July 31, 2004


Besides having an awesome name, the Bloomington Pantagraph has charged that Michael Moore doctored the image of their paper that he showed in Fahrenheit 9/11:

A scene early in the movie that shows newspaper headlines related to the legally contested presidential election of 2000 included a shot of The Pantagraph's Dec. 19, 2001, front page, with the prominent headline: "Latest Florida recount shows Gore won election."

The paper says that headline never appeared on that day. It appeared in a Dec. 5, 2001, edition, but the headline was not used on the front page. Instead, it was found in much smaller type above a letter to the editor, which the paper says reflects "only the opinions of the letter writer."

For those that care, here's a screenshot of the image:


Now, granted, this is flashed on the screen for 1.5 seconds in a collage of other headlines and makes little difference to the main thrust of the movie. But, to the point I've made before, if he's willing to do this kind of thing for a side story, why should I trust anything he has to say about the important things: the oil pipelines, the Saudi relations, the recruiting techniques.

Posted by richard at 12:13 PM | Comments (7)

July 28, 2004

Debunking 10 myths

Brink Lindsey, author of Against the Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism, has an interesting article on 10 Truths About Trade at Reason. Good ammunition for those of us who get in arguments about free trade with people every once in a while.

Posted by richard at 03:03 PM | Comments (2)

July 25, 2004

Makes You Strong

This is so going to be tried this summer at the beach house: Guinness ice cream.

1 cup water

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

1 1/2 cups evaporated milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup Guinness stout

In a heavy saucepan whisk together the water and the cornstarch and simmer the mixture over moderate heat, whisking, for 2 minutes. Add the milks, the salt, and the sugar, heat the mixture over moderately low heat, whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved, and remove the pan from the heat. Let the mixture cool completely, stir in the Guinness, and freeze the mixture in an ice-cream freezer according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 quart

If we add this to the Guinness ginger cake Julia makes (from Grammercy Tavern's cookbook), we'll have a whole Guinness dessert tray.

[via A Small Victory, via Instapundit]

Posted by richard at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2004

Carbon Suit

I linked to a study below which called into question the primary cause of global warming. Undeterred, 8 states and the city of New York have decided to sue 5 power companies to force them to curtail emissions of carbon dioxide. Elliot Spitzer is, once again, Leading the Charge in This High Profile Case™. Interestingly, in their suit they are gunning for the utility companies as common law "public nuisances".

Posted by richard at 05:44 PM | Comments (1)


Human Rights Watch says that it has documentary evidence to back up the eye witness accounts of the Sudanese government arming, aiding, and abetting the Janjaweed militias terrorizing Darfur.

Will someone please have the guts to use the g-word? "Never again" is sounding hollower day-by-day.

Posted by richard at 02:08 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2004

Global Warming

The Telegraph (somewhat sensationally) reports on the latest studies about global warming. While I'd hesitate to say that we finally have "the truth about global warming," the study by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany is definitely interesting. Basically, it claims that the sun is burning brighter and emitting more energy now, and over the last 150 years, than it has in over 1000. While it's unclear that this accounts for all or most of the global average temperature increase over the last century, it certainly could account for a significant portion.

In my mind, this is just another example of why the Bush administration was right to scrap Kyoto over the complaints of the transnationalists.

First, as this study shows, we don't know enough about the problem (how big it is, what causes it, the degree to which we can change it) to be imposing drastic, world-economy-shaking limits on carbon emissions. Hell, we've only been able to accurately measure temparature for a couple hundred years. It would suck to waste billions limiting carbon emissions only to find that solar output was the real driver and oh, by the way, it's about to drop and get much colder.

Second, while imposing significant costs, the accords were far from "reversing" the warming of the last century – in fact, they only promised to return developed economies to carbon outputs that were a fraction below 1990 levels.

Third, Kyoto neglected to put caps on developing nations like China and India, which are sure to provide the bulk of the increase over the next 25 years.

We are, in my mind, much better off with a growing economy that can afford the studies necessary to understand the scope of the problem and the R&D to design technology (like new methods of carbon sequestration and massive carbon sinks) to fix it. Human output of carbon has been growing quickly for 150 years and, even if we put the severest curbs in place today, will continue at high levels for decades, if not centuries. The limits of our knowledge and our technology now means that a "reversal" is practically impossible without destroying all of our gains in standard of living since the industrial revolution (which might be the point for some in the anti-globalist crowd).

I am reminded somewhat of supercomputers. Some very smart people at a government lab were working on some very hard modelling problems that require years of computer time to solve. They were trying to decide how big a supercomputer to buy with the money they had in their budget. So, being geeks, they plotted price/performance over time, extrapolated Moore's law and historical trends, and what they found was that they were actually better off not buying a supercomputer now, but waiting a year and buying one then that was much faster. They could then start their calculations 12 months later, but still finish before any computer they could buy today would be able. This is the weird logic of what's possible when the time frames of technological progress outstrip the time frames of the problem to be solved. (In fact, you might argue that this is the very definition of technology, or of a tool.)

There is, of course, a limit to this line of reasoning because if everyone decides to wait a year then the supercomputers of tomorrow will never be built, because no one will invest in them today. But the point still holds: except for the coordination problem, i.e. freeloaders, if we want to solve five-year problems today, we are probably better off getting together and investing in building faster computers for the first 2 years.

My belief is that the same dynamic holds with carbon output – we are better off waiting for the better technology, but we should make sure that some of the returns from our carbon-producing economies today are invested in the right technologies. Kyoto, and the rest of the chicken-little reaction, is not the answer.

Posted by richard at 12:53 AM | Comments (5)

July 19, 2004

Saving Hollywood

Kevin Laws, guest blogging at Due Diligence, has a very perceptive article on what Hollywood needs to do to save itself from digital obsolescence. Basically, don't repeat the mistakes of the RIAA. The whole thing is worth a read, but his recommendations are:

  1. Work with DivX to incorporate digital rights management in the standard, no matter how imperfect. AACS is the movie industry's equivalent of SDMI, a consortium of entertainment companies creating a proprietary standard for sharing video. AACS is DOA because it is too late, just as SDMI came too late. It was supposedly announced July 14th, but the web site still says "coming soon" and if you have images off, it still says "coming July 14th". Instead, work with DivX. Allow it to continue to support any movie ripped freely, but with an optional simple encryption with a separately provided key tied to a specific device. Users register "allowed" devices with a third party service and when they pay, it automatically downloads and installs keys that allow the device to play any specific video. It is important for the industry that this become part of the already winning DivX and XviD standards, rather than a proprietary solution.

    Free copies of the exact same movies will still be available for download because people will rip the DVDs, just like MP3s are available for almost any song downloaded from iTunes. People still download from iTunes, because as a mass market experience it is better. For those that value their time more than a few dollars, it will be the obvious choice. For the students who don't have the money, they wouldn't have shelled out $50 for a season of the Simpsons anyway.

  2. Release everything. If I can't get the Simpsons legally, I have that much more incentive to learn how to use illegal file-sharing services. Rather than staging things individually, just make the entire catalog available. It's still OK to wait until the theater or TV season ends, but it better be available online soon afterwards.
  3. Support the infrastructure. Once DivX supports some form of moderate DRM, Hollywood needs an iTunes-like experience for video. They should instantly make their entire catalog available to any service that wants to provide it on the same terms as DVD releases (minus the costs of physical distribution), spurring the same sort of innovation in that area as we've seen in music.

Like I said, insightful. But probably not going to happen in the time frame he'd suggest. Like the RIAA, the MPAA would rather try to use their market power to legislate their continued dominance through strengthening the IP laws. But we can all hope.

Posted by richard at 04:46 PM | Comments (0)

Oh boy

More potentially explosive stuff about Iran. Ash-sharq al-Awsat is reporting
that a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards allegedly coordinated with Ayman al-Zawahiri (bin Laden's reputed number two man) to provide "safe passage" for 9 of the September 11th hijackers through Iran.

Add to this the continued reports that al-Qaeda members are being given sanctuary in Iran – assertions that may have been bolstered by the recent surrender of Khalid bin Odeh bin Mohammed Al-Harbi to the Saudis at their embassy in Teheran. Also the report from the New York Times on Sunday that "Iran had ordered guards at its border stations not to stamp the passports of Qaeda members from Saudi Arabia who were moving through Iran after training at terrorist camps in Afghanistan." This, of course, gives Iran deniability ("some may have entered illegally") and it helps the terrorists avoid the additional scrutiny that an Iranian stamp brings on entering the country.

The story is picking up steam. And contrary to some who say that the Iraq War has sapped our ability to tackle Iran militarily if we have to (and I don't think that is a given yet), I've argued that strategically there was a huge advantage to having Iran surrounded.

Watch this space.

Posted by richard at 03:06 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2004


Virginia Postrel points out the dispicable affirmation in the Texas Republican Party platform "that the United States of America is a Christian nation." Ummm, not my America.... sorry.

Posted by richard at 06:24 PM | Comments (0)

Capitalist Discourse

You cannot escape it, even by slipping into Harry Potter's universe. At least, so says French literary theorist Ilias Yocaris:

On the face of it, the world of Harry Potter has nothing in common with our own. Nothing at all, except one detail: like ours, the fantastic universe of Harry Potter is a capitalist universe.
The apprentice sorcerers are also consumers who dream of acquiring all sorts of high-tech magical objects, like high performance wands or the latest brand-name flying brooms, manufactured by multinational corporations. Hogwarts, then, is not only a school, but also a market: subject to an incessant advertising onslaught, the students are never as happy as when they can spend their money in the boutiques near the school. There is all sorts of bartering between students, and the author heavily emphasizes the possibility of social success for young people who enrich themselves thanks to trade in magical products.

And this French Marxist objects:
We have, then, an invasion of neoliberal stereotypes in a fairy tale. The fictional universe of Harry Potter offers a caricature of the excesses of the Anglo-Saxon social model: under a veneer of regimentation and traditional rituals, Hogwarts is a pitiless jungle where competition, violence and the cult of winning run riot.

Finally, we see the true harm of all of this. In real life, as in the Matrix Reloaded, the myth, the prophesy, the fantasy, the escape only exists as an additional form of control.
Harry Potter, probably unintentionally, thus appears as a summary of the social and educational aims of neoliberal capitalism. Like Orwellian totalitarianism, this capitalism tries to fashion not only the real world, but also the imagination of consumer-citizens. The underlying message to young fans is this: You can imagine as many fictional worlds, parallel universes or educational systems as you want, they will still all be regulated by the laws of the market. Given the success of the Harry Potter series, several generations of young people will be indelibly marked by this lesson.

No word yet on how Yocaris is able to break through the impenetrable shroud of capitalist consumerist-imaginings to pen such an insightful piece. The French, and their cultural quotas, are obviously the last bastion of hope in the resistance against the irresistible.

Dan Drezner has more.

Update: Steve Sachs takes the review apart.

Posted by richard at 06:07 PM | Comments (1)

Translated Comments

Omar at IRAQ THE MODEL has more of his translated comments from the BBC Arabic forums. As usual, they are worth a read. While it's difficult to tell how representative the ones he chooses to translate are – he didn't post statistics this time – it is very interesting to see the split between Iraqi opinion and that of other Arab states.

Posted by richard at 06:04 PM | Comments (0)

This Land is Your Land

Bush & Kerry do Woody Guthrie. This is the funniest thing I've seen in a long time [via Winds Of Change]. Warning, it's a Flash file with music so it can take a while to download.

Posted by richard at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

Charming Idiots

Here are the bullhorn-toting fools that graced Union Square today:
The Bush Regime Engineered 9/11
Beyond the normal Haliburton, oil-pipeline in Afghanistan rhetoric, their major contribution seemed to be that there was no way a plane could hit the Pentagon because, like, fighter jets could get there "in seconds... well, minutes at least".

And, yes, this is the first time I was glad to have a camera on my cell phone.

Posted by richard at 04:42 PM | Comments (0)

Joe Wilson Again

T McGee points out that I should give Joe Wilson some space to defend himself since I made a big deal below about his misleading statements. So here's his defense in Salon and his letter to the Washington Post, to present the other side.

It doesn't do much for me honestly. His claim that his wife had nothing to do with his selection to go to Niger has slowly morphed into a weaker one that "the decision to send me to Niger was not made, and could not be made, by Valerie" – but only after documents proving she recommended him have come to light.

He has admitted that he got "confused" when he talked to reporters and said that he knew the documents were forged because the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong". Of course, when he said that he had never seen the documents – but he may have heard about them from news reports on the IAEA's findings. But no matter, it's perfectly acceptable to just get confused when making damning accusations about national security.

Finally, his claims about the veracity of the sixteen words in the SOTU were overblown to begin with, given that he only visited one country in Africa and, in fact, brought back some evidence that the Iraqis had "sought" uranium there. We now know from the Butler report that the British actually believed that uranium was sought in both Niger and the Congo, with an agreement potentially reached with the latter country.

Anyway, the point is that Wilson was the one making the strong claims about "lies" all those months ago, and despite the warm reception he got from the media then, he still needs to be held to a high burden of proof. Anyone who names his book The Politics of Truth should come under extra scrutiny as far as I'm concerned.

Update: Here's an article in the New York Times that sums up the African uranium question fairly well.

Another update: Michael Getler, ombudsman for the Washington Post responds to Wilson's letter.

Posted by richard at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2004

Iraqi insights

Mohammed at Iraq the Model has an insightful post:

Our Muslim and Arab leaders are good at making their worst defeats look like great victories and they're great experts in this field. And I see that the free world is an expert in making their great victories look like defeats and this is the reason why Arab leaders lose again and again while the free world triumphs again with less sacrifices.

He then goes on to argue for why the war was justified. Meanwhile, Alaa at the the Mesopotamian has a sarcastic and scathing criticism of other Arab countries:
Well, of course the Arabs are our brothers in so far as we are an Arabic speaking people. And of course we don’t wish them harm. And how many sacrifices have the Iraqis made for their sake? So, we wish them well, generally speaking. However, how we wish they could be less stupid, less cruel and more understanding. Also it would be nice if they could become less selfish, less hypocritical, less addicted to lying, treachery and jealousy. That would be nice. And perhaps they could show a little more concern about the murder of our people, the destruction of our livelihood, the sabotage of our national assets and infrastructure. It would be even nicer if they could actually stop perpetrating these rather unfriendly acts.

Read the rest, it's worth it.

Posted by richard at 02:59 PM | Comments (1)

Iran and al-Qaeda

In light of the recent escalation of tension with Iran, it will interesting to see what effect, if any, this revelation from the 9/11 commission will have:

The senior official also told TIME the report will note that Iranian officials approached al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S. But that offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia, TIME reported.
The story does note that "there was no evidence that Iran helped al Qaeda with the Sept. 11 attacks", despite the fact that "eight and 10 of the 14 hijackers involved in gaining control of the four aircraft used on Sept. 11 passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001."

Posted by richard at 02:34 PM | Comments (0)

C. S. Lewis and Poststructuralism

I may be alone in finding this interesting, but here's an excellent essay on the way C. S. Lewis anticipated weak versions of poststructuralist deconstruction while rejecting strong anti-foundational and relativist versions.

Posted by richard at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2004

On F911

Irfan Khawaja has an essay which criticizes the "schizophrenic ambivalence" that characterizes the Critical Reception of Fahrenheit 9/11:

Thus Paul Krugman tells us in The New York Times that the film promotes "a few unproven conspiracy theories," and induces its viewers to believe "some things that probably aren't true." Having done so, he then praises the film's "appeal to working-class Americans" and its "public service" for having manipulated us in the right way.

William Raspberry describes Fahrenheit 9/11 in The Washington Post as an "overwrought piece of propaganda," a "110-minute hatchet job that doesn't even pretend to be fair"-and for good measure, as dishonest, lacking in objectivity, and partially fabricated. That doesn't stop him, of course, from praising it for doing a "masterful job," for having the right "attitude" and for (literally) demonizing George W. Bush.

David Edelstein describes Fahrenheit 9/11 in Slate as disgusting, lamenting its "boorish, bullying" qualities, and describing it as "an abuse of power"; in the same breath, he tells us that the film "delighted" him, and that he "celebrates" its sheer panache.

Todd Gitlin's review in Open Democracy calls Fahrenheit 9/11 a "shoddy work": the film's "sloppy insinuations, emotional blackmail and all-around demagoguery," he argues, are an affront to one's "conscience," and make it the moral equivalent of a beer commercial. The same conscientious concern induces Gitlin to describe Fahrenheit 9/11 somewhat paradoxically as a moral necessity. Meanwhile, he lionizes Moore himself as a "master demagogue."

Juan Cole describes the film on his weblog as making "no sense," as "inaccurate" and as "full of illogic"; having said so, he goes out of his way to tell us that he found it "inspired." Stanley Kaufmann in The New Republic calls the film "slipshod in its making, juvenile in its trappings," and in considerable part, "contextually inane"-indeed, as "debased," "smug," and "regrettable." Having filled a column full of invective of this sort, he ends his review by praising Moore's fans for the "ardor" with which they've received his film.

He continues to discuss this genre of "our-propaganda-good-their propaganda-bad" reviews.
Moore's film, we're told, is unfair, impolite, unsubtle, unwise, obnoxious, tendentious, and maddeningly self-contradictory—all [The New York Times'] Scott's terms, not mine. And yet, Scott insists, Moore is a "credit to the republic" for having made the film despite this. It seems not to have occurred to Scott that once you concede that crap like Fahrenheit 9/11 is a "credit to the republic," you've already conceded that the republic is itself a piece of crap—at which point it seems futile to insist that the film is but "a partisan rallying cry, an angry polemic, a muckraking inquisition into the use and abuse of power."

Posted by richard at 05:12 PM | Comments (5)

July 10, 2004

Yellowcake Redux

More on uranium from Niger, including some doubt cast on Joe Wilson's account of his infamous trip. See, it turns out he didn't tell the truth. [Instapundit]

Posted by richard at 12:58 PM | Comments (3)

July 09, 2004

18 Tir

Today is the fifth anniversary of the July 9 Iranian student demonstrations. 18th of Tir : Anniversary of July 9, 1999. (Although in the Iranian calendar it actually happened yesterday).


I glad that Bush made a strong statement to commemorate this day and support the student movement. I've heard it said that he is the first head-of-state to mark the event, and if so, I'm proud that he did. (So far, Kerry seems to have not made any reference – if I'm wrong, please let me know).

Pejman Yousefzadeh has several links, including to the BBC retrospective and news from yesterday's protests in Iran.

Andrew Sullivan has more.

As does the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran.

Posted by richard at 12:00 PM | Comments (7)

July 08, 2004

More Darfur

I talked below about the crisis in Sudan, when I gave Julia an anniversary present of aid to Darfur.

Now we find that France, like they did in Rwanda, opposes action to stop the genocide. How do they characterize the situation, which the UN calls "the world's worst humanitarian crisis"?

[French junior Foreign Minister Renaud] Muselier also dismissed claims of "ethnic cleansing" or genocide in Darfur.

"I firmly believe it is a civil war and as they are little villages of 30, 40, 50, there is nothing easier than for a few armed horsemen to burn things down, to kill the men and drive out the women," he said.

Yes, and those armed horsemen can take out thousands of "little villages" when backed by the Sudanese air force.

Rather than intervening, the French wish the Sudanese would just "get over the crisis so their country is pacified" – which would obviously be good for French oil interests in the country.

Granted the US could do more, but at least we're pushing hard (unilaterally?) for action. And at least Powell is warming up the label, citing "indicators and elements that would start to move you toward a genocidal conclusion."

Update: Instapundit links to a summary of a roundtable discussion on the situation.

Posted by richard at 12:47 PM | Comments (6)

July 07, 2004

Sixteen Words?

Do you remember them? They caused quite a stir during the SOTU – leading to some of the loudest charges that "Bush lied!"

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
It now seems hard to dispute them. Despite the fact that the corroborating document that the US had in its possession turned out to be a fake (the handiwork of an Italian forger), the British intelligence agencies have continued to stick by their assessment, which was based on other, including humint, sources.

A soon-to-be-released inquiry into British intelligence failures will likely vindicate the claim, concluding "that this claim was reasonable and consistent with the intelligence."

Of course, don't look for this to get the same attention as the original controversy, and don't expect any changed minds about Bush's duplicity.

Update: watched CNN Headlines News last night, and they actually referenced this Financial Times article and the forthcoming Butler report. Unfortunately, they only mentioned the fact that the 45-minute claim "which Blair used to justify the war in Iraq" was not supported by the evidence. No mention of the uranium from Niger part.

So why is it okay for me to only talk about one part and not mention the rest, but not okay for Headline News. Two reasons. First, I never claimed to be objective – treat these pages as an extended op-ed and balance with other commentary. On the other hand, I will try to be honest. Second, and maybe more importantly for me, the new information in the report (i.e. that the uranium claim was legit) should be more newsworthy than the umpteenth reiteration that the 45-minute claim was bogus. So why ignore it?

Update: Reuters' take also ignores the uranium aspect. [Instapundit]

Posted by richard at 09:00 PM | Comments (11)

Arabic class

Just thought I'd update everyone on my attempt to learn Arabic. Basically I got about as far as I could on my own, listening to the tapes and writing the lessons in the book, and it was starting to get hard without anyone to speak to (and learn vocabulary from).

So last night I started Arabic classes at NYU. I've got two hour-and-fifty-minute classes a week for the next six weeks. I'm a bit ahead of the rest of the class in writing, since I've practiced a bit, but I'm already learning a lot from the speaking and listening exercises.

Hopefully, someday I'll be able to read al-Jazeera in Arabic.

Posted by richard at 04:22 PM | Comments (1)

July 06, 2004

Iran chooses sides

And it's the other one.

  1. They refuse to comply with IAEA requests to open up their nuclear program and should be "more forthcoming" about their cooperation with the nuclear watchdog.
  2. They support the insurgency in Iraq, funneling millions in aid a month to Moqtada al-Sadr and other militants.
  3. They forced 8 British sailors into Iranian waters, took them prisoner, and paraded them on TV with blindfolds. [via Drudge]
  4. Two security guards from the Iranian mission to UN were caught videotaping potential targets in New York, and were expelled for "activities inconsistent with their diplomatic status". Although the Iranians claim they were just on vacation and taking photos, later reports from US officials said that they were surreptitiously recording bridges and buildings with cameras concealed under their coats.
  5. Al-Sabah newspaper in Baghdad reports that Iranian border guards have repeatedly fired on Iraqi outposts. [via Iraq the Model]
  6. Fox News is reporting that Iranian intelligence officers were captured in Baghdad with explosives. [via Instapundit]

This has the potential to escalate quickly.

Posted by richard at 10:10 PM | Comments (2)

July 04, 2004

Liberal Media.

I have had a request for some time now to go beyond my anecdotal (and sometimes snarky) posts about liberal media bias, and deliver a more coherent critique. Mike F. wants to know whether I really believe that the media is biased, and if so, why I think that when outlets such as Fox News, the Washington Times, and Wall Street Journal exist. This topic has also been the subject of several e-mail discussions with Brad A. as well.

So I thought it worth spending a bit of my fourth of July weekend spelling out my reasoning when I say, yes, the media is liberal, and yes, it matters.


Before I do, though, I want to make clear that I don't think that liberal bias is the only (or even predominant) factor that leads to bad reporting. In fact, I think that there are three other main factors that contribute to sloppy, one-sided journalism:

  1. Laziness – it is often easier to fit the facts into a story you already know, than to discover the story hidden in the facts. In addition, partially because of the demands of 24 hour news channels and web sites, there seems to be less oversight and fact-checking, to make sure that the facts are accurate. See, for instance, these e-mails from a BBC editor lamenting the fact that "a significant number of BBC news reports are untrustworthy and littered with errors because the corporation's journalists fail to check their facts". The Greg Packer phenomenon is another example.
  2. Commercialization – the consolidation of the media into the hands of huge conglomerates drives home the fact that news outlets are out to make a buck. While it's easy to overemphasize this, and imagine it a new trend (when were news papers ever not out to sell more papers?), as always it's worth taking into account the incentives that drive the news media. This trend could argue for news outlets that either cater to the, presumably conservative, interests of their corporate owners and advertisers or proliferate sensational, anti-administration scandals (a la Monica Lewinsky) that drive audiences.
  3. Access – journalists need to cultivate and protect access to people in power in order to further their careers. From a game-theoretic point-of-view, journalism is a repeatable game, where the players make choices based on the understanding that they will play the game again tomorrow with the same people. This can obviously lead to favoring people in power (whether the press corps with Bush or CNN with Saddam) so that privileged positions can be protected.

These factors can also reinforce or oppose each other in complicated ways. Laziness combined with commercialization can lead to sensationalized, "manufactured" stories like Laci Peterson and Jennifer Smart where the news coverage basically is the story. Commercial interests in promoting scandal may conflict with the need to protect access. Also, short- and long-term incentives can conflict such that assets like "brand" and "journalistic reputation" are in tension with self-interested positions on specific issues. Finally, second-order effects might dominate is some situations. So, while one might assume that profit-maximizing corporations might want news that appeals to the broadest base of consumers, ones driven by advertisers might actually be driven to appeal to a smaller, yet more affluent and hence "valuable", subset.

There are also difficulties in dealing with a particular moment in time and how that relates to larger trends, for instance the current liberal frustration with being out of power in Congress, the executive, and by some accounts, the judiciary.

All this is even more complicated by the interplay between "objective news" and editorial opinion. If the New York Times fills it's op-ed section with liberal opinions (or the Wall Street Journal with conservative ones) but their "news" reporting is unbiased, are they part of the "liberal media"? What about cable news channels where news and commentary are not as clearly separated? Can we avoid assigning a label (liberal/conservative) based on editorial content? On the other hand, is it reasonable to believe that editors that select conservative columnists are going to be less selective in choosing and editing news stories? It's complicated.

So, I'm not coming at this from a simplistic model of the way the media works. But I do think that problems I've mentioned above are exaggerated and amplified by a insular and monolithic world-view, namely a liberal one, that dominates in journalistic circles. When a reporter, and all of her colleagues, are liberal, the meta-narrative that a lazy story will fit into will be a liberal one.

Anecdote and Argument

Anecdotally, it's easy to pick apart specific stories in specific papers or channels. But, admittedly, selected examples of purported bias, like the man-on-the-street interviews so often complained about, are not particularly compelling if you don't already believe the story line. But I do want to list a few anecdote-driven arguments that I do find somewhat compelling, before moving on to more substantive evidence.

For me, the cries from liberals of Fox News this, Fox News that, is simply more support for the idea that most media is liberal. In my view, Fox News is the mirror image of CNN, MSNBC, and the network news channels. Yes, it is right-of-center. Yes, it's commentary, tone and choice of stories, particularly in regard to the Iraq war, is more conservative than those of the other cable news channels. But it is no farther right of center than the other channels are left (if this causes some sputtering on your part, be patient and I'll return to this point below in the evidence section). In my mind, the "outrage" of Fox News' bias, should inform liberals more about the plight of conservatives before the advent of Fox News, than about the unfairness of the system. To those that would argue that CNN is just more "objectively true" than Fox News, I would respond that we've reached one of the fundamental difficulties in tackling media bias – the subjective nature of the labels ("conservative", "liberal", "biased", "objective"). Whether your epistemology has room for objective truth or not, you should at least be comfortable admitting that the application of the label "objective truth" is itself subjective.

Second, on one particular issue, the Iraq war, I have been struck by the non-stop flow of people returning from Iraq who claim that their experience does not match up with the view portrayed by the media. While these people, often military personnel, diplomats, or representatives on fact-finding missions, are certainly not unbiased themselves (they went there for a reason and, like all people, have an agenda), the consistent stories they tell and evidence they cite, leads me to conclude that the media is missing an important part of the story. Can I assign this failure unequivocally to bias rather than laziness? No. But the effort put into telling other parts of the story, leads one to presume.

Finally, there is the argument that all people cannot help but inject their personal viewpoints into their reporting. Yes, this is an argument against "objective news". Beyond the question of getting the facts right, a thousand subjective judgments go into the final product we call news. From story selection, to choice of interviewees, to editorial decisions, to headline writing and layout decisions (above-the-fold/below-the-fold), to vocabulary – each contains a potentially unconcious viewpoint. I was particularly struck by Brad A.'s example (admittedly making a different point) of the language choice (either latinate or vulgar) between the majority and the dissent in partial-birth abortion cases. At a minimum, these conscious or unconscious word choices will color the final product. And this is problematic when the evidence (see below) leads us to conclude that there are many more liberals in the news business than in the population. For (final, anecdotal) example, it's difficult (at least for us cynics) to see how an editor this vociferous in his partisanship could lead an unbiased news organization.


But enough anecdote and argument. Is there evidence that the news media is liberal? A first question, which again gets to the heart of the problem, is "What do we mean by liberal?" "More liberal than me" is obviously problematic. Self-reported liberals is equally difficult, because it just moves the subjectivity from the observer to the observed. More liberal than the average (median?) American, sounds right but has measurement problems. More liberal than the average human is probably less relevant for talking about US media, and even harder to measure.

Different studies have used different techniques, some fairly clever, to answer this question and I want to highlight a few of them here.

First, the Media Research Center has a round-up of surveys and studies that discuss the voting record of various groups in the media: White House correspondents, Washington bureau chiefs, Congressional reporters. Some of the information is old, but a particularly striking example is given in Elaine Povich's book, Partners and Adversaries: The Contentious Connection between Congress and the Media. According to a survey, 89% of Washington correspondents voted for Clinton in 1992 and only 7% for Bush. By contrast, 37% of the American public voted for Bush. To put it in perspective, fewer of the journalists voted for Bush than did voters in even the most liberal counties in the country. Even the county containing Cambridge, MA registered 19% for Bush.

The site, which again I want to point out assuredly has its own agenda, has plenty of other statistics.

More recent data can be found in this 2004 study conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Project for Excellence in Journalism. You can read the final report here [PDF]. There are other interesting things in the report, including journalists' concerns over a commercialized editing room, that are worth reading as well. The survey of 547 journalists found that 34% of national journalists consider themselves "liberal" versus 20% of the population at large. Only 7% considered themselves "conservative", versus 33% of the US population. While these self-reported labels are obviously problematic (for instance, are the 54% of national journalists who call themselves "moderates", actually conservatives who are afraid to say so or liberals who, compared to other journalists, consider themselves moderate), the survey points to views about religion as being a key differentiator between the public and journalists, with 58% of the public holding the view that you must believe in God to be moral, while only 6% of journalists do.

These facts argue strongly that the individuals in the media, the reporters, editors, anchors and correspondents, are more liberal than the average American. But what about their reporting? An argument could be made that, recognizing the prevalence of their bias, the journalists would bend over backward to be fair in reporting on issues, if only to allay the suspicion of bias. Perhaps we should expect conservative reporting from a liberal media. Then again, perhaps, as I argued above, we should expect unconscious liberal coverage despite best intentions.

A final study from Yale University, recently released, and dicussed in this article tries to get at an answer to this question. The full report can be found here and is definitely worth reading to fully understand their methodology. The authors build on two previous works. First, the scores calculated by the Americans for Democratic Actions (ADA) which measure the "liberalness" of members of Congress based on how often they vote the ADA's side of the issue. A politician's ADA score (also known as a liberal quotient, or LQ) is often used to rank how far right or left she is, and the rankings tend to track, at least relatively if not absolutely, intuitive feelings of which members of Congress are "more conservative" or "more liberal" than others.

The researchers also build on previous work that tried to judge media bias based on how often they quote from "liberal" vs. "conservative" think tanks. This obviously begs the (perhaps less difficult but still vexing) question of which think tanks are liberal and which conservative. Whether the Brookings Institution is more liberal than RAND Corporation is a typical question.

The authors try to solve this problem by taking a period of time and looking at which think tanks members of Congress quote most often and matching that with their ADA score to assign an imputed ADA score to the think tanks, that rank orders them according to how far left and right they are. This method passes some basic plausibility tests in that the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation get very low scores (since they are quoted most often by hard-right members of Congress) while the Economic Policy Institute gets a high score (for being quoted most by very liberal members of Congress).

Finally, they took a sample of articles from major publications and counted the citations of the same think tanks. They made obvious corrections, like disregarding references that were only used to argue against the think tank's position. They used the metrics to give the media outlets a likely ADA score (using the maximization of a likelihood function – see the paper for details). The paper also has many other points about why this metric is appropriate (or at least the best available).

But before people claim that Amnesty International (11 points above House median) is a "legitimate" organization, whereas the National Right to Life Committee (24 points below the median) is just "bunk" and "propagandists", let me remind you of the subjectivity that we're trying to remove through this exercise. One man's propaganda is another man's gospel truth.

The authors were surprised by the results, which show that all media outlets tested, except for Fox News, were more liberal than the median representative in the House. In fact, Fox News was much closer to the median of the House than any of other news outlets. In their words:

We now compute the difference of a media outlet’s score from 39.0 to judge how centrist it is. Based on sentences as the level of observation (the results of which are listed in Table 8), the Drudge Report is the most centrist, Fox News’ Special Report is second, ABC World News Tonight is third, and CBS Evening is last.
Given that the conventional wisdom is that the Drudge Report and Fox News are conservative news outlets, this ordering might be surprising. Perhaps more surprising is the degree to which the “mainstream” press is liberal. The results of Table 8 show that the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, USA Today, and CBS Evening News are not only liberal, they are closer to the average Democrat in Congress (who has a score of 74.1) than they are to the median of the whole House (who has a score of 39.0).
And here's the figure from the report:
Figure 3
Regardless of whether you buy this specific methodology (and there are obviously some problems with it) it is an attempt to provide a metric that can measure the bias. Whether you should believe it "objective" or just another in a series of biased accounts of media bias is up to you.

If you have references to other studies (or even arguments) that refute these claims, please put them in the comments. In fact, I'd even be happy to see some anecdotes. For now, thought, here are some further readings:

Posted by richard at 11:59 PM | Comments (16)

July 02, 2004

Because it gets your goat

You tell me if this headline is justified: New Swell of Insurgent Violence Rolls into Baghdad. Here are the news items contained in the article, in order:

  1. 3 hostages were released
  2. Rocket attack in Baghdad is partially unsuccessful, destroying the van carrying the launcher, and wounds three security guards
  3. Yemen says it will send troops to Iraq if there is a UN resolution, echoing Jordan
  4. Hardline clerics, including Sadr, complained about the handover in Friday prayers
  5. Insurgents have executed no spectacular, high-profile attacks, in what feels like a quiet week
  6. Hotel owner in Baghdad worries that more violence will happen soon
  7. Two US Marines have been killed in Fallujah in the last two days

Where's the swell? Talk about squeezing events into a meta-narrative....

Posted by richard at 04:19 PM | Comments (0)

Daughters of the Confederacy

Strom Thurmond's biracial daughter claims her birthright (via Asymmetrical Information). Good for her.

Posted by richard at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

Interesting analysis

A new document highlights the sophistication (and success) of the al Qaeda strategy in Iraq:

"We consider that the Spanish government cannot suffer more than two to three strikes before pulling out (of Iraq) under pressure from its own people," said the document obtained Wednesday by AFP from Raido France Internationale's regional office in Beirut.

"If these (Spanish) forces remain after the strikes, the victory of the socialist party would be near-guaranteed and the pullout of Spanish forces from Iraq would be on its agenda," said the document, distributed ahead of the March 11 attacks in Madrid.

Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, elected after the train bombings in Madrid which left 191 people dead in Spain's worst ever terrorist attack, withdrew Spanish troops from the troubled country in May.

The document has apparently been issued in late February, as it refers to the early days of the Islamic new year which fell on February 21.

Like the Zarqawi memo, it gives insight into the kinds of analysis and planning that al Qaeda is capable of.

Posted by richard at 01:26 PM | Comments (0)

Iraq Coverage

Eric Johnson, a Marine who served in Iraq, has an interesting piece on the press coverage of the Iraq war entitled The Untouchable Chief of Baghdad:

Iraq veterans often say they are confused by American news coverage, because their experience differs so greatly from what journalists report. Soldiers and Marines point to the slow, steady progress in almost all areas of Iraqi life and wonder why they don’t get much notice – or in many cases, any notice at all.

Worth a read. And before the mouths begin to froth – yes, I understand that this is anecdotal and does not mean that the media (as a whole) is biased in all things and that everything is hunky-dory in Iraq. But it is an example from someone whose been there and seen it.

Posted by richard at 01:03 PM | Comments (5)

July 01, 2004


Yesterday, June 30th, was my 3rd wedding anniversary, so I want to wish my wife a happy one, even though she abandoned me for Boston this week.

Also thought that I'd share the present I got her. I donated $250 to OxFam earmarked for their Sudan Crisis Relief Fund which is helping the people of Darfur, over a million of whom are now refugees, driven from their homes.

With all of the other terrible things going on in the world, it's easy to overlook Sudan – but it looks like it could turn into another Rwanda. Although Colin Powell's recent visit brought some attention to the crisis, both the US and the UN have been hesitant to label it a genocide, since that would require action on the part of all signatories to the Genocide Convention.

For those not familiar with what's going on, Arab militias, the janjaweed, are raiding villages in Darfur in western Sudan. The Sudanese government has a long history of using Arab and Muslim militants (including al Qaeda) to fight it's proxy wars and suppress rebellions. Reports are the the Sudanese government bombs villages and the janjaweed quickly follows up with a coordinated ground attack.

Whole villages are being razed and wells poisoned with the corpses of the victims. Salt is figuratively being sowed into the ground. In addition, the lighter skinned raiders are killing all adult men and raping and branding the women of the Zaghawa, Masalit, and Fur tribes, who are dark-skinned. Reports tell of rapes "justified" because the woman is too dark, and she needs to make a "lighter baby".

To make matters worse, it's about to start to rain in the area, and it is feared that thousands could die of malaria in the refugee camps.

Anyway, read this editorial from the WSJ by Senators John McCain and Mike DeWine (cashed at Sudan: The Passion of the Present). This Washington Post article gives more background on the delay in helping. And Nicholas Kristof gives his impassioned opionion at the NY Times.

Give something to help out if you can. Encourage the US administration to be tough (which thankfully they seem to be starting to do). And at the very least, be aware of what's going on.

Update: Winds of Change has a round up of articles and ways to help out.

Posted by richard at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)

More WMD

Does this even matter any more? Or do the moving targets of "stockpiles" and "imminent threats" make it irrelevant to the critics?

A week ago, Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group charged with looking for WMD in Iraq, recently said that they had found "10 or 12 sarin and mustard gas shells" in various locations in Iraq.

Yesterday in a radio interview, Don Rumsfeld relayed the reports from the Polish minister of defense that Polish forces had also discovered 16 or 17 shells that contained mustard and sarin in the last few days.

If properly used in an urban environment, one shell with sarin gas can kill 10,000 people.

Via the Command Post.

Posted by richard at 05:26 PM | Comments (4)