One of the things that a lot of people have been talking about with this incoming administration is fear. I've been trying to put into words what those fears are, and, well, we're going to go ahead and work this one out. Basically, it comes down to this:
I'm an American, and I don't feel the president has my back.
• My wife is an American, and I don't feel the president has her back.
• My parents are American, and I don't feel the president has their backs.
• My nieces are tiny Americans, and I don't feel the president has their backs.
• As an American, I am lucky to be able to be an example for the world. I don't feel the president cares that the rest of the world needs us.
I want to start with the media, and before you roll your eyes, let's do some civics. This won't take long, I promise. Maybe. I guess we'll see how much I ramble.
The Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle popularized the moniker "fourth estate," referring to the three estates of the UK Parliament, checked by the fourth estate, the media.
It translates well to the U.S.
I know you learned this in middle school, but let's have a little reminder. We have three branches of government with a check-and-balances system. The Executive branch has veto power over the Legislative branch and appointment power over the Judicial branch. The Legislative branch has advise-and-consent power over both branches, along with the power to override a presidential veto. The Judicial branch has the ability to strike down laws written by the Legislative branch and enacted by the Executive.
What happens, then, when there's collusion?
You are aware of what the government does because of media. If the three branches of government are our three estates, then the media are our fourth, and it's their job to tell us what they see — not what they're told to tell us.
CNN, some of you might be old enough to remember, brought us the first Iraq war in real-time. It doesn't get a lot less fake than that. Has CNN developed something of a bias over the years? Maybe, but even if so, that's not super-important (we can argue about it here, or you can go read my post on objectivity vs. transparency in media).
Flash forward to Trump's inauguration. It was well-attended. In fact, it was probably the third- or fourth-best-attended inauguration in the past 35 years, and certainly the most well-attended inauguration for a Republican in that time.
It was not the best-attended ever, as the president's spokesman, Sean Spicer, asserted Saturday during his first press conference — right before not taking any questions from the media at all.
You read that correctly. The press secretary lied to the press, then didn't take questions from the press.
How do I know Spicer lied? I have eyes. Here, take a look at these photos (I'll explain what you're looking at underneath it).
There's a camera on top of the Washington Monument. It provides a live feed. These are screengrabs from that feed. The top is from Barack Obama's first inauguration; the second is from Donald Trump's. Both are taken at the time the incoming presidents are taking their respective oaths of office.
Can you objectively look at that bottom photo and tell me there are more people in it than in the top photo? Even if you have no idea how many people are in either, there are clearly more in the top photo. However many people there are in that top photo, there are certainly more people in it than however many people there are in the bottom photo.
There's not a partisan issue here. The media are responsible for telling citizens the truth when their government lies. That's the issue.
Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway went on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning and told Chuck Todd Spicer didn't lie to the media, he merely had "alternative facts."Here's the clip.
Here are some alternative facts: I'm a seven-foot-two Mexican midget.
Conservatives like to make fun of special snowflakes getting butthurt? We officially have the most special and unique snowflakeever in the White House, and he hasn't even been there a week.
It appears that the president and his administration are at war with the media. Remember that this isn't the media's fault. Media aren't combative by nature, they're skeptical. Without a skeptical media, you get whatever the president wants you to hear. Like in North Korea, or Russia.
And before you ask me why media gave Obama a pass? It's because you weren't paying attention. Even an outlet like The Washington Post — which is certainly reporting on Trump from a contrarian position — rated Obama's administration one of the most secretive ever.
Again, media should be skeptical. That's how they protect us. It's their check against all three branches of the government. Really, it's our check against the government.
OK, so I lied. I rambled a lot.
Let's talk about what's really bothering me about this administration. And by bothering, I really mean scared. Honestly frightened. Like, it might be time to start selling stuff and become a prepper frightened.
Like I said at the top, I don't feel like the president has my back as an American.
It's the government's job, above all else, to keep its citizens safe. Not safe-space safe. Safe. Like I don't have to worry about going to the gym and having a racist blow me up safe.
If the president does nothing else well, he certainly talks — and tweets — a good game. He said nothing last week when several dozen synagogues and Jewish Community Centers across the country had bomb threats called in.
The thing these incidents all have in common is that they've happened since the election. Some were accompanied by "Make America Great Again" accompanying it. The vandalism is by people who feel empowered by Trump's election to bully others.
All Trump had to do was say, "This kind of thing won't be tolerated."
It's too late now, I think. I don't think I'd believe him at this late date.
I've been saying since the election I want to be wrong on Trump. If he succeeds, America succeeds, and if America succeeds, I succeed. Unless he succeeds in making us something else.
If you've been listening to the podcast the past couple of weeks, you know I've been worried to the point of paranoia. I didn't really have words for what I was actually scared of until now.
If the president doesn't have my back as an American Jew, he definitely doesn't have my back as an American who works in news media.
With no details of the president's health plan rolled out, I'm concerned for my parents, who are getting up there in age. If Medicare goes away, if Social Security goes away, will they have insurance as they head toward retirement? Will they be able to afford it?
I'm also worried about health care for my wife, of course — if we go back to a private, largely unregulated insurance market, should she get pregnant, will that be seen as a pre-existing condition? Will she be able to be covered at all?
This is not to mention all the allegations of sexual assault and that tape that got Billy Bush fired. They may or may not be important politically, but knowing what you know, would you let Trump date your daughter?
And my nieces. Again, Trump's problems with women. But also, did you watch those Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings? She's more concerned about grizzly bears coming into schools than mentally ill adults with weapons. She's long been a proponent of for-profit charter schools that have no requirement to meet any educational standards.
She's a candidate for education secretary who can't be bothered to proofread her own tweets. I'm no angel when it comes to social media and grammar, but this, more than any other time in her life, is a time to be a good example for students.
As my nieces' parents have to decide where to send the girls to school, will there be viable public schools? If not, will charter schools that get federal money actually teach them facts, and the tools they need to survive as adults?
Fixed Betsy DeVos's tweet. She can thank the _public_ elementary school, middle school, high school, and universities where I was educated. pic.twitter.com/A9fmIXRVlB
And finally, the US has never been out front on human rights. We've declined to sign the United Nations' Universal Decleration of Human Rights. I get that. But after Trump spent a part of his campaign slamming the UN, a few Republican congressmen on Jan. 3 introduced a bill to have America leave the UN, removing us, essentially, as a world citizen.
I suppose this shouldn't surprise me. During his campaign — and now on the White House website — he prefers the phrase "America First." While this sounds merely isolationist on its face, it harkens back to a racist, anti-Semitic group called the America First Committee, which wanted to keep America out of World War II — not because they wanted to keep citizens safe, but because they wanted Europe to worry about Europe.
They clearly hadn't thought about what that meant for trade or innovation.
That group disbanded shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
We did it, folks! We elected a reality TV star to the presidency — a reality TV star who hates the news media, isn't a fan of facts, and brings a litany of followers who don't really care about either of those things. We talk about what it means to be a journalist in this environment, and what it means to be a news consumer.
We wandered through a whole bunch of other stuff, too. We'll keep the links brief for this one, though, since most of the links would be a repeat from our previous discussion (you'll find a link to that one below).
"No, I'm just a reporter," I said, grabbing my notebook and recorder, climbing out of the front seat of the cruiser. I didn't know how to talk to a 16-year-old who'd just been placed in the back of a police car.
Several hours earlier, we had pulled over next to a double-parked SUV and told them to move. Here it was now, mid-afternoon, and we went on a high-speed chase across Holyoke, Massachusetts, because the teenagers in that car had been driving around with an air gun, telling people it was real.
When the cop pulled the SUV over, he waited a few moments for backup and then approached the car. The kids had stashed the gun under the back seat, but told the police when they saw it that it was real.
Maybe these folks were better cops, maybe the kids were just lucky. All that happened was they got arrested.
I was on a ride-along that day. I showed up at the police station around 7 a.m., signed a waiver, met the officer I'd be riding with, and climbed in his cruiser. He said that Mondays were typically slow, that we would more than likely park near the railroad tracks and ticket a couple of drivers with expired registrations, maybe get out of the car and talk to some of the merchants.
He couldn't have been more wrong about how the day went.
There was a foot chase, there was a car chase, there was a fatal accident.
It took me two whole days to go over my notes and my tapes and get a succinct (OK, maybe that's not a good word for it) 120-column inch article (about 4,000 words — the equivalent of a 16-page paper).
This was years ago, before we were putting our stories online; only some news outlets were moving their stories from the paper to the web, and they certainly weren't writing with the intent of getting their stuff out there fast.
Twitter wasn't even Odeo yet. Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school. The World Trade towers were still standing.
There were no immediate public reactions unless you were physically in someone's presence. There was no YouTube.
It's not a time I'm nostalgic for. I'm just trying to paint a picture of the world we lived in. Most of you remember that time, but you might not really remember how different day-to-day life was. You might not remember what news consumption was like. You might not remember what our interactions were like.
We relied on storytellers to gather information and tell it to us.
Chuck Palahniuk's short story "Zombies," part of his 2015 collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread, about kids who are too smart to ever be happy, so they start a trend of self-lobotomizing using AED kits from schools and gyms and airports.
It reminded me of our hero in the film Pi, Max Cohen, played by Sean Gullette. Exhausted from trying to find a pattern in pi, overwrought by migraines and hounded by both Hasidic Jews and Wall Street firms, Max lobotomizes himself with a drill.
When asked how they made the scene look so realistic, director Darren Aranofsky is fond of saying, "We did one take then rushed Sean to the hospital."
Who are we now?
We are all journalists, inasmuch as a journalist is one who journals. We're all doing it in public, too.
We are not all reporters, however. We react, but we don't necessarily report what's happening. We let someone else do that, then we journal a link to it.
One of the things that I learned while I was a reporter was not just to tell the story, but to give it some context. Not just why did it happen, but why is it important? What are the implications for us as a community? As a species?
We're supposed to have some perspective on things, but in a world that demands everything now, now, now, it's difficult to do enough research to make it worthwhile. A lot of elder statesmen are getting out of Dodge before it becomes entirely impossible to have a reasoned, researched discussion.
So far it's difficult, but yet impossible.
We need an exit strategy.
I'm not talking about anything drastic — not death or explosions or anything.
Hopefully not lobotomies.
We need to take a step back, to slow down, to give things time. To allow ourselves the opportunity for reflection, for observation, for discussion.
In just two weeks, the US has an election. It's an important one: It's between (primarily) two candidates who are not particularly well-liked among the general populace. They are very likely the last people of their generation who will run for president.
There's a half-generation — the one President Obama belongs to — that will be prominent for a few election cycles.
The next younger half-generation, the one I belong to, is called Generation X. We're famously derided for not giving a crap about anything.
Some of that comes from the apathy toward community our parents showed. While Baby Boomers drastically changed the world we live in, they also stayed away from religious groups, recreational sports leagues and social and professional groups like Rotary and Toastmasters clubs, among others. A Harvard professor did a giant study on it.
Gen Xers may or may not get into politics, and if not, we're going to see those Obama's age in politics for about 20 more years and then Millennials will take office. That's the generation that grew up with mobile phones and ubiquitous high-speed internet; the generation coming out of college to have job titles that didn't exist a few years ago.
We have no idea what the world will look like in another couple of presidential cycles. But if it keeps speeding up the way it is, we might need to worry about exit velocity.
I was having a discussion with someone recently about media bias, and more specifically about how reporters are biased.
"Of course they are," I said. "They're human. Their job is not to be unbiased, it's to be objective."
Let me explain.
People are biased. We like some candidates better than others. We like some sports teams better than others. We like some dog breeds better than others. We like some foods better than others.
If you take away the biases a person has built up, you take away something of the essence of the person. Something essential — something that maybe led them into writing, into reporting, into being the sort of person people trust enough to talk to.
Objectivity, on the other hand (at least from a journalistic standpoint), is coming at an issue from multiple angles, reporting as many reasonable angles as possible (hang on, we'll get there), and allowing people (readers, viewers, etc.) to reach their own conclusions.
Why do so many journalists seem to have a liberal bias? Because something on the order of 70% of journalists (according to the recurring study The American Journalist) claim liberal views.
So, there's the bias. Now take that bit of information and allow it to color how you take in stories. You should ask your reporters to give you as much information as possible, not tell you how to think about it.
Now, what do I mean as many reasonable angles as possible?
I mean, at some point, you have to stop digging and just get the information out. If you're doing a story on the Patterson-Gimlin footage, maybe you find someone who thinks it was really Bigfoot, maybe you find someone who things it was a Bigfoot costume, and maybe — just maybe — you find someone who thinks it was an alien. But you can't just keep going down the spiral, looking for someone who thinks it was a giant deformed rabbit and claims he has the DNA to prove it.
Even when the Fairness Doctrine was really in effect, it allowed media outlets to stop at some point. You had to give Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders equal time, but you were under no obligation to the Zoltan Istvans of the world.
Not that I don't think Zoltan Istvan wouldn't make a wonderful president. Just he's not exactly really in the running.
We're certainly in an interesting time in journalism. More than ever before, we have the ability to say, simply, "this happened," and we can do it by showing you. But I think journalism really needs to do well at providing context.
Journalists aren't just supposed to tell you what the power elite (be it the government, celebrities or big business) are up to, but also provide you with some clues as to what it means in your life.
You should still take in stories with an eye toward understanding where the reporter comes from, but also understand that the reporter's job, fundamentally, is to provide you with more than just a report of what happened. Understand also that, whatever the journalist's biases, most reporters will have some history reporting on the same topic over and over again, so will have wider material to draw on than you will — the same way that you'll have better insight into your job than the journalist will.
I do want to touch a little on news consumer responsibility, too.
Inasmuch as I think it's up to a good journalist to come at stories objectively — give me information and context without judgment — it's up to me as a news consumer to take the information, determine what is fact, what is opinion and what is context. It's also up to me to determine whether I think the journalist fulfills his or her job, but after I do that, it's up to me to determine whether I consume news from that source again, not whether the journalist should be fired.
It's also incumbent upon me to take in news from multiple sources, preferably with a variety of perceived biases — the stuff that overlaps in reports is fact and/or context, the rest is commentary.
It's not my job as a news consumer — and, let's be honest, in this season, a voter — to either take all information without consideration, or to take out my frustrations on people who have presumably been hired and retained because they're good at what they do.
I spent a long time the other night helping put together the collection of stories at the bottom of this post via the social aggregation tool Storify. I got to see even weirder stuff than what actually made the list. And there's some more stuff circulating on Facebook. I'm sure you've seen it.
This is the biggest thing to learn from this, I think.
Today I learned:
plural of armed black people is thugs
plural of armed brown people is terrorists
plural of armed white people is militia
This is a good piece to read for some background, but basically what you have is a couple of ranchers who were convicted of arson for fires they set while waiting impatiently for the government to do some controlled burning. A court ruled they were sentenced too lightly, and were sent back to prison. A group of armed white guys calling themselves a "militia" traveled to the county the ranchers are sentenced in, and took over a building on a federal wildlife reserve in the middle of nowhere, demanding the land be privatized. (Seriously. It's in the middle of nowhere. You have to drive 220 miles over the Idaho border to find a decent-sized town.)
The re-sentenced ranchers don't want them there. The local police don't want them there, but don't seem to be taking much action. The media love the story.
The most interesting part of this for me is that it's like Waco for a new generation – a generation with immediate access to news, social media and the sort of access to records that shows us when a guy who claims to hate government intervention benefits to the tune of a few million dollars from it.
I've noticed a lot of stuff lately, particularly on Facebook, but also people talking to each other in public, about media bias. Usually this is jibes aimed at "liberal" media, but it goes both ways — certainly you've seen postings about "Faux News Channel"?
Some of this comes from the politically correct "cry-bully" movement — a term I only recently just heard for the first time here — you know, the people who want you fired because you said something they don't agree with.
Here's a criticism I've heard a lot: Why did media cover the Paris attacks on Nov. 13 but not the Beirut attacks on Nov. 12?
What does that mean? If you want more centrist (or right-leaning) journalists, get more centrists (or righties) to become journalists.
Here's something else about human nature we don't often think about, because we tend to see the words on the page (or the website, really), rather than the person behind them: People get defensive when challenged (if you're not sure what I'm talking about, watch Hillary Clinton talk about her damn email or Donald Trump talk about those New Jersey Muslims no one actually saw celebrate after 9/11). So, if you just go on the offensive to attack an article, the next one's going to be further biased.
Know what also isn't going to solve a bias problem? Criticism that is more yelling than constructive. Like this. Try applying methods like this instead.
In my experience (16 years professionally, from print to web and a couple of years studying the industry in grad school), here are five things you can do to improve your own news experience in a developing story (like Paris or the AME Church shooting in Charleston):
• Wait. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, news media thought over 10,000 people had died in the World Trade Center alone. The final number ended up being under 3,000. [This is not to belittle the attacks; it's to explain that the information coming out first isn't based on anything. The information you get later is fact.]
• Hold off. If you're not sure if you can trust something, you probably can't. The only thing most reporters have that you don't is a list of contacts in the police and government and university structure. Don't share information you think might be wrong — if enough people do share it, it becomes "truthiness" instead of truth.
• Don't embarrass anybody. If you call a reporter who reported some bad information an idiot (or something worse), you're going to get defensive babbling in return. If you point a reporter to a different source or give useful information, you'll get a thank you. You can either be a trusted source of good information, or a bully. Take your pick.
• Diversify. It doesn't matter what your political leaning is. If you seek only sources you're likely to agree with (confirmation bias), you're going to receive an increasingly small amount of information. As an extension of this, don't discount something just because you find a bias you disagree with. We don't have to agree on gun control for me to accurately report that Ronald Reagan was both an actor and a president.
• Stay skeptical. Just because it's published doesn't mean it isn't a load of crap — especially since news organizations everywhere are dumping editors and fact-checkers. Again, just don't be a jerk if you find some incorrect information.
You probably heard that President Barack Obama appeared on comedian Marc Maron's podcast, WTF, about a week and a half ago (photos). It wasn't the first time he's done a podcast — he was on the B.S. Report way back in March 2012 — but you most likely heard about this one, since he said the word "nigger" (in the context of "it's not OK to call someone a 'nigger'" — he wasn't just dropping an N-bomb casually) and mainstream media freaked the fuck out.
After you've listened to that episode, take some time to listen to Maron talk to his producer, Brendan McDonald, about setting this up. Maron had been scheduled to be on vacation, so that was rescheduled, so McDonald dealt with Secret Service and such leading up to the interview.
Maron has one of the most popular podcasts on the planet. His 2010 reconciliation with comedian Louis CK was selected as the best podcast ever recorded. He's interviewed Terry Gross, Robin Williams, Mick Jagger and over 600 other people. For most of the people who aren't scared of disruptive technology and formats, Maron is old guard in a new world.
But still, this wasn't like doing Bill Simmons' podcast with ESPN (a Disney subsidiary) backing it. That's still old media, just in a new format. For his WTF appearance, the president parked his helicopter at the Hollywood Bowl, climbed into a car and went to go talk to a comedian in his garage.
If podcasting hadn't already arrived, it has now. And it's only going to get stronger.
I went over to the local sports bar, tweeted my beer, and within a couple of minutes, the owner walked over and introduced herself and chatted for a few minutes. We've been back a few times since. If you're in Georgetown or Southside Savannah, go pay Rachael's 1190 a visit.
You may have seen my post about our experience at Gribble House a couple of weeks ago. Whoever's handling their Twitter account has been very responsive via favorites and saying thanks every time I mention them — including when we checked in on Swarm, when I dropped the audio into SoundCloud and when I posted about our evening.
Another one who's all about the favorites are the local foxes (I think they're sister shops, but I'm not 100 percent sure on that), Coffee Fox and Foxy Loxy. They serve different neighborhoods, but both with excellent coffee and food that smells really good (we haven't eaten at either). PERC also gets a shout for being helpful; the foxes both serve their coffee. It's delicious.
We're still new here, though, and have lots more places to try. Chef Brandon at The Olde Pink House has been really friendly; we're excited to get over there some evening, hopefully soon.
Whom are we missing? Tell us, please, we're still out exploring!
If you're still able to hear from wherever you are, Amy, this is for you.
One of the more more formative events in my life — from the perspective of shaping my attitudes about politics, war and my industry (news) — was the series of terror attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, collectively known as 9/11.
Amy Toyen [via]There is a whole cohort registering to vote this year who might vaguely remember their parents' reactions that day, another getting drivers licenses who were too young, and more becoming bar and bat mitzvot who were just being born.
It was 13 years ago, and it's very much etched in the brains of almost every adult today, but very soon that won't be the case.
We didn't have Twitter on 9/11. We didn't have Facebook. We didn't have YouTube. We had Google, but it was still nascent and not doing enough traffic to be archived multiple times daily as it is now — the Way Back Machine picked it up on Aug. 23, 2001 and didn't come back until Sept. 17 of that year.
Residential broadband was just coming into being. Cell phones were really just starting to become a thing everybody had, though most people were still hanging onto their home phones (many because they needed a home phone line to access the Internet).
Despite our seemingly limited ability to communicate (ha!), we still had a problem then knowing when to shut up. News went on for days about 9/11 to the exclusion of just about everything else. NPR, CNN, Fox, it didn't matter. The stock market was closed the rest of the week. Baseball was shut down. If anything else was going on in the world, it was invisible to U.S. media.
The early reports — yes, we did have 24-hour cable news and the Internet — were crazy. 10,000 were dead, another hijacked plane was heading for L.A. and one maybe toward Chicago. And then it was over, and we sheltered in place around our TVs for three days.
Can you imagine what Twitter and Facebook would have looked like on 9/11 — especially considering that, even today, nobody with any first-hand knowledge (as in, having been there) would have had any cell phone service (much like that day)? It might have taken days to dig out some facts, instead of the hours it took us.
Let me ask, then: Do you use your social networks responsibly?
Ed. note, disclosures &c — I work for Advance Digital, whose network includes several newspaper-partnered websites I mention here. All opinions are mine and not endorsed by my employer [full list of associated properties]. Any information about the company and its affiliates given here has already been public knowledge.
Let's start this off by talking about tablets. You know, iPads and Kindle Fires and such. If the third type of lie (statistics) is to be believed, half of American adults own a tablet. And 37% of tablet owners read news daily, on their tablets.
Overall, that puts at about 20% the percentage of Americans who read news daily on their tablets.
The only thing about that number that should be surprising is that it's so low. Of course, take into account your casual news reader (that is, someone who gets the bulk of their news from TV or radio sources), and I'm sure the number of people getting news on their tablets is much higher.
Again, this came as a surprise to no one. Here's a group of Knight Ridder folks talking about a tablet newspaper with interactive graphics and embeddable video and audio. In 1994.
So is the Pennsylvania Media Group, which has done a fantastic job covering things that matter to the local audience like high crime rates in Harrisburg and the Farm Show (Syracuse folks can equate that to the State Fair). And all that work despite the fact that the Patriot-News went down to three print days a week the first of the year.
Let me say it again. Technology is not killing news. It's killing newsprint. Here, in case you didn't get that:
Technology is not killing news, it's killing newsprint.
Fifty years ago, New York City's seven daily newspapers – that's right, seven – were in the midst of a 114-day strike. Vanity Fair has a great piece marking the anniversary. The central issue was technology, and the refusal to move to new technologies on the part of some at the papers killed four of those papers.
Back to that New York Times piece for a moment. That's the sort of artistic long-form journalism you couldn't do in a newspaper. And during that strike, newspaper people went off and became artists. Tom Wolfe. Jimmy Breslin. Nora Ephron. Gay Talese. Pate Hamill. And they, in turn, helped launch journalism as an art form, and 50 years later, someone like Fontezia Walker can take a creative writing class and make the rational leap to journalism as a career from there.
And so long as the stats on Internet usage are going to continue to grow, let's use the communications channels we have.