Heather Digby Parton has an excellent article in Salon, analyzing the extremism of the political right compared to the left, and touching on the media’s culpability in perpetuating a false equivalence between the two.
Read it at Salon. It’s worth your time to.
The question is why is the media so timid about pointing out the real differences between a conservative and a liberal in their distance from the mythical political center? Parton cites a statement by Ted Cruz equating an unwillingness to unravel Obamacare with Neville Chamberlain appeasing the Nazis, and one by Bernie Sanders arguing that corporations aren’t people.
“Sure, some might think that bringing up the Nazis in the context of Obamacare is over the top, but railing against the idea of corporations having First Amendment rights when the Supreme Court has clearly said they do is just as extreme, right?” she writes. “And anyway, he actually calls himself a socialist, which is so kooky that you don’t really even have to know any more about him to see that he’s a far left nut.”
The question that remains unanswered is just when and why the media stopped being able to see the difference between statements such as the above.
It has been the case for a long time. False equivalency usually goes under the guise of “objectivity.” But being objective doesn’t require being gullible. One can make the observation that invoking Nazis in your objection to the presidential administration is hyperbolic without giving up objectivity.
Media blogger Jim Romenesko wrote that the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead “tried to shame lawmakers for voting against a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation,” provoking some pushback from the editor, Matthew Von Pinnon.
Romenesko writes: “We did not do it to shame anyone, as many people are [implying],” he says. “We did it simply to convey the info people wanted to know, no matter which side of the issue they are on. They wanted to know how each lawmaker voted. We shared all votes, including from the Senate, which had earlier narrowly passed the bill.”
Many people have praised the paper for taking a bold stand for LGBT people, or shaming lawmakers who voted against protection.
Von Pinnon insists the paper was doing no such thing; it was simply reporting which way all of the state’s legislators voted.
The paper printed the pictures and names of all of the lawmakers who voted against the protections on its front page; by process of elimination, readers who bother to do some research can probably figure out who voted in favor. But I am not sure Von PInnon’s explanation really holds water. By singling out the no voters, the newspaper is at least giving the appearance of wanting their identities to be known.
I suppose it remains an open question whether the identification is in support or opposition, but either way, the newspaper is not providing an equally-weighted slate of yeas and nays. It is specifically highlighting the nays. The reason may be unstated, but it is certainly easy to see why people might take it as pro-LGBT advocacy.
On an editorial page, that would be fine. In news coverage, though, it raises some concerns. Perhaps the editorial page should address those concerns soon for clarity.
Did NBC anchor Brian Williams lie, or misremember, when he told the story (again and again) of having been shot down in a helicopter over Iraq? NBC News has launched an investigation, so we should have an official determination soon. It has emerged that some of his other vivid personal experiences are also being reconsidered.
Williams is charming and personable, and his frequent appearances in entertainment venues such as The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon make him appealing. And yet.
Neither dishonesty nor a poor memory are desirable traits in a reporter. I can’t get inside of his mind to know whether he was deliberately embellishing stories or not, but … my intuition tells me that a person would not be so mentally confused as to not know for sure whether or not he was shot down in a combat zone.
This story practically tells itself: A small-town councilman demands that the local newspaper not print his name or refer to him without his permission, or face legal consequences. Everybody laughs at him.
The paper in question reported the story, without Kirby Delauter’s consent (here), then followed up with an appropriately mocking editorial (here, and look closely for the secret code). The rest of the Internet, or a big segment of it anyway, happily joined in the takedown.
Kirby Delauter apparently has no idea how democracy, freedom or the U.S. Constitution work.
The challenges that the Internet has created for the traditional journalism business model is old news by now, but the New York Times’ David Carr details some of the tactics newspapers are trying to cut costs, such as buyouts, layoffs and paying reporters in gift cards for taking double-duty as delivery drivers.
So far, the only one of these phenomena I’ve encountered is layoffs—I’ve lost two jobs in 11 years to cost-cutting, and seen the same thing happen to dozens of colleagues over the years. There is no doubt, though, that times are hard for ink-on-paper businesses. (I am not sure that will always be the case, but it is for now.)
Journalism is an industry struggling to adapt to the new era; as I see it, there are two possible solutions.
Option One is give up allegiance to print. If the world is getting its news online, that’s where you need to give it to them. The downside of this, as traditionally print operations are finding when they try to do this, is that online journalism as both much more competitive (many more people able to enter the field, as Carr explains) and much less profitable.
Option Two is make your print material exclusive, valuable and not freely available online. The downside of this is that it won’t work for a daily newspaper. It would be next to impossible to create material regarding local news that is so exclusive and unique that it entices any significant number of people to pay for it. It is a model that could work for more specialized media though.
The truth is that journalism is an industry in transition, and where it ends up may not look much like where it started. For me and my colleagues trying to survive the evolution, this is what the Chinese proverb would call “interesting times.”
While reading an article at Salon,I noticed that the sidebar was showing a textbook example of SEO-friendly web headlines (Rolling Stone) vs. clickbait (Upworthy). Take a look.
Rolling Stone’s heds are simple, declarative and most include at least one name. Upworthy’s are vague, teasing and designed to entice the reader to click through to the story to find out what the heck is going on.
SEO-friendly headlines are more likely to bring in readers from Google or other search engines (are there other search engines?) They run the risk, however, of making the reader feel that the headline has provided enough pertinent information; clickbait heds, by contrast, are less likely to produce search engine hits — they are usually spread virally — but may entice a larger percentage of people to go to the article to find out what it’s all about.
Upworthy-style headlines, to be honest, annoy me; but they are effective. More clicks = more ad revenue, so there is an obvious incentive.
In my years as a web editor, I’ve become acutely aware of how different the web is. Headlines might seem like a small detail, but in fact, the headline is probably the single most important element of the presentation. The headline plays a major role in leading people to find your content in the first place, and then to drill down from a homepage to the individual article. Balancing clarity (good for search engines) with intrigue (good for encouraging click-throughs) is a constant challenge.