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May 23, 2003
Class Dismissed

Kevin Drum has already pointed to this essay by O.G. liberal-bias truffle-pig William McGowan, but it's such a wonderful example of ideological oragami that it deserves a little more attention.

McGowan's topic: "high-end media nepotism."

"The sons and daughters of media biggies - as well as the children of their 'cafe society' friends - have achieved a small but critical mass in many news organizations," McGowan writes. Because these "media legacies" exhibit "largely liberal leanings," he believes this phenomenom is "a source of concern."

Alas, the truth is that McGowan doesn't have that many liberal media legacies to whinny over, which is why he throws in that 'cafe society' friends rider. It's a stab at what-the-fuck-proofing his thesis enough to endure at least a nano-second's conjecture...

Had he stuck to the simpler premise that there is indeed an elite media caste, I'd completely buy into that. On a big-picture statistical level, I'm not exactly sure how well it holds up, but it certainly seems that lots of people who hold elite media positions have a pedigree of Ivy League affluence and parents who either worked in the media itself or in a closely related field, like politics, advertising, or academia.

And this makes sense of course. If you grow up in a household that subscribes to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and you live next door to a correspondent for CNN, you will probably believe that such a career is attainable for yourself if you're so inclined.

In any case, McGowan's perfectly good contention suggests an obvious question: should the news be controlled by wealthy, well-connected children of privilege who have vested interests in nurturing the institutions that afforded them their life of privilege in the first place?

Because this question is somewhat ideologically inconvenient, McGowan whips out the funhouse mirrors. First he makes the following statement:

"It should be noted here that the nepotism issue is largely a liberal thing."

Anyone who believes that the empty authority of phrases like "It should be noted" is an acceptable substitute for actual facts or statistics will no doubt be convinced by McGowan's argument. (It should be noted that I'm using the word "argument" in a very gracious manner here.) Everyone else is probably compiling a list that starts with Lachlan Murdoch, James Murdoch, William Kristol, Christopher Buckley, Jonah Goldberg, and David Frum, to name just a few...

Because conservative bloodlines run deep in our nation's mediacracy, McGowan is forced to concede that while media legacies are a problem, they're the kind of problem that really aren't that much of a problem, actually...

"This is not the biggest threat to democracy as we know it," McGowan pirouettes, with the supple grace of a hippo on roller skates. "Nor is it a huge threat to journalism, already burdened by so many other structural problems."

Indeed, McGowan postulates, media legacies are actually some of the most courageous, hardest-working souls on this planet - the conservative ones anyway.

The liberal ones, well, they have problems with "a broad array of social issues in which class is either the primary focus or the subtext."

The press in general has been supportive of racial preferences and other forms of affirmative action. Not all of this support reflects the influence of overprivileged journalists, but I wonder whether people who have been raised with considerable advantages in life may have a harder time identifying with the strivers who find themselves frustrated by double standards in university admissions, or by numbers-driven hiring and promotion policies. They also might be more susceptible to liberal guilt, undermining both reportorial rigor and professional detachment.

Clearly, McGowan leads an active life of the mind, so I'm sure that someday he'll also get around to wondering how the overprivileged backgrounds of media legacies influence them on class issues like dividend tax cuts, national healthcare, and corporate welfare, amongst others.

In the meantime, one can only marvel that such a laughably simple-minded essay made it into The National Review. But you have to give credit to family values where credit is due: the conservative brotherhood always looks out for its own, even in the case of idiot sons like McGowan.

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:16 AM
May 22, 2003
U.S. to Invade U.S.?

From the Guardian, via the Rational Enquirer:

The Pentagon's own inspector general recently admitted that the department could not account for more than a trillion dollars of past spending. A congressional investigation reported that inventory management in the army was so weak it had lost track of 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 missile launchers.

56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 missile launchers, all missing?! Isn't that like half the size of the Iraqi army? What if terrorists have gotten their hands on these things? President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld: please don't wait for tragedy to strike before you take action - I'm not sure where these weapons were lost, here in the U.S. or in one of the 130-plus countries in which the U.S. has a military presence, but free people must set the course of history! Invade somebody now and find these things!

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:19 AM
May 19, 2003
Iraqi Media Update

Jeff Jarvis says: "I am dying to see more bloggers from Baghdad with more reports, more points of view, more opinions, the more the merrier. I'm not going to give up on this idea of bringing weblogs to Iraq. If Pax can do it, so can others. Any suggestions where I should take this crusade in our government?"

In the comments his post generated, Jarvis explains why involving the government is necessary, and while he's probably right, trying to explain the value of weblogs to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance seems like a pretty difficult challenge. Perhaps the Broadcasting Board of Governors would be more receptive, but at the same time, I like the idea of somehow helping Iraqi bloggers directly, even though that won't solve big-picture problems like the lack of telecommunications infrastructure. But how best to accomplish this?

Meanwhile, Jarvis also links to this Times of London article about the 50 (!) newspapers that have started up in Iraq in the last few weeks. The best part is at the end, where it lists headlines from the various papers: this is something the Times of London should make a regular feature.

These last two headlines come from a satirical paper called Habbaz Booz:

* Government increases wages of staff from 100,000 to 900,000 dinars a month

* Free chicken and Pepsi for all people

Clearly, humor has been severely repressed in Iraq for some time, but at least it's a start!

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:03 PM
Stay Here

Last week, the Arizona Republic reported that cable company Cox Communications rejected a 30-second TV ad underwritten by that criticized Bush's tax cuts. Cox declared it "in poor taste" and "too controversial."

The ad dramatized a real-life incident in Eugene, Oregon in which a group of 50 parents lined up to sell their blood plasma. "George Bush's tax cuts for the rich have meant less money for education," the ad's narrator intoned. "So they had to sell their blood to raise money for
their children's school..."

Eventually, Cox reversed its decision. Perhaps it realized that banning a bland, G-rated, extremely discreet TV commercial on grounds of "poor taste" is sort of hard to pull of when you also aggressively promote "live and uncensored" Girls Gone Wild pay-per-view events.

But that's just a side note. My real interest here is's media buying habits: I think it's interesting that they mostly seem to purchase advertising from large corporate entities like Cox, and that they don't seem to purchase any Web-based advertising at all. (Or at least they don't include any Web-based ads on the page where they showcase their various advertising efforts.)

The irony, of course, is that when makes an ad-buy from Cox Communications, it's helping to support a huge corporation that has little interest in promoting the kinds of causes, values, and ideals that supports. A similar irony is in effect when people like Sean Penn or Yoko Ono buy ads in newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post: why spend money enriching media outlets that are giving so little coverage to your views that you feel you must advertise in them to make sure your perspective is available to their readers?

Obviously, there's a strategic component to such ad-buying: these advertisers want to preach to more than just the converted, so they choose venues that reach a wide variety of people. At the same time, there are plenty of blogs and other independently published sites on the Web that reach a wide variety of people - and yet still have much more in common with and/or Sean Penn and Yoko Ono, values-wise, than a corporate behemoth like Cox Communications does.

In devoting at least some of their ad budgets to such sites, these advertisers would not only be getting their messages out, but also helping support like-minded media outlets. In addition, they might even get more value for their money. Sean Penn spent $56,000 for a one-time, one-page ad in the Washington Post. The Post has a circulation of over 800,000, it's read by important people, and the cost it takes to buy an ad there has a certain PR value in itself - so maybe Penn's ad buy was worth it.

Ultimately, though, his ad was easily accessible for just that one day. In comparison, you can now buy a one-year ad on Atrios' blog for $800. Thus, for $56,000, Sean Penn could have reached Atrios' 10,000 to 20,000 daily readers every day for 70 years!

UPDATE: Atrios has raises his prices - it now costs $950 a year to advertise on his site. So, theoretically, Penn's ad would only run for 58 years now, instead of 70. However, I bet Atrios would give him special pricing on a buy that big - so he'd probably get 65 years at least...

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:57 AM