Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: December 2010


The Sheer Hilarity of “No Labels”

McQ hit these pompous fools when they first popped their heads up. I was too busy to chime in then, but the more I’ve watched this whole “No Labels” thing, the funnier it gets.

George Will does a pretty good job today of shredding some of their sillier assertions:

Although the people promising to make No Labels into a national scold are dissatisfied with the tone of politics, they are pleased as punch with themselves. If self-approval were butter, they could spread it across America, if it were bread. They might cover the country with sanctimony as they "overthrow the tyranny of hyper-partisanship."

But Bloomberg, addressing the No Labels confabulation, spoke truth to powerlessness: "It’s not clear that the average person feels themselves disenfranchised or wants a lot of the things we are advocating." Just so. Whatever their defects, America’s political parties are marvelously sensitive market mechanisms, measuring every tremor of the electorate’s moods.

But the truly funny thing to me about the entire premise of the group is that a very close approximation of what they are advocating was already tried – by George W. Bush.

W was the guy who “reached across the aisle” to Ted Kennedy to federalize education. He was the one who “accomplished things” by expanding the welfare state via Medicare Rx. He even signed campaign reform legislation that was intended to limit those who “who recklessly demonize their opponents”, though it was later ruled so out of bounds that it was declared unconstitutional.

His tone towards Democrats was mostly moderate, much more so than Obama’s tone when berating Republicans and other opponents. W didn’t pander to his base very often. He was the model of political civility.

His reward? He was demonized by the left as stupid, mean, and equivalent to Hitler.*

That’s why the No Labels’ threats to form citizens’ groups to “carefully monitor the conduct of their elected representatives” are laughable. Republicans have been treated to a detailed object lesson in exactly what works and what doesn’t when trying to work with today’s left. Attempting to compromise with them gives ground while getting nothing of consequence in return, and results in spittle-flecked leftist rage in the bargain.

To simple minded politicians wrapped up in the Beltway bubble, compromising to “get things done” gives an illusion of progress. But it’s just an illusion. It’s akin to having shared control of the rudder so that they get to help choose which side of the waterfall to plunge off of. It does nothing to reverse the course away from the waterfall, and wastes whatever time and resources we still have to do that.

Many such simple minded fools, in both parties, were removed in the last election. That happened despite the fact that the Tea Party movement is new, inexperienced, and doesn’t have deep pockets to draw on. The Tea Partiers went up against the professional and veteran political organizers and rabble rousers of the left, funded by folks like Soros, and in many cases kicked their butts.

So now the Democrats are left with Barney Franks types, from districts so mired in partisan Democratic politics that they would elect a shrill, nasty, Democrat whose demonstrated incompetence helped facilitate the subprime crisis. If you believe in limited government, or even if you just think we better do something quick before the debt bomb explodes, good luck “finding common ground” with such people.

The Republicans have been put on notice that back-scratching with those leftist Democrats is probably going to get them a well-funded, passionate primary challenge. If Mike Castle can get beat by Christine O’Donnell, they know they are not safe with politics as usual. So we’re likely to see more polarized politics rather than less – and as George Will points out, that’s a good thing.

I look forward to hearing about all those “citizens’ groups in every state and congressional district”. Or rather, I look forward to not hearing about them, because just like the aborted Coffee Party movement, well-intentioned fools will volunteer to be organizers, and then find only two or three left-leaning pros at their organizational meeting. They will then grouse to their spouse about how “nobody cares about bringing moderation and civility to politics” and go back to watching MS-NBC.

(*) No Labels co-founder Frum ought to know this. He worked in the Bush White House. But he’s either too simple-minded to draw the obvious conclusions, or such a publicity whore that he couldn’t resist the opportunity to trumpet his reasonableness in the pages of the Washington Post. Or both.


DADT repealed

The Senate voted to repeal DADT this afternoon and the bill will now go to President Obama for signature:

The final vote was 65-31, with eight Republicans crossing the aisle to support the measure.

The policy does not change overnight: Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen must first certify that lifting the ban will not adversely affect the military. Then there is a 60-day period as the Pentagon writes new rules.

Gates issued a statement saying he is pleased with the vote and vowed that the Pentagon would "carry out the change carefully and methodically, but purposefully." The effort will be led by Clifford Stanley, under secretary for personnel and readiness and a retired Marine major general.

~McQ


Why you have to react to every story about government overreach

No, this isn’t a story about the “War on Christmas”, it’s a story that uses Christmas and its symbols as an example of government overreach.

A bank in Oklahoma was forced by federal bank regulators to remove Christian verses and symbols because the Federal bank examiners thought they were “inappropriate”.

Really?

This is the “separation of the church and state” and “non-discrimination” gone wild.  Last time I checked, most banks were private enterprises which were regulated by the federal government.  Furthermore the supposed doctrine of “separation of church and state” doesn’t apply to private enterprises.  It is a prohibition aimed at the  federal government.  And yes, I know it’s not found in the Constitution per se, but the phrase “freedom of religion” is enough for me to agree that the state should not be promoting a single religion.

That said, it has absolutely no say over what a private enterprise might promote or favor.

Which brings us to “non-discrimination”, which one assumes is the real basis for the ruling by the feds here.  The reason for the federal bank examiners decision is a regulation penned by bureaucrats with apparently no understanding of private markets and no concern whatsoever about the impact of their regulation on the real world.  And they essentially decided to interpret those regulations any darn way they feel like interpreting them:

Specifically, the feds believed, the symbols violated the discouragement clause of Regulation B of the bank regulations. According to the clause, "…the use of words, symbols, models and other forms of communication … express, imply or suggest a discriminatory preference or policy of exclusion."

The feds interpret that to mean, for example, a Jew or Muslim or atheist may be offended and believe they may be discriminated against at this bank. It is an appearance of discrimination.

BS.  Here’s a dirty little secret about private enterprises such as banks – if people feel “discriminated” against, they can go elsewhere.  Yup, they actually have a choice.   Don’t like bible verses and Christian crosses, bank at a bank that doesn’t have them.  There is no requirement for a Muslim or atheist to bank there.  None.  Don’t like the Perkins County Bank for that reason?  Go across the street to the Stroud National Bank for heaven sake.

When did the possibility that someone might be offended become the top problem we face, such that the federal government feels the need to move preemptively to ensure that doesn’t happen.

What’s next, the removal of all pork products from grocery stores because they may offend Muslims?  The removal of crosses from church steeples because atheists traveling by may take offense?  This is lunacy.

But, to the point of the title – this little story was picked up and blasted around the blogosphere.  Guess what?

The small-town bank in Oklahoma will be able to restore its Christian signs and symbols after all, thanks in part to public outcry against the Federal Reserve.

That’s right – the bureaucrats backed down.  Why?

The story garnered national attention overnight from bloggers and Twitter users who posted links to KOCO.com’s story.

This is the power of the blogosphere – something that is a force to be reckoned with when riled up and one that people seem to take rather lightly at times.  It’s also an example of why even the smallest stories of government overreach should be addressed.   In fact, it puts and exclamation point on the saying “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance!”

~McQ


Irony: Michael Moore’s "Sicko" was banned in Cuba

And why was the Oscar nominated 2007 “documentary” film banned?

Authorities feared footage of gleaming hospital in Michael Moore’s Oscar-nominated film would provoke a popular backlash.

Or said another way, it was propaganda that even those who were made to look good found so dishonest they refused to show it. A communist regime. One steeped in propaganda designed to make them look good.

Yup, Michael Moore’s work in a nutshell.

More irony?  This info was contained in a confidential cable released by Wikileaks and Moore just helped bail Wikileaks founder Julian Assange out of jail.

~McQ


The omnibus blows an engine

I think it is unanimous, at least on the right, that the withdrawal of the Democrat’s omnibus 1.2 trillion dollar spending bill – larded with over 6,600 earmarks – is a “good thing”.  Instead we can hope that a continuing resolution keeping funding at current levels (or reduced – that wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all) is passed.  Sen. Mitch McConnell was waiving around a one-page bill yesterday that essentially does that.

One page.  Imagine.

Not almost 2,000.  One page.

Anyway, I’m glad to see the GOP standing tough on this stuff.  And the other good news is the midterm election losses have so unnerved the Democrats that Harry Reid couldn’t find the votes for cloture on the bill.

McConnell, embarrassed by reports on his own earmarks in the omnibus, went to the Senate floor Thursday to propose a one-page, “clean,” two-month extension of the current stop-gap funding resolution that has kept the government funded since Oct. 1. And as if caught with their hands in the cookie jar, he and other top Republicans vowed to do everything in their powers to kill the omnibus to square themselves with their tea party backers.

Fear is a wonderful motivator, isn’t it? POLITICO spends much of the article pointing out the hypocrisy of the GOP who also had earmarks in the bill.  And that’s about the only talking point the lefty blogosphere has as well.   Yup, stipulated and acknowledged.  But look how it turned out and they know why.  Retribution from those supposedly on their side.  They know it will happen.  Yes indeed, fear is indeed a fine motivator if properly applied.

Which says to me that the Tea Parties need to understand that the pressure they’ve been able to bring to bear to this point is a) working and b) needs to be unrelentingly continued. They didn’t “win” and can now “quit”.  Slack up now and I promise they’ll be right back at their old ways before you can blink twice.

Of course representatives of the administration weighed in in favor of the omnibus spending bill trying to sell it as a necessity:

“We need these resources now more than ever to support national security priorities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where we are helping secure gains made by our military and preventing the spread of violent extremism,” Clinton said. “Our budget is being used to help stabilize the global economy, combat extreme poverty, demolish transnational criminal networks, stop global health pandemics and address the threat of climate change.”

“These are not partisan issues; they are national imperatives,” Clinton said.

They may not be partisan issues in particular, but there’s absolutely nothing that says the funding for some of what is deemed “national imperatives” be funded in a clean bill addressing that.  But it is time to stop this incessant habit of using any passing bill as a chance to lard it up with earmarks that would never survive an actual appropriations process vote.

You can’t fix the spending problem until you take the first step – and this was a good first step.  But only that.  GOP, you’re on notice – you’re expected to do a lot more of this in the next Congress.  We want to see spending cut dramatically and the deficit reduced equally as dramatically.  

Yes, hope springs eternal.  But who knew the GOP would find a spine?  Keep it up boys and girls, we’re all out here watching you, you better believe it.

~McQ


House votes to keep current tax rate

Dear media, the House vote last night – which sends the bill to President Obama for his signature – wasn’t an $801 billion tax cut bill, as the NYT headline blares. Certainly there are tax cuts in it, but not to the tune of $801 billion. Nor did "millionaires" get a “tax cut. “

All that happened is the House voted to maintain the current income tax rate for everyone. Nothing changes. No one gets "more" in terms of tax savings than they do right now and have gotten for most of a decade.  Well, except, perhaps, those who don’t pay any taxes into the system.  They may get more in the way of a “refundable credit”.

So quit spinning this as something it isn’t.  There is no permanent tax rate.  They aren’t “Bush era tax cuts”.  They’re the current tax rate. Period.

Keeping that rate doesn’t "cost" the government one red cent, because they never had the money to begin with. Pretending that somehow anticipated revenue from an increase in taxes is somehow a "cost" is a perversion of the English language as well as a misuse of an economic term.

Quit it.

Thank you.

~McQ


Quote of the day–Gene Simmons “Obama is unqualified” edition

Yes, that Gene Simmons – KISS – spills the beans.  And I think the sentiment he expresses is much more common – at least on the left and left of center – than previously admitted.  This is why an unqualified man sits in the White House today:

"I voted because the man that was running was a moment in history. I–in the back of my mind I wanted to show the world that America, the land of slaves…the land that tortured its black population for hundreds of years is also the place of hope that can give an African American the chance to lead the most powerful place on the face of the planet. However, if you take a look at the resume, you couldn’t find somebody–in retrospect–more unqualified."

In “retrospect”?  You mean it wasn’t obvious prior to the election?

Well, it would have been if we hadn’t been playing the “moment in history” game and been more worried about “showing the world” something that a mature person would have known we did decades ago.  By striving to “show the world”, people like Simmons actually did more harm than good.  They elected an unqualified black man because … he was black.   It is the single most immature reason to elect anyone to anything I can think of.  And that includes voters out there who elect someone only because he’s white.  Or a Democrat/Republican, etc.

The mature adult looks at resume and stances on issues with which they’re concerned before pulling the lever.  But more importantly, elections aren’t about “showing the world” or “moments in history”.  They’re very serious affairs that effect the lives of all of us.  The legions of Gene Simmons out there who foisted this unqualified president upon us didn’t show the world anything except even supposedly mature adults can be caught up in a moment and make some very immature decisions.

~McQ


Yep, communism kills – but fools still defend the other fools who believe in it

Following on McQ’s post about deaths due to communism</a>, the same article was noted by Glenn Reynolds. He made the following straight-forward observation:

Communists are as bad as Nazis, and their defenders and apologists are as bad as Nazis’ defenders, but far more common. When you meet them, show them no respect. They’re evil, stupid, and dishonest. They should not enjoy the consequences of their behavior.

I’m not even sure “as bad as” is sufficient. Deaths due to Communism outnumber deaths due to Nazism by a wide margin.

But he got pushback from someone living in the halls of academia, who wants to assure us that those Marxists aren’t really so bad:

As someone who works in academia, I run into my fair share of Marxists. While I disagree with their politics, many of them are decent non-evil people most certainly deserving of respect. There is, to my mind, a big difference between communism and Nazism: it is possible to be a communist with the “good will,” i.e. to sincerely wish the best most prosperous future for everyone. I think it’s pretty obvious that communism is not the way towards that goal, but intelligent people can disagree. Nazism, on the other hand, is fundamentally impossible to commit one’s self to with a good will. It is inherently racist, hateful, and concerned with elevating particular groups of people on the basis of the subjugation and dehumanization of others.

Put another way: communism, like it or not, is an Enlightenment project and an Enlightenment ideology. The evils of communism my be intrinsic, but they are not built into the ideology itself. I.e. Marx never advocated for any society like the Soviet Union or for gulags, etc. The same cannot be said of Nazism.

This is not to give communism a “pass,” but rather to separate the ideology and intentions of the believer, from, say, crimes like the Great Leap Forward. One does not convince communists to give up their creed by calling them Nazis and refusing to show them a modicum of respect. One convinces them (and I speak from personal experience) but engaging them as people who want the good, but don’t realize that their politics cannot and will never be able to effect the society they seek.

This is so wrong-headed that I don’t know where to start. Let’s go phrase by phrase and point out some of the highest caliber foolishness.

While I disagree with their politics, many of them are decent non-evil people most certainly deserving of respect.

No, they’re most certainly not deserving of respect. They might or might not be “non-evil”, but if they still defend the rotten corpse of Marxism and its legacy of death, they’re idiots, and therefore deserving of no respect, no matter what degrees they hold or how much cocktail-party glibness they possess.

Naturally, someone in academia is likely to form some psychological accommodation to these idiots. They’re just down the hall, don’t ya know, and the kids play soccer with them, probably in games where it’s not allowed to keep score. Letting them know that they’re idiots is career-affecting, and seriously curtails opportunities for social activities on campus. So it’s pretty easy for someone in that environment to convince themselves that “on a personal level, those Marxists are not really that bad” from their own need to find a rationalization to avoid friction with them.

There is, to my mind, a big difference between communism and Nazism: it is possible to be a communist with the “good will,” i.e. to sincerely wish the best most prosperous future for everyone.

First, this is the classic leftist fallacy: that good intentions are enough to excuse anything. They’re not.

Second, it’s patently untrue. “Everyone” includes people who have a lot of wealth. Communism explicitly says such people are supposed to give up that wealth for others, and be brought down to supposedly becoming equal with them. How in Hades is that the “best most prosperous future” for those wealthy people?

That’s even leaving out the reality that goes even beyond the iron-clad logic above: Many (most?) of the wealthy were murdered in every case where Communism was tried. Anyone who can hand-wave that aside and still sincerely believe that communism offers the “best most prosperous future for everyone” has a pretty narrow definition of “everyone”.

Instead, I think it’s an indication of the Marxist’s view (shared by many academicians even if they don’t realize it) that the wealthy are nothing but a bunch of  immoral exploiters. It’s easy to leave them out of “everyone” if you hold that view of them.

I think it’s pretty obvious that communism is not the way towards that goal, but intelligent people can disagree.

No. Stupid people and people who crave a reason to control others can disagree. Intelligent people only have to look at a century long string of failure and death to know that communism is not the way towards that goal. If a person can’t see that, I can’t conceive of how they can be labeled “intelligent”. (Of course, my definition of “intelligent” includes a connection to reality, which often seems to be strangely missing from the academician’s definition of “intelligent”.)

Put another way: communism, like it or not, is an Enlightenment project and an Enlightenment ideology.

Wrong again. The ideology that inspired the terms “groupthink”, “double-think”, and all the rest isn’t an Enlightenment ideology. Communism in practice is profoundly anti-Enlightenment. It distorts every meaning that it touches, and disposes of rationalism as soon as it challenges the ideology. Hence the Soviet joke “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

This is not to give communism a “pass,” but rather to separate the ideology and intentions of the believer, from, say, crimes like the Great Leap Forward.

But separating the supposed intentions from a century of results is giving them a pass! These people defended the Soviet Union my whole life, far past the point where it was clear that it was a murdering, thuggish regime capable of producing only deprivation and violence.

Academic historians were among the worst such defenders.  They’ve never come clean about their support of the Soviet Union. These Marxist fools are still supporting Chavez and Castro today! Sorry, their supposed good intentions shouldn’t give them a pass for that.

One does not convince communists to give up their creed by calling them Nazis and refusing to show them a modicum of respect. One convinces them (and I speak from personal experience) but engaging them as people who want the good, but don’t realize that their politics cannot and will never be able to effect the society they seek.

First, saying that their ideology produces results just as bad or worse as Nazism isn’t calling them a Nazi. It’s stating the clear truth.

But there’s an even better reason to treat their "creed" with complete contempt. Behaving otherwise makes their beliefs acceptable, even respectable, in academia.

Those beliefs should not be respectable. It’s time their ideology joined phlogiston, the luminiferous ether, phrenology, and Lamarkian biology in the historical gallery of failed concepts. They shouldn’t be coddled for believing in nonsense; they should be ridiculed for it.

Giving them any respect whatsoever means that get to continue to indoctrinate new generations in the same idiocy, meaning we still have the problem of academic idiots pushing an evil, failed ideology into the indefinite future.

Far better, I believe, to make it clear and obvious that their belief is not a respectable one.  That in fact, continuing to believe in Marxism at this late date means defending over a hundred million deaths committed in its name, and advocating a philosophy that has caused hundreds of millions to live their lives in misery, deprivation, and de facto slavery. That should be beyond the pale, not treated as some sort of ideological quirk to talk someone out of.

The left wants us to play by different rules from what they impose on themselves. By their lights, believing in principles espoused by the founders of this nation is extreme and racist, but believing in principles that have killed more than a hundred million and enslaved hundreds of millions more is just an ideological quirk.

I believe that not more than one in a thousand can be convinced by the gentle means advocated by this academician. After all, they don’t really seem to learn from history or reality. They took no responsibility for the support of the Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, or today’s Venezuela. And I wonder how many of this academic’s friends are *still* siding with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

So no more coddling. Just ridicule. If they don’t like it, well, too bad. I think it’s time they suffered the consequences of total ridicule for their idiocy; maybe that would convince some of them to re-examine it. 


Communism kills–always has, always will

I know – once again I’ve managed to shock you haven’t I?

Not.

All that’s really happened is there is now proof that is hard to ignore or deny. Communism (simply a brand of "totalitarianism") kills and China is – I was going to say "living proof" but that would be inappropriate – is proof.

Remember the Mao inspired "Great Leap Forward" launched in 1958 Communist China? It was the forced "communization" of the population which had resisted it up until then. I.e. the people were pushed into communes where, they were told, life would be infinitely better because, well, because Mao said so.

Now it appears some initial estimates may have been a little low about the number of lives that forced move cost.

Historians have known for some time that the Great Leap Forward resulted in one of the world’s worst famines. Demographers have used official census figures to estimate that some 20 to 30 million people died. But inside the archives is an abundance of evidence, from the minutes of emergency committees to secret police reports and public security investigations, that show these estimates to be woefully inadequate.

Yes, I agree, that’s criminal. It is monstrously criminal.  Why?  Well obviously the force used to make people do what the state decided to do makes it criminal.  What makes it monstrously criminal?  Well the number of people that died from it and this:

In all, the records I studied suggest that the Great Leap Forward was responsible for at least 45 million deaths.

Between 2 and 3 million of these victims were tortured to death or summarily executed, often for the slightest infraction. People accused of not working hard enough were hung and beaten; sometimes they were bound and thrown into ponds. Punishments for the least violations included mutilation and forcing people to eat excrement.

They were tortured to death or summarily executed because they disagreed with who should run their lives or for doing something that those who had assumed control of their lives (by force) decided was deserving of capital punishment.

Like these:

One report dated Nov. 30, 1960, and circulated to the top leadership — most likely including Mao — tells how a man named Wang Ziyou had one of his ears chopped off, his legs tied up with iron wire and a 10-kilo stone dropped on his back before he was branded with a sizzling tool. His crime: digging up a potato.

When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, the local boss, Xiong Dechang, forced his father to bury his son alive on the spot. The report of the investigative team sent by the provincial leadership in 1969 to interview survivors of the famine records that the man died of grief three weeks later.

Yes, these are the brutal and criminal acts of a ideology that holds the “rights” of the state far above any rights for individuals.  An ideology that many collectivist fellow travelers right here in the US used to defend as the humane answer to capitalism and the “cult” of the individual.  And make no mistake the USSR was no better.  It too resorted to forced collectivization.  In the Ukraine alone, it is estimated that 3.1 to 7 million died from the famine the forced collectivization induced.  In the Soviet Union, almost 2 million kulaks – probably what we would describe as “middle class farmers” were transported to the Gulags or executed.  All their land was confiscated and collectivized.  It wasn’t hard to become an “enemy of the people” just by being born to the wrong people or having worked hard to get ahead.

And as the artificial shortage they call “famine” worsened, what do you suppose those who represented the state did in China (and most likely the USSR)?  They used it to continue the oppression of the people and extend their control.  It became of tool of dominance and it cost many, many people their lives:

Starvation was the punishment of first resort. As report after report shows, food was distributed by the spoonful according to merit and used to force people to obey the party. One inspector in Sichuan wrote that “commune members too sick to work are deprived of food. It hastens their death.”

Imagine that – purposely starving people to death if they wouldn’t cooperate or were too sick to work.   Any guess as to what that drove some too?

One police investigation from Feb. 25, 1960, details some 50 cases in Yaohejia village in Gansu: “Name of culprit: Yang Zhongsheng. Name of victim: Yang Ecshun. Relationship with Culprit: Younger Brother. Manner of Crime: Killed and Eaten. Reason: Livelihood Issues.”

‘”Livelihood issues?  Good lord.  And what did the icon of the collectivist fellow travelers have to say about all of this?

At a secret meeting in Shanghai on March 25, 1959, he ordered the party to procure up to one-third of all the available grain — much more than ever before. The minutes of the meeting reveal a chairman [Mao] insensitive to human loss: “When there is not enough to eat people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”

Freakin’ amazing.  For those who continue to wear their Mao T’s there’s your hero and his accomplishments in spades.  And he’s absolutely no different than Che or Fidel or any of the rest of the murdering scum that brought the collectivist, murderous totalitarian socialism known as communism to power.

They should forever be relegated to the same status as Adolf Hitler because in every way they were as bad, if not worse, than he was.

~McQ


Where are those 3 layers of editors?

David Cay Johnson seems to think today’s journalism has a huge problem.  And he confirms the “if it bleeds it leads” tendency of the media.  This anecdote illustrates the point:

To understand how badly we’re doing the most basic work of journalism in covering the law enforcement beat, try sitting in a barbershop. When I was getting my last haircut, the noon news on the television—positioned to be impossible to avoid watching—began with a grisly murder. The well-educated man in the chair next to me started ranting about how crime is out of control.

But it isn’t. I told Frank, a regular, that crime isn’t running wild and chance of being burglarized today is less than one quarter what it was in 1980.

The shop turned so quiet you could have heard a hair fall to the floor had the scissors not stopped. The barbers and clients listened intently as I next told them about how the number of murders in America peaked back in the early 1990’s at a bit south of 25,000 and fell to fewer than 16,000 in 2009. When we take population growth into account, this means your chance of being murdered has almost been cut in half.

“So why is there so much crime on the news every day?” Diane, who was cutting Frank’s hair, asked.

“Because it’s cheap,” I replied. “And with crime news you only have to get the cops’ side of the story. There is no ethical duty to ask the arrested for their side of the story.”

Cheap news is a major reason that every day we are failing in our core mission of providing people with the knowledge they need for our democracy to function.

That’s reason one.  Reason two?  Something I’ve been critical of for some time:

I ran upstairs and bought The Philadelphia Inquirer, where I worked for seven years. Buried inside I found a half column about the new budget for Montgomery County, the wealthiest and most important county for the newspaper’s financial success. The story was mostly about the three commissioners yelling at each other. The total budget was mentioned, almost in passing, with no hint of whether it meant property taxes would go up or down, more money would be spent on roads or less, or any of the other basics that readers want to know.

For this I paid money? I could only imagine the reaction of the residents of Montgomery County.

[…]

Far too much of journalism consists of quoting what police, prosecutors, politicians and publicists say—and this is especially the case with beat reporters. It’s news on the cheap and most of it isn’t worth the time it takes to read, hear or watch. Don’t take my word for it. Instead look at declining circulation figures. People know value and they know when what they’re getting is worth their time or worth the steadily rising cost of a subscription.

I’m convinced one of the reasons for the rise of blogs is the decline of journalism into what Johnson calls “cheap journalism”.  During elections we get the horserace coverage – the sensational, the quotes, etc. – but we rarely get even basic coverage of the issues.

My guess is editors would claim that no one is interested in the “in depth” coverage of issues, but I’d counter by saying that the popularity of blogs who do exactly that would seem to contradict the claim.

Johnson’s revelation about what is going on in the media comes from his own specific experience:

During the past 15 years as I focused my reporting on how the American economy works and the role of government in shaping how the benefits and burdens of the economy are distributed, I’ve grown increasingly dismayed at the superficial and often dead wrong assumptions permeating the news. Every day in highly respected newspapers I read well-crafted stories with information that in years past I would have embraced but now know is nonsense, displaying a lack of understanding of economic theory and the regulation of business. The stories even lack readily available official data on the economy and knowledge of the language and principles in the law, including the Constitution.

What these stories have in common is a reliance on what sources say rather than what the official record shows. If covering a beat means finding sources and sniffing out news, then a firm foundation of knowledge about the topic is essential, though not sufficient. Combine this with a curiosity to dig deeply into the myriad of documents that are in the public record—and then ask sources about what the documents show.

Note his point – lack of research, lack of knowledge, reliance on “what sources say” and the acceptance of what they say as gospel.

That’s not journalism, that’s the journalistic equivalent of re-printing press releases.  And, given all the grousing about bloggers by many in the media, I have to ask, “where are the editors”?  How did what Johnson reports become the norm that editors okay for publication?  Who’s establishing and enforcing the standards of journalism if not the editors?

These are the folks that used to control what was fed to the news hungry population in the past – a control they exercised because of the cost of entry into the market.  Now, with the internet and the democratization of publishing, they have competition from an unanticipated direction and it is indeed showing their weaknesses (and biases).  In any market, if a need goes unfulfilled, someone will fill it.  It just took the internet to remove that high bar to entry to prove the point.   If they wonder why circulation and viewership numbers are down, Johnson’s criticism is one of the major reasons for their decline.

~McQ

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