Saturday, February 28, 2009

More talk radio

When I wrote below that the Senate had voted for legislation prohibiting reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, I hadn't yet seen this quote from Denny Rehberg:
Anyone who thinks that talk radio only tells one side of the story doesn’t spend much time in front of a radio. The fact is, talk show hosts regularly accept calls from listeners that disagree with them, and the debates are lively and informative. The last thing we need is the federal government stepping in to referee an active discussion to declare winners and losers. I’m proud of the Senate for passing this important safeguard, and I hope the House of Representatives acts quickly on this legislation.”

I'm guessing that Denny doesn't spend much time in front of a radio. Limbaugh openly acknowledges that he accepts calls from listeners who disagree with him only if he thinks it will promote his own arguments. Hannity often takes calls from people who disagree but only occasionally hears them out. Usually, he interrupts them repeatedly, ridicules or mocks their positions and dismisses them as Kool-Aid drinkers and Obama maniacs. Michael Savage and Bill Cunningham are openly rude to callers who disagree with them and often hang up on them. Glenn Beck is so incomprehensible that it usually isn't even possible to disagree with him. Even O'Reilly, who really did welcome opposing viewpoints, usually allowed callers only a sentence or two before butting in to explain how it really was. Only Dave Rye really gives a respectful and full hearing to opposing views and he, of course, has no national reach.

Lively? Informative? Not in this town.

Perhaps it also is worth mentioning that not a human being in this country, so far as I know, including zero percent of the people who favor the Fairness Doctrine, thinks the government should referee radio discussions to declare winners and losers. Denny, my friend, you are spouting utter nonsense.

Saturday cat blogging

Isis on her perch.

My wife thought her (the cat's) facial markings resembled the yin and yang symbol, which started her on a search of oriental symbolism and imagery. Somehow she wound up at Isis, which I also liked because it is short, is the title of a Bob Dylan song, and sounds like a word a cat might use if cats were slightly more language oriented.

Good news

Searching high and low, the Outpost editor manages to find some good news about newspapers.

Thursday talk radio update II

I have been remiss in failing to mention Yellowstone Public Radio's weekly wrap-up of the Legislature with Jim Gransbery and Jackie Yamanaka. It's always interesting and sometimes enlightening.

But this week I heard Scott Sales say two things that made no sense to me.

One is an old bugaboo: He said that Montana government has to learn to live within its means. What can this possibly mean? As I have argued before, government has no means. It does provide services that are of value: running water, sewage, garbage pickup, police and fire protections -- and that's just at the city level. But government has no power to simply charge market rates for those services. Instead, it can charge only what its customers, acting through their elected representatives, permit.

So when Sales, who was elected to help decide what means government should have, says that government should live within its means, what is he trying to say? That government's current means are by some miracle optimal and should never be changed? That we no longer need a more perfect union because the union is now fully perfected? Or what?

The other thing he said was that we can't spend our way to prosperity. I hear this all of the time, but does anyone believe it is true? People spend their way to prosperity all of the time. It is, in fact, the basis of the capitalist system: Somebody gets an idea for a product or store, raises money through investors or loans or savings or inheritance, spends the money to launch the product, and rakes in the prosperity. It's a great system. A major reason why new businesses fail is insufficient capitalization, i.e, they can’t afford to spend their way to prosperity.

The same is true at both the individual and government levels. Take a smart, poor kid out of the ghetto, give him some decent clothes and an education, and he is likely to prosper. Maybe he could do it anyway, but the money helps.

In the same way, a country invests millions in building an interstate highway system. Next thing you know, there’s a Town Pump at every exit. Guess what: We just spent our way to prosperity.

Obama proposed, and Congress has passed, a massive attempt to spend our way to prosperity. Even Sales acknowledged that it might help in the short run. And the short run is all that matters. Everybody knows we can't just keep spending money forever. The theory of the stimulus is that it will relieve some short-term pain for the unemployed, help keep government employees on the job, stabilize the economy, and help fuel a recovery. I'm the first to admit that I have no idea whether it will work. I suspect that Sales doesn't either.

So what does Sales really mean? I think he means that taxes should never be raised and that he doesn’t want to spend money to fight the recession. So why not just say so? Why dress it in clich├ęs, as though it were the wisdom of the ages?

Unfair to the right?

A couple of commenters below argue that I am being unfair to Sean Hannity for his attacks on Obama and unfair to Limbaugh for rooting for Obama's failure. Not so.

Dave Rye says that I have been unfair to Limbaugh by using only one sentence from him and omitting context. But Limbaugh himself says that he was invited to submit 400 words to a "major American print publication" describing his hopes for the Obama presidency. Limbaugh says he replied: “Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.”

With this context, let's consider what four years of a failed Obama presidency might look like: rampant unemployment, hundreds of thousands of home foreclosures, banks failed or under government control, deficits raging out of control, a divided Congress, terrorists on the loose, uncertain and endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And let's consider what a successful Obama presidency might look like: the economy clicking on at least three cylinders, the stock market rising, banks securely in private hands, peace abounding, Democrats and Republicans working in harmony, torture in disrepute and America's international reputation on the mend.

To be sure, an Obama success story would contain elements that Limbaugh wouldn't like: the first steps, at least, toward universal health care; more spending on infrastructure, unwelcome debt, a slightly more progressive tax system. That's what he gets for losing elections.

But compare the outcomes. Limbaugh finds Keynesian economics so unpalatable that he is willing to have millions out of work to prove it wrong. He finds Obama's foreign policy so distasteful that he is willing to have thousands die to prove he is right. This is the stance of a man who loves his country? No, it is the stance of a man who is willing to sacrifice his country on the altar of his ideology.

As for Hannity, I have listened to him for at least a couple of hours a week for several years. If he has ever made a coherent case against Obama, I have missed it. Instead, he spent the six months before the election complaining that Obama associated with a terrorist and with a preacher who said at least a half-dozen stupid things over the last 20 years. He has spent the time since the election complaining that Obama is a socialist, without much more than a hint of what that means.

SIDEBAR: Once again, Jay Larry Lundeen criticizes me for taking on right-wing radio on a regular basis but giving "mainstream media" a pass. As I have tried to explain to him, apparently without success, I write about talk radio on Thursdays because I listen to it while I am delivering copies of the Outpost for a dozen hours each week. If left-wing talk radio was available in Billings, I would write about it, too.

The closest thing we have to left-wing radio is Yellowstone Public Radio, which does provide an interesting and useful counterpoint to right-wing talk. But it does so primarily by doing actual reporting and by giving ample time to contrary points of view. This week, for example, Warren Olney led an important and wide-ranging discussion of how to treat suspected terrorists in an Obama regime. Fascinating stuff, but too nuanced and complex to sum up in a short blog post, especially by a guy who is bouncing out of his car to deliver papers every minute or two.

Then there was this, on "All Things Considered": An anchor interviewed Sen. Judd Gregg, who was critical of the Obama budget, and said, in essence, that Obama is proposing exactly what he said he would do if he became president and that voters elected him with that understanding. So why shouldn't Republicans accept that?

Gregg said, "Well, that may be NPR's position." I don't know if was or not, but regardless of what motivated the question, it was legitimate, and the right-wing hosts would never have posed it. To his credit, Gregg gave a plausible answer, something to the effect that Americans did not elect Obama to drive the country into bankruptcy.

In the long term, it's in the best interests of even conservatives to have some liberal ideas out there.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thursday talk radio update I

Thursday was the last day (except for a Friday rerun) of Bill O'Reilly's radio show. He no longer draws much mention here because I usually teach German during his show, but this actually is something of a loss.

My liberal friends tend to lump O'Reilly in with Hannity and Limbaugh, but that's quite unfair. O'Reilly has his annoying quirks, but he is the only one of the bunch who made a genuine effort to be fair to Democrats in the presidential race. And he is something of an environmentalist, by talk radio standards.

At worst, he is far more listenable than the alternatives. Limbaugh wants America to fail. Hannity's show has become a three-hour-a-day Obama bashathon. Glenn Beck seems to have become utterly unhinged. Savage already was.

Without public radio, hope would cease.

No wonder Democrats are happy to get along without the Fairness Doctrine. If you were Obama, wouldn't you love having Limbaugh and Hannity as the voice of the Republican Party? You bet you would.

Friday cat blogging

OK, I am not becoming a cat blogger. This simply announces the news that my wife and I have acquired a cat, courtesy of the animal shelter, named Isis.

Seems like a perfectly acceptable cat so far. A bit shy, but not spooked. Reasonably friendly, but not pushy. Took her about five minutes to find the exact spot on top of the couch where my daughter's cat liked to hang out and where I would hang out if I could fit there.

It has been a pretty long time between animals for us. My wife's allergic to cats. I object to dogs (not my fault: my father was a mailman -- the dog's natural enemy -- for 44 years, and I inherited it from him). So we compromised. Well, she caved. But a cat it is.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Down, down, down

Electric City Weblog looks at the stock market, and sees a judgment on Obama.

Pat Buchanan, of all people, takes a more measured, and considerably scarier, look.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lives of others, indeed

Intelligent Discontent (see Update below) also takes note of National Review's list of the top 25 conservative movies. The list has drawn its share of derision around the blogosphere (how could "Birth of a Nation" have been left off?) but both Intelligent Discontent and I are struck by the inclusion of "The Lives of Others," the 2007 German movie that won an Oscar for best foreign-language film.

Like Intelligent Discontent (and William F. Buckley, apparently) I think it's a terrific movie. Because of my interest in German, I have seen it a half-dozen times, in whole or in part. But it never occurred to me to think of it as a conservative movie.

The playwright at its center, for example, is perfectly content to play along with the East German regime, writing bloated historical dramas that praise the glories of socialism. Only when a friend with more political courage than he has commits suicide does he commit a "disloyal" act, and even then he acts with great caution, by publishing an anonymous article in the notoriously liberal West German Stern magazine (you should read what Stern had to say about Bush).

The East German intelligence agent who shadows him is as straight a Communist arrow as humanity could devise ("Socialism has to begin somewhere," he says when he leads his supervisor to sit for lunch with him among the common workers). His doubts about the regime arise because of the corruption he witnesses, not because he disagrees with Communist ideology. Once he does start to doubt, well, pretty soon he's reading that Marxist ideologue Bertolt Brecht.

If anything, the movie shows how absurd it is to apply American notions of liberalism and conservatism to East Germany. For all its Marxism, East Germany was profoundly conservative in its structure and social mores. The playwright was a liberal at heart, doing his best to get by in a society that rejected liberal values. The agent was a conservative at heart, finding it increasingly impossible to match his traditional values to the job he was being told to do.

What makes the movie wonderful is not its politics but the way it depicts the Stasi agent's gradual change of heart: utterly without sentimentality, almost without emotion, but moving and fully persuasive. It's art, folks, not politics.

Lee update

Newsosaur explains why Lee Enterprises' debt restructuring isn't as good news as Michael Gulledge would like you to believe. Also, see here.

But that's not what bugged me about Gulledge's front-page note. I was bugged (slightly) when he said that the Gazette has been the region's primary news source for 184 years, which means it was being delivered by travois to tribes along the Hi-Line before John Bozeman was born (the error was fixed online, but if the correction was noted anywhere, I missed it).

I was bugged (considerably more) when he wrote that Lee's debt would never impair its ability to serve advertisers and readers. That's just demonstrably not true, and it's insulting to staffers that already have been laid off. The advertisers whose ads all got smaller during the recent redesign also may be surprised to learn that they haven't been impaired.

I was bugged (even more) by the statement that the Gazette reaches 86 percent of adults in the market, all without defining either the market or what he means by "reaches." I suspect the number includes people who have had a copy of the paper blow across their front yard on a windy day.

Finally, I was bugged (most of all) by the fact that so many other Lee publishers chose to run notes almost identical to Gulledge's: see here and here and here. Gee, I thought Lee didn't dictate content to its publishers.

UPDATE: Sounds like Intelligent Discontent is more bugged than I am.

UPDATE 2: For more evidence that great minds think alike, also see publisher's notes here, here and here. For a response, see here.

Q: How cheesy is it to run eerily similar publisher's notes throughout the Lee chain?

A: Very cheesy.

Overcovering Indians

At the Electric City Weblog, Rob Natelson has had a couple of posts on coverage of Indian issues in the Missoulian. The thrust of the posts is that Indians get disproportionate coverage compared to other groups, such as taxpayers.

Some commenters argue with the professor's methodology. I also am skeptical. Many stories of interest and relevance to taxpayers, for example, don't contain the word "taxpayer." Same with most of the various job titles he mentions.

But I also think the post misses something about Indian coverage and about news coverage in general. I say this as someone who covered the Indian beat at The Gazette for a couple of years and once wrote a proposal for Lee Enterprises to create the sort of Indian beat that Jodi Rave now holds. I never actually submitted the proposal because I figured I wouldn't get the beat and I didn't want to risk losing what Indian coverage I had. But I suspect that the reasoning I used was similar to the reasoning that eventually created the position.

First things first: I can't speak for the Missoulian, but at the Gazette Indian coverage was never an easy sell. A lot of Indian-related stories were of no particular interest to white readers, and Indians themselves were not the demographic group most appealing to Gazette advertisers. I always felt that I had to make a case for covering Indian stories, and from what I hear, that still holds true.

So why create an Indian beat? My thoughts ran along these lines:

1. Indian reservations, because of their quasi-sovereign status, deal with issues that simply don't exist elsewhere, and they are complex issues that tend to run across reservation lines. So, for example, time invested understanding Northern Cheyenne governance would save some of the time required to learn, say, Fort Peck governance (this was less true for the Crow, which still ran under its own rules at the time).

2. Issues involving social pathology -- alcoholism, drug addiction, disease, crime, poverty, etc. -- tend to be rampant on reservations. In a way, they are the canary in the coal mine for all kinds of social problems, and you know how reporters love that stuff.

3. Most reservations lack much news coverage of their own, so it is a place where real journalism can make a difference. Not much profit in that argument, but it does fit in with what journalism ought to be about.

4. Every powwow makes a great photo. Features abound on reservations, and they sometimes have a national audience.

I don't know that Natelson would disagree with any of this, but he may not understand that when a beat like this is created, that in itself leads to the sorts of disproportionate coverage that he detects. Reporters typically don't just get stories at random; they get stories off the beats they cover, from the people they talk to regularly and the governmental bodies whose meetings they attend. So once a decision is made to cover a beat, disproportionate coverage is almost guaranteed, unless you can afford to cover every significant beat you can think of.

That's why, for example, the Gazette has so much crime news. It isn't that crime rules our lives or even necessarily because crime news sells (although it does, to a point) but because reporters are assigned to cover that beat to make sure nothing important gets missed. But assigning the reporter not only leads to the big stories but to all sorts of smaller stories that happen to get churned up in the course of trolling the beat. The result is a disproportionate emphasis on crime.

When I left the county and Indian beats at the Gazette to start the Outpost, I continued to get a disproportionate number of county and Indian stories for a few years afterward. That's where my sources were. Natelson himself may recall asking me once on his radio program how I managed to break an important county story that nobody else had found. The answer was simple: I still knew the beat and, even though I was no longer working it daily, I was still getting tips off it.

In the same way, the Outpost got its biggest scoop ever off the Indian beat. Because both Ron Selden and I maintained contacts on the Crow reservation, we broke the story that then-tribal Chairman Clifford Birdinground was taking kickbacks from a car dealer a full year before the indictment was handed up. Nobody else even touched that story until legal documents were filed.

And so it goes. Disproportionate coverage is built into every beat. As reporting ranks decline, those gaps are likely to grow larger -- and provide the professor with more to complain about.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

I finally heard a good case against the stimulus package on Friday. It didn't come from Sean Hannity, who made a nonstop case all week long that the package was the final step in European-style socialism. Nor did it come from Rush Limbaugh, who was busy rooting for America to fail. Nor Glenn Beck, who was unable to shake his conviction that the Fairness Doctrine is just around the corner. Nor Mike Gallagher, whose sole function in life appears to be to ensure that Hannity isn't the dumbest host on talk radio.

Instead it came on that liberal bastion, Yellowstone Public Radio, where economist Niall Ferguson argued that the current financial crisis won't be cured by Keynesian spending. In fact, he argued, the problem is excessive debt, so adding to the debt won't help. Nor will it necessarily help to put more money into consumers' pockets, especially if they use it go shopping for Chinese-made goods at Wal-Mart.

What he did call for wouldn't necessarily make conservatives happier than they are now: Essentially, he called for nationalizing failing banks and cutting mortgage rates.

I don't know whether he's right, but he made a creditable case. It's just interesting that after Hannity went on and on for hours and hours on the topic, he never once made a case even one-tenth as compelling. He scarcely ever cited a fact at all, and I'm not sure that he ever even mentioned Keynes.

It took the liberal media to do that.

Lucky break

Whew. It's a good thing that all that global warming talk is just a hoax.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Not in this country says it in a word (h/t balloon juice).


I've been mulling over this post for a while. My initial response, posted in comments there, was made up of roughly equal parts of snark, genuine offense and a vague sense of humor. Rob Natelson responded with a list of editorial stances he favors for pro-freedom newspapers that I can't quite get out of my head.

None of this is aimed at Evelyn Pyburn or the Big Sky Business Journal. My own labors in the weekly business have made me an admirer of her tenacity, and she is a bulldog on open meetings and open records issues. She also is a committed libertarian on economic matters, which makes her editorials and columns a tad on the predictable side.

Voters consistently and decisively defeat libertarian candidates at the polls, but one might still wonder: Would we be freer people if we elected libertarians? My guess: We would be a weaker, poorer country with dirty, polluted cities, a crumbling transportation system and unlimited access to pornography and marijuana. Might be worth it.

But to Mr. Natelson's proposed editorial stances for a pro-freedom newspaper:

1. Promoting public-private school choice even if you personally think public education is a good idea. There is no serious movement afoot that I am aware of to prevent people from attending private schools or even home schooling. There is a dispute over whether parents with school-age children should get a tax break to send their kids to the school of their choice. Sure, we could all have easier lives if the government gave us preferred tax treatment, but what does that have to do with freedom?

2. Consistently opposing federal pork, even if it’s for Montana. Only vaguely related to freedom, if at all. There is no constituency for pork, except its immediate beneficiaries, who are most of us. And one man's pork is another man's broccoli. If you consider that our freedom derives in part from access to resources, then I guess you could argue that pork diminishes freedom by using resources less efficiently. But it's a thin connection.

3. Favoring a return to a market-based health care system. Odd choice. Our public-private health care mix actually limits freedom in important ways. For example, it ties people to jobs they don't want so they can keep insurance. And for the 50 million or so Americans with no insurance, it means they are just an illness away from financial ruin. I guess our system does mean that we have more choice over doctors we use. But just try to find solid information about who the bad doctors are.

4. Opposing tax hikes, even though the money would go for your favorite programs. Just bizarre. How does it limit my freedom if I willingly pay taxes for programs I favor? I can't build highways on my own, or maintain parks, or fund a library, or raise an army. I have to pay taxes to do these things. And sometimes, like it or not, prices go up. Do you have any idea how much an aircraft carrier cost in 1776?

5. Cutting regulations that prevent people from engaging in consensual conduct, even when you disagree with that conduct. OK, I'm for that, which is why I think gay people should be allowed to marry and Michael Phelps ought to be able to puff on a bong without stirring up a national snit. So Rob and I are both liberals on this point.

Of course, what's really remarkable about the list is what isn't on it. Nothing, for instance, about the freedoms that really do matter: habeas corpus, banning torture, an independent judiciary, open government, the First Amendment, and so on. My guess is that Evelyn is on the side of freedom on most of those issues, as are, in fact, most newspapers.

Maybe more so, even, than most conservatives.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bad, bad Lee is down

The news just keeps getting worse for Lee Enterprises.

UPDATE: The Missoulian says "Pish!". And Intelligent Discontent replies, "Posh!"

The view from Billings

Somebody in this town besides me is reading Andrew Sullivan.