Robyn Hitchcock’s Right Wing Radio Song

They do say you learn something new every day. This morning, biding my time before a trip to the National Cryptologic Museum, I made my monthly eMusic choices. Stuck with a little over $6 to spend and no clear sense of what I wanted, I searched and searched, unsatisfied with where my link clicking and keyword entering were taking me. Thankfully, I have a helpful decision rule for situations like this: I could always use more Robyn Hitchcock. Thus, I purchased his 1996 Moss Elixir album.

Imagine how surprised I was to find that one of the songs, on first listen at least, appears to take right wing talk radio as its subject. Behold, The Devil’s Radio (listen for the Limbaugh name drop):

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Andrew’s Gettin’ Old

A good friend just turned 30 and I haven’t updated this blog in a long time. Prompted by the former and sorry about the latter, I post this mix:

On the personal front, I started working at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington last month. They put my condensed professional bio on their website recently. I’m a pro again.

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Jake Tapper On His Transition From Salon To ABC News

Following a Romenesko tweet, I read a MediaBistro interview today with Richard Lawson, a Senior Writer for The Atlantic Wire who used to write for Gawker.  After reading the interview, which had some resonant thoughts for me on seeking “a new, different opportunity” in online writing, I swam through Media Bistro’s “So What Do You Do” interview archives a bit and came across a 2009 interview with ABC News’ Jake Tapper.

Particularly interesting to me was Tapper’s take on the differences between writing for Salon and for ABC:

Your writing at Salon was more opinionated in tone. Was it an adjustment to move to your quote-unquote unbiased role at ABC?
No, because I’m not a particularly dogmatic person. I have not found it difficult. In fact, I’ve found it much easier — even when I was at Salon, but certainly much more so since, — to try to be as politically agnostic as possible. It’s much more interesting anyway if you don’t think you know the answer to what is right or wrong in politics. And that’s not to say there are not rights and wrongs, but just that they are not dictated by any one particular point of view. So no, actually it suits me much better. I never felt completely comfortable; I never fit in perfectly at Salon, as much as I loved writing for Salon. I never fit in perfectly because I didn’t have an established point of view, and I didn’t view the world as automatically ‘so-and-so should be elected and such-and-such a view is wrong.’

In general, I’m OK with reporters acknowledging that they embrace certain premises, but I think the case that Tapper makes for the benefits of humility in one’s own ability to “know the answer to what is right or wrong in politics” is well-taken. Too many digital scribblers seem to write with more confidence than their experiences and knowledge can likely support. Maybe it’s because I often lack that confidence, but the belief that you don’t know the answer can be an important catalyst for finding answers that are closer to the quote-unquote truth.

This is something I like about political science. You are pushed to take notions and beliefs about how politics works (theories, if you will) and then translate them into testable hypotheses. By bringing data to bear, you can, at the very least, separate some of the assumptions from the actuality. 

UPDATE: Unrelated, but worth noting just for interest’s sake is Tapper’s description of his old boss, David Carr:

Alright, last thing. In your first newspaper job, your editor was New York Times media guru David Carr. Can you close us out with a good Carr story from that era?
If you’ve ever met David Carr you know he’s not just a columnist and reporter, he is a force of nature. Even calling him a force of nature does a disservice to him, because there are some very minor hurricanes that are forces of nature and Carr is certainly beyond that. You become enveloped in his dialogue, his world view, his enthusiasm for journalism. I’d never met anyone like him. It was our first meeting after I had written a few stories for the Washington City Paper on a freelance basis, he basically convinced me to do what I wanted to do but hadn’t had the guts to do — to take a substantial pay cut and become a journalist. And then for that year-plus I worked for him, he was a one man J-school. I often tell young people seeking to break into the business, ‘Before you go to journalism school, I recommend you start at a small local newspaper.’ That probably overestimates editors in general out there, but I was really lucky that I had this guy who was in the process of becoming a legend as my first editor. I remember the triumphs we shared and I remember the times he yelled at me. I remember what he yelled at me about. It’s all there. And I’m a lucky guy that I fell into his world when I did, because he wasn’t really at City Paper all that long, and neither was I. But I invited him to my wedding. He’s a very important figure in my life.

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Michael Hasting’s Reporting Process For Long-Form Articles

Buzzfeed’s Michael Hastings, the reporter who catalyzed Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ouster as the top general in Afghanistan, participated in one of Reddit’s Ask Me Anything interviews yesterday. Many of the questions were about war, foreign policy or the upcoming election. But what interested me was Hasting’s response to a question about how he typically goes “about beginning and working through a long-form piece.”

Here’s Hasting’s to-do list for reporting:

Okay. So story gets pitched, editor accepts the pitch. Then I do the following:

1) Make a list of all people I want to talk to and get their phone numbers and email addresses.

2) Read, or try to read, everything that’s been written on the topic.

3) Figure out where I need to travel to and when.

4) Start calling people. (And actually, I’ll often just start by picking up the phone, as folks you’ll talk to can also direct you on better material to read, and more people to talk to.)

5) Record the interviews, if possible.

6) Transcribe interviews.

7) And after all that is done, I usually write a draft in about 48 to 72 hours, depending on caffeine intake and editor temperament and deadline.

Also on the journalism tip, Hastings describes what he views Buzzfeed’s editorial goals to be. Notably, he rejects the idea that Buzzfeed is a tabloid, instead arguing that it has a “kind of futuristic, sci-fi feel.”

Hastings also gave  listed advice to youngsters wanting to break into reporting:

Okay, here’s my advice to you (and young journalists in general):

1.) You basically have to be willing to devote your life to journalism if you want to break in. Treat it like it’s medical school or law school.

2.) When interviewing for a job, tell the editor how you love to report. How your passion is gathering information. Do not mention how you want to be a writer, use the word “prose,” or that deep down you have a sinking suspicion you are the next Norman Mailer.

3.) Be prepared to do a lot of things for free. This sucks, and it’s unfair, and it gives rich kids an edge. But it’s also the reality.

4.) When writing for a mass audience, put a fact in every sentence.

5.)Also, keep the stories simple and to the point, at least at first.

6.) You should have a blog and be following journalists you like on Twitter.

7.) If there’s a publication you want to work for or write for, cold call the editors and/or email them. This can work.

8) By the second sentence of a pitch, the entirety of the story should be explained. (In other words, if you can’t come up with a rough headline for your story idea, it’s going to be a challenge to get it published.)

9) Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it’s more important to you than anything else in your life–family, friends, social life, whatever.

10) Learn to embrace rejection as part of the gig. Keep writing/pitching/reading.

Doesn’t seem like bad advice. I imagine the two points (1 and 9) about putting journalism above all else are the ones most likely to stick in the craw of people contemplating a journalism career. As the recent j-prof v. Business Insider debate over Joe Weisenthal’s 16 hour days, demonstrates, work-life balance is a contentious topic in journalism. Some people may love writing, reporting, the news and so on, but they may not be willing to sacrifice their lives to it. I can understand this dilemma, as it weighs on me constantly.

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Some Perspective On The Battle For Warren Buffett’s Heart Between Civic Good And The Bottom Line

Over at Forbes, Jeff Bercovici asks what superinvestor Warren Buffett’s true feelings are regarding the print press, particularly newspapers. Does he think they are a foolish business venture or a cause worthy of support? Using Berkshire Hathaway’s purchase of the Media General newspaper chain this week as his proof, Bercovici argues that while Buffett might have “tender feelings” towards newspapers, the terms of the deal mean that no one should “accuse him of committing philanthropy“:

What we know now, thanks to his acquisition of the Media General newspaper chain last week, is the exact shape of that soft spot. Buffett might his tender feelings to bend his investing principles, but he won’t break them. He’s a pragmatic savior who’s only interested in those papers that can be saved.

The deal he made to get his hands on Media General’s 25 dailies is hardly the work of a romantic. No one who takes a close look at the terms, as Ken Doctor notes, would accuse him of committing philanthropy.

But Buffett may have more philanthropic bones in his body than Bercovici gives him credit for. The situation is somewhat different — I believe it may have been Buffett’s personal money rather than Berkshire Hathaway’s — but his past support for the Washington Monthly is hard to view as a situation where “Buffett’s ethos about what’s good for society dovetails nicely with his ethos about what makes a good investment,” as Bercovici says of his recent newspaper investments. Indeed, according to Alan Schroeder’s Buffett bio, The Snowball, Buffett warned his fellow investors “not to expect big profits.” It’s true, apparently, that the Monthly’s financial problems caused conflict between Buffett’s journalistic boosterism and his business instincts:

Buffett brought Fred Stanback and Rosenfeld in as partners on the Washington Monthly warning them not to expect big profits. In fact, he thought the financial prospects might vary in inverse proportion to the magazine’s journalistic success. But the scandals it might uncover — the ideas it could promote — the exposés it could expose! They put in a little money.

In short order, the Washington Monthly ran through its initial capital stake. Buffett held out the possibility of another $50,000. He and Peters had a fifty-minute phone conversation, in which Buffett’s hard-nosed business instincts and his good-citizen journalist side went to war. “As an investment, it reeked of the potential for failure,” says Peters. “He was worried about his business reputation….Warren kept finding plausible escape routes, and I tried to block the exits.” Buffett said that the editors had to put in some of their own money, and raise some outside, which Buffett said he would match eighty percent. 

Peters was a better journalist than accountant. They raised the money; the checks went out; then nobody heard from the Washington Monthly. “They just vanished,” says Buffett. Although the Washington Monthly was indeed putting out strong stories, it wasn’t enough. He had known from the beginning that he would not make money, but he thought that it ought to be accountable for the money that it had. He was embarrassed at having drawn in Stanback and Rosenfeld. Buffett wanted to be a partner in journalism, not just the guy who bankrolled idealism.

But Buffett seems to at least consider the investment to have been worth it for the type of journalism that the Washington Monthly produced. In the early 2000s, when the Washington Monthly transitioned into a non-profit, Buffett sent a note to the magazine saying as much:

The original shareholders had bought into Mr. Peters’s vision of a monthly magazine that covered government, and not just politics. Over the last year, most cheerfully mailed back their stock certificates, which had value as mementos and little else — so the magazine could be reorganized into a nonprofit.

”I’ve no problem turning The Monthly into a nonprofit (in fact, I think we already are a ‘nonprofit’),” Mr. Buffett wrote to the magazine. ”Despite the lack of financial return, society has already gotten its money’s worth out of the publication.”

So, what does this all mean in terms of interpreting Buffett’s newspaper investments? I frankly can’t say, but I do think it shades in the picture a bit, showing Buffett as someone who is willing to take a loss, perhaps begrudgingly, if it supports civic-minded journalism.

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Great Moments In Framing: Ann Romney Vs. Hilary Rosen Edition

Last night Fox News released a new poll with a dead heat between President Obama and Mitt Romney as the headline result. But as always with Fox polls, the real fun is looking deeper in the poll at the topical questions Fox included. In this poll, they dedicated a series of questions to the recent silly season spat over comments Democratic lobbyist Hilary Rosen made about Ann Romney.

In the section of the poll released yesterday — questions 16 to 34 are being released separately — Fox asked four questions related to the Rosen-Romney kerfuffle. One broadly described the controversy and asked if Rosen’s comments were “fair” or a “cheap shot,” finding that 72% of respondents thought it was a cheap shot (one could quibble with whether Fox’s description of the situation loaded answers toward the “cheap shot” conclusion, but that’s not the point of this post). Another question asked how much stay-at-home moms should be paid if they had an annual salary.

What I’m interested in, however, are the two questions Fox asked comparing the toughness of being a stay-at-home mom with other potential work situations:

In some ways, this is a great example of framing effects in survey question wording. Both “being a working mom” and “being a political strategist” could be used to describe Hilary Rosen. So if the question is asked in the former manner, a near majority of respondents think Rosen has a tougher job, but if the question is asked in the latter manner, the majority of respondents think Ann Romney has the tougher job.

Obviously, if the questions aren’t meant to be a direct comparison between Romney and Rosen, the effect of changing the point of comparison for stay-at-home moms means less. But what other reason would Fox News have for including a question about whether being a stay-at-home mom is tougher than being a political strategist then to take a shot at Rosen?

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Silly Political Science For Silly Season: Obama’s 2008 Deficit With Dog Owners

At The Monkey Cage, John Sides frivolously posts a Daily Show clip in which Jon Stewart jokes about reading political science journals as a lead-in to mocking the silly seasontornado of idiocy” that was last week’s campaign 2012 kerfuffle over dogs.

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Thankfully, this gives me exactly the hook I need to post about an article I found while looking through the tables of content of recent issues of the journal PS: Political Science & Politics. As it turns out, there is some political science that explores the data on dog ownership and support in 2008 for President Obama.

With her tongue firmly in her cheek — evidenced by both the tone of the essay and its dedication to the late Lee Sigelman, who was a fan of funny and weird research subjects —   Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania explored, “The Dog that Didn’t Bark: The Role of Canines in the 2008 Election” (gated). Perhaps as an excuse to use the pet ownership questions that were included in the 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey, Mutz examined how Obama’s promise to get a dog for his daughters at the election, which highlighted for the public that he wasn’t then a dog owner, affected his electoral support.

It turns out that, even when controlling for a multitude of possible influences of voter preference, dog ownership was both substantially and statistically significant:

The three-point difference in thermometer scores that survived an unusually extensive collection of control variables may not seem like a substantial effect at first. However, taken in context, one would be hard pressed to call this effect trivial. For example, considering oneself “born again” lowers support for Obama by less than this amount, and yet few call this political contingent inconsequential.

In the analysis shown in table 2, with self-reported vote choice as the outcome of interest, the size of the effect was unmistakably substantial as well as statistically significant. According to the fully specified logit model, all else being equal, the odds decreased by 16% if the respondent was a dog owner. This large impact occurred despite the many other potential confounding influences controlled for in table 2. 

What does this mean for 2012? According to Mutz’s theoretical explanation, Obama’s promise of a future dog for his daughters hurt him because it highlighted his lack of dog ownership, which meant that dog owners would identify with him on a group basis less than they would identify with dog owner John McCain. By that theory, Obama shouldn’t face a dog deficit in 2008 since he is now a dog owner, as is Mitt Romney.

This doesn’t mean that the dog on roof versus dog in a six-year old’s food spat will mean anything. In fact, we should go on assuming that it won’t. I only bring up the Mutz piece since I happen to come across it and I found it amusing. Plus, we all know that the real important political factor regarding pets is whether owners are authoritarian or permissive.

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