Distrust in the media and media usage

Really interesting post by Jonathan Ladd at the Monkey Cage looking at how media consumption patterns vary by levels of trust in the news.  First, though, he compares 2000 to 2010.  Pretty amazing to see how much this has polarized in a decade.  By 2010 partisan viewing habits had diverged quite dramatically from 2000:

He’s got another set of charts looking at viewership by trust level which he describes and then shares his conclusion:

Dividing people this way reveals that those who distrust the media are a good deal more likely to choose their news consumption in ways that confirm their predispositions. Moving from those who do not perceive a lot of media bias to those who do, Republicans go from being 9 percentage points more likely to watch network news to Democrats being 9 percentage points more likely to watch. The gap between Democrats and Republicans in their CNN viewership grows from 5 to 22 percentage points. The partisan gap in NPR listenership grows from 5 to 13 percentage points. The gap in PBS News Hour viewership grows from 7 to 13 percentage points. And the partisan gap in MSNBC viewership grows from 4 to 24 points. Among those who do not perceive a lot of bias, 56 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats watch Fox at least sometimes, a 19 percentage point gap.  But among those who perceive a lot of overall media bias, 75 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats watch Fox, a 42 point gap.

To summarize, people who distrust the institutional media learn about the political world differently. They are more likely to resist messages attributed to the institutional media that they encounter. But they also tend to be exposed to different messages than those who trust the media. They disproportionately choose media outlets that provide information reinforcing their partisan predispositions and are less likely to choose outlets they see as politically hostile. Together, these patterns contribute to partisan differences in perceptions of reality.  [emphasis mine]

Of course, while no single source truly reflects objective reality I think there’s a fair amount of empirical evidence that NPR comes dramatically closer than Fox News and that Fox viewers are truly living in their separate– and sadly, all too often, false– reality.

Photo of the day

So, April has been Autism awareness month, so on the last day I’ll link to Alan Taylor’s set of Autism-themed photos.  This is my favorite:

An autistic child cuddles a pony during a training session in a club in Paris, France, on November 8, 2003. (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer)

Lots of kids with autism really love horseback riding due the sensory input involved.  Alex certainly loves it, but I’m not sure any more than his brothers (Sarah still needs her first time upon a horse– hopefully soon).  Here’s Alex on a horse from a while back:

The ultimate asymmetry story

I got an email from a friend (and reader) yesterday with the subject, “the article you have been waiting for.”  I knew exactly what he was talking about– this fabulous essay by Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein about the major sub-theme of this blog– the current partisan asymmetry.  And, just so we’re clear, Mann and Ornstein are no shrill partisans, but highly-respected, long-time scholars of Congress.  Heck, Ornstein works for AEI.  Lots and lots of good stuff in here.  If you read one thing I link to this month, it should probably be this.   Anyway, some of my favorite parts:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

And I have to highlight the following paragraph for special love:

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

And there’s plenty more good stuff:

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented…

On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, on climate change and health-care reform, Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices.

And the concluding paragraphs should be pasted up on the wall of every national political reporter:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.

Amen!!  Fabulous essay.  Really– read the whole thing.  And, just because you really can’t show graphs like this too often, I’ll conclude with this:

I feel like I should have this chart laminated on a card to pull out every time one of my students says something like, “well, both parties…”

Inequality of opportunity

Of course, in talking about the myth of self-made men, we are really talking about the idea of equality of opportunity.   Jonathan Chait had two recent posts that deal with this point in very compelling fashion.  First:

The conservative line, articulated by such figures asArthur Brooks and Paul Ryan, makes a sharp distinction between equality of outcome, which is thoroughly evil, and equality of opportunity, which is the highest ideal. (Almost everybody opposes equality of outcome — what they oppose is virtually any steps by government to reduce inequality of outcome.) “Equal opportunity versus equal outcomes, very different political philosophy,” says Ryan.

In practice, the attempt to draw a distinction between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity collapses immediately. The number one thing parents try to do with their money is to buy better opportunities for their children. A new Brookings paper this week describes how having a more expensive home translates to better schools. The mere fact of being surrounded by richer, better-prepared students is itself an advantage. This is something we all know, of course. When you have kids, your goal is either to live in an expensive neighborhood with good public schools, or to be able to spend directly on expensive private schooling. It’s one of the things Romney himself knows — hence his comment that “one of the things [George Romney] wanted to do was provide for me and for my brother and sisters.”

Of course he did! And that is the point. The advantages George Romney transmitted to Mitt Romney include not just intelligence, height, good looks, and a stable upbringing, but a fancy private education at Cranbrook and a lot of money.

The conservative rhetoric about inequality has been attempting to sustain the pretense that Romney is merely defending his business success and the larger principle of merit. But of course, he’s also defending his own upbringing and the larger principle of inherited privilege. The fact that he did so without anybody noticing shows the degree to which, far from being “very different” things, these are one and the same.

Relatedly, Slate’s Daniel Politi points out this recent Romney nugget:

At a speech at Otterbein University in Ohio, Romney talked about how the owner of sandwich chain Jimmy John’s got started by borrowing $20,000 from his father.

“We’ve always encouraged young people: Take a shot, go for it. Take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business,” Romney said.

Democratic activists quickly pounced on the remark as another example of how the presumptive Republican nominee is out of touch.

“Only someone who paid for college by selling stock given to him by his CEO father would just casually assume students could go borrow $20,000 from their parents to deal with the economic challenges they face,” a spokesman for the Center for American Progress Action Fund tells the Associated Press.

Hooray for the founder of Jimmy John’s and more power to him, but most Americans do not have parents they can borrow $20K from to start a business.   That’s not equality of opportunity.  Somebody with the same idea and poor parents isn’t going to succeed in the same way.

Finally, Chait points out how Romney’s delusional sense of equality of opportunity is related to a very odd conception of fairness:

Romney has to couch the implications of his argument carefully, but the underlying logic is perfectly clear. He believes that fairness is defined by market outcomes. If Romney earns a thousand times as much as a nurse in Topeka, it is solely because his character, education, or hard work entitle him to that. To the extent that unfairness exists, it is solely the doing of government: clean energy, laws permitting union dues, overpaid government employees, and so on. Aside from unfairness imposed by government, poverty is attributable to the bad choices or deficient character or upbringing of poor people.

Now, I’m all for a  genuine equality of opportunity.  I have no interest in trying to mandate an equality of outcome.  But I do think that the modern Republican and Romney’s vision of equality of opportunity bears little relation to ideas of equality or opportunity.  I also think that the evidence is fairly overwhelming that many Americans do not have the same opportunity to succeed, through no fault of their own.  Heck, are my kids way better off by being my kids than by growing up with a broken family in Southeast DC?  You betcha!   For that matter, it doesn’t matter how smart and diligent I may be, if I was born in Sudan, I wouldn’t be comfortably writing this blog right now.

Kristof on the nuns

Great Op-Ed from Nicholas Kristoff today on the Catholic hierarchy’s misguided efforts against American nuns (which I addressed here).   Some highlights:

They [nuns] are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world. In my travels, I’ve seen heroic nuns defy warlords, pimps and bandits. Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest.

So, Pope Benedict, all I can say is: You are crazy to mess with nuns.

The Vatican issued a stinging reprimand of American nuns this month and ordered a bishop to oversee a makeover of the organization that represents 80 percent of them. In effect, the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage.

What Bible did that come from? Jesus in the Gospels repeatedly talks about poverty and social justice, yet never explicitly mentions either abortion or homosexuality. If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’s life, Pope Benedict or your average nun, it’s the nun hands down…

Nuns have triumphed over an errant hierarchy before. In the 19th century, the Catholic Church excommunicated an Australian nun named Mary MacKillop after her order exposed a pedophile priest. Sister Mary was eventually invited back to the church and became renowned for her work with the poor. In 2010, Pope Benedictcanonized her as Australia’s first saint.

“Let us be guided” by Sister Mary’s teachings, the pope declared then.

Amen to that.

Swing state vs. Battleground state

I think it’s safe to say most pundits use those terms fairly interchangeably, but Nate Silver argues for a much more narrow definition of the former in which a swing state is one in which the outcome of the election could genuinely hinge upon:

Let me remind you about how I use the term “swing state” here at FiveThirtyEight. When I employ the term, I mean a state that could swing the outcome of the election. That is, if the state changed hands, the victor in the Electoral College would change as well.

The most rigorous way to define this is to sort the states in order of the most Democratic to the least Democratic, or most Republican to least Republican. Then count up the number of votes the candidate accumulates as he wins successively more difficult states. The state that provides him with the 270th electoral vote, clinching an Electoral College majority, is the swingiest state — the specific term I use for it is the “tipping point state.”

We then get a cool graphic of where we can see which states are most likely to swing the election:

From this, we can see that the states most likely to affect the outcome (clustered around 270 electoral votes for Obama) are MN, NH, IA, CO, VA, and OH.  As much as I love that NC is being considered a “swing state” for 2012, as with Arizona (the focus of Silver’s post), if Obama wins here, he’s probably already clinched the election.

Photo of the day

From Time’s photos of the week:

Angela Platania—ZUMA Press
 April 24, 2012. Mount Etna throws out lava as the volcano continues to erupt throughout the month of April in Catania, Italy.


The Catholic Church and IVF

Well, it’s Sunday the day I usually attend Catholic Mass, so to even things out, it’s also seems like a good day for my criticisms of the institutional Catholic Church.  The latest?  Oh, just firing a teacher for using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant:

Emily Herx was a popular literature teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, until she used her medical leave for in vitro fertilization. Herx lost her job and says a church official called her a “grave, immoral sinner.” When she appealed to Fort Wayne Bishop Kevin Rhoades, he told her IVF was “an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it.” The federal government saw things a bit differently. Herx filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and won — paving the way for a civil lawsuit.

The Atlantic takes this story as a basis for a fascinating interview about Catholic sexual ethics with a PhD in Bioethics Catholic Priest, Richard Sparks.  Some highlights:

A lot of babies are conceived in circumstances that don’t seem particularly holy — a one-night stand, or even a rape. In contrast, two people undergoing fertility treatments would seem to be especially committed to each other and to their future family. 

Precisely. Sometimes Catholic theologians can be very insensitive about that. They’ll talk to a couple who have loved each other, have gone through pain together, and might be struggling with issues about their masculinity or femininity, and they’ll say, “Moral theology says you don’t have the right to have a child.” That might be correct on a blackboard. But to say that to a couple is like telling them what selfish, evil people they are. They’re loving people who want a child badly — and they know the Church wants people to have children, so they can’t understand why they aren’t getting more empathy.

But the Church does disapprove of in vitro fertilization, no matter how loving and committed a couple may be.

When it comes to sexuality, our Catholic natural law teaching is very genital-based. It’s more focused on biology than Catholic teaching is in other areas. Some would say that love, marriage, and commitment have to be taken into account. Pope John Paul II worked very hard to create what he called the theology of the body — instead of just talking about biology, he spoke about the loving meaning of the whole person. But in the end, the Church would say that you can’t go against biology. That’s the mechanics of our nature.

And here’s my favorite part:

The school might argue that it has the right to uphold its own values in any way it chooses.

Certainly. If you’re going to work for a church, or for the Boy Scouts of America, any organization that has values, it’s one thing to say that if you don’t uphold them they don’t want you as a leader. But when they get around to policing people’s sexual lives, what is that organization doing?

Let’s try a few of these. If you have married couples using contraception, does St. Vincent check their medical cabinets? They wouldn’t think of doing that. If some people aren’t paying their taxes fairly, does the Church fire them? I don’t think anyone ever does. What if they’re pro-capital punishment? No.

Similarly, if you hire a gay teacher who doesn’t have a partner, is that okay? What if he does have one? Should he get fired? What if he doesn’t have partner, but once in a while he goes to gay bars? Should he get fired then? If there’s a Jewish teacher who doesn’t believe in Jesus, can she be thrown out? For that matter, what about a Tea Party Republican who doesn’t seem to care much about the poor? Do we fire that person from a Catholic faculty?

The Catholic Church has always been a kind of universal church. Catholic means broad-minded and sympathetic. But now we’re starting to act more like a sect. My worry is that applying these kinds of purity tests can lead to witch hunts.

Now, obviously I disapprove of the church taking this action largely for the reasons Sparks brings to bear, above.  That said, part of me would actually love to see the Catholic Church undertake a bit of a “war on IVF.”  The truth is, assisted reproduction is just as anathema to Catholic doctrine as contraception, but you virtually never hear the Church complain about it or lobby on the issue.  Presumably because they realize the backlash would be massive and they would alienate a lot of otherwise supportive Catholics.  What has always bothered me, then, is the hypocrisy on this.  If the Church is going to always insist that it’s just about following their theological imperatives, they should be just as politically concerned with IVF as they are with contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage.  The fact that they are not tells you something.  And I don’t think it’s something good.

Their’s not enough comments

I’m sure when John F. posted this to FB, he knew he’d see it here:

Of course in my case the key is to just do a post about global warming to gin up comments.

Photo of the day

Awesome In Focus  set of photos of earth from above (just a little bit above all the way up to space).  Hard to pick a favorite, but I thought this one was very cool (though I cannot quite figure out where the Raleigh-Dur:

Blowing stuff up really slowly

Okay, this is super cool.  I know my boys are going to love watching this.  From a Danish TV show which translates as “Stupid and Dangerous.”  Reminds me of some of my teenage exploits, though these are on a much grander scale (via Atlantic):

The self-made man myth

I’ve no doubt that hard work, wits, etc., help one be successful in life.  I equally have no doubt that luck, timing, and help from others are very important as well.  I would argue that one key difference between liberals and conservatives is that while liberals do not deny the former assertion conservatives all to often deny the latter assertion.  Apparently, there’s a new book that comprehensively takes on the self-made man myth (though, I think Gladwell’s Outliers– which this story implicitly references– already made that case quite well).    The whole thing is a succinct summary and well-worth reading it its entirety.  That said, a few key points.  First, the more self-reflective successful individuals they interviewed consistently tied their success to government investment in public education, support for small business, a regulatory environment that allows entrepreneurship to thrive, and others.  And there’s the luck:

We all know wealth isn’t just a matter of hard work, brains or talent. Most of us probably know hard-working, brilliant, or extraordinarily talented people who aren’t being rewarded at anything close to their true value. So perhaps the most intriguing and useful part of the book is a long discussion of the many other essential factors that go into making someone wealthy — factors that are blithely brushed off the table whenever the self-made myth is invoked.

Rich conservatives have to downplay the role of luck. After all, if we think they’re just lucky, rather than exceptionally deserving of exceptional wealth, we’ll be a lot more justified in taxing their fortunes. But luck — the fortunate choice of parents, for example, or landing in the right job or industry at the right time — plays a huge role in any individual’s success. Timing also matters: most of the great fortunes of the 19th century were accumulated by men born during the 1830s, who were of an age to capitalize on the huge economic boom created by the expansion of the railroads after the Civil War. Likewise, the great tech fortunes almost all belong to people born between 1950 and 1955, who were well-positioned to create pioneering companies in the tech boom of the late 1970s and 1980s. Such innovative times don’t come along very often; and being born when the stars lined up just so doesn’t make you more entitled. It just makes you luckier.

Because Americans in general like to think we’re an equal society, we’re also quick to discount the importance of race, gender, appearance, class, upbringing, and other essential forms of social capital that can open doors for people who have it — and close them on those who don’t. The self-made myth allows us to deflect our attention from these critical factors, undermining our determination to level the playing field for those who don’t start life with a pocket fat with advantages.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

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