Tuesday, January 29, 2019

They always blame Americans first

Masha Gessen has concerns about a new museum.

The Unnerving Kitsch of New York City’s New K.G.B. Spy Museum

Imagine if the tyrant in question were not Joseph Stalin but Adolf Hitler. Imagine seeing a giant likeness of his head on a Manhattan sidewalk. Imagine a museum that offered people the option of dialling in to hear a speech by Hitler or Himmler, or invited them to be photographed in an S.S. uniform. It’s hard to imagine the Times giving such a museum an amused review, complete with a picture of the co-curators wearing Nazi uniforms.

The comparison between these two totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century is not gratuitous—it is common in historical and political scholarship. And yet, for the American public, an entertaining presentation of what was probably the most murderous secret-police organization in history seems both unproblematic and commercially promising. It’s a peculiar thing to observe, particularly at a moment when Russia—and Russian espionage in particular—looms so large in the American imagination.
In general, I am sympathetic to this argument. We have allowed the crimes of Stalin to remain hidden for far too long.

I just think that Gessen picked the wrong target for her disdain. The American public was, for decades, far more astute and knowledgeable about the horrors of the USSR and the threat from the KGB than were the writers at the New Yorker.

After all, the museum is not opening in Cedar Rapids but in Chelsea. It was not IowaHawk who downplayed Stalinism for grins-- it was the New York Times and Vice.

Anthony Daniels:

There was never a good time, for example, to be anti-communist. Those who early warned of the dangers of bolshevism were regarded as lacking in compassion for the suffering of the masses under tsarism, as well as lacking the necessary imagination to “build” a better world. Then came the phase of denial of the crimes of communism, when to base one’s anti-communism on such phenomena as organised famine and the murder of millions was regarded as the malicious acceptance of ideologically-inspired lies and calumnies. When finally the catastrophic failure of communism could no longer be disguised, and all the supposed lies were acknowledged to have been true, to be anti-communist became tasteless in a different way: it was harping on pointlessly about what everyone had always known to be the case. The only good anti-communist was a mute anti-communist.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Looks like someone picked a bad week to defend Journalism

“out of money, out of hope, it looks like self-destruction….”

Poor Jill Lepore. The New Yorker decided to run her desperate plea for newspapers, journalism, and the MSM at the very moment SERIOUS JOURNALISTS decided to embarrass themselves not once, but repeatedly.

Does Journalism Have a Future?

Even veterans of august and still thriving papers are worried, especially about the fake news that’s risen from the ashes of the dead news. “We are, for the first time in modern history, facing the prospect of how societies would exist without reliable news,” Alan Rusbridger, for twenty years the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, writes in “Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now.” “There are not that many places left that do quality news well or even aim to do it at all,” Jill Abramson, a former executive editor of the New York Times, writes in “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.” Like most big-paper reporters and editors who write about the crisis of journalism, Rusbridger and Abramson are interested in national and international news organizations. The local story is worse.
She sees journalism and journalists as mainly victimsvictims of Wall Street, of tech oligarchs, of social media temptations, of conservative pundits. That is to say, she has the story mostly wrong. Kevin Williamson has a much better take on what lies at the root of the crisis:

Crisis of Citizenship

The Covington fiasco has proved to be a clarifying moment. And here is what has been made clear: Much of the American media is no longer engaged in journalism. It is engaged in opposition research and in what is sometimes known among political operatives as “black p.r.”the sinister twin of ordinary public relations.
And Jim Hanson is pretty good over at the Federalist:

The Media Is Becoming A Megaphone For Foreign Influence Operations

Our information space is broken. There is no way for a normal person to just check in and get the news. At best, we get news analysis colored by the partisan bias of the person or organization presenting it. At worst, we get propaganda tailored to create a narrative or stories presented without fact-checking and validation because they were too juicy to skip. As our country has become more polarized over the past decade, this has become even more prevalent. This past weekend another false narrative blitzed though our public information space. A group of boys from Covington Catholic High School were accused of harassing a Native American elder and shouting racist slurs. My organization debunked this with less than 30 minutes of research, and the information we put into this video was all available to the journalists who smeared these kids, but the tale of a MAGA-hat-wearing mob of teens was too good to pass up. The whole incident seems to have been precipitated by a fake account on Twitter with all the characteristics of an influence operation.
Georgi Boorman, also at the Federalist, is on point:

How Twitter Lets The Mainstream Media Get Away With Constant Slander

Journalists can focus on viral outrage, with no fact-checking, promoting anything that confirms their pre-existing biases.
Lepore tries to skate past a couple of awkward points. She is wise to skate -- the stubborn facts she tries to ignore undercut her main arguments.

For one thing, Lepore casts her story as a melodrama: evil capitalist and tech titans are impoverishing reporters and destroying democracy.

Conglomeration can be good for business, but it has generally been bad for journalism. Media companies that want to get bigger tend to swallow up other media companies, suppressing competition and taking on debt, which makes publishers cowards.
That’s not the whole story and Lepore, as a historian, should know that.

Matt Welch (2013):

It was the classic deal between mostly liberal newsrooms and mostly conservative boardrooms: Close down the competition and use the profits to professionalize the news divisions, instilling a more liberal ethos even while embracing the advertising-friendly pose of objectivity. Then sit back and enjoy the 20 percent profit margins for four decades.
This blog (2007):

The owners were [happy] because monopolies provide a nice stream of predictable earnings. The newsroom liked that the owners were fat and happy because as long as the income statement looked good the owners did not interfere with content. Editors and reporters were free to chases awards, collect bigger paychecks, and indulge their ideological obsessions. Local monopolies also gave journalists bigger megaphones and a de facto victory in “explanation space”.
Basically, the MSM had everything in its favor: politically dis-engaged ownership, unchallenged near-monopolies, and the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. Then they recklessly over-played their hand right when technology undercut their position. They lost credibility, then customers, and finally employers.

Now, about those tech titans….

More alarming than what the Times and the Post failed to do was how so much of what they did do was determined less by their own editors than by executives at Facebook and BuzzFeed. If journalism has been reinvented during the past two decades, it has, in the main, been reinvented not by reporters and editors but by tech companies, in a sequence of events that, in Abramson’s harrowing telling, resemble a series of puerile stunts more than acts of public service.

Even as news organizations were pruning reporters and editors, Facebook was pruning its users’ news, with the commercially appealing but ethically indefensible idea that people should see only the news they want to see.
Facebook may be greedy and puerile but the ZuckerBorg is far less worrisome than the dogma animating Professor Lepore. Helping people read what they want to is apparently a mortal sin to those who worship in the High Church of Journalism.

the commercially appealing but ethically indefensible idea that people should see only the news they want to see.
That is castor oil journalism with a strong dash of proto-totalitarianism.

Lepore seems to be in the same camp as Kristof of The Times:

The decline of traditional news media will accelerate the rise of The Daily Me, and we’ll be irritated less by what we read and find our wisdom confirmed more often. The danger is that this self-selected “news” acts as a narcotic, lulling us into a self-confident stupor through which we will perceive in blacks and whites a world that typically unfolds in grays.
That’s the rub for people like Lepore and Kristof. They abhor the fact that people like them and people they like have lost control over explanation space. It is becoming harder and harder to build and sustain Narratives. Wrong Think is allowed to spread. Facecrimes go unpunished.

Nurse Ratchet can no longer dole out her castor oil.

And that makes people people like Kristof, Lepore, and Brian Stelter sad.


The Brooks-Sailer boundary: How the Deciders decide what you should read

Why the MSM can’t reform itself

No, the market does not make newspapers liberal

Way-points on the path to irrelevance and oblivion

Duke lacrosse: Auto de fe

Harvard verus Harvard

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Twitter, journalists, and our civic conversation

How Twitter Lets The Mainstream Media Get Away With Constant Slander

Journalists can focus on viral outrage, with no fact-checking, promoting anything that confirms their pre-existing biases. Thanks, Twitter!

The problem is that social media, mostly Twitter, has gifted traditional outlets with an explicit pre-formed narrative they merely need to report on, instead of producing facts and context (albeit with a slant) with which readers can draw their own conclusions.

Twitter was the greatest gift the mainstream media ever received. It’s better than their previous monopoly on cable television; it’s better than a world where readers had to wait ’til the next morning to get the news packaged and polished for them by a limited number of papers.

The instantaneous spread of commentary from people who care about how a story can serve their worldview even more than ideological journalists––facts are nearly irrelevant––means mainstream outlets don’t have to do much in the way of old-fashioned fact-finding journalism anymore.

Journalists and Twitter redux

Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

Why twitter?
Journalists need to ponder this point carefully:

By the time the contextualizing facts surface, people have already made up their minds about the story.
Once people make up their minds, it is difficult, almost impossible to for them to change them. This is especially true when they have staked out a public position.

Changing Minds

[Gardner] is especially pessimistic on our capacity to change our own minds. We do not, on the whole, accept new facts and revise our theories. Rather, we interpret or disregard the new information to make it fit our theories. This is not a matter of IQ or lack of education. He points out that intellectuals are "particularly susceptible" to removing cognitive dissonance by "reinterpreting" the facts.

Among the forces that exacerbate this tendency to lock-in a theory are emotional commitment, public commitment (pride makes it hard to climb down when everyone is watching), and an absolutist personality.

More on Changing Minds
Another key problem with twitter hot-takes is that those who excel at making them are the last people in the world we should listen to:

The most interesting of the three is the Narcissist, whose energy and self-confidence and charm lead him inexorably up the corporate ladder. Narcissists are terrible managers. They resist accepting suggestions, thinking it will make them appear weak, and they don't believe that others have anything useful to tell them. "Narcissists are biased to take more credit for success than is legitimate," Hogan and his co-authors write, and "biased to avoid acknowledging responsibility for their failures and shortcomings for the same reasons that they claim more success than is their due."

Narcissists typically make judgments with greater confidence than other people . . . and, because their judgments are rendered with such conviction, other people tend to believe them and the narcissists become disproportionately more influential in group situations. Finally, because of their self-confidence and strong need for recognition, narcissists tend to "self-nominate"; consequently, when a leadership gap appears in a group or organization, the narcissists rush to fill it.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Five long-form true crime podcasts better than Serial

One man’s opinion


Aaaron from the Generation Why podcast investigates the murder of 17 year old Brian Carrick in Johnsburg, Illinois in 2002. It is compelling listening with a better pay-off that Serial: Diligent research and hard-thinking combine to to offer a theory of the crime that is far more persuasive than those provided by the State of Illinois.

Don’t Talk to Strangers

Nina Innsted from the Already Gone podcast is in the middle of a re-investigation of the unsolved Oakland County Child Killer case. As with Already Gone, the podcast is well-done: solid research, flawless production, and unstinting empathy for the victims and their families.


People’s unblinking look at the death of Mary Jo Kopechne and the (successful) efforts of the Camelot gang to salvage Sen. Edward Kennedy’s career.

The Doorstep Murder

The BBC investigates a truly mysterious crime in Scotland. Why did a man murder young Alistair Wilson in 2004? Why did he first hand him an envelop before shooting the young father in his own doorway?

Florida Files

One morning in 1986, the FBI set out to arrest two violent armed robbers. Then it all went wrong. This detailed investigation dives into the lives of the agents, the killers and explores the many long-term ramifications of that confrontation.

A perfectly legal miscarriage of justice

An incredible two-part podcast from Generation Why

Who Killed Jerry Tobias? Part 1 - 311

Who Killed Jerry Tobias? Part 2 - 312
As suspicious death triggers a bizarre circus as five innocent men are jailed on the word of a drug-addled mentally-ill woman.

Warning: Listening will almost certainly raise you blood-pressure.

In his book An Innocent Man John Grisham wrote:

The journey also exposed me to the world of wrongful convictions. Something that I, even as a former lawyer, had never spent much time thinking about. This is not a problem peculiar to Oklahoma, far from it. Wrongful convictions occur every month in every state in this country, and the reasons are all varied and all the same-- bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defense lawyers, lazy prosecutors, arrogant prosecutors.

I’ve blogged quite a bit about similar cases and related issues. What is disheartening is that no matter how many exonerations occur, we never see any serious effort to reform the system. The police, prosecutors and judges who created the mess never face any serious consequences. The public never demands meaningful reform. Journalists never learn any lessons and continue to cover criminal cases in a the same way year after year.


Criminal justice and the Rosenhan Experiment

Novelists and Rosenhan

They trusted the experts

Richard Jewell

We owe Salem an apology