Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Message is in the Eye of the Beholder, er, Photo Editor.

Does the New York Times see McCain and Obama as in step with one another?

"Day of Chaos Grips Washington; Fate of Bailout Plan Unresolved," reads the headline, and just below it are two nearly analogous portraits: one of Barack Obama, the second of John McCain. Caught mid-stride, left leg forward and right arm extended in step, both men look, at least at first glance, like superheroes off to free Washington from the "grips of chaos."

While at first glance, it seems a funny coincidence to have caught the two candidates in a parallel moment, a closer look may reveal something more. The two photos look very similar, sure, but do they read equally?  Could this editorial choice, made by the New York Times, speak to a larger bias?

These shots were candid, but have since been placed carefully into a context. Presumably back in Washington, preparing to determine the "fate" of the bailout plan, the stage is the same. Upon a closer look, the scenes, however, play out very differently once the details are teased out into larger ideological tropes.

Obama, protector of Main Street USA, is caught walking down the street on a sidewalk not unlike that of any American town. The only onlooker is a woman with a red and blue umbrella--no cameras are in site--and it's unclear if the man behind him is a security guard or just a guy headed to work on a rainy Friday. 

McCain, on the other hand, is caught walking through what looks like a grandiose government hall, complete marble floors and gold-framed paintings. This is not the same hall your average American passes through daily. Over McCain’s shoulder are men with name tags and cameras (one man appears to be using a camera phone). They read like members of an exclusive club; McCain, the object of their interest. While Obama’s possible protector wears a standard trench coat, McCain is separated from the onlookers by a hulking police officer, uniform on and gun visible.

Moreover, Obama is shown carrying a newspaper—a prop for the intellectually elite. Meanwhile, McCain, carries only a tissue, adding timber to an already burning fire.

It’s visually catching to watch the two men walk in step, but I am not sure the photos truly portray Obama and McCain walking in unison towards a bipartisan agreement.  Of all the photos snapped, it was these two that were carefully chosen by the New York Times to coincide with an alarming headline last Friday. Sure the shots might have been candid, but the Time’s use of them is, without doubt, not so.  They might look the same, but they are certainly not equal.  

Edit: I stumbled across this on New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones' personal blog.  Posted on September 26, regarding, I assume, the front page of the Times:
"Obama is a stronger candidate.  Look at the pictures in paper.  He is walking outside without an umbrella.  McCain is lazy.  He is just walking indoors."

The New Face of Newspapers

Looking into the future of newspapers
Photo by Jana Werner, ©2005 Endeavors magazine

An article in the August/ September issue of The American Journalism Review predicts the death of newspapers sooner than we think. The Internet has not only tapped advertising and classified revenues it has provided a platform for obtaining news with no startup costs, no distribution costs and no barriers to entry. The Internet allows for specialization, a luxury media outlets with mass audiences cannot afford. And with specialized content comes specialized advertising. What could be more appealing to an advertiser than the ability to target the relevant market without wasting coverage? In order for newspapers to compete, they need to market a point of differentiation from the blogosphere. Their unique selling point, which advertisers cannot deny, is their image as a trusted source for public affairs. According to the article, in order to survive, newspapers of the future will have to contextualize the news, with a stronger focus on news analysis and investigative reporting - “content that gives them their natural community influence”. The mass audience has already migrated to the Internet. Newspapers can now “jettison the frivolous items in the content buffet” and retain their image as opinion leaders. They now need to aim at the “the educated, opinion-leading, news-junkie core of the audience” – Lippmann’s ‘cognitive elite’ if you will. If this prediction holds true we can hope for more high-brow content in our daily papers.

We Heart Polar Bears...Since 2006

   "Polar Bears Standing," Courtesy of First People    

Here’s a picture that was linked to on Huffington Post’s Green Section when CNN reported on polar bears turning to cannibalism due to habitat loss.


When did the media start obsessing over Polar Bears?  In the days prior to An Inconvenient Truth, polar bears only appeared in Coke-Cola commercials during Christmas time.  


Following Al Gore’s documentary in 2006, media outlets have made the species a poster-mammal of global warming.  And why not, it’s just too easy.  They’re adorable, especially when young and look like bobbing loaves of bread.  And the idea, the computer-animated image, of these cuddly creatures drowning in cold water could strike guilt in anyone.


Here’s the clip from the documentary:

And a few more drawings:


Remember when Bambi’s mom died?  Well, the media’s manufacturing images that evoke that same guilty conscious.  I support the attention to dying species, but I’m troubled by the number of sensationalistic, computer-generated, or hand drawn images that have appeared. 

World Climate Report pointed out that there are no significant photos ) or true footage of drowned bears. 

I was surprised to find out that polar bears are actually a threatened species as opposed to an endangered species.  This isn’t an excuse for not giving polar bears a spotlight in MSM, but what about the hundreds of other disappearing species that don’t get any attention? 

The Predictability in Presidential Post-Debate Analysis

After Friday’s debate between the two presidential candidates, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I thought it was a fairly even performance, both candidates had their "gotcha!" moments. I wondered what the broadcast media would make of it, so I flipped back and forth between the post-debate coverage of MSNBC, CNN and Fox News.

The structure of the coverage was remarkably similar: First the "anchors" gave a fairly mindless regurgitation of the "dramatic moments" and biggest bones of contention. Then they checked in with the spokespeople from each campaign, who both claimed that the debate was a real momentum shifter in their candidate’s direction.

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer muttered something interesting under his breath. While introducing an Obama spokesman, he said something to the affect of “And here’s so-and-so from the Obama campaign. I wonder who they think won.” This offhand sarcastic remark got me thinking. Why would you put someone on the air when you know exactly what they have to say to keep their job? What’s the journalistic value of a sound bite like that? Who cares what the ultra-partisan spin-doctors think? They're not expressing an opinion.The anchor might as well say, “The Obama and McCain camps both think their candidate won.” That takes care of it.

After the spokespeople performed, it was time for the network commentators to duke it out. Maybe it was naive of me, but I was really expecting an intellectually honest discussion to help me make sense of the remarkably even debate. But no such thing happened. It was like campaign spokespeople all over again: the conservative commentators on MSNBC claimed McCain "won" and gushed about how well he showed his experience and his "real life" examples. The liberal commentators said they thought McCain under-performed and Obama "won" citing the attention he paid to the middle class.

Where’s the intellectual honesty? This isn't amateur boxing event with judges tallying points after each question. Listening to the commentators was like listening to fans of rival sports teams yell at each other. Everyone stayed steadfast in their ideological groove. There was no analysis whatsoever, I was pissed.

Debates aren't for people who have already decided who "won" before it even begins; they're really for undecided and swing voters. I think journalists often forget that, especially in this polarizing election like this one. Journalists, anchors and even commentators should be decoders, not cheerleaders. It's fine to have an opinion as to won did better in the debate, but be intellectually honest about it! Provide a public service instead of servicing each candidate publicly on television. 

NYU's Own Journo Ethics Scandal

PBS's MediaShift blog tracks online "citizen journalism"

NYU student Alana Taylor recently sent some ripples through the fishbowl when she wrote a sort of scathing expose of her Luddite journalism class, misleadingly dubbed "Reporting Gen Y" but, according to Taylor, oddly lacking in a true understanding of social media or podcasts.

Professor Mary Quigley, the supposed Gen Y expert, was displeased and cited Taylor's failure to gain permission to quote the class as well as the "invasion of privacy" for the other students as a basis for banning blogging about the seminar. MediaShift's Mark Glaser cited a free speech activist who called these claims a "red herring" and Taylor also received support from her peers.

NYU junior Alana Taylor strikes a pose and vogue, vogue, vogues on the banner for her personal blog.

But while an ethical debate about a journalist's responsibility to announce that she is reporting is titillating to some (remember the fishbowl?), it is important to acknowledge the deafening volumes that can be reached in an echo chamber. Responses, reinforcement and rebuttals have popped up online in only a few short weeks--before any mainstream publication picked up on this freedom of speech debate. (A Google News search turns up only blogs.)

So does this speak to, as Taylor might have us believe, the irrelevance of a paper like the Times, who has ignored the story? Or rather, to the irrelevance of the story altogether? Maybe this blog-troversy is only a vanity project, with trackbacks fueling us forward and comments validating our self-indulgence. Or does this self-flagellation and/or navel gazing speak to larger, discussion-worthy issues?

SNL and politics: the perfect combo

Move over Colbert and Stewart. It's all about Fey now.

Fey's hilarious turn as Sarah Palin have earned her rave reviews. TV Guide gave it a cheers, the Washington Note's Steve Clemons declared "SNL is funny again" and Time's James Poniewozik called Fey "perfectly good enough." But beyond the surface of the hokey skit with Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton, the greater message here is clear: what Clinton couldn't pull off throughout the primaries, SNL has. Using humor, the writers address the issue of sexism that permeates through American politics. As Poehler's Clinton points out, is sexism something we actually care about now?

Most interestingly though, Amy Poehler's Clinton said what the real Clinton should have said all throughout the long battle for the nomination: she wanted to be president and she just happened to be a woman, not the other way around.

The SNL ratings have been gigantic lately, boosted by the popularity of Fey's impression and the interest in the VP candidate. But, will these skits get Americans to start caring about the media's treatment of women politicians?

(Just in case you missed either: Palin / Clinton and Palin / Couric.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thought police (or rather, news corps) doesn't trust public opinion...

Photo courtesy of

Watch what you say or else...According to a recent Pacific Business News' article, news organizations like Washington Post and Chicago Tribune are suspending online reader comments on political stories. It would've helped if the article stated specific slanderous offenses. But then again, what's the standard of 'offensive' nowadays?

Readers can no longer be critical at a time during the election season, where they should be more critical than ever. Among reading "Go Palin!" and "Dipstick/Lipstick '08" comments, I've seen a mixed bag of the profound and persuasive, and others just biased without factual backup. All found under campaign trail blogs, where a journalist and readers can be opinionated!

True, a commentor doesnt' need to follow journalistic ethics and can say whatever the hell he wants, and it's easier for everyone to lose their privilege than to for a website to regulate each and every post. But cutting off the public opinion just decreases readership and interest. If people can't express their opinions, then why should they care to vote in a DEMOCRATIC society? Ideas?

Are film critics qualified to assess politics?!

The famous Roger Ebert, formerly of Siskel & Ebert and Ebert & Roeper, has recently begun commenting on political affairs. According to L.A. Times writer Patrick Goldstein, he’s not the only one. In his piece, Goldstein makes a valid argument that campaigns are so dependent on their theatricality and direction to succeed, and therefore perhaps film critics are perfectly eligible to comment on politics. Interestingly enough, film criticism is one area in which bias is accepted. Reporters and commentators are scolded for letting their personal viewpoints and, dare I say, opinions bubble to the forefront, but film critics are fully expected to think freely. Would political coverage be more effective if film critics took the lead? I seem to remember a certain quote that feels only appropriate: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bad words for the Stock Market

Never say or write “Crash” in the media while talking about the Stock Market…unless it actually happens.

MSM outlets know this well. No one will call the currents woes on Wall Street a Crash, (unless being specific, say for example, about the housing crash) Here’s one blogger who was called out for misusing the term.

Naming the Stock Market troubles a crash right now would be too sensationalistic, apocalyptic even. Yet, it’s perfectly acceptable to use all other terms referencing the Crash in 1929 to describe today’s Wall Street.

Sam Stein used “Black Monday” to talk about McCain’s new plans for the economy last week.

Before this, Mike Garibaldi brought up “Great Depression II” while writing on Obama and McCain.

The past few weeks have indeed amounted to a historical crisis, but some of this alarmist vocabulary feels overboard. I would guess that democrats are more willing to use this speech while tying politics and the economy together. Republicans? Not so much.

The falling market is undoubtedly a concern for the GOP too, but conservatives would be less alarmist on financial issues. After all, many have been targeting Bush for failures of the market.

In general, McCain’s campaign prefers to stay hush-hush on references to Bush. Republicans and Democrats alike just want to forget that 8-year catastrophe.

Crash Coverage

In the midst of a historical Wall Street crisis, Wall Street reporters are getting their share of evaluations. According to CBS the judgment is hardly positive. Two days after Bank of America’s acquisition of Merill Lynch, MarketWatch's Jon Friedman accused the press of “Wimpy Wall Street Coverage.” The financial journalists at the press conference, he says, lacked the skepticism that should have come with “yet another glaring sign of greed, stupidity and mismanagement on Wall Street.” Where were the tough biting questions, and why were the CEO’s treated with such obsequiousness? But the ruling was not all bad. Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman is all praises and and is happy to name names – “It should be said, the business press, led by the Times and the Journal , has covered the emergency with skill, energy, sophistication and grace under pressure.” As financial news moves to front page headlines, the press is reacting to a disastrous situation with aptly disastrous coverage, charged with doomsday superlatives.
Wall Street journalists have a tough job carved out for them. Even Friedman was ready to acknowledge the difficulty of deciphering financial jargon. He quotes an email from his expert Elizabeth MacDonald, Fox Business Network’s stocks editor: “This is the most complicated financial crisis to have ever hit the stock market, involving highly complex, exotic derivatives that clearly not even Wall Street understands given the steady drip of colossal write-downs.” With mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations becoming a part of dinner table conversation, some credit has to be given the journalists on Wall Street beat.

The FBI's Flimsy Case

Rabid watchdog and previously mentioned Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald might have been one of four people paying attention to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees' oversight of the FBI's paper thin case against alleged anthrax kook Bruce Ivins.

HuffPo was also watching closely, noting that Sen. Patrick Leahy, himself a target of the lethal attacks, claimed that Ivins could not have acted alone. And while over at his Dick Destiny blog, George Smith has outlined some scientific support for the alphabet boys, I share Greenwald's sentiments:
The crucial point...isn't that the FBI's accusations against Bruce Ivins are demonstrably false...Rather, the point is that the accusations that the FBI has outlined and the evidentiary case it has disclosed are so full of substantial holes that the FBI ought to disclose all of the evidence in its possession -- scientific and non-scientific -- and fully cooperate with a real, independent review...
But perhaps more alarming than FBI Director Robert Mueller's Palin-esque disregard for scientific methods is the way the media, and as a result the public, are ignoring the story like a John Edwards lovechild. Where are the Watergate-raised, thirsty young muckrakers, listlessly scowering their contact lists and trying to break this case (or lackthereof) wide open?

Though a bit convoluted---science, yuck---a sorority obsessed whacko possibly driven to suicide by a government agency? It doesn't get much sexier, news-wise. And for the record, my money's on Daniel Day Lewis as Ivins if we get our very own Woodward & Berstein and Hollywood comes-a-knockin'.

Papabear exposes Spanish-ad lies.

Everyone's favorite commentator, traditionalist Papabear Bill O'Reilly (Thanks, Colbert), delivered a scathing critique of presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain's new Spanish-language commercials in his Talking Points Memo on Friday. In the ads, each presidential candidate wildly distorts the others positions on illegal immigration, continuing to pander to their bases with blatant mistruths.

Obama ">paints McCain as being allied with Rush Limbaugh (uhhh, bizarre) in disliking illegals. Limbaugh promptly responded to Obama's ad via Politico, crying racism and saying the Democrat took his quotes out of context. The bottom line here is McCain's campaign almost died over a year ago, amid his support of an amnesty-esque bill, co-sponsored by Ted Kennedy. McCain's long struggle with the GOP about illegal immigration is well-documented.

McCain, on the other hand, accuses Obama of helping to contribute to the failure of the comprehensive immigration reform last year that he co-sponsored. Once again, this simply isn't true. In fact, Obama voted to support the bill.

After these two commercials and a headache later, I cry 'no más, por favor.'

Take That Back!

Does spreading lies and then taking them back give their untruths validation? On the September 19th On the Media segment “Uncorrectable,” Shankar Vedantam puts forward the claim that refuting a previously-made supposed fact can leave members of the public with lingering negative feelings. He suggests, however, that among conservatives, a taken-back claim can cause people to vigorously defend the refuted information (he cites a certain WMD-related example). Conservatives tend historically to be more stubborn and ardent about their beliefs, so does this dark revelation predict a future where change will never be possible because lie after lie will effect a need for preservation of current values? Will this idea influence the upcoming election, with Obama and Palin at the center of vicious character and experience attacks? While NYU may rally wholeheartedly for Obama, all the doubts about Palin seem far less likely to hurt her when this mindset is applied.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The fundamentals of our media are strong.

As Wall Street takes a bitter turn down the road of an economic meltdown on Monday, the boys on the bus went in for their daily fix of wise words from their good old nominees.

And the soundbite of the week goes to...John McCain for making a
whoopsy by saying, "the fundamentals of our economy is strong."

Too easy! But of course, the floodgates opened for Obama spokesmen and reporters to go in for the kill. In his Huffington Post
article, Sam Stein suggests McCain should refine his messages. A similar trend in Don Frederick's LA Times article. Only a few paragraphs later is the second part of the sentence mentioned, "these are very, very difficult times." Anyone reminded of lipstick on pigs, here?

Are journalists simply quoting (or misquoting) politcians pointblank without question? Or maybe it's just more fun to skew the words around for some sort of reaction. Last week it was Obama sounding sexist. This week, it's McCain sounding unrealistic (and even a little senile) about our deterioating economy.

According to Larry Gellman's Huffington Post article, "
Journalists of America -- Your Country Needs you Now," fair and accurate reporting is dead. Republicans can spit out a few lies and watch the poison trickle down to readers.

Journalists, you can claim your objectivity all you want, but by blindly reiterating what a politician says, you are just hurting your readers, in a time where they need you the most.

As Gellman says, what happened to the days of good journalism when reporters like Woodward and Bernstein pursued nothing but the truth during the Watergate Scandal?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Does the New York Times envy The Daily Show?

***UPDATE: Using some of the scattered ideas postulated in this post, I have an article up on NYU's blog based publication NYULocal, reproduced below:

Norman Solomon’s post “Dubious Praise for The Daily Show” (Huffington Post, Sept. 10) examines the enormous amount of love the mainstream media gives to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Referencing this NYT article, Solomon labels their “elaborate praise” as “a tacit form of convoluted self-loathing” and likens them to shackled journalists watching Superman up above. Basically, he thinks The New York Times is jealous of The Daily Show. I’m beginning to agree.

I’m sure Frank Rich wishes he could be as funny as Jon Stewart, but The New York Times doesn’t seem to praise The Daily Show’s humor as much as its ability to “speak truth to power.” Here’s Solomon’s key question: What does this admiration for The Daily Show say about how The New York Times feels about its own ability to speak truth to power? In other words, why can’t straight news coverage do that?

The main difference between The New York Times and The Daily Show is that one has the obligation to be “fair and balanced” (or at least try to be), and the other does not. Solomon’s Superman comparison gets right at this point: if conventional journalists are envious of Jon Stewart’s freedom, maybe they’re fed up with being fair and balanced.

Stewart and his staff consume the same information for their stories as other reporters. One can only assume that the blatant contradictions that Stewart highlights on his show every day are just as painfully obvious to his shackled counterparts. If I were them, I’d be sick of playing dumb.

Some broadcast journalists have already outgrown their objective shells this election season: when MSNBC’s anchors Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews tried to keep it real, they were banned from anchoring the presidential campaign coverage. Now they’ve been relegated to being “commentators.”

But for a print journalist, there’s no such thing as going off script. Are broadcast/online journalists the wild-children and print the suck-ups? Solomon describes The New York Times as a “circumscribed” and “lumbering” institution, too heavy to orchestrate an agile critical assault like The Daily Show, almost as if it’s weighed down by its own brand name.

Solomon’s conclusion regarding the media? “That’s the way it goes in medialand. What isn’t conspicuous is apt to be insidious.” That’s smart-talk for, “if it ain’t obvious, it’s probably bad for you.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

She didn't, but maybe you should

She certainly didn't blink. And neither did he.  So it seems, McCain and Palin were meant to be--or at least that's what they'd like us to believe. What's the deal--where is the demand for a star-crossed dream-team stemming from? 

Public, er, consumer interest, perhaps.

Patrick Healy, noted in this weeks New York Times that the euphemisms favored in past elections are something of a relic this time around.  The
big guns have been drawn, and the "flip flops" and slip ups that peppered past elections are now being called out as outright lies.  In the same article, Fred Greestein, author of Personality and Politics, suggests lying to be "a matter of course," after all, "...each side does truly see the other side as lying." Speaking in absolutes, who's to question your superiority while the other is down for the count? 

Similarly, "[the campaign's] larger aim," suggests Frank Rich in his column this week, "is to construct a bogus alternative reality so relentless it can overwhelm any haphazard journalist stabs at puncturing it."  So strong and solid in foundation, they want us to believe, it will take more than a heavy blow to topple.  

So hey, why not keep playing this game? More than ever are discontented with the current political situation--a little steady ground to stand on couldn't hurt.  We want to a candidate who "knows," who can give us a little certainty.  But with nearly two thirds of the country's households tuning in to campaign coverage, it seems that more people than ever are tuning to
the media for their news.  While the candidates righteousness, if you will, is great for ratings, I can't help but wonder if viewers know what they are really seeing.  Maybe we could all use a reminder to blink.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Butterfly Effect

On September 7th, a little past midnight, someone somewhere logged on to the Sun Sentinel website and clicked on the headline, “United Airlines Files for Bankruptcy”, originally published in the Chicago Tribune. With web traffic low at the time, the article ended up in the “Popular Business Stories: Most Viewed” section of the site. In less than a minute, the Google News automated scan picked up the article and added it to its index, with the current date. Monday morning, an Income Security Advisors employee searched “Bankruptcy” on Google news, found the article, and sent out a summary to Bloomberg financial news, the go-to source for stock brokers. It took less than a few minutes for United Airlines stock to crash from $15 to $3 wiping out around $1 billion of United Airline market value. The problem? The article was dated 2002.

The blame throwing has begun. Of course Google defended itself vehemently. The Tribune is responsible for properly dating the articles on its website. The Tribune shifted blame to back Google Inc’s inability to separate breaking news from popular stories. According to Shelly Palmer of the Huffington Post, Bloomberg is developing a history for erroneous news, including a premature obituary for Steve Jobs. Maybe it was the investment researcher, who clearly hadn’t read the entire article. “The December 10, 2002, story contains information that would clearly lead a reader to the conclusion that it was related to events in 2002,” justified the Tribune's press release. Maybe the media is to blame. The power of the media to fuel the speculation that drives the economy is undeniable. Theories are popping up in comments on Mike Nizza's blog:

This should come as no surprise to anyone in the United States. The media has far too much power, far too broad a reach, and far too little by way of fairness, integrity, and professionalism. And just think, if this degree of damage can be done to a company by three media outlets, imagine the damage being done to our political system on a daily basis?

Maybe the Internet is just not ready to be a trusted news source. The osmosis of news from traditional news websites to search engines may not be as smooth as we hoped.

Maybe the problem is the way we read the news. Internet news has made scanning the surface the new way. Instead of delving into stories, links and hyper links have made it possible to flit from story to story, draw conclusions from headlines and teasers and consider ourselves well-informed. With the blogosphere siphoning readers away from traditional news outlets, the onus of ensuring source credibility has now been shifted to the consumer. Maybe, just maybe, we are to blame.

An increasingly powerful media and an increasingly lazy reader - we are probably doomed anyway. But since we are at it, assigning blame here, there and everywhere, hell,why not blame the guy who started it all. What was he doing searching for six year old bankruptcy stories on a Saturday night anyway!

Digital Deserts Wiping Away History

“Fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings and even explore galaxies in the Sky,” advertises Google Earth. Pulling all the right heartstrings, I can dream up adventures, and find the cheapest gas and best roadside dinner along the most scenic route—all without leaving my home. It’s safe to say, my love for Google Maps and Google Earth has been unquestioning—until now.

According to this BBC article, Google, and other similar online mapping programs, are “wiping out history,” leaving out “crucial data people need to understand a landscape.”

Not so curiously, the article points out the “corporate” nature of the maps, with all 17 Starbucks in a two hour radius making the cut while finding directions to that science museum might take a little, or a lot, more searching (“if someone walked around the South Kensington area of London, they would encounter landmarks such as the Science Museum, Royal Albert Hall and the Natural History Museum, which could not be found on Google Maps.”). It’s a “corporate blankwash,” they say.

What’s more, the article argues, the “have it your way” nature of the online mapping systems narrows the viewer’s scope to only that which they wish to see. A foodie’s dream map may be dotted with every restaurant in town, but when he or she zooms out to the real world, what’s lost in translation? Moreover, this Globe and Mail article suggests that a quick search on Google Maps can give heft to preconceived notions about identity. “While our digital footprint expands, privacy erodes,” Hartley argues. I can Google street view my blind date, but in the end, what does that really mean?)

But it gets worse. "We're in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique, giving us a feel for a place even if we've never been there," says Mary Spence, president of the British Cartographic Society. Are we leaning to heavily on the “knowledge” these maps impart? Are the satellite images a distraction from the fact that, indeed, these maps are backed by corporation. Ed Parsons, a Google geospatial technologist, told The Indendent ( he could not accept that google was “wiping features off the map.” Hidden, maybe, but accessible? With a little work, sure. But who is putting in the time?

Google Maps have aligned our cattle north to south , established the quickest driving routes, and allowed us all to travel the world with the click of the mouse. But has it become too easy? Spence’s claim about the erasure of history is a bold one, but perhaps she was not the first to ring the bell. Perhaps maps are more simply, "preceding the territory". Jean Baudrillard has been warning us for years, “The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory - precession of simulacra - that engenders the territory.” Welcome to the digitalized desert of the real.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The He-Said-She-Said Art

MSM loves reporting controversial Contemporary Art. If no outrage follows the artist, then the media gets bored.

Last April, a Yale Art student created an installation involving her own artificial insemination and self-induced miscarriages.

FOX News, the Washington Post, and several dozen sites in the blogosphere, including Drudge Report and picked up the story, along with hundreds of comments from a typically non-art viewing audience.

The artist, Ali Shvarts now also has a spot on Wikipedia.

Stories flowing from the major news dailies reported the story as a dispute between artist and Ivy League.

Yale insisted that her piece was merely “creative fiction… she neither impregnated herself nor induced any miscarriages. Rather, the entire episode, including a press release describing the exhibition, was performance art,” said Yale spokesperson Helaine Klasky.”

On the day before, the Yale Daily News first wrote of Shvarts’ project as if her pregnancies and miscarriages actually occurred. Following Yale’s statements, Shvarts kept her stance and insisted that she may have been pregnant several times throughout the 9-month process.

So, the basic outline of each report from Drudge, Washington Post, and FOX appeared as a “he-said-she-said” argument.

But that’s more than enough to spark angry comments from thousands of readers.

I scanned the mile long stream of comments from’s short update of the dispute on April 18th and found that the majority of commenters offered short responses. And not the good type of pithy shortness. These sound more like quick, unsupported rants from a bar fight on how mentally unsound Shvarts is.

Here’s a favorite, addressed to the artist:

“Enjoy Hell Sweetie!”
post # 53.

But that comes from a reader of, so perhaps that’s not saying much.

However, on HuffingtonPost, the remarks go into more depth. Commenters discuss Shvarts’ actions and their consequences.

However, most readers assume that Shvarts was pregnant and miscarried regardless of the media’s attention to a possibly hidden hoax.

NY Times writer Mike Nizza reported that Shvarts never took pregnancy tests during her project. His story, “Sticking to the bit, Yale’s Abortion Artist” was one of very few that addressed the way the media exposed the story. Nizza writes:

Most headlines this morning were designed to provide relief to anyone disturbed by the news (”Abortion art at Yale was faked“) but The Yale Daily News was not so sure (”Shvarts, Yale clash over project“) providing another spin on that theme was a site that drew major attention to the news early Thursday. The Drudge Report has been posting each turn in the story in chronological order, providing a sort of multiple choice:

“Shock: Yale student performs abortions on herself as art project…”


“Performance Art”

The last two versions seemed like the only way to cover a project designed to lack certainty. Before any justifiable exhaling, something will have to give in this stalemate between Yale and its student.

Shvarts’ story proves that a speedy, sensation-hungry journalism creeps around our newspapers, TV, and on the Web.

With some caution, I wonder if this might also be an issue purposely hastened by a conservative media trying to build ammunition for anti-abortion groups.

Most unfortunately and frustratingly, this type of media creates an audience of anti-art readers.

Tina Fey glasses and lipstick = Sexism sells!

It seems like only yesterday (or two weeks ago) when the political campaign coverage wasn’t smeared with McCain's accusation of the media's sexist behavior , premarital pregnancy scandals and the over usage of lipstick. Heck, McCain and the Grand Old Party seemed to have even fallen off the media radar until recently when the Palin-obsession began.

Not surprisingly, comedian Tina Fey appeared last night on Saturday Night Live for an
opening sketch, impersonating Sarah Palin alongside Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton. The purpose of their “non-partisan message” was according to Fey-Palin, “to address the now very ugly role that sexism is playing in the campaign,” which Poehler-Clinton said was an issue “that people suddenly care about.” Some memorable lines include:

"I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy," Poehler-Clinton said.

"And I can see Russia from my house," Fey-Palin replied. Sadly, this line derived from an actual statement by the real Palin in an interview with ABC News.

"I believe global warming is caused by man." Poehler stated.

"And I believe it's just God huggin' us closer," Fey responded.

And here’s the kicker:
In closing remarks, Fey asked the media to be “vigilant for sexist behavior,” while Poehler interjected: “– although it is never sexist to question a female politician’s credentials…I invite the media to grow a pair and if you can’t, I will lend you mine.” hit more than 80,000 video views. Was last night’s SNL sketch dead on the money or just a cheap shot?

SNL delivered in three-minutes the same message of what the media has been “extensively” covering for the past two weeks on Palin: you don’t even have to know the Bush Doctrine to gain momentum as long as you can use the media’s obsession of sexism as an advantage.

All publicity is good publicity, as long as its spoon-fed by the media. SNL gets its laughs from poking fun at the candidate's flaws while the media gets its ratings from pointing out the candidate's flaws. What's the difference here? Aside from Palin's family issues, I am not getting much more from the media's coverage than I am from SNL's comedy sketch.

On top of that, the press is on a road to a great divide on whether the Palin-coverage is justified. NY Times columnist Clark Hoyt in his recent op-ed, “The Scrutiny of Sarah Palin,” addresses the justification of Palin's coverage, of how critics have been labeling the Times as an attacker on conservatives:

“"The Times was on a “witch hunt, covering every rumor available, even the basest,” said Gene Jemail of Santa Rosa, Calif. Denise Wagner of El Paso said 17-year-old Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was “none of your business” and accused the newspaper of using it as “fodder for political purposes.”

Although defenders of Palin make a good point that the political coverage has again, turned into a circus freakshow on sexism (since the days of Hillary), Hoyt says that the "independent scrutiny by The Times and the rest of the news media of Palin’s background, character and record was inevitable and right” because it is not just the media that spotlights her personal life. He writes:

"And, yes, it was inevitable, and right to a more limited degree, that her family would come under the spotlight, too. As Bill Keller, The Times’ executive editor, said, “Senator McCain presented Mrs. Palin’s experience as a mother as one of her qualifications for the job.”

If you think about it, the real joke's on the media, for allowing so much power and attention to fall into the hands of one person, just because, as Fey-Palin pointed out last night, the media is driven to report on sexism rather than real political coverage. Would SNL's sketch cause the press to rethink its position as the days to November trickle down?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Campaign Ads and Lies: Is the press doing enough?

Ever since McCain came out with his Celeb ad (the one that featured Britney Spears and Paris Hilton), I’ve been hooked on campaign ads. After following them closely for a couple months, one characteristic has been made crystal clear: their ability to mislead.

The fact is that campaign ads are perhaps the clearest avenues of misinformation available to a candidate. How so?

1) They’re stealthy. Campaign ads can sneak up on you at anytime, in the middle of your favorite show or sporting event. They catch you with your critical guard down in the comfort of your own living room. They’re not prefaced by news anchors and arrive in your living room 100% intact, free of disclaimers.

2) It is a multimedia experience. Unlike a stump speech, a campaign ad consists of more than words. Music, images, video clips and voice overs can all be used to mislead. A campaign ad doesn’t necessarily need to say something untrue to mislead. McCain’s “Celebrity” ad never explicitly compared Paris Hilton and Britney Spears to Obama, but through the use of images it was clearly implied.

3) The message is delivered by a third party. Very rarely is the candidate speaking directly to the camera in the campaign ad. The candidate and the issues are discussed in the third person by a narrator and then the message is endorsed by the candidate at the end. This makes the message appear more objective. Personally, I’d be more skeptical of information coming straight from the candidate’s mouth.

NY Times columnist Paul Krugman addressed McCain’s recent propensity for misinformation in his op-ed titled “Blizzard of Lies” published on September 11th. One of the lies he concentrates on is a McCain ad that claims that Obama wants to teach sex-education to kindergarteners. He writes:

“Or take the story of Mr. Obama’s alleged advocacy of kindergarten sex-ed. In reality, he supported legislation calling for ‘age and developmentally appropriate education’; in the case of young children, that would have meant guidance to help them avoid sexual predators.”

I’m sure we all agree that if an ad contains lies, this fact should be shouted from the rooftops. In this case, it certainly wasn’t kept a secret. The New York Times published an article pointing out the distortion and McCain even got called out on it during his visit to The View. Nonetheless, he still claimed that it was true. How the hell can McCain get away with this? I think Krugman hits the nail on the head:

“Well, they’re probably counting on the common practice in the news media of being ‘balanced’ at all costs. You know how it goes: If a politician says that black is white, the news report doesn’t say that he’s wrong, it reports that ‘some Democrats say’ that he’s wrong. Or a grotesque lie from one side is paired with a trivial misstatement from the other, conveying the impression that both sides are equally dirty.”

Maybe the press isn’t doing enough. This theory implies that for McCain it is worth it to lie because the repercussions (being called a liar) don’t outweigh the benefits (people believing the lie). By their nature, campaign ads are already especially adept at deception and McCain will continue to use them to sling mud until the press really lays into him. Some coverage isn’t enough. If you search “campaign ads” on New York Times or Washington Post, you’ll find the vast majority of campaign ad analysis discussed in their political blogs and opinion pages. Since when don’t lies qualify as hard news? Maybe it’s the reluctance of the press to engage seriously with something as low-brow as a TV ad.

Other ideas?

Hello, I'm Bill Gates. And I'm Jerry Seinfeld.

Our class discussion of the Burger King “have it your way” ads that showed a foreign fashion show, driving home the point of living life to its fullest and craziest, reminded me immediately of the new Microsoft commercials that have been running for the past week. The first ad shows a chance encounter between popular comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Microsoft founder Bill Gates at a discount shoe store. The ad, which runs a lengthy 92 seconds, makes no mention of Microsoft or Windows until its last few moments, when Seinfeld questions the future of Windows by comparing it to food (the words “the future” and “delicious” pop up on screen, followed by the Windows logo). The commercial drew mixed responses, with particular attention paid to the near-absence of any discussion of Microsoft or computers. The choice of Seinfeld as the new face of Microsoft seems especially peculiar. Compare that ad to the well-known Mac ads that have been running for a while (for analysis, here is a nice collection of 15 ads back-to-back). In those commercials, two men introduce themselves, one as a Mac, the other as a PC, and the Mac always politely details his strongest features, while a self-deprecating PC bemoans the latest virus to assail him. The commercials always end in a glowing image of the Macintosh computer.

Both ad campaigns seem to be trying to introduce a lifestyle message rather than showcase a product. The idea conveyed by the Mac ads is that you’ll always be happier and better off with your problem-free, reliable Apple computer. The Windows commercial tries desperately to combat that, by painting Gates and Microsoft as marvelous innovators. Recently, Microsoft premiered its second ad, which chronicles the adventures of Seinfeld and Gates as they stay with a “normal” family in an effort to get to know the common folk (a review here). The ad, which runs a ghastly four and a half minutes, still contains almost no mention of Microsoft until the very end, and the ad finishes the same way as the first, with Seinfeld wondering what’s next and receiving an amusing dance from Gates as a response. The closing credits show the words “perpetually connecting” and “PC” before fading to the Windows logo. Even more than advertising a lifestyle choice, which this ad does very transparently, it humanizes Windows. Showing well-known billionaire Bill Gates trying to fit it with us everyday folk gives an appeal to his product (look for Steve Jobs in a new Mac ad soon?). The Mac-PC debate becomes a question of living a carefree life with few problems (the Mac way) or living dangerously but with a comforting support system to catch you when you fall (PC). It’s no longer about the computers, but, then again, it’s advertising. I’m tempted to think that, in the same way that a fashion show wouldn’t encourage me to put whatever the hell I wanted on my burger, seeing Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld kick it with some peasants would hardly influence my computer choice.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm not ready.


The early morning of September 1-, 2001 had every New Yorker remembering why they loved this city so much. The weather was just right---not too hot, not too cold. But just right.
The other day, the eeriness of walking around the city made me recall and hopefully reflect upon the horrific irony of that day. On this September 1-th, the sky was cloudy, almost black at times, allthewhile serene.
After weeks of the media's Palin-mania and its obsession with the inexplicably moronic Piggate, a day off from politics was what we all needed, though perhaps not under these circumstances. Watching the various tributes, I was moved by John McCain's speech, who reminded me about the others, the non-New Yorkers who had been murdered that day. The solemn image of Barack Obama standing by his bitter rival McCain reminded me why this day is so important, why we all grieve so much and why we are not just "Amurricans;" rather, we are Americans.
Randomly clicking on links on a conservative talking-head's website, I stumbled upon an article that got me: a tribute to Barbara Olson, a pundit who died in the flight that took out the Pentagon. Though reading these tributes by journalists never gets any easier, it prompts me to think of the days just post-9/1-, when America wasn't red or blue, liberal or conservative, a far cry from the division that derides us today.

I'm always left with a tingly feeling running up my leg (no, not the same one Chris Matthews gets) when I think of 9/1-. That day, my community, similarly to most others across the country, lost some of its most beloved members. On my third day of high school, while in class, I heard the screams and the hustling of my schoolmates, who were being ushered out of the building in droves, hoping that their parents, friends or family, made it out alive.

After the planes took out the World Trade Center, all that was left was the images that have been ingrained in our minds for the past seven years: the snared metal support beams, the screaming civilians, the smoke and the bloody carnage. The rescuers were forced to assume the worst and they came to a horrifying conclusion: in this case, no screams were worse than screams.

My small town was comforted when President Bush assured us that he would capture Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. But we got by when the media, who landed on our front-steps every morning, especially that one, by paper or television, often times reporting more of the same grim news.

So, to a professor who told me in reference to 9/1-, "get over it." I say no. I wasn't ready then, I'm not ready now and I don't know if I'll ever be.

On September 1-th, I can't criticize the media. They always have gotten it right.

Now, today though, is a different story.

Pitbulls x Pigs + Lipstick = Negative News Cycle

Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald's column takes a moment to chastise both the McCain campaign, and more pointedly, the MSM--even naming names--for giving legs to the laughable non-story and fabricated gaffe in which Obama calls Sarah Palin a "pig." Or, y'know, doesn't.

In fact, Sen. Obama was just employing a trite turn of phrase--the one where you put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig, but not literally or facetiously or in a sexist manner. The same addage, as Greenwald and infinite internet commenters have pointed out, that McCain has used in the past. And about Hillary! Gasp.

But as the story gained traction, Democrats assumed the fetal position, feeling as defeatist and self-loathing as ever, accepting that the Right is just plain better at politics and conceding another battle of words, another news cycle and hey, maybe just another election. RIP Al Gore.

A McCain advisor said himself, “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” But from where do we draw these composite views? It's the media, stupid.

Tom Tomorrow is painfully accurate in his recent cartoon, also linked to by Greenwald:
Though sometimes enough is enough, and a few in the MSM begin to speak up. Shafer and Dowd reached back for a little something extra in their lists of potential hardballs for Charlie Gibson to throw Gov. Palin's way including the "honest trick question" How are you like Hillary Clinton? "Me?" she might've squeaked to buy some time. "I'm a mavrick [sic], Charlie!"

But while Gibson was no cakewalk, it's a little bit hard to reckon with the fact that the women of The View had the real chops last week in their grilling of McCain. Still, the chorus of questions builds to a crescendo and McCain is back at the bottom of the dog pile. Echo chamber, tipping scales, snowball effect, and so on.

It all makes me wonder whether it is truly a fit of conscience that puts the press back on their A-game or whether it's a far more self-serving pattern of Build 'Em Up, Knock 'Em Down, Repeat, giving each horse in this race alternating crowbar blows to the leg in hopes of a photo finish.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Kill the Messenger. Or maybe just, you know, cuff her hands behind her back and let her chill-ax in a cage for awhile.

File under "Bitter Irony": Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald claims that coverage of rough treatment of the ladies and gentlemen of the press by police at the GOP convention has gone woefully underreported in the mainstream media. According to Greenwald,
An Associated Press article this weekend reported that "more than 800 arrests were reported" and that "at least 19 journalists, including two reporters from The Associated Press, were among those held by police." The fact that numerous reporters covering the Convention -- along with hundreds of peaceful and law-abiding protesters and others -- were arrested by police, had their hands bound behind their backs with plastic cuffs, and were then put in a cage for hours is truly reprehensible, but it has received very little attention. The vast bulk of the reporting on these matters has been done by independent and local journalists.
On his Salon Radio show, Greenwald interviews Minnesota Independent reporter Jeff Guntzel, who has reported on police use of "Triple Chaser" tear-gas grenades and "impact rounds" against what Guntzel claims were largely nonviolent protestors.

Intriguingly, another Guntzel article on the protests includes this instructive exchange, equal parts sixties hangover (They've Got the Guns, But We've Got the Numbers) and media-savvy image-branding:

Just ahead of the Poor People’s Campaign organizers leading the march are four young men, dressed mostly in black, with black bandannas tied behind their heads in the fashion of cowboy bandits. This is the uniform of some of the protesters who did damage and became violent on Monday. A woman carrying a pink flag with a peace symbol on it comes up from behind them. There is no indication they were planning anything other than to finish out the march, but she is not convinced.

WOMAN: (referring to the black-clad riot police) Don’t become them!

YOUNG MAN IN BLACK: (to friend) What is this lady complaining about?

WOMAN: You’re taking their bait! What would have been a better headline today? What does your violence say?

YOUNG MAN IN BLACK: It says we can take back the power — and if more people would be fucking with us…

WOMAN: (pointing to the young men and yelling to the marchers) They’re trying to define us!

Yes, but for who? The press, presumably. But if a Triple Chaser falls in the forest and the press isn't there to hear it, does it make any noise? Had St. Paul law enforcement been instructed to ensure media damage control by administering rough justice to any journalists who got in their way? Or were the 19 journalists in question just in the wrong place, at the wrong time? (Greenwald's column includes a video of Nicole Salazar, a producer for the left-leaning public-radio program Democracy Now, being shoved to the ground by police as she was trying to cover the protests. Her screams of "press! press!" got no traction with the arresting officers.)

The deeper question, however, is: If Greenwald is right---and the evidence seems to be on his side---why hasn't the story gotten much traction with the MSM? The arrest of Amy Goodman, the high-profile host of Democracy Now, has kicked up a lot of sand in the left-wing press. But a search for "Amy Goodman" on the New York Times site, today, turned up hits... the comment threads only. As one reader noted,
From what I’ve seen so far I’ve been extremely disappointed in the Times’ coverage of these arrests. It seems only in comments sections for these blog posts has it been mentioned that journalists (including the award-winning radio host Amy Goodman and two of her producers, as well as an Associated Press photographer) have been arrested. They were arrested while doing their jobs as reporters.
On a similar note, no mention of rough treatment of journalists by Times blogger David Carr in his September 1 Carpetbagger post, "St. Paul Protests." But scan the comments: Times readers are all over the Goodman arrest like ugly on an ape.
Still no coverage of the arrest of widely respected, 51-year-old independent journalist Amy Goodman (host of the syndicated news program Democracy Now!) at the Republican Convention on “conspiracy to riot” charges? Freedom of the Press, anyone? Amy Goodman conspiracy to riot? Give me a break! I guess at the at the RNC Freedom of the Press only holds for the corporately owned. Is the NYT just slow, or should I think it suspiciously ironic the NYT isn’t interested in getting the story of a journalist arrested at a political convention?
I'll leave the Chomsky-style smackdowns of the Times to the paper's commenters, but it is odd that the Paper of Record has turned a blind eye on alleged police violence against a fellow journalist. Make that journalists, plural.