Jan 1 2010


Hard to Imagine

The New York Times (11/21/09) on Japan’s elite “press clubs”:

a century-old, cartel-like arrangement in which reporters from major news media outlets are stationed inside government offices and enjoy close, constant access to officials. The system has long been criticized as anti-democratic by both foreign and Japanese analysts, who charge that it has produced a relatively spineless press that feels more accountable to its official sources than to the public. In their apparent reluctance to criticize the government, the critics say, the news media fail to serve as an effective check on authority.

Parade’s Little Middle

Claiming that “something needs to be done—and fast” to save Social Security, Parade magazine’s Gary Weiss (11/22/09) warned of a downside to the idea of subjecting income above the current $106,800 ceiling to the Social Security tax: “Raising the cap is popular among Social Security reformers but would increase the tax burden on the middle class, since more of their income would be subject to the tax.” According to the Census Bureau, 5.5 percent of individuals aged 15 or older in the U.S. have incomes exceeding $100,000 a year. That’s a peculiar definition of “the middle class.”

Charting the Choices of Selfless Politicians

In the healthcare reform struggle, the New York Times explained (11/18/09) that three Democratic senators—Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln—might help filibuster the bill to death. Reporter Carl Hulse’s piece noted the three “have all been skeptical of a public health insurance option,” and all “represent states won handily last year by Sen. John McCain.” An accompanying chart provided more data: their first election and next electoral race; their states’ electoral history, population and median income; and the health insurance status of their constituents.

The implication was that these facts and figures might help readers better understand these senators’ stances on healthcare reform. But one obvious potential influence went unmentioned: the money these politicians get from healthcare interests. For Nelson, the figure for the 2005-10 election cycle was $664,000; for Landrieu, it’s $615,000; and for Lincoln, $763,000.

Al Gore and His Big Words Again

In a Newsweek cover story (11/9/09) on former vice president Al Gore and his new book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, science reporter Sharon Begley couldn’t resist throwing in a little dig at Gore’s wonkiness: “To anyone with bad memories of how Gore’s fact-filled debate performances against George W. Bush in 2000 failed to connect with voters, it may come as no surprise that Our Choice has a graphic on ‘how a wind turbine works,’ and a long section that begins: ‘Conventional hydrothermal plants are built according to one of three different designs. The steam can be taken directly through the turbine and then recondensed.’” Can you imagine—a book on renewable energy that explains how renewable energy works? What a nerd.

As for Gore’s debating performance, maybe Begley meant to type “reporters” instead of “voters.” Opinion polls after the first, most famous debate (10/3/00) indicated that people who watched thought Gore had won by a large margin (Daily Howler, 9/28/04). Only after post-debate reporting focused on Gore’s “sighing” did the debate become a liability for him.

Ignoring Women’s Thinking

In a discussion about Sarah Palin on ABC’s This Week (11/15/09), PBS’s Gwen Ifill had this to contribute: “As the girl at the table, I feel like I can just say you cannot underestimate the degree to which women will be drawn to her story. And that’s who she’s speaking to. These are people who are ignored, who nobody counts into their thinking.”

Maybe one can’t underestimate women’s support for Palin, but Ifill was certainly overestimating it: A Washington Post/ABC News poll (11/12-15/09) found 57 percent of women declaring an “unfavorable impression” of Palin—compared with 46 percent of men.

Don’t ‘Ask Amy’ About Rape

Chicago Tribune advice columnist Amy “Ask Amy” Dickinson (11/27/09) literally blamed the victim when a woman wrote in to ask if she had been raped: “Were you a victim? Yes. First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment.” The alleged perpetrator got gentler treatment: “You don’t say whether the guy was also drunk. If so, his judgment was also impaired.” As blogger Amanda Hess (Washington City Paper, 11/30/09) translated: “Your judgment was ‘awful’; your rapist’s judgment was merely ‘impaired.’”

Most startlingly, Dickinson urged the letter-writer to call up the man whom she believed raped her: “You must involve the guy in question in order to determine what happened and because he absolutely must take responsibility and face the consequences for his actions, just as you are prepared to do.”

Hess’ response to this “destructive, dangerous, and negligent” advice: “Obviously, rapists should not be consulted on questions of consent. As this column makes clear, we should all probably refrain from consulting Ask Amy as well.”

Less Talk, More War

ABC World News (11/11/09):

Charlie Gibson: We understand [President Obama’s] raising new questions about a number of plans that are in front of him. What new questions are there to be asked after all this time?

Martha Raddatz: Well, you would think he’d be through with the questions, Charlie.

Doyle McManus, L.A. Times (11/15/09): Barack Obama is in danger of giving deliberation a bad name.

David Broder, Washington Post (11/16/09 headline, “Enough Afghan Debate”): It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision—whether or not it is right.

More SoundBites

December 2009 / February 2010