What If Jazz Musicians, Botanists, And Sushi Chefs Wrote The News?

Christopher Beam at Slate:

A new article in the Columbia Journalism Review discusses the differences between political journalism and political science. What if academics started writing the news?

A powerful thunderstorm forced President Obama to cancel his Memorial Day speech near Chicago on Monday—an arbitrary event that had no affect on the trajectory of American politics.

Obama now faces some of the most difficult challenges of his young presidency: the ongoing oil spill, the Gaza flotilla disaster, and revelations about possibly inappropriate conversations between the White House and candidates for federal office. But while these narratives may affect fleeting public perceptions, Americans will ultimately judge Obama on the crude economic fundamentals of jobs numbers and GDP.

Chief among the criticisms of Obama was his response to the spill. Pundits argued that he needed to show more emotion. Their analysis, however, should be viewed in light of the economic pressures on the journalism industry combined with a 24-hour news environment and a lack of new information about the spill itself.

Republicans, meanwhile, complained that the administration has not been sufficiently involved in the day-to-day cleanup. Their analysis, of course, is colored by their minority status in America’s two-party system, which creates a strong structural incentive to criticize the party in power, whatever the merits.

At the same time, Obama’s job approval rating fell to 48 percent. This isn’t really news, though. Studies have shown that the biggest factor in a president’s rating is economic performance. Connecting the minute blip in the polls with Obama’s reluctance to emote or alleged failure to send enough boom to the Gulf is, frankly, absurd.

Democrats have also slipped in their standing among “independent voters.” That phrase, by the way, is meaningless. Voters may self-identify as “independent” but in almost all cases they lean toward one party.

John Sides:

Brendan Nyhan and I supplied Beam some of our pet peeves — e.g., this one and this one — although the humor is all his.

Steven Taylor:

The Slate piece, penned by Christopher Beam, attempts to write a news story as if it was written from a polisci perspective.  The basic observations in the piece are fairly accurate, although the tone is hardly academic (which, for readability purposes, it probably a good thing!).

Some paragraphs that struck me:

Obama now faces some of the most difficult challenges of his young presidency: the ongoing oil spill, the Gaza flotilla disaster, and revelations about possibly inappropriate conversations between the White House and candidates for federal office. But while these narratives may affect fleeting public perceptions, Americans will ultimately judge Obama on the crude economic fundamentals of jobs numbers and GDP.

Indeed.  While many of these events are significant in and of themselves, the overall economy is far more likely to determine Obama’s electoral fate—but that is pretty boring to note over and over again.

Really, the piece is far more a critique of mass media than it is an exhortation of political science.

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

I’m loving this piece from Chris Beam in Slate entitled “The Only Politics Article You’ll Ever Have To Read.” It’s a rather brilliant and hilarious plumbing of the puddle-deep political tropes that the political media and political academics reflexively dials up, as if they were half-dissected frogs who occasionally get the twitchy benefit of an electric current.

Andrew Gelman:

In 1993, Gary King and I published an article, ” Why are American Presidential election campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable?”, in which we argued (with 10 figures and no tables (except for a brief summary of data sources in the appendix)) that short-term swings in public opinion during presidential election campaigns (for example, the predictable post-convention bounce) have little if any impact on the vote. The bit about elections being so predictable was not original to us—we leaned heavily on Steven Rosenstone’s 1984 book on forecasting presidential elections. What was new in our paper was to take that finding seriously and work through its implications for campaigns.

When we wrote the article, Gary and I wanted to make a difference, to elevate public discourse. It was so frustrating to see the news media focus on the horse race, especially given that there was no evidence that these horse-race stories made any difference. We thought our article might change things, because instead of the usual strategy—criticizing the media for distorting politics with endless stories on the horse race—we were taking the opposite tack, essentially mocking the media for running story after story about campaign gaffes etc. that had no effect. If it’s really true (as we found from our analysis) that what’s most important are the so-called fundamentals (political ideology, party identification, and the economy), then the way the media could have the most influence would be to report on the fundamentals—report what’s happening in the economy and report the candidates’ positions on major issues—rather than the trivialities.

We really hoped that, if our goal was to change how campaigns were reported, we’d do better to portray the standard media practices as ineffectual, rather than as harmful. If you want someone to change, it’s better to describe him as a loser than as a bad boy.

I was frustrated for many years at how little difference our argument seemed to have made. But, if Beam’s article is any evidence, maybe our message really has been getting through!

Matthew Yglesias:

Note that I think it would be a better world if that’s how political news was covered. The articles about horse-race politics would be boring—and rightly so—which means that if you wanted readers for your articles about politics, you’d have to try to find a way to make policy writing engaging. It’s a bit of a hard challenge because it doesn’t involve the same obvious level of human narrative drama, but at the end of the day superficially dry policy debates actually have massive consequences for very real human beings all around the country and the world, so it should hardly be impossible to bring this stuff down to earth

Ezra Klein

Conor Friedersdorf:

It’s a wonderful piece, but Mr. Beam frames it as if all academics are political scientists.

What if sociologists wrote the news instead?

Untangling Race & Gender from Catastrophic Incidences of Corporate Exploitation In Semi-Natural Ecosystems: A Case Study

by Tenure C. King, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Tulane University

NEW ORLEANS — Absent from the dialogue surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began on April 20, 2010 following an explosion that killed eleven workers, are the roles of class, race and especially gender. Due to the environmental devastation wrought by the catastrophe, which is likely to fall heaviest on the working poor, it is understandable that attention is largely focused on efforts to plug the oil well undertaken by British Petroleum, a corporation founded in imperial Britain to exploit the oil resources of people of color.

It is not insignificant to cleanup efforts, however, that even today BP’s leadership lacks adequate gender diversity, its board of directors being made up of fourteen persons, only one of them who self-identifies as a female, and all of whom earn significantly more than the median income in Louisiana, Alabama, and even the relatively privileged residents of coastal Florida.

Among other things, this raises important questions as to whether Gulf Coast populations most affected by the spill will see mitigation efforts as legitimate. Asked about this issue, Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers, a legal researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, noted that “any comprehensive investigation of the impact of providing legitimacy by female board members on corporate performance should not be limited to profitability (which is mostly concerned with shareholders profit), but should include, for example, social and market performance and the satisfaction of relevant stakeholders.”

Thus far, however, neither a protocol for evaluating the satisfaction of stakeholders nor a safe space where they might be interviewed has been established by the disproportionately white, male pubic servants with a responsibility to respond..

Despite the fact that the United States has institutional frameworks insufficient to adequately safeguard environmental assets through federal intervention, other observers are calling for President Barack Obama to assume a greater role over efforts to stop the spill. While his participation would certainly improve upon the actual and perceived diversity of oil mitigation efforts, a long pattern of institutional racism in American history and the resulting exclusion of African Americans and other people of color from the Oval Office means that scholarly data cannot predict how an increase in racial diversity would impact performance in mitigating the environmental impacts of an oil spill.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I foresee a progressively less-amusing internet trope. By the time this devolves into “What if biologists wrote the news?,” we’re all going to want to kill ourselves. In the meantime, Friedersdorf’s piece is pretty darn good.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Mainstream, New Media

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s