Archive for July 2007

Joe Laptop is the new Joe Lunchbox

July 30, 2007

Originally Published on NevadaNewsmakers.com, 7/30/2007 2:40:07 PM

As a creature of newstalk radio, the Reasonable Reporter couldn’t help but observe that the YouTube debate was talk radio, with faces. Great product, repackaged, like the Green Day version of the Bobby Fuller hit “I Fought the Law.” It sounds convincingly new, and it’s cool for the next twelve minutes or so.

But the CNN-YouTube production was neither as spontaneous as talk radio, which doesn’t pre-record calls, nor as diverse. Talk radio callers include Joe Lunchbox. YouTube questioners are strictly Joe Laptop.

Nobody went out of their way to point it out, but the Web 2.0 revolution is driven by a relatively select segment of society. Joe Laptop has more than a passing acquaintance with technology. He can video himself, use non-linear digital editing to create a message, and then upload to YouTube. He also owns, or has access to the necessary equipment.

Web 2.0 is hailed as the great level playing field for media access, and that’s theoretically speaking. It makes great smoke and mirrors for politicians, who can, AT LAST, take questions from “real Americans,” as if they couldn’t have done it before. It would be surprising, though, if even a small portion of YouTube voters are wondering how to feed the kids tonight.

Notable moment – Everybody smokes, but nobody inhales. “I don’t support a draft but I do believe women should register.”

Also notable – It took GOP front-runners less than a week to announce that they’ve opted out of their own YouTube debate, scheduled for September. They also announced that next week, they will lie down behind the CNN satellite truck and allow it to back over them.

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Neutralizing the Britney-Lindsay-Paris effect

The Reasonable Reporter has just conducted some long overdue research, to fill in knowledge gaps about someone named Lindsay Lohan, whose every indiscretion is a cultural obsession. As everyone else on the planet apparently already knows, Lohan’s racked up enough professional credits as an actress, singer and sex symbol to burden her with the angst of a 45-year-old… but she’s only 21.

Lohan was also the subject, along with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, of a Newsweek poll earlier this year, measuring whether parents feel worried about the impact on young girls of this trio’s persistently publicized misbehavior. You know, drug use, drunk driving, and other ill-considered acts that might stem naturally from a good party on a bad night.

Hmmm. Seems like only yesterday parents were worried about Madonna, who played fast-and-loose with Catholic symbolism, ushered into our vernacular the term “boy toy,” and made the black lace bra into a wardrobe necessity for every 15-year-old girl in America. Ah, for the good old days. Madonna, at least, was a health nut, and a spiritual striver, who led her dancers in prayer each night before venturing onstage to deliver an hour of disco soft porn.

Any parent seeking to neutralize the Britney-Lindsay-Paris effect should meditate on the Madonna years. Madonna’s defining moments in the news media did not focus on her personal weaknesses. They pondered instead her adeptness at self-promotion, and her instinct for marketable naughtiness.

Madonna was never on the defensive, and she certainly never melted down. She mocked those who mocked her. She was tough, and she always came out on top.

Remember the reporter who tried to shame her by asking if the outrage caused by her explicitly kinky book, “Sex,” would also make her more wealthy? Madonna did not hedge, or lapse into self-recrimination, or vow to check herself immediately into rehab. Instead, she gazed steadily at the reporter, and almost, but not quite, smirked.

“Yeah.” She said. “So lucky me.”

When parents issue guiding principles to little girls they almost always forget to include a frank lesson on the pure economics of sexual allure. This is a critically important lesson for girls, who will inevitably have to control the distribution channels for their own allure. And who will always be subject to the influence of high-profile vamps with careers punctuated by tantalizing episodes of misbehavior.

The difference between the pathetic psyches of Britney-Lindsay-Paris and the iron grip of Madonna is a solid understanding that their principal task in the world they inhabit is to be singing, dancing, fashion-sporting cash registers, and to embrace that role wholeheartedly. For women who lack Madonna’s clarity, it’s a tough gig. If our girls were more attuned to the transactional nature of the Britney-Lindsay-Paris obsession, parents could have the luxury of worrying about something else.

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In Praise of Lobbyists. Sort of.

July 23, 2007

Originally Published on NevadaNewsmakers.com, 7/23/2007 2:57:06 PM

Something is peculiar when lobbyists make predictions about a coming crisis, wherein Nevada citizens will have to, uh — trust lobbyists.

But this is what some of them are saying, as the bell tolls for Nevada’s most senior state legislators, a large and powerful group now facing term limits. The rap goes like this. When the long-timers are termed out, senior lobbyists will be the most experienced people in Carson City. The new, younger legislative leadership will be bullied by the lobbyists. Nevada will, in effect, be governed by the Dreaded Special Interests. This, according to the Dreaded Special Interests.

While the American public certainly views lobbyists with considerable suspicion, everything that can be done to purify the lobbying process has been done. Lobbyists register with the Legislative Counsel Bureau. We know who they work for. We know how much money they contribute, and to whom. We can read their testimony on every single bill, because every word is public record. The lobbyist’s mission is more-or-less clear, until he disappears behind closed doors with legislators. That’s when we lose track of the action.

The Reasonable Reporter is baffled by knee-jerk distrust of lobbyists, and more baffled still when it’s the lobbyists who suggest that lobbyists are not to be trusted.

Lobbyists have traditionally positioned themselves as expert resources for a part-time legislature. And they are experts. Lobbyists testify, and legislative committee members ask questions. If the legislators were the experts, it would presumably be the other way around.

That’s not to denigrate the elected ones, many of whom are damn smart, and also in possession of certain expertise. But citizen legislators would have to be gods to fully understand the wide range of issues on which they are able to affect lives, transactions and property. Who knows more, for instance, about the effect on civil liberties from DNA collection, a realtor, a rancher, a teacher, a waitress, or the ACLU? Same can be said about business issues. There might be a handful of lawmakers who are steeped in the particulars of insurance, banking, energy or any other business they regulate. The rest learn about those issues from lobbyists.

Lobbyists, of course, are the voice of the Dreaded Special Interests. You know, businesspeople, teachers, cops, church members. Those Dreaded Special Interests who live in the state, pay taxes, and who are busy working for a living from February until June, with no time to hang out in Carson City hallways while the the laws they will have to abide by are passed.

Given the importance of their function, it’s disconcerting to hear lobbyists warn that some day soon we’ll be at the mercy of – Holy Builders Association, Batman! – lobbyists.

The other thing lobbyists do is strategize. They devise endlessly odd and imaginative methods and alliances in the service of mutually desirable outcomes. Could a whispering campaign against themselves be such an invention? A wonderfully unexpected way to take the focus off the other parties in the closed door discussions? The Reasonable Reporter is suitably teased, and looks forward with great interest to the next phase.

Nice Pants

July 16, 2007

Originally Published on NevadaNewsmakers.com, 7/16/2007 11:23:36 AM

Chris Dodd’s khaki slacks are frayed at the hems, as if he’s worn them repeatedly with shoes that allow them to drag on the ground. They’re neatly frayed, if such thing is possible, not ragged, and there are no hanging threads. All the same, it’s a distraction. Is it charmingly unpretentious? Or is it horrifyingly unpresidential when the chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban affairs seeks the White House in a pair of khakis with frayed hems?

The Reasonable Reporter can’t help but wonder whether the slacks are a conscious wardrobe choice. Pulled, perhaps, from a closet hung with dozens of pairs of perfectly frayed khakis, calculated to underscore Dodd’s down-to-earth start as a Peace Corps volunteer. Or is this the same brand of wardrobe oversight regularly committed by men from all walks of life? (Whadya mean? I’m just breaking them in!) The kind that spurs a wife to plow unmercifully through his closet with a Salvation Army donation bag, in order to save him from himself?

But this is, after all, a Friday afternoon appearance at a downtown Reno brewpub. And Dodd’s fiery style doesn’t permit audience attention to linger at the hem of his pants. He stands on a slightly raised platform at the end of the room, and rails against the Bush approach to foreign policy. He rails at American auto manufacturers, for balking at the mention of a 50 mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency standard. He rails at Hillary Clinton (Oh so gently, he rails at Clinton… She was right, but she went about it all wrong.) for trying to accomplish health care reform in the basement, in the middle of the night.

He touts his own leadership on the Family Leave Act. It took seven years, and three presidents, he bellows.

Dodd’s voice carries without a microphone, and he turns from side to side to include the entire audience. He jokes about George W. Bush, who, after September 11, told Americans to go shopping. Dodd prompts the assembled Nevadans to say it, too. What did Bush say at a terrible time like that?

“As long as I live, I’ll never forget what he said.” A few voices fill in the blank. He said “go shopping,” and the crowd laughs. The effect is a bit like the opening moments of a Seinfeld episode, where we see a sliver of Jerry’s monologue, delivered to a small, but appreciative group of comedy club patrons.

This is the essence of retail politics. The coffee shop in Iowa, the living room in New Hampshire, the brewery in Reno, Nevada.

Never mind that recent polls show Chris Dodd tied with Dennis Kucinich, pulling about one percent support. He’s here, frayed khakis and all. Many of the 50 or so Nevada Dems gathered at the brewery say they’re doing exactly what the party hoped they’d do, given lavish attention by presidential hopefuls. A handful had also been present in the Latino Business District at noon Friday when Bill Richardson opened his new campaign headquarters, and showed up again on Sunday, at the christening of the Edwards HQ in South Reno. Nevada caucusers, braving July heat, undaunted by tight downtown parking, shopping earnestly in the marketplace of retail politics.

Media bias? Maybe there’s a reason for it.

July 10, 2007

Originally Published on NevadaNewsmakers.com, 7/10/2007 2:46:02 PM

Conservatives complain frequently about media bias.  The news offers a liberal view of the world. Reporters tell stories reflecting their own left-leaning predispositions.   Republicans and other right-of-center players are characterized by the media as stupid, evil, or comically unsophisticated.

It’s time for a closer look at the relationship between the media and the political right, in order to sort out fact from fantasy, and cause from effect.

Conservative politicians and talk show hosts have gleefully seized on surveys confirming that journalists tend to be more liberal than the population at large, without noting that a more liberal outlook on life doesn’t, in and of itself, produce “biased” reporting.  For the purpose of this conversation, we’ll define a biased report as one that features or leads with a point-of-view not embraced by conservatives, and leaves the premise of the story uncontested, or relegates the opposing comments to paragraph 23.

Reporters are  influenced by many things, including their actual experience with the subjects of their reports.  It is simply a fact that Democrats and left-of-center political activists are more savvy at romancing the media, and seem to understand our professional imperatives better than their conservative counterparts.  Not 100 percent of the time, but mostly, and it may account for some perception of bias in the finished media product.

Professional Imperative number one, for working reporters:  I must turn in a story. On time, and as nearly perfect as I can make it.  Although the Reasonable Reporter is loathe to admit it, the perfection imperative takes an unfortunate, but very concrete backseat to the turn-in-a-story imperative. The guy who talks first and most gets primacy.  Seems basic, but half the political population fails to grasp the primacy principle.

Want good coverage? Communicate with reporters regularly.  This does not mean bombarding our email boxes with meaningless daily statements.  “Regularly” isn’t necessarily daily or weekly, but whenever there is significant reason to comment. That includes major announcements or initiatives by your opponents, which are frequent, if not regular.

Return phone calls and email inquiries, even if you have nothing to say.  Acknowledgment is good for a relationship.  You understand this well for business and political relationships, but mystifyingly enough, not for media relationships.

Instruct your staff not to repeat your nasty comments about reporters.  You are not well-served  when they share with us the fact that you hate the media, or they gloat about how well you manage to avoid us. Worse yet is an assistant so certain that she will be validated by the boss for alienating reporters that she emulates your disdain, right to our faces, even as the moments until our deadline are ticking away.

Press conferences are an art and a science. Calling together the media for a badly executed event is worse than having no event at all.  (See comically unsophisticated, above, first paragraph.)

Unfair portrayals cut both ways.  Conservatives tend also to characterize reporters as stupid, or agenda-driven, or comically unsophisticated.  In truth, reporters are people with an inexplicable affinity for a daily regimen that forces us to wade waist-deep into largely unfamiliar information, quickly absorb it, interpret it, clarify it, and then explain it to others.  All within severe time and space constraints, every single day, like clockwork, with scant forgiveness for error.  Few lightweights can keep the pace.

If you don’t think we understand the economics or other underlying reasons for a political position, then offer to teach us something we don’t know.  We are also creatures with an affinity for research, facts, and new info.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of launching a full-scale research effort every time we write a story. That’s not laziness, that’s business reality. Most of us don’t claim to be geniuses. But most of us are bright enough.  If no compelling explanation is given, none will be mentioned in the story. That’s not bias, that’s failure to communicate.

I’m Late for a Party at Brookings

July 2, 2007

Originally Published on NevadaNewsmakers.com, 7/2/2007 2:45:13 PM

Hello 911? Please hurry! I’m late for a party at Brookings!

The line of taxi cabs for hire at Union Station in the nation’s capital stretches the length of a city block. Each car has a plastic bubble on the roof with the name of the company that owns it. Above the company names, all the bubbles bear the same phrase. “Call 911.”

Could the District of Columbia be the only place in the nation where 911 is not the number for emergency services? All over town, cab tops instruct you to “Call 911.”   Really? Dial 911 to get a cab?

Having inhabited the squalid inner city of a large-and-gleaming metropolitan market for 13 years, the Reasonable Reporter should have remembered a crime spree there that prompted demands from cab drivers for a universal distress signal. The signal they contemplated was some kind of flashing light in the bubble, triggered from inside the car.

A flashing bubble on a moving cab would mean, loosely, “Holy Mother of God, this guy in the backseat just jabbed a gun into my neck! Please help me!” Various ideas for a distress signal were discussed, but “Call 911” was not among them.

With tourists converging in D. C. from all over the world, it hardly seems plausible that nobody mistakenly calls 911 for a cab. (What Would Borat Do?) But the folks at the D.C. Taxi Commission, say nope. Never happens, or at least it’s never reported to them. Would the folks at emergency dispatch corroborate that story?

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Fuels buildup a myth? Fires suppression budgets inflated?

Let it burn?

As blame is layered upon accusation regarding the Angora fire, here’s an interesting analysis of the big picture. Thoreau Institute researcher Randal O’Toole says he spent a year sifting through the national fire data, and came to some unexpected conclusions.

In Summary: Much of what you know about forest fires is wrong. Congress is the culprit. If you have time, download the long version. It’s only six pages. If you’re pressed for time, download the Op-Ed version. http://www.ti.org/fire.html

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This is what got feminists ticked off in the first place…

 

Chaz Higgs is guilty, according to a jury, of intentionally jabbing his wife with a needle loaded up with a drug that killed her.  That same jury recommended a life sentence with a possibility of parole after twenty years. The wife, politician Kathy Augustine was ambitious, demanding and controversial, says the Las Vegas Review Journal’s account of things. This is a situation that would have driven members of the now-fading Feminist Matriarchy to publish angry books. That was then. Now, it’s simply a “dramatic story of power, passion and poison” for the faux-news crime shows on the networks.