Corporate largesse for journalists at the conventions

The Democratic convention has 5,000 delegates.  It is being covered by 15,000 reporters.  The Republican convention was the same way.  And the media is being wooed and pampered by corporate largesse.  Dana Milbank of the Washington Post comes clean:

The Democratic National Convention is just getting underway, but already I’ve been given the treatment. Lots of treatments, actually.

I’ve had my deltoids massaged in candlelight by a licensed therapist; had a foaming pore cleanser and mask applied to my face by an aesthetician; been instructed in the Warrior, Half-Sun Salute and Dancer poses by a yoga instructor; and crawled into a hanging cocoon for a “meditative snooze.” I worked up quite an appetite doing all this, so I ordered vegan corn chowder and gluten-free chicken chile verde washed down with Fiji water — all courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Ostensibly, the Huffington Post Oasis offers these spa services gratis to convention delegates as well as to media types. But in practice, said Brendan McDonald, whose Lyfe Kitchen serves the Oasis’s healthy fare, “I’ve only seen the likes of you.”

Do not be deceived by all that talk of delegates and floor speeches: This is a convention of the media, by the media and for the media. There are some 15,000 representatives of the media here for the convention, and only about 5,000 delegates. This mathematical imbalance means most journalists spend their time with other journalists at events sponsored by corporations and hosted by media organizations for the purpose of entertaining advertisers and promoting themselves to each other.

There’s the Politico Hub (Ketel One Martini bar!), the Bloomberg Link (hot breakfast and goodie bags!), the CNN Grill, the MSNBC Experience and many more. The Atlantic, National Journal and CBS started offering mimosas at 9:30 a.m., and the Hill had a full bar open at 10:30 a.m. in its hospitality suite atop the Charlotte City Club. I attended these events for five hours straight on Tuesday and could not identify a single delegate. . . . [Read more…]

“Liking” as free speech

Well, the consensus as to my query about whether you would like a “like” feature in the comments seemed to be “dislike” and “thumbs down.”  (That’s what we need:  a voting plug-in so we can do polls and surveys!   I am curious about someone’s reference to a larger range of responses that someone has put together.  And maybe something to help people keep track of threads and responses.  We’ll look into some possibilities and maybe try some, letting you voice your opinion after the fact to see if you “like” a feature or not.)

I know for a fact, though, that some of you “dislike” some of the comments, enough to contact me offline about them.  Which means that it is probably time for another of my exhortations:  Don’t hijack topics!  Don’t resort to insults or name-calling!  Don’t be vicious!  And, for heaven’s sake, at some point, just let it rest.  You don’t need to have the last word.  I mean, what more can be said after 200 comments on William Tell, though notice that after 100 or so comments , we typically have drifted far away from the topic of William Tell or whatever it is.

But, in honor of the original topic, I offer this, showing the power and the vast constitutional implications of just hitting a “like” button:

Daniel Ray Carter Jr. logged on to Facebook and did what millions do each day: He “liked” a page by clicking the site’s thumbs up icon. The problem was that the page was for a candidate who was challenging his boss, the sheriff of Hampton, Va.

That simple mouse click, Carter says, caused the sheriff to fire him from his job as a deputy and put him at the center of an emerging First Amendment debate over the ubiquitous digital seal of approval: Is liking something on Facebook protected free speech?

Carter filed a lawsuit claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated, and his case has reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. This week, Facebook and the ACLU filed briefs supporting what they say is Carter’s constitutional right to express his opinion, signaling the case’s potentially precedent-setting nature.

The interest was sparked by a lower court’s ruling that “liking” a page does not warrant protection because it does not involve “actual statements.” If the ruling is upheld, the ACLU and others worry, a host of Web-based, mouse-click actions, such as re-tweeting (hitting a button to post someone else’s tweet on your Twitter account), won’t be protected as free speech.

via A Facebook court battle: Is ‘liking’ something protected free speech? – The Washington Post.

Do you think hitting a “like” button should count as free speech?  And while free speech means that the government must not punish people for expressing what they think, does free speech mean that individual citizens have to tolerate whatever someone says or symbolizes and that their bosses shouldn’t be allowed to fire them for it?

The Gaffability Index

Ruth Marcus observes how our political discourse–or at least the media coverage of that discourse–has become little more than a tallying of gaffes and faux-gaffes:

The 2012 presidential campaign has become a festival of gaffe-hopping.

The candidates skitter along on the surface of politics, issuing vague pronouncements or taking predictable shots at each other. But these seem like increasingly brief interludes, mere campaign busywork as each side awaits and — abetted by an attention-deficit-disordered media — pounces on the opponents’ next gaffe.

Or supposed gaffe. The 2012 campaign has witnessed the full flowering of the faux gaffe, in which a candidate is skewered, generally out of context, for saying something that he clearly did not mean but that the other side finds immensely useful to misrepresent. . . .

It was almost 30 years ago that columnist Michael Kinsley wrote that “the ‘gaffe’ is now the principal dynamic mechanism of American politics.”

Prompted by a now-obscure Gary Hart gaffe (the candidate dissed New Jersey and proceeded to lose its primary), Kinsley wrote that “journalists record each new gaffe, weigh it on their Gaffability Index (‘major gaffe,’ ‘gaffe,’ ‘minor gaffe,’ ‘possible gaffe’ . . .), and move the players forward or backward on the game board accordingly.”

But the 2012 campaign, more than any I can recall, feels like all gaffe all the time. The curve for what counts as a gaffe has been dramatically lowered. Meanwhile, attention to the most minor of gaffes has been enhanced to deafening levels, drowning out, or at least taking the place of, other discussion. . . .

Should gaffes matter? Do they? Yes, but with reservations. Gaffes can expose candidates’ factual ignorance or intellectual shortcomings (see you later, Rick Perry and Herman Cain). Gaffes can reveal candidates’ characterological failures as well — a tendency to self-important puffery, undisciplined bloviating or politically convenient shape-shifting. Indeed, the more the gaffe, real or imagined, reinforces the preexisting image of the candidate, the greater damage it will inflict. Ask Dan Quayle about spelling “potatoe.”

So there is a legitimate place for gaffe coverage — in perspective. Take Romney’s not-so-excellent European vacation. His mildly derisive comment about preparations for the London Olympics was dumb, even if it fit the classic Kinsleyian definition of gaffe as a politician saying something truthful in public. . . .

So I’m not against gaffe coverage — I’m against covering only gaffes, which is where campaign reporting seems to be trending. I’m not against politicians’ seizing on opponents’ gaffes — I’m against politicians who believe, or act as if they believe, that this tactic can substitute for substantive campaign discussion.

There is a dangerous mismatch between the seriousness of the moment and this too-often-dominant form of political discourse. Americans like to think we choose presidents on the basis of who has the best vision for leading the country. We are at risk of electing the candidate least apt to make a clumsy remark.

via Ruth Marcus: A gaffe a day keeps substance away – The Washington Post.

 

Romney’s speech in Poland

To illustrate the point of the “gaffe” post, what did you learn from media coverage of Mitt Romney’s  trip to England, Poland, and Israel?  That he made people mad at him by questioning England’s Olympic preparedness and Palestinian culture?  Anything else?  Did you know he made a rather substantive speech in Poland outlining some of his key principles?  Whether you are for him or against him, I would think that would be worth at least some coverage.  Here is an example of more substantial reporting and analysis from columnist Kathleen Parker:

“Your nation has moved from a state monopoly over the economy, price controls and severe trade restrictions to a culture of entrepreneurship, greater fiscal responsibility and international trade,” said Romney.

“When economists speak of Poland today, it is not to lament chronic problems but to describe how this nation empowered the individual, lifted the heavy hand of government, and became the fastest-growing economy in all of Europe.”

Romney pointedly spoke of the “false promise of a government-dominated economy,” the importance of stimulating innovation, attracting investment, expanding trade and living within means. . . .

Romney also liberally sprinkled terms that correspond to two of the most important Catholic social justice principles: subsidiarity and solidarity.

Subsidiarity, in addition to being one of the features of federalism, also refers to the theological belief that nothing should be done by a larger, more complex organization that can be accomplished as well by a smaller, simpler organization. As developed by German theologian Oswald von Nell-Breuning, the principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual and emphasizes the importance of small institutions from the family to the church to labor unions.

Inasmuch as the welfare state is an instrument of centralized government, it is in conflict not only with personal freedom but also with Catholic teaching, as John Paul II noted in his 1991 encyclical “Centesimus Annus.” He wrote that the intervention of the state deprived society of its responsibility, which “leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.”

All of this history and understanding were bound up in Romney’s few, carefully selected words — and Catholic voters surely heard them. They also would have heard “solidarity,” which resonates among America’s working-class Catholics who were inspired by Poland’s labor-led uprising in the 1980s. In what can only be viewed as a crowning achievement, Romney was endorsed by Poland’s former president and iconic labor leader, Lech Walesa. . . .

Romney’s message to voters by way of comments to our allies was that big government is the enemy of individual freedom, both economic and, clearly, religious. While the nation’s gaffe-seekers were enjoying a few moments of snark, Romney was articulating foundational principles with none other than the most prominent community organizer of them all.

via Kathleen Parker: In Poland, Romney addresses economic and religious freedom – The Washington Post.

The Chick-fil-A firestorm

Opponents of gay marriage are being demonized.  Not just disagreed with but condemned, attacked, and boycotted.  That’s what Chick-fil-A is learning after the president of the chicken sandwich chain told an interview that he supports traditional families.  Not just gays but liberals and right-thinking forces of tolerance everywhere are seeking to punish the company.  The whole city of Boston is trying to keep it out of town.  But the interview and the controversial pro-family comments were not even about gay marriage, as Terry Mattingly has shown.  Matthew J. Franck explains:

The highly successful Atlanta-based restaurant chain Chick-fil-A has been much in the news these days, because president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy (whose father founded the family-owned business) apparently came out in opposition to same-sex marriage. Or did he?

Terry Mattingly of the indispensable GetReligion site, which tracks all sorts of journalistic coverage of religion, first called attention to the manufacturing of a misleading story here. In an interview with a writer for the Baptist Press, Cathy was asked about the company’s “support of the traditional family.” His response was, “Well, guilty as charged.” And he went on to talk about the company’s commitment “to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families,” because many of the individual restaurants are family-run operations, and because the Cathy family and their company believe, as Christians, in family-friendly policies. (Their Christian faith and their desire to support families account for the restaurant chain’s being closed on Sundays, for instance, a decision by which the company forgoes many millions in annual revenue.)

At no point in the Baptist Press article did Dan Cathy say a word about the issue of same-sex marriage. The nearest the piece comes to the subject is when the reporter writes, “Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family.” The immediate sequel is the remark of Cathy’s I quoted above. But who are those opponents of the company’s policies? We are never told. Is it fair to surmise the reporter is alluding to advocates of same-sex marriage? Maybe, but it’s far from certain. And Dan Cathy is not, repeat not, on the record in this story as taking any position on that issue.

This did not stop CNN and many other outlets from reporting on the “comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage.” And so a manufactured firestorm began.

via On Mau-Mauing the Chicken Sandwich Guy » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

He goes on to trace how the story grew and took on a life of its own.

But say the president of Chick-fil-A did say that he opposes gay marriage.  Is it not going to be allowed for anyone to oppose gay marriage?  Companies openly support the gay rights movement, and conservatives are chided if they consider a boycott.  But companies aren’t allowed to take the opposite–that is, the traditional–position?  Should companies be neutral about such issues in their philanthropic contributions?  If so, shouldn’t people who work for the companies or who run them have the right to express their opinions?  Should companies be punished for what their employees believe?  Should anyone or any corporation be punished for what they believe?

 

If you have no electricity, check your computer

My nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for letters to the editor, if there were such a thing, in the aftermath of the great power outage:

Monday, July 2, my third morning in the heat without power (and no power at my workplace), imagine my relief when I saw on the middle of the front page of my print version of the paper, topics listed with potentially helpful information about “The commute,” “Government workers,” “Summer school,” “Weather” and, most importantly, “Heat survival.” Then imagine my utter shock when we were directed to find this information at washingtonpost.com! Was I supposed to turn on my fan to cool off, and listen to my radio while I looked this up on my dead computer? I looked through the paper’s articles about the storm for any references to what seemed available only online. Not a trace. I was aghast. Was it a joke?

It was incomprehensible to me that those of us struggling with power outages were told to use our computers to find this much-needed information. Please use your heads.

Sharon Dodd, Rockville

via Without power, help online is lost – The Washington Post.