Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

484 posts categorized "Media "

March 01, 2010

Moving Day--Off to Big Think--Update your RSS feeds

Today's the day. I'm off to Big Think. Here comes Focal Point.

Update your bookmarks and RSS feeds. The Majikthise URL should start redirecting to Big Think automatically.

February 27, 2010

And the winner is... (New blog name)

The name of the new blog is "Focal Point," as suggested by Windy Pundit. It's professional-sounding, easy to spell, devoid of unwanted psychosexual undertones, and brands both the photography and the writing. I love it.

My first post on The Big Think will go live on Monday morning.

February 24, 2010

The Weathermen were terrorists

Ta-Nehesi Coates writes:

All jokes aside, again, I think the problem here is defining terrorist strictly as the work of "foreign attackers" is really dubious. Newsweek certainly had no problem identifying Bill Ayers as a "former terrorist" in its subhed back in 08. I'm not in their newsroom. But I'd be very interested to see whether they debated this.

The Weathermen were definitely terrorists. Just because they operated domestically doesn't make them any less terroristic. The IRA, the UDL, and the ETA are terrorist organizations that operate on home turf.

Terrorism is a tactic. It can be perpetrated by a group of people, or by a lone individual, at home or abroad. The essence of terrorism is using spectacular violence for psychological leverage in the service of ideology.

A terrorist attack is designed to spark fear out of all proportion to the person/group's operational capacity to inflict casualties, and therefore to give the terrorists disproportionate influence--either to coerce a population or a government directly, or to provoke their adversaries into an overreaction that will set off a backlash.

Terrorists hope to distort our perception of risk by committing memorable, dramatic, "telegenic" atrocities.

I can see some justification for reserving the term terrorist for those who are part of organized groups. If if an attack is obviously a suicide mission by a lone assailant, that kind of defeats the purpose of a terror attack. The attacker loses a lot of leverage by dying and thereby removing further credible threats.

On the other hand, not all terrorists are suicide bombers. Tim McVeigh was clearly a terrorist. He didn't team up with an organization to destroy the federal building in Oklahoma City--but he had enough ties to the right-wing, anti-government movement to make us wonder. If he hadn't been caught, he probably would have committed more attacks. Years after McVeigh's execution, you still see Teabaggers showing up at rallies in "Tree of Liberty" t-shirts, an homage to McVeigh.

Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, waged a 17-year terror campaign against scientists, mathematicians, lobbyists, and other symbols of technological society. Early in his career, he nearly brought down an American Airlines flight with a bomb in the cargo hold. At one point, Kaczynski wrote a letter to the New York Times falsely claiming to be part of a group called the FC, or the Freedom Club. Was Kaczynski really any less of a terrorist because he turned out to be the FC's only member?

The lone wolf vs. group divide is looking increasingly arbitrary the era of networked organizations and virtual social movements. Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan acted alone, but he saw himself as being part of a much larger project.

In an age of mass communication and media, even a suicide bomber can hope to kindle a chain reaction that will continue long after he's gone. IRS bomber Joe Stack hoped that his attack would inspire others to rise up against the government, and sure enough, within minutes of the crash online shrines were popping up all over the web.

Weekly Pulse: Obama gives GOP rope to hang itself at health care summit

Tomorrow, President Obama will gather with Republicans for the long-awaited televised health care summit. Obama will promote his health care proposal, the Republicans will demand that we start over.

Even House Minority Leader John Boehner dimly senses that the GOP is walking into a trap. The public is thoroughly sick of the health reform process, but people still like the idea of health care reform. So, the GOP can't just say "kill the bill" in public. Instead, Republicans have to make disingenuous speeches about "starting over," knowing full well that if health care reform dies now, it'll stay dead.

Boehner must realize that starting over is about as appealing as National Root Canal Week at the DMV. But what can he do? The Republicans have no ideas beyond "tax cuts cure cancer." And they can't boycott the summit, or they'll lose the "bipartisan" blinking contest.

So, when Obama gets on TV and lays out his reasonable-sounding plan, complete with protections against private insurers who want to hike your premiums 39% overnight, he's going to sound good and the Republicans are going to sound crazy.

Brilliant tactician Boehner is now exhorting Republicans to "crash the party" they've already been invited to.

It's a trap, alright.

February 23, 2010

Hivemind: Help me name my new Big Think blog

I'm very excited to announce that I will be moving to my new blog home at Big Think on March 1.

The new blog will be like Majikthise, just on a new site, and a new name. Starting next month the Majikthise URL will redirect automatically to Big Think.

Now, all we need is a new name for the blog. Suggestions? I need to let them know by Friday afternoon. 

Examples of other Big Think blog names include: Brave Green World (Tobin Hack); Think, See, Feel (Lea Carpenter); Novel Copy (Orion Jones); Picture This (Bob Duggan); and Mind Matters (David Berreby).

February 22, 2010

Scientology hires Pulitzer and Emmy winners

Via Gawker:

Howard Kurtz, in the Washington Post, reports that the cult hired Steve Weinberg, the former executive director of non-profit Investigative Reporters and Editors, Russell Carollo, who won a Pulitzer in 1998 for a series on medical malpractice that appeared in the Daily News of Dayton, Ohio, and Christopher Szechenyi, an Emmy-winning former TV producer. (They possibly saw this job advertisement.)

I am so disappointed that a former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors associated himself with Scientology.

IRE is the premiere professional organization for investigative journalism. (I'm a proud member.)

The defining moment in IRE's history was the 1976 murder Don Bolles of the Arizona Republic. After Bolles' death, his IRE colleagues threw themselves into the Arizona Project, a massive collaborative investigation to expose organized crime in Arizona. I mention this because it exemplifies core values of IRE: investigative journalists working together for justice. 

Obviously, it's no reflection on IRE that its former executive director went on to work with Scientology.

It's just sad and ironic that Steve Weinberg chose to help Scientology investigate other journalists, namely reporters at the St. Petersberg Times. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize for its critical coverage of Scientology. 

Weinberg told Howie Kurtz that the Scientology gig was just a job like any other.

Steve Weinberg, the former IRE executive, who has taught at the University of Missouri's journalism school for a quarter-century, says he was paid $5,000 to edit the study and "tried to make sure it's a good piece of journalism criticism, just like I've written a gazillion times. . . . For me it's kind of like editing a Columbia Journalism Review piece."

He says their agreement requires that the church publish the study in full, if it decides to make it public, but that "the contract says the church has the right to do nothing with it except put it in a drawer." That means Scientology leaders have an out if the recently completed study isn't to their liking. [WaPo]

This report is nothing like a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review. It's a weapon in Scientology's war against its critics, and it's naive or disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

Now, Scientology can spin the report any way it wants, or bury it, and say that prize-winning investigative journalists signed off on it. They bought Weinberg's seal of approval for a mere $5000.

Scientology is taking a page out of the corporate playbook: loosely associating itself with independent experts in order to piggyback on their prestige. Big Pharma loves to recruit famous doctors and researches to give this kind of "independent" advice. Nobody tells the doctors what to say, but the company always gets the final cut. Whatever the advisers say can and will be used to hype the drug. If a doctor believes this is a great drug that will help lots of people, she may not mind being used in a commercial. That excuse doesn't work for Scientology.

IRE stands for transparency and the search for truth. Scientology is the anti-IRE.

The "church" is notorious for digging up dirt on its critics and hounding them mercilessly. There's a reason why the Anonymous anti-Scientology protesters won't show their faces.

Scientology wants to destroy these reporters and Weinberg is helping them do it. 

February 20, 2010

John Mayer gets told

From the creator of the Tiger Woods Apology Flowchart, Brokey McPoverty, the single best response to John "David Duke Dick" Mayer's infamous Playboy interview: Dear John...

Also, somebody needs to get Sally Quinn a twitter feed. Doesn't she know that it's de rigeur for wannabe celebrities to hash out the petty details of their social lives on twitter, as opposed to, say, the Washington Post? Tila Tequila would be appalled.

February 18, 2010

The Daily Beast's Top 25 Lefty Journos

Blogger Ezra Klein, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

The Daily Beast ran a list of its Top 25 Lefty Journalists, as ranked by Tunku Varadarajan.

The good news: Jessica Valenti, Ezra Klein, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Jane Hamsher, Markos Moulitsas, Rachel Maddow, Eric Alterman, and a host of other lefty luminaries.

The bad news, they used my photo of Ezra Klein without asking permission.

[Update: I emailed the Daily Beast to ask for a credit and they immediately set things right. So, more good news.]

The list probably should have been called "The Liberal Establishment's Top 25 Public Intellectuals/Pundits/Media Personalities, Including Several Journalists." I mean, Arianna Huffington made the list. She's a media entrepreneur, but not a journalist.

Best Of lists are always wildly subjective and it's generally stupid to make strong prescriptive arguments about what should have made someone else's list.

It all depends on how you define your terms. By "top" do you mean the most influential or the most excellent, or maybe some weighted combination of the two? Who's on the left? Varadarajan is a fellow of the Hoover Institution, so I imagine his definition of left is quite different from mine. Is it enough to be personally left-wing, or does the politics have to come through in the work itself?

Instead of arguing about what should have been on Varadarajan's list, here are some names that didn't make his list, but would have made mine: Sy Hersh, Jeremy Scahill, Naomi Klein, Ken Silverstein, Jeff Sharlet, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jane Mayer, Dahlia Lithwick, Tom Geoghegan, and Harold Meyerson. Update: I can't believe I forgot Amy Goodman.

I don't know if Michael Pollan self-identifies as a leftist or a journalist, but he makes my list because his work has galvanized an entire generation of lefties.

Matt Taibbi probably doesn't qualify because he's more of a nihilist than a lefty, but it's a tough call. In terms of sheer influence, you could make a case for Malcolm Gladwell, though I'm also unsure whether he counts as a man of the left, or even the left of center.  Nick Kristof is more of a neo-liberal than a lefty, but he does great work on women's issues and poverty. 

You can play along at home. Please do.

February 07, 2010

Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad is kind of goofy

You disappoint me, Focus on the Family.

Your pre-Super Bowl media manipulation was so slick. I was anticipating a stirring piece of pro-life propaganda. Maybe my expectations were too high.

Granted, it's a story that unfolds over several thirty-second spots, and [T]his is only the second of two spots. (Correction: I assumed there must be more to this campaign, but apparently, that's it.)

Spoiler alert: Pam Tebow is talking in front of a white screen about how much she loves her son, at which point he cartoonishly tackles her for no apparent reason. She exclaims "Timmy, I'm trying to tell our story here!" At which point he jumps up, literally, a bunny hop, and hugs her.

Leni Riefenstahl would puke.

February 04, 2010

Of course the National Enquirer should be eligible for a Pulitzer Prize

The editor of the National Enquirer is openly angling for a Pulitzer Prize for the tabloid's expose of John Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, secret love child, and alleged use of campaign funds to underwrite his indiscretions.

I tend to agree with John Cook of Gawker on this one, the National Enquirer should probably be in the running. Like it or not, this was one of the big scoops of the year. Well, the last two years, really. As an investigative reporter, I like to see institutions rewarded for investing in old fashioned investigations. An insider didn't just hand this story to the Enquirer on a silver platter, they went out and dug for it.

Just to be clear, I'm not hoping the Enquirer's Edwards coverage wins. At end of the day, it was mostly tawdry gossip. It was tawdry gossip that assumed meta-importance because everyone knows that gossip influences elections, but still.

Besides, Edwards was already politically finished by the time the Enquirer nailed down the details. I'm sure the Pulitzer judges can find reporting that had a bigger impact, maybe even work that exposed injustice or--gasp--made someone's life better.

Enquirer's reputation of paying for information should complicate its Pulitzer ambitions. That's generally considered a no-no in mainstream journalism. That said, big news outlets routinely find ways to pay celebrity interview subjects without paying them. For example, sometimes they'll pay the subject a ridiculous fee to license some snapshot of the person with the understanding that the photograph comes with an exclusive interview. 

According to John Cook, there's nothing in the Pulitzer rulebook that disqualifies checkbook journalism. But that doesn't mean that judges shouldn't take reporting methods into account. Information volunteered freely is generally better and more reliable journalism than the word of paid informants.

It would also be harmful to the profession to openly reward checkbook journalism. (If that's actually what the Edwards coverage was based on.) If pay-to-pay becomes the norm, journalism becomes even more of a gated community. When it comes time to hand out awards, corporations that buy scoops should get less consideration than reporters who earn them the old fashioned way.

We don't know that the Enquirer paid for info in the Edwards story. Rumor has it that there were plenty of disgruntled people willing to spill for free. If the Enquirer's editor can assure the Pulitzer judges that his reporters played by generally accepted journalistic rules, then the series should at least be a serious contender for the prize--assuming the judges find the editor's claims credible. 

Cook does a good job of debunking several the nitpicky excuses for disqualifying the Edwards coverage outright, such as the claim that the Enquirer isn't eligible because it isn't really a newspaper.

Treating the Enquirer's Edwards reporting a serious Pulitzer contender is like nominating Avatar for Best Picture. I seriously doubt it was the year's best film, but an endeavor that succeeds so spectacularly on its own terms deserves to be nominated.