Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Fox wins the morning

April 14, 2011

… for their excellent coverage of this political suicide. Just in case the editors at Fox accidentally acquire a sense of shame and this gets pulled or edited, here is a screenshot (click to enlarge):

Stay classy, Fox! Next they’re going to start their own It Gets Better project for young Republicans.

This is my favorite part:

As of this writing, Fox has not been able to obtain reaction from the White House.

Maybe they were not able to obtain a reaction from the White House because they for some reason wouldn’t return their phone call about why the President obviously made this guy kill himself. Or maybe they were not able to obtain a reaction from the White House because nobody at Fox could live with themselves after making that kind of phone call. I’d like to think that’s what it was.

I rarely read news story comments, but in this case… Well, prepare to be dazzled by the mathematical skills of “pieareround:”

How very sad for the family but it sounds like the student himself was making a political statement. Apparently both his present and his future looked bleak. So is it connected to Obama’s visit? Let’s do the math. Based on your proposed budgets your overall party isn’t very good at math so I’ll help you. A Junior in college is about 20 years old or approximately 4360 days old. He picked the one single day that Obama was there. The odds of this not being related are 1/7300. The odds of it being related are 7299/7300. So 0.02% chance it was not related to Obama’s visit. 99.98% that it was. That fact it was within hours (hour?) of Obama’s visit makes the odds it was connected jump to 99.99994%. You Democrat trolls (Drolls?) think it was a coincidence? Why don’t you Donkeys take off your blinders and try using objectivity? Go ahead and look it up, the definition is still the same. Yes, you drolls would be screaming there was a connection if the same thing happened with Bush. Both the family and this country have my condolences.

Those fools think it was a coincidence! Obviously there’s only a 0.02% chance of that! It’s MATH!



Rachel Maddow on shutting down the state-run press in Libya

April 6, 2011

I’m still trying to get caught up from stuff that happened a week or so ago, so you’ll have to bare with me if you’ve already heard about this.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow usually does a decent job at reporting. She definitely has a perspective, and it’s usually completely in line with the Democratic Party line. Sometimes she criticizes them for giving in too much to Republicans and for being the wimps they are, but more often than not her editorializing crosses over into the same kind of partisan propaganda you get at Fox.

So it’s pretty weird for her to have a guest on where, through her questions, Maddow appears to take a more authoritarian position. But that’s what happened when she had MSNBC military consultant Jack Jacobs on her program. Here’s what she asked him:

One of the things that people have questioned is if the U.S. has this high level of electronic capability, why is Libyan state TV still on the air? Is that not one of the things they would want to shut down?

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting points out that this idea of taking out the state press in a country with which the US is at war is the same kind of thing Fox advocated during the beginning of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, along with several examples. The style in rhetoric is different, but the message is the same: Hey, we’re here to liberate you people, but the first thing we’ve got to do to free you from this dictator is to shut down news organizations we don’t happen to like. Once you only have the press we like, then you’ll really be “free.”

The FAIR report above is in a sense a little unfair to Maddow in comparing her to people advocating bombing journalists. The context of her discussion with Jacobs was the military’s ability to jam communications. The context of the Fox comments was bombing and killing journalists. The former’s called prior restraint; the latter’s a war crime. One means that some people can’t do their jobs, the other means that people end up getting killed. Still, it’s disappointing to see MSNBC cheerlead so enthusiastically for war in the way they have been lately.

What Fox teevee people say when they think they’re off-camera

April 6, 2011

SPOILER ALERT: It turns out that Cal Thomas is a total dick then, too!

Fox was planning on running this segment about how NBC supposedly didn’t cover that story about how General Electic didn’t pay any taxes last year. GE is the parent company of NBC, so on its face it looks like this would be a good example of the business side of NBC interfering with its news side. But the problem is that whoever was planning that segment didn’t bother to check to see if that was actually true or not (as it turns out, it wasn’t).

So it was apparently up to guest Jim Pinkerton to do the fact-checking for the staff of the show, while the cameras were already rolling. The rest of the guests basically ignored him and went on with the segment, almost as if the segment were scripted and Pinkerton had just made a bad impromptu joke. Then someone off camera calls “Cut!” but the cameras are still rolling, so we all get to see how Fox deals with the facts being wrong for their show in the middle of them making their show.

The best part by far is when Pinkerton points out for the second time that NBC Nightly News covered the story the previous night, and Cal Thomas still doesn’t believe it , so he asks Pinkerton if he actually saw it. It turns out he did. I half expected Thomas to start throwing a temper tantrum right there, insisting that he didn’t see what he saw.

Fox for some reason uploaded the full video, including the off-camera parts, and then pulled it. But you can’t delete something from the internet, so here it is:

The SPJ and undercover journalism

February 27, 2011

The “Society of Professional Journalists” is pretty upset with the way that nobody covering the story seems to get angry enough about how Murphy was deceptive in his talk with Governor Walker. They cite their own ethical code in that journalists should be “honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news.”

So Murphy clearly violated the SPJ’s ethical code as far as not being honest since he was pretending to be someone he wasn’t. But if you’re going to whine about every time a journalists lies in order to obtain information, then that effectively make all undercover journalism “unethical” according to the standards of the Society of Professional Journalists. In fact, let’s see what the SPJ’s Code of Ethics has to say about undercover journalism:

Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.

If someone at the SPJ were to actually read the story, they might have noticed that the very first thing they will read is a quote from a Democratic state senator in Wisconsin saying, and this is a paraphrase, that traditional open methods of contacting Governor Walker in order to obtain information vital to the public have not yielded results. So my question to the SPJ is: How exactly does Murphy’s story not qualify as an exception to the SPJ’s “no undercover work” rule?

Traditional open methods had not yielded this information, contrary to what certain pols and politicians have been saying (more on that later). The information we uncovered is vital to the public. This should be a textbook case of acceptable undercover journalism according to the SPJ’s own standards.


February 24, 2011

Wow, I’ve let this blog sit for a while now. Kind of busy at the moment though, so be patient. Or don’t. Whatever. Look at this:

My e-mail interview with Betsy Rothstein, the brilliant mind behind FishBowelDC

January 26, 2011


Josh: Please unblock me immediately. Thanks.

Betsy Rothstein: who are you? Why should I care?

J: Unblock me right now please. Thank you!

B: Listen…asshole. Answer my questions and I might consider it. Anyone who acts like a jerk on the site can and will get blocked and I owe you zero explanation.

J: My name shows up in the email so you know who I am. And you want comments is why you should care. Now please unblock me RIGHT NOW. Thanks!

B: No. I don’t have to do anything. Tell me where you work, who the hell you are. You clearly don’t know how to behave properly.

J: I already told you who I am. Now UNBLOCK ME RIGHT NOW because it is very important that I am able to comment on your blog!

B: look. I don’t care. Go away.


B: oh really. Go to hell. I’m TELLING you that too.

J: Yeah, whatever, just unblock me right now. Do it to it.

B: You don’t get to order anything.
We don’t want you on the site. Final.

J: Lots of people want lots of things. That’s not the issue. The issue is that you immediately unblock me. Thank you for your patience in this matter.

B: the issue is you have zero rights here. Got it?

J: No. You are incorrect. You will immediately unblock me. Thank you.

J: Look Betty, I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot here. The truth is that if you review my comments, you’ll find that I’ve been nothing but supportive of your work and have only offered encouragement. I do this because I truly believe you are a candle in the darkness of Washington politics bringing truth and freedom to us all – no matter what everyone else says about you. So I implore you to please unblock me. Thank you for your courteous and quick responses.

Some stuff which makes WikiLeaks look bad

December 10, 2010

I’m definitely pro-WikiLeaks, as anyone who’s read what I’ve written on the subject would definitely know. But like any other issue, it’s not entirely black and white. And since I already know I’m biased in one direction, I’m definitely at risk for ignoring information which doesn’t fit with said bias. So in order to try to correct that, here are some recent reports which might make one think twice before unconditionally supporting WL:

  1. ARS Technica: Some former WikiLeaks workers are starting up an alternative whistleblowing website called OpenLeaks. Their chief complaints seem to be that WL has become too America-centric and politically ideological, and that it relies too much on one person – presumably Julian Assange – instead of operating more democratically.
  2. The Guardian: In an interview, Julian Assange claimed that a leak involving corruption in Kenyan politics led to the death of 1,300 people and the displacement of 350,000. The context was the tough moral questions the organization faces in dealing with such sensitive information. Assange referred to it as a “chilling statistic.”
  3. Threat Level: WikiLeaks had pledged to assist in the defense fund of Pfc. Bradley Manning who’s been accused of leaking the Afghan War Diaries months ago, but has not yet made good on that pledge. WL spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson claims the payment is currently being processed.
  4. Threat Level: The Wired blog is reporting based on an anonymous source that the organization is now “in chaos” and that “the organization will most likely start to fall apart now.” Time Magazine, however, disagrees.
  5. Reporters Without Borders: The free press advocacy group tries to convince Assange that WL is setting a bad precedent for free speech on the internet.

Despite all this, I’m still definitely on WL’s side. It’s not reasonable to expect every single thing an organization does to be either completely good or completely evil. There’s always going to be nuances when it comes to these really big issues like war and the law and the conflict between transparency and secrecy. But at the same time it’s important to keep all this in perspective.

UPDATE: WikiLeaks has transferred $15,000 to Bradley Manning’s defense fund as of January 13, 2011.

Juan Williams, not quite as much of a dick as you’d think

October 25, 2010

I like NPR. A lot. I like NPR probably more than is healthy. But this whole Juan Williams thing is kind of disturbing. He was fired from NPR for comments he made on Bill O’Reilly’s show about the Mohammmedans. Here is the quote as it appeared in the original video edited by ThinkProgress:

I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous. Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.

So that sounds really bad, right? We don’t all start distrusting Christians because of Timothy McVeigh, we don’t all start distrusting Jews because of Bernie Madoff, but apparently it’s OK to distrust Muslims because of al Qaeda? Should Muslims be afraid to rideon a plane with conservative public radio pundits? That’s kind of fucked up. Normal, sane people don’t take one specific group and extrapolate it in order to try to make it representative of a much larger group. That’s crazy.

But the thing is that the end of that paragraph was snipped off by ThinkProgress in their video. Here’s what he said next:

But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all as President Bush did after 9/11, it’s not a war against Islam.

And then later O’Reilly, who of course has no problem at all with making the exact opposite case as Williams is here in context, tries to goad Williams into agreeing that it really is a war against Islam because “they” attacked us. Here is how Williams responded:

Hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals—very obnoxious—you don’t say first and foremost, “We got a problem with Christians.” That’s crazy.

That quote actually sounds a lot like the responses liberals gave to Williams’ out of context quote. But judging from the coverage I’ve seen of the whole affair, it appears that most of them aren’t even aware that Williams was agreeing with them when you read what he had to say in context.

In fact the coverage of these facts was so slim that I had to hear about it on NPR, which brings this post full circle into how awesome NPR is – except apparently in their upper-level editorial decisions. It’s funny how Fox News doesn’t seem to be making that big of a deal of this, isn’t it? I think that’s strange…

The position On The Media takes is that the higher-ups at NPR had been displeased with some of his more out-there statements (for example) and that they had used this instance as an opportunity to fire him for an accumulation of stupid things said by him. It would’ve all gone much more smoothly if they had just waited to shitcan him until the next time Williams actually said something stupid without any further context.

Random notes on Lily Dale

August 30, 2010

There were a lot of details left out of my recent article on Lilydale which didn’t really fit into the story that well. We wanted to get to the punchline of having the medium identify Taibbi and Randi as spirits around me before boring people with too much of the minutiae, even if some of it was kind of funny/interesting.

Before we even got into Lily Dale, we stopped at the National Spiritualist Association, which was a small one-story building overlooking the Cassadaga Lakes. It was all very scenic. If I were setting up some kind of pyramid scheme targeting gullible hippies, that’s the kind of place I would pick for a headquarters.

We were only inside for a moment before being escorted out by a nice woman named Paula, but that was just because there was some kind of private class going on and not because we stormed in wearing orange jumpsuits while waving dowsing rods around and yelling about how we were picking up very powerful energy vibes of gullibility in this location. That was something we’d talked about doing but laziness and a lack of funding made that impossible.

This is totally a cliché, but every group setting in Lily Dale just reeked of Patchouli. We’ve all known people who might go overboard with that stuff even as potent as it is, but imagine that times a hundred.

The woman doing the warm-up act said that Lily Dale was on one of the only old growth forests in the Northeast, even though there are 210,000 acres of old growth forests in NY state alone.

Just before I got my reading, two young African-American women raised their hands to get a reading by request from a medium. I was under the impression that doing readings “don’t work that way” and that the spirits are very mysterious about how they go about communicating. But the medium complied and told them that they were being visited by their grandmother, who was – GASP – from the South! And what’s even more surprising is that she was very spiritual and liked to sing a lot. Another Indian woman was told that she was visited by relatives from another country who wanted her to hold on to her cultural heritage.

In other words, anything that distinguished someone from the crowd at all was the basis for their reading. Guys, including myself, were told that it was time to advance their career. Younger people were contacted by the old, and vice versa. If the mark looked confused by a medium’s use of a stereotype, then the medium would tell her that this was a long-forgotten ancestor from several generations back. The rest was just random guesses, which is where confirmation bias did its thing.

I had kind of guessed beforehand that the crowd would be mostly female based on footage I’d seen of similar events, but I had really underestimated the proportion – at least on the day we went. It was at least a 95% female audience. And yet still my smoothest “Lllladies” yielded no positive results.

So lastly we were pretty lucky I guess to get a public reading for a couple reasons. One is that there were tons of witnesses – not that we know any of them and could get them to verify what happened, but still. The other is that according to the official Lily Dale website, the cost of a private reading starts at $40. Maybe that would’ve yielded a lot more funny material, but I’ll have to leave that to other skeptics with bigger bank accounts.

WikiLeaks v. Pentagon

August 1, 2010

So it’s been a week since WikiLeaks published the leaked internal US military documents which detail some aspects of the occupation of Afghanistan which the administration would rather not emphasize. Like how Pakistan’s ISI is funneling our ‘aid’ back to the Taliban, which they then use to attack our troops. And civilian casualties are being massively underreported. And there’s a secret task force which captures and executes Taliban leaders. Oh yeah, and the US military is paying Afghani journalists to write favorable stories about the occupation.

Certain people can be expected to react to this leak in certain ways. Republicans will insist that we firebomb the internet and every last one of its many series of pneumatic tubes. Liz Cheney just now said something like that, as if anyone gives a shit.  Newt Gingrich is calling it treason, etc.

If you’ve paid attention to the Obama administration’s pattern of hostility towards whistleblowers, then it’s not very difficult to predict how they would react. Here’s White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs being questioned:

Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, a few on WikiLeaks. What was the President’s reaction once he heard about the leaking —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I remember talking to the President sometime last week after discussions with news organizations that these stories were coming. Look, I think our reaction to this type of material, a breach of federal law, is always the same, and that is whenever you have the potential for names and for operations and for programs to be out there in the public domain, that it — besides being against the law — has a potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe.

OK, got that? This is all VERY SERIOUS and will PUT ALL OF OUR TROOPS IN DANGER, and by the way it’s also a FEDERAL CRIME. If it’s putting our troops in danger to have this information publicly available, it must be the case that this is new information in the public sphere. Because if it were already known, then there would be no danger in releasing it. Right? Well, only a few questions later, Gibbs contradicts that line of reasoning:

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents.  Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time.

So the WikiLeaks data dump is at the same time both YAWN OLD NEWS and VERY SERIOUS TREASONOUS TROOP-KILLING CRIMES. Julian Assange must be both a dangerous anti-American criminal and a harmless kid living in his parent’s basement all at the same time. That’s pretty much how it plays out inside the heads of people like Robert Gibbs and the President.

But all that’s not that surprising, especially given the aforementioned administration’s record on whistleblowers and the internet in general. What’s more surprising is that one of the three publications given access to the documents pre-publication, the NY Times, has basically been toeing the administration’s line on their own leak. And the Washington Post has been producing their copy on the subject pretty much directly from the Republicans’ playbook. The two other newspapers (Der Spiegel and The Guardian) have been a bit more responsible and independent, to their credit.

If you’ve been following the ongoing saga of WikiLeaks, you might remember the ‘Collateral Murder’ video they released a few months ago of the US military shooting at a group of people from a helicopter which turned out to be civilians and a journalist. US Army Intelligence Analyst Bradley Manning was charged with forwarding the video based on an online conversation he had with a hacker named Adrian Lamo who subsequently informed on him. Manning is now in the brig in Virginia, where he faces a sentence of up to 52 years. And now the NY Times is quoting unnamed Pentagon officials who claim that Manning is a “person of interest” in the case of these newly-released documents. Here you can find a support group for Manning.

The Pentagon’s also going after WikiLeaks founder/editor Julian Assange, who’s more or less on the run. He is wanted for questioning, presumably to verify or deny whether or not Manning was the source of the Afghan War Diary. And oh yeah, they’d also like WikiLeaks to be shut down, please. For now, Assange is staying out of the US and responding strongly to comments from the administration. As a side note, he’s also trying to turn Iceland into a journalistic refugee’s paradise.

Now two more things just happened in the past day or two. First, a WikiLeaks volunteer named Jacob Appelbaum was detained, searched, and interrogated by US Customs officials at the Newark airport. They asked him to decrypt his laptop, an offer he refused. Then they confiscated it, but his laptop had no storage device and therefore there was nothing for the officials to search. He was later approached by FBI agents at a conference where he gave a talk in place of Julian Assange, who could not attend for reasons which should by now be pretty obvious.

The second recent development was WikiLeaks posting a mysterious encrypted 1.4 GB file called ‘insurance’ on their Afghan War Logs page. There are no instructions or details on what it’s supposed to be, but the general consensus is that a password will be issued in the event that anything fishy happens to WikiLeaks, Assange, or anyone associated with them. This is turning into a very interesting conflict, much better than anti-war protesters v. cops. But don’t bother downloading the file just to see if the password is “password,” that’s already been checked.

I don’t have time to write about this now but something needs to be said

June 25, 2010

Journalism pet peeves, part 1

June 1, 2010

Anthropomorphizing large institutions

This is something you see all the time. Here is an example I found at random just now from the lede of an article in Business Week (emphasis mine):

U.S. envoy George Mitchell returns to mediate a second round of Middle East talks this week after Israel said it is through making gestures and a Palestinian negotiator said he’s ready for the “endgame.”

The problem here is that Israel doesn’t really say anything. Israel’s a country. Like any country, it has political leaders. They’re the ones who say things. They have names. They have titles. All of these things can be reported instead of pretending that tens of millions of people within an artificial border are just shouting one thing in unison.

In fact, Business Week seems to have discovered who they were quoting in the next sentence. But what’s the point of burying that information?

You hardly ever see reporters (real reporters, that is) talking about what “America says” and what “America wants.” You only see that sort of thing coming from snake oil-selling  hucksters who want to identify their own political ideology with all 300+ million of us living here in the US. If real reporters framed issues in that way, we’d all be insulted. How dare they pretend that America is some rigid monolith where everyone has the same opinion?

But on the other hand, those same reporters have no problem telling you what Saudi Arabia said or what China said or what South Korea asked China, to which Russia responded (trifecta in that link). It’s insanity. Either you know who actually did the saying and asking – in which case you should report more specific information, or you don’t – in which case you need to do more research before publishing.

So this problem is probably due to pure laziness and a cheap appeal to the audience’s need for a superficial narrative with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ It’s easy to support policies like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when countries are personified instead of represented as they actually are. Who would you rather bomb: 100 million Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, or 100 million people ruled by someone like him who all have their own wildly varying views on politics, religion, science, and culture?

And speaking of Ahmadinejad, he’s appealing to the same kind of over-generalized, blanket view of Americans in that government’s treatment of the hikers who accidentally crossed the Iraq/Iran border and are now being held without charges on suspicion of ‘espionage.’ These are three lefty kids from Berkeley who went to Iraq to study Middle Eastern culture. But Ahmadinejad seems to think they’re tools of the Pentagon because, hey, they’re Americans.

So even if you’re not moved by the need to get rid of this idea of national persons in our media for the sake of accuracy in reporting or for the sake of internationalism, you’d at least have to admit that this same kind of propaganda weapon can just as easily be turned against us here. And when that happens, things can get very ugly.

Rupert Murdoch has discovered masturbation

May 10, 2010

Obviously I’m talking about jacking off by the Mirriam-Webster definition, and not the broadcast kind where you stand in front of a camera and just verbalize whatever crazy bullshit happens to pop into your head. Murdoch and his organization has been very familiar with the latter since they formed in 1979.

I guess ultimately it’s a good thing that someone is at least trying to get the Fox crowd to not be such uptight prudes who apparently (at least according to the author) hear voices in their heads telling them that it’s evil. Here is a picture of her. Please masturbate to it now before continuing.

Or don't.

OK, here are some of my favorite lines from this piece.

I don’t know why everyone in the universe isn’t doing it on a regular basis.

They’re not?

An unfortunate stigma has been attached to the act. But ignore those voices in your head.

Yeah! Screw you, voices in my… head… Wait, what? I don’t hear any voices. What kind of voices are you hearing?

And if the sound of your mother’s voice in your head is keeping you from getting to it, put her out of your mind.


  1. This woman apparently thinks it’s normal for people to hear their mother’s voice in their head while whacking off, and then
  2. thinks people need to be told to put those voices out of your mind.
  3. Seriously, does there need to be a 3?

Now if you need some kind of moral incentive to masturbate today, please read the commentary in full. I doubt many readers here really will though. You’ve probably already masturbated just since starting to read this, haven’t you? Pull your freakin’ pants up. Sheesh, people.


May 4, 2010

It’ just surprising this wasn’t written by Rick Sanchez:

It sounds like a Hollywood movie. An impending disaster — think the disabled spacecraft in “Apollo 13” or the asteroid hurtling toward Earth in “Armageddon” — prompts a daring intervention by engineers to save the day.

It turns out that Apollo 13 was a real mission and the movie was based on a true story. Armageddon, not so much.

Comedy is tragedy plus idiots

April 21, 2010