Doug Henwood vs. Adam Davidsonlbo-news.com

Last January Doug Henwood, one of my favorite lefty blogger-radio people, wrote a nasty response to Adam Davidson’s New York Times Magazine article on Wall Street:

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on how NPR is more toxic than Fox News. Fox preaches to the choir. NPR, though, confuses and misinforms people who might otherwise know better. Its “liberal” reputation makes palatable a deeply orthodox message for a demographic that could be open to a more critical message.

The full critique will take some time. But a nice warm-up opportunity has just presented itself: a truly wretched piece of apologetic hackery by Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money economics reporting team, that appears in today’s New York Times magazine.

So I was excited to see that Davidson recently appeared on Henwood’s radio show, Behind the News:

Adam Davidson, host of NPR’s Planet Money and columnist for the New York Times Magazine, on finance, innovation, bourgeois ideology, journalism, and being mean on the Internet.

The discussion starts out with a lot of Henwood talking uninterrupted, and coming off a bit defensive, but then they get into an interesting big picture discussion about the nature of ideology in popular media. The blog post Henwood mentions in the introduction on Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin (and its follow-up) is also worthwhile.

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David Simon on Stand your grounddavidsimon.com

From a blog post by David Simon on how the news media is focusing too much on Trayvon vs. Zimmerman, in terms of character, and missing the larger story about what Stand your ground legislation really means:

And now, quietly, by dint of both cash infusions from the gun lobby to legislators and scant attention from a hollowed-out press corps, this cautious standard is gone in twenty states. Now, anyone—regardless of their role, training or ultimate purpose—can bring a gun to an argument and take a life. And then, if they can manufacture enough of a threat to their person, they can justify the act. Maybe witnesses will be present to contradict their version of events; maybe not. Maybe there will be physical evidence to invalidate their claims; maybe not. But now, the baseline for responsibility lies not with the shooter, but with the state.

Guns don’t kill people, people do—this is the mantra that for generations has defined the prevailing ethos of the firearms lobby. But now, the argument has moved on: Guns don’t kill and neither do people; now, folks are just killed. Shit happens is the new credo for this quiet, epic revolution in our country–one that has already led to many more homicides that defy prosecution in the affected states.

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The Guardian on The World Tomorrowwww.guardian.co.uk

Julian Assange kicked off his television show on Russia Today interviewing Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The Guardian doesn’t pull any punches:

There is a long dishonourable tradition of western intellectuals who have been duped by Moscow. The list includes Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, HG Wells and André Gide. So Assange—whether for idealistic reasons, or simply out of necessity, given his legal bills and fight against extradition to Sweden—isn’t the first. But The World Tomorrow confirms he is no fearless revolutionary. Instead he is a useful idiot.

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On information diversity

Doug Henwood, who I’ve seen speak a few times recently and host of the excellent radio show Behind the News:

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on how NPR is more toxic than Fox News. Fox preaches to the choir. NPR, though, confuses and misinforms people who might otherwise know better. Its “liberal” reputation makes palatable a deeply orthodox message for a demographic that could be open to a more critical message.

Doug’s post is not so much about NPR, but a response to Adam Davidson who is co-host of the show Planet Money. Davidson’s recent piece in the New York Times Magazine argues for the benefits of American-style finance.

Davidson apparently hasn’t read up on the comparative international mobility stats (e.g., this). He writes: “One of the most striking facts of life in countries without a modern financial system is the near total absence of upward mobility.” In fact, the U.S. has a middling-to-poor standing on mobility in the international league tables. A country like Germany, where consumer finance is relatively underdeveloped, is more mobile than the U.S. The Nordic social democracies show the most mobility of all. Oh, and student debt, now breaking the trillion dollar mark? Nothing to worry about, says Davidson: it’s “largely changed America for the better.” Actually, the rising price of higher ed is making it harder all the time for the working class to go to college. Watching millions graduate with five figures of debt into a miserable job market doesn’t evoke a better America. College should be free.

First, I agree that college should be free, and with most of Doug’s other complaints. But here I would like to write a little about NPR, since I agree that it’s misunderstood as a fundamentally progressive news source. Like the New York Times, there is plenty of good (progressive) journalism coming out of a largely pro-corporate framework. NPR gets far more of its funding from corporate underwriting than from the US government (although its largest source is individual contributions). Having a bias is okay, and corporate partiality might reflect an American public that still has faith in corporate brands, despite the many reasons for concern. NPR, like any news source, will likely reinforce its listeners’ existing beliefs.

There are very good shows on NPR and ones that I can’t stand. For an example of good coverage of globalized labor, take the recent episode of This American Life, Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory. If you haven’t heard it already, stop reading this and give it a listen. It’s compelling and heartbreaking as a story, and also includes a useful follow-up segment with further analysis.

This episode is one of many “explainers” that This American Life is so good at, one of which led to the creation of Planet Money itself. But this is just one story that’s complemented by other sources, such as links from John Gruber and Edward Burtynsky’s photography of Chinese factories. None of these sources can be expected to tell the complete story, like the parable about the blind men and the elephant.

Perhaps the lesson here is that it’s incumbent on the modern citizen to diversify one’s own sources of information. Relying exclusively on NPR will lead to the same kind of stilted worldview you’d expect from someone who only watches Fox News. This is what the Internet is great at! I try to get the most out of a variety of blogs, podcasts, and aggregators, trying to cultivate sources that might lead to further discoveries. Some of these leave me frustrated and disappointed from time to time (e.g., Left Right & Center’s non-coverage of the NDAA). I grab links from Twitter and Facebook, I skim and skip and unsubscribe ruthlessly, and I try not to allow myself to get overwhelmed.

In case you’re curious, here are my blog and podcast subscriptions, in OPML format:

You should be able to import these into Google Reader, iTunes, or whichever other tools you prefer. I’d love to hear what your favorite sources are.

SOPA-supporting media companies don’t cover SOPAmediamatters.org

Legislation that would break the Internet is absent from television news:

As the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) makes its way through Congress, most major television news outlets — MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC — have ignored the bill during their evening broadcasts. One network, CNN, devoted a single evening segment to it.

To their credit, the online arms of most of these news outlets have posted regular articles about the fight over the legislation, but their primetime TV broadcasts remain mostly silent.

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Forbes goes trollingwww.forbes.com

Following up on the link-bait article “If I Was a Poor Black Kid”, Kashmir Hill — a staff writer from Forbescontemplates the conflict of interest in their contributor payment model:

Forbes has a stable of 850+ writers who are “contributors” — they get a little special tag on their pages that says, “The opinions expressed are those of the writer.” Forbes pays these folks for the unique visitors and repeat visitors they attract.

She poses a rhetorical question:

Does having a payment model that rewards controversy encourage writers to bait readers with offensive material?

Yes, I believe that is the problem. She offers a surprising “market-based” solution:

So what keeps people from trolling? When your name and face are attached to what you write, you start to develop what our CPO Lewis D’Vorkin loves to call “a personal brand.” I think of it as voice, authenticity, and reputation. As writers’ bylines become bigger and our photos become more prominent, this comes to matter more. After a certain amount of race- and gender-baiting, you establish a “troll” brand and that brand may become so toxic that you become irrelevant. And that is the worst fate for any writer (and every troll): to be ignored.

Personal brands and larger byline photos? No, sorry, this is basic editorial irresponsibility. As much as they’d like us to believe otherwise, the brand here is Forbes. Some commenters are applauding the piece for its “transparency,” but it’s a useless kind of transparency. Nobody is seriously going to start evaluating each and every author under the masthead, having now been informed of the publication’s tiered contributor model.

The solution is simple: fire the trolls, and fix the broken revenue model that rewards trolling.

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See also: Cord Jefferson’s response in GOOD

Deep link: MIA vs. NYTwww.metafilter.com

An unflattering NY Times Magazine article on M.I.A. leads to a retaliatory tweeting of the journalist’s phone number (her response). Not quite the Streisand Effect, but similar. The retaliation might lend credibility to the claims in the article while increasing its visibility. A summary of the 8,000 word article is also available.

One revelation from the article was that having “Born Free” banned on YouTube was probably intentional — M.I.A.’s upcoming tour will be themed around censorship.

The article goes to great lengths picking apart M.I.A.’s outspoken politics, dismissing her ideas on Sri Lanka and other geo-political topics as naïve and ultimately self-serving. I appreciated this comment from MetaFilter user A Terrible Llama:

When it’s Madonna and it’s 1986, who cares, because she’s trotting out virgin/whore dichotomy or wearing cone-shaped bras and people are in a tither — fine. But when an artist is funneling additional attention into a complicated and easily misunderstood political situation they can be contributing to a kind of simplistic viewpoint that gets people killed.

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Our game-permeated futureg4tv.com

Jesse Schell is a professor at CMU who gave a presentation recently on games and their relationship to culture. The tone changes a lot toward the end of the presentation with a surprise (to me) ending. I disagree with his conclusion, but I’ll leave that for a future post.

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