Category Archives: Politics

Numbers are relative

Blame heat waves in the Northwest, freak monsoons on the East Coast, skyrocketing unemployment or Brett Favre signing with the Vikings, but one things is certain: tempers have been high in America all summer. The health care debate is the greatest indication that people just aren’t getting along. Admittedly, a recession is a natural time to react against the government — though I’m wondering how long it’s been okay to refer to your president as a lying Hitler/Communist/Marxist/fascist/senior citizen killer. (I did find a couple photos of Bill or Hilary Clinton-as-Hitler, so my guess is since the early ’90s.)

So how many people really are upset? I can’t seem to get an accurate count. According to CNN’s coverage of the weekend march on the White House by a coalition of conservative groups — aka the “Tea Party Rally” — tens of thousands wanted to voice their opposition to the health care overhaul, among other things.

But the UK’s Daily Mail seems to think otherwise, with an Internet search headline putting the number of protesters at upwards of 2 million. Read here. The article goes on with a slightly more conservative estimate of 1 million — is the Mail agreeing to disagree with itself? Still, both numbers come without comment from police — a reporter’s go-to for crowd estimates. (See, I learned something in journalism school.)

To solve this math problem, I turn to an unlikely source: Hunter S. Thompson. In Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S Thompson — An Oral Biography by Jann S Wenner and Corey Seymour (Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY, 2007; p. 167 -168), there’s this quote from HST:

“I still insist ‘objective journalism’ is a contradiction in terms. But I want to draw a very hard line between the inevitable reality of ‘subjective journalism’ and the idea that any honestly subjective journalist might feel free to estimate a crowd at a rally for some candidate the journalist happens to like personally at 2000 instead of 612…or to imply that a candidate the journalist views with gross contempt, personally, is a less effective campaigner than he actually is.”

Apply this to the Tea Party Rally. Some claim CNN sways liberal, while the Mail is a long-time conservative tabloid. Essentially, both media outlets are reporting what they *think* is fact. No harm in that, right?

Not when it fuels a debate with misinformation. Isn’t this how coverage of the health care issue has been all summer? One side says “We’re becoming socialist!” so the people who agree repeat that mantra ad nauseum. The other side says “We need civil discourse!,” so the people who agree discredit any concerns the opposition holds.

Is this actually a debate? Or just two sides talking at each other? And is it impossible for change to take place when no one is listening?

Perhaps the economy has to rebound first and tempers need to cool before we can reach a compromise — or at least agree to disagree. Because right now, this political climate is the antithesis of a recession renaissance.

(Thanks to Greg for the links to the articles.)

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Remembering Ted Kennedy

My first real news assignment was to attend a press conference given by Sen. Ted Kennedy. I was an intern at Metro Boston, a free daily paper that commuters read on the T (mostly to catch up on headlines, sport scores and Sudoku). I don’t think I even owned a tape recorder at the time…it was just me and my notebook, about to face a Kennedy and one of the longest-serving senators in our history. No biggie.

The good thing about covering press conferences is that they’re typically a great place for nervous “cub reporters” to hide out and still get the job done. Information is delivered, a couple seasoned vets ask questions, and you go home with a story without having to open your mouth. I’ll admit it’s not how Pulitzers are won, but that’s what happens when you still have stage fright.

However, that formula falls apart when you show up late. Only a few reporters were left standing around Kennedy, some with cameras, all with recorders, bombarding him with questions. This was up-close, personal. I had to join the scrum to get the story.

The rest is kind of a blur. I have no idea what I asked Kennedy, if anything. What I do remember was the man. I was surprised by how…well, short he was. Kennedy couldn’t have been much taller than 5’10, though iMDB puts him at 6′. It was a testament to the legend behind the “Lion of the Senate” — no matter his height, he was still very much larger than life.

He was intimidating, emanating fierce energy. His face was ruddy, like he’d been drinking or in a heated argument, or both. Eyes blazed with intelligence and confidence. And he somehow managed to be both gruff and eloquent, like a Notre Dame football coach speaking thoughtfully about stem cell research. There he stood, less than a foot away from me, and I was scared to keep eye contact.

It’s not much of an anecdote, but it still stands out when I think about what the country has lost with the passing of Ted Kennedy. This was a man you wanted on your side. He got things done. Considering his upbringing, he could have been a champion of the elite, but he spoke loudly — and persuasively — for those who had less. Consider his track record: 40+ years in the Senate; instrumental in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. In his early 70s — when people his age are retiring to Boca — he was paving the way for universal health care in Massachusetts.

Kennedy certainly had his demons (no one can forget Chappaquiddick). But to a casual observer, it seems he spent the rest of his life trying to make up for his past. How could a man whom so many Republicans love to hate always have a major ally from across the aisle on his legislation? I think, ultimately, people respected what he did. He served the greater good. And at a time when we’re reading about governors running off to Argentina or just quitting to do…who the hell knows what, you realize how sorely we’ll miss a public servant like Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Senator Edward Moore “Ted” Kennedy, Feb. 22, 1932-Aug. 25, 2009

These magic moments

Week in review, from Monday, Aug. 3 – Monday, Aug. 10:

Thumbs-up go to:

1. The Yankees’ four-game sweep of the Red Sox and David Ortiz holding a press conference on his alleged steroid use. Do I smell the beginning of a Yankee renaissance? Maybe if I can forget that they lost their first 8 games against the Sox this season…

…and that A-Roid had his own steroid scandal already and just generally sucks as a human being…

…and that the Yanks built and opened a new $1.5 billion stadium during a recession with nearly half the ticket prices hovering between $100-$2,500. PER TICKET. The Associated Press breaks it down nicely in this article from a while back.

But I do have a bad memory, so who knows how much I’ll be able to forget.

2. Former President Bill Clinton helps spring American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee laura-lingfrom captivity in Korea, where they had been held for 4 1/2 months. Best news I’ve heard in a while. The story also shines an interesting spotlight on the journalists’ employer, “interactive news source” Current TV.

This brainchild of Al Gore and Joel Hyatt has been around in some form since 2005; it focuses on enterprise (i.e. investigative and/or feature) reporting by young journalists, but also incorporates movie reviews, a “Talk Soup”-style show and user-generated content. Never heard of it? Me neither. Today’s top stories included an “in-depth podcast analysis” on whether or not The Hurt Locker is the greatest war movie ever made. (Is it? I haven’t seen this, or every war movie, yet.) Current TV was, however, where I found out about the new White House Reality Check, a website launched today by the Obama administration to debunk myths circulating about the latest health care bill. Very useful — I tend to prefer information to misinformation. Though admittedly, the White House videos weren’t as colorful as all that weekend coverage of protesters at “town hall meetings” carrying signs of Obama sporting a Hitler ‘stach. Oh, those protesters and their Photoshop. Nothing like a good old-fashioned American debate! (to send you running to Canada…)

Thumbs-down goes to:

1. “Skinny Jeans Workouts” in NYC, as reported here by CNN medical reporter Val Willingham. People take these classes to strengthen their core and fit into their jeans. Know what that’s usually called? EXERCISE. Go for a run and do some crunches, and you have a skinny jean workout! Or take this bit of advice: if skin-tight denim pants don’t fit, DON’T WEAR THEM.

They are made for teenagers, people with 5% body fat and no muscle, and Audrey Hepburn. 2006_10_audrey

Mediaite: “Corruption brings out best in New Jersey journalism”

Money-laundering rabbis. Corrupt New Jersey mayors taken away in handcuffs. Kidneys for sale at $160,000. If that doesn’t spark your interest in this story from the Jersey Shore, I don’t know what will.

And the people who told the story best, according to media blog Mediaite, were from two of my newspaper alma maters: The Star-Ledger and the Asbury Park Press. Click on those links to see their coverage.

There’s a nice Recession Renaissance morale to this story: Even though the Star-Ledger and APP have lost legions of staff members in the past year, the people who remain are still doing quality work. It’s stories like this that speak for why we still need local news bureaus (be it for print or online, or both) and the funds to support them. Mediaite sums it up nicely in its post “Corruption brings out the best in New Jersey journalism”:

“We are in an age where Twitter, blogs and social networks are the gateway by which breaking news gets distributed, but in this case, traditional news outlets won the day – not just for accurate reporting in real time of a complicated and quickly-moving story, but having the resources and institutional knowledge to put it all in context and connect those all-important dots. Yesterday, the New Jersey press lived up to the highest standard of journalism: they were reliable, and they were credible. In this age of insta-media, let’s not forget how much that matters.”