Archives for category: media

[Update: This post was intended for, but the formatting and pictures only seem to work here.]

[Update 2: Below]

Too often, voters seem to get caught up in trying to make sure “their guy” wins, and meanwhile they lose sight of their underlying objective: making the world a better place, and maximizing whatever utility function they see fit. Normally, this would be an implicit objective — not many people have literally constructed a utility function for their political objectives, but everyone has things they think are important and those define their “implicit utility function.” The truth is that casting a vote for the less offensive of the two “viable” candidates, or advocating for others to cast their votes that way, is not necessarily the best strategy for your long-term well-being. I actually think there are many good reasons not to vote for the major parties (one being that their policy differences are overblown), but today I just want to highlight one perpective that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere.

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[First published on on 7/16/12]

Last month President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum regarding the enforcement of immigration laws. Immigration is one of those policies, like prison reform or even foreign policy, that has very little direct effect on me until I reflect on the fact that, to the extent that I consider myself to be a citizen of a sovereign nation, I am responsible for this nation’s policies. A major part of my ethical awakening in the past decade is to take this civic responsibility more seriously even though, as a relatively privileged white male, it is so much easier to ignore it on a day to day basis. Indeed, the fact that it took me a whole month to bother writing this article is a result of my natural inclination remain apathetic. Along with fighting for skepticism in education and civic discourse, fighting against apathy is one of the two driving forces in my current worldview. I consider fighting apathy to be an ethical stance, while the skeptical activism is more of a strategic stance. Of course, undergirding these stances is a fundamental belief in democracy and the American model in the first place. After all, if the nation in which I reside is not democratic and sovereign, then my ethical and strategic stances need to be quite different. I’ve heard some interesting arguments along these lines on Occupy Radio (iTunes link), including discussions with the anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan. I’m not ready to jump ship and join the anarchists, but the principled alternative is certainly not apathy. One thing the anarchists and statists (such as myself) should agree on is that solidarity is essential to social justice.

Though belated, I thought this post would be worthwhile because, as far as I can tell, I have a unique perspective on Obama’s executive order, stemming from my own particular brand of naïveté.

After listening to and reading several days worth of media coverage of the new immigration policy last month, I was truly shocked when I sat down and actually read the document. The facts that were implied and left unchallenged in the articles I had read and NPR discussions I listened to were simply not borne out in the text of the order.

From the media coverage, I got the impression that Obama had granted a temporary reprieve from deportation to a certain class of undocumented immigrants. All sides seemed in agreement on that point, and the various arguments and discussions hinged on this agreement. My impetus for reading the original document was that I wanted to write a post about how Obama’s decision related to my recent post about overcriminalization and, specifically, the problematic practice of prosecutorial discretion. I also wanted to point out that Obama makes a mockery of our system of government by arguing that he could not wait any longer for congress to act, for it should also be congress’s prerogative not to act or even to fail to act. An executive branch that respects the actions of congress only when it sees fit is not behaving as part of a balanced system but rather claiming the dominant position in a totalitarian system. These arguments seemed compelling to me, so I figured I should read the primary document to hone my argument for my post.

Imagine my surprise when I found the document to be very sensitive to the executive branch’s limitations regarding the right to assure illegal immigrants any leeway whatsoever. The memo was very careful to emphasize that even those immigrants who met the stated criteria were to be considered on a “case-by-case” basis. That is to say, even assuming they fit the criteria and the order stays in force (Obama is not exactly the most steadfastly principled politician, and Romney may be even less so), they could still be deported. “[The Department of Homeland Security] cannot provide any assurance that relief will be granted in all cases… This memorandum confers no substantial right… Only Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.” Since prosecutorial discretion was already necessarily being conferred, this language actually constitutes nothing more than a mere suggestion of how to apply that discretion. Indeed, the memo acknowledges that, “our ongoing review of pending removal cases is already offering administrative closure to many of them.” If you were a qualifying undocumented immigrant, would you voluntarily register your personal information with a government offering that level of “assurance” in a document that can be rescinded as suddenly as it was executed? Would you want your name and personal information on file in the event of a Romney presidency? Compared to what the media was reporting, if we interpret the document literally, registering for this program would seem to be a high-risk endeavor.

So, why was there such a discrepancy between what I was led to believe would be in the executive order and the actual text of that document? I suspect that the disconnect has less to do with negligence or misinterpretation by the media and more to do with the fact that the words in the memo are not to be taken literally. That is to say, I suspect that all the caveats and nods to Constitutional constraints are instinctively understood among media insiders and other executive-branch observers as mere boilerplate to be ignored in order to correctly interpret the memo’s meaning and implications. As a relatively new observer, perhaps I was naive to have taken the memo at face value. In the future, I, too, will know that a mere suggestion by the President of policy within the executive branch will be taken by the President’s underlings to be inviolable law, and the media will report it as such. I find this to be frightening and disturbing, but it seems like the best explanation. (136)

[First published on on 6/11/12]

Update/retraction: I jumped the gun on some of the assumptions I made in the following post. Jay Tomlinson of the Best of the Left podcast informs me that the main entities behind Our Blue Media are actually for-profit. This should have occurred to me, since non-profits have political speech restrictions. Clearly, I hadn’t considered this carefully enough. Some of this post suggests that “for-profit” can be seen as a proxy for “unreliable due to a conflict of interest.” That argument is now clearly problematic in light of this new information. I have indicated the most egregiously wrong section with a strikethrough. Not sure what else to say, except “I regret the error.”


The “hostile media effect” is a cognitive bias that causes people on either end of any spectrum of belief to think that the media is biased against them. It helps to keep this effect in mind when criticizing the media, which I’m about to do.

As we all know, the importance of the media to a functioning democracy was recognized by our founding fathers and enshrined in the first amendment’s guarantee of press freedom. The media’s essential role in a democracy it is to shine light on the workings of our government and other powerful factions and to demand transparency. Funding the investigative reporting necessary to fulfill this venerated duty is rather expensive, but the corporate media would happily make the investment if we as media consumers were willing to pay for enough for it. Unfortunately, it turns out most Americans would rather learn about the social lives of celebrities than the rather depressing details of the inner workings of congress. The corporate media makes sure the supply of each type of story meets the relative demands.

Okay, so that’s a little unfair. Some corporate media entities really do depend on their reputations as respectable contributors to our democracy’s “fourth estate.” The New York Times, for example, is able to stay afloat without dabbling too shamefully in voyeurism. However, even this most respected newspaper has not exactly been thriving financially. This, despite not even remaining fully committed to their “fourth estate” duty to turn their critical eye on the authorities. Other media corporations, such as Fox News and The Huffington Post, have implicitly rejected the idea that they have any such societal duty, and these are the most popular media sources of their kinds. USA Today is America’s most popular newspaper. (The relatively respectable The Wall Street Journal is not far behind, though.) What we see here is a lack of interest on the part of society for the type of content that is so important to society’s health. What is to be done?

On a personal level, my solution has been to turn to the non-profit “New Media.” It turns out that there do exist entities dedicated to fulfilling the democratic duties of a free press — they are just poorly funded and unpopular. My media consumption does not really involve reading these primary sites. Mostly, I get my news after it’s filtered through meta-journalists such as Tom Ashbrook, Megan McArdle, Alison Kilkenny, Jay Tomlinson, Glenn Greenwald, or Amy Goodman. It doesn’t really matter who — what matters is that they are focused on the most important stories.

[See retraction.] With the exception of McArdle (who I think is on hiatus, anyway) and Greenwald, these journalists all work for non-profits. Unlike for-profit media corporations, non-profits don’t suffer from an explicit profit motive interfering with their civic duty to shine light on government, but their success still depends on the willingness of their readers, listeners, and viewers to donate, which means that there is still an incentive to cover popular topics rather than important ones. As I say in almost every post, I think the only long-run solution is to change the culture — in this case, change it so that the important stories are the most popular stories. Until then, the best we can do is seek out those who are doing the best work and donate.

Dan Carlin likes to point out that every economist and businessman he talked to about his business model — giving away his content for free and then asking for donations — told him it had no chance of working. I don’t quite understand the pessimism; after all, isn’t this almost exactly how NPR gets most of its funding? In any case, the fact is that people do donate. I say: the more the better. This is why I’m rather excited about a new project called “Our Blue Media,” started by Jay Tomlinson and others. (I donated to the fund to create it.) Ideally, it would be focused more generally on important media rather than specifically “progressive” media, but perhaps that is a false distinction. I especially wish they had avoided the use of the word “blue,” which I consider far too indicative of support for the Democratic Party, which has lost my support after humiliating me with broken promises. In any case, their stated objective is one that I think is quite exciting and could really benefit from some creativity and funding: improving the process by which New Media sources are funded.

Who knows, perhaps before long you’ll even be donating to this blog through Our Blue Media. Until then, please enjoy your freeloading. (185)

[First published on on 6/1/12]

As Marc described yesterday, my post last week about my embarrassment at having bought into Obama attracted the attention of a reporter doing a story on disillusionment among Obama’s 2008 supporters. She’s not sure when the story will be published, but it could be as soon as next week. When it is published, you can rest assured that we will announce its publication and link to it from this blog, whether or not we are featured in the article. You probably noticed that we have not revealed the reporter’s name. At the end of my interview, I asked her how it would affect her if I blogged or tweeted about the interview, and she respectfully requested that I refer to her only as “a reporter.”

Needless to say, this is an exciting development for me. For quite a while, I’ve been trying to find a way to find a voice, assert my values, and make a difference. Posting in this blog seemed like a nice outlet until I found a way to make a more substantial difference, but I did not really expect it to attract much attention. This interview is a welcome surprise. Moreover, it’s encouraging to know that the mainstream media is now developing this narrative of a growing coalition of angry and disillusioned former Obama voters. It’s the sort of narrative that has the potential to dispel the self-fulfilling notion that Third Party candidates are hopeless. If this allows Third Parties to get enough of the vote, perhaps they will stop being viewed only as spoilers and more as genuine ideological alternatives to the two corporate-chosen parties that are traditionally put before the electorate for our rubber-stamping.

I participated in this interview despite my belief that the domination of the media by corporate entities is a major problem. I think the profit motive tends to direct their reporting choices, and, inevitably, their corporate identity tends to make them more sympathetic to corporate interests. In recent years I’ve shifted my news-consumption to sources that are independent and non-profit. Still, the quality of corporate media sources vary widely, and there is lots of great work being done by many of the reporters in the corporate media. I think this is likely to be one of those instances. In any case, I was treated with respect and my opinions are now more likely to gain a wider audience. I think that easily makes it worth any tiny exacerbation I may have introduced to the problem of the media’s domination by corporate entities. Good reporting is still good reporting, and I’m very pleased this story is being covered, whatever the medium.

Although I didn’t say everything I had hoped during the interview, I was given ample time (half an hour), and we touched on several subjects I didn’t anticipate. She asked a little about me and my history, she asked why I was upset with Obama, and she asked what I plan to do going forward. I think my anger and frustration came across appropriately. She also asked a bit about the skeptic movement and Dan Carlin. I am writing up my account of the interview in more detail, but I haven’t decided yet if I should post that before or after her story comes out.

The reporter also asked me to recommend other people to interview. If you’ve been deeply disillusioned by Obama and you’d like me to send your name along to her, contact me by commenting, emailing, or tweeting. (190)