Sep 1 2009


And 10 Times as Many Clueless Pundits

Asked by a Canadian viewer, “Has anyone noticed that life expectancy in Canada under our health system is higher than the USA?,” Fox’s Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 7/27/09) responded: “Well, that’s to be expected, Peter, because we have 10 times as many people as you do. That translates to 10 times as many accidents, crimes, down the line.”

New York Time Capsule

Talking about an increase in British Afghan War deaths in recent weeks, New York Times reporter John Burns (7/12/09) wrote, “So far…the reaction in Britain has not run to the kind of popular groundswell for withdrawal that President George W. Bush faced when the war in Iraq worsened after his re-election in 2004.” Funny—back then, the paper spent its time suggesting that withdrawal was quite an unpopular idea. For instance, a June 14, 2006, article warned that a vote on a withdrawal deadline “could create a hard choice for Democrats in the Senate, antagonize the party’s anti-war base or provide fodder for Republican attacks.” Well, now the Times tells us that it wasn’t just a Democratic anti-war base that wanted withdrawal, but a public “groundswell.” Better late than never, we suppose. But could the paper maybe try to report on antiwar opinion in real-time, rather than several years later?

Apparently not. The same piece by Burns asserted that there’s not a groundswell in Britain for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but rather a grassroots call for a bigger British military. But the London Guardian the next day (7/13/09) published a poll saying 42 percent of the U.K. public wanted troops out immediately, and another 14 percent wanted them home by the end of the year. That’s 56 percent who wanted troops out in the next six months. We’ll find out from the Times if that constitutes a “groundswell”—sometime around 2014.

Tax Days With Mitch

Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom—best known for his bestseller Tuesdays With Morrie—had a July 25 column criticizing Obama’s proposal “to sock a new 5.4 percent tax on the highest earners in this country—to pay for healthcare reform.” Quoting White House press secretary Robert Gibbs—“The president believes that the richest 1 percent of this country has had a pretty good run of it for many, many, many years”—Albom retorts:

Ah. So that’s it. The old “You’ve had it good enough for long enough” policy. That’s why a family earning a million dollars a year should now cough up $54,000 of that—in addition to all the other taxes it pays—to cover healthcare for people who may not pay a penny of new tax themselves.

You’d think that Albom, who has an MBA from Columbia University, would be familiar with how the tax system works. The proposed surcharge, as usual with marginal tax rates, would only apply to income beyond the first million dollars of income. A smaller surcharge would kick in at $350,000, and increase at $500,000—but the total tax increase for a couple making $1 million would be $9,000, or one-sixth of what Albom claimed was a “grossly overweighted tax.”

U.S. Out of the West

In a News Analysis piece, New York Times reporter Adam Nossiter (7/11/09) attempted to illustrate the difference between some African countries and more enlightened nations, writing:

The gulf separating the West and many African leaders on fundamental issues like human rights was on display just last week. The African Union announced that it would refuse to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in its attempt to prosecute the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity, over the mass killings in Darfur.

Whatever you think of the ICC’s pursuit of Al-Bashir (some human rights observers thought it an unwise move—Making Sense of Darfur, 3/5/09), is enthusiasm for the International Criminal Court really a good test for whether a country is similar to “the West”? If so, then the United States, with its history of determined opposition to the court, would not seem to meet the test for membership in “the West” either.

Don’t Know Much About Geography

You’d think that being able to locate Iraq on a map would be a prerequisite for working at a national news outlet. Apparently not at Fox News Channel, though, which put up this creative map of the Mideast on July 27 (Media Matters, 7/27/09).

Print Media’s Favorite Liabilities

In his front-page profile of movie-industry blogger Nikki Finke, New York Times media reporter David Carr (7/17/09) couldn’t resist a self-congratulatory dig: “Her liabilities in the world of print—a penchant for innuendo and unnamed sources—became assets online.”

Those familiar with the print media world may recall that unnamed sources are not exactly unknown there. For instance, in the first half of Carr’s own article, he had a paragraph full of anonymous attacks on Finke:

“I’d prefer not to ever deal with her,” said a senior communications executive at a studio who declined to be identified. Many others declined comment saying, variously, “she gave me a nervous breakdown,” “she terrifies me,” and “there’s no percentage in me saying anything to you about Nikki no matter what it is.”

Anonymous sources suggesting dire things about a subject without providing any specifics—that’s what’s known as “innuendo.” Is that a liability in Carr’s print-media world…or an asset?

More SoundBites

October 2009 / August 2009