About the media’s love for Obama

Not so much, it turns out.  Sure, Obama's been getting a lot more coverage than McCain, but that is just news values dictating coverage, not any bias for Obama.  Obama is simply a better news story– he is a Black man with a great chance at being the next president and for many voters he is the most inspiring political candidate in a generation.  Furthermore, speeches to 200,000 in Berlin are inherently more newsworthy than town halls in New Hampshire.  So, sure Obama's been getting more coverage, but as it turns out, the tone of that coverage is not actually in Obama's favor.  From the LA Times:

But now there's additional evidence that casts doubt on the bias claims
aimed — with particular venom — at three broadcast networks.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University,
where researchers have tracked network news content for two decades,
found that ABC, NBC and CBS were tougher on Obama than on Republican
John McCain during the first six weeks of the general-election campaign.

You read it right: tougher on the Democrat.

To be fair, it is not exactly Fox news here, as most of the reporting was neutral. 

Most on-air statements during that time could not be classified as
positive or negative, Lichter said. The study found, on average, less
than two opinion statements per night on the candidates on all three
networks combined — not exactly embracing or pummeling Obama or
McCain. But when a point of view did emerge, it tended to tilt against

Still, certainly seems that any media love for Obama is surely outweighed by their love for McCain.

Just for fun

Listen to this for the funniest three minutes you'll have today.

The Right’s obsession with abortion

I was just doing a Lexis/Nexis search for articles on abortion to assign to my Gender and Politics class for the upcoming semester.  Wanting articles that reflected last year's Gonzalez v. Carhart decision on “partial birth abortion” I used that phrase as my search term.  Lexis/Nexis has a cool new search feature that sorts results by source.  I searched magazines and of the 151 articles, a full 90 were accounted for by just The Weekly Standard and The National Review, the renowned Conservative flagships.  No other source even had ten articles on the topic.  Just thought that was kind of interesting. 

“Saving” Social Security

I just love this post from Jonathan Chait, so I'm going to borrow it wholesale:

 The New York Times, summarizing John McCain's stance on Social Security:

He said he favored offering private investment accounts to younger
Americans, though it was not clear that investment accounts alone could
address the financial shortfall that the retirement system could face
in coming decades.

News accounts are constantly saying something like this. It's one of
those phrases that seems to be programmed into the computer of every
reporter who ever touches on Social Security. But it's wildly
inaccurate. Private investment accounts do not improve solvency at all. They make it worse.

Look, it's pretty simple. If you let younger workers divert some of
their Social Security tax dollars into private accounts, then that
money is not available to pay for regular Social Security benefits. So
for every dollar of private accounts that would be created, another
dollar of benefits has to be cut just to stay even. If the only element
of your plan is to create private accounts, which is the case with
McCain, then your plan worsens Social Security's finances.

I think I've made the following analogy before. Suppose my “plan”
for saving Social Security consists of building giant gold statues of
President Bush throughout the country. (Maybe the theory is, I don't
know, that the statues would make future retirees more patriotic and
thus more willing to accept lower Social Security benefits.) If
newspapers reported on this plan, would they say that “it's not clear
that the statues alone could address the financial shortfall that the
retirement system could face in coming decades”?

Jonathan Chait

What's especially sad is that the Times and the Washington Post are among the best of our media outlets and they are constantly guilty of this pathetic reporting.

Have you no shame, John McCain?

Wow.  Whatever integrity John McCain may have once had has surely all been tossed overboard in his desperate attempts to defame Obama in order to win the presidency.  Here's his latest ad:

It says:

?Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan,? the
ad?s announcer says. ?He hadn?t been to Iraq in years. He voted against
funding our troops. And now, he made time to go to the gym, but
cancelled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn?t
allow him to bring cameras. John McCain is always there for our troops.
McCain: Country first.? It concludes with the candidate?s voice: ?I?m
John McCain and I approve this message.?

Of course, it is not actually true. 

As Steve Benen puts it:

There are eight sentences in this campaign commercial, and the only honest one was McCain approving of this message.

The claim about Senate hearings is wildly misleading. The attack about voting against funding the troops is ridiculous. The argument about Obama not spending time in Iraq is disingenuous. The notion that Obama would rather go to the gym than visit wounded troops is insane. The claim that Obama would only visit troops if he could bring cameras is an inflammatory, transparent lie. The notion that McCain is ?always there for our troops? is demonstrably false.

I?m not trying to tell campaign reporters how to do their job. Actually, scratch that. I am trying to tell campaign reporters how to do their job.

The McCain campaign is airing an intentionally deceptive ad, hoping
that a) voters won?t know the truth and can be easily misled; and b)
the media won?t raise a fuss about the campaign lying to the public.

By refusing to do even the most basic level of fact checking, news outlets are encouraging the McCain campaign to engage in its most cynical and dishonorable tactics.

Greg Sargent also has a nice deconstruction.

I'm not surprised to have these ridiculous and scurrilous charged levelled against Obama.  What honestly surprises me, as that John McCain is lowering himself to be the messenger.  This is what I expected from the RNC.  If things continue at this rate, John McCain will not have an ounce of integrity or honor or decency left when this campaign is complete.

Olbermann sticks it to McCain here.

Terrorism vs. Politics

The extreme and absurd politicization of the U.S. Department of Justice under Bush (and Alberto Gonzalez) is old and sad news, but an official report today shows just how bad it was:

Former Justice Department counselor Monica M. Goodling and former chief
of staff D. Kyle Sampson routinely broke the law by conducting
political litmus tests on candidates for jobs as immigration judges and
line prosecutors, according to an inspector general's report released

Goodling passed over hundreds of qualified applicants and squashed
the promotions of others after deeming candidates insufficiently loyal
to the Republican party, said investigators, who interviewed 85 people
and received information from 300 other job seekers at Justice. Sampson
developed a system to screen immigration judge candidates based on
improper political considerations and routinely took recommendations
from the White House Office of Political Affairs and Presidential
Personnel, the report said.

Goodling regularly asked candidates for career jobs, “What is it
about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?” the report
said. One former Justice Department official told investigators she had
complained that Goodling was asking interviewees for their views on
abortion, according to the report.

Taking political or personal factors into account in employment
decisions for career positions violates civil service laws and can run
afoul of ethics rules. Investigators said today that both Goodling and
Sampson had engaged in “misconduct.”

The improper personnel moves deprived worthy candidates of
promotions and damaged the credibility of the Justice Department,
investigators wrote. An experienced counterterrorism prosecutor, for
example, was kept from advancing in favor of a more junior lawyer who
lacked a background in terrorism.

Got that.  Why worry about fighting terrorism when there's conservatives to be hired?  Drum digs into the DOJ report and shows just how absurd and pathetic this was (from the report):

He was an experienced terrorism prosecutor and had
successfully prosecuted a high-profile terrorism case for which he
received the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service….Battle
stated that Voris told him that the candidate was head and shoulders
above the other candidates who had applied for the counterterrorism

Sounds like a great guy. But there was a problem:

candidate's wife was a prominent local Democrat elected official and
vice-chairman of a local Democratic Party. She also ran several
Democratic congressional campaigns….Battle, Kelly, and EOUSA Deputy
Director Nowacki all told us that Goodling refused to allow the
candidate to be detailed to EOUSA solely on the basis of his wife's
political party affiliation.

….Because EOUSA had been unable to fill the counterterrorism
detail after Goodling vetoed this candidate, a current EOUSA detailee
was asked to assume EOUSA's counterterrorism portfolio….He had no
counterterrorism experience and had less than the minimum of 5 years of
federal criminal prosecution experience required by the EOUSA job
announcement. Battle, Nowacki, Kelly, and Voris all said they thought
that he was not qualified for the position, since he had no
counterterrorism experience. The replacement candidate was a registered
Republican who Goodling had interviewed and approved before he was
selected for his EOUSA detail.

Make no mistake, this disgusting display of partisan politics ahead of national security rests squarely on George Bush's shoulders.  This sort of political hackery clearly has the fingerprints of Karl Rove all over it, but Rove was not operating in a vacuum.  I don't care where you fall on the political spectrum, this is just indefensible, and if you are tempted to defend it, you really need a reality check on the partisan blinders you are wearing.

What to read

I've just finished my latest update of my book reviews.  At the beginning of the year, I think I was close to a year behind on reviews, but now I'm pretty much caught up.  I'm definitely not going to let myself fall so far behind again.  I've already blogged about the most noteworthy book I've recently read, How to Read the Bible.  Therefore, I'll go ahead and make mention of two additional titles.  First, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely– terrific fun in the Freakonomics and Tipping Point tradition. 

Also, Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee which comprehensively shows how a central problem with American medicine is not too little treatment, but too much.  We are wasting a lot of resources on treatments with no evidence behind them.  If you are curious, but don't want to read the whole book, Brownlee has a nice article on the topic at Washington Monthly.

Happy reading.

Not so smart on foreign policy

Earlier this week I was musing that John McCain is not nearly so smart on foreign policy as he is generally given credit for.  Now, Slate's Fred Kaplan strongly makes the case for why this is so (clearly, I inspired him):

That was the big nail-biter: Would Obama, the first-term senator and
foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe? The
nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to “the Iraq-Pakistan border,” or call the Czech Republic “Czechoslovakia” (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.

of course, it was Obama's opponent, John McCain?the war hero and
ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee?who uttered these
eyebrow-raisers. “Czechoslovakia” was clearly a gaffe, and
understandable for anyone who was sentient during the Cold War years.
What about the others, though? Were they gaffes?slips of the tongue,
blips of momentary fatigue? Or did they reflect lazy thinking,
conceptual confusion, a mind frame clouded by clichéd abstractions?

If Obama had blurted even one of those inanities (especially the one
about the Iraq-Pakistan border), the media and the McCain campaign
would have been all over him like red ants on a wounded puppy.

Kaplan nicely points out that how this fits into the most pervasive biases of press coverage.  Journalists craft a narrative or conventional wisdom for campaigns, and then despite all potential evidence the contrary, they stick with it. 

McCain caught almost no hell for his statements?they were barely noted
in the mainstream press?most likely because they didn't fit the
campaign's “narrative.” McCain is “experienced” in national-security
matters; therefore, if he says something that's dumb or factually
wrong, it's a gaffe or he's tired. Obama is “inexperienced,” so if he
were to go off the rails, it would be a sign of his clear unsuitability
for the job of commander in chief.

It may be time to reassess this narrative's premise?or to abandon it
altogether and simply examine the evidence before us. Quite apart from
the gaffes, in formal prepared speeches, McCain has proposed certain actions and policies that raise serious questions about his
suitability for the highest office. As president, he has said, he would
boot Russia out of the G-8 on the grounds that its leaders don't share
the West's values. He would form an international “League of Democracy”
as a united front against the forces of autocracy and terror. And
though it's not exactly a stated policy, he continues to employ as his
foreign-policy adviser an outspoken, second-tier neoconservative named
Randy Scheunemann, who coined the term “rogue-state rollback” and still prescribes it as sound policy.

If you are curious as to why these particular policies are unsound, you can read the rest of the article.  I'm sold.

Who’s fault?

Slate has a really cool interactive map of the major players in all of the Bush administrations scandals and crimes.  It's really pretty fun to play with.  As the creator's write, “And if all else fails, fall back on this golden rule of wrongdoing in the White House: All roads lead to Gonzales.”

Put down your cell phone and drive

There was a really good article in Salon today that explained just why it is so much more dangerous to talk on a cell phone while driving.  What your hands are doing has little to do with it, it's what your brain is doing that's the problem.  Apparently, there's been some pretty interesting scientific research on the matter:

But can't you just ignore the voice chatting in your ear when
driving conditions get hairy? Apparently not. “Listening to someone
talk is a very automatic process and you can't will yourself not to,”
explains Just. “In another study, we told them [test subjects] to
ignore the sentences, but it made very little difference. You have to
block your ears. You can't turn off your brain processing.” You may
think that you're tuning out your husband or BFF on the other end of
the phone when road conditions get bad, but it's not that simple.

“It's insidious,” says Just. “If you're in a tough driving
situation, and someone talks to you, the processing of the language is
going to start right away, whether you like it or not.”

One thing I've always wondered about, though, is shouldn't it be just as potentially dangerous to hold an involved conversation with a passenger?  Apparently not– phone conversations and in-car conversations are actually quite different:

As long as the Model-T has been on the road, people have been
conversing with the passengers in their vehicles, if only to scream at
the pesky kids, “Shut up! I'm trying to drive!” But there's a
difference between talking to somebody in the car and on the phone.
Most passengers in the car adjust their conversation to what's
happening on the road, quieting down when traffic gets hectic or even
pointing out hazards up ahead, acting as a second set of eyes. The
person on the other end of a cellphone call might not know you're
driving, much less be aware of the road conditions. “The difficulty is
that the party on the other line has no sense of your driving situation
and just yaks, and the driver elects to do it, too,” explains Paul
Allan Green, research professor at the University of Michigan
Transportation Research Institute, where he leads the Driver Interface Group.

Inside a car, there can be natural lulls in the conversation of 20
or 30 seconds, and there is no awkwardness associated with it. Not so
on the cellphone call, where there's more social pressure on the driver
to hold up his or her end of the conversation, if only to assure the
other party that the call hasn't been dropped. “There is all sorts of
social pressure to continue the conversation and not break it off,”
says Green. When a driver does stop talking to focus on the road, his
caller is likely to ask, “Hey, can you hear me? Are you there?” The
caller tries “to reengage the driver at the wrong time,” says Strayer.

Further, researchers find that people tend to be more chatty in a
cell conversation than an in-car one. “Cellphone conversations are more
intense than in-car conversation,” says Paul Atchley,
professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. That intensity can
be measured. Researchers in England studied drivers' conversations with
both passengers and callers. They found that people used a higher
number of words per minute on cellphone conversations.

In the end, car passengers just have more skin in the game. “People
in the car have their own safety at risk,” says Atchley. “It's to their
advantage to not put the driver in the dangerous situation, so we as
passengers tend to edit ourselves pretty effectively.”

The larger point is that laws banning cell phone use unless the cell is hands-free are pretty pointless:

Researchers doubt that banning hand-held phones gets to the root of the
problem: the conversation. Sure, it's safer to have both hands on the
wheel, but no one is passing laws banning stick shifts. Atchley
believes that the new cellphone laws may be counterproductive,
instilling a false sense of security, since they may lull drivers into
thinking that gabbing on the hands-free phone is just fine.

I generally try and keep my own automotive cell phone conversations limited to situations where traffic is light and I'm quite familiar with my route, but I'm definitely going to be more cognizant of the risks.

The not-very-bright American voter

The Post today has a nice little article that prominently features political science research debating just how smart (or stupid) the typical American voter is.  Personally, I tend to lean towards the latter camp.  Anyway, the highlight:

So a bunch of academics decides to revisit one of the defining books of
modern American politics, a 1960 tome on the electorate. They spend
years comparing interviews with voting-age Americans from 2000 and 2004
to what Americans said during elections in the 1950s. The academics'
question: How much has the American voter changed over the past 50

Their conclusion — that the voter is pretty much the same dismally
ill-informed creature he was back then — continues a decades-long
debate about whether Americans are as clueless as they sound.

Of course, not all political scientists agree on the cluelessness of the American voter…

Americans “don't sound the way the high priests of culture want them to
sound,” says Samuel L. Popkin, author of “The Reasoning Voter,” who
tends to give voters more credit rather than less. “They use their own
language. They process a lot more than they can recall in interviews.
They have a lot better sense of who's on their side and who isn't than
they're often given credit for.”

Among the authors of the new research, is one of my Ohio State mentors:

“If they know they're Republican and have been happy that way, they'll
stay Republican,” says another of the book's four authors, Herb
Weisberg, who chairs the political science department at Ohio State University.
Even for those voters who do rethink their allegiance to a given party
— because, say, the party in power has fouled things up — “if times
get better, they'll get back to where they were,” Weisberg says.

The article actually does a nice job summarizing a significant political science debate.  If you'd like a better understanding of just what Political Scientists are killing trees for to fill up journals on a subject that is actually pretty interesting, give it a read

When the right-wing becomes mainstream

Generally speaking, I consider it a waste of my time to comment on idiocy from right-wing blogs.  Or, in this particular case the fact that right-wing bloggers are upset that Obama's campaign in Germany has distributed fliers printed…in German!.  What's a problem, however, is when mainstream news organizations start taking their cues from this nonsense– case in point, ABC's Jake Tapper.  On Good Morning America today, with no other context, he simply said something along the lines that Obama's campaign was distributing fliers “in German,” with what struck me as a subtle emphasis on those words.  Your typical GMA viewer must be left wondering why that's worth  mentioning.  What's next– ads in Spanish for spanish-language TV?