Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The media might not be the problem

But then again, they might.  They get a heaping helping of the blame for the sorry state of our public discourse today.  Let's begin with the sharpest takedown of the media business I have read in a long while.

For a long time newspaper owners everywhere could get away with anything because look, where else you gonna go, son? They could lie and cheat and steal, and there was enough slush floating around to mask the thievery and incompetence.

Plus let us face it, whatever newspapers were (and are) screwing up, local and national news programs were (and are) so awful that after the in-depth analyses of GOOD MORNING CLEVELAND and its ilk, the worst newspaper jock on his laziest day seemed like a Nobel laureate.

Now, though, there are other ways to get information out. There are other ways to find things and tell everybody. Failure and idiocy are exposed much, much faster than they used to be, and that has not been a boon for those whose stupidity was only tolerable because the profits made it so.

Yes, it's not just the print media that is the dinosaur struggling in the tar pit; even legacy broadcast media has all but gone down the drain.  NBC's travails -- like those of CBS and the dramatic collapse of integrity at 60 Minutes -- didn't start and end with Brian Williams.  Here's something devastating the LA Times wrote about the Sunday Morning Talking Heads show "Press the Meat" and Chuck Todd just yesterday.

"Meet the Press" likes to swank around as though it's our premier network public affairs program. Yet somehow its producers and host think it's all right to treat a manifestly ignorant statement about climate change as "a fun moment" involving a "fun little prop" -- and to pander to American anti-intellectualism by implying that the global warming debate is just too serious and boring to waste time on, like high school kids grousing about having to go to math class. One can almost hear the producers of "Meet the Press" going, "What, climate change again? Cue up the escaping llamas."

How low can the news departments of our major networks sink? We've already reported on the decline of journalistic standards at CBS' "60 Minutes," in the context of its flawed and credulous reporting on disability and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And now "Meet the Press," by endorsing a display of pure ignorance about an urgent issue of public policy as a "fun" prank, cedes the last shred of its credibility.

This also is no new topic.  The film Broadcast News took down the networks, their anchors, and the corporate layoffs in 1987, almost thirty years ago.  Remember the scene where Holly Hunter lectured her assembled peers about "not-news" as the gym floor full of dominoes tumbled on the screen behind her and the reporters all laughed?

I think I've told this story before here, but here it comes again, with some updated figures.

When I worked at the Beaumont Enterprise in the early to mid-1980's, the daily circulation was almost 90,000 and on Sunday, 115K.  Today it's under 22,000 daily, and less than 29,000 on Sunday.  When Hurricane Ike took out Southeast Texas 6 1/2 years ago, the paper's printing press was flooded and inoperable; they quickly sold it and laid off most of  the (unionized) pressmen.  Since then, the BE is printed by the Houston Chronicle and trucked over to make the morning delivery schedule.

When Hearst acquired it from Jefferson Pilot in 1986, the paper was running a 40% profit margin.

When I was at the Plainview (almost) Daily Herald in the late '80's, its circulation was 8K and 10K on Sunday.  I prepared the budgets for it; the Hearst daddies wanted 33%, but in reality it came in closer to 30.  Today the PDH circulates about half that number of papers, and also does not have a press or even a publisher on site.  It is printed in and managed from Midland, 180 miles away, where the circulation for the Reporter-Telegram was 24K and 30K on Sunday when I worked there in the early '90's.  Today that newspaper distributes just over 14K daily and 17K Sunday.

There are lots of good journalists doing very good work at the Houston Chronicle and the Hearst newspapers I worked for in the course of my ten-year career.  But the corporation itself is still run by greedy, self-serving people who care little about the people and not much more for the actual business of news.  Hearst is not unique in this regard as a diversified media conglomerate.  It just happens to be a private company, unbeholden to the quarterly statement but tightly yoked to a small group of William Randolph Hearst's grandchildren and a sham board of directors the heirs approve.

And for decades now they have hit their somewhat reduced profit projections mainly on the expense side of the ledger.

Monetizing news-gathering was a business even a fool could get rich from for nearly a hundred years (from the 1880s to the 1980s), and many fools did.  Even the smart people are having trouble coming up with creative ways to make money in the business these days... certainly the kind of money they once did.  That's not just been bad for media and its employees but also our democracy.  Without the watchdogs at City Hall and the state capitals and in DC, the politicians and their cronies have run amok.

This is a tale told many times before; there's just not much new to say about it.  Facebook and Twitter simply aren't suitable replacements.  But for a generation which previously got much of its news from Jon Stewart (not necessarily a bad thing) where will they turn?  It seems to be the same sources the rest of us use... with some notable distinctions, like blogs.

Approaching Idiocracy already, we all must be certain that we can find sources of information we can believe and trust.  And most importantly, discerning what is news and what isn't.

Notice I didn't mention Fox, Bill O'Reilly, or conservatives even once.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance thinks the dress is gold and white (but doesn't really care either way) and that the llamas should replace the Kardashians on TV as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff notes that Republican hostility to local control doesn't extend to the proposed high speed rail line, where a bill to give cities and counties a virtual veto over it has been filed.

Libby Shaw, writing for Texas Kaos and a contributing to Daily Kos, is not surprised by the Texas Republicans' cruel contempt for immigrant families and Obamacare. Abbott celebrates busting up immigrant families while John Cornyn licks his chops for a gutted Obamacare.

Stace at DosCentavos reports on the League of Women Voters-Houston's discussion on low voter turnout.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is appalled at the anti-citizen ignorance of the McAllen city commissioner candidate, Debbie Crane Aliseda, who equates early voting to voter fraud.  What's worse?  Other candidates echoed her ignorance.

A hot rumor about Adrian Garcia declaring for mayor of Houston turned out to be only that, but PDiddie at Brains and Eggs -- as someone really well-connected once said -- "ran the traps on everything". (A city council candidate did announce at that same breakfast meeting, for whatever that might be worth.)

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson: The Texas GOP gutted public education which caused a budget surplus. Instead of putting the money back they want to give it to the wealthy and big business: Doing Away With What They Believe Is Unnecessary.

Texas Leftist wonders if the nullification of opponents' signatures recalling the Plano ERO might be a precursor to Houston's case.

jobsanger underscores the lies conservative repeat about the poor.

Egberto Willies reported from the Texas Kossacks meetup in Austin this past weekend.

Neil at All People Have Value took a walk and looked up at the things above him. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.


And here are some other posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Texas Clean Air Matters reminds us that Texas is very good at energy efficiency and should do more of it, and Texas Vox calls for more support for solar energy from the Lege.

Better Texas Blog calculates the cost of cutting the business margins tax.

Socratic Gadfly exposes Austin for the not-quite-so-liberal bastion that it is.

Houston Matters airs their interview with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein today.

Prairie Weather reminds us that Congressional Republicans are about as dangerous to America as badly trained local police have shown themselves to be.

Juanita Jean has a good laugh over a kerfuffle involving male strippers at an antique show in Fayette County.

Nonsequiteuse would like Republicans to stay out of her bathroom.

Grits for Breakfast recounts how the DPS "border surge" caused an increase in crime elsewhere.

The TSTA Blog asks if anything will be left for Texas schools in the budget, while Raise Your Hand Texas comments on the filing of quality pre-K bills in the Legislature.

Randy Bear endorses Mike Villarreal for mayor of San Antonio, and The Quintessential Curmudgeon, taking over for the Panhandle Truth Squad, takes note of the city council races in Amarillo.  And the Lewisville Texan-Journal also reports on city council election happenings there.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Rick Perry: Scott Walker's a jerk

And when Rick Perry thinks you're a jerk, you're probably more of an a-hole.  And by that, he means a bigger a-hole than he is, Scott.

Saturday morning, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said that "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime" was Ronald Reagan's aggressive response to an air traffic controllers strike in 1981. Forget Nixon's outreach to China, Reagan's defense buildup, or the Iraq war — it's all about the firing of about 11,000 federal employees.

Walker has made similar remarks about Reagan and the air traffic controllers before. But now, he is one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination in 2016. And he is trying to convince party elites that he can be their guy. But instead of checking off the foreign policy box, this latest comment adds to a list of foreign policy screwups.

The context surrounding this quote is important. Walker had repeatedly asserted that the air traffic controllers strike was a critical foreign policy decision, arguing that it sent the Soviets a message that Reagan meant what he said. At one point, he cited Soviet documents to support his point — documents that, it turns out, were entirely made up. Reagan's own ambassador to the Soviet Union told Politifact back in January that Walker's interpretation of these events is "utter nonsense."

Earlier this week, Walker had gotten into hot water for saying that his fight with union at home prepared him for fighting ISIS abroad. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," Walker said. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, another 2016 hopeful and no squishy moderate, called Walker's comments "inappropriate."

Overlook his being a jerk or an a-hole or whatever.  Scott Walker is just too effing dumb -- even for a Republican -- to be president of the United States.  This time, it has nothing to do with him dropping out of college 34 hours short of an undergraduate degree.  It may take a few months for the GOP base to figure this out, however, so who might be the most stupid in this regard is an open question.

On the other hand, our formerly worst Texas governor ever (just since the current one) might not have learned his lesson four years ago about demonstrating empathy towards 'the enemy' publicly, and if you believe the so-called libertarians who vote in the CPAC poll, Oops doesn't have much ground left to lose.  So, as usual, I can't really determine which of these conservatives committed the bigger gaffe.

C'mon, debate season!

Update: It's not as if Governor Glasses was going to just let Scott Walker be the most ignorant person of the weekend, after all.

Following a weekend full of conservative attacks on Hillary Clinton at the Conservative Political Action Conference, former Texas Governor Rick Perry added to the list, questioning the former secretary of state’s “loyalty” in an interview that aired Sunday.

Responding to news that the Clinton foundation had not notified the State Department when it previously accepted a donation from a foreign nation, Perry argued that Clinton was disloyal.

“I think it falls flat in the face of the American people when it comes to, are you going to trust an individual who has taken that much money from a foreign source? Where’s your loyalty?” Perry said in an interview that aired on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

He winks and nods at Texas secessionists, he supported Cliven Bundy's armed insurrection, and he's questioning someone -- anyone -- else's "loyalty".  Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Sunday Funnies, Conservatives Behaving Badly edition

Bonus toon: "In Memoriam: Logic and Reason".

Hat-tip @TomTomorrow who notes that the toon (at the link above), from September of last year, won a silver medal from the Society of Illustrators on Thursday, the day before Leonard Nimoy passed away on Friday. "Seems somewhat bittersweet now," he added. "Wonder if @TheRealNimoy ever saw it."