On “Truth” and Its Consequences – Why We Need A New Business Model for 21st Century Journalism

On January 6, NPR’s This American Life aired an hour long and fairly damning segment on the working conditions of the Chinese manufacturing workers that build Apple products. To say the show got some attention would be an understatement. Within a few weeks it had become TAL’s most downloaded episode – quite an achievement for a show whose podcasts perennially (and perhaps after the Apple episode, ironically) sit atop iTunes most downloaded lists. For its own part, Apple found itself forced into a position of having to publicly promise to better investigate the suppliers it hires to make its seemingly ubiquitous products.

Of course, as many are aware by now TAL was forced to retract the story last month. TAL host and creator Ira Glass dedicated an entire show to correct misinformation, apologize to both NPR and his audience for not being better stewards of the truth, and to confront the man universally seen as this anecdote’s villain: Mike Daisey.

As it turned out, much of Daisey’s account of his time touring factories in Foxconn, China was a fabrication of one sort or another. Some of the events he reported witnessing were wild extrapolations of items he had read in the news. For example, Apple employees at two plants (not in Foxconn) had been exposed to dangerous levels of the chemical n-hexane, which was a huge breaking story when Daisey first arrived in China. However, Daisey reported that the poisoning was universal and unreported; he claimed workers he interviewed could not stop their near useless hands from shaking do to n-hexane poisoning. As it turned out, he met no such poisoned employees. In another example, Apple itself publishes reports of its efforts to have it’s suppliers not hire underage workers – a problem Apple admits it has yet to solve. Daisey used this data as a jumping off point that led to a claim that most of the workers he interviewed were twelve to fifteen years old, if not younger. These reported meetings with underage employees also never took place.

Some of his reporting was bizarrely unnecessary exaggeration, such as his claim that he visited ten factories (he appears to have visited On "Truth" and Its Consequences - Why We Need A New Business Model for 21st Century Journalismthree), or his claim that he ended his trip with the idea of posing as a businessperson to get access to factories, having thought of it after interviewing workers (it was actually the first thing he did when he arrived at Foxconn). Still other claims were neither based on news items nor exaggerations, but were instead pure fiction: an odd story about traveling on a freeway to nowhere, armed factory guards, getting tours of worker dormitories and discovering hidden cameras, and the story he tells of showing his iPad to a factory worker with a crushed arm were nothing more than fiction serving the purpose of storytelling.

TAL aired a retraction to its original story, devoting the entire hour of its March 16 show to both apologize to listeners and to set the record straight. As I said in an earlier post, the retraction episode was even more riveting that the original “expose,” which itself was quite compelling (if dishonestly so). The most fascinating part of the show is Glass’s interview with Daisey. Though Daisey starts off maintaining the accuracy of everything he reported, in the face of overwhelming evidence he eventually admits to making up much (but not all) of what is now obvious fabrication. However, even as he confesses to making things up, he is vigilant in his insistence that he has not lied. For Daisey, there is only one Truth: that Apple is an evil corporation that injures the innocent, and it must be held accountable. Facts and data that do not underscore his Truth are the real lies, whether or not they actually happened. As unconvincing as he is as he tries to weasel out of being caught in his various untruths, he is utterly convincing about this.

Mike Daisey might have lied through his teeth, but he sincerely believes he did so in order to tell the Truth. His defense, now that he has been exposed, is that he is a writer for the stage and that as such he does not live up to the standards held by today’s political journalists. But in this claim, he is depressingly wrong. He may be a theatre writer, but in today’s world of diverse market-driven journalism he is not the enigma we might wish him to be. Quite the opposite.

Mike Daisey is the poster child of today’s political journalism.


On "Truth" and Its Consequences - Why We Need A New Business Model for 21st Century JournalismWhen I was growing up, news was a less fluid commodity. Newspapers might publish a story that the cause of a particularly devastating fire was due to an apartment dweller smoking in bed, or bad wiring, or improper building maintenance. Once published, that was the story everyone took as gospel. Were the news reports always, or even often correct about such things? My instinct is to say mostly yes, but since I didn’t follow reporters around to make sure they were doing their job I must confess that confidence was more of a conceit I – and everyone else – took for granted. It’s hard to believe there weren’t times when some elected official, public bureaucrat or corporate mouthpiece didn’t chuckle at the gullibility of all us rubes buying what they were selling hook, line and sinker. But there was also the comfort of knowing that when facing a thorny issue that was troubling our communities or the nation, we were all starting from the same point and were all armed with the same facts and figures with which to work. We might disagree about the best solutions to our problems, but as a people we were all on the same page.

Technology, of course, has ruined all of that.

With the advent of scores of TV stations – which quickly led way to hundreds of them – it was only a matter of time before the birth of the 24 hour news networks. Once multiple news networks began appearing, the laws of the market place engaged as they always do: To gain a secure market share, one needed to differentiate oneself from the competition. And the cheapest to differentiate yourself in the 24 hour news industry isn’t to report news better, but to have a unique and exciting take on what was news. When focusing on the White House, the other networks mainly talk about how presidential the President is – why not carve out a niche by focusing on how treasonous he is instead? Your rival network might be boosting its rating running a story about how a Fortune 500 company is polluting a river – why not capture the people who are tired of such stories, and instead run a series on how that government agency that oversees the Fortune 500 company is out of control? The Venn diagram that compares news junkies and political junkies is almost one solid circle, so it’s no surprise that that key differentiator that developed between cable news networks was along political party lines.

If hundreds of channels gave birth to competing data on the family television screen, it was spitting in the ocean compared to the variety the near infinite and free internet delivered. The Drudge report is largely credited as being the first site that successfully looked to cherry pick (often unsubstantiated) data that would have a preferential appeal to a certain market segment. It was by no means the last, and if anything became the very model for the burgeoning 21st century’s unique brand of mass media journalism.

There was, back in the day, a kind of heady optimism about the democratic ideals being made manifest that internet journalism would achieve. The Senate might propose a budget, for example, and now for the first time in human history thousand of humans (or more) could gather in any one of thousands (or more) virtual meeting places and collectively pick that budget apart, and review and discuss its merits. The new journalism’s proponents promised a greater access to information, and they delivered in spades. But to quote an overexposed pop singer from that previous era, “I never saw no miracle of science that didn’t turn from a blessing into a curse.” And no doubt about it, the endless data and myriad of venues did bring a curse with its blessing:

The inherent problem with being able to choose what news you consume is that someone will always be willing to give you the news you choose – and this is not necessarily a good thing. For example, if you are a progressive liberal you might choose to get information from a progressive liberal news source, one that cherry picks stories that appeal to people like you. But there are already a plethora of choices to get progressive liberal leaning information, so you might find yourself choosing more and more the ones that only talk about how your world view is so very right, and how the word view of your opponents is not just misguided but factually wrong based on today’s news. Eventually, the news organizations that thrive aren’t the ones that offer objective data, they’re the ones that offer us confirmation of our Truths.

Because if the current news model has taught us anything it’s that given the choice between being objectively well informed and being proven right – even fallaciously so – we humans have little interest in objective information.


Over the past two weeks, the Trayvon Martin case has loomed large in today’s new media trifecta of cable news, talk radio and the blogosphere. When broken down to its simplest elements, it is a simple if tragic story. A young man looking to protect his neighborhood is involved in a confrontation with a boy he mistakes for a criminal, and during the confrontation shoots and kills the boy. Objectively speaking, this is about all we know for certain about the actual killing. However, because the events were immediately followed by what certainly appears to be profoundly incompetent police work, and because boy was black (and, as has since come to light, the young man who killed him seems to have a history of calling 911 to report black people in the neighborhood), it has become a national news sensation.

As I noted here, I think that the media firestorm in an of itself has been a positive thing:

The police did no real investigation of a kid being shot, citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law – which itself was passed more as a political tool than an attempt at crime prevention. In the Martin case, either the police were incompetent and/or dangerously prejudicial, or a law passed for campaigning purposes is potentially harmful to the community. (Or maybe both.) Without the media firestorm, silly as it has been at times, neither potential flaw in the system would be examined.

However, it also bears examination that the national news media did not focus on this story because it was about the death of a young boy, or incompetent police work. It focused on the story initially because the killing of a black youth in an upscale neighborhood spoke one particular liberal Truth, and because a conservative-backed law that might well lead to the shooter escaping prosecution even if he did kill the boy in cold blood speaks to another liberal Truth. To further underline this Truth, a major news network edited the 911 phone call made by the shooter to create its own self-fulfilling prophecy. In return, right wing media sources have responded in the only way they seem able: the facts of what did or did not happen have taken a back seat to the conservative Truth that any criticism of the right by the left must be fallacious. Therefore the right wing news outlets have focused little on the actual shootings, or even on Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws. Rather, they have chosen to report – true or not – that the victim was a dangerous thug, going so far as to come shockingly close to the reprehensible and disturbing message that the boy who had bought Skittles deserved to be killed. The Daily Caller, itself created by Tucker Carlson to be a right-leaning, journalistic news gathering site rather than commentary-only site has covered the Martin shooting fairly extensively. In fact, of all the many websites I have been browsing on this topic, they seem to be devoting by far the most coverage. Almost all the coverage, however, deals with the shortcomings of either Martin as a human being or liberals in general. The increasingly unpopular (for now) Stand Your Ground laws, by contrast, are barely mentioned except in passing. Tellingly, the only article I could find that dealt with the law in any depth at all was a piece noting that some Democrats voted for it as well as Republicans.

On "Truth" and Its Consequences - Why We Need A New Business Model for 21st Century JournalismIf this is what we are getting from our trusted news sources, is it any wonder that most of the data points I hear non-pundits arguing are utter fictions? Over the past week, I have engaged with people that have pointed out to me that Martin’s principal told the press he thought Martin was dangerous and was sure he attacked Zimmerman first (the principal did no such thing), that the wounds on Zimmerman’s head might have been faked later because they were never on the original police report (they absolutely were), that Zimmerman is caucasian (he isn’t), that Sanford is in fact an almost all-Black community (it isn’t), and countless other bits of gibberish that have been embraced in whole or part by the “journalists” of the internet, cable news and talk radio. What’s been particularly frustrating is that any attempt to correct misinformation is invariably sifted through the lens of the source. “Yeah, I hear about the edited 911 call, but that was on FOX,” or “The police report you saw might have said that, but your link is to TPM, and that’s a liberal site.” Like Mike Daisey, we hold our Truths as sacrosanct and assume any information that counters that Truth to be lies.

And it’s not just the Martin case. For conservatives, it doesn’t matter how much evidence there is that Big Government’s infamous ACORN pimp videos were a purposeful hoax, they spoke the Truth that conservative already knew – and it was therefore the proof that the videos were a hoax that was the lie. A commonly referenced Conservative salvo today – that the EPA is hiring 230,000 bureaucrats – was based on a fallacious Daily Caller story whose writer clearly purposefully meant to mislead readers – and which at least to my knowledge the Daily Caller has never bothered to retract. Why would it? Its readers aren’t looking for accurate information, they’re looking for validation of their Truth. Having this violation of trust made known wouldn’t make a Daily Caller reader start going to a site that reported the information correctly, anymore than NBC’s inexcusable editing of the Martin 911 call will make NBC fans switch over to FOX.

Amazingly, even those liberals who have publicly condemned Mike Daisey still frame their arguments around Daisey’s primary Truth, which is that the focus should be on Apple. True, Apple products are made in Foxconn and similar Chinese manufacturing hubs, but so are almost all the devices, gizmos, and appliances that we buy, regardless of brand name. I daresay that the reason Apple is cast as the villain is the same reason that Microsoft, Nike and Walmart were previously held up as “the real problem:” they’re the top dog and fat cat rolled into one right now. The facts and data show that if we are going to agree that working conditions in China are unacceptable, then the root problem is us – because these conditions are an ongoing part of all our stuff, even if we don’t own Apple products. We’re all willing to live a comfy lifestyle at the expense of others that missed out on the Birthplace Lotto jackpot; who we buy nice things from is irrelevant. For those that have bought into the Truth that Apple is evil, however, these facts and data are inconvenient are therefore discarded. Instead, for much of the left punditry all that is needed to solve the problem is for Apple shareholders to make less profit, because the Truth that needs addressing isn’t poor working conditions, its that a particular corporation must be stopped.

[And in the interests of full disclosure, there is this: When I first talked about Daisey a few weeks ago, I described his transgressions from my memory of the TAL story without going back and re-listening to it. When I did so, I got two pertinent facts wrong. I know this because MR. Daisey himself emailed me to point this out. By looking to tell a “truth” without double checking everything I said, he claimed in his email, made me no different than him.  He was right. We are all susceptible to telling “truths” first and foremost, myself included.]

I’m not sure where we as a country go from here. For my own part, I have no wish to go back to the old system where information was hard to come by, and dissenting voices less frequent. However, it seems that to solve problems there needs to be some baseline level of accepted information. If we’re going to have a meaningful talk about the stimulus’s effect on the economy – and we should – it isn’t helpful to have half of the news sources pretend that George Bush had nothing to do with the stimulus, or the have the other half refuse to report on obvious corruptions that occurred in its current implementation. Similarly, some kind of healthcare reform is badly needed in this country. But if half of us get our information from “journalists” who insist that the mandate is radically leftist rather than originally a conservative GOP strategy to avoid universal care, and the other half of us limit ourselves to “journalists” that claim the current version of Obamacare is going to generate enough revenue to pay for the nation’s claims (let alone administration) despite all evidence to the contrary, how on Earth can we be expected to hammer out an agreement that gets us where we need to be?

On "Truth" and Its Consequences - Why We Need A New Business Model for 21st Century JournalismSo how do we get there? How do we get to a place where the marketplace of ideas is truly open for business, but the accuracy of what is reported does not play second fiddle to the various Truths we all want to believe are infallible? If we are to make a new 21st Century Journalism Manifesto that allows the media to make the profit it deserves, but not at the expense of society as a whole – what would that look like? How do we have the freedom to information we want, and still maintain a system that by and large values the actual truth over Truth?

I ask the hive mind for their feedback, and hope to write more on this over then next several months.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.

135 thoughts on “On “Truth” and Its Consequences – Why We Need A New Business Model for 21st Century Journalism

      • Himalayan glaciers?  Medieval warming?  OMG WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT LOOK AT THIS CHAAAAAAART

        Global warming is the truth.  And the truth is really important.  So important, in fact, that sometimes you have to lie to make people agree that it’s the truth.


        • TALK to the MILITARY. You believe the Military, right? Go look at THEIR research. Or hell, go look at gardening websites. For realz, man.

          Because surely the 1950-1970’s gardening information was usurped by this GRAND CONSPIRACY… that didn’t exist yet! (or tell me, SIR, how far back it goes…)

          I don’t believe in “research” the way you do. Anyone’s. I believe in the people I know, who write models for a living.I believe in the models I write, and the researchers I work for.

          But by all means, if you wanna say that they’re corrupt, go RIGHT AHEAD.

          But remember to throw out all their work. NOT JUST THE THINGS YOU THINK THEY DID.

          Throw out all of Nasa’s research. Throw out Republican Campaign Research. Throw out BP research. Throw out WOOT too, while you’re at it. RAND too. Right, throw out Wikileaks, throw out 4chan.

          Ain’t so funny anymore, is it? Ain’t so happy to have your grand conspiracy busy working for Newt fucking Gingrich, is it?


          … ain’t my fault you decided to say that your conspiracy involves someone I know.


          • The point is not whether actual information exists.

            There is a lot of actual information regarding the Trayvon Martin situation.  As the OP points out, people use parts of that information that agree with what they believe, make up whatever else they need, and ignore everything else.

            It is not only the Trayvon Martin case where this occurs.


            • Da, comrade. I’m willing to be relatively agnostic about the whole thing, while saying, “they aren’t investigating”?!? really loudly. (aka, I can have my opinions, but be really easily changed.)

              I’m not certain we can do much more than recognize that we’re going to do this, and have people we trust call us sillykins occasionally.


  1. But seriously:

    “So how do we get there?”

    We stop telling everyone that they ought to want to be the next Bob Woodward.


    • My hopeful answer: new and to date unanticipated methods of delivering information will arise based on the technology available for delivering information rather than being derived from the old traditional forms of information delivery.

      My cynical answer: a new generation of people will grow up exposed to the new information firehose and will develop a cynical knack for weeding the occasional nuggets of signal from the deluge of drek.


      • Well i can more easily imagine a Glen Beck branded version of Google Glasses that give sponsored, vetted and approved news/views/reviews of every darn thing.


      • yarly. the millenials get a substantial portion of their worldview through facebook — you know a lot more superficial stuff about a lot more people near you. kinda helps with the “our generation ain’t got jack” mentality — which is true, by the way.


  2. We have a market place of ideas. Unfortunately is resembles a 7-11 at 3:30 am.

    I wish i had some good ideas. However its important to remember that all the listed media outlets aren’t’ everything. We can, if we choose, find plenty of information and we can choose to have respectful, thoughtful discussions.  No one outlet, or three main networks back in the old days, filters all the news, so we can’t just become to jaded by all the lying containers of poopie out there.


  3. The reason I don’t post more on the main page is that I simply cannot compete with quality posts like this.  Outstanding as always, Tod.

    I wish there were a solution I could think of.  I have none.  I find FOX totally unwatchable, and MSNBC barely better.  (I’m on the lefty side, so I tend to find it more palatable.  YMMV.)  I listen to NPR and read the Times and the New Yorker and view them as good sources of reasonably unbiased information.  They certainly seem that way to me.  But perhaps I’m totally deluded and naive to think so.


    • I wonder that same thing about myself.  This American Life is a pretty good example of a source that I tend to trust… but how much of that is what I bring to the party, and how much is what they bring?

      Also, thanks! But you sell yourself short if you think you are anything less than awesome.


      • FWIW, speaking as an avid NPR listener, I can hear the liberalness in almost every program, including ATC and Morning Edition.  I trust NPR to be careful with the facts, but the reporters’ background assumptions leak into the interviews, the way that they present the R vs D points and rebuttals, the story selection etc.  And obviously many of the non-news programs are unapologetic about their politics.

        I didn’t always notice this — it was only once I started regularly visiting non-liberal blogs/sites and questioning many of my own prior political beliefs that I recognized those same beliefs at play elsewhere.  I guess it was a little like quitting smoking, getting used to clean air, and then walking back into a smoke-filled room.


    • I have a solution, but it is one that is slaughters at least one american sacred cow.

      The root of the problem (if I understand american law correctly) is that news outlets are immune to libel proceedings. i.e. no one can successfully sue any media outlet for libel. I understand that ordinary citizens are not protected to th same extent as the media.

      The solution is a constitutional amendment to include a right to not be libelled. (or some law). How this works is that if anyone feels that they have been libelled, they can sue that party. The law/amendment is constructed such that the only defences one can have is

      a) the truth or  failing that

      b) the evidence honestly gathered was genuinely misleading

      Because people would rather watch stuff that confirms their own prejudices, and because the press is immune to any sort of lawsuit against them, there is no downside to publishing poorly investigated and/or false things. What the amendment/law does is create one downside to publishing false stuff. All it takes is one big successful lawsuit and news agencies will not be able to get away with the crap that they have been getting away with.

      The law is going to  have to accomodate that due care was taken but that the reporter still got it wrong. That part is therefore going to have to be worded very carefully. Hopefully, this may mitigate some of the chilling effect. However, not all chilling effect is bad. You do want people to think twice before they print bullshit which doesnt have evidence to back it up.


      • This is a bit off-base.
        Not ‘the media,’ but ‘journalists’ have certain protections. An ordinary citizen can be a journalist under certain circumstances. The Crystal Cox case should be enlightening.
        Defamation laws are according to the state, and there is a wide variety. Truth is the best defense to defamation, as the saying goes, but ‘public figures’ are exempt from defamation. Exactly what that means, nobody really knows. The damage element is sometimes required, sometimes not, according to the state.
        ‘Opinion’ cannot be defamation.
        The laws on retraction vary with the media. Sometimes a timely retraction will bar a suit, sometimes not (with the internet being a notable exception).

        The end result is facile wording and an inordinate publishing of official reports.


      • Murali, this didn’t occur to me, but you may well be right. Does anyone here know if British media (which is subject to stiffer libel laws) are less prone to this sort of thing? I know they’re sensationalist, but are they skewed in the same way?


      • I don’t recall any statute or precedent saying you can’t sue the media.

        It is true that someone who the court feels is a “public figure” does not have a great deal of legal protections against libel or slander.  And, presumably, the kind of people who get reported on in the news are inherently public figures.

        “All it takes is one big successful lawsuit and news agencies will not be able to get away with the crap that they have been getting away with.”

        Oh hello there chilling effect, how are you today?


      • This would basically make it equivalent to English libel law, which requires that the defendant in a libel case prove that they honestly believed they were publishing the truth, and the complainant only to prove that they were harmed in some way by the publication. This has had an increasingly stifling effect on speech, to the extent that English newspapers are hesistant to publish things that in all probability are true, and foreigners regularly seek out flimsy excuses to sue for libel in London rather than their home jusrisdiction. I think this state of affairs is generally agreed to be undesirable.


        • This has had an increasingly stifling effect on speech, to the extent that English newspapers are hesistant to publish things that in all probability are true People keep saying this, but to what extent is this true? British tabloids are notorious for the kind of crap they publish. I supose libel laws do create the classic difference between respectible papers which tend to produce true stuff even though they err on the side of caution and scurrilous gossip rags which print any kind of crap and may stumble across the truth some of the time. It is not clear that this is not an undesirable situation. You get more scrupulous differentiation of fact and opinion, and you have a reasonable confidence that whatever does get published in a respectable broadsheet is true.

          People also adjust. Speaking from personal experience from living in a country where libel laws are more draconian than english libel law (because the need to show that one was harmed has been effectively gutted) one can usually tell what is not being said from simply what is said. The newspoapers are reasonably accurate, and we know where to go if we wanted things that differed from the party line.


          • As noted earlier, some states here, eg Wisconsin, have done away with damage as an element of defamation, in that it need not be proven. I believe this is known as a “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” ruling. The underlying concept is that defamation cannot occur without some measure of damage ensuing. This benefits persons who are not public figures, to provide standing where the damage might be intangible or difficult to determine.
            It should be noted that the states that follow this manner of reasoning tend to have shorter statutes of limitations.


  4. I suppose I’m only going to reinforce your point by noting that I found a lot of stretching for false equivalence in here (with you yourself placed serenely above the fray).  You condemn everyone else for wearing blinders, but don’t spend any time on whether you might be wearing some of your own.

    I don’t want to troll.  But a post like this would be better off with more examination of the beam in the author’s own eye, which is surely as large as anyone else’s beam.


    • Dude, you are so not a troll.  But I might ask that you flesh that out a bit more.  As I said in the OP, I am probably going to be writing more about this so I’m curious where you might have me go.

      As to the placing myself above the fray, I’m not entirely sure I get the criticism even though I get it a lot from some people.  (Hi Still!) Since I take pretty great pains to use language about this is what we do, that it’s an us thing … would it somehow be better if I pointed at one side and said They do it I don’t?  If you think you see a problem that we collectively all have, can you not point that out – or do you have to take a pass and wait for the next issue that only some of us screw up on  – and if so why?


      • As I see it, you’re conflating two separate points here.  Point A is that all people have a tendency to spin for their own beliefs, and for people that they identify with.  This I don’t have a problem with.  Point B–which you make at least partly through implication–is that all people and all sides do this equally, and that’s where I get off the bus.  There is little equivalence in “a black kid was shot without an investigation.  This could well be racism” and “a black kid was shot.  He was probably a thug, and Zimmerman was doubtlessly defending himself”.

        The impression I’ve got from your writing is that you’re attached to the idea of “liberals and conservatives both abuse rhetoric and argumentation in service to their ‘teams'”.  You’re attached to it, the same way that I’m attached to “conservatives are cruelly indifferent to the poor”, or Jaybird is attached to “state coercion is making things worse”.  There’s nothing wrong with believing an idea.  I just ask that you keep it in mind–that you acknowledge that you have a team just as much as anyone else does, and that you spin for your vision just as much as me or Jaybird or Density Duck.


        • I had not meant to suggest that all sides do it equally.  I feel like I’m well on record here as saying that I think currently the right has a harder time with this now – for a myriad of reasons, none of which is that conservatives are more prone to such things.  (For one thing, I think that have the far superior media machine in terms of being symbiotic with their party.)

          But I do believe, more to my main point, that over time market forces will more and more drive news programming that tells people what they want to hear, and that outlets that attempt to be objective will have a harder and harder time being able to acquire necessary revenue.  (As a separate point, I believe that growing reactions to the continued success of the right’s media machine will, over time, make more and more make those of us that look for objective coverage more agreeable to lefty FOX-like content.  In fact, to extrapolate backwards, I think its possible that part of what allows the right to accept and tolerate crappy journalism is that they feel they are “owed” after X number of years of journalism they felt was biased against them.)


          • It’s also entirely possible that I’m hypersensitive to the false equivalence phenomenon.  My formative political experiences were the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq war.


        • “I just ask that you keep it in mind–that you acknowledge that you have a team just as much as anyone else does, and that you spin for your vision just as much as me or Jaybird or Density Duck.”

          Excuse me, but what the hell is that supposed to mean?  (Please use quotes and examples to illustrate your point.)


      • Hey Tod! Thanks for the shout out. I think the problem is this:

          If you think you see a problem that we collectively all have, can you not point that out

        If you see that kind of problem, then of course you can point it out. But if it’s a problem that we all have, then you’re pointing it out isn’t accomplishing what you think it is. From the NonPartisan pov, it’d be like a liberal saying ‘Ya know, I see this real problem in politics where conservatives continually misrepresent the facts to serve their ideological agenda’, and the NonPartisan thinks ‘oh, really. Imagine a liberal saying that.’

        Nonpartisan-ness is its own ideology anymore. That isn’t to say that non-partisans are any different than a conservative or a liberal in either adopting a frame of reference from which to view the facts, or viewing the facts more objectively while simultaneously self-identifying as one thing or another.


  5. The olden days were really no better.   You put old Walter Cronkite’s pic in there, as if he represented better times.  They were not.

    When Walter Cronkite stood on top of the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon, helmet on his head, declaring the Vietnam War was untenable, over his shoulder was the smoke arising from Cho Lon, Saigon’s Chinatown.   The Vietcong had murdered several hundred Chinese and the residents had cornered the Vietcong into one city block, which they set ablaze, killing them all.   The Tet Offensive was the last hurrah for the Vietcong:  at last the Vietnamese had enough of them extorting and murdering and torturing.   For the rest of the Vietnam War, they were not a viable entity.

    The Tet Offensive was the greatest rebuttal of a guerilla force in history.   The Americans had won a great victory, not that Cronkite had a clue, from his safe perch atop the Caravelle.

    But so many lies had been told about that war, the truth was not believed.   And Cronkite had repeated many of those lies.

    After that CBS report, it is said Lyndon Johnson turned off the television and said “If we’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost the war.”

    The press has never been able to tell the truth.   We do not need a new business model for this century’s journalism, any more than any other century needed a new model.   Today, in the plethora of news, arriving from all quarters, we are now more able to perceive the truth than ever, for the news arrives from obviously biased sources, from which we can triangulate some semblance of truth.   It is only a matter of simple geometry to determine the truth, for we shall never have it from any one source, as any reputable journalist or intelligence operator will tell you.


    • United States Armed Forces

      Casualties as of 27 March 2012:

      • 58,272 KIA or non-combat deaths (including the missing & deaths in captivity)
      • 303,644 WIA (including 153,303 who required hospitalization and 150,341 who didn’t)
      • 1,672 MIA (originally 2,646)
      • 725-779 POW (660 freed (28 escaped), (65-119 died in captivity)

      from the wiki people.  what in gods name was that war about?  so many dead.  so many wounded.  and for a sweaty jungle that is not ours.  we should have just let the french lose without getting involved.

      wars of choice are almost entirely pointless.  no goal, no moral high ground, no exit in sight.


      Walter was right.


  6. Honestly, I sort of view places like this as a fairly reliable source for news.  I might post something I heard/read on outlet X, to which people might respond with confirmation of that information, a different perspective on it, or direct refutation.  Some crap filters through (including what I present), but you look at the big picture and who is posting what and what their goals might be and I tend to think I come away a bit more informed.


    • I think of this as a good place to understand where people I disagree are coming from, and sometimes even to find that I’m persuaded against my initial instincts.  But on behalf of everyone here, let me say thanks – that’s an awesome thing for you to say about the League.


  7. How do we get to a place where the marketplace of ideas is truly open for business, but the accuracy of what is reported does not play second fiddle to the various Truths we all want to believe are infallible?

    Short of a New Rationalist Man, I don’t think we can. The market is working exactly how it’s supposed to—i.e., it’s giving consumers what they want. The problem is that most consumers don’t want the truth, they want to read/hear stuff that makes them feel good. I don’t see a way around this. Sites like FactCheck.org help, but only if people actually read them. Censorship just means that people hear want the censors want them to hear and not what they hear, and the censors are subject to biases of their own.

    The best solution I can see is to mitigate the negative externalities caused by the misinformed by disenfranchising the voters most susceptible to bias using some objective, non-ideological test.


      • I don’t trust the government to make an unbiased peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was more idle speculation than an actual proposal. What I meant by non-ideological is that the questions would have to be abstract enough not to be directly relevant to any political issues. Maybe apolitical would have been a better word. Giving both parties veto power over any particular question would help. Though I suppose they could find a way to sneak in some nonobvious, indirect bias. Government types can be surprisingly resourceful when the incentives are there.

        That said, I kind of would like to see this happen, just because it would be entertaining to see one party, faced with an actual incentive to take an honest look at the question, realize that they have the dumber constituency.


        • Having the dumber constituency doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong, assuming that you can even define “dumber”, which I’m very skeptical of.  The whole idea strikes me as distasteful, frankly.  It assumes that there’s a “correct” answer to public policy questions, when there really isn’t in a lot of cases.


          • Having the dumber constituency doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong,

            It doesn’t, though a whole lot of time is spent trying to argue which side came to the conclusions it did based on the evidence and which side is simply being sold a product based on frivolous and ill-conceived emotion.


            • Really, I think that at the point things get split into two sides, any objectivity in truth goes out the window.
              I can write every political ad you’ll hear this election season fairly plainly:

              So-and-so is one scary bastard.
              Our guy will give you a reach around!

              They just want your money to grease the bearings in the machine.
              Pretty much the same as any other commercial.


          • It assumes that there’s a “correct” answer to public policy questions, when there really isn’t in a lot of cases.

            Why wouldn’t there be a correct answer to public policy questions? What should people be doing (ideally speaking) when they vote?


              • Let me push at this a bit. When people say values come into play,they are presumably talking about what justice requires etc etc. Should government protect liberty? the worst off? ensure equality? etc. But what makes us think that whether or not government should aim at these things is a subjective matter? If one is any kind of moral realist, then there should be an objective answer to these questions. i.e. some things just may just be genuinely valuable or some things just may just be required by justice. The mere fact that people disagree about what these things are is irrelevant. People disagree about matters of economics and evolution etc. That doesnt mean that there isnt a fact about those matters as well.

                To talk about certain things being subjective just means to say that it is preferred by that person. Presumably, positive claims are then about the means to satisfying these preferences. Ultmiately, then, the strength of any claim about a particular policy will depend on the both the extent to which the positive claim is true and the strength of the value claim. However, if the value claim is merely subjective, all your claim amounts to is “bcause I want it”. This might be meaningful to those others who happen to want the same thing, but not much beyond that.

                That’s why it’s not enough to argue that some policy lines up with what we want, it also lines up with what we should want out of government etc.


                • I have trouble with the idea that very abstract things are “real” in the same sense that, say, oxygen is real, and my ontology isn’t quite sophisticated enough to posit abstract entities like that, I suppose. But even if we were to admit that highly abstract ideas like “liberty” are real, and objectively good, then how do we measure their relative goodness for setting priorities? And how do we decide which policies best achieve them? The latter is going to be a problem no matter what the ontological status of our values.


                  • But even if we were to admit that highly abstract ideas like “liberty” are real, and objectively good, then how do we measure their relative goodness for setting priorities?

                    measuring goodness is difficult, but if we can come up with at least a lexical ordering, we could settle a huge number of questions. Besides, any cadinal set can be expressed as an ordinal list of relevant alternatives. Once we put things in terms of ordinal lists, things are not automatically solved, but it does give us an easier way to handle things.

                    And how do we decide which policies best achieve them? The latter is going to be a problem

                    Operationalising much of these things is not too problematic. For example, if we want to see whether a set of policies is in accord with the difference principle, we can track the PPP adjusted mean income of the bottom 10% incomes in the country. Things may not necessarily be so straightforward, but this doesnt seem to be an insurmountable obstacle.


                    • Once we put things in terms of ordinal lists, things are not automatically solved, but it does give us an easier way to handle things.

                      Sure, but in whose order?

                      Things may not necessarily be so straightforward, but this doesnt seem to be an insurmountable obstacle.

                      It is the insurmountable obstacle. It’s where politics are played out, in practice, even if in dialogue they’re played out over values. Because let’s face it, while the ordering might be slightly different, “liberals” and “conservatives,” for example, have pretty similar basic values: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and all that. What they differ in is how to achieve them. Since a.) the values are abstract and not easily, and certainly not straightforwardly translated into practical goals, and b.) the means for achieving those goals on large scales are constant points of contention, when you say things like this, you sound way too optimistic.


                    • Sure, but in whose order?

                      Finding out the objective ordering of “values” so to speak, if such an ordering exists is difficult. That doesn’t mean that it is an impossible task.

                      the means for achieving those goals on large scales are constant points of contention, when you say things like this, you sound way too optimistic.

                      I’m not saying that we will stop disagreeing about these. I’m just saying that there is a correct answer to such empirical questions like whether policy A or B is better at achieving goal X. The answer is either A, B or both are equally effective. That’s why I prefer some kind of technocracy. Experts have a higher probability of getting such quesitons correct.


              • That said, I think the role of differing norms in politics is overstated. For example, whether we should increase taxes on the rich to increase welfare spending is sometimes considered a normative questions, but while values do play a role, people also have very different assumptions about what the effects of this would be.


  8. Very good post, but I think that the idea of everyone trusting the news is sort of a new (post WWII) idea.  Just a quick look at NYC’s list of current and defunct newspapers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_York_City_newspapers_and_magazines tells me at least that there has been a wide variety of news sources in that city alone.

    Shooting from the hip, I think the idea of one set of agreeing news sources stems from that conflict, as no one in the west would even think about “undermining” the war effort.


    • That sort of thing doesn’t tell the whole story.
      Some of those were niche markets anyway.
      Generally, having two newspapers in a city tends to make both better, provided they are competitors; but often they aren’t.
      I was in Kansas City when the Times was going strong. That was the evening paper. It had better classified ads. There weren’t as many stories, but they were well-written.
      The Star had the big comics section and the sports page that everybody wanted. The Star bought out the Times, and seemed to wobble a bit after that. Then Disney bought the Star, if that tells you anything.
      That’s been an ongoing thing with newspapers. I grew up with the News-Sun. I’ve read the Avalanche-Journal, the Times-Picayune, and the Daily Chronicle.
      These days, I live in a town where the paper is published once a week, on Thursdays.
      But the Times-Herald has a general audience, while the Riverfront Times has a targeted audience.
      Like the LA Times is to BAM!. Not even sure if BAM! is still around.


      • In our town, we have three papers (or so, I’m not counting the special black one, or the special jewish one, or the ones I don’t know about). Citypaper (weekly, alternative), Tribune-Review (run by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (TM) ), and the Post-Gazette (locally unbiased,w hich means democrat, but hates our Democratic mayor just as much as the next eastender).


      • Will, my point was that NYC has 5 news dailies, and at least 2 (Journal and the Post) have widely different perspectives on the news than the Times. And I am willing to bet that in the past, competition and competing viewpoints was the norm, not the idea of one monolithic paper dominating the city.


  9. I don’t remember if you mentioned it in the post but NPR should get major praise for quickly admitting to this screw up then taking time to talk about and apologize. That leads me to trust them since they have paid a price and didn’t duck it. How many of the other networks admitted  their errors and then went on the air to yak about how bad they f’d up. I’ve still heard peeps defending the ACORN sting….those lies are still floating around and haven’t been loudly and publicly recanted. If there is a penalty for screwing up then people will really try not to. I’m guessing Ira Glass has said that he better never be put in this position again. If lies and BS advances your cause then why stop.


    • “I don’t remember if you mentioned it in the post but NPR should get major praise for quickly admitting to this screw up then taking time to talk about and apologize.”

      I did in the first post.  Not only did they apologize, but they spent an entire show trying to correct the record.  Can you imagine Rush doing the same?  Or if the TImes had an error on a front page story, can you imagine them doing a front page correction?  It was awesome, and what This American Life should embarrass everyone else in the industry.


    • It was indeed very commendable. The interesting thing is, I’m on the opposite side of this debate from Mike Daisy, typically, and I didn’t find the original piece to be all that biased. This American Life was careful to point out the moral ambiguity of employment practices in places like China, and Daisy himself isn’t exactly calling for a boycott of Apple products, just trying to raise awareness. And when it comes down to it, the elaborations in the original story and Mike Daisy’s obviously slightly estranged relationship with the truth, as opposed to the “Truth”, did not really have much impact on the main points that were made. They undermine the narrative of his trip to China, but not particularly the view of electronics manufacturiing there that he portrayed.


      • There’s an important qualitative difference between “this stuff happens sometimes” and “This stuff is so common that I found all of it on one trip!” It’s not just a matter of degree.


    • So Tom, do you think Mr. Glass should have buried the recant behind a couple of sentences at the beginning of the show?

      I’m curious.  You seem quite put out.  “Hang out to dry”.  “Gibbet”.  Hardly words one would use for behavior you would consider exemplary.

      What would you have a news organization do, if they found out a story was built on a bunch of hooey?


      • No PatC, I think the more he rakes Daisey over the coals, the better he looks.  I think it’s fine what Glass did, but it also benefited him immensely.

        Ira Glass simply says Daisey lied to him, and gets away clean.

        {Ira} explains how Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz tracked down Daisey’s interpreter in China — a woman named Cathy Lee — who disputes much of Daisey’s story. And Ira talks about how Mike Daisey lied to TAL during the fact-checking process, telling Ira and our producers that Cathy was not her real name and that she was unreachable. Ira also stresses that, without Cathy’s corroboration of the story, This American Life never should have run the story in the first place.

        So Glass goes a little mea culpa, but Daisey gets the chains.  And hey, This American Life is more a soft feature thing, not hard news like 60 Minutes or the NPR shows like All Things Considered, where the network’s journalistic integrity is on the line with every paragraph.  Key here is that Daisey wasn’t Glass’ employee.  He snookered Glass and TAL, and we aren’t angry at Glass for that, we sympathize with glass.

        Think Rathergate.  Rather and Mary mapes were CBS employees, and generated 100s or 1000s of hours of CBS news.  It’s not unfair to wonder what else they have squirreled in the past present and will in the future.  Think a corrupt police dept. like Rampart or a corrupt prosecutor’s office.  Everything they ever touched is now called into question.   NBC deceivingly edited the Zimmerman 911 call.

        An org circles its wagons and hopes it blows over. 

        But Glass doesn’t have a relationship and history with Daisey, so throwing him to the wolves hurts him not at all.  For CBS to extricate itself from Rather and Mapes was trickier, and although an independent investigation by Dick Thornborough was condemnatory, CBS survived.

        Although Rather didn’t.  Come to think of it, did Rather do anything worse than Glass, going with a story without proper fact-checking?  Good question—without me digging further into a story I don’t give a damn about, it might be fair to say he didn’t.  The only difference might be Glass leading the prosecution of Dailey, whereas Rather tried to brazen it out instead of dumping it all on his producer, Mary Mapes.


        • I get what you’re saying here.
          It’s sort of like the Oprah bookclub where they had the guy that made up a bunch of stuff, and called him to the carpet and flail him into fishbait for Having Crossed Oprah.
          So Glass got his little tupperware container of Daisey fishbait, and All Is Good In The World™.
          Glass is now Journalist Extraordinaire, Grade Three, while Daisey gives blowjobs at the bus station to support a heroin addiction.
          The process becomes the story.


      • I think Tom’s actually making a good point here. Glass, while he wasn’t the source of the mistake, failed to do his job properly by, if nothing else, checking his source. I mean, that’s a strong candidate for the first rule of journalism. And he utterly failed at it. Yet, as Tom points out, simply by doing something that every journalist should do if they fish something up, he is suddenly improving his reputation as a journalist, despite the fact that he didn’t do the other thing that every journalist should do in order to avoid, if at all possible, fishing something up.


          • wtf..how did most of my comment get cut off again…pleah.

            Glass f’d up but his handling of the screw up is far better than most. Most networks/people would issue a brief, lawyer written statement, claim to be the real victim, just ignore it and keep shouting or double down on the lies. There is no question he screwed, but if you doing better then everybody else you are going to get praise for the part you do well. Sad to say, but Glass has done better than most. Don’t blame him, blame everybody else for sucking.


          • Yeah, that’s just not enough for me.

            First, we shouldn’t be blaming the liar. The liar got on the air because someone put him their without doing his job (in fact, several people failed to do their job, I suspect). That’s all that really matters. It’s hard to trust a reporter who makes this sort of mistake. It’s such a basic and easily avoidable mistake that the reporter who makes it has to either be incompetent or lying him/herself.


            • Outlets don’t fact check reporters or free lancers in general. For one reason fact checking some reports would be almost as much work as the original report. I don’t have a problem with pointing out Glass’s failures. I’m just saying his mea culpa actually exists and is better than most others. I was trying not to point out any specific comparison since it will get people’s undies in a bundle. However compare the response of Glass to that of Breitbart and O’Keefe. I could post for a month about “misstatements” on Fox. Some anchor from Fox, this week, tweeted that there are questions whether obama threatened to kill chelsea clinton in 08 which helped him win the nomination. Will there be an apology or retraction from her?


              • Oh, I agree with you about Fox. I don’t consider Fox a news source, or its employees journalists. And you’re right, Gross has done better, but he’s already failed in away that makes it impossible for me to trust him again.

                I understand that Gross was dealing with a freelance reporter, but if you’re going to devote an entire hour to sensational findings that could potentially be damaging to a huge and, for the most part, widely popular company, it’s probably a good idea to do some basic checking. I mean, a quick google search by someone who knew Chinese would have debunked some of this dude’s stuff.



                • The fact that this is the real retraction Ira’s had to issue in 15 years of doing the show is a sign he’s been pretty good with fact-checking in the past. The fact that Daisey went out of his way to deceive and lie to the staff who were trying to do the checks probably doesn’t help.


                  • Yeah, like I said, a simple Google search by someone who speaks Chinese would have discredited portions of the story. At that point, they’d presumably have questioned more of it.

                    I also don’t think the 15 years tell me much. It’s not just “what have you done for me lately.” It’s also, “what are the chances of a fuckup of this magnitude, even in a 15 year career? How many times have you fucked up on a lesser scale? How would we know?”


  10. Not to nitpick by the way, but This American Life is produced by WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International (PRI), which is a separate public broadcasting company. They’re both Public Radio, but they’re not the same group. So calling TAL an “NPR” program is wrong.


  11. I will probably be eviscerated for this but  . . .

    I have been uncomfortable with the concept of truth ever since I met Werner Herzog.  The man’s documentaries are full of things that he makes up and his fictional films are full of true things that he was unwilling to “fake” with special effects.  The latter most famously exemplified by his actually hauling a paddle-boat over a mountain in Fitzcarraldo, the former exemplified by his hiring some drunks to crawl around in the ice in Bells of the Deep.

    Perhaps it is just his kick ass German accent, but when he justifies what he does — in pursuit of truth — I completely agree with him.

    And yet I feel that Daisey is a fraud.  Is it simply his lack of Werner’s accent?  Is it that his subject matter is more “real” (i.e. factory conditions are either as horrible as he describes or they aren’t in contrast with Werner’s meditation on Russian spiritualism which is itself tricky to define)? I don’t know.  I have ever since been wary of the relationship between facts and the truth.

    In my opinion, the best way to go forward is with empathy and recognition of the world’s moral complexity.  The less we are willing to tell ourselves simple stories (Martin was a hoodlum who had it coming or Zimmerman is an evil racist), the better off we are.  Unfortunately, politics won’t get us there.  And yet it is through politics that we seek to solve these issues.  Oh well.


  12. REAL NEWS:

    You obviously haven’t been reading Field Negro, who’s been running nearconstant stuff on this Trayvon Case. Seems he pulled something interesting from Chi-town today. Have a look!

    What’s needed is crowdsourcing of Fact-Checking (kinda like the Palin Had A Secret Baby episode of Daily Kos’ recommended list, which had twenty million people saying “this is just hearsay”)

    What’s also needed is more citizen journalism, more expert journalism (read bonddad!) — and more hiring of journalists by private citizens.

    A Frakking Well blows up in middle-of-nowhere (near Forest County PA) — some blogger is there within minutes, taking photos and investigating. Puts a post up — it gets to the top of daily kos. It’s a decent story, even if it’s mostly “I heard a big bang, and they didn’t let me get closer.” This is the kind of media that we need — basic reporting on facts.


    The hero of the Foxconn tale is actually the Chinese Government, who put the axe down on the too long working hours. this should be noted, as it indicates a China that is less bottom-feeding, and more becoming a strong enough player to start playing hardball with corporations.


    • There’s a blog out there what chronicles all the missing black women in this country. It’s worth a look too. Real life ain’t just pretty blonde women.


  13. So, I don’t think anything has really changed. We have a great deal more analysis and op/ed type work out there largely thanks to blogs and cable TV. Lots more talk shows, lots more pundits. But the actual news is still in decent shape. You can read very fine reporting not just from the good traditional outlets like the NYTs or Reuters but from outfits like ProPublica.

    But when we look at this and see all this opinion, and see how much of this opinion people consume, we think there must be a problem. When in reality, I think people are just consuming a great deal more media now than before. Back in the good ol’ days there weren’t so many choices, so people weren’t reading blogs, listening to This American Life, or watching Sean Hannity on Fox. Now there’s all this stuff available on top of the more straightforward actual news.

    And lots of people manage to be dumb about it, of course, and Fox in particular has used a bit of sleight of hand to make their opinion journalism come across as actual reporting (and other networks have followed Fox’s lead in the quest for ratings.) So there’s plenty to scorn out there. I just think we need to be smart consumers. Contra Murali, no new law is needed. Contra gloom and doom, I think we’ll be just fine as we adapt.


  14. Amazingly, even those liberals who have publicly condemned Mike Daisey still frame their arguments around Daisey’s primary Truth, which is that the focus should be on Apple.

    As someone who’s advanced something akin to this argument, I think returning to focus on Apple is to say in the balance of harms, terrible working conditions trumps bad journalistic practice every time. Exploration of why TAL aired the Daisey piece and Daisey’s fabrications is important, but not comparable to the underlying issue Daisey attempts to explore: unsafe working conditions, poor labor standards, limited freedom of association, and quashing unions and unionization efforts with blacklists, threats of violence, and authoritarian state power.

    True, Apple products are made in Foxconn and similar Chinese manufacturing hubs, but so are almost all the devices, gizmos, and appliances that we buy, regardless of brand name.

    The way you put it is “they’re the top dog and fat cat rolled into one right now”, but more exactly put Apple, Nike, and Walmart are targets for activism because they have lots of leverage. Whether a particular consumer buys their products or not, what these companies put in their supplier codes of conduct has repercussions for millions of workers the world over. As TAL mentioned, Apple has overwhelming bargaining power – Apple suppliers brag to potential customers that they are suppliers to Apple, that is, supplying Apple is a useful badge elsewhere in the industry. These companies are also ripe targets for activism because their brands are so valuable, their executives are motivated to disassociate themselves from headlines about child labor in Bangladesh and explosions in China. Also it is difficult to influence companies who are business-to-business suppliers half a world away absent leverage over downstream customers like Apple, Nike, and Walmart. The goal isn’t to mark some company as evil or villainous, to the extent that’s done as an end in itself that’s wrong. As I understand the left/activist critique these companies are being held to universal standards and are being criticized for not meeting these standards (standards that Apple points to in its Supplier Code of Conduct, pdf, International Labour Organization, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, etc.)

    We’re all willing to live a comfy lifestyle at the expense of others that missed out on the Birthplace Lotto jackpot; who we buy nice things from is irrelevant.

    Isn’t the social justice argument the labor standards proponents / Apple critics are advancing precisely targeted at this? At the willingness to lead a comfortable life at the expense of (or at least insensitive to) the labor standards of the places that produce our tech toys?


    • I both agree with you, and disagree with you on all points here.

      I agree with you because, well, everything you say is spot on.  But I think it’s also purposefully limited.  There is a reason why pundits, pols and activists don’t lead  with (or many times, even bother saying) the message “You really out to spend more money for all your s**t.”  In almost any story I hear on Apple, for example, the onus to sacrifice is put on the shareholder, not the consumer.

      I also don’t think it’s coincidence that the same don’t these target companies on the rise, they invariably wait until cultural backlash is already under way against the behemoth.  Apple may indeed have more clout to bargain with, as you (and the TAL piece) say, but I think it is naive to suggest this is why they are chosen to be in the spotlight.

      Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  I think working conditions for the folks that make our stuff should be an issue we talk about.  I’m just not sure we do that right now, or at least in any way that’s meaningful.  What I mostly see is well meaning people taking our own cultural taboos and assuming them on other cultures, and moving from one large company dealing with cultural backlash to another.  I’d rather we talk about consumption itself if we’re going to go down that path.  And I’d like to see more aware conversations that aren’t divided into “I didn’t have to work at 16 so those people that want to work shouldn’t be allowed to work either” vs. “it’s not my problem if people are committing suicide at a shocking rate because of the way things are set up, I’m not going to pay $10 more for my iPod.”  (This last bit was a bit of a rant.  Apologies.)


      •  I’d rather we talk about consumption itself if we’re going to go down that path.  And I’d like to see more aware conversations that aren’t divided into “I didn’t have to work at 16 so those people that want to work shouldn’t be allowed to work either” vs. “it’s not my problem if people are committing suicide at a shocking rate because of the way things are set up, I’m not going to pay $10 more for my iPod.”  (This last bit was a bit of a rant.  Apologies.)

        It seems to me what you want are political discussions devoid of politics. And if you do want that, then you have to go to another forum to have them – academia, or very narrowly focused blogs. Or at least, what you want are conversations which start with your own presuppositions of not only what’s important (eg., consumer culture) but how to get them to occur (restrict the both sides do it! rhetoric which slings mud around).

        Part of the problem with this, it seems to me, is that you’re rejecting both the content beneath the mudslining (values) and that two people who disagree about those values are unlikely to agree to shelve their values for the sake of a conversation about something else. Jason likes to say that politics is the mind killer, and in some sense he’s right. But that comment is really only a dig on individual rationality if we suppose that politics – and political identity – are the exclusive determiners of one’s beliefs. Personally, I think the arrow predominantly goes the other way: people hold their political views, and self-identify as X or Y, because of the values they already hold. So it seems to me that wishing people would talk about certain issues devoid of the value-content inherent in the way they view them is bordering on the impossible.

        That’s not to say we can’t have a rational (meta) discussion about values and the role culture and politics play in shaping those values. And frankly, that seems to me to be the more interesting conversation given what you wrote above.



        • Actually, I think what I’m saying is that most of the conversations that are started about issues like these are not actually designed to create change – they’re designed to create traffic.

          Also, I’ve never been a proponent of people leaving their values at the door.  As I always say, the truths of conservatism, libertarianism and liberalism are all good tools to solve problems.  But I think there is a lot of real estate between saying, “You’re not allowed to have political opinions” and “addressing the actual problem doesn’t help my political cause, so I’ll pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”  Just because I don’t want to be in the latter camp doesn’t mean I’m advocating for the former.


      • …the onus to sacrifice is put on the shareholder, not the consumer.

        If I understand Apple’s market position in consumer electronics correctly – and admittedly, we’re well clear of a subject I have any depth of knowledge about – Apple is in a strong position to make the decision about how the sacrifice will be distributed. They already have people lining up around the block for their product launches. Though I concede Apple’s position is not unassailable, in aggregate and over time, the consumer has more power and were consumers to decline to buy Apple products Apple would be powerless – but speaking specifically of the cache Apple possesses today, they are in a position to do more to ensure safe working conditions, and conditions that match their own commitment as outlined in the code of conduct.
        I’d probably quibble with you as to whether Apple is in the midst of a cultural backlash. The breathless speculation about what Apple has in store for TV, recently gaining the distinction as the company with the largest market capitalization, and a multi-billion dollar cash position means they don’t appear to be on the ropes.

        I understand you’d like to have a more well informed, more substantive discussion about working conditions, and I’m with you on that score. I’d be thrilled if the American news media aimed to be PBS Newshour and less pointless fluff. But bad publicity and the name and shame game is a well trod path for activists that produces results. Witness the architecture Nike and Apple have set up thus far in an attempt to prevent such worker safety/mistreatment scandals. Obviously as an activist I’m obliged to say that’s unsatisfactory and these companies ought to do quite a bit more to ensure there lofty policies are put into practice, but it took quite a bit of outside activist/consumer/public relations pressure to bring these companies this far.

        What I mostly see is well meaning people taking our own cultural taboos and assuming them on other cultures, and moving from one large company dealing with cultural backlash to another.

        I didn’t fully understand this. What taboos do you mean here? Worker safety/treatment taboos or are you referring to a larger critique of consumer culture?

        With respect to discussing consumption itself – speaking as an activist/advocate now –the activism targeting Nike, Apple, and other companies concerned about retaining their brand’s appeal, that activism can extract real concessions from companies in the short to medium term. More aware conversations, unfortunately, seems to be a battle that it will take a lot longer to win.


  15.  Good article. 

    A common theme is that someone took a story and ran with it because it fit their global view/agenda, and to hell with the truth or doing some real reporting/critical thinking/analysis.  I think that’s the real problem.  Only after something like this blows up do people start digging into it. 

    Frankly, I find that type of action repulsive and worth of public shaming..at least until public caning is instituted.  Reality is always more complex than the simple “narratives” these types portray.  I hope there is a special place in hell for them.

    I think the best solution is the “marketplace of ideas” as was mentioned above.  I follow several news outlets, both conventionally “conservative” and “liberal”, but you see, the problem is not with them.  I know their biases, it’s bozo’s like Daisey that slip through cracks and can be most damaging, not the Al Sharptons of this world.


  16. Q: What is the troublesome sentence here:


    Recently, CNN enhanced audio of George Zimmerman — the man who shot Trayvon Martin — to try and determine if he did, in fact, use a racial slur while calling police on the night of the shooting. Back then, it sounded like Zimmerman might have used the phrase “fu**ing coons,” and his critics have cited it as evidence of a racially-motivated attack. But now CNN has enhanced the audio again, and the reporter is casting doubts that the term was used.

    (Related: ‘This Is for Trayvon’: 6 Youths Attack 78-Year-Old Man in Alleged Racially-Charged Attack)

    “It certainly sounds like that word to me,” Gary Tuckman said when the audio was first enhanced. But after the latest enhancement, he’s not so sure:

    “Now it does sound less like that racial slur. … From listening in this room, and this is a state-of-the-art room, it doesn’t sound like that slur anymore. It sounds like … we‘re hearing the swear word at first and then the word ’cold.’ And the reason some say that would be relevant, is because it was unseasonably cold  in Florida that night and raining.”

    The audio expert agreed it sounded like “cold,” and said the new method gets rid of a lot more background noise but doesn’t change the voice or words.


    A: ““It certainly sounds like that word to me.”

    This is opinion, not fact.  Right here is a journalistic mortal sin [and even more serious in that he may have furthered a falsehood by injecting his inexpert opinion].  Now the story is at least partly about fixing the journalist’s improper injection of his opinion.  The journalist should not be part of the story though, he should be transparent.

    Playing it straight as a journalist doesn’t—as Tod’s OP title stresses—make for a good “Business Model” in the 21st century, though.  Unless you Geraldo-ize your product, plant yourself into the story, “brand” it, there’s no fat career in it for you.  Only the superstars turn the big bucks, and by being transparent, the reporter makes himself invisible.

    Invisibility doesn’t pay.

    I’ve noticed a similar ambition among academic historians like Joseph Ellis and Eric Foner: to be a “transparent” historian isn’t enough.  Both have become very partisan “public intellectuals.”  Which is fine, but we seem to have a glut of public intellectuals and damn few and fewer “transparent” reporters and historians.

    Or, come to think of it, mebbe we do have plenty of them, but don’t notice ’em.  ;-)





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