At last, the media are the good guys

Andrew Sullivan rounds up a few good takes firing back at Ferguson prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s griping about the media.

Journalists — and people on social media — are imperfect. But when someone in power starts griping about their watchdog power, that’s someone in power who should consider giving it up.

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Title IX and the Virginia rape shocker

Title IX is an important law, but a rewrite is long overdue:

The question I have been asked a hundred times since the Rolling Stone piece appeared is: How is it possible that a crime as serious as an aggravated, premeditated gang rape can be funneled into an internal disciplinary process? …

The simple answer is that the law requires it. Title IX mandates that universities use administrative conduct processes to address sexual harassment and sexual violence.

via University of Virginia gang rape investigation: Rolling Stone reveals limits of Title IX system..

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No, moving from NBC to Netflix is NOT good news for all of us

Splitsider, my go-to comedy blog, indirectly shows how fragmented our viewing habits are.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show I’ve been anticipating for a while. It’s from Tina Fey (good), it’s about a women who leaves a cult and tries to make it in the real world (unique, promising) and stars Ellie Kemper (OK, I’m in).

But the show won’t debut on NBC as planned. It’s going to be on Netflix.

Splitsider casts this as good news.

For people who’ve cut the cord from cable and do all their viewing online, I suppose it is. But what about those of us who like comedy and sports? We can’t cut that cord. And we’re getting a little annoyed that we have to subscribe to something ELSE to watch comedy.

In my day, it was all on something called “TV.” And we LIKED it!

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How not to respond to just criticism, Pointergate edition

A grumpy old cop upset that the Minneapolis mayor is holding cops accountable griped to a gullible reporter that the mayor was “flashing a gang sign” when she pointed to a guy helping her on a charitable endeavor. MPR News has the best recap.

It happens. We all make mistakes. We all believe that one grumpy old source too much. You apologize and move on.

You don’t double down on the mistake of talking to Grumpy Old Cop again and calling him “Law Enforcement” in the headline: Law Enforcement: Criticism of Mayor Hodges’ Photo Report Misses the Point | KSTP TV – Minneapolis and St. Paul.

I think the mayor should get out at her next public event and flash the sign for The Van Buren Boys. Maybe that’ll incite people to get out and act out Seinfeld episodes.

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Conscious Capitalism: An antidote for cynicism?

I saw a few books on “Conscious Capitalism” at The Container Store yesterday, in a display next to works by like-minded CEOs. Call me naive, but I was thrilled to see it.

I’m under no illusion that such movements attract only people who will live up to these standards. I’m sure there are a few poseurs who sign on to think about the planet as we do business while destroying everything in sight.

But what this sort of things proves is that there is a market for idealism. That market plays in a role in everything from hybrid car sales to renewable energy to living wages.

Ironically, as business recognizes this market, politicians have abandoned it. Politics is all about cynicism.

In some ways, that’s to be expected. In a country of this size, politicians wield great power. Politics also can bring about powerful emotion, and cynicism is a way of building a bulkhead between oneself and that emotion. If you can convince yourself it’s all just a game, you can’t really be hurt. But you would still expect political candidates to express some sort of positive message while the business folks plunder and pillage for profit, wouldn’t you?

Maybe the business world is a better avenue for progress in the long run. CEOs turned philanthropists have responded pretty well to the Ebola crisis. Businesses are making progress on the environment. And maybe they’ll set an example for politicians. Didn’t they used to say lawmakers would be better if they would run things as a business?

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Positivism and objectivity (or, data and calling b.s.)

I somehow stumbled into a long think piece about the inadequacies of “Big Data,” which includes everything from FiveThirtyEight to, somehow, dating sites. Echoing Jay Rosen’s work on the futility of a purely “objective” view, it’s called “View from Nowhere.”

The gist of it is that the positivists, here defined as people who think we can figure everything out through data (my philosophy professors probably defined it differently, but this definition actually makes sense to me), are conceited in their belief that they can step away and let data discern truth. We all have biases, writer Nathan Jurgenson says, even if they only show up in the way we ask questions. It’s like the old saying on computers’ fallibility being directly attributable to bad programming: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Jurgenson’s critique is reasonable, but I also found myself thinking about a recent post from the most grounded journalist or ex-journalist I know, Lex Alexander, who fretted about the media’s outright refusal to call bullshit on anything or anyone.

The terms get slippery here. To some extent, Lex and Jurgenson are both criticizing the “View from Nowhere” that has indeed led to some journalistic malpractice over the years. My McCarthy studies taught me how easy it is to manipulate journalists who are trying to get “both sides” of an argument. Reporters and editors must have the inclination, the guts, and the knowledge base to say, “Yeah, hang on, I’m going to check that out.”

But my issue with Jurgenson’s piece is that I hope people, while recognizing the limits of “Big Data,” can also see it an important tool for calling bullshit.

A lot of controversies in modern media aren’t opinions. They’re facts. We have people in elected office who go against science on climate change and evolution. They go against history on … well, American history. They go against economics whenever convenient.

Outside politics, we have a populace that believes in a lot of junk. Anti-vaccination movements. The latest chain email from Grandma about that African-born Obama trying to usher in an Islamofascist state. And so on.

Big Data isn’t perfect. No source is. And frankly, the data journalists like Nate Silver are really good at explaining the limitations of their own work. Silver doesn’t just pass along numbers from Rasmussen without challenging the methodology.

But in a land of people so desperate to believe whatever someone tells them to assuage or reinforce their fears, we desperately need Big Data. Because Big Bullshit is a monster.

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The brilliant Jan Hooks

Before Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon smashed the “boys’ club” image on Saturday Night Live, Jan Hooks lit up the stage in the fondly remembered Carvey-Hartman years.

As a fellow Georgian, I always appreciated her country/Southern characters — Tammy Wynette singing Stand By Your Man over various classical pieces, or this classic …

Or this one …

And if you’re Southern, you can often pull off a good Irish character as well.

She also excelled at playing celebrities with outsized personalities, from Nancy Reagan to Diana Ross. And more abstract characters, like the obsessive-compulsive glamorous party host in this ad for Calvin Kleen.

Outside SNL, she was the long-suffering wife on Primetime Glick and the star of a memorable scene in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure:

She had a wonderful chemistry with Phil Hartman, another versatile “glue” cast member, no matter which sketch they were in. Even playing Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Or Frank Sinatra and Sinead O’Connor.

Hartman left us far too soon. He was just beginning to enjoy his post-SNL career on NewsRadio. And now Hooks has gone as well.

You and me both.

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