Jones goes to J-school

The past seems to be catching up with Alan Jones, just when his most recent outrage has caused him more trouble than all the others put together. First, he lost an appeal against a finding that he incited racial hatred in the leadup to the Cronulla riots. Then 2GB got caught in another cash-for-comment scandal. Now he’s been told to go back to journalism school, to learn about checking his facts, in relation to his silly claim that ”The percentage of man-made carbon dioxide Australia produces is 1 per cent of .001 per cent of carbon dioxide in the air.” (Similar claims have been made by Andrew Bolt, and by some commenters at this blog.) As Lenore Taylor observes, if 2GB and Jones really want to check their facts, they’ll have a lot of work ahead of them.

The Oz is not a newspaper

I happened to look at the front page of The Australian today, something I don’t do very often. Of five front-page stories, one was a brief teaser for a business story about Channel 9. The other four were hit pieces on the Federal government. Even a piece on increasing inequality was presented as an attack on Wayne Swan. One (on asylum seekers) was accompanied by an “opinion” piece by Greg Sheridan, notable for the fact that it was more sober and balance than the “news” story on which Sheridan was commenting.

As I’ve said before, I don’t see this as a problem requiring a regulatory solution, as suggested by the Finkelstein Report. Rather, we simply need to recognise that 20th century assumptions about “the press” have ceased to be applicable. The Australian looks like a 20th century newspaper, just as Fox resembles a 20th century US TV network, but both are far more like political blogs in terms of their content and operating procedures.

An obvious implication is that, while Murdoch should be free to publish whatever he likes, his employees should not be accorded any of the special privileges that were routinely accorded to journalists in the 20th century, such as press passes, access to press conferences, special privileges shielding sources and so on. These should either be made available to everyone, or restricted to media organizations willing to commit to factual reporting, fair treatment of the issues in news stories and so on.

The most important asset of the traditional media is not a formal privilege but the assumption that journalists, unlike you and me, have a right to ask questions of perfect strangers on matters of all kinds, and to expect an answer. In a context where the answer is bound to be used dishonestly, this makes no sense.

If I were advising the government at this point, I would suggest a routine policy of “no comment” in response to any question from an employee of News Limited. Obama tried this with Fox News early on, but other news organizations threatened to boycott his press conferences in solidarity and he backed down. That was, I think, a mistake.

Technical problems

The Ozblogistan network suffered either an internal breakdown or a DDOS attack last night. Things seem to be OK now, but if you are having trouble getting access you may need to refresh your cache etc. Also the site will be down (hopefully only a couple of minutes), around 6pm Brisbane time.

Opportunity knocks

I’m very interested in ways of increasing leisure, so when I saw mention of The Four-Hour Workweek, I naturally rushed to check it out. It turns out to be about “Outsourcing your Life” by hiring a fleet of remote executive assistants from India, to handle your email, pay your bills, run interference between you and your wife (really! ) and generally to replicate the archetypal “office wife” secretary, right down to the 1950s gender stereotypes.

That wasn’t what I had in mind at all, but just after seeing the link, I got an email asking about a presentation I gave last year, and which I had totally forgotten. It only took me a few seconds to find it (one reason I don’t want a remote EA), and to recall that it’s an improved version of this old blog post which reads as if it was written just before I joined Crooked Timber. But I haven’t got around to turning into an article and probably never will. 

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Boycotting hate radio

When the move to boycott Alan Jones began a week or so ago, the ‘savvy’ conventional wisdom of media experts was that advertisers might pull their ads for a while, but that they would be back as soon the fuss died down. The recent examples of Rush Limbaugh and Kyle Sandilands were cited in support of this claim. I don’t know about Sandilands (is there any info on advertisers who publicly dropped him, then returned?) but I don’t think Limbaugh’s case supports this claim, and the decision of 2GB to run Jones ad-free makes it even more problematic.

In the US, it seems that, far from returning to Limbaugh, big corporations have concluded that advertising on hate radio of any kind is a losing proposition, now that people outside the immediate audience are paying attention to what they are doing. Far from returning to Limbaugh they are pulling ads across the board, in favor of straight news shows, or away from radio altogether. The new model for hate radio is narrowcasting, as practised by Glenn Beck, who relies on his own merchandise and small advertisers. That’s commercially viable in a country as big as the US, but it ensures that Beck remains a marginal figure, with none of the influence he had in his days with Fox. Limbaugh hangs on, but he’s a much diminished figure, who no longer inspires terror, even among Republicans.

The 2GB “ad-free” strategy seems like a panic move. The obvious problem is that you are either ad-free or you are not. So, presumably they are planning on a relaunch, in which a bunch of advertisers return simultaneously, and with a fair bit of publicity. If I were the PR director of a major national company, I don’t think I’d be keen to be part of that. So, their best bet is to line a bunch of rightwing small businesspeople who are willing to take one for the team. Perhaps that will carry him long enough for some bigger companies to sneak back, but I doubt it. The boycott campaigners are seeking commitments to stay away through 2013. With no ads running anyway, making such a commitment, and getting loads of good publicity as a result, seems like a no-brainer for most companies.

40 minutes a day

Back before many readers of this blog were born, there was a TV ad campaign “Life, Be In It“, encouraging us all to be more active. It featured a jolly, middle-aged, mildly overweight character called Norm (as in Norm Everage), and a jingle on the merits of “Thirty Minutes a Day” of moderate exercise.

I think of myself as a lot more energetic and exercise-oriented than Norm, and being a data fan, I record most of my exercise using Runkeeper. So, I finally got around to checking the duration stats and was surprised to find that I do only about 20 hours of running, cycling and swimming in the average month[1]. That’s just 40 minutes a day. You can take from that what you will, but my thought is that, unless you’re aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon, or, like me,you just enjoy exercise, Norm was right. 30 minutes a day is all you need.

fn1. That doesn’t including walking, short cycle trips to work and the shops, and occasional gym workouts, but those things wouldn’t add more than 20 mins a day.

Republican conspiracy theory update

Republicans are now so habituated to conspiracy theories that they have become the default mode of reasoning. Even minor news items, unfavorable to the Repub line of the day, instantly produce conspiracy-theoretic explanations. Moreover, existing, previously non-partisan conspiracy theories are being welcomed in to the Republican coalition. Three examples from the past week , two of them for the same news item

* Unexpectedly good employment figures produced the “jobs truther” conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had cooked the numbers. This was first advanced by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, taken up enthusiastically by Republican rightists like Laura Ingraham and Allen West, and boosted by Fox News.

* As the difficulties with this theory became apparent, Repubs switched to a non-falsifiable alternative. Unemployed Democrats had conspired to lie to BLS surveyors by claiming they had found jobs, thereby boosting Obama’s re-election numbers.

* The third is a health conspiracy which is based on the idea that the symptoms normally associated with depression or chronic fatigue syndrome are actually a chronic form of Lyme Disease (an infection carried by deer ticks) and that the medical establishment is conspiring to suppress the evidence. Romney and Ryan are pandering to this.

The biggest (non-political) conspiracy theories remaining unclaimed are Ufology and anti-vaxerism. So far, at least these seem to be beyond the pale for the Repubs. Michelle Bachmann got a very negative reaction to her embrace of anti-vaxerism during the primary campaign, even though she was using it to bolster the rightwing case against HPV vaccination for girls. If we ever see a softening on this, we’ll know that the party has finally lost all remaining touch with reality.

Not quite on conspiracy theories, but here’s a Repub member of the House Science committee saying ““All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,”.

How about Australia? So far at least, “cafeteria crazy” seems to be the rule in most places. Full-blown conspiracy theories on climate change coexist with routine political rhetoric on most other issues.

But the local right has long been dependent on talking points imported from the US, and the supply chain is increasingly dominated by conspiracists. Examples of full-blown crazy are the overlapping circles of Catallaxy and Quadrant who recirculate most the US conspiracy theories. Here’s Quadrant denouncing Darwinism. And more here from rightwing eminence grise, Ray Evans, linking evolution and climate science. And here’s Catallaxy pushing poll trutherism