The zenith of media influence is presidential primaries

And that’s why they hate the DNC refusing to hold Fox debates so much.  Every time I teach about presidential primaries and every time I teach about the media I emphasize the fact that nowhere else in American politics is the media so influential.  And they like it that way.

Thus, I loved this post from David Hopkins that explains how we got to this point and how the media response to the DNC ultimately reveals their distress at anything that threatens to limit their power and influence.  Good stuff:

It is widely accepted in most democracies that party leaders have a right to control the process of nominating candidates for elective office. Here in the United States, however, this proposition is not merely controversial but downright unpopular…

But it’s too simplistic to view struggles over control of nominations as only pitting party bosses against regular citizens. As critics like Nelson W. Polsby observed decades ago, the post-1968 reforms that created the modern presidential nominating process actually transferred crucial influence from one set of elites—state party organizations—to another set—the news media. Because voters in party primaries habitually act with limited information and weak preferences, especially when the field expands to three or more contenders, they can be decisively swayed by the volume and tone of press attention devoted to each candidate.

The post-reform era is littered with presidential candidacies made and unmade by media coverage…

Journalists sometimes resist acknowledging their sizable influence over nominations, and may not always be fully conscious of the central role they can play in determining the outcome. But when party leaders attempt to assert power at the potential expense of the media, members of the press quickly rise to defend the prerogatives of themselves and their peers… [emphases mine]

With the mixed track record of the media-dominated nomination process over half a century of history, perhaps both national committees deserve some deference to tinker strategically with aspects of the current system without facing attacks from journalists acting as if their personal honor has been outrageously besmirched by rank partisan interlopers. For some, it may not be easy to conceive of a situation where the interest of the public is not aligned by definition with that of the press, or is instead more closely matched with that of the perennially-maligned party organizations. But as Nina Simone used to sing, “it be’s that way sometime.”


Quick hits (part II)

1) Tom Edsall on divisions within the Democrats in Congress.  That said, I found the most interesting part to be that highlighting the profound asymmetry between Democrats and Republicans:

minority, used it 262 times — but successfully only 1.1 percent of the time. In contrast, from 2007 through 2010, Republicans, then in the minority, forced votes on 181 motions to recommit and won 21.5 percent. Then, from 2011 through 2018, the Democratic minority offered 380 motions to recommit and every one of them failed in the face of united Republican opposition…

There are two key factors that explain why Republicans in the House have been far more successful than Democrats in using the motion to recommit to divide the opposition.

The first is that the concentration of Democratic voters in urban districts means that in order to win and maintain a House majority, Democrats must be victorious in highly competitive districts, many of which tilt to the right…

These Democrats, in turn, are the ones who are the most cross-pressured between loyalty to the leadership and fear of losing support from center-right constituents.

“There are more Democrats representing Republican-leaning districts than there are Republicans representing Democratic-leaning districts,” Frances Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, wrote me in an email.

In 2018, she continued, “Democrats carried a larger share of districts where members have to be careful not to antagonize their Republican-leaning constituents.”

The second reason Republicans rarely provide even token support for Democratic motions to recommit is straightforward: a vast array of local and national conservative media is more than willing to denounce a turncoat. And anyone viewed as disloyal to the Republican Party is likely to face a primary challenger. [emphasis mine]

2) Okay, while we’re at it, might as well link the “everybody’s talking about it, of course you need to read it” Jane Mayer article on Fox News.  All sorts of goodness here.  I was somewhat struck by this research on media polarization.  It totally makes sense, but what struck me was that he law professors were actually surprised by the asymmetry.  Anyway:

Benkler’s assessment is based on an analysis of millions of American news stories that he and two co-authors, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts, undertook for their 2018 book, “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation and Radicalization in American Politics.” Benkler told me that he and his co-authors had expected to find “symmetric polarization” in the left-leaning and the right-leaning media outlets. Instead, they discovered that the two poles of America’s media ecosystem function very differently. “It’s not the right versus the left,” Benkler says. “It’s the right versus the rest.”

Most American news outlets try to adhere to facts. When something proves erroneous, they run corrections, or, as Benkler and his co-authors write, “they check each other.” Far-left Web sites post as many bogus stories as far-right ones do, but mainstream and liberal news organizations tend to ignore suspiciously extreme material. Conservative media outlets, however, focus more intently on confirming their audience’s biases, and are much more susceptible to disinformation, propaganda, and outright falsehoods (as judged by neutral fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact). Case studies conducted by the authors show that lies and distortions on the right spread easily from extremist Web sites to mass-media outlets such as Fox, and only occasionally get corrected.

3) Good stuff from Frank Bruni on anti-vaxxers and the general decline of trust.

4) And Masha Gessen with “why measles is a quintessential political issue of our time.”

5) And the story of an unvaccinated Oregon boy who contracted tetanus, nearly died, had $800,000 spent on his care and then his parents refused further vaccination.

Ummm, this is not okay.  If you want to be part of society and you don’t have a clear medical reason not to be vaccinated.  You need to be vaccinated period.  And we need to enforce that rigorously.

6) Among the most interesting articles I have read on Daylight Savings.  Had never thought about the fact that states can opt of Daylight Savings (and a few day) but states cannot opt out of standard time.  Of course, the obvious answer is to forget the changes and be on Daylight Savings year round.

7) Vox on why college textbooks are so expensive.  I’m actually a fan of the move to more e-books as each purchase goes towards the intellectual property costs.  With hardcopies, they way over-charge for new books because they recoup nothing of the intellectual property costs in all the resales.  The middle-men get all that profit.  So, I like that.  That said, I want some more research on how students learn from e-books versus hardcopy.

8) Great interview with Brad Delong in Vox, “A Clinton-era centrist Democrat explains why it’s time to give democratic socialists a chance.”

“Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy,” DeLong notes. “And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years? No, they fucking did not.”

The result, he argues, is the nature of the Democratic Party needs to shift. Rather than being a center-left coalition dominated by market-friendly ideas designed to attract conservative support, the energy of the coalition should come from the left and its broad, sweeping ideas. Market-friendly neoliberals, rather than pushing their own ideology, should work to improve ideas on the left. This, he believes, is the most effective and sustainable basis for Democratic politics and policy for the foreseeable future.

9) I gotta admit, I was totally riveted by “Leaving Neverland.”  Not easy to watch, but so fascinating and compelling.  Here’s Vanity Fair with, “10 Undeniable Facts About the Michael Jackson Sexual-Abuse Allegations.”

10) What’s also fascinating and disturbing as hell is those people who feel they need to defend Jackson at all costs.

Personally, I’m of little doubt that Jackson was a monster in some important ways.  But his best songs are nonetheless undeniably brilliant and I have no intention of changing the radio away next time they come on.

11) Recycling as we know it is over.  We really need to find a way to just stop using so much disposable stuff.

12) Jeffrey Toobin on how the Supreme Court is changing the status of religion in American Life:

What the conservatives are doing, in effect, is reading the establishment clause out of the Constitution, and turning almost every issue into a free-exercise case. In this reading, any denial of government benefits to a church can be seen as discrimination which amounts to a denial of free exercise—and the conservatives are making the same move with respect to individuals. Conservatives now cite the free-exercise clause to allow religious people to exempt themselves from obligations that are binding on all other citizens. This currently comes up most often in the context of people who want to discriminate against gay people as an expression of their religious beliefs.

13) It is way too easy to sue people for defamation in Australia.

14) I guess this finding on breast size and exercise should not be at all surprising, but it is unfortunate that it is clearly holding many women back from vigorous exercise:

The results were consistent and rather worrying. As women’s breast sizes grew, their participation in physical activity declined, particularly if that exercise was vigorous. Few very-large-breasted women jogged, for example.

Many of the larger-breasted women also reported that they believed that their breast size prevented them from exercising easily, even in low-impact activities like walking or swimming.

These results remained the same when the researchers considered age, which affects exercise participation, and body mass index, which likewise affects how often we exercise. Over all, slimmer women tended to have smaller breasts and vice versa. But even among overweight women with small breasts and normal-weight women with large bosoms, the relationship to exercise was unchanged.

15) I’m somewhat skeptical that goalkeeping coaching really makes all that much difference at the NHL level, but, it really is kind of amazing how the Hurricanes are doing on this score this year.  And I really like their goalkeeping coach’s philosophy:

When I’m dealing with my guys, my basic philosophy is that I’m trying to help them be the best version of themselves. I don’t have a particular style. Some ideas, I feel, are more conducive to having success than others. But I’d say that’s my basic philosophy. Everybody processes the game a little bit different. Everybody is built a little bit differently. Guys are more comfortable with certain save selections. I understand that guys have gotten to this level for a reason. Let’s see what makes them successful and build off of that.

16) Dahlia Lithwick on “The Cowardice of the Cover-Your-Ass Memo” is awesome:

When the rule of law finally sucks in its last gasp in America, it may well come not by way of an authoritarian clampdown on free speech or a refusal to abide by a court order. No, when historians someday attempt to explain what happened to the rule of law in America in the first quarter of the 21st century, they may well find themselves explaining that it died in the most American way imaginable: by way of the cowardly, lawyerly memo to file—death by a thousand cover-your-asses…

As the Times reports, then chief of staff John Kelly knew full well that affording a top-secret security clearance to Jared Kushner posed a national security risk. President Donald Trump evidently told him to clear Kushner anyhow. Then White House counsel Don McGahn also advised against that clearance, and was also overruled by the president. And so evidently, when Kushner was cleared over their own misgivings, the step they decided to take was to pop a little note in the file, flagging their objections in secret. In the event they weren’t already among the most depressing actors in this whole sad saga, they’ve now cemented themselves as such. Not brave enough to do or say anything that would reflect the fact that they believed Kushner posed a material risk to the country, they were content to simply leave a little “I was only following orders” note for posterity. Tuesday: dentist; Wednesday: dry cleaning; Thursday: endanger entire intelligence apparatus…

The reason for the note-taking is obvious: The president doesn’t understand how government is supposed to work, nor does he have much respect for the rule of law. This makes everyone who is accustomed to rules and laws feel anxious. So government workers who reside someplace down the chain, presumably also aware of this problem, are also reacting by … making notes for their files…

If there is anything sadder than the anonymous op-ed as Trump resistance, the anodyne CYA to the file is surely it. It’s another way of shirking personal or public responsibility and hiding it under the veil of lawyerly professionalism. For the political staffers working in Trump’s White House, here is a lawyerly reminder: If your client is out of control and liable to hurt someone, you have a duty to act. And if your client is out of control and liable to hurt someone and also imperiling national security, you have a duty to act. Waiting around to participate in the someday Ken Burns movie isn’t going to cut it. The rule of law will continue to lose all meaning in Trump’s America, not just because of cowardice and collusion, but because far too many people who insisted they were just doing their jobs let themselves off the hook.

17) I find Esther Perel’s take on marriage pretty fascinating.  Intrigued by her new podcast.

18) Should an algorithm tell you how to eat?

19) There’s actually a lot of issues Americans have a consensus on and they tend to be pretty liberal positions.  Tim Wu writes of this “oppression of the supermajority.”

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