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Should debate moderators fact check? Polling, psychology & reaching Millennials

Tonight, a likely record-setting television audience will watch the first presidential debate of the 2016 election. And the majority of that audience will not trust any of the three people on the stage. Would fact checking change any of that?

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Tonight, a likely record-setting television audience will watch the first presidential debate of the 2016 election. And the majority of that audience will not trust any of the three people on the stage.

Donald Trump is distrusted by 57% of Americans, according to last weekend’s ABC/Washington Post poll. As with so much in this bizzaro-world election, that would be a damning figure if not for his opponent – 60% of those surveyed viewed Hillary Clinton as untrustworthy.

The moderator of the debate, NBC’s Lester Holt, meanwhile, is the stand in for “the media,” which is less trusted than either historically distrusted presidential candidate. Only 32% of Americans have at least a “fair amount” of trust in media, according to a Gallup poll released in mid-September.

So, it’s not surprising that we’re talking a lot about fact checking at the debates. The question is whether or not it’s the role of an agent of the widely distrusted media to call out either widely distrusted candidate on claims that are demonstrably false.

Plenty has been written about whether fact checking is the moderator’s role. The moderator of the third debate, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, has already said he doesn’t think it’s his job. Yesterday, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates agreed with Wallace’s stance, in an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources, saying that live fact-checking was too much of a grey area.

I want to approach this from a slightly different angle – would a fact-checking moderator benefit anyone? And if so, who?

First, we need to look into the minds of voters, and under the hood of the polling data.

Continue reading “Should debate moderators fact check? Polling, psychology & reaching Millennials”

Why did media ignore flooding in Louisiana?

While parts of Louisiana became literal islands, much of the country was cutoff from the story by scant media coverage.

Reporters are lining beaches along the Florida panhandle this morning, making sure their mics pick up as much wind as possible as Tropical Storm Hermine approaches. It’s the top story on every morning news program – the journalistic convention for landfalling tropical systems (what do I mean? I wrote this lead last night, then confirmed with a quick flip through the channels over breakfast).

A few hundred miles west, Louisiana is still recovering. Some areas only recently arose from the flood waters that first submerged them three weeks ago. Personal possessions line streets in garbage heaps. Many schools are still closed.

The scope is staggering. Over 100,000 homes flooded in and around Baton Rouge and Lafayette; 13 people killed. When the waters crested, many small towns had become islands, separated from hospitals, gas stations, and grocery stores.

I know this largely because of family and friends on Facebook. From the outset, locals accused media of ignoring the story. We have to be careful about this – Southerners can be thin-skinned about perceived attacks from “the mainstream media,” including those greatly distorted or possibly fabricated.

[Related: Did ESPN Commentators Call Mississippians Poor?]

But I had to admit, I wasn’t seeing much coverage either. And eventually, the media turned a critical eye on itself. The New York Times waited three days to move their staff writer in New Orleans to the scene of the devastation 75 miles away. Public Editor Liz Spayd lamented the paper’s aggregation of media reports instead of conducting original reporting, concluding that “A news organization like The Times – rich with resources and eager to proclaim its national prominence – surely can find a way to cover a storm that has ravaged such a wide stretch of the country’s Gulf Coast.”

Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather took to Facebook to blame television news for choosing “the easy ratings of pundits playing the schadenfreude game in air conditioned studios” over sending reporters and resources to the flood zone.

I don’t have empirical data to analyze the amount and prominence of coverage compared to other natural disasters (though it’d be a fun study; anyone want to help?). For now, I’m relying on anecdotal evidence and observations of those in the industry. And that tells me the flooding in Louisiana was, and continues to be, drastically underreported.

Why?

To try to begin answering that question, I did my usual media scanning, and asked two meteorologists to help me fill in the gaps.

Continue reading “Why did media ignore flooding in Louisiana?”

[Media Rundown] The Democrats held a convention, but everyone’s still talking Trump

The Democrats channel Ronald Reagan, while Donald Trump continues to own the news cycle. That, plus Bill Clinton plays with balloons.

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The nominating conventions are in the books, and we are now in the final 100 days of the presidential election. We looked at the Republican National Convention last time. Now, it’s the Democrats’ turn.

I thought we saw political theatre of actual consequence from both conventions – very rare for the polished infomercials these events have become. Both parties displayed friction. The continued resistance by Bernie Sanders supporters got the DNC off to a rocky start, spurred in no small part by email leaked by (Russian?) hackers suggesting the Democratic Party favored Hillary Clinton throughout the primary. Set up for a freefall into chaos, the Democrats used their convention tried to redefine American politics.

Wait, what?

Continue reading “[Media Rundown] The Democrats held a convention, but everyone’s still talking Trump”

[Media Rundown] Live at Colbert’s Late Show; Trump’s RNC; Ailes FOX ouster

Today, live and in-person for the return of “Stephen Colbert.” That, plus the Trump convention and the end of Roger Ailes at Fox News.

Want to be the first to read the Media Rundown? Subscribe to email updates by clicking the “Follow” tab at the bottom of your screen (or here if that’s not working for you). You can also add to your RSS reader.

The Colbert Nation

I was on vacation last week, being a tourist in New York. The last night in town, my wife and I were in the audience for the first live broadcast of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The show was live last week for the Republican National Convention, and will do the same this week for the Democrats.

We had a blast. The crowd was crazy energetic (much more than for a usual afternoon taping, says CNN’s Frank Pallotta, who went to a show later in the week). I got to geek out about watching a live broadcast of a typically taped program come together. My wife got to dance to the tunes of Jon Batiste and Stay Human (and got to be on-stage as part of the audience warmups!)

On the night we got to see the return of Colbert the character, we also got to know Colbert the man, who seems as affable as every profile would lead you to believe. During taped segments, he would give the audience cues, rather than the stage manager. “I’m going to watch this with you,” he’d say before sitting on top of his desk, chewing on a pen when he wasn’t mouthing the words and looking back toward us to see if the joke had landed.

By the end of the night, we came away with some souvenirs, pictured below. I’m particularly excited about showing my students the rundown – those blue sheets of paper that keep the production crew on track. Continue reading “[Media Rundown] Live at Colbert’s Late Show; Trump’s RNC; Ailes FOX ouster”

Self-censorship, speaking up and showing empathy: Reflections on a tragic week

Why is it sometimes difficult to speak, and harder still to listen? An introspective look at Black Lives Matter after Sterling, Castile and Dallas.

 

People are being killed more quickly than we can react. Tugged from one tragedy to the next, it’s difficult to contextualize and reflect.

But we’re trying, even if it reads like whiplash. My friends have been vocal on social media. Politics and prayer. Anger and anguish. Hopelessness and hope.

It’s not just the news junkies, the political commentators, or the trolls. People who use Facebook primarily for relationships, photo albums, and cat videos are entering the fray. Speaking out is stretching out.

I respect the heck out of them.

I love to teach about the First Amendment, but we self-censor way more than the government ever will. We worry what others will think. Speaking out is stretching out our neck to get guillotined by our friends, family, faith body, coworkers, or prospective employers. Maybe by people we don’t even know. And so we stay silent.

[Related: Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas]

We carefully curate our digital presence. For many of us, stepping into controversy isn’t part of the life we want to portray. That message we want to get off our chests is held down by social pressures, both external and of our own creation.

I’m talking about this today in the context of one perspective on one issue, but the principle is transferable. Continue reading “Self-censorship, speaking up and showing empathy: Reflections on a tragic week”

[Media Rundown] Periscoping politicians; baffling Brexit; hiding Hillary; short-handed SCOTUS

Today, recapping unexpected events – Congress and C-SPAN on the cutting edge, and the U.K. leaving the E.U. Plus, we’ll check in on the Supreme Court and the two most unpopular presidential candidates ever.

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All politics today… let’s go.

The Streaming Sit-In

The hippest place this week to see social video streaming? The floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and C-SPAN, of course. House Democrats staged a sit-in demanding a vote be taken on gun control legislation in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando.

It was similar to Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy’s filibuster the week before. Both were publicity stunts – Democrats know they don’t have the votes to do anything involving guns. But why was the House sit-in – even further removed from the mass shooting – so much more effective at drawing public attention to the cause?

Novelty. Of the protest itself, to a small degree. Filibustering isn’t allowed in the House, so this was a, let’s call it “creative,” way around those rules. It also helped to have George Representative John R. Lewis – a man who knows about honest-to-goodness sit-ins – front and center.

But I still think the sit-in would have been mostly ignored and quickly forgotten if not for the greater novelty of how it was broadcasted to the country.

Continue reading “[Media Rundown] Periscoping politicians; baffling Brexit; hiding Hillary; short-handed SCOTUS”

Is there an (((echo))) in here? Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas

Hate and harassment on social media is driving users away. The difficulty of exposing hate, protecting victims, and limiting censorship.

Any corner of the Internet that facilitates anonymity is going to attract trolls. Twitter is no different. Recently, you might have noticed users placing their names in multiple (((parentheses))). It all traces back to anti-Semitic groups. Members place this parenthetical “echo” around Jewish people or businesses when attacking them on social media, giving compatriots an easy way to search for the target and join in on the harassment. There was even a now-removed Google Chrome plugin that made echoing easy, by cross-referencing text against a database of Jews. Here’s what it looked like in action:

echo_sample
Tomorrow Comes Today // Tumblr

Vox has an explainer if you want to read more about how the echo was used, as well as how it and the Chrome plugin were discovered by the rest of us.

Point is, once the echo was exposed, Twitter users, Jewish or not, began putting the echo around their names and other content. Not only a symbolic stand, it also undermined the beacon system being used by the hate groups.

The echo was defeated by the rest of the social media community. But that also involved Google taking down the plugin, which violated its terms forbidding “promotions of hate.” And it involved Twitter banning a number of users who “promote violence against or directly attack or threaten” other users.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the like all have different policies on dealing with harassment and hate speech, as well as the ways in which they curate content. They range from Google’s broad ban on hate code to Twitter’s fairly specific ban on direct, violent threats. A few weeks ago, all three agreed to adhere to the European Union’s “code of conduct on illegal online hate speech,” which requires resolution of hate speech reports within 24 hours, be it by removing or restricting the content or the user responsible.

However, speech laws are more restrictive in the E.U. than in the U.S., and vary by country. It’s the service provider’s job to figure out if a particular post fails to meet legal standards in those various jurisdictions. Much like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which YouTube already lets rightsholders wildly abuse, companies face penalties for failing to suppress content, but suffer no consequence for blocking everything in sight just to catch a small number of actual offenders.

It’s easy to see how the social media platforms could lean on the side of heavy censorship.

Continue reading “Is there an (((echo))) in here? Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas”