The British Print Their Blogs

UK_TJHuffPo’s magazine man James Warren (formerly managing editor and Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune) took a trip across the pond recently and discovered, much to his amazement, that the British know how to have more fun than we do! Or more fun with their newspapers, anyway.

[A]mid the reflexive [American] industry rationalisations, many involving societal change and the coming of the internet, there’s rarely an admission of self-inflicted wounds, including the dreaded Curse of Tedium. Indeed, the country that makes the rest of the world envious of its technological and entertainment creativity, be it Microsoft, Google or Hollywood film studios, needs an emergency boost of British high-energy imagination and flair. We’re drowning in editorial sobriety.

After a few days with the British papers however, which contained “lots of gossip, speculation about possible soccer transactions, and hard-nosed political columns, with Gordon Brown served up as a two-legged, Scottish piñata,” Warren came away feeling “rather informed.” And that wasn’t all.

I came away feeling rather informed – it’s an embarrassment how much more international news there is to be found in British newspapers than in the average US paper – and, I dare say, having had some actual fun. And there is the critical difference.

Newspapers are boring! Americans are too bloody puritan about their news! Actually, Warren’s description of his holiday reading material sounds a lot like the blogosphere, no? Gossip, news, speculation, personality. If our papers were a more fun read — something like the Wall St. Journal meets the New York Post — would they have a better chance at survival? Probably not. Why buy the paper cow when you can get the digital milk for free (for now)? But that’s not to say we wouldn’t like the Times to give it a shot.

Newt Gingrich, Health Insurance Shill, Objectively Debates Health Care

newtpcma-300x200Since Obama was elected, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has positioned himself at the heart of the national debate over health care, arguing from a pro-business, anti-public option vantage. He’s written countless op-eds, blogged, Twittered, given newspaper interviews, and made the rounds on political talk shows, most recently This Week with George Stephanopoulos and The O’Reilly Factor, to promote his platform.

But despite the image of level-headed punditry that he seeks to project, Gingrich enters the debate with the most basic kind of bias: major financial ties to health insurance companies with an interest in insurance remaining private. Why does Gingrich so often neglect to mention that he has a big financial stake in the outcome of the healthcare debate, and that it happens to line up with the side he’s arguing? And why do so many outlets give him a free pass? In light of Obama’s recent hints that he may be backing away from the public option, it’s a question worth asking whether Gingrich and his ilk have been treated more leniently by the media. Continue reading "Newt Gingrich, Health Insurance Shill, Objectively Debates Health Care"

Huffpo, Facebook Spawn Big Brother Social Media Demon

Picture 6This morning the Huffington Post and Facebook rolled out their latest scheme to take over the Internet: HuffPost Social News, which allows Facebook-using HuffPo readers to share the stories they’re reading and the comments their leaving on the Huffington Post with their friends on Facebook.

“It’s HuffPost’s version of a digital water cooler, enriching and deepening conversations around the day’s news,” wrote Arianna Huffington in a press release. “News has become something around which we gather, connect, and converse. HuffPost Social News makes this more dynamic than ever.”

According to Huffington, there were more than 1.7 million comments left on the news site last month — as many as 10,000 on a single story. By posting comments for friends to see on Facebook, Huffington hopes to facilitate conversation on a more micro, personal level.

In a blog post about the new partnership, Huffington wrote:

HuffPost Social News also taps into the other coming big trend in news: personalization. People connecting to each other using their real identities and having real conversations.

HuffPo already has profile pages for commenters (here’s one) like many other sites, but tracking comments through Facebook will hopefully spark more genuine conversation and encourage people to use their real identities.

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We predict a few hang-ups with the new system, especially for anonymous HuffPo commenters who have no desire to wed their oft-commenting neurotic online selves with their real-world (inasmuch as Facebook can be said to reflect the real world) identities. And the level of automation seems troublesome:

From Huffington’s post:

A few notes about Social News:

What you’re reading will not appear on Facebook unless you hit the “Like” button or the “Facebook Share” button.

The articles you have read and the comments you have made will only automatically show up on HuffPost — and will be viewable only by your friends who have also joined HuffPost Social News.

If you don’t want people to see a story you have viewed, you can remove it from your list of recent activity. You can also place yourself in “Stealth Mode” before you read it.

We’re put-off by the idea of needing to enter “Stealth Mode” before reading the news: It’s like we’re in eighth grade trying to buy Playboy again, although we definitely wouldn’t want some of HuffPo’s Sex Watch-y content to go on our permanent record. And we’re confused: Stories won’t show up unless we click “Like” or is Big Brother social news media automatically going to track our article history?

Either way, millions of HuffPo readers will be very vocal about any problems with the new system. And maybe, once a few things are hammered out, the spawn of these two newlyweds will be  clicks aplenty.

Media Eager to Report Death of Public Option

Picture 30The big story this morning, aside from Mad Men and Michael Vick, is the death of the public health insurance option. On TV, on newspaper front pages, and on blogs, various stages of the public option’s demise are being reported. The basis for all of this pessimistic reporting? Statements, this weekend, by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the public option is not a deal-breaker.

Ex-sueeze me? That’s the big news? This is one of those questions that come up so often at White House briefings, we can all recite the answer like a well-dressed Rocky Horror audience. “The President strongly supports a public health insurance option, but the main goal is to provide health care reform that results in quality, affordable care for every American.” (throw toast at Gibbs)

The media has stood ready to stick a fork in the public option since this debate began. Off the top of my head, there was this July report that Rahm Emanuel had “caved” on the public option by answering this very question. That story was quickly walked back by the President later that day.

The White House’s strategy seems to have been to “rope-a-dope” on the public option, putting it out there and letting opponents punch themselves out at it. In the end, the White House doesn’t need the Republicans, or many of the Blue Dogs, to push this through. The question is whether or not they realize what’s at stake.

An even bigger question is, why is the media so ready to eulogize the public option? While recent polls have reflected slipping support for health care reform as it is being debated, those same polls either show overwhelming support for the public option, or they simply don’t ask.

There are two obvious answers. First, corporate influence over the mass media that drives news coverage is always a popular go-to bogeyman, and not necessarily in the tinfoil-y, paranoid sense. A media culture that intersects so strongly with a corporate culture is bound to reflect those values disproportionately.
There’s also the voracious nature of the 24-hour, 1440-minute news cycle that grants outsized importance to mundanities and inanities, particularly in the entertainment-starved dog days.

The answer is a combination of the two, abetted by desperate and dishonest opponents of the public option and their squeaky wheels. Look for the White House to spend the day, and the week, pushing back against this.

Hammer Time! Tom Delay To Dance With the Stars, Literally

delay_mugshotJake Tapper twittered a little while ago that House Majority Leader Tom Delay will be competing on Dancing With the Stars this season. Um. Good Morning America is apparently announcing the new cast this morning so we believe Tapper (though we’d be even more impressed to discover that Tapper was capable of pulling a Twitter practical joke) but still!

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If we had to put money on what embattled former Republican politician would be making an appearance on DWTS our first pick would have obviously been Blago. That said, Delay has dallied with the show before, when he emailed supporters to vote for Sara Evans, a country music singer who had performed at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Alas, there are no DWTS voting districts for Delay to attempt to redraw in his favor, but it will be interesting to see what kind of support he is able to muster. Or if this is he attempt to return to relevance! Perhaps others should consider following suit.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do? Obama Says No More Staff Profiles

4wxrT8AcTmkl4k1zhAbYKkDco1_400There was an interesting aside dropped into yesterday’s long New York Times profile of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that suggests the press may no longer enjoy the sort of access to this White House it has become accustomed to. According to the Times our normally zen-like President was furious when Times Magazine profile of top adviser Valerie Jarrett scratched at her reportedly testy relationship with Emanuel.

[W]hen a New York Times Magazine profile of Ms. Jarrett last month explored the old scratchiness, White House officials said the normally calm Mr. Obama erupted with anger. An informal edict went out: no more cooperating with staff profiles. As a result, Mr. Emanuel declined a formal interview for this article.

Has the White House gone all Bush 43 on the press and become a closed off paranoid state unto itself? It seems unlikely. For one, a number of staffers participated in the profile of Emanuel — who, it should be noted, has enjoyed more profiling than any chief of staff in recent history. How much more do we need to know about Rahm? (He likes puppies, by the way). Clearly if David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and Peter Orszag are giving quotes to the Times the “informal edict” against the press is pretty informal. Maybe more like a Presidential time-out.

Also, who is there left to cover? As Politico’s Michael Calderone points out the Times has enjoyed plenty of White House access. Add to that the amount of unfiltered access the press, and the public, has via Twitter — can you imagine how Bush would have handled that? — combined with Obama’s “saturation” tactic what you are left with is a fairly accessible White House. It is sort of reassuring to know, however, that Obama is capable of erupting in anger once in a while.

Meditations On the Mad Men Season Three Premiere

cuar01a_madmen0806Yesterday I watched the season three premiere of Mad Men. At this point, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being aware that the show will be debuting its third season tonight on AMC. In an advertising bonanza that would flatten anything Don Draper might have imagined, the show has managed to permeate the public consciousness (despite the fact, based on ratings, it seems very few people have actually watched it). Between Banana Republic, Sesame Street, Twitter, and Frank Rich the show has officially become a cultural phenomenon (something that often precedes a jump the shark moment, but let’s hope that between Matthew Weiner strong writing and the huge time lapses between seasons, that moment won’t arrive for at least another season or two).

In today’s column, Rich says the reason we are all obsessed with the show is that in many ways it mirrors the tone of our lives today:

What makes the show powerful is not nostalgia for an America that few want to bring back — where women were most valued as sex objects or subservient housewives, where blacks were, at best, second-class citizens, and where the hedonistic guzzling of gas and gin went unquestioned. Rather, it’s our identification with an America that, for all its serious differences with our own, shares our growing anxiety about the prospect of cataclysmic change. Mad Men is about the dawn of a new era, and we, too, are at such a dawn. And we are uncertain and worried about what comes next.

It is certainly true that less than seven months after January’s triumphant inauguration this country suddenly finds itself currently mired in anxiety, anger, and near-violence. Will the same be true for the characters in the series? Season Two ended during the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Don Draper, having supposedly faced his demons, is reunited with a newly-pregnant Betty, and Peggy, having triumphed over workplace sexism has landed her own corner office. The season Three opener certainly appears to suggest, however, that the more things change the more they stay the same (with one major exception, which I won’t tell you about).

So: What to tell you about the premiere? No details, that’s for sure! (I hate spoilers.) But here are two things to perhaps keep in mind, especially if you are new to the Mad Men fan club and have crammed all the previous episodes into a few weeks of viewing (and therefore haven’t had to suffer any sort of wait to find out the repercussions of Peggy’s pregnancy, or who the woman is that Draper calls while on the fly in Palm Springs). My takeaway: Matthew Weiner does not like resolution. Or the sort of immediate resolution TV viewers have come to expect from regular September season premieres. Be prepared to be patient (and cope with viewer anxiety, I suppose). This, of course, is nothing new – devoted viewers may recall that we were a few episodes into Season Two before all the story lines introduced in Season One had a chance to work themselves out. It appears that trend will continue this season as viewers are dropped into the lives of these characters already in progress.

As for the rising water we’ve seen in all those advertisements? The opener only hints at its meaning. One of my favorite scenes from last season comes at the end of the second-to-last episode “Moutain King’ which closes with Don Draper walking into the Pacific ocean in a sort of metaphoric baptism, only to emerge in the finale a changed and repentant man. Really? After two seasons of Mad Men even the casual fan probably knows better than to think it’s that easy (whether or not Betty has come to a similar conclusion remains to be seen). Draper hints at this lack of reinvention in a line partway through the episode, which struck me as thematic (I will add it to the post later; I am serious about spoilers!). Needless to say, for a show filled with such flawed and complicated characters, it’s safe to assume nothing will be tied up so easily. Or at all. It is this very refusal to resolve things neatly that, despite all its glamor and decadence, is the aspect of the show which most accurately mirrors real life.

In the meantime, while you wait for the 10pm hour, here is a video mashup set to Don Draper reciting parts of Frank O’Hara’s poem Mayakovsky from the collection Meditations on an Emergency (a copy of which pops up in both seasons one and two). It’s also a title which could aptly describe this show, which follows the personal emergencies of its characters against the backdrop a country on the brink of larger catastrophe.