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Alter-reviews:
"The Beatles in Mono" 14 LP set.

Depending on your level of obsessiveness, you can say that Apple et al. saved the best for last. These ten albums, plus a three LP set of singles remastered and a gorgeous 108-page book were mastered in an eleven-step process to reproduce the original sound of the albums as perfectly as possible. (It does not include the "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack, "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be" albums, which were originally released in stereo, nor “The Ballad of John and Yoko”). Everything about this set, from the book to the fold-out covers and photography, is Rolls-Royce quality.

The box set is a kind of a test. Vinyl collectors who would be interested in it probably bought the stereo box. But the stereo albums are not really what the boys intended. Most of the mixing of them was done without their presence or even that of George Martin. I attended a listening session this summer at Electric Lady studios where the music was played on an amazing hi-fi set up by McIntosh and in many cases, one felt as if some of these songs were brand new. One or two are faster than you’ll remember from the CDs. Ringo does not scream "I've got blisters on my fingers!" at the end of "Helter Skelter" on the mono mix. But the overall effect was overpowering. We got to ask questions of the engineers and it was quite touching to hear how much reverence went into the creation of these albums. This really is one of the high points of Western civilization, I’m not kidding. The combination of these four young men coming together as they did and combining their extraordinary talents to reach what remain unmatched heights in creative accomplishments is one of the most moving and powerful achievements of modern times. If I believed in miracles, the music of The Beatles would perhaps be number one on my list.

Universal Music Group says they are pressing a million albums, again, an amazing figure since almost everyone who buys it will already have the music. If you are really crazy, you can buy a special cartridge made by Ortofon for these albums only. It’s only $500, which makes this set feel cheap at only $350 on the Evil One.

And now, here (finally) is Reed:

Of Optics and Objectivity: How Journalism is Failing Our Democracy
by Reed Richardson

We depend upon journalists to tell us what it is that they can see that the public can’t and for the press to bear witness to what the truth really is when the powerful won’t. That’s the duty of the free press in our democracy. But there’s an important qualifier to this relationship for it to work: the press has to actually be looking for the truth—and looking in the right place—for it to work.

Tragically, the press seems increasingly unable to live up that part of the bargain. Instead of offering insightful perspective, the establishment media increasingly exhibits a kind of institutional myopia, one marked by breathlessly near-sighted takes on ephemera and peripheral fixations on the irrelevant. More and more, we’re living in an age of where stagecraft matters as much or more in the media than statecraft, where analysis of the “optics” trumps reporting on actions.

This growing fascination with “optics” reveals a lot about how our press’s news values have been compromised by those that it covers. Back in 2010, Ben Zimmer’s New York Times “On Language” column offered an astute etymological history of the term, one that also speaks volumes about the trap the press has fallen into.

“When politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself, we’re living in a world of optics. Of course, elected officials have worried about outward appearances since time immemorial, but optics puts a new spin on things, giving a scientific-sounding gloss to P.R. and image-making.”

Optics is anti-journalism, in other words. What it represents flies the face in of a journalist’s charge to find the truth. It excuses all the basest instincts inherent in spinning, deceiving, and lying to the public. Optics involves passive absorption of news versus intrepid reporting of those who make it. Optics begets theater criticism rather than actual accountability.

And yet, optics have become so embedded into our news culture, particularly in the political press, that seemingly not a day goes by without someone in the media fixating on the pageantry—or lack thereof—of our nation’s leaders, often at the expense of reporting what they’re actually doing in our name. Over at Media Matters, Eric Boehlert does a great job of offering a blow-by-blow account of how the press’s obsession with “optics” has played out in the Beltway in recent weeks.

But it’s not just the political press that is so afflicted. It’s endemic to the media at this point. Consider the reaction earlier this week to the elevator video of Ray Rice viciously assaulting this then-girlfriend. Released on Monday morning by the tabloid site TMZ, this new video quickly went viral, igniting a long overdue media firestorm of condemnation of Rice, for his attack, and of his team and the NFL, for having, respectively, engaged in obvious victim-blaming and doling out a laughable two-game punishment. That slap on the wrist, by the way, even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted was a “mistake,” but nonetheless took no steps to correct. Until that is, Monday afternoon, at which time Rice’s team unceremoniously cut him and the league suddenly decided to suspended him indefinitely from playing anywhere else. Justice, better late than never, right?

Not really. Not when you consider the circumstances that precipitated the NFL’s actions. Think about what had, or, more accurately, had not changed between Sunday and Monday. Did the public, the press, and the league now know more about the assault? Not really. Did the latest video from inside the elevator present damning new evidence? Not at all. (Rice’s defense, that his girlfriend hit him first, could never change the reality that she still ended up being struck unconscious by him.) The facts that everyone knew about that night hadn’t changed, in other words, but what had changed were the optics.

That it took this long for the NFL to act appropriately says all you need to know about the league’s morally bankrupt priorities. But let’s not let the sports media off the hook either. For months, NFL beat reporters showed anemic interest in the story, willingly repeating the talking points thrown their way by Rice’s team and the league. When the league suddenly played dumb about the second video this week, some of the elite sports journalists looked like stooges. Never mind that there was a bigger story here—the NFL has a long history of accommodating domestic abusers. It still took TMZ boldly out-hustling (and, yes, likely out-paying) sports news behemoths like ESPN and Sports Illustrated before the latter were embarrassed into exercising any real broad concern or outrage about Rice's assault. Of course, in minimizing the story for so long, the press all but guaranteed it would take victimizing Janay Rice all over again before her abusive husband would ever get a more deserving punishment.

There’s no excuse for this betrayal, but there is an explanation. The press’s equating of the theatrics of the news with the news itself starts to make sense when you consider it in the context of the profession’s hidebound need to be considered objective. For too many news organizations, being fair and objective has morphed from exercising news judgment about who is—and isn’t—telling the truth to treating everyone’s point of view equally and leaving it to the public to figure out. As a result, the appearance of being fair has become a handy crutch for the establishment media; an easy way to proclaim neutrality and fend off claims of bias while abetting lazy arguments and shallow, he-said, she-said reporting. In other words, the root of this optics obsession originates from within. Journalists—particularly those in high-profile jobs—pay so much attention to optics because they have been trained to think about their own coverage in the very same way. And nowhere is the mirroring more evident than in our political coverage.

Thus, it’s much easier to find endless, fleeting meta-takes of how the president delivers a speech or what he says at a press conference than it is to find trenchant examination of actual policy. But in Washington and elsewhere in the pundit firmament, the hierarchy of what’s considered newsworthy and important has been inverted. There’s little professional esteem to be gained from being right in the long run anymore. (Just ask anyone in the media who opposed the Iraq War.) Similarly, there’s no blowback from being spectacularly wrong on a daily basis. (Consider every neoconservative pundit who supported the Iraq War.) Instead, what gets rewarded most these days are “hot takes” served up 24/7 and the superficial pretense of accountability.

But when the press relies so heavily upon optics, our democratic priorities can easily get scrambled and manipulated. For example, domestic violence plagues our society and millions of Americans are at risk from it every year. And yet institutions like the NFL—with an assist from a compliant press—effectively normalize this epidemic by covering it matter-of-factly, unless, that is, a high-visibility case makes the problem temporarily unignorable. Indeed, if there’s a takeaway for the NFL from the Rice incident, it’s that the media can be played for fools right up until they are humiliated for not doing their job. (The Onion sums up the league’s lesson learned more bluntly here.)

At the same time, our country is now poised to rekindle a war against a terror group in the Middle East, despite the fact that Homeland Security officials say it poses no threat of attack in the United States. Untold billions of dollars will be spent and untold Iraqi (and possibly Syrian) lives will be lost in the campaign to “degrade” and “destroy” ISIS. And yet, an estimated 16,800 Americans die annually from domestic violence-related homicides. Of course, it's not a simply matter of doing one or the other, but it's the sense of proportion that's out of whack. One crisis is so close, so pervasive, and thus so commonplace that the media elite can't be bothered with it, while the other is so far away, so regionalized, and thus so exotic that it sucks up all the media oxygen.

Again, it’s not hard to find the optics blindly driving the difference. The press frenzy over ISIS’s gruesome videotaped beheadings of two U.S. journalists all but begged the president to do something. And the Washington media establishment has never been known for shying away from more war. A few shrewd observers have noted that ISIS’s grisly YouTube taunting is all about setting a trap for the U.S., one that depends upon our national preoccupation with seeing evil everywhere and looking tough in response for it to work.

Sadly, it would seem our enemies know us better than we know ourselves. Thanks to the veil of fear the media has drawn across the country recently, we stand on the verge of having to learn the same painful, costly truths in Iraq yet again. And whether or not we ultimately “defeat” ISIS militarily likely won’t matter much to the Beltway press in a few years anyway. By then, it will have grown bored and moved on to the latest shiny object, like the 2016 presidential election or the next group of extremists anointed to take ISIS’s place as our nation’s number-one threat. And on and on it goes.

Safe to say, this vicious cycle of short-sighted coverage and bankrupt accountability doesn’t make for very pretty picture of the efficacy of objective journalism. Bad optics, one might even say. But we’re unlikely to see a change anytime soon. Not until we realize that a far bigger threat to our democracy occurs when the press spends too much time consumed with what little it can already see, and too little time trying to seek out so much of what it can’t.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

The mail:
Bill Luker Jr.
Denton TX

Message: Your phrase "revanchist foreign policy of Russia" is typical of so-called leftists who spend too much time at the clubs, and too much of their excessively large legacies from rich parents, listening to Jorma Kaukonen and reveling in the "cultural freedom' they enjoy in the US. And as you should know, that is ALL we have left. You and they have completely failed to understand why Russia might react negatively to being surrounded by NATO bases and anti-missile sites, expending relentlessly since 1991, after being told by the US that it would not expand and militarily threaten the Russian homeland. You and they apparently do not understand the nature of fascism in this country, and its insatiable desire for imperial expansion, even to the point of involving us in a Eurasian war, and possibly a Third World War. But here's something you WILL understand: I and many others will never give one fucking dime to The Nation as long as the medium-blue assholes, never-could-be rockers and record nerds like you—who've never lifted a finger on behalf of anyone, as you continue your never-ending quest for empty notoriety and self-aggrandizement—continue to pollute the pages of a once-proud publication that stood four-square against Western aggression and expansionist catastrophes. Please let Katrina van den Houvel know this, as well. Maybe she'll get a clue.

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