Browsing the archives for the Media / journalism category.

Burying Perestroika

Culture, European culture(s), History, International Politics, Media / journalism, Politics
Memorial

Memorial had its digital archives seized in a police raid last month. "This was 20 years' work. We'd been making a universally accessible database with hundreds of thousands of names."

The BBC last week took on the story Dagmaraka started telling here three months ago, picking up roughly where she left off. Rossiya TV, one of Russia’s biggest TV channels, last year launched a show that, over the course of the year, grew into much more than just another TV program: vote for the Greatest Russian in history!

In the first round, no less than fourtyfive million votes were cast for the initial fifty candidates. In the second round for the top 12 vote-getters, another four and a half million votes were phoned or texted in or cast online by the time the vote was concluded last weekend. But there was a problem. Throughout the year, those pesky viewers kept voting Stalin to the top of the list.

Anxious to avoid embarassment, the organisers tried to change the ranking by hook or by crook. The producers appealed to viewers to vote for someone else and, as Dagmaraka recounted, at one point claimed a massive hacking incident to remove one million votes for Stalin. But he kept bouncing right up again.

When the BBC reported the story on Saturday, Stalin was in fourth place. In the final tally, he still passed Pushkin and came in third. He missed the top spot only by a hairwidth: Alexander Nevsky and Pyotr Stolypin beat him by just six and five thousand votes respectively. Lenin didn’t do badly either: he came in sixth, squeezed in between Peter the Great and Dostoyevski.

Now the success of the show in itself is striking. It’s tempting to speculate that it must have something to do with how Russians don’t have many opportunities anymore to vote on a wide-ranging ballot of candidates, but earlier versions of the show in the UK and Holland saw a similar mass participation (and the Dutch version triggered a similar controversy). The BBC report, however, takes the story into a different direction, and places Stalin’s success in the poll in a context of progressive efforts by the Putin-era state to rehabilitate him.

It may be a little all too embarassing to have Stalin right at the top of a list of Russian heroes, but his showing is actually right in line with the state’s recent push to take him out of history’s doghouse:

The primary evidence comes in the form of a new manual for history teachers in the country’s schools, which says Stalin acted “entirely rationally”.

“[The initiative] came from the very top,” says the editor of the manual, historian Alexander Danilov. “I believe it was the idea of former president, now prime minister, Vladimir Putin.”

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Riding the red lands: field reports from the media

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics

While the reporters assigned to presidential candidates are condemned to a mix of grind and hype, reporters who get the chance to survey the country often come up with the best stories. Interviewing voters, sampling local opinion, sketching the political geography, they write the field reports, a ubiquitous genre of its own. No self-respecting election-time newspaper is complete without one.

A lot of them, of course, end up being cookie-cutter stuff: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and done is the day’s work. Here’s a few from the last couple of days I thought more interesting (h/t to the Electoral Map, where I think I found most of these on the “Morning Reading Lists”). The common thread: Obama’s chances to win over red states or counties.

Battling on the Other Side’s Turf
Washington Post
1 November

Best of the bunch: in-deph local flavour from Southside Virginia.

Heartwarming? Yes; moving stories, a hopeful narrative, characters who feel real and alive. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? Pretty high. Strategic survey? Not so much; demographic analysis doesnt take much space here. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Present. Nuanced? Yes. Topical? Yes – US Rep. Virgil Goode, portrayed here as a well-established incumbent, is unexpectedly facing a tight race, according to the latest polls.

Why the New Virginia Is Leaning Toward Obama
Time
27 October

Timely dispatch from exurban Prince William County.

Heartwarming? Not so much. More of an analytical take, and what anecdotes are there are fairly depressing. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? High enough; he studied the numbers and knows where to look. Strategic survey? Yes. The choice of location itself is an attempt to pinpoint the very frontier zone where the elections will be decided. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Not so much. Nuanced? Yes. Topical? There’s the account of a fearmongering McCain coordinator, but you might have seen it already.

Obamalina
The Nation
22 October

Long review of how the Obama campaign made North Carolina into a toss-up state.

Heartwarming? In a combative way. Fuelled more by awe at the campaign’s success than touching personal anecdotes. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? High. He’s from there and he’s got the political scars to prove it. Strategic survey? Yes: it’s all about pinning down the overall Obama strategy and why it’s successful (“it’s the economy, stupid”). Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Yes, but of the weary rather than wistful type. Nuanced? Not so much. Topical? No immediate hook beyond the electoral fate of the state itself.

Westmoreland County up for grabs
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
28 October

Gritty impressions from a Pennsylvanian county that went for Bush and loved Hillary.

Heartwarming? Not really. The news is depressing – meet the working class McCain Democrats. But the people are real. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? Mwah. You keep wanting her to dig a little deeper. Strategic survey? Not so much. Though the description of how the polarisation between high-income, Republican subdivisions along Route 30 and low-income, Democratic riverside settlements are all muddled up this year should rouse the political geographer in you. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Some wistful type of the latter. Nuanced? Fairly. Topical? Considering McCain’s decision to stake his fate on Pennsylvania and the racial/cultural resentments there, yes.

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The fear and loathing of campaign reporting, and its impact on the news you see

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics
Last week, TNR published an in-depth look at “what covering a two-year campaign does to the soul of a journalist” by Julia Ioffe. It has lots of colourful anecdotes as Ioffe interviews the media mercenaries who trail the candidates across the country for sometimes years on end.

The week before, a post by Ezra Klein on TAP about “the weirdness of campaign reporting” reflected on just how mindnumbing the work of campaign reporting is while reviewing a lengthy article on the same subject in GQ. The GQ article was written by Michael Hastings, a journalist Newsweek sent to embed on the campaign, who eventually quit in exasperation at the souldeadening experience. It’s a witty story, if you like your humor dry and dark.

So just how bad is it? And maybe more importantly, what effect does it have on your news experience?

It’s pretty bad, judging on Ioffe’s article, which starts off as if it were setting the stage for a tense road movie:

CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley has taken to running through a checklist before bed. Every night she travels with the Obama campaign, she orders a wake-up call, sets one regular alarm and one back-up on her cell phone, which she places strategically out of slapping distance across the room. Then she writes down her vitals: What city is she in? What time zone? What time does she have to be out of the hotel room the next morning? What day is it? With that, she can drift off before the next day’s campaign coverage.

Most of the time, though, Crowley is so scared to oversleep that she’s awake and waiting, long before the alarm [..] rings. “After the previous campaign, it took me a good month to stop waking up in the middle of the night in a panic that I’ve missed something,” Crowley says.

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Fun with Newspaper Endorsements

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics
Electoral Map if Newspapers Voted

Electoral Map if Newspapers Voted

Just about everyone discounts the value of newspaper endorsements for Presidential candidates.  The candidates get so much new coverage and scutiny that no one needs a push at the eleventh hour to help them decide how to vote.  Still, endorsements get a lot of coverage if only because they infuriate one group and allow another to bask in the glow of righteousness knowing their paper sees their wisdom.  The good folks at Editor and Publisher have been keeping a running tally of the endorsements this year and while they might not provide a lot of insight into the election, they are great fun to look at. 

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Spread the wealth around!

Debates, Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Economy, US Elections, US Politics

One of the oddest features about Wednesday’s debate was John McCain’s repeated, dismissive references to how Obama wants to “spread the wealth around”. McCain repeated that line no less than nine times, each time derisively, and nine times is a lot in a debate like this. In comparison, he mentioned “education” six times, and “health insurance” three times (which Obama mentioned ten times).

(By the way, if you’re looking for Wordles of the two candidates’ words during the debate, like the ones I made for the second debate, check out these ones that Flickr user spudart made.)

I was actually looking whether there was a YouTube video splicing together all his “spread the wealth around” lines. Because if I knew how to edit videos, I’d make one. I mean, just go to the wonderful NYT interactive election debates tool, type in “spread” in the neat search box above the coloured bars, and use the forward and play buttons to the right to switch between all the references. It’s wonderfully bizarre. (OK, maybe you have to be a geek.)

M J M

Wages have stagnated for a decade .. For most folks, spreading the wealth probably seems like a good idea. (Image used under CC license from Flickr user M J M)

The weird thing about these invocations is that, as Noam Scheiber pointed out, he “repeatedly invoked Obama’s line about ‘spreading the wealth around’ without explaining what makes it so offensive (beyond his own menacing tone).” As Scheiber adds, “it didn’t strike me as self-evidently damning.” Right. I mean, God forbid anyone would want to spread the wealth – give other people a shot at it too. As Ezra Klein adds, “Median wages have stagnated for a decade … For most folks, spreading the wealth around probably seems like a good idea.”

McCain got the quote from Obama’s answer to “Joe the Plumber” (who isn’t actually a licensed plumber, doesn’t actually make $250,000 and wouldn’t have to pay higher taxes under Obama’s plan even if he did buy that company), when they met during a campaign stop. It’s worth watching the whole answer Obama gave. There’s nothing particular controversial in his answer as a whole, and the “spreading the wealth” line came in the context of giving people who are where Joe was earlier in his life tax cuts so they would be helped making it too. But as Campaign Diaries points out, the McCain campaign wants you to see the line as “code words for socialism”.

The thing is that McCain didn’t actually bother to make that argument in the debate. He appeared to think that just repeating the line would make people go, “oh yeah, that’s terrible – spreading the wealth around, how can he say such a thing – he must be a socialist”. This equation strikes me as typically one of those things that only works within the bubble. Maybe because for most people, a $250,000 income is so far removed from their world, they can’t even imagine. After all, it’s just the top 3% who earns that much. It’s five times the median household income, and eight times the median individual income.

It is not far removed, however, from the lives of those reporting on politics for us. For network TV reporters, for pundits and politicians, for anchormen and talk show hosts, it’s not that much. They do know people who make that much, because they are often among the top earners in America themselves. So for them, it hits close to home. And because pundits and anchormen hang out with other pundits and anchormen, their view of what is normal is warped – for a striking example see the video below the fold. And this has serious consequences for the opportunities to market liberal economic policies.

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Live by the bubble, die by the bubble

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

“The rise of the conservative media,” Isaac Chotiner notes at The Plank, “has obviously done the right a tremendous amount of good over the past generation.” Which is true of course. Through talk radio, Fox and its part of the blogosphere, the right aggressively staked out an expanding media territory devoted to its message. These media have honed a visceral appeal to people’s resentment and their lust for a good fight, which has allowed them to suck ever more people in and then ensure that they have always absorbed the talking points of the day. This has made for an aggressive fighting force, which could easily power its way to 50%+1 election victories.

But the fighting force remains a minority nevertheless, and there’s the rub this year.

(Image used under CC license from Flickr user DClemm)

(Image used under CC license from Flickr user DClemm)

There’s a large swathe of voters in the middle which cares little about liberal agendas (or politics at all for that matter), but would be too put off by all the shouting to listen to talk radio. They can be swayed into assent by those who do, however, if an overarching narrative like the War on Terror in 2004 or “bringing values back to Washington” in 2000 is:
a) brought forcefully enough;
b) based on immediate, high-profile events (9/11, Monica);
c) reasonably feasible; and
d) if there’s little effective counterpush.

They nevertheless remain distinctly un-sucked into the more immediate vortex of talking points inside the conservative media territory. They didn’t care about Vince Foster or Bill Clinton having once taken a hit on a joint. They dont fret over liberal indoctrination at universities – they just want their kids to go to a good school. Even the outrage over Monica Lewinsky was long a hard sell to this middle – just look at Bill’s consistently high approval rates.

Check in with the rightwing media now, however, and that’s all they have: a collection of narrow talking points with little relevance to life outside politics. They’re trapped inside the bubble, Chotiner says:

“Read the right’s blogs, listen to FOX News, turn on talk radio–all you hear (even right now, after the debate) is Ayers, ACORN, Reid, Pelosi, Barney Frank, and Chris Dodd (the last two being, duh, the sole villains behind our economic crisis). It’s as if the conservative movement has found itself mouthing talking points that no one outside of the bubble could possibly care about. Maybe it’s always like this when a political party faces an electoral catastrophe, but it sure is noticeable right now.”

The monocultural discipline which the conservative media territory offered made for a relentlessly on-message electoral fighting force in 2000 and 2004. Bolstered by Fox and talk radio on the airwaves, the movement conservatives were able to monopolise the party and push out moderates and independent thinkers, in a way MoveOn and the lefty blogosphere never succeeded in doing with the Democratic Party.

(Image used under CC license from Flickr user Chuckumentary)

(Image used under CC license from Flickr user Chuckumentary)

But the same monoculturalism now makes for a movement that’s largely unable to look at itself from the outside. They realise their message isnt resonating, but can’t understand whyever not. It’s living inside the bubble that made them such a cohesive machine. But it’s living in the same bubble that makes them unable to correct themselves and adapt now. All that’s left is anger and frustration.

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Nervous about Nixon Goldwater McCain?

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

Alex Massie at The Debatable Land has been digging through the video archives of the Museum of the Moving Image at The Living Room Candidate. It’s a website devoted to historical campaign commercials, and “contains more than 300 commercials, from every presidential election since 1952.” And he’s come up with some true gems.

There’s classics like the relentlessly cheerful, ferociously flirty lounge singer doing her thing for Adlai Stevenson: “I love the Gov!“. (Sarah Palin didn’t invent the polit-power of the wink, you know.) There’s a bit of scare-mongering anno 1992 that made Massie quip, “Verily, Arkansas is a land visited by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. There’s a Barry Goldwater ad that starts off with 30 seconds of cult mayhem that would suit the best of Russ Meyer movie trailers; any moment you expect a warning about She-Devils on Wheels.

A strong contender for the most amazing find is the surprisingly psychedelic, hippie-go-lucky sing-a-long “Nixon Now” from 1972. An eerie illustration of the ad world’s reality inversion … catchy, though. (Weirdly enough, Nixonnow.com now is the website of a watch brand.) That one is overwhelmed still in the cutesy stakes by “the jaunty music and the fab 70s kitsch” of a Ford commercial from four years later – and much of it could have been a seventies ad for the car brand. (Bonus feel-good points for the unabashed inclusion of sundry happy ugly people: no shame of the natural back then! It’s like walking into a remote Slovak village.)

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of relativation, too. You thought Hillary’s 3 AM ad was an outrageous bit of scare-mongering? Ha! Nixon would have shown her a thing or two. You think McCain’s panders to evangelical America are worrying? Carter offered the real thing. Imagine the outcry if Republicans would air ads like those today.

But two of the ads Massie dug up stand out. Two videos that evoke distant eras, and yet are as topical as ever before. In fact, the Obama campaign could run touched up versions of them right now.

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Can you feel it coming / in the air tonight …

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

The University of Wisconsin Advertising Project “codes and analyzes nearly all of the political advertising that is aired in 2008 federal and gubernatorial races across the country.” Yesterday it released a very interesting report on the two presidential candidates’ advertising in the week of September 28-October 4 (h/t Marc Ambinder). There’s a bunch of goodies in there, data-wise.

$28 million in one week

First of all, there’s the sheer volume of advertising that’s going on. Baffling amounts of money are being spent on equally stunning numbers of ads. In that one week alone, the two campaigns spent over $28 million on TV advertising.

That’s almost twice as much as in the first week of September. It’s also one and a half times as much as “the Bush and Kerry campaigns and their party and interest group allies spent” in the equivalent week of 2004. (Remember the reports back then about the unprecedented role money played in a record-breaking year of campaign spending?)

$28 million in one week. I mean, you could have 28 million young Africans immunised against meningitis for that. Just saying.

The result was that in the Las Vegas media market, Obama ads were aired 1,288 times in one week, and McCain ads 712 times. That’s a lot of ads.

Charting the ads

Secondly, the sheer extent to which Obama is outspending McCain on the airwaves. And the revealing differences in where they spend their money. In this one week, “the Obama campaign spent just under $17.5 million while the McCain campaign and the RNC spent just under $11 million combined.” I’ve graphed it, of course. This is by how much Obama is outspending McCain – and where:

Obama advertisement spending, 9/28 - 10/4

McCain advertisement spending, 9/28-10/4

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You have got to be kidding me (or: Palin’s sycophantic supporters and suspicious chaperones)

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

On a total aside in a post on McCain’s (lack of) campaign strategy, Daniel Nichanian at Campaign Diaries has this remark, between parentheses, about Sarah Palin’s recent telephone interview with Bill Kristol:

(Kristol acknowledged that it sounded like Palin was being coached by staffers while on the phone with him)

No way. She had staffers sitting in on a phone interview with a sycophantic columnist to make sure she didnt goof even in that setting?

But it’s true: in his complete softball of an interview, Kristol playfully asked Palin whether, “since she seemed to have enjoyed the debate, [..] she’d like to take this opportunity to challenge Joe Biden to another one.” Silence followed: “There was a pause, and I thought I heard some staff murmuring in the background (we were on speaker phones).” Eventually she passed on the notion of a challenge.

Now I’m a layman, I’ve never accompanied any candidate on his or her business — is this normal?

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