Category: media

The federal Off switch

I was asked by a reader if I planned on opining on the proposed federal budget cuts to public broadcasting, where I can occasionally be found on Friday mornings, as you know. (For which I receive nothing more than attention, and some of it negative, which is why I stopped reading Wisconsin Public Radio Facebook posts while I’m on the air.)

Now that someone brought it up, at the risk of biting the publicity hand that feeds my need for self-promotion, I bring up Ryan Girudsky:

President Donald Trump unveiled his budget on Thursday, and is planning on making massive budget cuts to domestic programs. Programs like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which fund NPR and PBS will be on the chopping block. Rest assured, Big Bird and Elmo will survive without the government.

While liberals are comparing Trump’s budget to a dystopia and giving children nightmares that their favorite puppets will soon be no more, Sesame Street and most PBS shows will be fine.

Mitt Romney threatened to cut off funds to PBS if he were to win the presidential election in 2012. Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, told CNN that the cut in funding would not “kill Big Bird.”

“Sesame Workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS. So, we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship,” Westin said. “So quite frankly, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of public broadcasting. But when they always try to tout out Big Bird, and say we’re going to kill Big Bird – that is actually misleading, because Sesame Street will be here.”
Only 31 percent of Sesame Street funding comes from a mixture of corporate, government, and foundational support. Nearly 70 percent comes from licensing, distribution fees, and royalties.

Sesame Street has so much potential to be even more profitable now that HBO bought the right to air the show for five years in 2015. PBS gets to air the new episode after a nine-month exclusivity period for HBO.

Furthermore, PBS and NPR will also be fine because they aren’t that reliant on the CPB either. According to Pro Publica, only 15 percent of PBS’s funding are CPB-issued grants, while only two percent of NPR’s funding comes from the government agency.

Perhaps all the celebrities who love to bask in the glow of their own greatness at award shows can open up their pockets and give additionally to the very small amount cut from PBS’ budget.

Kind of like the feast of donations Meals on Wheels programs have received after the proposed budget cut that isn’t a Meals on Wheels budget cut at all. (Community Development Block Grants fund Meals on Wheels programs in some areas, none of which receive more than a single digit percentage of their funding from CDBGs.)

A similar budget cut happened in Wisconsin during the 2015–17 budget, though the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported at the time:

Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee on Tuesday cut funding for public broadcasting and programs to mitigate farm runoff, but not as deeply as GOP Gov. Scott Walker wanted. …

Walker, who is in Israel this week as he prepares for a likely run for president, recommended cutting nearly $5 million over two years from the state Educational Communications Board, which runs Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television. The board also operates the system that is used for Amber Alerts and other emergency alerts.

Republicans on the committee voted to restore $2.6 million of the funding, leaving the board with a $2.3 million reduction.

Democrats invoked “Sesame Street” to argue for fully funding the board, with Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) saying the cuts were proposed by “Gov. Walker the Grouch.”

Public broadcasting is “the one consistent thing we get from one end of the state to the other,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). “It’s public. It’s ours. We as Wisconsinites own it and we should be supporting it.”

Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chairman of the committee, argued the cuts would not affect public broadcasting’s programming but some staff would be trimmed.

Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) said restoring some of the funding was important because public radio provides a service by letting its audience “listen to people from across the state.” But he said some cuts were warranted because public broadcasting in Wisconsin receives more taxpayer support than similar systems in other states.

Beyond the dollar figures involved, Logan Albright adds:

Budget hawks will be quick to point out that $445 million is but a fraction of a drop in the proverbial bucket of government spending, and it’s true. But no one is claiming that cutting public broadcasting will balance the budget. The question we should be asking is, “Why are we funding it in the first place?”

State-funded media suffer from one glaring, common problem: Someone — a central authority — gets to decide what kind of content is appropriate for the public, and what isn’t. As taxpayers, we cannot withhold our money if we object (or, are indifferent) to what we see — we have to pay for it regardless.

In most countries, this is called propaganda; the populace is fed what the government wants them to see. While public broadcasting in America is generally more benign than the term “propaganda” implies — focusing mainly on classical music and educational programming rather than fictional glorifications of Dear Leader — national media are nevertheless contrary to the American principles of a free press.

But what will happen to all that beloved programming on PBS and NPR if the federal government doesn’t pay for it? What about “Sesame Street”? What about “A Prairie Home Companion”? Should we just let these things wither on the vine? There are two responses to these concerns.

The first is that, if something really is popular, it will survive just fine without government having to force people to fund it.

“Sesame Street” is widely watched. It is certain that advertisers would be willing to sponsor it. Or, if you are among those who feel some moral objection to advertising in children’s shows, is there any reason to believe that donations couldn’t sustain the program? PBS and NPR already receive a majority of their funding from voluntary donations anyway — they are not suddenly going to disappear without the federal government as a backstop.

The second answer to the above question is simply “Yes,” things that no one is willing to pay for should be allowed to end.

There is no such thing as objective value in a television show or a radio program. The only value they have is in the subjective opinions of the viewers and listeners. If you have to use the force of taxation to keep a show running, it means that you are subsidizing the preferences of a few at the expense of everyone else.

For those who make the argument that we need public broadcasting to provide culture for the nation’s poor (who otherwise could not afford it), I would argue that this smacks of arrogance and elitism. The programmers at NPR may like classical music and cool jazz, but what evidence do they have that single mothers working three jobs appreciate these highly specific forms of “culture”?

Claiming that “the poor” need to listen to a particular type of music in order to better themselves is not based on anything but a false sense of superiority and a desire to impose one person’s tastes on others.

The government’s funding of broadcasting is as much an affront to the First Amendment as it would be if Donald Trump announced today that the federal government is going to dump $445 million into Fox News. (Someone before me came up with that observation, though I cannot find the source.) There is no guarantee of editorial independence from the government funders by the management of public TV or radio as long as there is government funding.

The identities of those in charge don’t matter. The heads of PBS and NPR can swear up and down that their news coverage is and will be unbiased, and they can be presumed to be sincere. That doesn’t prevent a future head of PBS from mandating news coverage to adhere to his or her own political views. That also doesn’t prevent a president from putting pressure on NPR to cover things as the president wants covered.

Jim Epstein adds:

If the Trump Administration gets its way in ending federal funding for public broadcasting (see the budget proposal …), it wouldn’t spell the end of NPR, PBS, or the radio and television programs that many Americans cherish. The biggest impact would be on rural stations that rely on government dollars for a large share of their operating budgets. Several reporters have noted that these rural stations “serve” communities that skew heavily Republican, claiming irony. “[D]efunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers writes, “would mean hurting the local TV and radio stations that a whole lot of Republican voters watch and listen to.”

We don’t actually know how many Republican voters (or anyone for that matter) watch and listen to NPR or PBS in these rural communities because the networks keep that information private. If saving the rural stations is the main reason to maintain federal funding, don’t taxpayers have a right to see multi-year ratings data? In a press release responding to the budget cuts, PBS merely cites its old talking point that public broadcasting costs each citizen just $1.35 per year. Just because something’s comparatively cheap doesn’t make it worth buying.

The notion of a television station “serving” a community is outdated. You don’t hear Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu boasting that they “serve” one area of the country or another. As I argued in a recent video, the mean reason to end federal funding to these stations is that the media landscape looks nothing like it did in 1967, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act.

Trump’s taxes, Maddow and other things you need not watch

Because I was working (and even had I not been working I have an actual life), I did not watch MSNBC’s revealing Donald Trump’s 2005 income taxes Tuesday night.

Fortunately for those who care, Legal Insurrection did so you and I didn’t have to:

Rachel Maddow has a history of claiming big scoops which then flop.

There was the debunked 2012 big scoop about supposed GOP wrongdoing in Michigan. And the 2014 big scoop that the Koch Brothers were behind Florida groups pushing drug testing for welfare recipients, which was not true. We covered the Florida non-scoop big scoop, Rachel Maddow’s come undone with Koch Derangement Syndrome.

[Tuesday] Maddow claimed to have Donald Trump’s tax returns. The internet lit up. …

The interest was stoked when the person who obtained the “tax returns” and was to appear on Maddow’s show tweeted out as similar message …

But very quickly, tax returns (plural) turned into Form 1040 from 2005.

The White House pushed back even before airtime:

The White House says President Donald Trump made more than $150 million in income in 2005 and paid $38 million in income taxes that year.

The acknowledgement comes as MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says she has obtained part of Trump’s 2005 tax forms.

The White House is pushing back pre-emptively, saying that publishing those returns would be illegal.

It says, “You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago.”

… As she was stalling, her secret source and guest published the information on his own website, which The Daily Beast then posted before Maddow made the reveal:

Donald Trump earned more than $150 million in the year 2005—and paid just a small percentage of that in regular federal income taxes. Daily Beast contributor David Cay Johnston has obtained what appear to be the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, and published an analysis of those pages on his website, DCReport.org. The Daily Beast could not independently verify these documents.
The documents show Trump and his wife Melania paying $5.3 million in regular federal income tax—a rate of less than 4% However, the Trumps paid an additional $31 million in the so-called “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT. Trump has previously called for the elimination of this tax….

Trump’s 2005 return also shows that he’d continued to benefit from the roughly $916 million loss he reported in his 1995 return—published last year by The New York Times. Using a loophole Congress closed in 1996, Trump converted that loss into a tax credit for the same amount he could offset against income.

Tucker Carlson also reported on the story as Maddow was stalling …

So there was no there there.

If anything, Maddow helped Trump by showing the paid $38 million in taxes on $150 million of income. Hardly the narrative the Democrats like.

Not only did Maddow get scooped on her own scoop, there are two inconvenient facts, reported by Chicks on the Right:

The big story of the night is President Trump’s 2005 tax returns. As it turns out, he paid $38 million in taxes on over $150 million of income. Zero Hedge broke this down– he paid “$5.3 million in regular federal income tax, and an additional $31 million of ‘alternative minimum tax,’ or AMT.” …

Ah yes. Wasn’t Obama’s effective federal income tax rate 18.7 percent in 2015? And who could forget about everyone’s favorite senile socialist, Bernie Sanders?

Trump 2005 tax rate: 25%
Romney 2011 tax rate: 14.1%
Sanders 2014 tax rate: 13.5%
Obama 2015 tax rate: 18.7%

Or, put another way in a Fox & Friends graphic:

James Freeman adds another:

The Journal reports that because of losses in previous years, Mr. Trump’s adjusted gross income in 2005 was just $48.6 million. MSNBC may have just produced the greatest argument ever against the Alternative Minimum Tax. Does anyone this side of Bernie Sanders—or come to think of it, Rachel Maddow—think that the Internal Revenue Service should confiscate 78% of someone’s adjusted gross income?

We learned last night that Hillary Clinton’s claims about Mr. Trump’s taxes were off target. But another person who should be feeling at least a little embarrassed is the American media’s most beloved billionaire, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett. In the heat of the campaign last year Mr. Buffett, a Democratic donor, released his 2015 tax returns and challenged Mr. Trump to do the same.

Mr. Buffett is estimated by Forbes to be worth around $78 billion, or roughly eight times Mr. Trump’s most optimistic assumptions about his own wealth. Yet in October Mr. Buffett revealed that he paid just $1.8 million in federal taxes in 2015, less than 5% of what Mr. Trump had paid a decade earlier, not even adjusted for inflation. Of course this is just one year of tax data on Mr. Trump and as a businessman who’s had his share of failures, he may have paid little or nothing in other years. But $38 million is a big tax bill for anybody, at any time.

Along with putting to rest the canard that the President doesn’t pay taxes, perhaps last night’s MSNBC show will finally persuade media folk like Charlie Rose to stop treating Mr. Buffett as the conscience of American business. Many journalists have fallen for Mr. Buffett’s folksy pitch for higher tax rates because he creates the impression that he is representative of a much larger group of people who are unfairly denying Washington its needed revenue. While it’s true that our complicated tax code benefits people rich enough to hire the brightest accountants and tax attorneys, Mr. Buffett is in a class by himself.

Whether rates go up or down is largely irrelevant to the sage of Omaha, because he manages to report a remarkably small income for someone with such gargantuan assets. Maybe Mr. Trump should ask him how he does it.

If journalists start applying the same standards to Donald Trump that they apply to Mr. Buffett, that would absolutely count as news. Well done, Ms. Maddow.

The added inconvenient fact for liberals is that all of Trump’s 2005 income came from the private sector, something neither Sanders nor Obama could claim.

So once again idiot liberais have made Trump look sympathetic. You need not be a Trump non-fan or fan to see some holes in this. Dan Mitchell sees them:

Interestingly, it appears that Trump pays a lot of tax. At least for that one year. Which is contrary to what a lot of people have suspected – including me in the column I wrote on this topic last year for Time.

Some Trump supporters are even highlighting the fact that Trump’s effective tax rate that year was higher than what’s been paid by other political figures in more recent years.

But I’m not impressed. First, we have no idea what Trump’s tax rate was in other years. So the people defending Trump on that basis may wind up with egg on their face if tax returns from other years ever get published.

Second, why is it a good thing that Trump paid so much tax? I realize I’m a curmudgeonly libertarian, but I was one of the people who applauded Trump for saying that he does everything possible to minimize the amount of money he turns over to the IRS. As far as I’m concerned, he failed in 2005.

But let’s set politics aside and focus on the fact that Trump coughed up $38 million to the IRS in 2005. If that’s representative of what he pays every year (and I realize that’s a big “if”), my main thought is that he should move to Italy.

Yes, I realize that sounds crazy given Italy’s awful fiscal system and grim outlook. But there’s actually a new special tax regime to lure wealthy foreigners. Regardless of their income, rich people who move to Italy from other nations can pay a flat amount of €100,000 every year. Note that we’re talking about a flat amount, not a flat rate.

Here’s how the reform was characterized by an Asian news outlet.

Italy on Wednesday (Mar 8) introduced a flat tax for wealthy foreigners in a bid to compete with similar incentives offered in Britain and Spain, which have successfully attracted a slew of rich footballers and entertainers. The new flat rate tax of €100,000 (US$105,000) a year will apply to all worldwide income for foreigners who declare Italy to be their residency for tax purposes.

Here’s how Bloomberg/BNAdescribed the new initiative.

Italy unveiled a plan to allow the ultra-wealthy willing to take up residency in the country to pay an annual “flat tax” of 100,000 euros ($105,000) regardless of their level of income. A former Italian tax official told Bloomberg BNA the initiative is an attempt to entice high-net-worth individuals based in the U.K. to set up residency in Italy… Individuals paying the flat tax can add family members for an additional 25,000 euros ($26,250) each. The local media speculated that the measure would attract at least 1,000 high-income individuals.

Think about this from Donald Trump’s perspective. Would he rather pay $38 million to the ghouls at the IRS, or would he rather make an annual payment of €100,000 (plus another €50,000 for his wife and youngest son) to the Agenzia Entrate?

Seems like a no-brainer to me, especially since Italy is one of the most beautiful nations in the world. Like France, it’s not a place where it’s easy to become rich, but it’s a great place to live if you already have money.

But if Trump prefers cold rain over Mediterranean sunshine, he could also pick the Isle of Man for his new home.

There are no capital gains, inheritance tax or stamp duty, and personal income tax has a 10% standard rate and 20% higher rate.  In addition there is a tax cap on total income payable of £125,000 per person, which has encouraged a steady flow of wealthy individuals and families to settle on the Island.

Though there are other options, as David Schrieberg explained for Forbes.

Italy is not exactly breaking new ground here. Various countries including Portugal, Malta, Cyprus and Ireland have been chasing high net worth individuals with various incentives. In 2014, some 60% of Swiss voters rejected a Socialist Party bid to end a 152-year-old tax break through which an estimated 5,600 wealthy foreigners pay a single lump sum similar to the new Italian regime.

Though all of these options are inferior to Monaco, where rich people (and everyone else) don’t pay any income tax. Same with the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. And don’t forget Vanuatu.

If you think all of this sounds too good to be true, you’re right. At least for Donald Trump and other Americans. The United States has a very onerous worldwide tax system based on citizenship.

In other words, unlike folks in the rest of the world, Americans have to give up their passports in order to benefit from these attractive options. And the IRS insists that such people pay a Soviet-style exit tax on their way out the door.

 

News about the news

Nate Silver has been researching the 2016 presidential election, starting with a comparison with Brexit earlier in 2016:

The U.S. presidential election, as I’ve argued here, was something of a similar case. No, the polls didn’t show a toss-up, as they had in Brexit. But the reporting was much more certain of Clinton’s chances than it should have been based on the polls. Much of The New York Times’s coverage, for instance, implied that Clinton’s odds were close to 100 percent. In an article on Oct. 17 — more than three weeks before Election Day — they portrayed the race as being effectively over, the only question being whether Clinton should seek a landslide or instead assist down-ballot Democrats:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is planning its most ambitious push yet into traditionally right-leaning states, a new offensive aimed at extending her growing advantage over Donald J. Trump while bolstering down-ballot candidates in what party leaders increasingly suggest could be a sweeping victory for Democrats at every level. […]

The maneuvering speaks to the unexpected tension facing Mrs. Clinton as she hurtles toward what aides increasingly believe will be a decisive victory — a pleasant problem, for certain, but one that has nonetheless scrambled the campaign’s strategy weeks before Election Day: Should Mrs. Clinton maximize her own margin, aiming to flip as many red states as possible to run up an electoral landslide, or prioritize the party’s congressional fortunes, redirecting funds and energy down the ballot?

This is not to say the election was a toss-up in mid-October, which was one of the high-water marks of the campaign for Clinton. But while a Trump win was unlikely, it should hardly have been unthinkable. As we were fond of pointing out at the time, Trump’s chances in mid-October were around 1-in-6 according to betting markets and FiveThirtyEight’s forecast, about the same as a chance of being shot while playing a “game” of Russian roulette. And yet the Times, famous for its “to be sure” equivocations,2 wasn’t even contemplating the possibility of a Trump victory​. It expressed nearly as much confidence in Clinton two weeks later even after the polls tightened substantially after FBI director James B. Comey’s letter to Congress, at which point Trump’s odds jumped to about 1-in-3 in our forecast.”

It’s hard to reread this coverage without recalling Sean Trende’s essay on “unthinkability bias,” which he wrote in the wake of the Brexit vote. Just as was the case in the U.S. presidential election, voting on the referendum had split strongly along class, education and regional lines, with voters outside of London and without advanced degrees being much more likely to vote to leave the EU. The reporters covering the Brexit campaign, on the other hand, were disproportionately well-educated and principally based in London. They tended to read ambiguous signs — anything from polls to the musings of taxi drivers — as portending a Remain win, and many of them never really processed the idea that Britain could vote to leave the EU until it actually happened.

So did journalists in Washington and London make the apocryphal Pauline Kael mistake, refusing to believe that Trump or Brexit could win because nobody they knew was voting for them? That’s not quite what Trende was arguing. Instead, it’s that political experts aren’t a very diverse group and tend to place a lot of faith in the opinions of other experts and other members of the political establishment. Once a consensus view is established, it tends to reinforce itself until and unless there’s very compelling evidence for the contrary position. Social media, especially Twitter, can amplify the groupthink further. It can be an echo chamber.

I recently reread James Surowiecki’s book “The Wisdom of Crowds” which, despite its name, spends as much time contemplating the shortcomings of such wisdom as it does celebrating its successes. Surowiecki argues5 that crowds usually make good predictions when they satisfy these four conditions:

  1. Diversity of opinion. “Each person should have private information, even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.”
  2. Independence. “People’s opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them.”
  3. Decentralization. “People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.”
  4. Aggregation. “Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.”

Political journalism scores highly on the fourth condition, aggregation. While Surowiecki usually has something like a financial or betting market in mind when he refers to “aggregation,” the broader idea is that there’s some way for individuals to exchange their opinions instead of keeping them to themselves. And my gosh, do political journalists have a lot of ways to share their opinions with one another, whether through their columns, at major events such as the political conventions or, especially, through Twitter.

But those other three conditions? Political journalism fails miserably along those dimensions.

Diversity of opinion? For starters, American newsrooms are not very diverse along racial or gender lines, and it’s not clear the situation is improving much.6 And in a country where educational attainment is an increasingly important predictor of cultural and political behavior, some 92 percent of journalists have college degrees. A degree didn’t used to be a de facto prerequisite<a class — “It’s not clear how many newsrooms require a college degree for their reporting positions — we usually don’t do so at FiveThirtyEight and a quick perusal of other job listings suggest that many other newsrooms also do not. But there may nonetheless be a lot of self-selection in which candidates seek out these jobs and who succeeds in the recruiting and hiring process for a reporting job; just 70 percent of journalists had college degrees in 1982 and only 58 percent did in 1971.

The political diversity of journalists is not very strong, either. As of 2013, only 7 percent of them identified as Republicans (although only 28 percent called themselves Democrats with the majority saying they were independents). And although it’s not a perfect approximation — in most newsrooms, the people who issue endorsements are not the same as the ones who do reporting — there’s reason to think that the industry was particularly out of sync with Trump. Of the major newspapers that endorsed either Clinton or Trump, only 3 percent (2 of 59) endorsed Trump. By comparison, 46 percent of newspapers to endorse either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney endorsed Romney in 2012. Furthermore, as the media has become less representative of right-of-center views — and as conservatives have rebelled against the political establishment — there’s been an increasing and perhaps self-reinforcing cleavage between conservative news and opinion outlets such as Breitbart and the rest of the media.

Although it’s harder to measure, I’d also argue that there’s a lack of diversity when it comes to skill sets and methods of thinking in political journalism. Publications such as Buzzfeed or (the now defunct) Gawker.com get a lot of shade from traditional journalists when they do things that challenge conventional journalistic paradigms. But a lot of traditional journalistic practices are done by rote or out of habit, such as routinely granting anonymity to staffers to discuss campaign strategy even when there isn’t much journalistic merit in it. Meanwhile, speaking from personal experience, I’ve found the reception of “data journalists” by traditional journalists to be unfriendly, although there have been exceptions.

Independence? This is just as much of a problem. Crowds can be wise when people do a lot of thinking for themselves before coming together to exchange their views. But since at least the days of “The Boys on the Bus,” political journalism has suffered from a pack mentality. Events such as conventions and debates literally gather thousands of journalists together in the same room; attend one of these events, and you can almost smell the conventional wisdom being manufactured in real time. (Consider how a consensus formed that Romney won the first debate in 2012 when it had barely even started, for instance.) Social media — Twitter in particular — can amplify these information cascades, with a single tweet receiving hundreds of thousands of impressions and shaping the way entire issues are framed. As a result, it can be largely arbitrary which storylines gain traction and which ones don’t. What seems like a multiplicity of perspectives might just be one or two, duplicated many times over.

Decentralization? Surowiecki writes about the benefit of local knowledge, but the political news industry has become increasingly consolidated in Washington and New York as local newspapers have suffered from a decade-long contraction. That doesn’t necessarily mean local reporters in Wisconsin or Michigan or Ohio should have picked up Trumpian vibrations on the ground in contradiction to the polls. But as we’ve argued, national reporters often flew into these states with pre-baked narratives — for instance, that they were “decreasingly representative of contemporary America” — and fit the facts to suit them, neglecting their importance to the Electoral College. A more geographically decentralized reporting pool might have asked more questions about why Clinton wasn’t campaigning in Wisconsin, for instance, or why it wasn’t more of a problem for her that she was struggling in polls of traditional bellwethers such as Ohio and Iowa. If local newspapers had been healthier economically, they might also have commissioned more high-quality state polls; the lack of good polling was a problem in Michigan and Wisconsin especially.

There was once a notion that whatever challenges the internet created for journalism’s business model, it might at least lead readers to a more geographically and philosophically diverse array of perspectives. But it’s not clear that’s happening, either. Instead, based on data from the news aggregation site Memeorandum, the top news sources (such as the Times, The Washington Post and Politico) have earned progressively more influence over the past decade:

The share of total exposure for the top five news sources9 climbed from roughly 25 percent a decade ago to around 35 percent last year, and has spiked to above 40 percent so far in 2017. While not a perfect measure10, this is one sign the digital age hasn’t necessarily democratized the news media. Instead, the most notable difference in Memeorandum sources between 2007 and 2017 is the decline of independent blogs; many of the most popular ones from the late ’aughts either folded or (like FiveThirtyEight) were bought by larger news organizations. Thus, blogs and local newspapers — two of the better checks on Northeast Corridor conventional wisdom run amok — have both had less of a say in the conversation.

All things considered, then, the conditions of political journalism are poor for crowd wisdom and ripe for groupthink. So … what to do about it, then?

Initiatives to increase decentralization would help, although they won’t necessarily be easy. Increased subscription revenues at newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post is an encouraging sign for journalism, but a revival of local and regional newspapers — or a more sustainable business model for independent blogs — would do more to reduce groupthink in the industry.

Likewise, improving diversity is liable to be a challenge, especially because the sort of diversity that Surowiecki is concerned with will require making improvements on multiple fronts (demographic diversity, political diversity, diversity of skill sets). Still, the research Surowiecki cites is emphatic that there are diminishing returns to having too many of the same types of people in small groups or organizations. Teams that consist entirely of high-IQ people may underperform groups that contain a mix of high-IQ and medium-IQ participants, for example, because the high-IQ people are likely to have redundant strengths and similar blind spots.

That leaves independence. In some ways the best hope for a short-term fix might come from an attitudinal adjustment: Journalists should recalibrate themselves to be more skeptical of the consensus of their peers. That’s because a position that seems to have deep backing from the evidence may really just be a reflection from the echo chamber. You should be looking toward how much evidence there is for a particular position as opposed to how many people hold that position: Having 20 independent pieces of evidence that mostly point in the same direction might indeed reflect a powerful consensus, while having 20 like-minded people citing the same warmed-over evidence is much less powerful. Obviously this can be taken too far and in most fields, it’s foolish (and annoying) to constantly doubt the market or consensus view. But in a case like politics where the conventional wisdom can congeal so quickly — and yet has so often been wrong — a certain amount of contrarianism can go a long way.

Telling like (they thought) it was

The headline refers, of course, to ABC-TV’s Howard Cosell, who claimed to “tell it like it is” when that was not always the case.

Two things in the last week brought this subject to mind. First, a death, reported by the Dallas Morning News:

Gary Cartwright, a colorful Texas journalist who began his career on the talent-laden sports staff of the Fort Worth Press in the 1950s, died Wednesday morning after suffering a recent fall at his Austin home. He was 82.

Cartwright went on to become an award-winning sportswriter for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News. He left TheNews in 1967 to advance a career that included writing the 1968 novel The Hundred Yard War, inspired by his coverage of the Dallas Cowboys.

But his most prominent years as a journalist came during his time with Texas Monthly. He worked for the Austin-based magazine from 1973, when he profiled controversial Cowboys running back Duane Thomas for its debut issue, to 2010, when he retired. …

“He was certainly one of a kind,” acclaimed Texas author Dan Jenkins, 88, said of Cartwright, with whom he worked at the Press and the Times Herald. “He was a wild card, but he was awfully talented. We had a million laughs.”

Cartwright, Jenkins and mutual friend Edwin “Bud” Shrake collaborated on what may have been the most audacious, literary-minded sports staff ever assembled. All three worked at the Press and Times Herald, where their boss was an equally vivid character, the late Blackie Sherrod, who later became a columnist for TheNews.

Cartwright was well-read, Jenkins said, “and he was a fan of the trade, as we all were. It just came natural to him. We were all kind of natural, for some strange reason. It was just one of those things. We all fell together. Blackie had an awful lot to do with making us work hard.

“We laughed a lot, we joked a lot, and we kind of wrote for each other and tried to outwrite each other. It was fun, and we were all friends.”

Jenkins, who now lives in his native Fort Worth, said: “I figured it up one day. Blackie and Bud and Gary and I, the four of us, combined to have 57 books published. For a little sports staff, that may be a world record.”

Cartwright came of age as a journalist in the 1960s, which coincided with a memorable era in Dallas sports. The decade began with not one but two professional football teams playing in the Cotton Bowl.

It was a time of raw turbulence in the country but especially in Dallas, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, when Cartwright was the Cowboys beat writer for TheNews and Shrake was its lead sports columnist. The two covered the Cowboys game in Cleveland two days after the assassination, a Sunday in which a man they knew strip-club owner Jack Ruby — gunned down  Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police station.  …

But one of the most talked-about moments in Cartwright’s career came after a bitter Cowboys defeat. The lead to his game story published in TheNews remains a staple of sportswriting folklore.

On Nov. 21, 1965, the Cowboys were playing the defending champs of the National Football League, the Cleveland Browns, led by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown. In their sixth year of existence, the woeful Cowboys had yet to experience a winning season. But on Thanksgiving Day 1965, they teetered on the threshold of a turning point.

Don Meredith, the team’s often-embattled quarterback, had marched the Cowboys to the Browns’ 1-yard-line, with 4 minutes 34 seconds remaining and the Browns ahead, 24-17. The cacophonous crowd of 76,251 was, at the time, the largest in Cotton Bowl history.

But, sadly, the comeback unraveled.

Rather than have the Cowboys run the ball, Meredith hurled a wobbly first-down pass, which caromed into the arms of a Cleveland defender.

Hunched in the press box on deadline, Cartwright crafted a lead that serves as a lasting parody of turn-of-the-20th century sportswriting legend Grantland Rice:

“Outlined against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. You know them: Pestilence, Death, Famine and Meredith.”

That, Dan Jenkins said, “was one of the greatest leads ever.”

Sam Blair, a retired sports columnist for TheNews, once wrote a piece in which he quoted Cartwright, his longtime friend, expressing regret about something else he wrote of Meredith: “In a column I said Meredith was a loser. That was stupid. Meredith wasn’t a loser. I was.”

The second was a girls basketball playoff game I announced (one day late due to weather) at Wisconsin Heights High School near Black Earth. Wisconsin Heights is what I call a “hyphen” school district (whether or not there’s an actual hyphen in its name), a combination of two or more communities whose school districts merged. Wisconsin Heights, which opened in 1965, is made up of the former Black Earth and Mazomanie schools.

From Black Earth (nickname: “Earthmen”) came Gene Brabender, who was one of the first Milwaukee Brewers pitchers, and before that a member of the one-year Seattle Pilots. The Pilots were the subject of one of the first sports tell-all books, Ball Four, written by one of the Pilots’ pitchers, Jim Bouton. If you ever announce a Wisconsin Heights game, you are obligated to bring up the story about how Pilots players speculated on Brabender’s alma mater fight song, and they came up with “Black Earth, we love you, hurrah for the rocks and the dirt.”

The Hundred Yard War and Ball Four were two of the first sports tell-all books, even though the former was fiction and the latter was not. (Bouton wrote the book via tape recorder, unbeknownst to his teammates, most of whom reacted quite negatively when the book came out. That prompted a sequel, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.)

Bouton, a Yankees starting pitcher who pitched in two World Series before an arm injury, reported on his teammates’ philandering and use of amphetamines (called “greenies”). He also opined freely on his teammates, manager and coaches, management, wife (eventually ex-wife) and children, and so on. In the style of the ’60s he was an outsider and nonconformist when conformity was king in baseball and, with a few outliers (Joe Namath, Bill Russell), every other pro sport.

Even if you don’t buy Bouton’s description of the poor Pilots management, the Pilots obviously had poor management, as proven by the fact that (not reported in the book) they were bankrupt before the end of their first season. Milwaukee car dealer Bud Selig bought the team in a bankruptcy sale during the 1970 exhibition season, and thus the 1969 Pilots (without Bouton, traded to Houston and into a pennant race) became the 1970 Brewers, though with the Pilots’ jerseys (with lettering and insignia ripped off and replaced by “BREWERS”). That obviously would never happen now; the big leagues are much more careful about who gets awarded their expansion franchises. (Of course, the Pilots-turned-Brewers needed nine seasons to win more games than they lost, and three more to make the playoffs. On the other hand, the replacement for the Pilots, the Mariners, have been in one more fewer World Series than the Brewers.)

Ball Four became a brief TV series …

… although not as Bouton intended. He had in mind, believe it or don’t, “M*A*S*H” set in a baseball stadium, which no viewer of the time would have accepted. (“Ball Four” had just seven episodes filmed, only five of which were aired.) There was a TV series that perhaps patterned what Bouton wanted …

… though “Bay Cities Blues,” though created by Steven Bochco of “Hill Street Blues” fame, lasted four (of the eight filmed) episodes. Then as now, most people seek sports as an escape, not to be reminded of the crappiness of life.

The News story about Cartwright notes former Cowboy receiver Peter Gent, who then wrote his own novel, North Dallas Forty. The aforementioned Jenkins wrote a more comedic novel, Semi-Tough, which became a Burt Reynolds movie.

Kirkus Reviews called War

… a very cynical view of the world of pro football and a rather too naive psychological look at the players working out — the patterns off the field generally run to sleazy adventures while practice time is surprisingly inhuman. Generally this follows the career of Rylie Silver, star quarterback on an ailing team, a man who makes a ritual of getting drunk before every game. He’s an erratic genius and also accident prone. And obviously there isn’t the rapport between the coach and his #1 man that one has been led to assume. The book starts out well, with the tension and schemata of the draft choices as coach Andy Craig tries to get next year’s winning combination. He succeeds but is later sacked and his “”dream”” never gets off the drawing board since Iris replacement, a rather strident sadist, turns the men into instruments of their own destruction and Rylie is finally traded out. Mr. Cartwright, a sports Writer, combines an intimate knowledge of the game with a grimly intellectualized look at the creatures who play it. Oddly, none of them seem real and misapplied metaphors (“”She had breasts like pine smoke””) don’t help.

North Dallas Forty was similar, with various sex and drug use, though funnier until the grim ending where the hero gets cut and his new girlfriend is murdered. The latter detail was not included in the movie:

Both the novel and the movie are thinly veiled tales of the ’60s Cowboys. “Phil Elliott” (Nick Nolte) was the author, “Seth Maxwell” (Mac Davis) was Meredith (who said upon seeing the movie, “If I’d known Gent was as good as he says he was, I would have thrown to him more”), his backup must have been Craig Morton, the coach (G.D. Spradlin) was Tom Landry, “Delma Huddle” (played by former NFL running back Tommy Reamon, known later for coaching NFL quarterbacks Aaron Brooks and Michael and Marcus Vick in high school) must have been Bob Hayes, and so on.

One assumes the authors wrote The Hundred Yard War, Ball Four and North Dallas Forty as exposés of the dehumanizing nature of professional sports. I was in middle school and high school when I first read them, so I didn’t have an adult perspective. To me, however, they were all like the movie “Apocalypse Now,” intended as an antiwar film, which was recast by its viewers as a pro-war film. (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It’s the smell of … victory.”) I was not and am not a fan of drug abuse, but to a teenage reader another thought came to mind about each book’s depiction of pro athletes — GIRLS!

Around this time I also read the autobiography of Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum, They Call Me Assassin. The Raiders were the renegades of the NFL in the 1970s, and Tatum’s self-described exploits (for instance, a training camp air hockey tournament where cheating was mandatory, and a food fight at a team banquet) reinforced the concept that pro sports was a nonstop party even beyond games. (Years later Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler wrote his own autobiography, Snake, which reinforced more of this, though again some of his teammates denied Stabler’s reports of Raider hijinks, perhaps because they weren’t involved with them.)

The aforementioned three books paved the way for later series and movies about sports, including ESPN’s “Playmakers” (killed after one season by the National Football League, which was not amused by one of its broadcast partners carrying an unflattering portrait of pro football), Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday,” and the soccer series “Footballers’ Wives.”

Gent, meanwhile, wrote a sequel to his own book, North Dallas After 40, in which characters, well, age. (Forty was written in the first person, while After 40 was written in the third person.) Publishers Weekly reviewed it:

This sequel to Gent’s very funny look behind the scenes of professional football, North Dallas Forty , is not what you’d expect. Most of the major characters are back, and their lives after football are right on target (coach B. A. Quinlan is now governor of Texas; ace quarterback Seth Maxwell is a TV star), but the emphasis here is not on the game but on corruption, murder, savings-and-loan frauds and drugs. Phil Elliot, the alienated wide receiver, is still odd man out, in conflict with the new owners of the North Dallas NFL team, who badly want the small piece of land which is his only legacy to his young son. His ex-wife is pressuring him for everything he’s got ( except custody of their son), his body is a painful relic of his playing days and even some of his ex-teammates, back together for the 20th anniversary of North Dallas’s first championship season, seem to be in league with the forces of evil. Gent uses a series of flashbacks expertly, filling in the gaps for readers not familiar with the earlier book, but his farfetched story is too improbable to work and is helped not at all by an ending as jarring and disconcerting as an official’s flag canceling out a spectacular touchdown play.

Monday Night Football viewers since its inception know that Meredith left ABC for a couple years to announce for NBC and act:

There is a great irony in these books that the authors may not have realized. Gent and Bouton bit the hands that fed them; even though pro athletes weren’t paid like they are now, they were still paid rather well for a part-time job playing sports. Cartwright was paid to cover sports. Had the public rebelled against what Gent, Bouton and Cartwright wrote about, Gent’s and Bouton’s playing successors would have had to find some other line of work.

The First Amendment for you and me

David Blaska:

Did you know that The Capital Times and The Nation are mentioned in The Constitution of the United States? Specifically, in the First Amendment?

Neither did I. Sorry for the trick question, but John Nichols thinks they are.

In a piece blasting (who else?) Donald Trump (“The enemy of the people …” blah blah blah), Comrade Nichols makes this remarkable assertion:

… that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution …

The only “business”? You mean, haberdashers are left unprotected? Hod carriers bereft of the Constitution? HVAC contractors out in the unconstitutional cold?

Only “The Press,” aka the news media, enjoys that special status? Really, John?

It is typical of the Left to regard the term “the Press” to mean exclusively the institutional news media — the New York Times, CBS, CNN, et cetera. Corporations, all. Because the Left vigorously denies the blessings of free speech to us commoners, the deplorables!

The truth is that the basement conspiracy-monger,  high on mimeograph fluid, has as much First Amendment protection as Chuck Todd. The fact is that Koch Industries has every bit of constitutional protection for its free speech as The Capital Times or, for that matter, Stately Blaska Manor. Because nothing in the Constitution singles out one “business” for more constitutional protection than another.

Nichols, the news media corporations, and the Democrat(ic) party itself, are adamant that the First Amendment should be gelded to limit free speech only for the credentialed experts in Press Row. Where is your journalism degree?! Papers!


Justice Scalia says the First Amendment means what it says:

The Amendment is written in terms of “speech,” not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals … “All the provisions of the Bill of Rights set forth the rights of individual men and women — not, for example, of trees or polar bears. But the individual person’s right to speak includes the right to speak in association with other individual persons.

Surely the dissent does not believe that speech by the Republican Party or the Democratic Party can be censored because it is not the speech of “an individual American.”


The Trump Times

James Freeman replaced James Taranto on the essential Best of the Web Today beat, and here is his first offering:

Who says Donald Trump is against entitlement reform? While he probably won’t propose changes to Medicare or Social Security in his first budget proposal, the President seems eager to consider whether all members of the media establishment should continue to enjoy privileges not available to the average citizen.

CNN and the New York Times are upset they weren’t included in a Friday press briefing at the White House, even though they still had access to media pool reports filed that day. Almost all Americans—and for that matter almost all journalists—were also not invited to the meeting with White House press secretary Sean Spicer. But CNN and the Times seem to feel particularly offended.

CNN’s Jake Tapper said the White House guest list was “not acceptable” and “un-American.” Dean Baquet, executive editor at the Times, called it unprecedented and said, “Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” The Times also ran a story this weekend comparing the rhetoric Mr. Trump uses for journalists who peddle “fake news” with the words of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who murdered millions of his countrymen.

But even the Times doesn’t think much of this comparison. On Saturday the paper ran a piece taunting Mr. Trump based on the Times conviction that even the highest elected official in the U.S. will ultimately lose a power struggle with Washington’s un-elected establishment. Reporters Glenn Thrush and Michael Grynbaum fault Mr. Trump for “believing he can master an entrenched political press corps with far deeper connections to the permanent government of federal law enforcement and executive department officials than he has.” The Times report adds that the President “is being force-fed lessons all presidents eventually learn — that the iron triangle of the Washington press corps, West Wing staff and federal bureaucracy is simply too powerful to bully.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper said the White House guest list was “not acceptable” and “un-American.” Dean Baquet, executive editor at the Times, called it unprecedented and said, “Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” The Times also ran a story this weekend comparing the rhetoric Mr. Trump uses for journalists who peddle “fake news” with the words of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who murdered millions of his countrymen.

But even the Times doesn’t think much of this comparison. On Saturday the paper ran a piece taunting Mr. Trump based on the Times conviction that even the highest elected official in the U.S. will ultimately lose a power struggle with Washington’s un-elected establishment. Reporters Glenn Thrush and Michael Grynbaum fault Mr. Trump for “believing he can master an entrenched political press corps with far deeper connections to the permanent government of federal law enforcement and executive department officials than he has.” The Times report adds that the President “is being force-fed lessons all presidents eventually learn — that the iron triangle of the Washington press corps, West Wing staff and federal bureaucracy is simply too powerful to bully.”

When trying to play the sympathetic victim whose rights are being violated, referring to oneself as part of an “iron triangle” is generally not recommended. Also, how often did Soviet dissidents get the chance to force-feed Stalin? If they could have found anything to eat presumably they would have kept it for themselves.

Apparently CNN can’t stick to the script either. The ubiquitous Mr. Grynbaum of the Times observes that both friends and foes of CNN President Jeffrey Zucker “say he can handle — and even relishes — a harsh spotlight.” The piece recounts how, while nibbling on filet mignon at a recent gathering of select reporters, Mr. Zucker said that his team wears Trump insults “as a badge of honor.” The headline notes that Mr. Trump and Mr. Zucker are “2 Presidents Who Love a Spectacle.”

If Mr. Zucker seems unconcerned about the possibility of being sent to the gulag, it’s perhaps because he knows that his First Amendment rights are not threatened. It is not essential to our democracy that the White House gives information first to particular entrenched media incumbents before sharing it with the public. And the First Amendment does not say that the New York Times and CNN must have an edge over smaller competitors.

Every politician has significant discretion over how to reach the public and which media outlets to favor. In 2009 President Obama chose in his first prime-time news conference to recognize a Huffington Post writer, bypassing various newspaper reporters. Mr. Obama also used YouTube to order the FCC to prevent telecom companies from charging YouTube and Netflix market rates for carrying their massive Internet traffic.

Last year the Times ran a front-page story saying that reporters who thought Mr. Trump was a dangerous demagogue “have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer.” More recently CNN happily broadcast repeated references to an accusation-filled “dossier” of negative rumors about Mr. Trump without bothering to confirm they were true.

The President can be forgiven for thinking that CNN and the Times have been trying to build the case for impeachment since Election Night. He has no obligation to help them. Along with refusing to give them an informational edge on their media competitors, this entitlement reform could be paired with an effort to make more government data available to everyone, and to make it more easily understandable and searchable, empowering amateur and professional journalists alike.

The latest NBC/WSJ poll suggests the issue could resonate. A full 86% of respondents agree with the following statement: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” Also, a majority in the survey believe that the “news media and other elites are exaggerating the problems with the Trump Administration because they are uncomfortable and threatened with the kind of change that Trump represents.”

The survey sample skews Democratic, yet survey respondents have become more optimistic in the Trump era. Now 40% think the country’s headed “in the right direction,” compared to 33% two months ago and just 20% in December of 2015. Mr. Trump’s approval ratings, while still low by presidential standards, are also improving. And perhaps that’s what is most upsetting to CNN and the New York Times.

Trump and the truth (or lack thereof)

Charlie Sykes:

If President Trump’s first tumultuous weeks have done nothing else, at least they have again made us a nation of readers.

As Americans grapple with the unreality of the new administration, George Orwell’s “1984” has enjoyed a resurgence of interest, becoming a surprise best seller and an invaluable guide to our post-factual world.

On his first full day in office Mr. Trump insisted that his inaugural crowd was the largest ever, a baseless boast that will likely set a pattern for his relationship both to the media and to the truth.

At an event marking Black History Month last week, the president took a detour from a discussion of Frederick Douglass — he described the abolitionist as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more” — to talk about the press. “A lot of the media is actually the opposition party — they’re so biased,” he said. “So much of the media is the opposition party and knowingly saying incorrect things.”

Mr. Trump understands that attacking the media is the reddest of meat for his base, which has been conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem.

For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right’s immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.

The news media’s spectacular failure to get the election right has made it only easier for many conservatives to ignore anything that happens outside the right’s bubble and for the Trump White House to fabricate facts with little fear of alienating its base.

Unfortunately, that also means that the more the fact-based media tries to debunk the president’s falsehoods, the further it will entrench the battle lines.

During his first week in office, Mr. Trump reiterated the unfounded charge that millions of people had voted illegally. When challenged on the evident falsehood, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, seemed to argue that Mr. Trump’s belief that something was true qualified as evidence. The press secretary also declined to answer a straightforward question about the unemployment rate, suggesting that the number will henceforth be whatever the Trump administration wants it to be.

He can do this because members of the Trump administration feel confident that the alternative-reality media will provide air cover, even if they are caught fabricating facts or twisting words (like claiming that the “ban” on Muslim immigrants wasn’t really a “ban”). Indeed, they believe they have shifted the paradigm of media coverage, replacing the traditional media with their own.

In a stunning demonstration of the power and resiliency of our new post-factual political culture, Mr. Trump and his allies in the right media have already turned the term “fake news” against its critics, essentially draining it of any meaning. During the campaign, actual “fake news” — deliberate hoaxes — polluted political discourse and clogged social media timelines.

Some outlets opened the door, by helping spread conspiracy theories and indulging the paranoia of the fever swamps. For years, the widely read Drudge Report has linked to the bizarre conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who believes that both the attacks of Sept. 11 and the Sandy Hook shootings were government-inspired “false flag” operations.

For conservatives, this should have made it clear that something was badly amiss in their media ecosystem. But now any news deemed to be biased, annoying or negative can be labeled “fake news.” Erroneous reports that the bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office or misleading reports that sanctions against Russia had been lifted will be seized on by Mr. Trump’s White House to reinforce his indictment.

Trump vs. the media, or, Longest Books Ever Written

Jonah Goldberg, not a fan (as myself) of Donald Trump:

Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, had an unfortunate turn of phrase the other day. She said it’s the mission of the press to “control exactly what people think.”

My suspicion is that this was less a Freudian slip than a simple slip-up. Brzezinski was referring to her fear that President Trump may be trying to control the way people think by discrediting the media — whom he calls “enemies of the American people” — and she lost her rhetorical footing, stumbling into saying that mind control is “our job.”

But the misstatement resonated with a lot of people, as did Trump’s claim that the press is an enemy of the people.

The first thing that needs to be said is that whenever you hear a politician talk about “the American people,” either they’re over-generalizing to the point of banality, or they’re referring to only one segment of the American public. “The American people love an underdog” is an example of banality. The press “is the enemy of the American people” is a highly subjective declaration.

I don’t blame journalists for taking offense. It was a grossly irresponsible thing for the chief constitutional officer of our government to say. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a point or that people are crazy for seeing it.

Which brings me back to Brzezinski’s comment about the media’s controlling how people think.

One need not paint with an overly broad brush or accuse the entire press corps of being part of a knowing conspiracy to manipulate the public. Many mainstream journalists sincerely believe they are operating in good faith and doing their job to the best of their abilities. At the same time, it seems patently obvious that the “objective” press is in the business of subjectively shaping attitudes rather than simply reporting facts.

Consider the hot topic of the moment: illegal immigration. The syndicate that distributes the column you are reading follows the AP stylebook, which says that I am not allowed to refer to “illegal immigrants” (i.e., people who migrate illegally), but I can refer to illegal immigration (i.e., the act of migrating illegally). Kathleen Carroll, then the senior vice president and executive editor of the Associated Press, explained that the change was part of the AP’s policy against “labeling people.”

Many news outlets followed suit, using such terms as “unauthorized” or “undocumented” to describe immigrants formerly known as illegal.

The move was hailed by left-wing immigration activists as a great leap forward. And for good reason: It is part of their agenda to blur the distinctions between legal and illegal immigration, and to make it sound as if objecting to the former is morally equivalent to objecting to the latter. But as a matter of fact and logic, the difference between an “unauthorized immigrant” and an “illegal immigrant” is nonexistent. The media play these kinds of linguistic games all the time.

Economics professor Tim Groseclose walks readers through countless examples in his book Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Partial-birth abortion virtually never appears without a “so-called” before it, and the procedure is virtually never described clearly. The word “kill” is almost never used to describe any abortion, despite the fact that this is what happens. Whenever some great sweeping piece of liberal social legislation is passed by Democrats, it’s a “step forward.” Whenever a law is repealed, Republicans are “turning back the clock.”

The language games are part of a larger tendency of journalists to follow certain scripts that conform to how coastal elites see the country.

In 2015, during the ridiculous hysteria over Indiana’s religious-freedom law (since revised), a news reporter went around a small town asking business owners about the law. The owner of Memories Pizza, Crystal O’Connor, said anyone could eat there, but they’d probably turn down a job to cater a gay wedding. The story was immediately blown up by national news outlets as proof of some prairie fire of anti-gay discrimination, even though no one had been discriminated against. Memories Pizza had to shut down.

My hunch is that O’Connor nodded along when Trump said the press is the enemy of the American people.

 

A Wisconsin voice from the past

If you are old enough to remember the Glory Years Packers, the answer to the question of who was the Packers’ announcer those years might be Ray Scott, from CBS-TV.

Unless you missed their home games on TV because you lived near Green Bay or Milwaukee in the old NFL blackout days, in which case the answer might be radio announcer Ted Moore:

And if you’re not old enough to remember Moore, surely you remember Jim Irwin:

Before Moore, who started announcing Packers games in 1960, there was Mike Walden, who announced Badger, Packer and, on TV, Milwaukee Braves games. One of Walden’s games was the 1963 Rose Bowl, which he announced on the NBC radio broadcast with USC announcer Tom Kelly:

Apparently Walden liked southern California, because he then left Wisconsin and moved to California, replacing Kelly on radio while Kelly moved to TV.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

USC’s broadcaster Mike Walden was in enemy territory when the Trojans’ basketball team finally handed UCLA its first loss at Pauley Pavilion in 1969. When it was over, Walden climbed atop the announcer’s table and yelled, “The Trojans win! The Trojans win! The Trojans win!” much like the legendary Harry Caray.

So Walden lost a few friends several years later when he took a job across town and became the only person to serve as the broadcast voice for both USC and UCLA.

“But Mike Walden was a journalist first, and did not want to be known as a homer,” his son, Gregory Walden, reminisced in an email.

Walden, a Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame member best known for his coverage of the Trojans and Bruins, and for his loud sport coats, died Sunday at his home in Tarzana from complications related to a stroke, his son said Thursday. He was 89.

The interesting thing about the aforementioned Walden, Kelly (who died in June), Enberg, Miller and longtime Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn is that they all grew up in the Midwest. Kelly’s first radio job was in Janesville, and though he started broadcasting for USC in 1962, he returned to Illinois for years to broadcast the Illinois state boys basketball tournament. Miller was one of the two UW hockey radio announcers (two stations broadcasted games until Clear Channel purchased both stations). Enberg is from Michigan, graduated from Central Michigan University, and earned a Ph.D. at Indiana while announcing its games before he too headed west. (Hmmm … do I know anyone who grew up in Wisconsin and then headed to California …) Hearn, who grew up in Illinois, preceded Kelly (for one season) at USC, and once worked with Kelly on the Illinois state tournament.

 

Another thing liberals have ruined

Tonight begins the high school girls basketball playoffs in Wisconsin, followed one week from today by the boys playoffs.

So it seems appropriate to bring up self-described liberal sportswriter Bryan Curtis:

Today, sportswriting is basically a liberal profession, practiced by liberals who enforce an unapologetically liberal code. As Frank Deford, who joined Sports Illustrated in the ’60s, told me, “You compare that era to this era, no question we are much more liberal than we ever were before.”

In the age of liberal sportswriting, the writers are now far more liberal than the readers. “Absolutely I think we’re to the left of most sports fans,” said Craig Calcaterra, who writes for HardballTalk. “It’s folly for any of us to think we’re speaking for the common fan.”

Of course, labels like “liberal” and “conservative” don’t translate perfectly to sports. Do you have to be liberal to call Roger Goodell a tool? So maybe it’s better to put it like this: There was a time when filling your column with liberal ideas on race, class, gender, and labor policy got you dubbed a “sociologist.” These days, such views are more likely to get you a job.

Donald Trump’s election was merely an accelerant for a change that was already sweeping across sportswriting. On issues that divided the big columnists for years, there’s now something like a consensus. NCAA amateurism is rotten. The Washington Redskins nickname is more rotten. LGBT athletes ought to be welcomed rather than shunned. Head injuries are the great scandal of the NFL.

A few decades ago, Taylor Branch’s line that NCAA amateurism had “an unmistakable whiff of the plantation” would have been an eye-rollingly hot take. Now, if you turned in a column comparing college football to the institution of slavery, I suspect few editors would try to talk you out of publishing it. But they might ask you to come up with something more original.

As recently as the turn of the century, you could find columnists hanging Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million contract around his neck. Nobody much writes about free agency like that anymore. Even a bad contract is usually called a misallocation of resources by a team rather than a manifestation of a ballplayer’s overweening greed.

In the new world of liberal sportswriting, athletes who dabble in political activism are covered admiringly. Last year, Slate’s Josh Levin went searching for the voices who were dinging Colin Kaepernick for his national anthem protest. Levin found conservatives like Tomi Lahren and a couple of personalities from FS1. In the old days, such voices would have filled up half the sports columns, easy.

Institutions that made for easy off-day fodder for the writers now get increasing scrutiny. The writer Joe Sheehan has called the Major League Baseball draft “a quasi-criminal enterprise that serves the powerful at the expense of the powerless.” Lester Rodney would have been proud of that line.

And these are just issues within sports. Look at the way sportswriters tweet about politics now. “God bless the @nytimes and the @washingtonpost,” Peter King tweeted earlier this week after the papers revealed the Trump administration’s web of ties to Russia. Two weeks ago, sportswriters blasted away at Trump’s immigration ban — staging their own pussy-hat protest within the press box. Last year, Roger Angellcame out of the bullpen to endorse Hillary Clinton.

“How many sportswriters have you seen on Twitter defending Donald Trump?” asked the baseball writer Rob Neyer. “I haven’t seen one. I’m sure there must have been a few writers out there who did vote for him, but there’s a lot of pressure not to be public about it.”

Forget the viability of being a Trump-friendly sportswriter today. Could someone even be a Paul Ryan–friendly sportswriter — knocking out their power rankings while tweeting that Obamacare is a failure and the Iran deal was a giveaway of American sovereignty?

In sportswriting, there was once a social and professional price to pay for being a noisy liberal. Now, there’s at least a social price to pay for being a conservative. Figuring out how the job changed — how we all became the children of Lester Rodney — is one of the most fascinating questions of our age.

There was always a coven of liberals in sportswriting: Shirley Povich, Dan Parker, Sam Lacy, George Kiseda, Robert Lipsyte, Wells Twombly, and the merry band known as the Chipmunks. As Roger Kahn once wrote, “Sports tell anyone who watches intelligently about the times in which we live: about managed news and corporate politics, about race and terror and what the process of aging does to strong men.”

But these idealists plied their trade in a media universe almost completely different from our own. The first reason sportswriting became a liberal profession is that the product known as “sportswriting” has been radically altered from what it was 40, 30, even 20 years ago.

The old liberal sportswriter was a prisoner of daily newspapers. If he wanted to write about politics, he had to do it within the confines of a sports story.“You decide whether you think this is a lefty idea or not,” said Larry Merchant, who was a columnist at the old (liberal) New York Post. “I wrote a story about a horse that had ridden in the Kentucky Derby. Now, it was in service of the national police in riot control in Washington, D.C. To me, that’s the most natural story in the world!”

Even if a newspaper had a “political” sports columnist, he was nearly always paired with a second, apolitical columnist, who matched the former’s moral crusades with his own rigid attention to balls and strikes.

“When you treat sports as a self-contained universe into which the rest of the universe does not intrude, it will inevitably be conservative,” said Craig Calcaterra. You defer to the commissioner, to the head coach, to the reserve clause — to the reigning authority.

The internet leveled the barrier between sportswriting and the rest of the universe. It also dropped the neutrality that was practiced by everyone but a handful of columnists. “We might have been more liberal than you would have imagined we were, but we didn’t bring it in our copy, you know?” said Deford. “We separated our individual lives from what we wrote because that was what was expected.”

This loosening of the prose was hastened along by a technological change. Starting in the 1950s, accounts of games (“gamers”) became less valuable when fans could watch for themselves on TV. As the game inventory on cable and then DirecTV and then the internet has exploded, gamers are less valuable than ever. Newbie sportswriters have been redeployed. “The people who in an earlier generation would be telling us what they saw are telling us what they think instead,” said Josh Levin.

The internet transformed sportswriting in another way: It made a local concern into a national one. On one level, this is pure joy: Now everyone gets to read Andy McCullough. But it also meant that reactionary opinions that may have played in St. Louis or Cincinnati are now held up for ridicule by the writers at Deadspin. I suspect a lot of sportswriters who might be right-leaning either get on the train or don’t write about politics at all.

You might argue, as Neyer does, that the old sportswriters were probably mostly left-of-center types. But without Twitter, it was difficult for anyone to know this. “When I started doing this, in 2003, it felt a little lonely, like I was in a phone booth yelling this stuff,” said The Nation’s Dave Zirin. “I didn’t know, or have access to, a community of sportswriters who felt similarly.”

The changes in the architecture of sportswriting also changed the profession’s great dilemma. For a century, even sportswriters who had curious minds felt the narcotic pull of the toy department. (It took the carnage of the ’68 Democratic National Convention to shock Red Smith into consciousness.) Then — once woke — the sportswriter faced a second problem: What do I do? Try to sneak politics into my column? Abandon the good salary and Marriott points offered by sportswriting to do “real work” on the front page?

In the Twitter era, I suspect most sportswriters don’t feel this dilemma very keenly or even at all. As the world burns, they turn in their power rankings and then they tweet about Trump.

There were other tractor beams that pulled sportswriting to the left. After a slack period since Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown shuffled off the main stage, we’ve finally entered the second great age of athlete activism. “You’re talking about 50 years of pretty much quiet,” said Sandy Padwe, who wrote a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer and later became an editor at Sports Illustrated. The new wave of activism “is not like the ’60s by any means,” Padwe said. “But it’s a hell of an improvement.”

It’s not only athlete activism that has rejiggered sportswriting but the athletes’ increased power. In the ’60s, a sportswriter who merely wanted to be a stenographer to the powerful would cozy up to the league commissioner or owner. Now — after the explosion in player salaries and the voice granted by Twitter — the same power seeker is more likely to cozy up to LeBron James, or his agent. As Lester Rodney would tell you, when you’re covering sports from the workers’ point of view instead of management’s, the trade inevitably moves to the left.

Non-sports types like Taylor Branch have given the industry a much-needed noogie. Branch’s 2011 article in The Atlantic transformed the crusade against NCAA amateurism from one often neglected in the sports press into one that burned up the New York Times op-ed page. “It makes sense that a hometown sports page is not going to get into this,” Branch said. “Their job is to feed the appetite of the sports fan. This is a fly on their dessert.”

Deford told me: “I kill myself when I think that when I ran The Nationalneither I nor the bright people on that paper thought we really ought to examine the NCAA. We never said that. We just accepted that. We took it at face value. We should be ashamed of it.”

If liberals have a long-standing delusion, it’s that the presentation of hard data (about everything from climate change to “voter fraud”) will win the masses to their cause. But within sportswriting, this is actually true. The publication of college football coaches’ rapidly inflating salaries floated the anti-amateurism crusade. If you know that the NBA signed a $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner, it’s hard to argue that even Timofey Mozgov’s contract is going to bankrupt the league.

“It’s the accumulation of evidence rather than political change,” said Bruce Arthur, who writes a column for the Toronto Star. “People just figured it out.”

There are chance events too. The fact that Dan Snyder hasn’t put many winning Redskins teams on the field has the side effect of undermining support for the team’s nickname — “If Snyder’s for it,” people think, “how can I not be against it?” Similarly, Roger Goodell’s mishandling of issues like Deflategate suggests that he might be mishandling player safety too.

Donald Trump’s election changed sports Twitter into a frisky episode of All In With Chris Hayes. But here, sportswriters are probably being radicalized at roughly the same rate as the rest of the electorate — a process that began during George W. Bush’s administration and continued apace through the Obama years. If most Democrats you know seem feistier than they did 20 years ago, it follows that sportswriters would too.

Talk to the real lefties within sportswriting — Lipsyte, Padwe — and you find they’re skeptical that we’re witnessing a genuine ideological conversion. Sportswriters rarely touch issues like the antitrust exemption and the flag-waving militarism that drenches pro sports. (See Fox’s Super Bowl pregame show for one recent example.) There’s still plenty of PED hysteria, even if it’s getting better. The idea that league drafts unfairly conscript players to teams feels like an issue that’s just starting to get mainstream traction. In 10 years, woke sportswriters will be wondering why our generation didn’t talk more about it.

Maybe what we’re seeing is simply writers plying their trade in a different era. “We shouldn’t piss on things that are progress and are good,” Lipsyte said. “But how much of it is really any kind of expression of liberalism? How much is times change and we change with it? Maybe we’re just standing in the same place but being carried along by the flow.”

The Obama administration was a dream time for liberal sportswriters, who had a president who talked about sports like they did. Trump’s election caused a convulsion. Lipsyte added, “Kaepernick, the manifestos of Meloand LeBron, and the Trumpish tinge to the Patriots and its reaction from players who say they won’t go to the White House have to be acknowledged, and once you do that, it feels like left-leaning commentary. Unless, of course, it is.”

On November 8, we learned a lot of Americans aren’t ready to sail into the progressive horizon. In sportswriting, as in politics, there was a backlash that you could see across the media.

First, conservative political writers began grumbling about their sports pages the way they grumble about the front pages. A 2014 American Spectator column sniffed: “[The sportswriter] now lies prostrate before a new set of masters: Mimosa-sipping Manhattanites and liberal witch hunters whose sole interest in sports is purging football teams of offensive names, obtaining equal screen-time for females, and celebrating sexual diversity.” Equal time and diversity — what a crock.

Next, other sportswriters took up the critique. “The sports media is the most far-left contingent of media that exists in this country,” Fox Sports’ Clay Travis declared last month. In tsk-tsking the writers — and the athletes they worship — the holdouts sounded like the founders of Fox News. Your media’s been hijacked!

Those who are sitting out the liberal sportswriting renaissance are as likely to tweak the media as they are to offer competing ideas. This week, when Nike released an “Equality” ad starring LeBron James and Serena Williams, Jason Whitlock said: “all this ‘resist, resist’ … it’s bogus. It’s a campaign. … It ain’t got a damn thing to do with you, the ordinary working man.”

Earlier this year, when Ronda Rousey was throttled by Amanda Nunes, Travis said: “There were a ton of people in the sports media who wanted Ronda Rousey to be good because it somehow represented their belief that women are better than men.” Breitbart approvingly cited the remark. …

If anything has gone haywire in this new world … Writers trying to find the proper, liberal response to new issues wind up tying themselves in knots.

Take the reaction to the Ray Rice video in 2014. There was a hue and cry throughout sportswriting: Something ought to be done! (If there was any criticism, it came from the left: that replays of the elevator video were “re-victimizing” his then-fiancée, Janay.)

Unfortunately, many of the early columns didn’t always say who ought to do something or what it should be. Roger Goodell used the groundswell of rage to suspend Rice indefinitely and increase his already-fearsome power over player discipline.

Such imprecision doesn’t just empower hardliners like Goodell. A few months after Rice’s suspension, Adam Silver, the model of a progressive commissioner, used a gray area in his league’s CBA to levy a harsh punishment against a convicted domestic abuser, Jeffery Taylor. Silver attributed his actions to what he called the “evolving social consensus” — much of which was crafted in the media.

And there’s another liberal ideal at stake here: that criminals who’ve paid their debt to society ought to have a chance to re-enter it. In 2010, Barack Obama congratulated the owner of the Eagles for giving Michael Vick a job after he was released from prison. Rice’s bad acts were very different from Vick’s. But say Rice got another NFL job after his apology tour. Would a sportswriter have written an encomium to the owner who signed Rice? Should they have? It’s an awfully tough question.

In a sense that Curtis doesn’t mention I can understand how this happened. Of the five Ws and one H — Who, What, Where, When, Why and How — the Why and How could have more opinion than the rest. Did a basketball team lose because it failed to score for seven minutes, or because its opponent outscored them 14–0 over that seven minutes? Did Green Bay beat Dallas because of Aaron Rodgers’ great play, or because the Cowboys defense played poorly?

The fact vs. opinion standards have always been looser in sports journalism as well.

That great liberal Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugo Black may not have approved of this. He famously said he read the sports pages first because the sports page chronicles man’s successes, while the front page chronicles man’s failures.

I do not approve of this. For one thing, it wasn’t a conservative who coined the execrable phrase “The personal is political.” I do not believe sports fans read the sports page to get a sportswriter’s sociological or political views. Sports was one of an apparently decreasing number of areas in our lives measured in wins and losses instead of lefty victim-du-jour babble, and now it’s not.

It isn’t as if sports media can afford to offend its consumers. Sports Illustrated is printing seven fewer issues this year. The increasing politicization of ESPN has dovetailed with a drop in subscribers. NFL ratings dropped corresponding to Kaepernick’s protest. There are numerous websites and smartphone apps available for those who want only the scores and avoid sportswriter opinions. And it strikes me as career suicide in an era where news media outlets are shedding jobs left and right to go out of your way to alienate a substantial percentage of your readers, who are probably more likely to follow sports than those on the left side of the political aisle.