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New Data: Media's Economic Coverage Spikes in Response to GOP Threat

This is just a quick blog post to flag an important media trend: the American press is finally covering the economy again.

While the recession and unemployment are some of the most significant problems facing the public, the press does not actually prioritize economic coverage very often, outside of crisis events or the economy as politics. But both those dynamics—the threat of real crisis and the intensity of political squabbles over the (typically standard) increase in the debt ceiling—have now put the economy back on top of the press agenda. 

“Not only has the economy become a much bigger story, it is a bigger story no matter where one looks,” notes a new report from Pew. “The topic was the No. 1 subject in all five media sectors studied,” the report stressed, referring to blanket coverage across print, online, network TV, cable and radio.

The economy was far and away the big story last week, accounting 37 percent of the “newshole.” That’s more than triple the coverage of the next biggest item, the NewsCorp hacking scandal. 

Over the past month, in fact, economic coverage has jumped from just one out ten stories to over one out of three:

Political scientists talk about the “agenda-setting function” of press coverage in politics, where almost anything that the press chooses to cover will seem more important, as an issue, to media consumers. But here, the GOP converted a routine housekeeping measure into default brinksmanship, and it looks like the media is affirming that agenda. 

Pew estimates that about 85 percent of this economic coverage is about the debt battle—not the unemployment and recession that form the real threat to most Americans concerned about the economy.

Who Is Richard Cordray?

When Representative Luis Gutiérrez, a liberal member of the House Financial Services Committee, heard over the weekend that President Obama had nominated Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he wasn’t sure what to think. Not because he was unsure about Cordray’s record—Gutiérrez just didn’t know who he was.

“I am not familiar with Attorney General Richard Cordray, but a quick Google search was very reassuring,” Gutiérrez said in a statement Monday. “He is the type of strong, experienced leader we need to get the agency fully up and running.”

Cordray may have a very low national profile, but in Ohio—where he’s been active in Democratic politics since the early ’90s, and served as state attorney general for two years beginning in 2009—he’s much more of a known commodity.

Since the economic crisis in 2008, Ohio has been plagued with high foreclosure rates. One out of every 608 homes in the state is in foreclosure, and in the Cleveland area, foreclosures have tripled since 1998. The problem was exacerbated by mass “robo-signing” fraud by big banks in the aftermath of the collapse—banks were routinely foreclosing on homes without the proper paperwork or legal documentation.

Cordray quickly stepped in, and last fall was the first state attorney general to sue a mortgage lender over foreclosure fraud. He targeted GMAC Mortgage and Ally Financial, the parent company, and immediately demanded to meet with other top lenders in the state, including Bank of America, JPMorgan, Citibank and Wells Fargo.

The White House reaction to the emerging robo-signing scandal was rather cautious at the time. “We are looking at their process in order to determine their compliance with the law,” then–White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. “Obviously, they have certain requirements under the law that have to be met, and if they're not meeting those requirements they certainly face fines from us and they can face legal actions from homeowners.”

Cordray opened a much more direct line of attack on the industry itself. “What we’re talking about here is not just sloppy paperwork,” he said. “We’re talking about fraud in a court of law. The [foreclosure document signers] were lying under oath, to a judge.” He later characterized the big banks’ foreclosure processes as “a business model built on fraud.”

Only weeks after filing the lawsuit, Cordray lost a statewide election for attorney general to former Senator Mike DeWine, and was quickly picked by Warren to head the CFPB’s enforcement bureau. But his aggressive work combating foreclosure fraud wasn’t the only time Cordray faced off against Wall Street during his short two years as attorney general.

In 2009, Cordray was the lead plantiff in a multibillion-dollar suit against Bank of America over its acquisition of Merrill Lynch during the frenzied economic collapse the previous fall. Cordray sued on behalf of Ohio’s largest public employee funds, claiming that Bank of America had misled them about the poor financial condition of Merrill Lynch prior to the acquisition.

Cordray also reached a settlement on behalf of Ohio schools and pension funds with insurance giant AIG over a “conspiracy” to provide fake commercial casualty insurance quotes. The schools and pension funds received $9 million from AIG in the settlement.

Ed Mierzwinski, the consumer program director for Ohio PIRG, worked frequently with Cordray’s staff during his tenure as attorney general and praised his tough stance against big banks, and added that he was “extremely well-qualified” to head the CFPB. “He recouped a lot of money from Wall Street banks that they looted from Ohio retirees, homeowners, pension funds and Ohio municipalities,” Mierzwinski said.

If confirmed as head of the CFPB—which will be no easy task, given Republican intransigence—Cordray will still be tackling some of the same issues he faced as attorney general, only on a much bigger stage. Foreclosure fraud will no doubt be high on the list, as it continues to plague several areas of the country. “Robo-signing is not even close to over," one Michigan county official told the AP this week. “It's still an epidemic.”

Naturally this has Wall Street a bit concerned over Cordray’s nomination. One attorney who represents the industry said that of all the officials at CFPB now, Cordray “frightens me the most.” Another bank lobbyist said Cordray has “all the hard edge and ambition of [Elizabeth] Warren without the charm.”

But bankers back home have a bit of a different view, indicating that perhaps there’s something to Obama’s claim in the Rose Garden on Monday that Cordray “successfully worked with people across the ideological spectrum, Democrats and Republicans, banks and consumer advocates.”

In an interview with The Nation, Jeffrey Quayle, a senior vice president and general counsel with the Ohio Bankers League, echoed typical industry concerns that the CFPB has “an unlimited budget [with] no checks and balances.” But Quayle said he supports Cordray for the job.

“We haven’t agreed on policy, but he has been available and accessible to debate issues with us,” Quayle said. “He’s proven to be a competent manager.”

Ohioans like Quayle have had a long time to get to know Cordray, who had a twenty-year career in state politics. He was elected to the state house in 1990, and when his seat was redistricted, Cordray ran for Congress in the 1992 elections. He lost a three-way race in a fairly conservative central Ohio district. He later served as the state’s first solicitor general and as the treasurer in Franklin County.

In 1998, during his first, unsuccessful attempt at being elected state attorney general, Cordray told the Columbus Dispatch that his parents inspired him to a life of public service. His father was born blind, and became a program director for a treatment center for the mentally disabled. His mother, who died while Cordray was in college, was a social worker who founded the first foster grandparent program in Ohio that matched elderly foster parents with mentally disabled youths.

Cordray said he spent a considerable amount of his childhood around these programs. “It gave me a leaning towards social services and the Democratic Party before I started to think these kind of things out for myself,” he told the paper. “My parents never ran for political office, but they set an example for public service.”

Running for Congress in a conservative district, Cordray certainly had to make attempts at bipartisanship. During that race he pledged to leave federal office in four years if the federal budget deficit wasn’t halved, and publicly challenged then–Vice President Dan Quayle to make the same pledge during one of Quayle’s campaign stops in Ohio.

While Cordray did embrace a seemingly hawkish stance on the deficit, he had a decidedly uncompromising prescription for addressing the problem. He told the Columbus Dispatch that “billions can be saved by canceling the B-2 bomber, charging market rates for leases of federal lands for timber and mineral production, scaling back the Strategic Defense Initiative and abolishing Radio Free Europe.”

Youth Continue to Fight for Their Future

Throughout the budget battles, it’s become a common GOP tactic to invoke the martyred image of impoverished future children in order to depict President Obama’s spending plans as being irresponsible and reckless.

'We keep kicking the can down the road and splashing the soup all over our grandchildren,” said Senator Tom Coburn of the nation’s debt.

“It’s a debate over whether we act responsibly so our children and grandchildren aren’t left carrying the burden of unsustainable debt,” said Senator Orin Hatch.

Ironically, the GOP’s plans to slash budgets in the name of fiscal solvency will not only likely put any future children at a permanent disadvantage, but also currently hurt real-life youth who are now fighting back against austerity.

In addition to groups consisting of young citizens, such as US Uncut, many other cells have sprung up across the country opposing the budget cuts.

Local students from Opa-Locka organized and held a protest Monday to bring awareness to the state of education and how budget cuts are affecting their future.

Fifty participants in Teen Upward Bound, a teen advocacy program that assists in reading and life skills, met at the corner of 13521 NW 27th Avenue Monday afternoon to speak out about their educational rights.

“The students have really taken to this cause,” said Executive Director Jannie Russell in a press release. “We advocate at our program students being leaders in their community at every level.”

The students say they held the protest to bring awareness of steep budget cuts.

Opa-Locka is located in Florida, meaning it falls under the supervision of Governor Rick Scott, a man who has gone to war with the education budget of his state. It was Scott and Florida’s Legislature that cut $1 billion from education in this year’s budget, a drop of 8 percent, which equals cuts of $542 per student.

Meanwhile, in California, students are legendary for their protests, most recently for the sit-ins staged in opposition to budget cuts at their school. The occupation was in response to CSU President Milton Gordon’s refusal to sign a symbolic declaration in defense of public education when Cal State was facing at least $500 million in cuts during the next fiscal year.

Now that Cal State students are facing an additional 12 percent fee hike, more protests are likely. When the Board of Trustees announced the new fees, they simultaneously approved a salary of $400,000 for the new president of San Diego State, Elliot Hirshman ($350,000 in state funds and $50,000 from the campus’s foundation), a raise of more than $100,000 from his predecessor’s salary.

When the trustees voted to increase fees by 12 percent, around 100 students and faculty members were there to protest the meeting. Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom and student trustee Steve Dixon also opposed the hike.

While the student protest movement does occasionally have brief moments of shining promise (California’s sit-ins and occupations are always heartening to witness), there does appear to be an endurance problem in the youth protest community.

For example, US student protests pale in comparison to what is happening in Greece. Now, that’s for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being that the US and Greek economic situation are vastly different and Greece is in much worse shape than the United States. Additionally, the 2010 Greek riots were in part fueled by residual anger stemming from 2008 when Greek policemen killed a 15-year-old student.

But why the lack of moxie on the US side? Well, part of the problem may be that millions of poor kids have already been priced out of an education. Simeon Talley over at Campus Progress explains how the disinvestment of education has been happening for generations:

[A]s Tom Hayden, one of the co-founders of Students for a Democratic Society, told me “The question for today’s student is not whether they can read Zinn, Anais Nin or Noam Chomsky, but whether they can afford to.”

Hayden added:

The challenges they (students) face on their campuses are far different than the past and perhaps more profound. Tuition costs at UM in 1960 were one hundred dollars, and I can’t remember if that was for a semester or an entire year. So I could obtain my degree, edit the paper, go south to the civil rights movement for two years, return and enter graduate school, and never feel I was falling behind in the competitive economic rat-race…. A student today falls tens of thousands of dollars in debt, even after holding two part-time jobs, a burden which limits their career choices. Dropping out for social activism brings competitive disadvantage.

When we take these things into consideration—cost of tuition, cost of living, in addition to possible at-home issues like helping their family with cost of living arrangements, health care payments, insurance—suddenly, it becomes clear that we shouldn’t be disappointed that American youth are “lazy” but rather amazed that so many students continue to fight for a better future despite having the deck stacked overwhelmingly against them. 

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Fox News's Annotated Guide on How Not to Practice Journalism

One strange risk of the News Corp hacking scandal is that it is such an egregious violation of common ethics and morality that it may cause us to overlook how Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets disgrace the profession of journalism on a daily basis. Americans are now wondering, as well they should, whether any News Corp outlet has unethically spied on American soil or on American citizens. But even if they had not done so, News Corp’s Fox News damages American journalism in ways big and small on a daily basis. 

A perfect case study is actually how Fox News has covered—or failed to cover—the phone-hacking scandal of their corporate sister in Britain. After largely ignoring the events, Fox addressed them on Friday on Fox and Friends and, in less than four minutes, demonstrated how Fox fails to meet the most basic requirements of journalism. Host Steve Doocy and public relations consultant Bob Dilenschneider, who has no apparent expertise on the subject, agreed that the public “piling on,” News Corp is “too much.” They also agreed that Murdoch has done all the right things to address the crisis. They also conflated News of the World hacking into citizens phones with other companies being the victims of hacking.

Here’s an annotated guide to the video:

Lack of ethics. Note that there is no mention of the fact that they are discussing events at a newspaper that shares the same owner as the network they are on. It’s simply pro-forma to disclose that sort of conflict of interest, NBC does it with stories on General Electric all the time. Not so at Fox News apparently.

Hypocrisy. Dilenschneider and Doocy agree that we should be focusing on the more important issues facing the country. Do you remember Fox complaining about how there was too much coverage of the misleading gotcha videos “exposing” ACORN, Planned Parenthood or US Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod? Neither do I.

Intellectual dishonesty. Dilenschneider and Doocy equate News of the World hacking into innocent victims phones and Citibank being the victim of hacking itself so as to dismiss News International’s malpractice as just another hacking scandal.

None of this is new, of course. Back in 2003 the University of Maryland found that Fox viewers were the most likely of all media consumers to believe demonstrable false statements about current events. In 2010 they found the same thing. Whether or not News Corp has committed any crimes in America, they have done plenty of damage. 

What Did the Murdochs Know, and When Did They Know It?

It just keeps getting dirtier and dirtier—and that was before this morning’s report that Sean Hoare was found dead in his home. Hoare, a former show business reporter at the News of the World, was the first on-the-record source to allege that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications, Andy Coulson, actively encouraged reporters to hack into the voicemail accounts of celebrities when he was that paper’s editor. According to a statement by Hertfordshire police: “The death is currently being treated as unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious.” Phew!

Tomorrow (Tuesday, July 19) the billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch and his son and designated successor James will testify before the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News International, Murdoch’s British subsidiary, was also supposed to testify but now may not since she was arrested over the weekend.

Also over the weekend Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Metropolitan Police, resigned after it emerged that he had hired Neil “Wolfman” Wallis, a former deputy editor at Murdoch’s now defunct Sunday tabloid the News of the World, as a publicity consultant to the police force. Wallis, who was himself arrested last week, also did public relations work for a health spa favored by Brooks, and which comped the £12,000 cost of the chief’s five-week stay while recovering from surgery this past January. This morning also brought the news that Stephenson’s number two, John Yates, also resigned after Parliament’s Home Affairs committee said it was going to summon him back to explain why, despite being closely questioned by the committee about his relationship with Wallis in March, he never mentioned the consultant deal—which he had signed off on. It was Yates who decided not to reopen the police investigation into phone hacking in July 2009 after the Guardian broke the news that Murdoch had paid out over £1 million to settle three lawsuits that could have revealed the “use of criminal methods to get stories.”

At the time Rupert Murdoch denied any such payments had been made. “If that had happened, I would know about it,” he told a reporter for Bloomberg. We now know that James had personally approved the payments. So one question for James tomorrow ought to be, “When did you tell your father about the settlements?” And one question for Rupert should be, “Were you telling the truth when you said News International had made no payments to settle cases relating to phone hacking, or were you telling the truth when you said if such payments had been made you would have been informed?”

For Nation readers hoping to follow the fun, the BBC has prepared some convenient thumbnail profiles of committee members. Labour member Tom Watson, a longtime Murdoch foe (he successfully sued the Sun for libel in 2009, and has long been a lonely voice urging his fellow legislators to attend to the phone-hacking scandal) should be especially worth watching. Paul Farrelly, another Labour member (and former finance editor of the Observer) also ought to be able to cause the Murdochs considerable discomfort.

The committee chairman, Tory John Whittingdale, deserves credit for forcing the reluctant father and son to appear. But Whittingdale, Margaret Thatcher’s former parliamentary aide, is also Facebook friends with both Rebekah Brooks and Elisabeth Murdoch.

One more fun fact: Conservative member Louise Mensch, who acquired her evocative (at least for Yiddish-speaking readers) surname by marrying Peter Mensch, manager of the bands Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is better known as Louise Bagshawe, best-selling author of such chick-lit classics as Venus Envy, Passion, Desire and Destiny.

So what questions should the committee ask? Guardian reporter Nick Davies, who has been both Woodward and Bernstein in this British Watergate, has written a typically lucid piece pointing out that “the task is not simply to ask questions, but to confront the witnesses with the evidence which is already available.” His resume of suggested lines of inquiry is well worth reading—as are the crowd-sourced questions on the Guardian’s blog.

Americans will of course also want to know whether any of the criminal behavior that seems to have been standard procedure at Murdoch’s British titles made its way across the Atlantic. We might also remind British Parliamentarians that if they wonder what Murdoch’s broadcasting would be like without the fetter of parliamentary supervision—and the competitive standards of the BBC for comparison—they need only look at Fox News. If that’s what you want to encourage in Britain, by all means let the Murdochs off easy.

Otherwise the essential questions are really the same as those posed by Fox News president Roger Ailes’s previous employer, Richard Nixon: What did he know? And when did he know it?

The 'Malaise' Speech That Wasn't

Republicans love to compare Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, for no apparent reason other than that Carter was the last Democratic one-term president. So, naturally, Mitt Romney pounced on Obama’s comment that “America is stressed out.” On Friday July 15, the  thirty-second anniversary of Carter’s infamous “malaise” speech, the Romney campaign was quick to make every possible comparison between then and now. Romney’s campaign sent multiple press releases invoking President Jimmy Carter’s First they declared “President Obama’s ‘Stress’ equals Jimmy Carter’s ‘Malaise.’ ” Within a few hours they were simply referring to “President Obama’s Malaise.”

Unfortunately for Romney, the “malaise” speech is more myth than fact. Carter never actually used the word “malaise” and the speech wasn’t actually the failure as which it is widely remembered. Kevin Mattson explained in The American Prospect in 2009, Carter’s speech was actually a success. “Carter received a whopping 11 percent rise in his poll numbers,” Mattson writes. “The mail that poured into the White House testified that many citizens felt moved by the speech.”

The reason the speech is remembered as a failure is because of what followed. “He blew the opportunity that the speech opened up for him,” Mattson explains. “Carter fired his Cabinet, signifying a governmental meltdown. The president’s poll numbers sank again as confusion and disarray took over. Carter could give a great speech, but there were two things he couldn’t manage: to govern well enough to make his language buoy him or to find a way to yoke the energy crisis with concrete civic re-engagement initiative.”

Although some of the sharper political pundits, such as Politico’s Mike Allen, corrected the record on the fact that the word malaise never appeared in the speech the larger context is still largely missing. (Allen referred to the speech as “disastrous.”)

Today Carter is remembered as a political failure because of his inability to bolster the flagging economy. At least, that’s how Republicans like to remember him. And so the parallel to today’s weak economic growth is too obvious not to note, even for non-partisan reporters.

But, in fact, Carter’s speech was about something quite different: the American people’s civic disengagement and spiritual emptiness. Carter lamented that too many Americans “worship self-indulgence and consumption,” and how “growing disrespect for government” and “fragmentation and self-interest” were undermining our national unity and character.

If you look at what the speech was actually about, and how it was actually received, you do see a similarity to Obama, but not the one Romney wants to invoke. Instead, it’s a call to common purpose that Obama’s best speeches often invoke.

Coincidentally, historians are just as likely to attribute Carter’s failure to win re-election in 1980 to the unsuccessful attempt to evacuate American hostages from Tehran. Given Obama’s perfect execution of a similarly daring operation to kill Osama bin Laden, the implications of Carter’s experience may not auger so poorly for him after all. 

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Will Obama Fight for Post-Warren Consumer Bureau?

In a Nation article last month, “Disarming the Consumer Cop,” I reported how the bank lobby and its Republican allies in Congress were trying to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) before it goes live on July 21 and prevent Elizabeth Warren from becoming the bureau’s full-time director.

The lobby won a partial victory yesterday, when the Obama administration shunned Warren and nominated Richard Cordray—a former Ohio attorney general who was head of enforcement at CFPB—to run the bureau. Cordray has a strong track record of investigating foreclosure fraud and other corporate malfeasance, but he does not have the clout or expertise of Warren. She was the natural pick to run the agency she conceived of and by far the most qualified person for the job. Choosing somebody other than her was a colossal capitulation by the Obama White House.

I’m sure the Obama administration had its reasons for not picking Warren: her appointment might have further inflamed Republicans at a time when Obama needs their support to raise the debt ceiling; she’d complicate his outreach to Wall Street and fundraising strategy for 2012; she wasn’t going to win any popularity contests inside the Treasury Department.

But Warren’s attributes far outweighed her negatives. The administration pushed her out the door at the very moment it needed her the most. She’s the best spokesperson Obama has on economic policy, especially compared to a Wall Street–friendly stiff like Tim Geithner, and has spent her whole life fighting for the middle class, which is the stated priority of the Obama administration. The consumer bureau is the most popular and tangible aspect of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which was the most popular piece of legislation enacted by the administration in its first two years in office.

In the last election, voters who blamed Wall Street for causing the economic crisis supported Republicans over Democrats by fourteen points! The public viewed Obama as a big spending friend of the banks. No one would ever say that about Warren.

Even though she’s out of the picture, the GOP still wants to disarm the CFPB and reiterated their vow yesterday not to confirm Cordray unless the White House agrees to major changes to the bureau. The Wall Street Journal reported that “the White House may be willing to make some minor concessions to win confirmation of Mr. Cordray.” But unless the administration is willing to completely restructure the CFPB and forgo its independence, Republicans will not confirm Cordray. That leaves Obama with no choice but to give him a recess appointment, which is what he should have done with Warren.

Thus far, the president has been extremely reluctant to use his recess authority, making only twenty-eight appointments, even though nearly 20 percent of his judicial and executive branch nominations have been blocked by Senate Republicans.

The CFPB goes live on Thursday. Without a full-time director in place, the CFPB will be able to supervise the nation’s largest banks and enforce consumer protection rules from other agencies but will not be able to assume any of its new powers, such as policing the shadow banking industry or cracking down on “unfair, deceptive or abusive,” financial services products.

If he wants the CFPB to do its job, Obama needs to act swiftly. He wasn’t willing to fight for Warren. Will he now fight for the CFPB? If he doesn’t, its very survival is at stake.

—Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics. You can follow him on Twitter at @AriBerman.

Athletic Excellence Competes With Raunch Culture at Women's World Cup

The Women’s World Cup has proven to be a sparkling oasis amidst the most arid section of the sports calendar. The tournament provided a series of non-stop thrills, culminating with Japan’s heart-palpitating final victory against the US, winning 3-1 on penalty kicks after extra-time finished with the game tied at 2. Star US player Abby Wambach is no doubt hurting tonight, but I hope the forward with the skull of steel realizes that she was absolutely correct when she said last week, “It’s gonna be awesome.” Normally, I dislike direct comparisons of women and men’s sports, but with far fewer players taking dives and far more players scoring goals, this World Cup proved to be profoundly more entertaining than the men’s variety last summer.

Beyond our media’s laser focus on the US team alone—which didn’t even begin until the squad started to soar—we were introduced to a new generation of remarkable players from across the globe. The dazzling Marta of Brazil and Japan’s Homare Sawa come to mind as players who left your jaw on the ground. But in a fitting coda for the beautiful game, the final cheers must go not to an individual player but to Japan’s team, which employed a tactical genius spliced with a near-Brazilian flair that was a joy to behold. Riding a wave of emotion following last March’s horrific earthquake and subsequent nuclear leaks, Japan’s team welcomed the opportunity to provide some needed uplift for their country. They even passed around photos of victims of the nuclear spill before matches.Their teamwork on the field represented this terrific unity.

As a volunteer coach myself, I love the quote by Japan’s Coach Sasaki, who said of his vertically challenged team (average height: 5’ 4”), “I think you know that the Japanese players are not tall, but our focus is on ball control and good passes, good combinations. We have good team spirit, and that leads to good team performance.”

It is also satisfying to see sports fans that normally dismiss women’s sports with a Pavlovian reflex become Women’s World Cup addicts.

Yes, it’s been a marvelous month for soccer but any assessment of this triumph would be incomplete without taking stock of the raunch culture that stalked the tournament’s every step. In the sporting context, “raunch culture” is when women athletes buy into the idea that it’s somehow empowering to display their naked bodies for men’s magazines. These great athletes put themselves before the photographers’ lens in positions both seductive and prone. They claim that they are not only promoting their sport but also proving to the world that their attractiveness and (straight) sexuality is not to be questioned.

After posing for their country’s edition of Playboy, five players were kicked off the German under-20 World Cup team. Player Kristina Gessat made plain her motivation, saying, “With these photos, we want to disprove the cliché that all female footballers are butch.”

As the Huffington Post, which promotes raunch culture across their supposedly progressive site wrote, “Whether or not there’s any backlash over these photos remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: they definitely helped spread the word on the Women’s World Cup.” Maxim couldn’t have written it any better. (Full disclosure: I used to write at the Huffington Post but no longer work on Arianna’s farm.)

Then three members of the French team also posed topless under the headline: “Is this how we should show up before you come to our games?” They said they did it “to generate some discussion.” This isn’t “empowerment.” It’s commerce.

Every scrap of academic research shows that conditioning viewers to see women athletes as sex symbols comes at the expense of interest in the games themselves. As Mary Jo Kane of the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center says, “For a female athlete, stripping down might sell magazines, but it won’t sell your sport.”

But beyond the raunch culture and rancid sexism, the intense interest and athletic élan on display show that there is a market for women’s sports. The game is that good. From a sheer sporting perspective, it was, as Abby Wambach promised, “awesome.”

Really?! Fox News's 'Journalistic Transgressions Are Entirely Legal'?

Earlier this week, New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman posited that Fox News chief Roger Ailes stands to gain from the phone-hacking scandal enveloping the rest of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Sherman figures that the scandal could take down Ailes’s most powerful rival, James Murdoch, Rupert’s son. And he believes that with the demise of News of the World and Murdoch withdrawing his bid to control all of BSkyB, the highly profitable Fox News will be even more indispensable to the bottom line of parent company News Corp. That’s all feasible.

But then Sherman goes out on an odd limb, writing: “Whatever Jon Stewart and fellow liberals may think of Fox News, the network's journalistic transgressions are entirely legal [my emphasis], which is something that no one can say about the News of the World.”

Really? Entirely legal? How can Sherman know? True, he wrote a fine and sometimes critical piece on Ailes for New York two months ago, and has signed a contract for a book on Fox News. But if Sherman’s truly certain that Ailes & Company are as clean as a whistle, he should hurry over to tell federal investigators that when they look into News Corp.’s US media properties, they can skip Fox News entirely.

A growing number of senators and congresspeople, including frequent Fox guest Rep. Peter King (R-NY), are calling for federal agencies to look into possible illegal activities by News Corp. in the United States; yesterday, the FBI confirmed that it has opened investigations into allegations that News Corp. hacked into phones of 9/11 victims. The nonprofit watchdog group CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) is asking Congress to hold its own hearings, a la Parliament’s.

Of course, it’s possible that any and all of News Corp.’s illegal transgressions stop at water’s edge. However, employees of Rupert’s New York Post have been involved in plenty of extralegal hijinks in the past, and as I wrote Tuesday, a former Fox News executive alleges that Ailes may have broken into phone records in the ‘90s. In May, as Sherman himself writes, a lawsuit was settled out of court that has effectively buried allegations that Ailes told Judith Regan to lie to federal investigators about her ex-lover Bernie Kerik in order to protect the then-presidential candidacy of Ailes’s good friend and Kerik mentor Rudy Giuliani.

Fox News may or may not have anything to do with the burgeoning News Corp. scandals. But remember, there once was a time when “something that no one” could say was that News of the World’s journalistic transgressions weren’t also entirely legal. 

Bernanke Not Ready to Address Unemployment... Yet

 Unemployment is stuck above 9 percent, and recent jobs reports have been increasingly ominous. With the legislative branch mired in what can charitably be called cataclysmic paralysis, the Federal Reserve stands as one of the few Washington institutions that can help goose the economy and stimulate employment.

In November, the Fed began a second round of quantitative easing, in which it bought up $600 billion worth of long-term US Treasury bonds in order to lower interest rates and stimulate growth. That program ended on June 30.

On Capitol Hill this week, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke faced an onslaught of questions in both the House and Senate about the possibility of a third round of quantitative easing given the still-dire employment situation. Republicans, who deeply oppose such a move, seemed nervous that Bernanke would undertake QE3. Democrats generally seemed nervous that he wouldn’t. Bernanke’s scattershot testimony managed to alternately satisfy and frustrate both sides—perhaps indicated that the Federal Reserve is as divided as the Congress.

On Wednesday, appearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Bernanke said “the possibility remains that the recent economic weakness may prove more persistent than expected and that deflationary risks might re-emerge, implying a need for additional policy support.” Media reports proclaimed the Fed was prepared to undertake QE3, and the stock market rallied.

The next day, appearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke dialed back those expectations.  “We’re not proposing anything today,” Bernanke said. “The main message I want to leave is that this is a serious situation. It involves a significant loss of human and economic potential.” Stocks fell on the news.

How should Bernanke’s comments be interpreted—will the Fed try to help the address the jobs crisis? It’s somewhat odd that he sent mixed signals, given that the Fed chairman’s words and actions are parsed so closely that investors can find themselves examining the size of his briefcase on a particular day.

One possibility is that Bernanke is walking a tightrope because the Fed itself is divided on QE3. “I think that he’s trying to manage dissent at the Fed,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “I don't have any inside knowledge, but it is pretty clear that many members of the [Federal Open Market Committee, a part of the Fed] wants him to be fighting inflation. I suspect the deal was a wait and see approach and he may have been worried that he looked like he was jumping the gun yesterday.”

Inflation is a byproduct of quantitative easing, and is often used as the counter-argument to taking action. But inflation is low, unemployment is high, and progressive economists advocate aggressive action. Baker echoed an argument from Paul Krugman, who noted that at Princeton, Bernanke advocated a Japanese response to their fiscal crisis that involved targeting a high inflation rate—around 3 to 4 percent. “That would lower real interest rates and reduce debt burdens,” said Baker. “That probably is not politically feasible, but it would be good policy.”

As for what is feasible, Baker suggested targeting a longer-term interest rate, perhaps a 1 percent target for the five-year rate through 2012.

Either way, it’s clear that Bernanke is not yet ready to take action. Perhaps there’s solace in the fact he even floated the idea—that passes for progress in Washington these days. 

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