Media postsWednesday April 19, 2017
KUOW's Science Coverage Needs Peer Review
On Monday morning, my local NPR station, KUOW, ran a piece in which various scientists talked up the March for Science this Saturday. One is marching, she says, despite politics (“If there was a Democratic president who was doing the same things, I would feel the same way”), one feels marching reinforces partisan politics (i.e., “scientists have their own political agenda”), while a third gets into the squishy areas of liberal thought rather than the hard facts of science (“We are marching to defend an inclusive and diverse culture inside of science”).
It was a kind of “meh” piece, to be honest. I wondered: Are these three supposed to be representative of the scientific community? Are they outliers? Does the media tend toward the outlier, which feels like a story, even when it's supposed to be doing a representative piece?
But whatever. I was shaving. I was moving on with my day.
Then KUOW had to add a coda.
The piece seemingly over, they suddenly introduced Alex Berezow, a Senior Fellow at the American Council of Science and Health, with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. For some reason, Mr. Berezow's thoughts aren't even part of the transcribed portion on KUOW's website. What were his thoughts?
Republicans, he said, may be known for denying climate change and evolution, but what about the left, which denies the benefits of GMO and the safety of nuclear power? “So I don't just buy that this is a one-sided war on science,” he said.
The he told a story of that infamous anti-vaccer, Barack Obama.
Specifically, he talked about the vaccine shortage during the 2009 flu epidemic and the response by the Obama administration's FDA, which didn't use adjuvants to extend the vaccine, because some thought they increased the chance for autism. “The Obama administration's FDA had given in to a couple of very fringe ideas, and as a result we had a vaccine supply shortage,” he said. “So I don't buy this idea that the war on science comes from the right, I don't really buy that it comes from the left; I buy that politicians are politicians, and they will throw science under the bus whenever they think it suits them.”
That was the end of the piece. No follow-up, no fact-checking from KUOW. Although it did add this, cryptically, about the American Council of Science and Health:
On its website, the council says part of their mission is to fight back against activist groups that have targeted GMOs, vaccines, nuclear power and chemicals.
Wikipedia is more explicit. The ACSH is a pro-industry group, often funded by the Scaifes and Exxons (and nearly the Phillip Morrises) of the world. I don't know why KUOW didn't just tell us this. Because this is my thought: Businesses are businesses, and they will throw science under the bus whenever they think it suits them.
As for Berezow's line about “the Obama administration's FDA” caving in to “a couple of very fringe ideas”? That leaves a little something out. This is from a New York Times piece on Senate hearings from Nov. 2009. Dr. Lurie is Nicole Lurie, chief of preparedness and response for the Health and Human Services Department:
Dr. Lurie said the adding of adjuvants had been discussed repeatedly but would have meant pulling doses off the production line. Also, she said, because anti-vaccine activists have expressed a fear of adjuvants, even though they are naturally occurring oils that have been used safely in Europe for a decade, public confidence in the vaccine was “not as robust as we'd like it to be” and officials feared some people would avoid shots.
I spent half a day researching for nothing what KUOW couldn't bother to tell us. Well, at least I learned how to spell “adjuvant.”
'Tension Between Immigrants and...?'
Can no one on NPR talk straight? Just say what is?
This morning, I listened to a segment on “The Takeaway,” out of NYC, about designing the public library of the future, and how they're community centers and what have you; and at one point host John Hockenberry began to ask this question:
There's been so much talk about the tension between immigrants and...
He paused, and I'm thinking: Pres. Trump? The Trump administration? The GOP? America Firsters? Reactionary SOBs? What's he going to say? I'm trying to help him along in my head. And he finally gets it out:
... and ... uh ... the, uh, authorities, the people who want to deport them...
The message of the piece is ultimately pro-immigrant, but c'mon, people. Call a Trump a Trump.
NPR Reduces Nunes' Actions to 'Partisan Bickering'
NPR's reporting pissed me off again this morning. I've come to expect it now. I expect them to display rotten journalistic instincts; to lean way too far to accommodate the right.
This morning the discussion between host David Greene and national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly was supposed to be clarify (“take a deep breath here” Greene said at the outset) the congressional investigations into connections between Russia and the Trump administration. But Greene and Kelly shot themselves in the foot immediately:
GREENE: Let's start with this House investigation. They had the director of the FBI come testify. It seemed like they were making a whole lot of progress, then they just descended into partisan bickering. Is that a...
KELLY: A partisan bar brawl, as I've taken to calling it...
GREENE: Partisan bar brawl. Yeah.
KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah.
GREENE: I mean, can that committee actually credibly get back on track?
Partisan bickering. Partisan bar brawl.
Are you effin' kidding me?
The Republican head of the intelligence committee, Devin Nunes, acts in an unprecedented and unethical manner by working with the Trump adminstration rather than his own committee, by sharing intel with the people he's supposedly investigating, and by holding a press conference at the White House that toes the Trump line ... and this is reduced to “partisan bickering”? Even though members of his own party, including John McCain, are perplexed by, and have condemned him for, his actions?
Man, am I sick of this. The GOP knows that if they gum up the works, it's generally reported as “partisan squabble,” and readers/listeners wind up with a “plague on both yer houses” attitude. It allows the GOP to be bad actors, as Nunes is here, and get away with it.
What's worse is the knowing smirk in Greene's and Kelly's voices. Looks like those clowns in Congress did it again. What-a-bunch-of-clowns. It's so lazy. And it never gets at what the story is.
Yes, eventually Kelly mentioned Nunes, but that aspect of the story was couched in the usual language of false equivalence. Almost everyone agrees that Nunes acted unethically, and that his counterpart, Adam Schiff (D-CA) acted honorably, but, on NPR, the White House says this is a “witch hunt” and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), a moderate Republican, says the whole thing is too “politicized,” so ... that's that.
What a bunch of clowns.
The Media Trump Wants But Doesn't Have (Yet)
Anthony Kuhn has been a journalist in China for years, but this month he became a viral sensation for asking a question about President Xi Jingping's “megaregion plans” around Beijing and the relocation of businesses/residents there. Video of his question at a government press conference went viral for a number of reasons: 1) he speaks Chinese like a native; 2) he seemed concerned about Beijing citizens; 3) the question was more pointed/critical than what the domestic press normally asks.
On NPR, Kuhn writes the following:
All Chinese media are nominally state-owned, and the government has increasingly leaned on journalists to “correctly guide public opinion” to the conclusions that the government prefers.
China's leaders acknowledge that the press has a watchdog role, which they call “supervision by public opinion.” But since the heyday of investigative Chinese journalism, much of it done by metropolitan tabloids in the 1990s and early 2000s, the government has muzzled many of the country's more independent media outlets and forced many journalists either to censor themselves or quit the business.
It's exactly the kind of press Pres. Trump wants. And gets? Everyone applauded the German reporter last Friday for asking Trump about why he is scared of “diversity” in the news, dismissing anything he doesn't like as “Fake news,” and about his constant, unproven claims. It was a breath of fresh air. She all but asked, “Why do you keep lying?” It was a breath of fresh air because nobody else is saying that to his face. He dismissed her as “Fake news.”
Scarier: Andrew Marantz in The New Yorker on the right-wing blogs and jackass conservative sites that are increasingly making up the White House press corps.
Really, the kind of press he wants is the question.
NPR, Steve Inskeep, Pull Back from Tree to See Tree
On NPR this morning, Steve Inskeep promised that we would back away from all the blathering news stories for a moment “to see a theme many of them share.” He explained further: “It's like we're backing away from a tree to see the forest.”
That theme? That forest? “A conflict between core American values: religious freedom and equality.”
According to a back-and-forth with reporter Tom Gjelten, the most recent example of this conflict is a potential “draft executive order” coming out of the Trump White House (sorry, threw up a little in my mouth) that would bar the government from punishing people or institutions who hate the gays. No, Gjelten didn't say that. He said: “... who support marriage exclusively between one man and one woman.”
So we're back to that. Ted Cruz is also offering up legislation on same. Being a reader of Orwell and 1984, he calls his bill “The First Amendment Defense Act.”
It's a seven-minute piece. All about how to protect both equality and (religious) freedom.
And since, as Inskeep promised, we would get to see the forest, NPR backed up enough to see how this religious freedom argument factored in religions from all over the world. For example: What if a devout Muslim haberdasher didn't want to wait on an infidel?
No, sorry. NPR didn't mention Islam at all.
Oh right. But it did mention, say, the Jewish baker who didn't want to serve Catholics.
No. None of that.
Hinduism? Buddhists? Taoists? Sikhs? Mormans?
Yeah, no. It was exclusively about conservative Christians.
Helluva forest, NPR.