ‘Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,’ he told them.”

The Times story, written by Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere, and Ian Austen, was titled “From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal.” It turns out the reporters, like Chao, were aware of the impending problems long before October 1:

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Hit Piece Journalism

By 1.1.14

Front-page editorials, disguised as news stories, have become such familiar features of the New York Times that it should have been no surprise to discover in the December 28th issue a front-page story about a professor of finance at the University of Houston who has been a paid consultant to financial enterprises.

Since professors of all sorts have been paid consultants to organizations of all sorts, it is questionable why this was a story at all, much less one that covered an entire inside page, in addition to a central front-page opening, under the headline "Academics Who Defend Wall St. Reap Reward."

Do academics who attack Wall Street, as consultants to government agencies or other organizations, not get paid?

Like the corrupt French official in the movie classic "Casablanca," the New York Times is "shocked, shocked" to discover that consultants get paid defending the kinds of people that the New York Times attacks.

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Dull Jazeera

By From the October 2013 issue

NEW YORK TIMES media reporter Brian Stelter greeted the August 20 debut of Al-Jazeera America by gushing that it was “the most ambitious American television news venture since Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes started the Fox News Channel in 1996.” Conservative columnist Diana West lamented that “a 24/7 Muslim Brotherhood channel is now beaming into living rooms across the country.” But when I tuned in for some of the network’s inaugural programming, I found myself unable to muster either enthusiasm or alarm. West’s supposition about Al-Jazeera America’s ideological slant was based, of course, on the history of the original Arabic-language Al-Jazeera, which first hit the airwaves November 1, 1996, just three and a half weeks after Fox. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera was not all bad. It was known for its willingness to air dissenting views, a rarity in the repressive Arab world, and it even broadcast interviews with Israelis.
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The Journalist as Apparatchik

By From the September 2013 issue

YOUR HUMBLE MEDIA critic came in for some media criticism over the summer. Its source: Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, the nonprofit journalism school that owns the Tampa Bay Times. McBride wrote on the institute’s website: “The Wall Street Journal…ran an opinion piece by editorial board member James Taranto, who argued that efforts to stop sexual assault in the military show ‘signs of becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality’ and is [sic] a ‘war on men.’ Taranto’s view was torn asunder by critics here and here.”

The first “here” linked to a post on the feminist website Jezebel.com. The item’s author, Katie Baker, wrote: “I’m not interested in engaging with Taranto, because he’s a cockroach.” The second went to a response to my piece by Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, whom I had faulted for placing a “permanent hold” on the promotion of General Susan Helms. The general had reversed the court-martial sexual assault conviction of an officer under her command, and McCaskill aimed to retaliate.

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