Newspaper Musings — Reflections on the Olden Days and Modern Fears

By James A. Kidney

The Current Picture

Two recent events involving The Washington Post cause me to muse on changes in journalism.  First, the Post departed its long-time headquarters building on 15th St., NW, for a less majestic spot on 13th Street.  It is at least a symbolic retreat from the glory days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, noted with unusual sentimentality by many Post veterans.

wapo-record circulation promo adPerhaps more significantly, the Post printed a promotional ad last week that got much attention in professional journalism circles.  It is adjacent to this text.

The promotional ad was based on the Post’s claim that it had a bigger overall visitor total – clicks — on its website in October than The New York TimesPost owner Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon.com, claimed that “What we’re doing with the post is we’re working on becoming the new paper of record.”

“Paper of record” was a hallowed term in journalism in the 20th century, always referring to The New York Times due to its diligence in coverage and the detail it often presented, such as full transcripts of important speeches by political leaders and congressional roll calls.  As the Times itself noted in a column by its public editor in 2004, there is no record the newspaper ever claimed the title formally, and doubt that even the esteemed Times would have deserved it or its reporters wanted it.

The Post never before dared call itself the “paper of record,” and it doesn’t deserve the appellation now.  Although one of the two or three best papers in the country (a bar lowering all the time), the Post closed New_York_Times_logo_variationits domestic bureaus years ago and has a far smaller news staff than the Times.  These discrepancies are reflected in the Post’s narrow coverage of national news.  The Post national coverage focuses almost exclusively on national politics and the federal government, with the occasional “blockbuster” series designed to win awards.  Other national news is relegated to a summary block of text, with a paragraph or two for each item headed by the name of the state where the reported event occurred. It does maintain a good foreign staff, albeit with fewer bureaus than the Times.

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Oh, The Secrets We Keep!

government-cloak-of-secrecy-open-governmentBy James A. Kidney

              While media focus was on Donald Trump and terrorism, there was little notice of a new report by the Department of Agriculture, citing new studies from the Center for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, affirming that there is no scientific evidence to support claims that genetically modified produce and meats cause any harm.  To the contrary, the report said, genetic modification will produce great benefits to health and increase substantially the food supply, leading to lower prices.  “A real win-win,” the report concluded.

The reaction from organizations and members of Congress opposing genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”) was immediate.  The Institute for Responsible Technology stated that the research “had to have been bought and paid for by Big Agra.”  The Non-GMO Project demanded an inquiry into the Agriculture report and the sources it relied upon.  Four liberal Democratic senators demanded that the Senate Agriculture Committee issue subpoenas for all information related to the reports and studies.  “We want to see everything,” said Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member of the Committee.

OOOPS.  Fooled ya.

There is no such report from the Department of Agriculture.  But is there any doubt that had one been issued, the reaction from those opposed to GMOs would be as described above?  Instead, we have a leading troglodyte of the Republican Party seeking evidence to contest a study issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) disputing claims published elsewhere that the rate of global warning has slowed in the last few years. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and a climate science denier, launched the investigation and issued a subpoena for basically “everything” related to the NOAA study.

NOAA, every science organization you can name and the editorial page of The New York Times lambasted Smith for seeking emails and other records of scientists and bureaucrats paid by the taxpayer to ascertain whether the NOAA report was biased in favor of climate change advocacy.

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The Colors Between the States: The Great Divide and Why It Will Not Close

US Map Red-Blue-Purple States

Click to open map in separate window

Part One 

By James A. Kidney

Introduction 

It is the season of red, blue and purple. That means presidential campaigning is upon us – in force. It is not really a season at all anymore, with round-the-clock, round-the-year, election news coverage, whether warranted or not.

Nor does that combination of bright colors mean the nation is in good cheer. Rather, it is thoroughly divided, as reflected in our representative governments at all levels. Yes, Americans still have far more in common than they do differences, as the occasional columnist feels the need to remind us. But, increasingly it seems, the United States is two cultures united by a common language and divided by very different views of what constitutes America and how to deal with our problems, many of which are conveniently viewed as “caused by the other side” of the red-blue divide.

Red states want less government of any kind for almost any issue except national defense, abortion and certain cultural issues. Red states are hosts to a frequently voiced suspicion — or even hatred — of government, at least at the federal level. There is an undercurrent of yearning reflected in policy suggestions among the red state political leaders that the way to deal with the 21st century’s problems is to revert to the middle of the previous century. Eisenhower, Goldwater and Reagan are the inspiration for sentimental recollections and vague policy prescriptions, although all three might find it difficult to identify with much of what the red state GOP stands for today.  Plus, the world is different than it was as late as the Reagan era.  The U.S. is not the economic giant standing astride a war-ruined world as it was in 1950.

It is not hard to understand why white men, and some women, yearn for such a past.  The anger that it is not going to happen is expressed in extreme venom and, as the John Boehner resignation shows, vengeance against anyone even willing to discuss compromise.

Blue state leaders and their voters look favorably on government, especially the federal government, as the solution to problems such as dirty water and air, climate change and economic inequality. Franklin Roosevelt and, on domestic policy, Lyndon Johnson are the model presidents for these folks. On national american-flagsecurity, however, there is less certainty about America’s role in the world than in the more militarily aggressive red states. Although blue states face their own economic and racial uncertainties in big cities and suburbs, many struggling families — especially white families — across the country perceive an unmistakable disregard for their problems among liberals.

Blue state liberals campaign more poorly than red state conservatives outside of the presidential races, failing to capture the majority in those few congressional districts and state level offices that have not been gerrymandered by either party into one color. Liberals tend to look askance at the positions of the more conservative party and believe the logic of liberal thinking alone can carry the day. Their candidates also don’t fully adopt liberal positions, afraid that they will offend independents, but the resulting “compromise” pleases no one.  Their base is not motivated to vote in off-year elections, so Democrats lose in close Senate and House races.

Red state politicians are better at getting elected by undiluted appeals to the most conservative in their base, many of whom vote regularly. But their government animus and devotion to positions undaunted by the experience of recent history (e.g., failure of “trickle down” economics for over 30 years) cause them to be very poor at governance.

This situation will not change in the foreseeable future. More optimistic projections to the contrary are seriously flawed.

This series looks at the prospects for continuing divide, why it is not likely to change and, later, how these very different political approaches to our problems are reflected in demographics and policies at the state level.

But this website is not all about the highly wonky nature of the red-blue-purple divide. Such postings will be only occasional. There are more fun things to write about. We have and will. But for this series on the Colors Between the States, be prepared for some wonky assessments. Your comments and responses are invited. We will be happy to publish opposing views if supported by reason and facts.  Just email them to us at jim@watchthecircus.com.  Or post them in the comments section.

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