Archive

October 10th, 2016

Republicans are paying for their conservative media obsession

    This election year is memorable for many reasons but among the most important is showing Republicans the cost of their infatuation with "alternative" news sources.

    The rise of the conservative alternative media can be traced back to the founding of the newspaper Human Events in 1944, Regnery Publishing in 1947 and National Review in 1955. But it did not become a mass phenomenon until the debut of Rush Limbaugh's national radio show, in 1988, followed in 1996 by the launch of the Fox News Channel and the Drudge Report. Those still remain three of the most popular outlets on the right, but they have been joined by radio hosts such as Mark Levin and Michael Savage, authors such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D'Souza, and websites such as Breitbart News, TheBlaze, Infowars and Newsmax.

    The original impetus for these outlets was to offer a different viewpoint that people could not get from the more liberal TV networks, newspapers and magazines. But soon the alternative media moved from propounding their own analyses to concocting their own "facts," turning into an incubator of conspiracy theories such as "Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster" and "Barack Obama is a Muslim."

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Remembering a journalist who was killed for standing up to Putin

    Ten years ago Friday, Anna Politkovskaya, Russia's most famous journalist, was murdered in Moscow. Her death serves as a window to Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin autocrat whom many Americans are looking at for the first time - his name now in U.S. election headlines as a result of alleged hacking of Democratic National Committee servers by Russian actors and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's praise of Putin's strongman rule.

    Politkovskaya was known throughout the world for her reporting on the second Chechen war, a conflict Putin pursued with the same ruthless brutality that he is using today in Syria, an approach U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described as "barbarism."

    Only an utterly fearless journalist such as Politkovskaya would dare to visit war-torn Chechnya in the North Caucasus. Showing astounding bravery, she brought the lesser-known war to the world's attention, documenting murders, kidnappings, torture and the destruction of whole villages. Her investigative reports even resulted in the initiation of more than 20 criminal cases in Chechnya.

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Reefer Republic

    The budtenders of the Rose City are relentlessly helpful with tips pairing a marijuana strain that is “equal parts fruity and musky” with a stimulating Sichuan dish. As Oregon, the place where empires once clashed over the global trade of beaver furs, glides into a second year of legalized recreational pot, the state is determined to show the world that a certain kind of drug prohibition belongs in history’s dumpster.

    Soon, with the likely passage of legal pot in California next month, all of the West Coast — from the tundra of Alaska to the sun-washed suburbs of San Diego — will be a confederacy of state-regulated marijuana use.

    Across the Pacific, a completely a different view of drug use is playing out in the horror of the Philippines. That country is ruled by Rodrigo Duterte, a crude and brutal strongman known as the Donald Trump of the Philippines. Under his watch, more than 3,500 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed. Many of those murders are “extrajudicial,” as the State Department calls them.

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Mr. Market doesn't care about your politics

    It's election season, and that means it's time for partisans to pose as economists and strategists in order to explain how much the markets support their favorite candidate. It is an exercise fraught with a fundamental misunderstanding of what drives markets at best -- or intellectual dishonesty at worst.

    So let's get this out of the way: Mr. Market doesn't care who you are voting for, doesn't care very much who wins, isn't choosing one candidate over another and isn't especially concerned with politics.

    That isn't to say there is no information contained in market prices and price movement. Properly interpreting what the message of the market is requires a level of objectively that seems to be beyond the capacity of many pundits during the silly season.

    When it comes to any presidential election, there are a few things that readers, investors and pundits should take into account.

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Interruptology explains the presidential debates

    If the thought of tuning in to the second presidential debate on Sunday fills you with dread, you're not alone. More than 80 million Americans watched Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar at the last debate, while moderator Lester Holt fired off critical questions that seemed to disintegrate, unanswered. After 90 minutes of noisy word exchange, viewers were left with only the broadest outlines of the candidates' stands on domestic and foreign policy -- the issues presidents are supposed to deal with.

    What trickery do the candidates employ to make the challenging questions or uncomfortable topics disappear? One clear pattern from the last debate was that the candidates interrupted each other almost constantly.

    But as I learned from University of Iowa communications professor Kristine Muñoz, it wasn't just the number of interruptions that made the debate so unsatisfying. It was the type. A study in "interruptology" sheds light on why the last contest was so uniquely exhausting -- and how viewers might glean more information from the next one.

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Fix the debates by making them reality TV

    I really hate the presidential debates. I bet you do too. This isn't the first year they have been all but unwatchable. So I propose a handful of minor but useful reforms (for those who want to fix them) and a radical reform (for those who think them unfixable).

    First among the minor reforms is more time for answers. Granting aspirants to the most powerful office in the world only two minutes to explain complex positions (and less time than that to rebut) is absurd. It tests no actual skill, unless we count the skills of memorizing lines or saying the first thing that comes to mind. Certainly the time limits leave no space for persuading the audience rather than simply stating a view. If we don't let candidates have at least eight minutes -- the standard for most forms of high school debate -- then we're doing more harm than good.

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Debates benefit from voters' easy questions

    The town-hall format for the presidential debate on Sunday night will let undecided voters ask the questions.

    I'm looking forward to it. Journalists are often tempted to ask "gotcha" questions about flip-flops or, even worse, questions about the polls and campaign events that tell us nothing about how the candidates would act as president. Regular voters are far more likely to ask about policy. That's a good thing!

    Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction argues against giving undecided voters so much control over the agenda. True, truly undecided voters are a small and atypical group at this point in the campaign, and they score relatively poorly on tests of political knowledge.

    But town-hall debates have been successful.

    Take the one in 2012 between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Voters asked 10 questions. Seven were about policy. Some were inelegantly worded, but each introduced a good topic. Here are some examples:

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What About the Planet?

    Our two major political parties are at odds on many issues, but nowhere is the gap bigger or more consequential than on climate.

    If Hillary Clinton wins, she will move forward with the Obama administration’s combination of domestic clean-energy policies and international negotiation — a one-two punch that offers some hope of reining in greenhouse gas emissions before climate change turns into climate catastrophe.

    If Donald Trump wins, the paranoid style in climate politics — the belief that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a vast international conspiracy of scientists — will become official doctrine, and catastrophe will become all but inevitable.

    So why does the media seem so determined to ignore this issue? Why, in particular, does it almost seem as if there’s a rule against bringing it up in debates?

    Before I get there, a brief summary of the policy divide.

    It’s strange how little credit the Obama administration gets for its environmental policies.

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Trump is devouring Fox News

    Any news outlet wishing to provide solid and comprehensive coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign cannot avoid mentioning Sean Hannity's promotion of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

    "Hannity," which airs in the prime-time lineup of Fox News, is influential among conservatives and enjoys a substantial cable news audience, and its more interesting moments have a long tail on the Internet. In violation of any journalistic principle, Hannity has done a video promotion for Trump, hosted him for softball interviews too numerous to recount and even provided advice to the campaign.

    BuzzFeed, the New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the field have reported extensively on this dynamic.

    And last night, another important source of campaign news -- Megyn Kelly's own prime-time show on Fox News -- covered it as well.

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Make colleges pay loans if their graduates can't

    When the U.S. Education Department shut down ITT Technical Institute at the beginning of the fall semester, some people saw it as just desserts for the for-profit college. Given ITT's relatively low graduation rates, alleged use of deceptive job placement figures in its recruiting efforts, and high numbers of loan defaults and delinquencies, the government may have seemed justified in refusing to fund more loans to ITT students.

    Yet, now, 35,000 students are suddenly without a school and 8,000 faculty and staff are unemployed, and the entire episode shows that the government remains fixated on problems in the for-profit sector while virtually ignoring that all of U.S. higher education has long been guilty of what, in another business, might be called price gouging.

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