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    • Those Who Fall with Steve Bannon
      One interesting note about the Cambridge Analytica story was on Bannon’s role: A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union. What […]
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Marty Baron: Investigate the media

Hi Marty. I just finished watching Spotlight. I’d read that you moved on from the Boston Globe to The Washington Post. To be honest, I took WaPo out of my twitter feed. Over the years, I’ve become sensitized to artfully crafted turns of phrase, carefully selected words with specific connotations, and media narratives. I can tell when the media is trying to shape what I think and, since I prefer to draw my own conclusions, I don’t read as much of your paper anymore.

You probably don’t know who I am. I’m just a blogger, sitting out here in the Oort belt of the blogosphere. I’ve been posting semi-regularly and editing infrequently since 2008. There are a lot of adjectives in my posts.

Another reason you may not have heard of me may be attributed to the fact that female bloggers do not usually make the cut in Greg Sargent’s Plum Line. I’m not complaining for myself. I’ve never wanted to be famous or widely read. If I had any ambitions in that regard, I would have spent more time trying to toe the party line, jazzing up my CSS and editing. I might have chosen a more gender neutral pen name as well. Digby has done that. She had to.

Greg Sargent works for you, doesn’t he? At one point a few years ago, I was trying to find a way to represent how underrepresented women were in getting their opinions mentioned in the traditional media, and considered using the Plum Line’s evening round-up as an index. But then real life intervened and I was laid off for an extended period of time. Long term unemployment didn’t get a lot of attention in the major newspapers in the past five or six years. Maybe journalists found it boring or they were “whistling past the graveyard”. But I did find an interesting pattern with respect to the NYTimes coverage of the long term unemployed back in about 2010. It bore no resemblance to any reality I knew and looked like gratuitous kicking of people when they were down. Not only that but it was bound to have an effect on HR hiring managers and talent acquisition specialists. You may want to have a look at that post and tell me what you think. What were the NYTimes journalists up to?

You may be wondering why I am writing what seems to be a long, rambling, “stream of consciousness” blog post to someone who doesn’t have time to read long, rambling “stream of consciousness” blog posts from a virtual nobody who doesn’t read your paper. Recent events have compelled me to write this, specifically the collective freak out over Donald Trump. I am not a Donald Trump supporter. No, I have been a Hillary Clinton supporter for about 23 years since I was just a young suburban mom and scientist in New Jersey. I also haven’t been a Barack Obama supporter. In fact, I didn’t vote for him twice. There are many reasons for this, racism not being one of them. I’ve blogged about what I saw happening in my party, the media, my industry, and my own series of unfortunate events, since January 2008, if you’re interested in my perspective.

I’m writing to you because the media may be overlooking its own culpability in the strength of Donald Trump’s presidential run. Maybe that is intentional. After all, it’s a story, in a presidential election year, and it features a candidate who must be making David Broder roll over in his grave. These kinds of stories almost write themselves. It must be difficult for reporters to check their enthusiasm.

My opinion, for what it’s worth (see above for Plum Line index commentary) is that the public is reacting to the media’s obsession with 1.) covering Donald Trump and 2.) getting Hillary Clinton by any means necessary. It has succeeded beyond its wildest expectations where Hillary is concerned. Nobody trusts her. That could be a problem because even Hillary’s staunchest critics have to admit that she is the most qualified of the current crop of candidates and the one least likely to make a rookie mistake. That’s not a plug for my candidate. It’s just happens to be the truth. But she’s got an uphill climb to convince many Americans that she can be trusted.

Let’s take a news article about Hillary on today’s front page of The Washington Post. Here’s the headline and the blurb:

Clinton used private server to write 104 emails later deemed classified

The finding is the first accounting of her personal role in placing information now considered sensitive into insecure messages during her State Department tenure.

Do I need to read any further? I am assuming that the truth is in the headline. The emails were later deemed classified. That means, at the time they were written, they weren’t classified. I don’t know why they were classified later or what the subjects of the emails were. I have to ask myself, if she wrote emails on her gmail account and not her private server, and those emails were later classified, would we consider this a legitmate news story?

There were 104 emails. I’m sure that if there was something earth shatteringly critical and dangerous for the enemy to know, you would have put that in the headline. But this article looks like just another hit on Clinton. Now, I have to ask myself whose water you are carrying? Are those persons using The Washington Post because they know you are compliant? Is that compliancy the result of genuine study or previous bias?  You may consider this an unfair characterization of the Hillary pieces you run routinely. I might agree with you but I don’t find this kind of coverage for any other candidate. At this point, it’s just boring but it still serves the purpose of undermining her credibility. I don’t trust your motives. What’s in it for me, an average American, if you take down the one person I can safely rely on to not blow up the world while you let other lesser candidates bogart your main headlines?

This is one of the reasons why I don’t read your paper. It’s dishonest even when it’s reporting the truth. And if you’re dishonest about Hillary, who or what else are you not being honest about?

Donald Trump, on the other hand, can do no wrong. By that I mean, short of molesting a kid on live TV, the more that gets thrown at him, the more support he seems to attract. Even live TV child molestation might not work. He might say, “That’s not my short, stubby penis, I don’t know who that penis belongs to. I’ve never even met that kid and if I did, I don’t remember it.” And the journalists will try try again and people will ignore them and cheer and go vote for Trump anyway. To me, that’s a sign that the media narratives may only have limited traction these days. I used to think that was a good thing. Now, I’m not so sure.

So, if Trump really is as dangerous, unscrupulous and unpresidential as we are told, maybe you might want to investigate why it is that no one cares anymore.

Could it be that the major media has not been sufficiently critical of itself? Has it become a player instead of an objective analyst, with or without adjectives? Does the telecast of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner suggest a certain vanity?

Have you asked yourself whether Thomas Friedman’s chat with various cab drivers conveys sufficient understanding of the plight of the average American? Are you comfortable with the accusation of racism that the administration and its surrogates casually throw out when it is criticized? Could it be possible that not challenging this accusation has lead many people to feel powerless to get their concerns heard? Is it possible that not all of Donald Trump’s supporters are racists but are frustrated at having their issues ignored?

Has your paper been fair in reporting what it is that concerns Americans? Has it dug deep into the problem of long term unemployment and underemployment? Does it know what it’s like to live on Social Security in retirement without a pension? Has it done any investigative reporting on the 401K problem? I have to give credit to the NYTimes for its series on the cost of healthcare. Have you done any reporting on how the ACA was developed and who the major players were? What were their goals? How much skin in the game did they decide would cripple the act?

Has your paper examined why it has such hatred of the Clintons? At this point, after years of investigations that went nowhere and several searches of the Clintons’ underwear drawer, it’s starting to look like this is personal. I’m not singling out the Washington Post on this but the media does seem a little bit incestuous. There are only so many major newspapers in the country and it seems like most of the reporters have jumped from one to the other, and back again. Does it feel too clubby? Do you all hate the right people?

Major papers do not change their columnists frequently either. Do you think the shortage of female opinion columnists has anything to do with the treatment of Hillary Clinton or lack of interest in issues important to women in general?  How many female columnists would it take to balance this inequity? Studies have previously suggested that when women represent 30% of country’s government, this can have a substantial positive impact on the overall quality of life in that country. Are you prepared to increase the number of women on your editorial page to improve its quality?

Do you find there is a problem with credentialism in your newsroom? Do you only hire from certain schools? Does it help to be a legacy? Is it better to hire someone with contacts in government who are friends and acquaintances?

I ask these questions because the quality of journalism can also have a systemic effect on the news. If your newsrooms are cluttered with journalists who are captured by their social group, academic credentials or gender, that is going to be reflected in what hits the front pages and gets covered by cable news. If your reporters and columnists do not accurately report the news, or care to understand what it is like to live as a middle class to low middle class American, or how the powers that be have affected that American’s life and future, does your paper remain relevant? Should you be surprised when Donald Trump starts winning primaries?

Maybe someone is trying to tell you something.




Paul Krugman had a recent post about the McKinsey study that purports to show that up to 30% of employers are planning to drop health insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration and other Democrats seem to be in full denial mode, demanding that McKinsey show its data because it can’t *possibly* be true. Right? RIGHT?!

In some respects, this reaction is reminiscent of the Republicans who were adamant that Democrats take it back about Republicans trying to destroy Medicare in franked mailings and ads.

I’m of the “let’s wait and see the data” variety before I jump on the Democratic bandwagon. Paul’s a pretty smart guy but he may be jumping the gun here. Just because McKinsey isn’t revealing their data doesn’t mean their conclusions aren’t true. You don’t have to be a Republican to consider the possibility that the conclusions are valid.

Here’s just one possible scenario that may explain why McKinsey is holding out. The firms they are consulting for may be planning to layoff a lot of people and hire them back as contractors. If they do that, the employee is responsible for paying health insurance, not the company who is going through a middle man to add staff. Now, your consultants would know about this plan. Presumably, they were the knuckleheads that advised it in the first place. But you don’t want the employees to know what’s coming. I mean, have you *been* in a building that’s going through layoffs?? The people who aren’t wandering around like zombies are busily updating their CVs and contacting their network. No one gets any work done. (well, *I* did but I see now that I was crazy for all the good it did me) It’s a fricking disaster area. And let’s not even talk about the cut throat behavior of people back stabbing each other to make sure they secure the positions that are left. It’s an ugly bloodbath and no one comes out looking good.

So, maybe the reason that McKinsey isn’t talking is because it has to respect the confidentiality of its clients. In this business environment, the bottom line is the bottom line. Companies will do what they have to in order to appease the shareholders and right now, a lot of companies are desperate for cash and can’t cut much more without affecting productivity any more than they have. They still need the people. They just don’t want to have to compensate them so well. If that means laying off and hiring contractors without the burden of health insurance, well, the new Affordable Care Act gives them a great opportunity to do it. They just need to keep everyone working until then.

Of course, this is just a hypothesis. But it could explain the silence on McKinsey’s part. You don’t want to be the bearer of bad news that there is going to be a lot more unemployment soon and a lot more people without health insurance.

I’ll wait to be proven wrong.

The Affordable Care Act and Employer Provided Health Bennies

Paul Krugman and Greg Sargent are following a report from McKinsey that says up to 30% of employers are planning to drop health insurance for their employees as a result of the Affordable Care Act.  As you can imagine, Democrats are quite concerned with the validity of this study and whether the predictions are true.  While the jury is still out on whether the study is true or just a carefully planted right wing talking point, let’s look at some unsettling trends that many of us in the R&D industry are starting to see.

A lot of us are getting laid off and can only find jobs as contractors.  Contractors do not usually receive benefits like health insurance from their employers.  If they work for a CRO, they can sometimes buy health insurance coverage but this is typically more expensive than employer provided health care.  Bennies come out of the pockets of the employee contractor, not the corporation that is hiring them.  That saves big companies a lot of money in the end even if they have to pay a fee to the contracting company, which also comes off of the employee’s salary.  It sounds like a sweet deal for everyone but the employee.  Companies get out of those tiresome obligations and the middle man gets a cut of the employee’s salary.  Awesome.

Now, suppose there is a healthcare bill that comes along that mandates universal coverage.  Actually, universal coverage is something you want in a successful national health program but that assumes that costs are controlled elsewhere, otherwise it’s hugely expensive for the insured.  Ok, so universal coverage is mandated.  The burden of covering healthcare is now shifted to the employee.  An employer mandate might be necessary to make sure the group rates are affordable but if an employer can shed their employees and hire them back as contractors, doesn’t that circumvent the employer mandate?  So, should we be surprised that we are seeing a shift from regular full time employment with bennies to contracting work without bennies?  The companies are not incentivized to retain full time workers but to shed them and to do it as quickly as possible.  It’s nothing personal.  It’s just the way the laws are written.  If there’s nothing to stop you from taking advantage of the system, why wouldn’t you?  In a way, the new law gives them a free pass that they might not have considered before.  The new law makes it legal and profitable to ditch your bennies.  And if your primary obligation is to increase shareholder value, what would *you* do?

It’s not a bug.  It’s a feature.

So, if it turns out that the McKinsey study results are real, color me unsurprised.

Disclaimer: I am not a Republican and generally despise right wing talking points.  But you don’t have to be a right wing lunatic to have a problem with Obamacare.

More on the employer mandate: This Time article discusses the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act and cites San Francisco as an example where the employer mandate has been adopted successfully.  The difference between San Francisco’s plan and what we got with the Affordable Care Act is a public option.

But according to the new report co-authored by Dube, 61% of San Francisco restaurants are very or somewhat supportive of the mandate. This may be because restaurants in the city have found a way to pay for their increased benefit costs without absorbing the expense: many have added a 3% to 4% health care surcharge to customers’ bills. In addition, at the same time that the mandate was passed, a de facto public option was implemented. Employers that opt not to provide coverage must pay $1.23 to $1.85 per hour per worker to help fund the public plan. This public option, which only covers care from some doctors and facilities in the city of San Francisco, has proven popular with employers, with 21% using it for workers. Already the San Francisco public option has enrolled a majority of the city’s previously uninsured residents, more than 50,000 people. And according to a survey conducted by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, 94% of those participating in the program are satisfied with the results.

Um, we didn’t get a public option in the Affordable Care Act.  So, the high price of insurance will be borne by the person forced to buy insurance on the open free market.  Technically, I don’t think that’s the employer’s problem anymore as long as it can get by with contracted employees. I think it’s possible to legislate social responsibility but our Congress didn’t do it in the Affordable Care Act. So, expect a lot more layoffs and a lot fewer bennies.

Yet another reason to get rid of incumbents in 2012.