Thursday, June 26, 2014

Glenn Greenwald In A Nutshell

I like most of the current wave of media sites that are being launched these days. I think Vox is great and The Upshot is a prime example of how traditional media organizations can launch their own "explainer blogs" while staying true to their traditional mission. I'm not a huge fan of Nate Silver's new FiveThirtyEight site, honestly I don't read it that much, but I certainly think it has a right to exist and might get better as we move into election season.

But if there is one project that is, well kind of pathetic, it has to be Glenn Greenwald's First Look Media "empire." I put "empire" in quotes because basically it still consists of one "blog" called The Intercept that publishes about one story a week usually about the whole Snowden-what-have-you or about why Greenwald hates President Obama (for the record he's hated President Obama since before he was sworn in.) I think that's fine for somebodies personal blog, I don't publish ever day and I took a break from Longwalkdownlyndale recently, but if you are a professional journalist with a big staff? That's just pathetic.

Now in Greenwald et al's defense they claim that they are still working through all that Snowden stuff and so can't "really" launch right now, even though they said they launched back in January. Umm okay. I think now is a good time to point out that they got $250 million to put do their "fearless" and "adversarial" journalism and this is all they can come up with.

Wow, just wow.

I'm a bit of a biased source here, I'm not a fan of Greenwald. I think he approaches journalism like a trial lawyer, that is he always skews things to support his side of the argument and if he can't skew facts that way he just ignores them. This makes sense for how a litigator should approach a trial, but it's a terrible way to go about journalism. In addition I don't think he really understands politics or how the government works at all and more importantly has no interest in learning.

But still, come on. Oh also I should point out that the whole First Look organization is set up as a tax exempt charity. Umm okay.

So for review Greenwald's new venture is a nonprofit with $250 million in assets that produces little to no output and is focused, for now at least, and just rehashing an old story (the NSA spies on people!) that just happens to be Greenwald's greatest (and only) professional triumph. Yeah that's about him in a nutshell.

If only we had some fearless and adversarial journalists to look into that whole set up, then we might have a juicy story.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How The Political Media Thinks

Ezra Klein had a short post over at Vox the other day where he outlined how it's a good thing that Hillary is committing all these gaffes right now because now she has time to get back into the swing of things before the 2016 cycle really heats up. As Klein put it:
Hillary Clinton is rusty. Her book tour is proof. She got in a fight with NPR's Terry Gross over gay marriage. She said, ridiculously, that she and her husband were "dead broke" upon leaving the White House (you have to be pretty damn rich to be that broke). She told the Guardian that "we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off"  —  an odd statement for someone who is, by any measure, absurdly well off.

The gaffes have occasioned a rapid reassessment of whether Clinton is really the fearsome campaigner so many assumed. "She's an overrated politician," writes the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein. "Some Democrats fear Clinton's wealth and ‘imperial image' could be damaging in 2016," reports the Washington Post.
The big thing here isn't to argue that Clinton didn't commit any gaffes, yelling at Terry Gross counts as a gaffe when there are so many other ways to doge her questions. The big thing is to point out that gaffes don't matter. Yes they really, really don't (okay a Mel Gibson type meltdown would probably matter, but that wouldn't be called a gaffe right?) Indeed the big take away from 2014 (and 2013 I guess) is that Hillary is dominating the invisible primary as no non-incumbent Prez or VP has ever before. Meaning, bad radio interview aside, it's quite possible that Hillary has already wrapped up the nomination. Like right now. Which mean that Klein is really missing the big picture here.

Which makes me ask the question, how could a smart and talented reporter like Ezra Klein miss this big point? I don't think it's because there is something wrong with Ezra, I think it just illuminates a bigger point about journalists that cover politics. And so I want to coin my own way of describing this strange anomaly, let's call it Anderson's Razor which states that: to journalists in the political media, there is no politics outside of the political media.

What do I mean by that, well I mean that journalists like Klein see politics as being fully contained by the political media itself. In other words "politics" is everything that the political media learns about, writers about, and talks about amongst other people in the political media. So things like "dominating the invisible primary" doesn't count as "politics" for the political media because by it's very nature the invisible primary is impossible to cover. The collective opinions and actions of hundreds of thousands of party actors in the Democratic Party is at is core something you can't know, so the political journalist simply ignores the whole concept. Saying roughly, "it's not something that we can really cover, so it isn't politics", even though the invisible primary is very important in deciding who the next president will be.

This is a big part of why gaffes get so much coverage in the political media, even though they don't really matter. There's nothing else to write about! Since the self-imposed rules of Anderson's Razor keep you from discussing things like the invisible primary the only things that are happening in the 2016 race, that is in terms of things that the political media can write about, are the gaffes. There's nothing else to write about.

Now why do people like Klein follow these self created rules? I have no idea, but it goes a long way to understanding the poor coverage of the 2016 race.


I'm still posting regularly at The Good Men Project but I'm also going to start posting here more regularly as well. So feel free to come back, that is if everyone hasn't already left.