Andrew Sullivan: MSM Failing To Cover Iran Because It’s Not ‘Cheap And Easy’

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“Readers keep emailing me to tell me that as far as cable news is concerned, today’s events might as well be happening on Mars. I cannot confirm this because when real news happens, the last place I look is the cable news channels. But I cannot say I am surprised. Since this does not have a cheap and easy way to splice into the red-blue fight, they have no idea of how to cover it.”

Andrew Sullivan, responds to reader’s complaints about how much coverage the escalating conflict in Iran is currently mustering on the mainstream cable outlets.

So why is there less coverage this time around than there was in June when #iranelection swarmed Twitter for a week causing even the State Department to take notice? Obviously Sullivan is not alone in his habit of looking for real news in places other than cable TV. And it should be noted that this week’s clashes in Iran was the New York Times front page lead yesterday and additionally was noted in Obama’s statement to the press yesterday, something he notably did not do back in June.

However, Iran has definitely not taken over the news cycle, and the public’s imagination, the way it did back in June. This despite there arguably being more video available than there was six months ago. Is it merely bad timing? In June Iran was wiped off the cabler’s by Michael Jackson’s death. This week it faces a country and a news cycle (if not necessarily a president) consumed with an averted terror attack. And rightly so.

Yes, Thursday’s thwarted attempt to explode a plane happens to be tailor-made for cable TV, however it’s also a big deal. Arguably, more so because of what it has revealed about the holes is the TSA than anything Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab actually did. Also the fallout from the new security restrictions, are being felt daily, nationwide, by almost everyone. All combined it’s a hard news story to beat. But fear not, #iranelection remains a trending topic on Twitter, meaning that even if you’re not seeing it on your television set, plenty of people are still discussing and reporting. In the meantime, if you’re looking for good coverage may we suggest following ABC’s Lara Setrakian who is based in the Middle East and is excellent, and Jon Leyne at the BBC. Note: Please read comments for additional suggestions.

How The Aughts Killed America’s Malls and Newspapers – With One Stone

Photo by Flickr user Leofan7 is celebrating a decade of recording the death rattles of American shopping malls. Chronicling the nasty and brutish lives of malls throughout the fifty states with pictures and anecdotes, the site launched in 2000 and celebrates its first ten years next month. It seems a remarkably appropriate tenure.

Hard numbers documenting the decline of the American shopping mall are hard to come by. (Anecdotal and pictorial evidence, like this remarkable photo essay of defunct shopping malls, are much more accessible.) The phenomenon of mall death received robust coverage in magazines and newspapers and on television over the past 18 months. The Newsweek piece linked above cites the International Council of Shopping Centers, which reports that one-fifth of the nation’s largest 2,000 malls were failing. Its current number broadens that significantly – to 102,000 shopping centers of all size. This is much more in line with the widely-cited number from a 2004 Dallas Morning News article, claiming that the nation hosts 46,990 shopping malls and shopping centers. Wikipedia, meanwhile, has a list of shopping malls in the United States containing a modest 868 locations. It also notes that much of the fluctuation results from competing definitions of what constitutes a mall; we can assume that similar uncertainty exists as to what constitutes its death.

Some part of any decline, to be sure, is a function of the economic environment. The Journal article above, for example, graphed declining mall sales during the recession, painting a clear picture of impact. The recession, though, isn’t to blame. It made an existing trend worse.

In a piece from two years ago, The Economist detailed the numbers behind that trend. Nearly no new indoor shopping centers in the latter part of this decade. A 50% drop between 1997 and 2002 in the percent of all retail sales occurring at malls (from 38% to 19%). What once was a mecca became mainstream. And then, this decade – moribund.

Photo by Flickr user barxtux

This week, while visiting in-laws, I went to a mall in Visalia, deep in California’s agricultural Central Valley. For several hundred yards in any direction from the mall’s doors were the ubiquita of American suburbia (big box stores, fast food chains, roads and parking lots); beyond, in at least two directions, the orchards and fields that bring income (and air quality problems) to thousands of local residents.

The Visalia Mall doesn’t exist in New York City. It’s what malls often used to be – a commercial and community focal point whose tribulations and triumphs are common knowledge. At the mall are diverse shops that, while common on Manhattan’s streets, are too small for a big box location and need more traffic than a strip mall provides. Chains that would do fine on Madison Avenue would fail completely on Mooney Boulevard, the mall’s home, outside of the sheltering collective within its walls. At the mall, smaller chains and local stores survive in symbiosis; picking customers off the main thoroughfares like birds on a hippo.

This mall still exists, in large part, because of unique features of the community. High-speed connections are commonly unavailable, and economics and culture vastly reduce the importance of the Internet. More than anything else – more than the economy, than shifting demographics – what’s gutting American malls is the Internet.

Malls are retail newspapers. They are professionally curated assemblages of commercialism, vulnerable to simple tools that get the job done more specifically and rapidly. Nowadays, it’s far easier and more personalized to fulfill a shopping list online, putting together your own virtual mall from which you buy only what you’re interested in, skipping over the online equivalents of Cinnabon and the sunglasses kiosk. Even as newspapers are more and more relegated to niche markets, so too are malls.

Visalia, as it turns out, is in one of those niches. The Visalia Mall is robust enough that, upon losing the local department store, Gottschalks, Macy’s stepped into the void. This is the mall equivalent of a newspaper adding a new section. The Post could get away with it. The Globe can’t. (The local market does have limits. Another mall, not far from the Visalia Mall, is close to shuttering. Visalia is a one-newspaper town, and, it seems, a one-mall town.)

The blossoming of the Internet in the Aughts, a time of political and economic instability, has hastened (though not completed) the demise of many cultural components tangential to its core functionality. The slow sublimation of newspapers is understood to be its victim; the evaporation of malls, America’s once dominant retail touchstones, is not. Both industries are sliding down similar slopes, pushed by the same hand.

In ten years, after the domain has likely been allowed to lapse, retail centers will look very different than they did ten years ago in all but a few instances and locations. Visalia, still a place dependent on the core industries of the 19th century, may continue to be the exception to the rule. Its likely, though, that its newspaper and mall will join the horse-drawn plow and hand-picking walnuts in the gallery of systems once admired; now superseded.

The lesson is simple: the goal never changes, though the path to achieve it often does. For decades the goals of community and convenience were met by shopping malls. That’s simply no longer the case.

Gawker Can Call Joe Francis ‘Douche,’ But Can They Call Him ‘Rapist’?

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Gawker brought in the coming end of the decade in a way that only Gawker could: by running a “douche of the decade” poll. The winner, Girls Gone Wild honcho Joe Francis, was not pleased. He didn’t especially object to the “douche” label — good luck making an issue of that when The New York Times runs A1 stories musing on the nature of douchiness — but to another, more loaded word they used to describe him: rapist.

Francis’ back-and-forth with Gawker’s legal department is revealing in many ways, and raises the question of what, if anything, the gossip site can’t get away with.

In the original “douche of the decade” post, Gawker’s Alex Pareene drops the “rapist” label offhandedly, pointing back to an excerpt of an LA Times profile of Francis in which a woman who had sex with Francis when she was 18 raises doubts about how consensual the encounter was. The story hardly makes Joe Francis look like a charming prince, but as Daily Intel points out, “Francis has never been convicted or even accused of [rape] in a court of law.”

Flash forward to Joe Francis’ letter to Gawker, titled “Hey Nick, Your fucked,” in which he threatened to sue them for causing a “10 million dollar deal” of his to fall through thanks to the ‘rapist’ label. Gawker took a screenshot of the letter, to which Joe Francis helpfully attached a shirtless picture of himself (below):

Hey Nick,

I am suing you tomorrow personally. You messed with the wrong guy. No one make up lies about me and gets away with it. I lost a 10 million dollar deal as a direct result of you calling me “a rapist”. You will be paying me every dime of that back and more! Are you mentally retarded? Do your research first. I am coming after you harder then I have ever went after anyone. I am going to wipe you off the grid!!!! YOU ARE DONE! I will take everything you have. You, Nick Denton, are truly the “Douche of the Decade” Merry Xmas IDIOT!!! Joe Francis P.S. I sent you an updated picture of how I actually look now so you can masturbate to it because you seem to be quite sexually obsessed with me.


Gawker legal ace Gaby Darbyshire fired back: “given his chosen career and his actions to date, it would be hard to say that your client really has any reputation of social probity and standing to damage at this point, now does he?” At that, Gawker graciously changed the “rapist” of the original article to “alleged rapist” and labeled Francis a “sore douche.”

What’s the punchline? Well, Gawker has certainly elevated the flamewar as journalistic practice to an art, and this is yet another time when they have used angry followup by one of their targets to fan the flames and get more publicity. Last year, NYU economist Nouriel Roubini likewise fell into Gawker’s trap when he responded to their (rather mean-spirited and unfair) posts about him with a series of angry rants which they duly published. (”Nick Denton is an Antisemite with a Nazi Mind.”)

Still, given the brazenness with which Gawker has gone after some of its targets, it’s pretty remarkable that they haven’t yet lost a big stack of cash in a defamation suit. The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford notes that “there are at least two outstanding lawsuits against Gawker at the moment: Eric Dane’s suit against Gawker’s screening of the so-called McSteamy sex tape – in which Gawker won a preliminary court battle recently; and Sean Salisbury’s suit against Gawker Media after a series of bizarre e-mails sent by the ex-ESPN football analyst to Gawker-owned Deadspin were posted on the site.” In the past, they’ve been sued by Fred “Limp Bizkit” Durst and walked away unscathed. One wonders if there have been other hidden lawsuits in Gawker’s past, but it seems unlikely given that they would probably try to squeeze a post or two out of them.

Is it possible that there have been out-of-court settlements for past Gawker transgressions? Yes, though it would be surprising if none of the disgruntled ex-Gawker employees elevated them to the public eye. Either way, the high profile of Gawker’s wars with the Joe Francises of the world makes for entertaining, occasionally shirtless theater.

NY Post’s Take On Underwear Bomber: ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ (Update)

front122909The NY Post has not been immune to the rocky year of print publishing. Despite rumors of slumping newsstand, a persistent ad recession, and a nasty harassment allegation, the Post still delivers on what it does best: evidenced in the front page headline on today’s paper that concerns the failed attack of Flight 253. Kudos NY Post!

While nearly every other media outlet was dealing with the absurdity of an underwear bomber, the clever headline writers at the NY Post went for the joke hit a home run. Kudos NY Post!

Update – It appears that Gawker Weekend Editor Foster Kamer made the same exact joke over the weekend! So, maybe the editors are smart and clever, or perhaps they just read Gawker over the weekend for ideas.

Judge Orders Palin Custody Battle Open To The Public

2008+Republican+National+Convention+Day+3+BnTvKZvUJDblMuch to the delight of media folks everywhere, and the understandable dismay of the Palin family, an Alaskan judge has forced the custody battle between Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston to go public. Up until now the court case, filed by Bristol Palin back in November in order to obtain sole custody of Tripp Johnston-Palin has been closed to the public. Apparently this measure did not sit well with Levi Johnston. From the Alaska Dispatch:

In an opposition to Palin’s motion for a gag order, Johnston’s attorney, Rex Butler, said: “Simply put, this matter is public in nature, the courts are not refuges for the scions of the elite to obtain private dispensation of their legal matters because the public at large has an interest in the proceedings.”

“The courts are not refuges for the scions of the elite!” Sounds a bit like Sarah Palin is getting Palinized. And then there’s this from Johnston, himself:

“I do not feel protected against Sarah Palin in a closed proceeding,” Johnston said in an affidavit accompanying Butler’s filings. “I hope that if it is open she will stay out of it. … I think a public case might go a long way in reducing Sarah Palin’s instinct to attack and allow the real parties in this litigation, Bristol and I, to work things out a lot more peacefully than we could if there is any more meddling from Sarah Palin.”

It’s unclear whether the inclusion of the press where the Palin’s are concerned will be conducive to anything getting done “more peacefully” but considering the uproar over Levi’s Playgirl photo shoot, not to mention Palin’s Going Rogue, perhaps they have a different definition of the word.

Internet Sensation? Escaped Prisoner Teases Police With Facebook Photos

article-1238920-07B6C723000005DC-298_468x587_popupCraig Lynch, who escaped England’s Suffolk’s Hollesley Bay Prison in September, is using Facebook updates to brag about his freedom, posting a steady stream of status messages and rude photos to mock the authorities who have been after him for months. On Christmas, a tinsel-clad and shirtless Lynch (left) flicked off the camera with one hand, and in the other, held a freshly cooked turkey. “‘If any of you was doubtin my freedom. Here’s proof. How the f*** could i get my hands on a bird like this in jail. ha ha,” he wrote.

The British press are obviously eating up the stunt like Lynch probably scarfed that Christmas white meat, with both the Daily Mail and Times Online tracking his misadventures.

In one status update, Lynch asked, “In my situation where would YOU hide?” One responder noted, “You got the whole nation cheering you on.” Except, of course, the police, who are working with Facebook to find Lynch.

But for now, if you’re looking for new friends you can find Lynch here.


Fox Commenter Wants Muslim Profiling; Real World Fliers Remain Calm

airport-security1If there is one lesson to be gleaned thus far from Thursdays attempted terrorist attack on Northwestern Flight 253 it is this: when it comes to flying safely you may be on your own (notwithstanding the pilots and the ground staff!). According to ABC’s Jake Tapper the only thing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab didn’t do to set off alarm bells was call the TSA himself and announce that he was going to attempt to blow up a plane over U.S. soil. Per Tapper’s Twitter:

# (4) Dec 24 he boards plan in Nigeria for roundtrip multiday flight to US WITH NO LUGGAGE about 11 hours ago from web

(3) Dec 16 he buys $3K ticket WITH CASH from KLM office in Ghana. Gives no address or contact info about 11 hours ago from web

Nov 20, US Embassy informs other embassies and US counterterrorism community, but all thats done is name put in database of 550K about 11 hours ago from web

(2) Nov 19, his father- a respected banker- reports son to US Embassy in Nigeria, says he’s being radicalized in Yemen…. about 11 hours ago from web

(1) May 09 UK denies him a visa for claiming he’d study at bogus university. Per Home Secy that immediately put him on watchlist in UK. about 11 hours ago from web

the video of our WN spot has yet to post. but we looked at 4 missed signals about Abdulmuttalab…here they are:…(contd) about 11 hours ago from web

Jaw-dropping, no? Also, this whole incident is sort of putting to rest the argument that the former administration had anything to do with the fact we have not been attacked in the last eight years. Anyway, with all this in mind, as well as yesterday’s revelation that Abdulmutallab was not put on the “no fly” watch list because “it was decided that there was insufficient information at that time based on existing watch list criteria” it may not be entirely surprising that the incident is bringing out, shall we say, certain people’s worser angels.

Case in point: Yesterday on Fox News conservative talking head Mike Gallagher, in an effort to address the “800 lbs gorilla in the room” suggested that there should be a separate line in airports for Muslims. (Video below.)

“Let’s do that with anyone named Abdul, or Mohammed, or Achmed, let’s take them and put them in a room and make sure they don’t have explosives sown into their underwear.”

I am going to hazard a guess that, alas, he is not alone in that thinking that’s a reasonable plan. However, for a slightly less hysterical, slightly more grounded (literally) reaction here is NPR’s Morning Edition report from the Dallas-Ft. Worth terminal where fliers appeared calm in the face of fear and frustrated in the face of increased security: Life goes on, and if you’ve got to fly, you’ve got to fly.