Archive | Media

Don’t turn Aurora killer into celebrity

That’s the title of my article yesterday in USA Today, suggesting how the media can try to cover the crime in a way that does not increase the risk of a copycat effect.

Also on USA Today, I participated in a Web Chat with a pair of representatives of the Brady Campaign, available here.

A New York Times article today on Colorado gun laws quotes Eugene Volokh and me. […]

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NBC Fires a Producer Who Was Responsible for Gross Mis-Editing of the George Zimmerman 911 Tape

According to The New York Times (thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer),

NBC News has fired a producer who was involved in the production of a misleading segment about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

The Today show segment had Zimmerman saying,

This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

Here’s what appears to be the actual 911 transcript:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.


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Lawyers Who Voted for Obama Want his Health Care Law to be Upheld

That’s the gist of this L.A. Times front page article by David Savage, but the headline instead promises
Signs of Supreme Court activism worry Reagan administration lawyers.

It turns out that the only “Reagan Administration lawyers” they are able to quote are Charles Fried and Doug Kmiec, both of whom quite publicly endorsed candidate Obama in 2008.  Kmiec, in fact, was rewarded with an ambassadorship for his service.

The article does note  that Reagan appointee Laurence Silberman voted to uphold the mandate.  But as an appellate judge Silberman is bound to interpret precedent as best he can.  We don’t know from his ruling (a) what he would do if he were on the Supreme Court, where he could feel free to interpret precedent as he wished, or ignore it entirely; (b) what he would like the Supreme Court do do; much less (c) whether he’s “worried” about “signs of Supreme Court activism.”

So all the article tells us is that two prominent  lawyers who endorsed Obama, both of whom by all indications think his health care law was a good idea (Fried authored an amicus brief supporting it, and calls it a “free market alternative”; note to Fried: you don’t need a 2,700 page bill, supplemented by thousands and thousands more pages of regulation, to establish a “free market”) want it to be upheld.  That’s worth a front page article? […]

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NBC Internal Investigation of the Apparent Gross Mis-Editing of the George Zimmerman 911 Tape

Erik Wemple (Washington Post) reports:

NBC told this blog today that it would investigate its handling of a piece on the “Today” show that ham-handedly abridged the conversation between George Zimmerman and a dispatcher in the moments before the death of Trayvon Martin. A statement from NBC:

“We have launched an internal investigation into the editorial process surrounding this particular story.”

Here’s what appears to be the Today show’s version of what Zimmerman said:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

Here’s what appears to be the actual 911 transcript:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Unless there’s something I’m missing here, the editing seems extremely improper (“high editorial malpractice,” in the Washington Post blogger’s words). I say this not to opine on the merits of any possible criminal case against Zimmerman; this particular point isn’t about him, but about NBC. […]

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Why Most People Tend to Talk About Politics Only with those Who Agree with Them

Economist Robin Hanson has a blog post discussing a recent study showing that most people tend to limit conversations about politics to those who agree with their views. This is not just a matter of people tending to have friends and acquaintances who have similar views. Even when there are people in our social circle who have divergent political views, the study shows that we are far more likely to talk about politics with those we agree with. Much previous research reaches similar conclusions. Moreover, we see the same pattern in people’s choices about the media they follow on political issues. Conservatives are likely to watch conservative TV channels, and read conservative newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Liberals have the opposite pattern. If you are a regular VC reader, you are far more likely to to be a libertarian or a conservative than not. If you regularly read a liberal political or legal blog, chances are that you’re a liberal yourself.

When people do encounter opposing arguments, they tend to evaluate them in a highly biased way, in effect holding them to a much higher standard than they apply to arguments that support their own views. Moreover, as Diana Mutz shows, most of these tendencies are especially pronounced among people who are most interested in politics and have the most strongly held political views.

Perhaps the avoidance of political talks with people we disagree with is in part driven by a desire to avoid social awkwardness. But that can’t explain the avoidance of opposing media. Moreover, conversations about politics with those we disagree with are awkward at least in part because people tend to be intolerant of opposing views.

All of this is highly irrational if the goal of reading and talking about politics is to seek out […]

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More on the New York Times, Israel and Neil Lewis in CJR

Last week, I posted a short piece on an article by Neil Lewis in the Columbia Journalism Review, discussing whether the New York Times reporting is hostile to Israel. As I noted, Lewis gets the basic story right–the Times’ isn’t anti-Israel, as such, but its reporting on Israel tends toward the adversarial, for two reasons. First, for several decades the Times’s Israel correspondents have typically had views on appropriate Israeli policy well to the “Left” of the governments in power in Israel. And, second, reporters find it naturally appealing to take the “David” (Palestinian) side in a David vs. Goliath (Israel) story. I should have added a third factor, noted by Lewis: the growth of leftist domestic NGOs in Israel strongly opposed to government policy (and often to Zionism), which–though Lewis doesn’t mention this–are typically staffed by English-speakers, often Americans, and that, because they are so far out of the mainstream of Israeli opinion, tend to focus on feeding stories to a more sympathetic international media.

The problem with the article is that Lewis seems to think that this is more or less the end of the matter. If the Times isn’t affirmatively anti-Israel, it doesn’t matter whether the Times’s reporters are nevertheless implicitly opposing Israeli government policy and/or supporting Palestinian claims by virtue of the stories they choose to pursue, how they frame those stories, what photographs they choose to run with the stories, and so forth–none of which he analyzes in any detail. Other critics, some much more vociferous than I, have noticed the same thing.

Indeed, even though Lewis acknowledges the points noted in the first paragraph, and he cites critics of the Times (including critics who think the Times is too favorably inclined to Israel), he manages to avoid acknowledging any instance where he […]

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CJR on the New York Times and Israel

I’ve blogged before about the New York Times’ coverage of Israel, so I thought I’d point out a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review by former Times reporter Neil Lewis on that precise topic.

Unfortunately, it’s trite, largely repeating what any fair-minded observer already knows: first, that the Times is not hostile to Israel, per se, but its reporters’ and editors’ views of “proper” Israeli policy have for decades leaned far to the “left” of actual Israeli policy, which in turn makes much of its coverage implicitly adversarial (and which also explains why folks that are truly hostile to Israel think that the Times is a Zionist rag); and, second, that in a David vs. Goliath story, reporters tend to strongly favor David. As the narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict has shifted from little Israel defending itself against tens of millions of Arabs to stateless Palestinians demanding rights from Israel the advanced military power, reporters, including reporters at the Times, have a natural inclination to skew their stories to favor the Palestinian Davids, with much of the context of the conflict–including those tens of millions of neighboring Arabs still largely unremittingly hostile to Israel–often lost in the shuffle.

Meanwhile the piece misses some opportunities to point out various occasions where the Times’s has deviated from anything resembling fairness to Israel. For example, while Lewis notes that Deborah Sontag, the Times’s Israel correspondent from August 1998-2001, was considered even by her bosses at the Times unduly unfriendly to Israel, he then adds that the Times considered replacing her with Jeffrey Goldberg, a clearly pro-Israel (albeit, as one would expect, left-leaning) writer.

But he somehow neglects to note a much more salient point than the Times’s flirtation with Goldberg: that the head of the Times’s Middle East Bureau during Sontag’s time […]

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Even Worse Than We Had Hoped: Inside Local TV News

Note: This is the second of two book “reviews” I’ve been hoping to do since about August, but my fall got so busy with actual paying work that they were both pushed off until the delightfully slow week between Christmas and New Years.  “First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers” was the first, but Jonathan kinda beat me to that.  This is the second.


We’re all lawyers here, right?

If you’ve ever regretted your career choice, I have the antidote:  Paul B. Spelman’s “Even Worse Than We Had Hoped: A Journey Through The Weird Wild World Of Local TV News,” the memoir of a former local TV news reporter who is now a lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission (and until 2010 was an associate at my firm).

After leaving the truly small time as a radio reporter in Telluride, Colorado—where Christie Brinkley made a donation to his station in gratitude for Spelman’s lack of killer instinct in investigating the story of her ski accident, Spelman’s first assignment as an on-air TV reporter was in the perfectly named Whiteville, North Carolina, where he found a sign outside one of the 86 (no joke) local churches reading “Let Jesus Fix Your Achy Breaky Heart.” Spelman is “something of a curiosity” to the townsfolk as a “half-Jewish New Yorker whose only religious experiences came from attending classmates’ bar mitzvahs.” (I am confident that many Whiteville residents are, like you, puzzling over whether that should have been “B’nai Mitzvah.”) There, Spelman gains experience operating a one-man news “bureau,” or “one-man band” in industry argot, simultaneously serving as his own cameraman as he videotapes himself reporting from the scene day after day. Spelman explains how local reporters work to turn mundane events into seemingly hard-hitting stories—the […]

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Linda Greenhouse Questions Roe v. Wade

That wasn’t her intent, of course–Greenhouse was famously rebuked by her editors at the New York Times for marching in an abortion rights rally in 1989 in D.C.–but consider her recent blog post:

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association traveled north to Toronto for its annual meeting. Doing some homework for a panel I was to moderate, I came upon Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, added in 1982 to the country’s mid-19th century constitution. Section 1, the “limitation clause,” makes the Charter’s many guarantees subject “to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” A Canadian judge assured me that this requirement of “proportionality,” as various European constitutions with a similar principle refer to it, is invoked constantly and forms the basis for Canadian constitutional interpretation.

Proportionality strikes me as worth considering in preference to the arid absolutism that seems to have taken hold of the United States Supreme Court.

Greenhouse is alluding primarily to the Court’s recent First Amendment cases, but surely Roe v. Wade is the most absolutist case the Supreme Court has ever issued, on a variety of levels–it invalidated the abortion laws of all fifty states; created a regime that permitted virtually no regulation of abortion for the next eighteen years, giving the U.S. the most liberal abortion laws in the world; was significantly out of line with public opinion; gratuitously went well beyond what the Court needed to say to rule in favor of Jane Roe; and invented a right to abortion that’s awfully hard to justify based on either the Constitution’s text or American tradition.

So if the principle of “proportionality” should apply to freedom of speech, an explicit and enumerated right, surely the same principle should apply […]

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Identifying Experts’ Political Affiliations and Funding Sources in the Media

Liberal Pittsburgh political blogger “Davyoe” complains that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review misleadingly portrayed me as a “politically neutral” expert when they interviewed me about the recent individual mandate decision a few days ago. The type of issue he raises is commonly brought up these days:

While his description above seems politically neutral (he’s just described as “an associate professor at George Mason University School of Law”) parts of Somin’s bio was conveniently omitted by the Scaife-employed [reporter] Craig Smith.

Somin is also an Adjunct Scholar at the Scaife-funded Cato Institute – and from that page we also learn that Somin blogs at the conservative/libertarian Volokh Conspiracy.

However brilliant Professor Somin may be, politically neutral he isn’t. Smith should have pointed out Somin’s connections to the political right.

Also omitted, of course, are the millions of dollars Smith’s boss Richard Mellon Scaife has shuffled of to Cato, where Somin’s a scholar.

The implication is that the media must disclose any connections, however indirect, that an expert has with politically motivated funders of any kind. Being an adjunct scholar at Cato is an unpaid position that doesn’t give Cato any control over my research (or me over theirs) – much less giving any such control to individual Cato donors. If that is going to be the standard for what reporters must mention, it should be applied consistently across the board.

For example, most major universities get funding from liberal foundations such as the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, and often also from individual liberal donors such as George Soros. Many of the liberal legal scholars who are quoted in the media in support of the individual mandate are affiliated with the American Constitution Society, which also gets some of its funding from Soros (full disclosure: I’ve spoken at several ACS events myself). […]

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Suggestions for your periodical reading list

Although on-line reading continues to grow, many people still enjoy old-fashioned printed periodicals. In the spirit of gratuitous advice, here are some suggestions for print subscriptions.

First of all, if you’re conscientious about registering for the frequent flyer program every time you step on an airplane, you may accumulate a few thousand points on various airlines which you fly only occasionally. You’ll never get to the level of a free ticket, but the points expire if you don’t use them. So use them for magazine subscriptions. I’ve been enjoying the daily Wall Street Journal that way for several years, and have used low-level points for dozens of other year-long or half-year subscriptions over the past decades.

Second, there’s a lot to be said for trying many different periodicals with one-time subscriptions. You may find a magazine that becomes indispensable for you (as The New Republic was for me, for about 15 years), but just reading something for a year or a half-year can broaden your knowledge, and then you can move on to something else.

Some category recommendations:

Newsweeklies: Back in the olden days of the 1970s, these were truly great. Then, the daily New York Times wasn’t available outside of the New York area, and the Wall Street Journal was sparse on non-business news. Time and Newsweek, and to a lesser extent U.S. News & World Report, provided in-depth, thoroughly-reported stories of the major issue of the week, the deep inside of presidential campaigns, and so on. These days, it’s hard to make a case for reading the remnants of those once-important magazines.

The Economist is still probably the most influential periodical in the world. If you read its U.S. coverage, you’ll quickly discover that the analysis is not nearly so sharp and insightful as the omniscient […]

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USA Today Refuses to Correct its Misrepresentation of My Statements About the Individual Mandate Litigation

I regret that I must report that USA Today refuses to correct the misrepresentation of my views about the individual mandate litigation that I pointed out in this post. I pointed out the mistake in e-mails to Joan Biskupic, the author of the article in question, and the editors of USA Today. Both refused to issue any correction. They did invite me to state my view in a letter to the editor. However, after I sent in the letter, they refused to print it on the grounds that “[i]t is the paper’s policy not to disguise corrections as letters to the editor.” They were only willing to print a heavily redacted version that didn’t clearly indicate the nature of the error that Ms. Biskupic made in her characterization of my supposed “prediction” about what the Court will do. I refused to let them publish the letter under such absurd restrictions. The whole point of the letter was to point and out and correct her mistake.

Here is the original unexpurgated letter:

To Whom it May Concern:

In her April 14 article on the the Obama health care plan individual mandate litigation, Joan Biskupic incorrectly wrote that I had predicted that “the Constitution’s ‘original meaning,’ along with recent cases, would lead a majority of the [Supreme] court to reject the law.”

In reality, I never said any such thing. In the past, I have several times publicly written that the Court is more likely to uphold the law than strike it down, though the anti-mandate side also has a significant chance of prevailing. Ms. Biskupic also erred in stating that I predicted that Justice Anthony Kennedy would necessarily vote to strike down the mandate. I did not say that either.

Finally, Ms. Biskupic omitted crucial context in quoting my statement


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Misquoted in USA Today

One of the dangers of commenting on hot-button legal issues is that reporters will sometimes misquote you. That happened to me in today’s front-page USA Today story on the individual mandate litigation by prominent legal reporter Joan Biskupic, which cited me as follows:

George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin argued at a recent forum sponsored by the American Constitution Society that the Constitution’s “original meaning,” along with recent cases, would lead a majority of the court to reject the law.

“There is no logical way to uphold this mandate,” Somin said, predicting that Justices Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy and Alito would be inclined to strike down the law. Somin said the vote of Chief Justice Roberts is more difficult to predict based on his record.

In reality, I never predicted that a majority of the Court would “reject the law.” I actually said that the case could go either way, and that Kennedy and Roberts were likely swing voters. I also noted that some things Kennedy has said in recent opinions suggest that he wants to enforce limits on the scope of federal power. But I did not say that means that it’s clear he will vote to strike down. He could, I think, go either way.

I have on several occasions publicly said that the case could go either way, that the plaintiffs face an “uphill struggle” and that a victory by the pro-mandate side is more likely than the opposite. I think the Court should invalidate the mandate, but the justices do not always get these issues right, and sometimes go against logic.

At the same time, I believe that the anti-mandate side has a real chance to win and that the case is far from a slam dunk for the federal government. To put it in […]

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The Annals of Objective Reporting

Ryan J. Foley, AP, begins a “news” article as follows: “To end a high-stakes stalemate over union rights that has captured the nation’s attention, a handful of Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin might have to stand up to their new governor.”

There is no indication in the article that such defections are in any way likely. Indeed, later in the article, Foley writes, “So far, there’s little evidence of a move to compromise.”

As near as I can tell, the stalemate could also be ended with the defection of some Democrats to the governor’s side, though Foley doesn’t choose to mention that option.

Just a bizarre bit of editorializing disguised as news, with the rest of the article just as one-sided.

UPDATE: The story cited above has now been replaced at its link with a new story by a different author with a more appropriate lead: “No resolution appeared imminent Monday to the stalemate over union rights in Wisconsin, leaving Senate Republicans resigned to forge ahead with less-controversial business such as tax breaks for dairy farmers and commending the Green Bay Packers on winning the Super Bowl.” […]

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New York Times (?) on “Jewish Voice for Peace”

As regular readers know, I’m often critical of the New York Times’ reporting on various matters. But this morning, the ninth most popular article on the New York Times website, about the hard-leftist “Jewish Voice for Peace,” is not even a Times piece, but reprinted from a local San Francisco online startup called the Bay Citizen.

Journalistically, it’s a disaster. A few examples:

(1) Out of context quotes. After recounting a few incidents where left-wing Jews were treated badly, the piece goes on: “What’s happening is outlandish; the era of civil discourse has disappeared,” said Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce of Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco’s largest synagogue. Was Pearce referring to these incidents and/or the general hostile attitude of the Jewish community to JVP, to the mutual hostility of JVP and the organized Jewish community, or to JVP’s own confrontational tactics? The piece makes it seem like the first, but there’s no way to know from this out of context quote, and I’m guessing the quote is misleading. [UPDATE: Here’s a report of Rabbi Pearce participating in a delegation to Israel, a purpose of which was “to express the urgent need for all members of our communtiy to learn and use constructive tools for sharing concerns about Israel without descending into hurtful, hateful, and destructive vitriol.” Looks like Rabbi Pearce is concerned about the lack “civil discourse” emanating from groups like JVP, exactly the opposite of the impression you’d get from the article.]

(2) Credulity “Jewish Voice for Peace’s mailing list has risen to 100,000 from 35,000 since the start of the Gaza conflict, according to the organization; the number of chapters has grown to 27 from 7. From 2008 to 2009, the group’s operating budget, fueled by donations, grew 44 percent.” Who cares how big the mailing list […]

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