A reporter walking into a pole? Seriously?
Okay, I’ve done this before, too…
A reporter walking into a pole? Seriously?
Okay, I’ve done this before, too…
Maybe it’s the heart-wrenching opening music by Alexandre Desplat, gleaned from Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. Or the recent death of Marie Colvin that’s been pounding through my head the past few days, the thought of what she lost in order for the world to gain some hard perspective into the dire cost of war. Or maybe it’s the fact that in just 38 hours these guys raised over 50,000 dollars toward financing their completely earnest vision for the future of journalism. Though technology’s uptick seems to be decreasing our attention spans alongside a desire for serious, long-form journalism, the guys at Matter are out to reverse the trend—and after only a day-and-a-half on Kickstarter, it seems there are plenty of people willing to prove them right. I’m certainly going to stake some (waning) optimism for the future of journalism on Matter’s success.
Also, they cut a mean video.
I tried to think of a clever title for this one, but then I realized that the truth was sufficiently attention grabbing that it probably didn’t need my half-assed wordplay to improve it.
Then I actually read the article and realized that the author had pulled a highly suspect bait and switch with his lead.
I’m no journalist (not to mention many other things — so I won’t), when you begin an article by citing a study from MIT, your reader should not be punished for inferring that the numerically inclined headline associated with said article most likely derives from said study:
Earlier this month, a U.S. study on the economic impact of China’s air pollution was released with little fanfare. Maybe it was because of the series of successive “blue sky” days we were enjoying in the Chinese capital, thanks to the gusty winds blowing down from Mongolia.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, breaks down costs that result from the health impacts from ozone and particulate matter, which typically lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
But in this case, the study (which, FYI, you can’t even read without paying for) isn’t even referenced again. Instead, many paragraphs later, we get this:
“The [Beijing] government says that nearly 80 percent of the days in the last two years met at least the Chinese standard and therefore had good or even excellent air quality,” Steve Andrews, an environmental consultant who has analyzed the @BeijingAir data, said. “While when we look at the U.S. Embassy data … over 80 percent days exceeded what would be considered healthy air quality and more days were hazardous than good.”
Andrews said that Beijing’s pollution levels were “six or seven times higher than the U.S.’s most polluted city.” “Air pollution at these levels likely shortens life expectancy by about five years,” he added. [emphasis my own]
And that five year estimate is based on…what, exactly? Maybe I’m old fashioned, but an off-the-cuff remark — even by an expert — is hardly the sort of hard data headlines should be based on…
…which, even as I write it, I realize sounds so naive that I should probably resign from this site in shame.
ANYWAY, the point is, dude pulled a fast one, okay??
Ooh, also, if I were starting a band in Beijing right now, I would call it Smog Hat.
That is all.
Update by Tom: I think Trevor may have misread this one pretty badly. The important point about the MIT study is that it “breaks down costs that result from the health impacts from ozone and particulate matter, which typically lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.” The costs, it turns out, have skyrocketed. Though the study only focuses on the period between 1975 and 1995, even then, the estimated decrease in economic output went from $22 billion to $112 billion. One can assume that the pattern has not gotten better as China has continued rapidly industrializing for the past 18 years.
What are the costs? Well, presumably they’re health related. Humans get sick and die. Habitats become inhospitable to life. Agriculture is threatened. The list of externalities goes on, but surely, when we’re talking about pollution, they are related first and foremost to issues of the health and well-being of rational economic actors. Agreed?
Additionally, we know a lot about how various dangerous particulates affect our lifespan, having experimented with a great many of them ourselves. (Asbestos! Lead paint! Cigarettes!) If the Chinese are juking the stats to make themselves look good, that’s bad. If an environmental consultant suggests that a really dangerous thing can take five years off of your lifespan, I’ll take him at his word, especially if a quick Googling reveals that “Studies also suggest that long term exposure to fine particulate matter may be associated with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease. People with breathing and heart problems, children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to PM2.5.”
So, yeah. There’ll be an adverse effect on economic activity. Should the headline have read like it did? Well, probably not. I’d have gone with: “The Air in China is the Chink in China’s Armor.” Certainly something less sensationalistic than MSN went to press with. But I’m not in the headline business (anymore), and I think we should all just take a deep breath and relax.
See this woman holding the sign?
She just got shit-canned for holding it. Here’s her account of what happened after the picture went viral:
I thought all of this could be fodder for an interesting segment on The Takeaway—a morning news program co-produced by WNYC Radio and Public Radio International—for which I had been working as a freelance web producer roughly 20 hours per week for the past seven months. I pitched the idea to producers on the show, in an e-mail.
The next day, The Takeaway’s director fired me over the phone, effective immediately. He was inconsolably angry, and said that I had violated every ethic of journalism, and that this should be a “teaching moment” for me in my career as a journalist. The segment I had pitched, of course, would not happen. Ironically, the following day Marketplace did pretty much the exact segment I thought would have been great on The Takeaway, with Kai Ryssdal discussing the sign and the Goldman Sachs deal it alluded to in terms that were far from neutral.
It’s unclear to me how our participation, on our personal time, in a non-partisan movement warrants termination from our jobs. If the protest is so lacking, in terms of message and focus, then how can my involvement with it go against The Takeaway’s ethical policies? In other words, if I’m associated with a party-less movement (and barely associated, since that was only the second time I’ve attended an Occupy Wall Street event), and have never exercised bias in editing The Takeaway’s website, what’s the harm?
The harm is to journalists’ sense of themselves as arbiters of unvarnished truth, when much of what they actually do is just polishing talking-point-turds for corrupt politicians. But, hey, a job’s a job, right?
Maybe the model was more sustainable in Victorian times, when writers were paid to write novels in serial form for magazines in weekly or monthly installments (and people like Charles Dickens added all those extra, glittery paragraphs so he could afford butter for his bread), but writing for AOL/HuffPo sounds a little bit less appealing than leaping into a giant pit of lava in an age of 24-7 interconnected-ness:
I had panic attacks; we all did. My fellow writers would fall asleep, and then wake up in cold sweats. I worked the graveyard shift — 11PM to 7 or 8AM or later — but even the AOL slaves who wrote during the day would report the same universal experience. Finally falling asleep after work, they would awake with a jump, certain that they had forgotten something — certain that they hadn’t produced their allotted number of articles every thirty minutes. One night, I awoke out of a dead sleep, and jumped to my computer, and instantly began typing up an article about David Letterman. I kept going for ten minutes, until I realized I had dreamed it all. There was no article to write; I was simply typing up the same meaningless phrases that we all always used: “LADY GAGA PANTLESS ON LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,” or some such.
Here’s a slide from an internal AOL document about “content” (itself an icky word), entitled “Decide What Topics to Cover:”
Crazy bones. And to think, we got all righteous and indignant about someone wanting us to add a throwaway sentence and a link! But worse than the terms and conditions you agree to when you write for AOL is the censorship, and subsequent indifference to it, that goes on if you happen to cross the wrong person in an otherwise meaningless post. If the person you have offended has just signed a “multi-million dollar contract to promote the AOL “brand,’” you are in for a world of hurt indeed.
I was called into AOL’s offices in Manhattan for the first time and only time. I was reprimanded. I was put on notice. And from then on, my days at AOL were numbered. I wasn’t fired, but a special editor was assigned to review all my articles and tweak them as needed. My new editor would change my articles… and add grammatical errors to them. Lots of grammatical errors. “Its” became “it’s”; “their” became “there” — but with the horrifying result that these things were all wrong.
When I pointed this out to my bosses, they were annoyed by my complaints. Errors didn’t matter. Grammatical errors — be they major or minor — didn’t matter. The brainless peons who read the website simply wouldn’t notice. What mattered was getting the “product” published.
What was happening was that words were starting not to matter. The words that we wrote didn’t matter, and the words that we got in response to them definitely didn’t matter.
For some reason, reading Miller’s account reminded me of the various times I’ve worked as a door-to-door hippie. You know the types. The ones with the fire in their eyes and the silver tongues, who somehow convince you to give them $36 or $25, or $12, or $120 to a cause you vaguely support, even if you don’t know exactly how the money is going to be spent. (And maybe thirty minutes later, you’re sitting down to dinner and wondering, “Wait. Did I just give $60 to that dude with the long hair who was standing in my breezeway with a clipboard, or was that all merely a dream?”)
I’ve met you all, and I’ve categorized you all. You are A doors, B doors, and C doors. A doors = warm and receptive, perhaps working in the garden, pulling weeds, a Prius parked in the driveway, a PBS sticker in the window. As they are Natural Allies, a canvasser fails if he or she doesn’t get a donation from A doors. B doors = 70% of you. Cautious, skeptical, just home from work, wanting to get on with life, but too impolite to say “Get the fuck off my doorstep, or I’m going to get my gun,” because you’ve been socialized well (btw, good on you). B doors are the job. (In fact, I always pretend to be a B door when a door-to-door hippie knocks on my door, to fuck with them for a bit, before revealing that I’ve been there, and here’s $18, $1.50 a month, cause that’s all I can afford.”) C doors are the flat Nos, the I’ve-got-a-baseball-bat-in-my-hand types, the “Don’t you know what ‘No Soliciting’ means!?”-ers. (Sidenote: I do, and by the letter of the law, as I sometimes took very much glee in pointing out as you threatened to call the police, I was not functioning as a solicitor in my capacity as a canvasser. Also, “Have a nice night!”) The greatest satisfaction was achieved when I solicited a donation from a C door.
I have been a preacher of the faith, after a fashion. But what struck me as coincidental about the AOL article was that the people being exploited were thankful for the opportunity to sell out, thankful for the chance to lie. I quit one canvassing job in good standing, and two more in fits of inspired fury; in all three cases, as in the case of AOL, the goal was not the truth-value of the canvasser’s rap, but to the sustainability of the door-to-door hippie industry.
Which — don’t get me wrong! — is better than trying to sustain sensationalism and bad journalism. But whoring is whoring. I have listened to people bash Mexicans, ignored this outright racism with a smle, and tried to get money out of them anyway in order to hit my nightly door-to-door hippie quota. I have in fact succeeded using this tactic more than a few times! What’s more, I learned not to even flinch when I encountered those doors, because not flinching is essential when your job is selling ideas.
Sometimes I think I’m a bad person. Other times I think I was just trying to get by.
All three times, though, I was thankful for the work. The last two times, I eventually decided that I’d rather be broke than go on having nightmares about not making quota three days in a row (you’re put on notice if that happens, and yes, there were nightmares [I am not cut out for sales]). I got sick of lying for a paycheck, pretending that abiding racism on a daily basis didn’t matter, pretending that swears didn’t exist, no matter how bad the day (you were not allowed to swear at work as a door-to-door hippie), pretending that the money I collected would go anywhere other than the office’s justification for an existence.
Eventually your principles catch up with you. Eventually, a corporation decides that you’re expendable. Sometimes, eventually everything you say amounts to a lie, and you either live with that fact or you exit stage left. It’s an interesting time, folks. I don’t know where we’re going.
Long story short? Go boycott the Huffington Post!
I have mentioned once or twice (okay, thrice) that I think Tina Brown should immediately and mercilessly chop off the infected limb that is Meghan McCain from the already diseased and sickly body that is The Daily Beast. I don’t know why I care so much, but I do. I certainly don’t take offense to anything she writes — because she is so clearly lazy, incurious, and stupid — but she’s a symptom, you know? She, along with the Luke Russerts and Chris Wallaces of the world, are symptoms of a larger media decay — one in which coming into an incredibly powerful journalism position by virtue of one’s last name is no longer considered scandalous. And not only is it not scandalous, it’s gotten to the point that it’s not even remarked on anymore. “Why, surely Luke Russert is a newsman. Don’t you remember his father?”
Granted, McCain’s a bit different, since her dad is a celebrity politician and not a celebrity reporter, but the fundamental problem is the same: nepotism. So, full disclosure-time: I am sick to fucking death of the idiot spawn of powerful people clogging up my airwaves. I’m particularly tired of it because the opportunities offered to my generation are shit, and people like me (who would put a hell of a lot more effort into a featured Daily Beast column than McCain does) are stuck juggling part-time, no-benefit jobs in an effort to make the math work every month. I resent Meghan McCain because she is a hack without a sincere political belief in her bones, and yet she has been tasked with expounding on matters political to an audience of millions. And not only that! She’s been tasked to speak on behalf of my generation, as though the daughter of a grumpy, old fuck who can’t remember how many houses he pays property taxes on is at all representative of The Kids These Days.
Well, she’s not representative at all, and fuck you, Meghan McCain. With the fury of a thousand suns, fuck you and yours straight to goddamn hell — and back, in a handbasket, or in a handbasket filled with lava and killer bees.
Whew! That felt good, didn’t it? Moving right along.
McCain’s latest column isn’t particularly egregious compared with some of her worst offenses (I never got around to her Donald Trump “interview,” which, if you’re in the mood for a good cry!), but since I am so clearly in Good Citizen mode, I might as well finish what I started.
Step one. See Meghan write a lede.
What are you doing on your summer vacation? I’m going on a cross-country road trip with comedian Michael Ian Black. Yes, I am traveling across the country with an alt comedian in attempt to figure out what exactly is going on in America. It is for our upcoming book, Stupid for America.
First, the ‘summer vacation’ link above goes to one of those patented Beast Photo Essays — the ones with the celebs and the Italian resorts and the bikinis and the yachts and shit. Second, my fucking summer vacation? It’s fucking summer, it’s not a vacation. Vacations are for people with disposable income. I’ll be lucky to get to the beach a couple of times. But to answer the stupid question? I don’t know! I’ll probably be working! Because I’m poor!
More importantly, the whole paragraph reads like a sixth grader wrote it. It does. Do not even tell me it doesn’t, because it does. I can actually imagine a teacher assigning a little essay to a group of sixth graders. “What are you going to do for your summer vacation, class? I expect five paragraphs on that topic on my desk Monday morning, and then we’ll have our end of the year party!” And Meghan McCain’s all like, “Awww, Mrs. Madison, do we have to?” And Mrs. Madison gives Meghan McCain that icy look that she’s honed over the course of the school year that says in no uncertain terms, “Silence, parasite, or I will have you sit in the corner!” Which — who could disobey Mrs. Madison, really? I mean, no one disobeys Mrs. Madison! Don’t you remember what happened to Jimmy Waters? Jimmy Waters disobeyed Mrs. Madison and he was never heard from again!!!!!!
Ahem. There is also the fact that she is “writing” a book based on this cross country field trip, and that the aforementioned book will purportedly be comedic in nature. The fact that she is “writing” a book at all is itself laughable, but that it will be marketed as “funny” or “light-hearted” is so darkly, absurdly comic that it ends up collapsing under the weight of its own gravity and morphing back into sad. It is sad that Meghan McCain is “writing” a political comedy book, because she is not funny. You need a personality to be funny. Meghan McCain is cardboard personified.
Moving right along.
I’m sure Michael will make me laugh, especially when he makes jokes about how his life in the entertainment industry is going to end when he turns 40 this year. But the purpose of our trip is to see why this country is so polarized. Michael and I couldn’t be more different politically. He’s a married, gun-fearing atheist, and the son of a lesbian Social Security employee. I’m a single Christian Republican blogger and a member of the NRA.
HAHAHAHAHA! Okay, okay. Maybe she is funny. I mean did you hear her tell Michael’s joke about being 40? THAT’S HOW TO RE-TELL A JOKE, PEOPLE! LEARN FROM THE MASTER HERE! But, in all seriousness, you should give McCain a more charitable reading and think of this whole thing as you might if you were Mrs. Madison. She is young. She is in the sixth grade. She is trying her best, goddamnit! She compares and contrasts, she uses simple sentence structures that convey the basic message without spelling or grammatical errors (Thanks, Mom and Dad!), and she doesn’t repeat herself. Give the girl a B+!
As we trek from California to D.C., traveling God knows how many miles in a big bus, we plan on talking to politicians, gun lovers, abortion-rights advocates, gay parents, veterans, teen moms, bikers, flag burners, fast-food workers, and everything in between. Then again, Michael and I do have some similarities. We both love chain restaurants, especially McDonald’s, which for any friendship is a good place to start.
What to do with this one? If I were Mrs. Madison I would just put a big red X over the whole damn paragraph and put a little comment in the margins, “Rewrite!” Maybe I’d add a little smiley face to signal the small joy I felt in simply Crossing. The. Entire. Fucking. Thing. Out. First, Meghan McCain, you cannot “trek” in a big bus! Riding in a big bus is called many wonderful things, but trekking has a rather specific meaning, and it most certainly does not involve riding in a big fucking bus! Second half of that sentence? Fine, I guess. You’re going to talk to Americans, and you want to use identity politics to lump them into groups like “flag burners” and “gun lovers.” You’re only in sixth grade, so I’m not going to delve into some of the deeper problems with this tactic. But the third sentence?
Then again, Michael and I do have some similarities.
Out of left field, kiddo. Just a complete non-sequitur. It belonged in the previous paragraph, after you described the differences between Michael and yourself. Placed here, you just have me wondering which one of you’s the biker (You?) and which one’s the fast food worker (Michael?). Actually, no, you just have me thinking your B+ just dropped down to a C (Spoiler alert: it drops down to an F at the end). As to the whole, “Everyone who eats at McDonald’s is my friend!”-thing, I have eaten at McDonald’s on more than one occasion, and, let me assure you that a common fondness for sustenance on the highway in the middle of nowhere does not a friendship make. Have you ever seen some of the people at McDonald’s, Meghan McCain??!? Plus, the joke is not at all amusing, nor is it saved from its lack of humor by cuteness, because it also lacks that. Scratch the whole thing.
Michael is a well-known comedian, writer, and actor. While he’s not an obvious match for me, our pairing is random for a reason. It isn’t often you find someone as willing to fight over politics and try something completely different, together.
Your “pairing”? Who “paired” you, and in what way is it random? Were you paired from On High? Was it arranged by your parents? As far as I can tell (from Ctrl+F at the godforsaken link you felt compelled to supply and I felt obligated to follow to make sure I wasn’t going to defame your character and get fucking sued) YOU GUYS PITCHED THE BOOK AS A TEAM. That’s practically the definition of not random! It is, in fact, deliberate! You just think it’s “random” because you don’t give a shit about words! But, guess what?! It shows, and you’re an idiot.
Additionally, “trekking” across the country with someone whose politics aren’t exactly the same as yours is “completely different” since… well, when exactly? Tell that to Jack Kerouac, McCain! Tell it to the Oregon Trail, for crying out loud. Have you ever driven more than 100 miles in your life, McCain? Seriously, McCain.
And one more thing: phrases like, “try something completely different, together” aren’t good writing. Just because you put two ideas that are vaguely dissimilar together in a sentence or phrase (“his dark lightness” or “her soft severity” or whatever) doesn’t mean you’ve made anybody recognize the non-duality of duality and non-duality. It just means you’re pretentious. And more likely than not, a prick.
George W. Bush really divided this country during his presidency. With Barack Obama, we’re still divided; some could even debate we’re more divided than ever before. There is so much anger and frustration and fear (just ask the Tea Party). But the purpose of this trip is to explore what makes us all Americans. This project is an attempt to bridge the divide between right and left and find out why this country has gotten “so f-ed up,” especially politically. My mission is to convince Michael that he probably believes in a lot more of the ideals of the Republican Party than he realizes. I also want to show him how to shoot guns, properly take a shot of whiskey, and appreciate Nashville’s country-music scene.
I will allow the paranthetical “(just ask the Tea Party)” to speak for the stupidity of the first part of that paragraph on my behalf, and move on to the second part.
So, what makes us all Americans, Meghan McCain?
That’s it! Question answered! Do I get a fucking book deal now?
Also, pet peeve: the word is FUCK. It is not F. ‘F’ is a letter of the alphabet. The sixth letter, to be precise. I realize that you’re blogging at the Very Serious Daily Beast where FUCK might not be tolerated, but I’d like to inform you that you’re not in kindergarten anymore, that you’re in the sixth grade (almost seventh after this “summer vacation”!), and that we want to try to treat you more like an adult as you mature and come into your own. So go ahead and say FUCK. I mean, gosh, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.
And then there’s the whole whiskey thing. She just had to go there. She had to! They grow up so fast nowadays, don’t they? The kids? You go from sixth grade to seventh in the blink of an eye, and then it’s all shootin’ guns and sluggin’ whiskey. Adorable, really. But let me tell you what. If Meghan McCain knows the difference between bourbon and Scotch, I’ll eat my fucking shoe, okay?
I don’t expect this to be easy. I do, however, expect it to be a memorable mashup of two strong personalities attempting to figure it all out—one state at a time.
Oh, Meghan, I expect it to be easy. You’ll be in a “big bus,” after all. You won’t be driving. You’ll get to pull over and stretch out whenever you feel like it. You’ll get to boss people who are smarter and more capable than you around. You’ll get to talk to “real Americans” about the identities you’ve pigeonholed them into. And in the end, someone will ghost write the shit out of a book that you’ll earn royalties from, and you will have figured nothing at all “out.”
Have fun on your summer vacation.
So there are two people that I knew in college who have arguably “made it” as political writers. One is Jesse Rosenfeld, author of what might be the most obnoxiously narcissistic bit of copy ever to be published by the McGill Daily (I can’t find the original on the Daily’s site, but it dominated the issue and spurred hundreds if not thousands of irritated responses, which dominated the subsequent several issues). Last year, he was beaten up by the police at one of the G20 protests in Toronto, and many a contemporary-with-Rosenberg McGill grad repressed a powerful impulse to roll our eyes — repressed because police brutality at last year’s G20 was no joke.
The other is THE Tim Mak. Yes, THAT Tim Mak, the “rising star of the conservative movement” photographed at right. Or…have you not heard of him? Maybe it’s just to me that his star appears amid the brighter constellations thanks to the parallax effect of having him on my Facebook feed (we’ll see for how much longer…). But I’ve run across him several times independently, and he can apparently pay DC rents as a quote-unquote journalist, which is something.
Anyway, Tim staffed a committee I ran back in university simulating the Soviet Politburo in the years immediately following Lenin’s death. (The committee was awesome, and involved Lenin ultimately coming back to life having been driven mad by the reverse-cryogenic process. He was given a cap gun, which he waved around as he drooled and yelled “TROTSKYYYYYY!” and the terrified committee members stood and clapped and forced themselves to smile for like an hour. But let me close this parenthesis.)
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