Different Media Standards? Barack Obama Vs George W. Bush

090218BarackandGeorge--123497512309767900On more than one occasion we have pondered what would happen if George W. Bush had made some of the same decisions that President Barack Obama has lately been making. The different ways that the two presidents are received by the media (and by extension, the public) has been particularly glaring during the recent White House Vs. Fox debacle, especially when it looked like the rest of the press corp had nothing to say about it.

(Actually what I said was: Try to imagine the response had “Dick Cheney appeared on Meet The Press and not only declared war on MSNBC because he didn’t like Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, but encouraged the rest of the press to cease treating it as a bona fide news operation.”)

Then there is this past weekend’s golf meme — President Bush loved his bike and his brush (and was frequently castigated for the latter), Obama loves his (mostly male) golf. Imagine if President Bush had been playing this much golf.

Politico has also picked up on the trend noting the wildly kind (non?) response from the media Obama has received after: “making a four-hour stop in New Orleans, on his way to a $3 million fundraiser; snubbing the Dalai Lama; signing off on a secret deal with drug makers; doing more fundraisers than the last president.” It’s SO UNFAIR that former Bush counselor Ed Gillespie jokes that “we’re going to start a website: IfBushHadDoneThat.com.” (Actually, someone may have beat them to it.)

So what? Has the media just been continually suckered into a love affair and Obama will forever be given the hall pass on questionable behaviour? Says political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe:

“There may well be almost an unconscious effort on the part of the media to give Obama a bit more slack because he is more likable, because he is the first African-American president. That plays into it.”

Maybe. There’s no question the press likes Obama more than Bush, or any other President since J.F.K., for that matter. But George W. Bush was judged harshly for good and terrible reason (for a number of good and terrible reasons actually, namely Katrina and Iraq, and in hindsight the economy). And while Obama probably should have spent more time in New Orleans (and maybe it would have been nice for him to check in with the Dalai Lama) these are not decisions piggy-backed on previously made disastrous decisions like not evacuating New Orleans properly ahead of a hurricane. So perhaps the press is just actually doing their job and Obama is merely being judged on his performance of the last nine months and not the sometimes calamitous eight years that preceded it. That said, any time a government launches an offensive on an entire news network should be cause for concern.


Mark Sanford on Ayn Rand in Newsweek: A Fountainhead of “Huh?”

sanfordms_6-24Mark Sanford wrote an essay on Ayn Rand for Newsweek this week. Yes, that Mark Sanford.

Where to begin?

With how crazy it is that Sanford, Governor of South Carolina, is writing an essay about how useless government is to accomplish anything? Or with the irony of Sanford, who took off to South America to visit his mistress for five days while lying to his staff and the state he serves, writing about Objectivism — a philosophy centered on the Virtue of Selfishness? How about the fact that a resolution to impeach Sanford is hitting the South Carolina legislative floor on Tuesday? Missed that reference in the article. And let’s not forget the title of his essay: ATLAS HUGGED.

(I’m sure if Atlas had been in a romantic Argentinian hideaway, he would have done plenty of other stuff, too.)

The essay itself is fine — makes some decent, if banal, points about Rand’s primacy-of-the-individual schtick, demurs appropriately about how she leaves out compassion, affection and community, drops the obligatory Alan Greenspan reference (though in times like these, that’s not really a plus for the Randian position). But — there’s such a thing as context. And, well, it’s sort of hard to take Mark Sanford seriously on anything right now.

Mark Sanford may have at one time been considered a contender for the 2012 presidential race, but now he’s a national joke. His crazy disappearing act to Argentina launched hours of cable news coverage, a million Tweets, numerous solicitous press emails, and countless Evita references (he was crying! In Argentina!). “Hiking on the Appalachian Trail” has become a national punchline (Letterman used it in his affair-scandal comeback show; Mike Allen used it just this morning on Morning Joe in reference to those NorthWest pilots “using their laptops”). His rambling 18-minute mea-culpa press conference — complete with teary apologies to anyone and everyone plus tender appeals to amore — has become a TV classic. His wife’s writing a tell-all. The “Howard Roark standing naked on a cliff” jokes write themselves (assuming that the cliff’s in Argentina). See?

So — bearing all that in mind — it’s hard to just look at this piece and think, “Oh my! What a clever article about Ayn Rand!” Instead you think, “Why is Mark Sanford writing about Ayn Rand for Newsweek?” and then wonder how you can make an Argentina joke. (Someone cruder than I could find a way to work in ‘Galt’s Gulch,’ but this is a family publication.) But really, this piece has middling-to-no credibility, thanks to its source. In fact, it’s loaded with irony, thanks to how un-Randian Sanford’s behavior was. Yes, he did what he wanted (selfish!) — but would John Galt have groveled his way through an 18-minute press conference? Would Howard Roark have sniveled about how he was in loooove? No – he would have raped his way through that press conference* and then blown it up for good measure.

Never mind how ridiculous it is for a governor — agent of the collective, and paid by it — to disdain the notion of achievement by collective action. Roads and schools and social programs are built by teams of people; even an architect needs some help if he wants to see his building made. I mean, sheesh.

But actually, even though I am incredulous that this byline goes with this story, it’s also ironic, too, that therein lies its appeal: though “Atlas Hugged” was what initially caught my eye (great headline!), it was the byline that made me double-take. Poor Mark Sanford — he can dismiss the populist hack Ellsworth Toohey for only “writing what people want to hear,” but at the end of the day, he’s still basically just linkbait. Don’t cry for him though; Ayn Rand wouldn’t.

Related:
Atlas Hugged [Newsweek]
Bid to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford begins Tuesday [Christian Science Monitor]
How Sanford Unplugged [The State]
Jenny Sanford Ready To Spill The Beans [The Hill]

Related In Other John Galt-y Things:

Who Is John Galt? Writers Strike The Nerve That Counts: Public Opinion [ETP]

*Oh, calm down, Randians, I’m just being snotty.


The Fatal Flaw of Slate’s “Bidenisms”: Joe Biden

Before there was 30 Rock, there was Mean Girls, Tina Fey’s look at the vagaries of high school relationships – and Lindsey Lohan’s last competent performance. The above clip (produced by a much more energetic fan of the film than myself) isolates one of the most memorable lines: “Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!”

Since seeing this movie, I’ve applied that line to approximately 45 million things. John McCain, stop trying to make Palin happen. It’s not going to happen! Microsoft, stop trying to make Vista happen. NBC, Leno’s not going to happen. Etc. Try it for yourself. It’s fun.

Oh, incidentally – Slate, stop trying to make Bidenisms happen. It’s not going to happen.

“Bidenisms” is Slate’s weekly attempt to replace the font of wonder that was George Bush with “gaffes and head-slappers” from the Vice President. The problem, though, is that Joe Biden is no George Bush. Take this one, from this week:

“My mom is 92. She lives with me. But she’s an Irish Catholic, and she thought if she wasn’t a Democrat, she’d go to hell. I don’t believe that, but, you know, where she comes from, to be Irish was to be Catholic, was to be a Democrat. Scranton, Pennsylvania.”

Yeah, so? He’s quoting his mother. That’s a gaffe? A head-slapper?

Bush is gone, guys, and with him, Bushisms and the cottage industry that rose up around him. On the scale of gaffe-prone, Biden barely beats out George Allen – he’s not even anywhere near Dan Quayle, the all-time VP gaffe leader.

Stop trying to make Bidenisms happen, guys. I’m trying to be nice here. The Onion was not so kind:


Shep Smith Has A New Site – But Now We Need Him On Twitter (Updated)

shep_10-26Fox News’ Shepard Smith is one of the most unique, and best, anchors on all of cable news, but he hasn’t exactly been new media friendly.

That’s all changing now – as a new Web site for the 3pmET and 7pmET FNC anchor debuts today.

Check out Foxnews.com’s Shepard Smith page here. An introduction video from Shep says, “What we’re going to have is unique content every day,” continuing, “We’re going to put it on here, stuff about my favorite places to go in New York or the places I travel. And then whatever you think.”

Also: “It’ll have the most unique content of any television news personality, I guarantee it. Unless I get bored.”

Smith epitomizes the “fair and balanced” motto Fox News likes to tout about its news division, but beyond that, he’s a dynamic personality who can easily move from hard-hitting interviews to self-deprecating ribbing of his own network. If you’ve never seen Smith anchor during a car chase, you’re missing out on the best way to view a cable news staple. He’s someone who, frankly, I’m curious about his favorite places to go in New York. (On a personal note, while interning at Fox News, Smith addressed our entire group, and his f-bomb-laden speech and Q&A was a highlight.)

Now he’s got his own site, featuring live chats, behind-the-scenes video and more. On the right side of the page he has links to his Facebook and MySpace profiles – which brings us to the key point. Shep Smith needs to get on Twitter.

> Update: Well he has an account, but now we need to get him to use it. Follow him (and his two updates, none since October) at Twitter.com/ShepSmith1. And it’s not being promoted on his new site.

We’ve already got a campaign to get Glenn Beck to host Saturday Night Live (#BECK4SNL), and to that longshot we’ll add a new campaign – get Shepard Smith to start tweeting. It should go hand-in-hand with this new site! Someone was pretending to be him earlier this year, but that account has now been shut down and was proven to be a fake. Let’s make this happen.

Earlier: CNN.com debuts their new site today. Here’s our review.

Check out Shep’s introduction video:

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» Follow Steve Krakauer on Twitter


Robert Gibbs: White House Did Not Apologize to Fox News

garrett_gibbs.flvThe drama surrounding executive pay czar Kenneth Feinberg’s Thursday round-robin interviews with the press pool just keeps going and going. Mediaite reported Saturday that Fox News claimed the White House had apologized for a “mistake by a low level person at the Treasury Department,” a claim which the White House now refutes.

Fox News initially reported that “the Obama administration” had tried to exclude them from interviewing Feinberg as part of a White House campaign to de-legitimize the news network. Since then, details have continued to emerge about this story.

I asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs if anyone from the White House had apologized to anyone at Fox News. His response:

“Have you asked Major if he got an apology? No one apologized to anyone.”

I asked Gibbs if he had any comment on the rest of Fox News Senior Vice President Michael Clemente’s claims. He refused to address this until we had spoken to Major Garrett.

We asked Fox News for access to Garrett, who chose instead to answer questions through Michael Clemente, Senior Vice President of News who told Mediaite ‘This is nothing more than semantics — the bottom line is that the White House acknowledged a mistake had been made, period.’”

Clemente also told Huffington Post that Fox News did initially request an interview with Feinberg, which contradicts a statement given to Mediaite by the Treasury Department on Friday. Mediaite has made several attempts to verify this with Treasury, and are awaiting their response.

So here’s what we now know: Robert Gibbs claims there was no apology made by the White House to Fox News. When asked if they admitted a mistake to Major Garrett — as Fox News has claimed — Gibbs declined comment until we interviewed Major Garrett, to whom Fox News will not provide us access. This leaves us to presume that the White House said something to FNC, and we are left to simply debate the semantic difference between “admitting a mistake” and “apologizing.”


Touring (and Expanding) History, Thanks To Crowds and Technology

In college, I imagined a system that would record, from the moment of birth until the time of death, any person’s movements and gestures and, through the use of some sort of goggles, would superimpose those movements over the world around him. For example, you’d be able, with these goggles, to see multiple manifestations of yourself creating an enormous blur in your house. In places you’d only been a few times, you’d be able to segment out individual visits. And, for places you’d been only once, or were entering for the first time, you’d see a lonely trail of where you’d been and what you’d done. Imagine, for example, looking out of the window of your aircraft and seeing, in the middle distance, an arc of you curving through the sky where you’d made the same flight before. (The manual version of this, undertaken by a man seeking to track his toddler, infant and cat over the course of a day, seems a bit too cumbersome for widespread use. Though the result is fantastic.)

We’re a ways off from a global ability to see one’s past, of course, particularly every discreet movement. (Having to always wear mocap markers might be seen as prohibitive.) The goggles part, though, is coming to fruition, with the advent (or at least popularizing) of what’s called “augmented reality”. Mediaite’s own Ash Kalb provided the definitive look at these tools, but the geek in me needs to fawn over them just a little bit more. The iPhone application by Yelp which Kalb mentions is now mainstream, and available to any user with an iPhone 3GS. (Do not confuse this with the Apple 2GS sitting on your desk on in your elementary school. It has no such functionality.) Augmented reality is blossoming on the iPhone: two architects recently unveiled an iPhone app that will, in New York City, allow a user to see locations near them where proposed architectural projects never came to fruition. Included are rejected WTC proposals but not, rather optimistically, the Freedom Tower.

This desire for an augmented world, of course, has seen other forms. There have, for a long time, been audio tours of museums. Even now, as you walk through Central Park, you can call a phone number to learn more about a particular area or statue. But the majority of these systems deal with the present, with what is known at the moment they are created. They aren’t intended to extend into the past or, often, to be revised as new information appears.

A year or two ago, in a fit of excitement about the Google Maps API, I created a tool for my family intending to relate genealogical information to the geographical – where and when, for example, my grandparents were born, where they moved, had my parents, where their siblings ended up, etc. Such a tool was designed specifically to gather and share information about the past, in contrast to the augmented reality we see now. But what I learned most from this experiment in what I termed geneagraphy was this: my enthusiasm for doing so wasn’t broadly shared. The primary flaw was that the overlap between those with information (my family) and those willing to use my cumbersome system to log it (me) wasn’t large enough. It died on the vine. The crowd for my crowdsourcing was more of a huddle.

(For those of you cowed by the term “crowdsourcing,” it’s the Internet-friendly idea that large groups of people can, by each contributing small elements of wisdom, provide the solution to a problem or the finest of details to an information-gathering effort. To learn more, you need only know this name: Clay Shirky.) (What, you thought I was going to say Arianna Huffington?)

All of this brings me, with a surfeit of context, to the point of this column: the Virtual Shtetl Project from the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Prior to World War II, orthodox Jewish communities in Eastern Europe were often, through choice or through edict, sprinkled in small towns (shtetls) throughout the countryside. Poland, in particular, was home to hundreds of such communities – communities decimated by the advance of the Wehrmacht. With this destruction, generations of families were disbanded and troves of information and history were dissipated or lost.

The Virtual Shtetl seeks to recover as much of that history as possible. Uniquely, it combines many of the aforementioned tools to do so. The site is predicated on something of a social network, individual contributors loosely organized by contribution and interest. Stories, photos and information that is contributed is generally predicated on a particular location. In fact, the simplest way to navigate this blend of history and what exists today is by navigating a map of Poland.

Take, for example, the randomly selected town of Otwock. Contributors have provided number of historic photos of residents, stories of the lives lived, and video of what the city looks like today. It’s an accumulation, predicated on the sad history of the area, that has begun to outline what life was like before the tragedies of the 1940’s.

The Virtual Shtetl is the first I’ve seen of what will undoubtedly become an unwieldy number of similar historic accretions. It lacks the sexiness of a virtual reality overlay, or of immediate relevance to every visitor. But it tackles the most challenging part of any historic effort: gathering and sifting pertinent information. The way it does this, by convening the efforts of people throughout the world, promises success where more limited efforts might fail.

Someday, visitors to Poland and students of the Holocaust may be able to hold up their iPhones and view the historic importance of particular roadside landmarks, or hear stories from survivors. Sure, it’s not like crossing your own path over the Atlantic, but it is inarguably more valuable.


Israel 2.0: Land of Milk, Honey and VC-Backed Start-Ups (EXCERPT)

images“If there is one story that has been largely missed despite the extensive media coverage of Israel, it is that key economic metrics demonstrate that Israel represents the greatest concentration of innovation and entrepreneurship in the world today.” That is the central thesis of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, out this week. It’s one I saw again and again in my fortnight in the Holy Land, where my pilgrimages included not only trips to the Western Wall and the Dead Sea but to forward-thinking VC firms, boundary-pushing media/tech startups and industry gatherings of Silicon Valley-type geeks, except they code from right to left.

Senor and Singer point out that, despite Israel’s modest population of 7.1 million on an embattled slice of land in the Middle East, they’ve got more start-ups than far larger, more stable countries like Canada, Japan, India, Korea and the U.K. The authors calculate that as 3,850 Israeli start-ups at the time of the book’s close for publication — one for every 1,844 Israelis; they also note that there are six more Israeli companies on the NASDAQ than from all of Europe combined.

Something about coming from an embattled sliver of a country—home to just one one-thousandth of the world’s population—makes Israelis skeptical of conventional explanations about what is possible.

Senor and Singer use VC money — the mother’s milk of start-ups — as another metric for their assessment:

In 2008, per capita venture capital investments in Israel were 2.5 times greater than in the United States, more than 30 times greater than in Europe, 80 times greater than in China, and 350 times greater than in India. Comparing absolute numbers, Israel—a country of just 7.1 million people—attracted close to $2 billion in venture capital, as much as flowed to the United Kingdom’s 61 million citizens or to the 145 million people living in Germany and France combined.

They also point out that the Israeli economy keeps on growing, despite the ongoing conflict and frequent violence in the region. They write:

During the six years following 2000, Israel was hit not just by the bursting of the global tech bubble but by the most intense period of terrorist attacks in its history and by the second Lebanon war. Yet Israel’s share of the global venture capital market did not drop—it doubled, from 15 percent to 31 percent. And the Tel Aviv stock exchange was higher on the last day of the Lebanon war than on the first, as it was after the three-week military -operation in the Gaza Strip in 2009.

So what gives? A young entrepreneur, now on his second or third successful company, put it this way the other day in Tel Aviv: “The best thing Israel can export is our minds — we don’t have natural resources to export, so we invest in education and innovation. This is the best natural resource we have in Israel.” (By the way, this guy sold his first company when he was 16.) It’s not just founders, either — Israel is chock-a-block full of the IT technicians and engineers and experts that keep a company on the cutting edge. An eBay exec tells the author: ““Google, Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, eBay . . . the list goes on. The best-kept secret is that we all live and die by the work of our Israeli teams.” For companies planted firmly in Silicon Valley soil, those faraway roots in the desert are even more amazing.

Does this mean you have to learn how to dodge Katyusha rockets and subsist on falafel to launch a successful start-up? Of course not, though falafel is delicious. Senor and Singer trace the stories of several Israeli companies, entrepreneurs and decision-makers, and come up with a few takeaways that can apply across the board (hint: a little chutzpah helps). On the next few pages, Mediaite has an exclusive excerpt from Start-Up Nation which shows a little of the Israeli start-up mentality in action.

>>>EXCERPT: Start-Up Nation (or, how to raise $200 million, and why hybird cars are like mermaids)