Good Night, and Good Luck

WNYC’s On The Media has a great interview with Joe and Shirley Wershba, two of the journalists at CBS working with Edward R. Murrow when he took on Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954. They’re talking about the new film about the confrontation, Good Night, and Good Luck [trailer, review].

One quote from Murrow that I love, in response to the fears a lot of people at CBS had about the consequences of taking on McCarthy: “Terror is right here in this room. No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.”

Star Wars: Revelations

I know it’s been out for a couple months, but I finally watched Star Wars: Revelations, the all-volunteer fan film set in the Star Wars universe. Man, this ain’t your father’s fan flick!

Downing Street Memo slow burn?

The Times Online has just released a transcript of an official Cabinet Office brief that presumably was the basis for the discussion later detailed in the Downing Street Memo they released last month. Unlike the previous leak, this transcript is missing the last page and has been anonymized by the Times to protect the source.

Given that the Downing Street Memo story is just now getting traction in the US media (a month after being leaked) it’ll be interesting to see how this new story is handled here, especially given how understandably gun-shy the US media is right now about criticizing the administration without being damn sure the sources can be verified. According to an interview USA Today’s Mark Memmott gave On The Media (MP3), the main reason they delayed so long in talking about the first leak was that they couldn’t verify the memo themselves.

Link between aggression & violence in media

I’ve always been skeptical when people said violence in TV shows or video games lead to more violent behavior in children. It’s always smacked of hysteria and panic, particularly back when Doom was being blamed for Columbine and other school shootings. Cognitive Daily has just posted a threepart series summarizing a report published by the American Psychological Society that has me convinced I was wrong — there really is an effect and a problem here, especially with regard to violence in TV and video games. CD concludes:

Overall, the research on media violence, whether it was experimental or correlational, has shown a significant correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior. Though the correlations are sometimes small, Anderson and his colleagues point out that they are at least as significant as other behaviors considered to be very risky, such as exposure to asbestos and smoking cigarettes.

It’s clear from the research we have discussed in the last few days that media violence is a significant problem. What’s less clear is precisely what to do about it. Aside from the research on parental intervention, little has been done to determine the best way to address the problem. If the goal is to reduce aggression and violence in the greater society, then more resources should be devoted to finding solutions, rather than only adding to the voluminous literature indicating that a problem exists.

One-point Journalist Test (EFF 4/1 press release)

There’ve been a lot of good 4/1 posts today, but I especially like EFF’s press release on the Ninth Circuit’s new “one-point journalist test” in the Apple “do bloggers count as journalists when it comes to shield laws” case:

“Historically, the relevant question is whether the author had the intent to use the material – sought, gathered or received – to disseminate information to the public and whether such intent existed at the inception of the newsgathering process,” wrote Judge Stephen S. Trott in the opinion. “But in an era when anyone with a computer and Internet connection can publish to the world, the key distinguishing factor is whether the author was wearing pants.”

The Court looked to the example of blogger/journalist Jeff Gannon, explaining, “When Mr. Gannon was lobbing softball questions to the President on behalf of Talon News, he was acting just like any other member of the White House press corps — and, critically, he was wearing pants. In Mr. Gannon’s other Internet publishing endeavors, however, he did not wear pants, and his activities therefore fall outside the boundaries of journalism.”

Pay for the news, get the fishwrap for free?

Brad Plumer (guest-blogging at Political Animalnice point with regard to the possibility that the New York Times might go subscriber-only:

“But suppose the move is inevitable. Betsy Newmark thinks subscriber fees would ‘put a crimp in political blogging.’ Perhaps. But then again, perhaps this could all work out in a way that actually improve political blogging. What if the daily news was subscriber-only, but all the news archives were free and open to internet users everywhere? Blogging, it seems, could certainly benefit from slowing things down a bit and doing more commenting on week-old or month-old political stories. And sure, a few big bloggers and institutions would no doubt still buy subscriptions and do ‘insta-updates’ with off-the-cuff commentary, but the rest of us would have to do a bit more thoughtful analysis/research/reporting and a bit less hyperactive mouse-clicking and ‘breaking’ updates. That sounds fine to me!”

I rather like this idea, in part because I’m more a “better a day late than a dollar short” than a “shoot from the hip” kind of thinker. An interesting question is what timescale would be most appropriate — I’m thinking the times could gain by a much shorter premium-content model. If today’s newspaper really is tomorrow’s fishwrap, perhaps the Times would do best by offering the current day’s news news via subscription, micropayment or “watch this longer ad” payment and giving the rest away for “free.” Bloggers would be more likely to link to articles because they’d know they would still be around in two weeks, people might read a lot more of the history behind a current news event because the old news is more available, and the Times would get both advertising revenue and a great plug for their premium service by adding sidebar forward-links to today’s headlines related to the story being read.

Is ABC’s Primetime Live fleecing the sick and dying?

While I’m on the subject of skepticism, James Randi has posted an infuriating article about ABC’s recent Primetime Live program Is ‘John of God’ a Healer or a Charlatan? Searching for Hope and Health in a Remote Brazilian Village. João Teixeira, AKA John of God, is a very successful faith-healer — successful in the sense that he makes lots of money and fame by performing standard carney tricks to con desperately ill patients with nothing to lose, not in the sense that he actually heals anybody. As you might guess from the subtitle, ABC’s spin is along the lines of “Wow, this is really amazing stuff, and while we can’t know for sure we’ll bend over backwards to make you believe it’s all true.”

I’m usually mildly pissed off by junk like this from the press, but something about Randi’s commentary really boils my blood this time. Maybe it’s the fact that ABC so clearly wanted to interview Randi not to give their audience real insight, not even to provide balance (as if it was appropriate for a so-called “investigative report” to give equal weight between a con artist’s lie and facts). They clearly wanted Randi just to provide cover, so they could tell their story and yet still claim to have interviewed a token skeptic (you’ll note that Randi doesn’t even appear in the print version of the story I link to above.)

Then again, maybe it’s Randi’s brief description of the personal tragedy con men like this cause that brought it all home:

It must be easier just not to care, but I can’t manage that. I must care when I know that John of God will claim more victims, and that I couldn’t stop it. Though I earnestly wish it could be different, based on what we know to be the hard facts, David Ames will not recover from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Lisa Melman will most probably die of breast cancer because she’s decided to forego legitimate surgical help. Mathew Ireland’s brain tumor will still be there and will probably kill him, too. But Jo?o Teixeira will continue to flourish and be worshiped as a god.

Folks, I was in Mexico City on the plaza outside the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe when a young peasant father crawled by me along the rough pavement with an obviously dead infant in his arms, swaddled in a tiny white serape. There were twin tracks of blood behind him from his bleeding knees. He was seeking a miracle. Through the adjacent barred window in the basilica I could hear the coin-sorting machines packaging the money that was pouring into the offering boxes inside. I turned away and wept.

In a St. Louis auditorium I stood in the lobby as paramedics treated a heavy elderly woman who lay in a fetal position on the carpet, white-faced and moaning in agony. Moments before she’d been seized in ecstasy in front of faith healer “Reverend” W. V. Grant, leaping up and down in an adrenaline rush that made her temporarily oblivious to the bone spurs on her arthritic spine that were cutting into her muscle tissues and bringing about internal bleeding. The attendants got her onto two stretchers and into an ambulance. I wept.

Outside an arena in Anaheim, California, my camera crew approached a tiny, thin, Asian boy with twisted legs on worn crutches to ask him if he’d been healed by Peter Popoff, the miracle-worker who he’d told us two hours earlier was “gonna ask Jesus to fix my legs.” When he turned toward us, we saw his tear-streaked face and anguished eyes. The cameraman lowered his camera. “I can’t do this,” he said, and we both turned away and wept.

I’ve had my share of tears and sleepless nights, wondering what I might do to keep people from chasing this chimera. I had another chance in New York City on January 25th, 2005, and I tried.

Rather than expose a fraud, ABC wanted to share his limelight. How many more poor, desperate people will go to Brazil because a “reputable news organization” made it sound like a good idea? How many more head of cattle will João Teixeira be able to buy from what he fleeces off the world’s most unfortunate? How many more rating points will ABC gain from their complicity in his con game?

ABC has blood on its hands — if they were a responsible news organization they would try to undo the damage they’ve done.

SBGI takes a beating

Yow. Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s stock just tumbled by 7.81% today over concerns about lost advertising revenue due to the Stolen Honor flap. To put it into perspective, SPGI’s stock price is now the lowest it’s been in a decade except for a couple weeks in April of 2001. As Lessig points out, that’s a good $60 million they’ve lost in market cap over this.

UPDATE 10-21-04: Sinclair has now backed off from their original plans (along with the plea of No really! We never said pickles!) and the market has responded with an 11% bump.

Broadcast propaganda & free speech

The blogsphere is awash with the news that Sinclair Broadcasting Group is telling its 62 TV stations to broadcast an anti-Kerry documentary, released by the newly-merged and renamed Swift Vets and POWs for Truth. Sinclair will show pre-empt regular night programming, including prime-time, and show the program commercial free.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo reports that former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt has expressed his “objection and concern” in the matter. Adam Thierer over at The Technology Liberation Front is taking the free-speech line, asking:

Where are the defenders of free speech and the First Amendment? This Sinclair episode should be about the easiest First Amendment case study in the world. Sinclair should be free to air whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want, regardless of what their intentions may be.

He ends with something of a platitude: Free speech for all. No exceptions.

If Sinclair was a website, movie producer, newspaper or even a cable channel I could accept his whole Free speech for all argument. But Sinclair is an over-the-air broadcaster, and thus has been granted a license for exclusive use of a public resource, namely a slice of spectrum, in exchange for providing a public interest, convenience or necessity.

Thierer can argue that it is not appropriate for a government to make such a bargain, and I’m sympathetic to that viewpoint myself. But since Sinclair has long benefited from this agreement and the resulting high barriers to entry for new competition, it’s hard to see the sense in his call for universal free speech — unless by “no exceptions” he means I can now set up my own unlicensed TV-broadcast tower without the FCC coming to shut me down. I find it hard to feel sorry for the lap-dog and all her restrictions, while the rest of us farm animals sit out in the rain.

The Living Room Candidate

The Living Room Candidate site is a great browse. The best part it’s not just a repository — they also provide commentary, how the vote played out, and the ability to browse through different types of ads, like Backfire (using the candidates own words against him later) and the ever-popular Fear.