My new Think Again column is called 10 Years of False Equivalence and Still Going Strong. It’s a reflection on the ten years since the Center for American Progress was founded and the ten years (and one day) that I have been writing that column, and it focuses on (guess what,) false equivalence in the MSM between the radicalized Republican Party and the hyper-moderate Democrats, and the harm this inability to draw so obvious a distinction continues to do to truth, justice and the American way.
I also felt compelled to write an exceptionally long blog post in response to the campaign of vilification directed towards yours truly inspired by Max Blumenthal in retaliation for my column on his terrible book. It’s called “Despicable Me” and it appeared in this space on Wednesday. I will, as is noted at the end of that magnum opus, respond to Blumenthal’s complaints in the letters to the editor column of the magazine whenever his letter is slated to run. So far, I’ve not seen anything in my that requires correction. Check that, what requires correction, at least in the future, is my judgment in agreeing to write about such a book in the first place. Any work in which the author begins—literally in the table of contents—by equating Jewish Israelis with Nazis deserves to be ignored at best. This has been the reaction to this book of literally every since print publication in America save The Nation insofar as I am aware. It should have also been mine, my editors’ request that I write about it notwithstanding. (In the meantime, check out these recent examinations of the veracity of the book by Avi Meyer here and here, as well as third post on the book, here. Remember, “facts” vs. Truth....)
I was not so crazy about the pacing of the show put on at Cipriani Wall Street in support of Little Kids Rock’s annual “Big Man of the Year” Award. Jake Clemons spoke and played a bit. Brian Wilson did a few songs, as did Elvis Costello (who is everywhere of late), with last year’s winner, Steve van Zandt sitting in for almost all of it. Then there was lots and lots of talking and an auction, etc, before Bill Medley made a rare appearance on followed by this year’s award winner, Darlene Love. You can read all about it on Backstreets, but I’d rather you went to the Little Kids’ Website and gave them some scratch. Music in the public schools is a terrific cause and it’s one (of many) where we are failing our children.
Eagle Rock has put out a terrific bluray of a Stan Getz performance at Montreux in 1972 with a Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Tony Williams, and Airto Moreira backing him up on songs from the then-just released “Captain Marvel” album. It marks Getz’s transition into fusion as well as the gestation of the most exciting version of Corea and Clarke’s “Return to Forever.” I’m also pleased with the release of Bryan Ferry’s Live In Lyon on Blu-ray filmed during his Olympia tour on July 25, 2011 at the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Lyon, France as part of the Nuits de Fourviere Festival. It covers bits and pieces from Ferry’s 40-year career, including Roxy stuff, like “Slave To Love,” “Oh Yeah!,” “Let’s Stick Together,” “Love Is The Drug,” “Don’t Stop The Dance,” “Avalon,” and some great covers from his solo career, “Like A Hurricane,” “Jealous Guy,” and “My Only Love,” etc. He’s very much an underrated singer and if you’ve spent any time with the Roxy Music box of last year, this will be a real treat. Eagle Rock has also released Live In Athens 1987 by Peter Gabriel on a two Blu-ray package, it’s got a complete Youssou N’Dour opening set plus the Gabriel show, plus a disc of Gabriel videos. The show was filmed in the hillside open-air theatre at Lycabettus overlooking Athens as the “So” tour came to an end.I think Gabriel’s OK, and hoped to like him more after watching this, but I don’t. It reminds me of why I hated music in the eighties. But if you like Gabriel and N’Dour, then you’ll like this
Columbia Legacy gave us two lovely new Bing Crosby cds last week: Bing Sings The Johnny Mercer Songbook’ and ‘Le Bing: Song Hits of Paris – 60th Anniversary Deluxe. The Mercer cd spans more than two decades, starting with a rare 1934 radio performance of "P.S. I Love You." Le Bing was originally released in 1953; it’s got 23 tracks – 12 never before released – including rare studio outtakes and several English language bonus tracks, including a pair of Cole Porter favorites, "I Love Paris" and "Allez Vous En (Go Away.)"
Oh and hey, The 2013 Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit Concert—the 27th of them—will be webcast this Saturday, with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Queens Of the Stone Age, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Jack Johnson, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Fun, Heart and Jenny Lewis.Click here or here to watch it. Also, premiering on Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 9-11 p.m. (ET) on PBS is the new documentary "American Masters: Jimi Hendrix - Hear My Train A Comin'" which will be available same day from Experience Hendrix LLC and Legacy Recordings on DVD & Blu-ray together with "Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival" CD & vinyl set all of which is part of a year-long celebration around Hendrix's 70th birthday year You can watch a trailer here. The doc is pretty well done. You don’t get much of Hendrix the person anywhere else, save perhaps biographies I’ve not read. That said, there’s too many talking heads and not quite enough music.
So, at dinner the other night, I interviewed a savvy 15 year old Bronx Science sophomore about the artistic merit she and her friends found in The Twilight series, now out in a bluray box set with a bunch of extras. She tells me that the acting is pretty good and the story—which involves vampires vs. werewolves and their families and has a lot of heavy breathing at first but then everybody ends up happy (literally) forever with the birth of a baby vampire to Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson with werewolf Taylor Lautner hanging around as a kind of fun uncle. I guess the extras are what will make this a must for fans and there are a million of them. Read all about them on Amazon. (For some reason, the bluray is cheaper than the DVD, so snap it up, Twilight fans!)
How the Media's Cognitive Biases Distort Obamacare Coverage
by Reed Richardson
The establishment media consensus is settled: Obama is in real trouble. All across Washington, the press has excoriated the administration for a lack of preparation heading into October, and grown angry that the president isn’t demonstrating enough personal contrition. Pundits have claimed his mismanagement of this critical public health rollout even threatens to undermine the future of his signature healthcare reform policy. Some are calling the issue “Obama’s Katrina.” There are even suggestions that this could sink the president’s chances for re-election in 2012.
Wait, what’s this about re-election?
I apologize. I engaged in a bit of a rhetorical trick. What I summarized above was what Sunday morning news hosts, Beltway horserace handicappers, and right-wing op-ed pages were saying almost exactly four years ago about Obama’s handling of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. (Oh, you’d forgotten all about that, had you?) But my point here is that (almost) all of these very same themes could have been ripped from today’s headlines. So, to take a trip back to 2009 is to offer some much needed perspective on the overheated press freakout currently driving the coverage of the Healthcare.gov roll-out. And it should serve as a powerful reminder that everyone—political journalists and pundits included—are susceptible to cognitive biases that skew our sense of proportion and blind us to reality.
Much more so than any ideological leanings, these cognitive biases are what have significantly affected the press’s coverage of Obamacare. For example, as new details emerge about the law, they are routinely manipulated to fit pre-existing or familiar partisan narratives—thus Healthcare.gov’s technical problems are ominously portrayed by critics as symbolic of “an intellectual crisis for modern liberalism.” Or having landed on one metric for analyzing the new website’s success, the press digs in, though it may not be the best reflection of reality—hence low enrollment numbers are seen as evidence of the site’s continued failure rather than a perfectly predictable example of consumer behavior. And sometimes the media leans so heavily on the recent past that it becomes stubbornly resistant to the idea that the tomorrow can look any different— hence news about the website’s ongoing improvements struggles to break through the lazy “website-is-a-disaster” meme. Throw these subjective tendencies into an overheated political environment like the nation’s capital, mix well with a lack of historical perspective, and—voila—you have a recipe for D.C. conventional wisdom that is strikingly unmoored from what matters to the public in the long-term.
So let’s be clear, a problematic first few weeks (or even months) for the Healthcare.gov website, while regrettable, pales in comparison to the millions of Americans who will gain access to affordable health care. Recall that even the gold standard of government-run programs, Social Security, was so plagued with start-up issues that an outside consultant recommended the whole thing be scrapped. And it should not have to be said—I will, however, just for Ron Fournier’s sake—but there exists no amount of lines of code in the universe that, having been rewritten, will ever, ever, EVER come close to the disaster that was George Bush’s misleading and mishandling of the Iraq War.
This is not to say there aren’t legitimate criticisms to be leveled at the White House for the very real flaws plaguing this crucial healthcare tool. Undoubtedly, there are, and advocates of transparency and efficient government should be willing to make these arguments in good faith. Perhaps the most compelling of these has been Norm Ornstein’s broad, technocratic critique of the administration. But, unlike most of his Beltway peers, Ornstein takes pains not to conflate a failure in execution with a failure of ideology. Unfortunately, this kind of measured approach on the causes and consequences of the Healthcare.gov website’s failures is increasingly drowned out by hyperbole and selective memory.
Take, for instance, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein. In hyping the importance of the federal exchange roll-out (and, to some extent, justifying his own critical coverage of its flaws), he's been guilty of inexcusably flushing a whole host of Affordable Care Act benefits—no denials for pre-existing conditions, lifting of annual and lifetime benefit caps, medical premium rebates, and parent-child coverage up to age 26—down the memory hole. That someone who runs the Post’s Wonkblog would fall victim to this kind of crude policy misdiagnosis is disturbing, to say the least.
But this is the same kind of overblown rhetoric and missing context that colored the coverage of the H1N1 outbreak four years ago. Instead of failure to load pages, in 2009 it was the delayed production of a viable H1N1 vaccine that touched off the firestorm of criticism aimed at the administration. Much like today, contextual reporting back then was often buried underneath an avalanche of political talking points about the issue being “Obama’s Katrina.” As a result, few in the public realized that the vaccine delays were the result of unexpected production problems at the private company contracted to make the H1N1 vaccines. (Hmm, federal contractors not living up to their promises, why does that sound familiar?) Indeed, to revisit the media’s Cassandra-like coverage from four years ago is to experience the flu outbreak as merely a series well-meaning, but bungled efforts. But a comprehensive 121-page, internal HHS after-action report on the pandemic tells a much more nuanced, real-world tale of starts, stops, and workarounds, concluding, in the end, that the government’s overall response was “successful.” If only the press kept the same balanced perspective as the man in charge of the flu outbreak, who in the midst of the pandemic in 2009, told the Washington Post:
"There's little doubt we're going to vaccinate people," said Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "Who and when and exactly how, we have to figure out."
This disconnect between the what the media portrays as the latest crisis or disaster and what the public really cares about is why our democracy keeps misfiring. That’s why the outcry over the federal exchange website not working perfectly right off the bat, while a valid process criticism, also misses the larger point of the policy. Yes, the government having to scramble to get the Healthcare.gov portal working properly may be a failure in the near term. But, in the long run, when the technical problems are all solved (and they will be), health insurance will have become accessible and affordable for millions of Americans for the first time. And that, far more than any webpages that didn’t load or data that got corrupted, will end up being the real story of Obamacare. Tragically, that’s also the story that the media's own biases seemingly won't let it tell, once again.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.
I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
Thanks for your great analysis of the shortcomings of the media's "Shutdown Showdown in DC" (ominous theme music). Yes, the media contributes to the unending sequence of governance "crises" that somehow keep coming up—and they wouldn't want it any other way.
When a crisis is going on, all eyes are glued to the screen, or listening to the radio, or hitting the websites, or buying newspapers. With an increased audience, advertisers can be made to pay you more! End of story.
So there is no financial incentive to do good journalism or to uphold the media's civic responsibilities. Governing by crisis boosts the bottom line. Sure, the staff and reporters are real people who have to live in this dysfunctional world, which their employer helps the Republican Party to create—but they don't run the show. The moneymen do. Why should they do the responsible thing, when it would kill the golden goose?
Thanks again for your great column. It has a lot of excellent arguments that I will send to NPR and PBS. (Along with a check—it's pledge season, after all.)
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