Friday, August 31, 2007

Larry Craig and Abuse of Power--By the Media

The Larry Craig kerfuffle has led to some interesting reversals. Many have argued that Craig was hypocritical for being gay (though he denies it) and voting for the Defense of Marriage Act which made it so that gay marriage in one state would not have to mean gay marriage in another. I don't think that's a persuasive argument since there are plenty of openly gay people who do not support gay marriage.

Unquestionably one group of people has been hypocritical here. Not the Republicans or the Democrats. The most hypocritical group in all this has been the self-described mainstream (actually liberal) media. In her column today, Linda Chavez is right on the money:

There is something more than a little bizarre with the latest Washington feeding frenzy over Sen. Larry Craig. Don't get me wrong. I think what Sen. Craig did in the men's bathroom in Minneapolis was gross and sleazy. But is it really worthy of the press attention it has received this week? I just can't imagine a Democratic member of Congress being subjected to the same treatment if the facts, as we know them so far, were identical. [...]

If Democratic Sen. X's hypothetical arrest ever made it into the papers — doubtful, unless the senator chose to make it public — I suspect the tone of the coverage would be rather different than Sen. Craig's treatment.

I can just imagine the Washington Post inveighing against police entrapment and homophobia and demanding that the private sex lives of politicians remain private unless their behavior involved an abuse of their official duties.

Of course, it isn't just the media who are going after Sen. Craig. His fellow Republicans are piling on, calling for ethics investigations and, understandably, trying to distance themselves from him. Some are even asking him to resign. This has been a disaster for Republicans, whose base is far more concerned about morality and traditional values than are most Democrats. But this is all the more reason you might expect the press to be calling for a little perspective here. [...]

On the one hand, the media generally regards sexual orientation as a private matter, moreover one that is morally neutral. But because Sen. Craig is a conservative, although not someone who has had a history of gay-bashing, the media have had no qualms about violating his privacy. Indeed, Craig's home newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, spent five months delving into the senator's sex life.

Sen. Craig's political career is probably over. The abuse of power, however, was not Sen. Craig's but the media's, who pick and choose whose privacy they will violate on a partisan basis.

This is not merely a hypothetical. The same liberal elite who are today denouncing the "deviant" Larry Craig were also the same ones who excused the aberrant sexual behavior of former president Bill Clinton. How many times were we subjected to self-righteous harangues about how investigations into whether Clinton solicited sex from subordinates (thereby cheating on his wife) were intrusions into his "personal life?"

Where were today's guardians of moral and political rectitude back in 1969 when Democrat Ted Kennedy drove a car off a bridge with Mary Jo Kopechne in it? Where were the liberal media outcries to kick Democrat Barney Frank out of the Congress when he solicited a gay prostitute who in turn set up shop in his apartment?

This litany could go on and on. The point remains: Democratic sexual indiscretions are OK while Republicans' are not. This double standard should not exist in a media that is as fair as it pretends to be.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Surge Success Causes Democrats to Recalibrate Iraq Strategy

If you've been wondering lately why defeatist media outlets like the New York Times have suddenly been bullish on Iraq, here's the payoff: Democrats have begun to shift their political strategy in light of the success of the surge. While I have to give the Washington Post credit for reporting on the Democrats' failure to spin reality into defeat, I have to note that the following article came on page A4 of today's edition:

Democratic leaders in Congress had planned to use August recess to raise the heat on Republicans to break with President Bush on the Iraq war. Instead, Democrats have been forced to recalibrate their own message in the face of recent positive signs on the security front, increasingly focusing their criticisms on what those military gains have not achieved: reconciliation among Iraq's diverse political factions.

And now the Democrats, along with wavering Republicans, will face an advertising blitz from Bush supporters determined to remain on offense. A new pressure group, Freedom's Watch, will unveil a month-long, $15 million television, radio and grass-roots campaign today designed to shore up support for Bush's policies before the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, lays out a White House assessment of the war's progress. The first installment of Petraeus's testimony is scheduled to be delivered before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a fact both the administration and congressional Democrats say is simply a scheduling coincidence.

The leading Democratic candidates for the White House have fallen into line with the campaign to praise military progress while excoriating Iraqi leaders for their unwillingness to reach political accommodations that could end the sectarian warfare.

"We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Anbar province, it's working," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday.

"My assessment is that if we put an additional 30,000 of our troops into Baghdad, that's going to quell some of the violence in the short term," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) echoed in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "I don't think there's any doubt that as long as U.S. troops are present that they are going to be doing outstanding work."

Advisers to both said theirs were political as well as substantive statements, part of a broader Democratic effort to frame Petraeus's report before it is released next month by preemptively acknowledging some military success in the region. Aides to several Senate Democrats said they expect that to be a recurring theme in the coming weeks, as lawmakers return to hear Petraeus's testimony and to possibly take up a defense authorization bill and related amendments on the war.

NewsBusters Featured on 'ABC World News'

And since NewsBusters is conservative, the treatment was hardly fair. I couldn't help but notice that in the segment which compared NB to the left-wing Media Matters (a really bad comparison considering they want to eradicated all conservatism from the airwaves whereas we just want balance), ABC didn't bother talking to me or any of the other NB staff.

Mark Finkelstein has more details and a video.

Friday, August 10, 2007

NYT's Linda Greenhouse Bans Cameras from Public Appearance

Notoriously left-wing New York Times court reporter Linda Greenhouse, famous for her 2006 rant against Republicans, "religious fundamentalism," and illegal immigration opponents has apparently learned from her mistake.

No, she hasn't decided that someone with such fervently liberal positions needs a conservative counterpart on the beat. Instead, she decided that television cameras need to be banned from her public appearances:

For Supreme Court buffs who watch C-SPAN, yesterday morning was one of disappointment. A promising panel discussion, “Covering the Court(s): Reporters on the Supreme Court Beat,” that included a bevy of court reporting superstars -- like Charles Lane from The Washington Post and Dahlia Lithwick from Slate -- was to be televised. But, at the last minute, the plug was pulled on the C-SPAN cameras because the queen bee of Supreme Court reporters, Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times refused to join the panel if the event was going to be covered by the wonky news channel.

According to people who were there, Greenhouse walked in, took one look at the lights and the camera equipment, and, “became infuriated,” said one person who was standing near her. As Greenhouse herself told me yesterday following the event, she then gave the organizer of the panel an ultimatum. “I told her she had a choice, either she could have me on the panel speaking candidly or she could have C-SPAN there.”

Greenhouse said that she had come prepared to speak to a “room of academics.” She added, “I didn’t want to have to modulate my comments for a national audience.” [...]

Sending a C-SPAN crew is a big outlay for the low-budget network. The Vice-President of programming at C-SPAN, Terence Murphy, fired off an angry letter yesterday evening at the organization that put on the discussion, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. “I must say, it’s perplexing as to why Ms. Greenhouse didn’t want to permit C-SPAN to cover her remarks, since our program archive lists 51 different events where we’ve covered her over the years,” wrote Murphy. “But the larger concern is why AEJMC organizers allowed Ms. Greenhouse’s view to prevail. If professors of journalism and working journalists taking part in a journalism education conference don’t stand up for open media access to public policy discussions, who will?”

Perhaps the longtime Times reporter has grown wary of too much public attention because of the bad press she received last summer after a speech she gave at Radcliffe College. Critiquing the actions of the Bush administration, she seemed to declare herself anti-war and against the pro-life movement, lamenting, among other things, the “hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism.”

C-SPAN's Murphy is right on the money. As the self-appointed "fourth branch" of government ostensibly entrusted by the public with exposing the activities of the other branches, journalists should never ban others from covering their own activities. Then again, we should hardly expect professional behavior from a SCOTUS reporter who marched in a pro-choice protest while covering abortion for her paper.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Beat the Press: Google to Allow People Mentioned in News to Respond

An interesting development from Google today. Starting now, the search engine is going to allow people who are mentioned in a news story to respond to it and have their responses posted within Google News (h/t Brian Clark):

Here's how the new system will work: people or organizations that are mentioned in news stories can submit comments to the Google News team, which will then display those comments—unedited—alongside the Google News links to those stories.

The new system will at first be deployed only within the U.S., but Google is open to expanding it to other regions if the trial goes well.

This raises a number of questions that the announcement does not attempt to answer, such as how Google will vet the comments to ensure they come from the claimed source (watch this space for the first "Google News punked!" stories in the following weeks). Google is also a backer of algorithm-driven solutions as opposed to those which require human interaction and don't scale as well. Vetting comments and verifying identities doesn't sound like the sort of thing which lends itself to an algorithm, but we'll assume Google has thought this through and has some sort of plan. Let's turn instead to the most interesting implication.

Once the new system is in place, Google News will feature something it has never had before: original content. There's a certain amount of "originality" in aggregating news sources from around the world and organizing them into easy-to-click topics, of course, but the content has all been owned by others, and some of those others have been less than happy about their inclusion in Google News.

If the new comments feature takes off and Google News becomes a central clearinghouse for those who want to respond to pieces in which they appear, the site's popularity would no doubt skyrocket. News junkies would have to visit Google News—and not any particular newspaper—to find out if, say, Barry Bonds objected to a characterization of him on the USA Today sports page.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Facebook Not Useful for Advertisers?

Filed away this earlier today:
Facebook is the website du jour, but in Reach Students’ experience it delivers appalling ad clickthroughs.

We’ve run four targeted campaigns this year using its flyer ads, and each time the results have been disappointing.

Our most recent campaign saw 1.4 million page impressions delivered at specific universities – and only a 0.04% clickthrough rate. Ouch.

When we first experienced poor results earlier this year we looked carefully at creative and planning. Further experimentation saw a variety of quite different offers and creative approaches. What kept us going was the fact that others had anecdotally mentioned good returns from Facebook ads.

Yet our results did not improve.

Baffled, we did some research and discovered that actually we are not alone.

Valleywag finds that 0.04% is pretty much the average when it comes Facebook clickthroughs - note that they are talking about banners as well as flyers.

There is varied speculation as to why the clickthroughs are so shockingly poor on Facebook. Some have cited the fact the site is essentially messaging orientated – rather than content orientated - meaning that therefore users are in no frame of mind to slope off down trails.

The linked site disagrees with that thesis but I believe it is correct. The value in social network sites like Facebook for an advertiser is in the permanence of their presence. Unlike a normal web site where you will occasionally get something interesting enough that popular sites will link in, Facebook cannot be accessed without a login, immediately limiting popular sites from linking.

That's why consistency and quality matter more for an organization trying hard to use Facebook for promotion.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Jihad, The Musical

Been super busy of late but couldn't help but post this:
A satirical musical about Islamist terrorism and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has sparked protests in Britain, with critics blasting it as tasteless.

"Jihad: The Musical," which features songs including "I wanna be like Osama" and is described as "a madcap gallop through the wacky world of international terrorism," is on at the Edinburgh Fringe festival this month.

But a petition has been launched on Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street website.

"We the undersigned petition the prime minister to condemn the tasteless portrayal of terrorism and its victims in 'Jihad The Musical,' says the online protest.

The musical, by the Silk Circle Production company, had its world premier this week in the Scottish capital's Fringe festival, famous for satirical and off-the-wall shows.

It tells the story of a young Afghan peasant, Sayid, who dreams of making it as a flower farmer selling poppies to the West.

But his plans are thwarted by a jihadi cell seeking to blow up Western targets, in particular one known as the "Unidentified, Very Prestigious Landmark."

The story comes to a head on the night of the attack, when Sayid has to decide whose side he is on.

Producer James Lawler sought to downplay the protest. "We have no intention of causing offence or insult with this show. It is simply a musical comedy," he said.
The next "Producers?"