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The Morning Grumpy – November 21st

Good morning! For those of you unfamiliar with who I am, my name is Chris Smith and I’ve been blogging about Buffalo and WNY since 2005 on WNYMedia.net. The editors and instigators at Artvoice have deemed me worthy of promotion to this fine publication and I intend to abuse their hospitality.

How about a little backstory before I get started? I moved home to Buffalo in 2005 after a tour in the military and professional stops in Boston and Chicago and several points in between. I’m a husband and father of two great kids and I can engage in long comparative discussions on the cultural impact of Bob The Builder and Dora The Explorer. I’m also a godless humanist liberal with a predilection for snarky distillations on politics, economics, and media. I studied political science, but I’m employed as a systems engineer and now as a web journalist.

I have a voracious appetite for internet memes, video, podcasts, news, and analysis. Each morning I’ll share several links that you can consume during your “morning grumpy”.

1.  A whisper campaign is a method of persuasion using rumor or innuendo to create false impressions about a political candidate while not being detected spreading them. For example, did you hear that President Obama is really Kenyan? Or that Hillary Clinton might soon sign a UN treaty which would subject Americans to international gun control laws? Grassroots whisper campaigns via email are an incredible tool in both political campaigns and in the daily ideological struggle of America. Email and social media have only made these tactics “stickier” as the message is speedily passed by “trusted sources”, whose credibility is based on the relationship between sender and receiver. Uncle Ned wouldn’t pass on false information, now would he?

Turns out that most of these whisper campaigns source from the right wing and these persistent narratives are getting more difficult to debunk as even Presidential candidates discuss them in public.

Most of the time, Democrats (or liberals) are the ones under attack.  The majority of the junk comes from the right, aimed at the left.

Nonpartisan debunkers such as FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, Emery and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker have been chasing down these tales and dousing them like three-alarm fires for years. (There’s even a chain e-mail that paints Snopes as a liberal cover-up for the White House.) It’s often difficult for these myth-busters to say with certainty where a falsehood began. But the numbers are clear.

Of the 79 chain e-mails about national politics deemed false by PolitiFact since 2007, only four were aimed at Republicans. Almost all of the rest concern Obama or other Democrats. The claims range from daffy (the White House renaming Christmas trees as “holiday trees”) to serious (the health-care law granting all illegal immigrants free care).

Snopes turned up 46 viral e-mails regarding Bush during his eight years in office. By contrast, in just four years as a candidate and as president, Obama has been the subject of 100 such chain e-mails. The difference is not just in number but in kind: Twenty of the 46 Bush e-mails checked by Snopes turned out to be true, and many of these flattered or praised him. Only 10 e-mails about Obama have been true, and almost every one of them has been negative.

Emery estimates that more than 80 percent of the political e-mails that he’s vetted over the past decade were written from a conservative point of view. “The use of forwarded e-mail to spread [false information] around is overwhelmingly a right-wing phenomenon,” he said.

Gee, all this makes one consider that this type of thing might be coordinated…

2. Last week, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post linked to a fascinating paper by six political scientists called “A Theory Of Parties“. A few key quotes from the paper (which is well worth a full read):

As we theorize, parties no longer compete to win elections by giving voters the policies voters want. Rather, as coalitions of intense policy demanders, they have their own agendas and aim to get voters to go along.

Most citizens pay little enough attention to general elections and even less to nominations. The few who vote in primaries lack the anchoring cue of candidate partisanship, rendering them open to persuasion. Media coverage of primaries is also generally less than in general elections, further increasing the expected impact of small amounts of paid communication.

To explain the substantial autonomy we believe parties enjoy, we posit an ‘electoral blind spot’ within which voters do not monitor party behavior.” Through various institutional devices, like complex party rules and procedural votes that no one understands, the major parties “seek to exploit lapses in voter attentiveness” and “keep the electoral blind spot as large as possible

The problem I find in our national politics is that as the parties work to increase that “electoral blind spot”, the media work to assist them. It ought be the goal of media professionals to explain away those electoral blind spots, but too often, they find themselves in the unenviable position of offering “He Said/She Said” platitudes in the interest of equal time and “objectivity”.  Why it is that reporters adopt the “View From Nowhere” and horse race style coverage rather than investigating and fact checking is beyond me.

3. Want to know one of the secrets to moving more families back into the City of Buffalo and reducing sprawl? Figuring out a solution to the public school/charter school registration/lottery nightmare would be an excellent start.

The vast majority of students are placed through a computerized lottery process. (Programs that have some criterion for admission, like City Honors or Olmsted, work differently. You can find info on those admissions processes on Page 3 of the pdf.)

(For those of you who are wondering: This application is only for schools in the Buffalo Public Schools with a deadline of November 28th. Charter schools have a completely separate application process. Each charter school runs its own admissions lottery. Their deadlines are generally in early April. That will be the subject of another blog post down the road.)

This process is a common sense abortion and works to drive families to suburban districts where registration is simple and neighborhood schools the norm. By the way, I like that some of the best journalism being committed by The Buffalo News is happening on the School Zone Blog by Mary Pasciak and seems to be primarily motivated by her near pathological disdain for former Buffalo Rising editor and current BPS spokeswoman Elena Cala. Grudge journalism!

4. The banality of evil in our new police state.

5. This is a topic I’ll be writing about in-depth over the next couple of weeks, the Protect IP Act or “SOPA”. To get us started, I recommend you watch this explainer video on the topic. You should care about this, really.


  • Jesse

    Finally, he’s back. We were waiting.

    On #1, any coordination is by some juvenile hicks. Thinking it’s some national organization of evil right wingers is conspiracy mindedness.

    On #3, why doesn’t NYS have an broad-based education tax credit system in place for primary education? Give poor kids a real chance to get the hell out of hell, that’s the ticket.

  • Alan Bedenko

    Chain emails is how Paladino obtained & disseminated his porn. Sort of sums it up.

  • Kevin Hayes

    Hey Chris – this isn’t very grumpy! I want my money back!

    Or is it me who’s supposed to be grumpy?

  • Jim

    So other than FOX News, the Left prevails in major media outlets, your guy is in The White House – and considering the mental midgets the GOP is pimping (barring one, who is being actively undermined by his own party and the media), will be for another four, his agenda marches on, and you still all get your panties in a bunch because of dorkey email forwards? That damn First Amendment really sticks in your craws, doesn’t it?

    I really love Artvoice, it’s as left-loopy as Hannity or Levin are right-loopy, with local color to boot. Grumpy, schmumpy, it’s hilarious stuff.

  • Mark

    Chris, congratulations.

    Jesse, of course right-wing attacks are coordinated. It is foolish, and ignorant, to think otherwise. “Grassroots” groups are directed by Republican elites. Right-wing journalists receive daily talking points. That’s not a conspiracy. That’s how a well-run, organized political operation works.

    Jim, you’re pathetic. The left prevails in no major media outlet. The major media have been promoting the right-wing agenda for decades. They have done all they could to destroy both Clintons, to destroy Gore, to destroy Obama. Fox is not a news outlet at all, it is merely a propaganda wing of the conservative political machine. Millions of people receive, and believe, those emails. You think that has no effect? As for the 1st Amendment, this has nothing to do with the 1st Amendment. Chris didn’t say anything about censoring speech, he merely pointed out that these ridiculous emails are overwhelmingly right-wing and that’s not a coincidence.

    If you don’t understand that the mainstream media in this country are extremely conservative and have been for decades, then you cannot understand anything about present-day American politics.

  • MichaelRCaputo

    Mark: I get what you’re trying to say, but there is no proof of your premise beyond your speculation. In fact, a landmark 1981 study by academics Robert Rothman (George Washington Universiyy) and Stanley Lichter (Smith College) proved that 81 percent of US journalists interviewed voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election between 1964 and 1976. Fifty-six percent said the people they worked with were mostly on the left, and only 8 percent on the right — a margin of seven-to-one. In January 1998, Editor & Publisher, the preeminent media trade magazine, conducted a poll of 167 newspaper editors across the country. E&P found that in 1992, when just 43 percent of the public voted Democrat Bill Clinton for President, 58 percent of editors surveyed voted for him. E&P determined that in 1996, a minority (49 percent) of the American people voted to reelect Clinton, compared to a majority (57 percent) of the editors.

    There is more recent research which confirms the contention of a liberal media, but it becomes redundant.

    Granted, with Fox News and the advent of the Internet things are different today. But unless you have some facts to back up your far out accusation of a right wing media you should try to stick to the Soros-funded talking points. Much more credible.

    • I knew it was only a matter of time before someone cited Rothman in this discussion, it’s as predictable as tax day. The problem I’ve always had with that study is that it proves correlation, not causation. Just because someone thinks a certain thing to be true, does not necessarily inform their perspective when given an assignment, especially as most publications and outlets have been cowed into adopting the centrist “He Said/She Said” perspective without evaluating the value of the arguments offered by both sides.

      Objectivity is a myth, bias is demonstrated when the stories are selected and assigned for coverage. It is at this point in which you’ll find corporate, mainstream, advertising, and sensationalism bias – which are the most prevalent forms of bias in media. It would be better if media were more focused on evaluative journalism and watchdog efforts rather than the type of static coverage we see now, which attempts to adhere to a centrist (unbiased) perspective.

      As an aside, I still find it humorous that Republicans complain about the “mainstream media” when they own the #1 cable channel, the overwhelming majority of radio stations, the Wall Street Journal and dozens of influential national and regional newspapers.

  • The right uses radio and email forwards. The left uses blogs and social media. Left wing radio failed. Non-Ron Paul right wing Twitter traffic barely exists. To each their own, though their own is representative of the movement as a whole in many way.

  • Gabe

    Chris, glad to see you back in action! What you refer to as the electoral blindspot is the establishment’s way capitalizing on the gaping black hole in our collective ethical consciousness as a means of propagating the status quo, thus preserving incumbent power structures.

    Having said that I look forward to dropping in my occasional esoteric two cents. Hope this new arrangement works our marvelously for you and Alan.