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34 posts from November 2009

November 16, 2009

You wouldn't want Reps making up their own remarks, would you?

Ken Silverstein on the widespread phenomenon of lobbyists writing talking points and even whole statements for members of Congress:

(A few years ago I found that the lobby firm of Patton Boggs had drafted a statement for Congressman Joe Barton of Texas in support of it’s client Kazakhstan. “Mr Speaker, if the United States is to become truly energy independent, it must seek non-OPEC alternatives for our supply of oil,” Barton’s statement said. “Kazakhstan can — and is willing to — help greatly in this endeavor.” When asked about this, Barton’s spokesman replied: “Some think Congress has no business listening to people who are paid to know something. They think congressmen would do better to get all their information from newspapers and social activists. We think that’s baloney. We take our facts where we find them, and we use them where we choose.”)

Someone enterprising politician could make political hay with a pledge never to let a lobbyist put words in their mouth.

November 15, 2009

Lawmakers delivered talking points written by drug company lobbyists

Robert Pear of the New York Times exposes an old fashioned bipartisan scandal; Genentech lobbyists wrote talking points for legislators and dozens of legislators used them:

WASHINGTON — In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident.

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.

The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.

Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists. [NYT]

I am dismayed to learn that my congresswoman, Yvette Clark (D-NY) was one of the legislators Pear caught cribbing extensively from Genetech's notes. 

November 11, 2009

Fox News: A totally legitmate news outlet

One fake news show spots another. Jon Stewart catches Sean Hannity's producer trying to pass off footage of Glenn Beck's 70,000 teabagger march as Michelle Bachmann's 10,000 teabagger Superbowl of Freedom:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck's Protest Footage
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

(via Americablog)

November 10, 2009

Randy Ingram CD launch tonight at the Cornelia St. Cafe

Randy Ingram, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

My friend Randy Ingram's debut CD, The Road Ahead, is out today.

The CD launch is tonight at Cornelia St. Cafe - 8:30 PM.

November 09, 2009

Tech Crunch blogger slams citizen journalism

Paul Carr of Tech Crunch proclaims: After Fort Hood, another example of how ‘citizen journalists’ can’t handle the truth. It's a post assailing Tearah Moore, a 24-year-old soldier who tweeted her experiences inside Fort Hood after last week's massacre. 

Pretty big talk for a blogger. That kind of attitude is more in keeping with Carr's old job at the the Guardian

Carr's post is a confused but self-righteous rant. Therein he accuses Moore of being a narcissist with scant regard for privacy and human dignity. He says she exemplifies the defects of citizen journalism as a whole. 

The headline sets you up to expect that he's mainly going to trash Moore for getting her facts wrong. She did make mistakes. Like a lot of paid reporters, Moore incorrectly reported that the shooter had been killed when in fact he was only critically wounded and that there was more than one shooter.

When judging Moore and other citizen journalists, it helps to keep a few things in mind.

1. Sturgeon's Law: Ninety percent of everything is crud, citizen journalism and paid journalism included. For the sake of argument, let's assume Moore's tweets sucked as news. That's not an indictment of citizen journalism, per se. When the field is open to anyone with a cellphone, quality will be variable.

2. Caveat emptor. In the immediate aftermath of a crisis, rumor and confusion is the norm. We're accustomed and even eager to get this kind of fragmentary information filtered through professional reporters. But where do they get it? Generally speaking, from the same the very same untrained bystanders who can now tweet their observations. Hopefully, a reporter will talk several people and try to synthesize their input into something more coherent. But garbage in, garbage out. Thanks to twitter, a reader can sit at home and try to piece together their own picture from multiple tweets. Professional news and tweets aren't an either-or proposition. Most people who cared enough to follow Moore's tweets were probably following the professional media at the same time.

3. Mediums and messengers aren't good or bad in themselves. The issue is how a critical reader uses the information. Maybe we need to talk more explicitly about epistemological norms in journalism vs. woman-on-the-street tweets.

4. Carr accuses Moore of being an "inhuman egoist" for taking pictures of the wounded in a hospital. If a professional photojournalist got that kind of access, he or she would be on the fast-track to a Pulitzer. I am so sick of people who look at photographs of crimes, wars, and celebrities (i.e., everyone) and call the journalists who take them bloodsuckers. Carr likens Moore to people who won't dial 911 because they're too busy tweeting the accident. Unless Carr has some evidence that Moore was neglecting other responsibilities, that's an invalid and offensive comparison.

5. You can second-guess Moore's decision to publish certain photos without denigrating citizen photojournalism in general. Publishing is always a morally loaded decision, whether you're getting paid or not. You're responsible for what you put out there, whether you're a professional or an amateur. These days, more and more journalists are working without a net because there aren't as many editors as there used to be. Quality control is expensive and the reading public seems unwilling to pay for it. So, these decisions are increasingly falling to individuals in the field.

6. What's with the egoism charge? Maybe it's egotistic to assume that the world cares what you put on your bagel this morning. It's hardly conceited to think that the world might be interested in first-hand dispatches from a news event that's riveting the entire country. Tweeting is sharing. Sharing is good. Professional journalists are always patting themselves on the back for their desire to inform the public. We should give volunteers the same respect.

7. Carr seems to assume that citizen journalists have a heightened moral responsibility to respect the privacy of the people around them. I admit, it gets complicated because citizen journalists may have conflicting roles that limit what they can ethically disclose. If Moore was a hospital employee who was bound to respect patient confidentiality, then obviously she shouldn't have been tweeting about patients. But Carr doesn't say that she had any particular conflict of interest. 

8. On the flip side, this Fort Hood is Moore's community. This was happening to her. Why does a photographer from a newspaper have more of a right to tell the story than she does?

November 06, 2009

AP trafficks in innuendo over Ft. Hood shootings

AP reporter Brett Blackledge should be ashamed of this lead:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- His name appears on radical Internet postings. A fellow officer says he fought his deployment to Iraq and argued with soldiers who supported U.S. wars. He required counseling as a medical student because of problems with patients.

Soon after Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly opened fire at Ft. Hood, web surfers discovered some radical online comments signed "NidalHasan."

Interesting discovery. Bloggers like Steve Huff of ASSME kept this factoid in perspective:

We should really, really keep in mind the possibility that Nidal Hasan may not be as uncommon a name as the average American might assume. Still, an interesting comment was made by a “NidalHasan” on May 20, 2009 on a document published on the document hosting service,

Blackledge wasn't so responsible. A casual reader would assume from the lede that Blackledge has some proof that these comments were written by the alleged shooter. Not so much:

At least six months ago, Hasan came to the attention of law enforcement officials because of Internet postings about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades.

They had not determined for certain whether Hasan is the author of the posting, and a formal investigation had not been opened before the shooting, said law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case.

So, Blackledge's anonymous source basically told him that the authorities had noticed the same inflammatory comments as everyone else. For obvious reasons, the FBI spends a lot of time scouring the internet for people waxing poetic about suicide bombings. People who write about suicide bombings probably know that. Which is one reason to wonder whether "NidalHasan" was the poster's real name.

The authorities admit they don't know who wrote it. Blackledge doesn't specify whether the authorities had any evidence besides the handle to link Nidal Hasan, MD of Fort Hood, TX to the posting.

It's the height of irresponsibility to imply that Nidal Malik Hasan posted those musings about suicide bombers on scribdb. We simply don't know.

There's no shortage of Nidal Hasans out there. Googling "Nidal Hasan" last night, I came across one in Nidal Hasan in Florida, one in Pakistan, and several others. There's even another Nidal Hasan, MD, an endocrinologist in Illinois. (By the time you google this, the page rankings will have changed. Items related to the alleged shooter will progressively crowd out the other Nidals.)

Let's not turn this horrible crime into an excuse for an orgy of Islamaphobia.

November 04, 2009

But what if they pray for abortions?

Dave Noon remarks that the House health care bill would cover Christian Science prayer treatments in lieu of medical care.

November 03, 2009

Arrest yourself and your brother, stat

Obama warns newly "reelected" Afghan president Hamid Karzai to crack down on corruption. Karzai swears he won't rest until the real criminals are behind bars, signs a lucrative book contract for his memoir "Who Cares if I Did It?" Karzai was declared the winner this week after his opponent dropped out of the runoff election because the pro-Karzai "independent" election council did nothing avert a re-run of the massive pro-Karzai cheating that necessitated the runoff in the first place. The New York Times recently exposed Karzai's brother Walid as an opium-trafficker in the pay of the CIA. Karzai's running mate is an ex-warlord accused of drug trafficking.

November 01, 2009

My favorite costume: Motorized fortune-telling machine

MANHATTAN--My favorite costume in the parade was the guy who went as a motorized coin-operated fortune telling machine, like the Zoltar Speaks machine in the 1988 move Big. The booth is mounted on wheels and rolling along in the parade. A one-man float.

Death's Head

Death's Head, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

MANHATTAN--Memento Mori.