Jan 1 2014

SoundBites January 2014

Music as a Weapon? No Joke

“Britney Spears is being used as a secret weapon to fight Somali pirates,” FoxNews.com (10/30/13) reported October 30. “The singer’s hits are being blasted out by tanker crews to deter kidnap attacks.” The piece quoted a British naval officer who says, “These guys can’t stand Western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect.”

britney pirates

Depicting the playing of Britney Spears to Somali pirates as audio torture helps disguise actual audio torture.

NBC (NBCNews.com, 10/29/13) also picked up the story, telling viewers, Spears “can’t count Somali pirates among her many fans. In fact, her tunes are being used to turn the tide on high-seas crimes.” Nor could Time (Time.com, 10/28/13) pass on such a cute little item; they claimed “the only thing Somali pirates hate more than not kidnapping people is ‘Oops I Did It Again’ by Britney Spears.”

The trouble with this funny little story? The piracy-deterring technique referred to in these pieces is known as a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD. The German magazine Spiegel (11/15/05) described it as “a futuristic sonic cannon developed by the Pentagon,” that “beams hellishly loud noise that is deafening but not lethal.”

Referring to pirates who’d been repelled by the device, Spiegel wrote, “It’s possible they received permanent hearing damage, but at the very least they experienced an excruciating headache and ear pain to the point that they could no longer see or hear.” That’s rather less cute than taking advantage of a supposed Somali aversion to Western pop music.

They See Dead People

“Why the Dead Get Government Checks” was the Washington Post’s November 4 front-page headline. “The US government has a problem with dead people,” the story began. “For one thing, it pays them way too much money.” The errors are part of “a surprising glitch at the heart of the federal bureaucracy,” says the Post, part of a “jury-rigged and outdated system.”

Social-Security-SSAThe Post throws around some big numbers—$133 million to deceased Social Security beneficiaries, $3.9 million to subsidize utility bills for the dead—but aside from a passing line acknowledging that “the vast majority of these cases are handled correctly,” the paper doesn’t attempt to put these numbers in context. But economist Dean Baker (Beat the Press, 11/4/13) did; he suggested that “Social Security Paid Out 0.006 Percent of Benefits to Dead People” would be a more informative headline.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

“The wire filler story on D2 of today’s Life section cast all of the TV networks, including CBS, in a negative light. Our news station—WHIO-TV—is a CBS-affiliate station. We do not want to run any stories that cast our station in a negative light or even allude to it negatively.

“I know we’re working really hard—and very quickly—to do the very best in selecting wire stories. But I wanted to bring this to our attention so that we can be more careful in selecting non-daily wire copy and in our editing and/or selection of stories that contain references to CBS. Remember, we are better together.”

—a memo from Cox Media Group editor Rashida Rawls to staffers at Cox’s Dayton Daily News, reminding them not to publish any negative references to a corporate sibling (JimRomenesko.com, 11/4/13)

Suppress Your Gag Reflex


Richard Cohen: “Conventional” people “repress a gag reflex” when thinking about interracial marriage.”

After writing that “today’s GOP is not racist” but is “deeply troubled” about things linked to race, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (11/11/13) declared: “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children…. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”

Cohen has a history of racist writing. Last summer (7/16/13), he said that while he was sorry that Trayvon Martin had been gunned down, he was “wearing a uniform we all recognize”; in 1986, the Post (10/5/86) apologized for a Cohen column defending jewelers who refused to allow young black men into their stores. On the other hand, in a column attacking affirmative action, Cohen (5/5/09) wrote, “For most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant.” You can go ahead and gag.

Fox Can’t See Its Own Shadow

60 Minutes’ apology for a bogus Benghazi report relying on an unreliable source “just isn’t enough,” said Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz (Media Buzz, 11/17/13). Kurtz excoriated CBS, saying the network needed at least an outside investigator to sort out vital questions like “how carefully did [it] vet” the source, and how exactly they got duped.

As blogger Brad Friedman (Brad Blog, 11/19/13) pointed out, Kurtz neglected to mention that Fox itself had repeatedly relied on the same source for its Benghazi reporting. In response to the throwing-stones-from-glass-houses charge, Kurtz (Twitter, 11/19/13) said he had noted that Fox had used the source—on an earlier occasion. But somehow he didn’t bring it up when he was lecturing CBS that if it couldn’t figure out just what rot in its process could have led to such a mistake, it would remain forever “under a shadow.”

Filibuster Fickleness

George Will's position is consistent: Filibusters are good when they help Republicans.

George Will’s position is consistent: Filibusters are good when they help Republicans.

George Will (Fox News, 11/21/13), the dean of conservative punditry, was upset when Senate Democrats took away the power of Senate minorities to use the filibuster to block a president’s judicial appointments: “It was a melancholy day for American life. It diminishes minority rights, which are always at threat in a democracy, where majorities rule.”

Like many Republicans and conservatives, Will (Washington Post, 2/28/03) was singing a different tune 10 years ago, when Democrats were in the Senate minority. The notion that “41 Senate Democrats” might succeed in blocking a Bush judicial nominee was, in Will’s view back then, a “coup against the constitution.”

And 10 years before that, when a Republican Senate minority filibustered Bill Clinton’s economic stimulus bill, Will (Washington Post, 4/25/93) was all for it, cheering “the generation that wrote and ratified the Constitution” for properly establishing “the Senate’s permissive tradition regarding extended debates.”

Extra! January 2014