Critical piece by David Cay Johnston on why reporting is so bad, getting worse and going away, all at the same time.

This problem is not with the breakdown in the centuries-old economic model, a simple model that many journalists do not really understand. Connecting buyers and sellers who are in search of one another pays the bills. What draws them is a desire to find out that which is important but that they did not know. We call this information the news.

Far too much of what we produce today is already widely known. We fill so many pages with rehashed or known information that on many days these publications could properly be called oldspapers. It’s not like there isn’t important and revealing news all around us. There is. It’s just that we seem swept up in a herd mentality with too narrow a focus and too much eagerness to rely on what sources tell us rather than asking these same people to address important facts that lie in plain sight in the public record.

Lazy, incurious, often-times just plain dumb… know anybody like that? Relying on them for your world view?

Talking about the Whether

It’s funny to talk about journalists giving money.

First, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann was indefinitely suspended when the Web site Politico revealed that Olbermann had donated to three Democratic candidates.

Politico’s post included this statement from MSNBC President Phil Griffith: “I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.” 

Now, the Web site The Wrap is reporting that Fox News Channel host   Sean Hannity and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough have also donated to candidates.

As the site reports: “This year, Hannity gave $5,000 to Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) political PAC and $4,800 to New York Republican John Gomez’s unsuccessful congressional race.”

I found the idea of Murdoch giving the republicans a $1 million donation kind of silly – and a lot redundant. I mean, the in-kind contribution of a single-minded, 24-hour cable puke-funnel would appear to be the balance, if not tip it. Tacking on a measly Mil for them to buy new forks after you’ve already cooked the food and set the table seems a little… crass and patronizing, not that the party much cares if they’re seen as lackeys. Just wanna be seen. Thanks for playing.

So, per the above report, Olbermann’s problem wasn’t a matter of whether he gave, but the “to three democratic candidates” part.

Right now, and over the past thirty years, it has been corporations that have loosened most of the conventional, if increasingly Orwellian, memes into society. Most prevailing ideas about health, wealth management, insurance, risk, taste and comfort have originated as some flavor of perception-shaping effort on behalf of a product or service. And we’ve greatly accepted them into our nostalgias, tagging the years and decades of our lives with brand names and theme park visits like blog posts. This has, of course, been extended into, some might argue it has in essence become, the political arena. I recommend a halt to these proceedings. Olbermann could’ve really made news with hearty contributions to O’Donnell, Angle and Rand Paul. Then the corporate ideologues wouldn’t know what to think – hippies and CEOs would both be scratching their heads, wondering who the sucker is at the table, who’s mark of the double-play wacko. That’s the kind of confusion that needs to be sewn.

Damn – I thought I had a semi-free weekend. Now I’ve got to White-paper my new de-consulting firm: Tricks of the Tirade.

Drilling It into Your Head

NPR has apparently found a very sturdy drum and they’ve been beating it night & day. This Morning’s Edition:

President Obama’s approach to domestic oil drilling has shifted over this year. Taken together, those shifts have managed to anger just about everyone in the oil drilling debate at one time or another.

Great. 100% chance of this, right? What an excellent, safe, can’t miss, no interest news story. Dog bites dog. We’ll trot out an oil industry shill and an officer of the Sierra Club and they’ll light up the night with worry. Think I’m kidding?

“It’s risky, it’s dangerous, and there’s a better way to meet America’s energy needs than to engage in a set of activities that are proven to be unsafe,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“Why six months? What does that mean?” asks Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute.

Well, Rayola, part of what it means, if you must know, is that we’ll call off all drilling for six months and try to find out WTF happened to make all the shellfish have a sad when all they were doing was preparing to become food. It (the story) trudges on and on.

But then, this evening, they were striking up the band again. I mean, I only have a ten-minute drive both ways. This time it was workers from the oil industry, including medical personnel living along the Gulf who treat injured workers. It seems that they are all for not having another accident in the Gulf, and even understand some the malformations the industry itself has performed on the wetlands guarding the land and sea from each other. But

The uncertainty has rippled through the oil services industry, and puts some workers in a difficult position as they consider what the moratorium can achieve.

Lavonne Martin of Baton Rouge works for a company that provides offshore medical care.

“As an environmentalist, as a fisherman, as someone who loves our Louisiana coast, I understand it. … However, as somebody who, you know, makes a living working in the oil industry, I’m very concerned about it and what the future … economic impact may be,” Martin says.

The environment and all that… becomes a blur when connected to livelihoods through the paycheck, especially for those so close to the action. There is truth to this and it is painful and complex – the withering of a way of life, and specifically the means for powering it but not just that, is very difficult to separate from the idea that life will continue. Much less how it will. There are no poetic terms for this, not at first. These are only the first hard questions. But the reporting seems to still hold the outcome in the balance, to still pull for business and people who depend on a paycheck (!) to prevail, as if we can sustain a way of life that is being destroyed by our efforts to sustain a way of life. It’s that or nothing so that it must be.

And the preoccupation with uncertainty is… certainly curious. We’ve come to absolutely depend upon some outlandish by its very premise level of confidence in what to expect – or else panic sets in. This type of caution, need for guarantees, this quest for certainty, especially with regard to large scale endeavors, leads eventually in all the wrong directions.

Maybe we should actually embrace uncertainty for a while. Maybe it could mean many of these same people would be as loyal to and hardworking for schemes that weren’t concentrated on a dwindling resource. Who can be sure?


So… even for an election season, the politics of the moment are coming unhinged; just read the last ten or twelve posts at TPM, a supposedly moderate newsy site, and you’ll see how covering the right is becoming a circus of crazy. Conventional thinking is gelling around the notions that

a) the Republican Party is the Tea Party

and b) whatever it’s called the GOP Confederate Party needs to disappear, and/or be replaced by something other than either one of those, for the good of the country.

But that’s… a bit of crazy in its own right, and we could definitely be being governed by majorities of those freaks (think endless investigations of trivial scandals and government shutdowns) after this fall. Nonetheless… Green. What do it mean? How about your crappy internet service? Don’t think its so crappy?

The Connectivity Scorecard is, as Stacey Higginbotham reports for GigaOM, a favorite measure of the telecom industry, since it paints the America in a particularly favorable light.

The Scorecard looks not just at broadband infrastructure, but also at how a country uses its broadband, and how much that helps its economy. So while the United States has less and slower broadband than many Asian and European countries, it was the top rated country on the Scorecard until this year.

But as this chart emphasizes, U.S. broadband is far less advanced than that of leading countries. Despite ranking the United States second, the report states: “While it has significantly more fiber and DOCSIS 3.07 deployment than most of Western Europe, US infrastructure is uneven, and the gap with respect to Asian economies and even Sweden and the Netherlands remains substantial.”

Is there a connection? Sorry. Expect more. Before it becomes a corporate logo. Damn.

Mmmm… Complex… Issues

Why not use cartoons instead of charts and graphs to make your point? Use whatever you want.

Annie Leonard used to spout jargon. She reveled in the sort of geek-speak that glazes your eyeballs.

Externalized costs, paradigm shifts, the precautionary principle, extended producer responsibility.

That was before she discovered cartoons.

Today the 45-year-old Berkeley activist is America’s pitchperson for a new style of environmental message. Out with boring PowerPoints and turgid reports; in with witty videos that explain complex issues in digestible terms.

M’kay. All good. Instead of being a boring old scold… entertain and scintillate with the latest and the gravest.

In the past 2 1/2 years, more than 12 million people worldwide have viewed Leonard’s animated Web video, “The Story of Stuff,” a 20-minute expose of humanity’s wasteful ways. It has been translated into more than 15 languages and has spawned a book of the same name, published on recycled paper with soy ink.

Leonard recently launched “The Story of Bottled Water,” a video about how clever marketing turned a freely available commodity — tap water — into a source of profit and pollution, and “The Story of Cap and Trade,” her take on how carbon trading undermines efforts to curb global warming.

“The Story of Cosmetics,” about toxicity in personal care products, will go live July 21. Coming this fall: “The Story of Electronics,” on planned obsolescence and pollutants in computers and cellphones.

Uh huh. I see. Taking the backdoor route to Old Scoldsville, eh? Nice one. But I have a feeling these stories themselves won’t be nearly as insightful about waste nor cause as many people to pause and think about their own consumption as will the many ham-fisted attempts to paint her as a marxist or a communist by well-meaning libertarian ignorati. Talk about enlightening.

Brought To You By

Scienceblogs.com agrees to have a nutrition blog written by PepsiCo.

Much consternation over at the home of science bloggingScienceBlogs. The forum for the brilliant OracPharyngulaMolecule of the Day, and countless other insightful, funny and informative blogs has decided upon a bizarre new strategy in sourcing new posts. As of yesterday, the platform will host a new blog written by food giant PepsiCo, all about the company’s specialist subject of refreshing sugary drinks and their benefits for dental and dietary health.

Is nothing sacred? Of course it isn’t – nothing at all. We’re as far past that as the Gagosian Gallery on its worst day might imagine. What is a bad day for them? What is the first thing BP did when they learned about the Deepwater Horizon problem? What was their actual problem? The whole reality of human habitation, its need for sustenance and breathable air, not to mention sufficient amounts of intellectual clutter, means not the same thing for the Limited Liability Companies among us. Sure we exist on the same planet and sign all manner of agreements, in principle, on paper gleaned from that planet’s perennial woody plants. But that may be where the common dimensions begin and end. A tear in one man’s time-space continuum is but a sub-bullet point in another man’s standard operating procedure (SOP) handbook.

Pace William Faulkner, the sacred is not dead and buried, it’s not even sacred.

Joel, get off the babysitter.

Hardly even looking, I found this. But that was a fluke. Things are actual quite the opposite when it comes to news about climate or the environment generally. No news is… no news.

It always makes sense to push hard to keep journalism accurate and to reveal disinformation wherever it pops up. But asserting that the bad quality of some fraction of 1.5 percent of media coverage is the key impediment to societal and congressional action on energy and emissions seems utterly silly.

That’s 1.5 percent. Of the news measured from compilations of weekly summaries. The ‘Mego’ concept/trend in newspaper editing is interesting (My eyes glaze over). So even news about climate denial or opening new oil fields should be encouraged, as at least it keeps the subject tangentially on any screen, in any way. Which is a weird thing to think about while the Gulf is on fire. It’s all of a part with the ludicrous objects of fascination du jour that win attention, of course, but also another a reminder of the need for solutions beyond the political.

So one of the small ‘l’ lessons would be, we can’t repeat this stuff enough. Until you think of something. So get off the baby sitter.

Might As Well

Buffalo Buick Lesabres… Is anything not loaded these days?

If you haven’t noticed, the New York Times increasingly occupies some weird space. While still not the Kaplan test prep daily, what was at one time a very insular ‘paper of record’ has become a kind of de facto stamp of conventionality whatever the subject, whether congestion pricing, missile defense or Teabaggerism. I mean, think back to the role it played in the run up to the Iraq war. Stunning. The paper with a record.

But this article, what is it? It’s Earth Day as a concept, supply your own detachment! (Included at some subscription levels). As though it’s really not a place you live, a contradictory sphere where progress has led to peril, yet where these issues are just a bunch of ironic curios we find in a box in the garage that get more delicious with the passage of time. Former protestors against nuclear power are now supporters of nuclear as green energy! You don’t say! What does any of it mean? Why would you even ask that? How gauche! Only those who don’t already know.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that genetically engineered foods had helped consumers, farmers and the environment by lowering costs, reducing the use of pesticide and herbicide, and encouraging tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion and water pollution.

“I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about,” Mr. Brand writes in “Whole Earth Discipline.” “We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.”

Can you even get more counterintuitive than that? Watch as we become our own nemesis. USA! NYT! It’s meta ambivalence for the generation too busy to hate care, one week per year where we care enough to care again. For a day. About something.

The Worst Circus

What does Glenn Greenwald mean?

But the Report also cites the “fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan” and worries that — particularly if the “bloody summer in Afghanistan” that many predict takes place — what happened to the Dutch will spread as a result of the “fragility of European support” for the war.  As the truly creepy Report title puts it, the CIA’s concern is:  “Why Counting on Apathy May Not Be Enough”

It’s both interesting and revealing that the CIA sees Obama as a valuable asset in putting a pretty face on our wars in the eyes of foreign populations. It is odious — though, of course, completely unsurprising — that the CIA plots ways to manipulate public opinion in foreign countries in order to sustain support for our wars.  Now that this is a Democratic administration doing this and a Democratic war at issue, I doubt many people will object to any of this.  But what is worth noting is how and why this classified Report was made publicly available:  because it was leaked to and then posted by WikiLeaks.org, the site run by the non-profit group Sunshine Press, that is devoted to exposing suppressed government and corporate corruption by publicizing many of their most closely guarded secrets.

If you haven’t seen the video released through Wikileaks earlier this week, good for you – it’s wrenching. But you are going to see it. GG‘s point about how information is controlled in a democracy is one everyone should step back and consider, even and especially as we get caught up in periodic convulsions about the biases of this or that news network. The whole thing is corrupted and as undeserving of your attentions as the idea that you need to calibrate your opinions to the whims of some mythical American center, politically speaking. And you cannot convince me that our extraordinary fascination with video slaughter games had nothing to do with the tone and attitude of the pilots speaking in the video. You really can’t get that callous and unfeeling about where bullets go and what they do without hundreds of hours of practice.

Let’s Review

There’s a really whining editorial in the NYT today, complaining about the lack of subtlety in the film, ‘The Green Zone,’ to which I’m not going to link.

I will link to this reaction to the editorial by another putatively conservative writer:

Yes, the problem might be that we do not have artists capable of rendering contemporary architects of a war of aggression that was based on shoddy intelligence, ideological fervor and deceit in a sufficiently subtle, even-handed manner. If only Hollywood were better at portraying the depth and complexity of people who unleashed hell on a nation of 24 million people out of an absurd fear of a non-existent threat! Life is so unfair to warmongers, is it not? Then again, the reason our debates are so poisonous and our nation so divided might have something to do with the existence of utterly unaccountable members of the political class that can launch such a war, suffer no real consequences, and then reliably expect to be defended as “decent” and “well-intentioned” people who made understandable mistakes.