WHEN BRODER MET EXCELLENCE! David Broder cant describe the latest non-excellent project: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 2, 2008
SEKOFF V. COCCO: Some of the mossbacks want you to know that the gender-trashing, for them, is a matter of choice. One such crawler is creepy Roy Sekoff, Ariannas unseemly boy toy.
Last Thursday night, Sekoff appeared on MSNBCs Verdict with Dan Abrams. Discussions of pundit misogyny/sexism had been in the air for weeks. And Sekoff wanted to vote with his mouth, which gave us a window to his soul. But then, to judge from the transcriptwe didnt see the programJonathan Alter didnt exactly bathe himself with glory here either.
We dont know what has happened to Alter. But Sekoff was making things clear:
Its a metaphor! People like this are cosmically stupidand theyre pleased, proud and happy to show it! By the way: As far as we can tell, Sekoff hasnt received his predicted spot in the sexism hall of fame. As far as we can tell from Google, no one has commented yet.
At any rate: After weeks of this discussion, Sekoff wanted to get on the record. But then, fellows like Sekoff have always been with us, including inside all progressive movements. Their tiny minds will never adjust. They have no plan to drop their gender-trashing. They will always persist in this conduct.
This brings us back to Marie Coccos absence from last Sundays Meet the Press.
As we noted on Friday, Cocco e-mailed to let us know: No, she wasnt invited to be part of the six-person panel on the May 25 Meet the Press (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/08). All six members of Russerts panel rolled their eyes at Clintons claim that the media has engaged in sexism and misogyny. No onenot even one out of sixwas willing to advance Clintons view. That would, of course, be one of out seven, counting the familiar faking from the programs chubby-cheeked host.
Only later did we realize why Cocco (or someone sharing her view) couldnt have been invited. Consider what the lady did that same day on Reliable Sources.
Uh-oh! Howard Kurtz had assembled a panel to discuss this same infernal charge. But Kurtz was a good deal more honest than Russert. He opened the segment with tape of five major broadcasters gender-trashing the loathsome Clinton. And things went straight downhill from there! Indeed, when Cocco answered Kurtzs first question, it became abundantly clear why Russert could never have booked her:
Uh-oh! Kurtz asked Cocco a simple questionand Cocco gave him an obvious answer! Since NBC News/MSNBC has been Ground Zero in this long war, she named the names of two major playersboth of them major NBC figures. This was an obvious thing to do. But it involved a statement that could never have been allowed on Meet the Press.
At this point, well start guessing: For that reason, Russert chose his panel carefully. It wouldnt suffice to pick a panel which would beat up on Clinton five-to-one. No! If even one non-storebought was part of the panel, that person might make an obvious statement about the source of the gender-trashing! Five-to-one would never do. It had to be six-against-none.
Its much as we asked you last week: Would this have happened any differently inside a press corps run by Brezhnev? Well guess: Russert knew what you couldnt be allowed to hear. He chose his panel accordingly.
Of course, it isnt hard to assemble a panel of Soviet-style stooges if you have the whole mainstream press corps to choose from. In recent weeks, NBC News has turned playing dumb into a piece of performance art. Routinely, its pundits have no earthly idea why the Clintons have talked about gender-trashing. Nor can they guess what Bill Clinton meant when he said that pundits have been urging his wife to get her *ss out of the race. Meanwhile, Brian Williams (The Man from Price Club) was deeply puzzled when Scott McClellan said that the press corps rolled over for warand David Gregory was flummoxed too. At NBC, no one can understand any of this. And they keep assembling panels of stooges who will extend these charades.
How easily can NBC book these panels? Very, very easily. In fact, the mainstream press corps is full of well-behaved boys and girls who would happily go to the gallows before they would betray their cohorttheir fraternal order, their cartel, their clan, their small mafia. They knowin their corewhat they must never tell. On the surface, E. J. Dionne is the smartest and most decent of all these hack-worthies. But last Friday, E. J. finally stopped his trembling and wrote a column about the sexism/misogyny claims. Go ahead! Read his entire piece! See if you can find a single sentence where he expresses his own view on the subject. Most laughably, see if you can find a single place where he states the obviouswhere he names the names of the major players who have been at the heart of this conduct.
These people are part of a small, stupid mafia. As weve been noting since 1999, they never betray the clan; they will play dumb to the death. To his credit, Kurtz was willing to tell the truth about the obvious shape of this problem. But uh-oh! When he played tape of those five gender-trashing pundits, one of the five was Chris Matthewsand one of them was Mike Barnicle. Both are charter members of NBCs gang of Clinton/Gore-hating throwbacks. We Irish!
Lets guess: Commissar Russert knew the obvious. NBC News has been Ground Zero in this stupid, disgraceful episode. That in mind, he knew two other things. He knew that Doris Kearns Goodwin was safe. And he knew Marie Cocco might tell.
DISCUSSION, AMERICAN-STYLE: Russerts programhis discussion of this topiccame straight from the Brezhnev era. By way of contrast, two networks staged American-style discussions. You were allowed to hear varied views and the most obvious facts.
On May 22, Judy Woodruff conducted a discussion of this topic on The NewsHour. To review Coccos balanced presentation, just click here. (I am not arguing that this is why she's losing. What I'm saying is that this has been the cultural atmosphere.) On May 25, Kurtz conducted his own American-style discussion. To review it in full, just click here.
As Cocco and others spoke with Kurtz, Russerts gang of apparatchiks scratched their heads in sheer bewilderment over this deeply puzzling charge. Cocco could never have done Meet the Press. She might have said things that were accurate.
WHEN BRODER MET EXCELLENCE: When it comes to basic reality, Dean Broder likes his nice and straight. At the start of yesterdays column, he got a few things off his chest:
How often have we read that Clinton has endured a far-rougher hazing from the public? Could we guess? Most likely, none? At any rate, Broder is sick of all the myths and fictionsespecially the ones churned up by Clintonand he knows the best way to refute them. The best evidence to test these and other propositions arrived last week in a report from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, he writes. Then he explains how this new report workedbungling massively as he goes.
Which is worse: The hapless analyses of the press corps performed by our academic elites? Or the bungled descriptions of same from our journalists? Broder likes his reality straight. But in large measure, this is inaccurate:
Some of that even seems to be accuratethough in some cases, its hard to tell. But then, complete confusion is the norm when the scholars from the Project for Excellence report on one of their studies.
Yep! The word impenetrable was invented to describe this groups gruesome reports. But even the folks at the Project for Excellence (PEJsic) cant be blamed for all Broders errors. Each story was rated as positive, negative or neutral? In the past, some studies of press coverage have worked from that modelbut thats not the case with this new study, as is clear if you simply read the report. Broder barely seems to have skimmed it. But then, theres no other way to handle this groups gruesome studiesif you want to torture a column from their inept, murky work.
No, Virginia. In this new study, the researchers didnt rate each story as positive, negative or neutral. Nor do we have the slightest idea what this collection of words might mean:
Does anyone know what hes talking about? After the torture of skimming the PEJs prose, we have no idea. At one point, the Projects report does say this: As part of PEJs regular Campaign Coverage Index, the study analyzed every campaign story from January through May 18, almost 8,800 stories. (Just click here. Second paragraph.) Is that what Broder is talking about when he cites those 8800 items? We dont have the slightest ideabut the analysis of those 8,800 stories seems to involve a different question from the one The Dean is discussing in this part of his column. But then, its never easy to figure out the murk and the gloam in these gruesome reports. And quite commonly, its hard to figure what the PEJ studies are actually trying to measure.
(By the way: Why it would improve a study to eliminate four-fifths of the relevant stories? Are we supposed to think that no favorable/unfavorable claims are made in the types of stories Broder describes in that passage?)
What exactly is the PEJs new report actually trying to measure? After sifting through its soul-crushing language, we have little real idea. Well only say what weve said before about the reports this group churns out. To wit:
It sounds like the group is trying to measure which candidate got friendlier (or tougher) press coverage. But its not at all clear that this is something this study could actually measure. In short, its hard to know what this report actually does tell us (if anything). And thats because the Project for Excellence just isnt very excellent! Its scholars rarely seem able to explain (or justify) their ever-shifting methodologies. Yes, the Broders sometimes rush to hype their results. But it seems they can never explain them.
(In July 2000, for example, the Project released a study of the coverage of Candidates Bush and Gore. But in that reports basic summary, the PEJ plainly misstated its own data. There was no partisan tilt to the errorbut then too, no journalist noticed the error. Of course, that study said that the press corps was murdering Goreso Broder didnt give it a column. Please note: That studys conclusion was clearly correct. But the PEJs report quite plainly misstated the data.)
This new study isnt necessarily worthlessbut the report is opaque, impenetrable. Then too, the Project makes groaning methodological leapsleaps it would be hard to justify. Well guess that this study couldnt be salvaged. For now, lets offer four caveats:
Bye-bye, Maureen and David: Many bloggers have prayed for the day when Maureen Dowd gets her walking papers. In this study, that day has arrived. In the part of this study which deals with newspapers, only front-page news reports are analyzed. Heres the problem: When we think of the treatment a candidate gets from a newspaper, we tend to think, in substantial part, of the treatment dished out in the op-ed (and editorial) pages. But those pages are missing from this study! Theres nothing automatically wrong with such a practice. But its just one way in which this study measures something a little bit different from the thing you might have in mind when you think about friendly/tough coverage.
Shifting methodology: The PEJ has done studies of this general type in the past several elections. But the groups methodology seems to shift every timeand no one bothers explaining why. This studys methodology is massively different from the methodology used in Campaign 2000, for example. What was wrong with that methodology? What makes this new methodology better? No one says. Sorry, thats weird.
You dont need no stinking examples: The high-toned scholars at PEJ never seem to give examples. Again: Unless theyve completely misstated their procedures, they didnt rate each story as positive, negative or neutral in this new study. But in previous projects which did follow that model, they didnt give examples of stories which got rated in each category; thus, we never saw what kinds of stories got rated as positive under their practices. But then, no examples of their work are offered this year either.
Under this years methodology, it seems that the researchers went through news reports counting up statements within all the stories which were favorable/unfavorable about Candidate X. But this didnt just include statements by the journalists who wrote the stories; it includes quoted statements by other peopleby voters, candidates or candidate surrogates (among others). This may be a decent methodologybut once again, it may not be what the reader has in mind when he thinks of favorable/unfavorable coverage. Under this system, how do different stories get rated? No examples are given. We have no way to get an idea.
Absolut grandiosity: Are you there, vodka? Its us, the Project for Excellence. No, we arent Chelsea Handler fans, though we think her new book has a catchy title. But heres a fairly obvious critique: Imaginably, the Projects methodology may be OKas applied to a single news org. That is, it might imaginably provide a good reading of how the New York Times (or NBC Nightly News) has treated the various candidates. (Then again, of course, it may not.) But the Project doesnt content itself with creating individual ratings for a number of major news orgs; instead, it tries to sample a blend of news orgs which represent the press as a whole (for the list, click here). Almost surely, this attempt is silly. Almost surely, there is no rational way to sample the vast array of news orgs which make up the national media. How silly does it get when the PEJ tries? In this study, the Washington Post is sampled roughly every other dayand so is the Ashtabula, Ohio Star Beacon. We find it very hard to believe that there is any scientific justification for the blend of sources which make up this study. Almost surely, this is made-up, make-believe pseudo-sampling. Even if the methodology works for a single news source, the Project offers no reason to think that the sample here really represents the overall press corps.
Many other problems exist with this latest study. Well cite one last major groaner below. But first, lets return to Dean Broder, letting us know how lucky we are to have this brilliant reality check on all those gruesome myths and fictions about the current coverage.
No, Broder doesnt seem to have read this study; he doesnt seem to have a clear idea how it was conducted. On the other hand, he was quite thrilled with the lessons he learned from the study he cant quite describe. His boxed sub-headline says this:
Broder seems to like this study because its conclusions, however shaky, shoot down ideas he doesnt like. In particular, he batters Clinton around; this study rebuts her favorite myths, he happily says in his column. Unfortunately, a study can only shatter notions or rebut myths if its methodology is sound. But the PEJ constantly does awful work, and its scholars are rarely able to explain what it is that theyre actually measuring. This new report is highly impenetrable, like most of the PEJs work. Its an embarrassmentbut, then too, an enlightenmentto see the kind of press analysis conducted at the very top of our academic pig-pile.
In closing, might we offer one last point about the absurdity of the PEJs method? About the absurdity of their central conceitthe notion that you can really quantify favorable/unfavorable coverage?
In this study, the scholars attempt to assemble their insights by noting how many statements about Candidate X are favorable or unfavorable. At one point, they seem to give a hypothetical example (click herenear the bottom):
Presumably, that would count as a favorable statement, although were not entirely sure why. (Or would it be neutral? We have no idea.) At any rate: Under this projects methodology, the scholars sift through selected articles, counting up statements about the hopefuls which are favorable or unfavorable. Then, they count all the statements up, and convert them to a percentage.
Theres one gigantic problem with this. This completely gigantic problem never seems to enter the scholars minds.
Heres the problem: Isnt there a major difference between two unfavorable statements if one is true and the other is false? All during Campaign 2000, for instance, reporters made unfavorable statements about Candidate Gore (as the Projects 2000 study notedlink below). But uh-oh! Adding injury to insult, many of the unfavorable statements were blatantly false! Surely, most people see a major difference between an unfavorable statement which is accurate and fairand an unfavorable statement which is just false. But under the Projects not-so-excellent system, these statements get scored the exact same way. In other words, the scholars never make any attempt to score statements for basic accuracy.
In a way, its a perfect marker of the agean age in which the very concept of accuracy no longer seems to exist. Last week, for example, journalists made an endless number of negative statements about Candidate Clintonmany of which were baldly untrue, or at best profoundly tendentious. But the PEJs scholars dont adjust for untruth. They pore over selected stories, counting up the number of times Chris Matthews says something favorable/unfavorable. But a good deal of the time, Matthews is lying, stretching wildly, or just playing it dumb with such statements. But uh-oh! As with their brethren inside the media, these scholars dont care about that! They dont care if a statement is false. They only care if it seems favorable.
Then, along comes the Dean of All Pundits. To all appearances, he couldnt be bothered to read the report, to see how the scholars were proceeding this year. But so what? He knows the value of a good study; a good study is one which reinforces his viewpoint! He disappeared the study in Campaign 2000the study which said that his mainstream press corps was kicking the sh*t out of Candidate Gore. But he pimps the study in 2008, when it says they arent murdering Clinton.
As you may know, you do inhabit the Planet of the Apes, a fact which may explain that films enduring appeal on cable.
This years study deserves respect. Whatever the merits of its procedures, it says something Dean Broder likes.