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Let's Help The Media Be Better On Ebola

Jason Linkins   |   October 21, 2014    4:05 PM ET

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall has noted an important milestone in our ongoing fight with Ebola: This past Sunday was the last day of the quarantine imposed on those who had the closest contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who succumbed to the Ebola virus in America, before he was hospitalized. To the best of anyone's knowledge, none of the people quarantined have shown symptoms of the disease. This is, tentatively, some very good news.

But it's rather bad news for the media, who -- having worked to beat a dire tale of harum-scarum into the public consciousness for the past month -- now have a lot for which to answer. The effects of the media's Ebola feeding frenzy are manifold. Three days ago, panicky parents pressured a Maine school district into putting a teacher on three weeks of administrative leave simply because she'd stayed at a hotel 10 miles from Texas Health Presbyterian hospital while attending a conference. In Mississippi, students were yanked from class because their principal had recently visited Zambia, which is many thousands of miles away from the West African Ebola outbreak. Syracuse University disinvited The Washington Post's Michel du Cille from an academic workshop because he'd been to Liberia to cover the Ebola story. At the time he was forbidden to come to Syracuse, du Cille had conclusively demonstrated that he'd not contracted Ebola.

This is all quite nuts. And none of it is Ebola's fault. It's the media's fault. This is the sort of thing that happens when you compare Ebola to the Islamic State, when you treat pulp novelists as medical experts and when you give credence to daft conspiracy theorists and their performance-art stunts. Fox News viewers were told, inaccurately, that Ebola was soon to go airborne. Joe Scarborough went full doomsday-prepper on "Meet the Press."

It is entirely unsurprising that when New Jersey residents were polled on their beliefs about the disease, the pollsters found that "people who said they were following the story most closely were the ones with the most inaccurate information about Ebola."

That's a serious problem, especially in the near term as we start hitting good-news milestones. When we emerge from our homegrown Ebola scare without a dangerous pandemic, people are going to look back on the coverage and realize it was all a bunch of hype. What happens, then, if a serious epidemic actually hits the U.S., requiring the media to do a serious job of informing the public? Consult your Aesop for the answer.

Fortunately, we are seeing some course correction in the media. The Columbia Journalism Review's David Uberti doled out some deserved plaudits to parties like Gannett Newspapers and Fox News' Shepard Smith, whose appeal last week to calm and common sense was something of a tide-turner in the cable news world. Things aren't yet perfect: This past weekend, noted Chicago Cubs expert and occasional rape trivializer George Will was allowed to come on "Fox News Sunday" and sputter some nonsense about Ebola being an airborne virus. Thankfully, host Chris Wallace managed to restore some human intelligence to the discussion.

If a rising tide of "getting it right on Ebola" is currently underway, let's take the opportunity to meet it at its crest, and offer some pointers on how this sort of story should be covered from here on out.

Use Harold Pollack's Politico Magazine story as the blueprint for coverage. Pollack's piece is the most thorough and accessible dose of real-keeping available. He assigns fault where it's due, noting that both local medical professionals and the Centers For Disease Control had "an initially bungled medical response" to Duncan's case. He also notes that the Ebola outbreak in the United States has exposed both bad policy decisions and the limitations of chronically underfunded infrastructure -- and that lawmakers of both parties bear plenty of responsibility.

Yet Pollack also concludes that "the system is actually working," and that all the flaws exposed thus far can serve as lessons for the future -- if we allow them to. A good first step would be to use his piece as the responsible foundation for future coverage and debate.

Tone down the melodrama. It's great that your production team can cook up scary graphics and dire musical stings, but have those things ever actually helped a single viewer? I am reminded of forensic psychologist Park Dietz's famous advice to the media on how to cover mass murders, such as "Don't start the story with sirens blaring," avoid "24/7 coverage," keep the murderer from becoming "some kind of anti-hero" and be sure to "localise this story to the affected community and [make it] as boring as possible in every other market."

Now, Dietz's primary concern is with keeping media from covering mass murderers in a way that inspires copycats. But many of these rules are fairly applicable here. The media can replace histrionics with calm and treat Ebola as a difficult problem that can nevertheless be broken down and solved with the application of a little knowledge and some managerial discipline.

More than anything, the media has a chance to help people think logically about this disease. As Jesse Singal recently noted at New York magazine, a nation of people who believe they're in danger of contracting Ebola will overwhelm the health care system with "folks who don't have the disease [...] but who think they do." It's better, at this point, to follow the lead of many other recent reports, and emphasize that what's currently spreading across America is the irrational fear of Ebola -- not Ebola itself.

Make your Ebola coverage a speculation-free zone. A lot of the "Ebola in America" story so far has consisted of sitting and waiting. We're waiting to see if people who've contracted the disease recover or perish. We're waiting to see if people who were in close proximity to the first group of people contract the disease themselves. We're waiting to see if the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa exports another rare and unlikely case of the disease to these shores.

That's a whole lot of time in which nothing is happening. If you're a professional "sit in front of a camera or laptop" person, you're going to be tempted to fill that time with stuff you heard on Twitter, or something you remember from a book or movie, or maybe stuff that came to you in a dream. Don't give in to these temptations. Fill that space with another news story. Probably something else is going on!

Don't be afraid to ask knowledgeable people the questions that arise from popular-but-mislaid fears. Singal talked to Abdulrahman El-Sayed and Sandra Galea at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, and came away with good advice on how to keep people informed and non-panicked in the age of rampant social-media rumormongering. As Singal reports, public health officials have been trying for a while to prepare Americans for the possibility of an Ebola case in the U.S.:

But before experts can effectively explain this, they first have to face down the biggest, scariest images of the disease lodged in the public’s imagination thanks to both fictionalized accounts and sensationalistic news coverage. “You have to address everybody’s worst fears before you can have a logical conversation about it,” said El-Sayed.

Sandro Galea, also at Mailman, stressed that “Clear, consistent, honest communication is essential,” especially now, during the early days of this outbreak’s presence in the U.S., when rumors are running rampant, fueled by a lack of concrete information. “There’s no question that uncertainty allows the space for misinformation to spread,” said Galea, “which is why those in positions of authority need to be honest when there are things we don’t know.”

Many of the fears currently attached to Ebola are basically spectral, but a lot of people don't understand that. People like Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University, actually welcome these questions, so go ahead and ask them. Just make sure you're talking to someone knowledgeable, and that your intent is to quell fear, rather than foment panic.

Don't give politicians too much oxygen on the subject. Unfortunately for everyone involved, "Ebola in America" became a story in the waning days of the 2014 midterm campaign, which means it's jumped into and polluted the political consciousness of America. It seems safe to assume that the vast majority of politicians who are talking about Ebola aren't actually sincere in their concern for public health. They view Ebola as a vehicle for political messaging, and they're using it to score partisan points or win elections. So politicians need to be kept on a short leash. Remember that. If you, as a reporter, must ask a politician about Ebola, stick to the policies he or she is currently able to enact and the funding he or she is currently able to provide. These people have plenty of avenues to do irresponsible stuff out of naked self-interest. There's no need to let them do it on your platform.

There is absolutely no need to hear from anyone who calls themselves a "political strategist" or "political consultant." They don't know anything about Ebola. They are only intermittently capable of offering political insights. So keep them out of the discussion. If you allow them in, they will fall back on cheap political tropes. Speaking of which...

Attention purveyors of cheap political tropes: The Ebola story isn't for you. Stay in your lane, guys. Please don't drizzle Ebola all over your content.

We don't need a piece on how Ebola is an "October surprise." Come on, now. You do know that "October surprise" refers to a semi-underhanded, last-minute gambit by a campaign that's about to lose an election, right? It does not refer to a genuinely surprising news story that happens to break just as election season is mercifully coming to an end. Calling Ebola an "October surprise" is thus either balefully stupid or baldly cynical, because it proceeds from the assumption that some "side" in an election is going to be a huge beneficiary from Ebola.

As John Hermann at The Awl puts it, it says "something else, something more sad than sinister, that, according to pre-eminent take-havers and score-callers, the actual October surprise is an out-of-control disease with no consciousness or ideology, a disease that has killed thousands of people and will kill thousands more."

Don't talk about "the optics of Ebola." Remember that a good definition of "optics" is "the actual world as viewed by ersatz eyeballs." A thing happens, and people have a perception of that thing. But then political thought-havers invent a new hallucinatory perception of the thing that happened in the hopes of creating a viral meme that re-colors everybody's original perception. In other words, "optics" is a game, one where media elites pointlessly mystify politics in order to preserve their own standing as savvy information gatekeepers. It's pretty bad form on most occasions, and it creates a lot of work for people who deal in facts. It's merely annoying when you use it to talk about politics, but when you apply it to a discussion of Ebola, it can be downright dangerous.

And then there's the K-word. What leads a person to say "[X] is the new Katrina" or "[X] is Obama's Katrina," anyway? Some percentage of the people who do this must have cynical intentions. And some other, possibly greater number are surely doing it out of pure laziness. "New thing reminds me of old thing. Hey! Maybe new thing is old thing?" It's been known to happen.

On the other, more charitable hand, maybe the people who use "Katrina" as an all-purpose term for "crisis-sounding thing" are doing so because they remember Hurricane Katrina, and have taken from it the lesson that a little preparation now is better than a lot of grief later. "It'll be Katrina all over again" could just be a well-intended attempt to galvanize a response to a problem before it becomes a catastrophe. Not a bad impulse! Unfortunately, the problem with calling everything a "Katrina" is that eventually your warning just becomes part of the background noise. I could have fairly said, "Coverage of the Ebola outbreak has been the media's Katrina." But I didn't. You should follow my example.

If you've been personally affected by the Ebola virus, do NOT behave irresponsibly. Let's say you are a doctor, employed by NBC News, to cover the Ebola crisis. Let's say that in the course of covering the Ebola crisis, you come close enough to the disease that medical authorities determine you need to be put in quarantine to ensure that you haven't been infected. Let's say that your name is Dr. Nancy Snyderman, and there was a time in the not-too-distant past that you even had your own show on teevee.

If any or all of the above happens, should you then break quarantine and go out for a snack? NO, YOU IDIOT, YOU SHOULD NOT. I can't believe this needs to be explained to anyone, but if you're a media professional and you are under quarantine, learn how to make ramen or something. College freshmen can do it.

Give the greatest weight to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Pollack notes, accurately, that "cable TV and social media repeatedly fuel collective stupidity and fear." But it doesn't have to be that way. If poor media coverage can create an atmosphere of anxiety and misinformation, then the right kind of coverage can lead to a more active and productive public response.

To achieve this, the media needs to recognize that the true center of gravity in the Ebola story is the crisis in West Africa. That's the situation that has to be emphasized, even if we have ongoing cases of the disease in the United States. This is not to say that you don't cover what's going on in America -- that information is, of course, vital. But the origin of any domestic cases of Ebola will be West Africa. Solving that crisis solves our own.

So when you cover the story, don't forget to mention West Africa. Lead with it, focus on it, keep people up to speed with what's happening there. Talk to the people fighting the disease there. Ask policymakers tough questions about what they're going to do about it. And if you write some listicle about Ebola, end with it. Because that's where the media can do the most good right now.

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It's Probably Not The Best Idea To Insult Wisconsin Voters When You're Trying To Win A Close Election

Jason Linkins   |   October 21, 2014   12:27 PM ET

The Wisconsin gubernatorial race has been as tight as a tick since late July, with the last Marquette Law School poll depicting the contest as a genuine dead heat between incumbent governor Scott Walker (R) and his challenger, Mary Burke (D). The usual cliches about "turnout being critical" obviously apply. It's an environment in which winning friends and influencing people is a must. But according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Bill Glauber, one RNC co-chair who parachuted into the Badger State to aid in the effort to re-elect Walker must have missed the memo on how to be "Wisconsin nice." Per Glauber:

Sharon Day, the co-chair, told the audience, "It's not going to be an easy election, it's a close election. Like I said, much closer than I can even understand why.

"I don't want to say anything about your Wisconsin voters but, some of them might not be as sharp as a knife."

Probably should have stopped that sentence halfway through, before it become apparent that Day actually really wanted to say something about Wisconsin voters.

To make matters worse, all of this happened in "crucial Waukesha County."

RNC co-chair: Some Wisconsin voters 'might not be as sharp as a knife' [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]

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Ebola Panic 2014: Entering The Land Of Unforced CDC Errors

Jason Linkins   |   October 18, 2014    8:00 AM ET

So, that happened: Another week of Ebola panic ends with the virus failing to jump outside the community of medical responders, but the opportunity for calm was nevertheless lost due to some slip-ups from health professionals. Meanwhile, as the midterms draw near, one of the most critical races -- between Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes -- has devolved into foolishness. Who's going to screw up their chances the worst? And, finally, Zach Carter returns from Turkey with some fresh perspective on how that nation's response to the Islamic State crisis next door is being shaped by cultural tensions.

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

An index of key moments in the discussion:

1:09- Ebola


13:35- Grimes versus McConnell

mcconnell grimes

27:03- Turkey and the Islamic State

turkey flag

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

Ebola Hot Take Of The Day: Travel Bans Would Make Things Worse. Let's Do Them Anyway.

Jason Linkins   |   October 16, 2014    2:18 PM ET

It seems pretty clear that the possibility that an Ebola-related travel ban will be imposed in the near future is growing with each passing day. Those who provide informed expertise about this sort of thing advise against such a policy. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls the notion "a solution that's quick, simple, and wrong." The White House currently holds with the CDC on this regard.

These positions haven't been taken in some information vacuum. In fact, the case against a travel ban is very compelling. A travel ban would impede the efforts of those who are trying to contain the disease in West Africa -- where, unlike America, there is an actual outbreak. Citizens of those nations would be harder to trace and could be more inclined to withhold the truth from officials. Isolating those nations would impose an unnecessary financial burden on the affected area, and could create the sort of public unrest that would imperil the fragile governing institutions in the region. Overall, the travel ban is a policy that would likely make containing the outbreak more difficult, ratcheting up the probability of a more serious episode on these shores.

But travel ban fever appears to be implacable. It's being driven by three factors. First, you have good old-fashioned political pressure against the White House's decision to not impose one. Second, you have the cable news industry, which has mostly fused its Ebola coverage with its ongoing "jihad against human intelligence." (Fox News' Shepard Smith currently serves as a welcome exception to this, but he is outnumbered and outgunned.) Finally, there are our heroic candidates on the campaign trail, who have at long last found in this Ebola crisis the means to parade around as serious people and score the cheap political points that millions of dollars of donor boodle had hitherto failed to provide.

And perhaps there is a fourth factor: We could just toss logic aside, because cowering in a psychological security blanket just takes less effort than fighting the disease responsibly. That's the example set today by the National Review's Marc Siegel, who in the space of two paragraphs goes from articulating a very eloquent and succinct prosecutorial brief against imposing a travel ban to ... just sort of shrugging and reaching for the warmth and security of his footie pajamas:

Sadly, it has reached the point where we will not feel safe unless we ban travel to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The reason this is a sad moment is that there is a good chance it could interfere with the flow of health care and resources to and from these countries. Not only that, but, historically, when a country suffering from a growing epidemic has felt cut off from the rest of the world, the fear quotient has risen, and people afraid of the contagion have attempted to flee. Unfortunately, when people hastily attempt to escape imposed restrictions, they tend to take fewer precautions, which increases their chances of catching the dreaded disease.

But first and foremost, although we are members of the world health community, we must worry about our own public psyche here in the United States. If our leaders can’t give us a sense that we are protected, we must achieve it by imposing a ban.

You just want to say, "Snap out of it man!" But Siegel goes on to restate all of this: "I don’t believe that a travel ban against the Ebola-afflicted countries in West Africa will be particularly effective, it may even be counterproductive, and it certainly isn’t coming from the strongest side of what being an American means. But as fear of Ebola and fear of our leaders’ ineptitude grows, I think we must have a ban to patch our battered national psyche."

Presumably after the travel ban proves to be as ineffective as he believes it to be and the situation worsens, our national psyche will be in a really kick-ass mood and ready to go. Say what you want about this, though: While this attitude defies common sense and logic, throws accumulated knowledge in the bin, and shortsightedly reaches for cheap comfort instead of courage, this sort of "thought leadering" is nonetheless, at the moment, quintessentially American. (See also: "Afghanistan, war in," "2008 financial crisis, response to.")

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Sorry, But That NYT Story On Abandoned Munitions Doesn't Prove Bush Was Right About WMDs

Jason Linkins   |   October 15, 2014    1:05 PM ET

The New York Times' C.J. Chivers has an invigorating longform piece up today about the American and Iraqi soldiers who "repeatedly encountered, and at times were wounded by" ancient chemical weapons produced in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War era, subsequently left hidden and moldering by Saddam Hussein's regime. Chivers puts a human face on the troops who performed the dangerous job of seeking out and disposing of these abandoned munitions, and with war in the region blooming anew, points out that this "long-hidden chronicle illuminates the persistent risks of the country's abandoned chemical weapons."

Unfortunately for lovers of reading comprehension, a few people skimmed this piece and allowed themselves to indulge in some serious flights of fancy:

Ha, no, Brad Dayspring. We're not talking about the active WMD program that famously failed to materialize. We're talking about what amounts to long-forgotten munitions Superfund sites that weren't a danger to anyone until they were unearthed, at which point it became necessary to dispose of the contents of those caches, lest they find their way into the makeshift bombs that were all the rage among insurgents. (The new concern is that there may be remnants for the Islamic State to use against their opponents in Iraq and Syria.) The soldiers who were harmed by exposure to these dumps weren't so much the victims of an Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction program" as much as they were harmed by an American "strategy of mass-R.E.M.F. stylings" popularized by those who administrated the war in Iraq. To wit:

The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.

Yeah, this is the sort of story that Brad Dayspring maybe regrets tweeting about now.

Chivers, for his part, takes great care to provide facts which distinguish these decaying weapons -- a product of that period of time when the United States and Saddam Hussein were besties -- from the imaginary armaments that spooked a nation into war with Iraq years later. And after Chivers does so, he draws big, bright red circles around these facts to make things crystal clear, like so:

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.


In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.


Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. “They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds,” Mr. Lampier said. “And all of this was from the pre-1991 era.”


The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.

Basically, Chivers did what he could to make this article a safe space for the witless. Like a playground swaddled in a 2-foot-thick cushion of the finest Nerf, there should have been no opportunity for anyone to fall down and get hurt. Alas! Here's a whole article in the IJReview that gamely manages to omit the most relevant information from Chivers' piece, while billing it as the Golden Ticket that proves President George W. Bush was right. Naturally, it assiduously omits the text I've cited above.

Meanwhile, the hits just keep on coming:

That tweet deserves some examination with the Eat The Press telestrator:

gainor tweet eat the press

Pro-tip: If you want to pretend that a New York Times article proved the existence of an active Iraqi WMD program, don't include the part of the headline that makes explicit mention of the fact that Iraqi's WMD efforts had been "abandoned." This isn't even quality inveigling!

At any rate, as Chivers' article reminds us, this was a sorry period in American foreign policy that should not be fondly remembered. Those who insist on being nostalgic for it really need to do as cartoon Idina Menzel says and...

let it go

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons [New York Times]

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The Supreme Court Gave Gay Marriage A Big Kanye Shrug

Jason Linkins   |   October 11, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: Ebola has come to America, but the disease has nothing on the viral spread of harum-scarum Ebola hype from the media and politicians. Can we develop a resistance? Meanwhile, the Supreme Court greeted a host of marriage equality bans with a big ole Kanye shrug, letting the sound of wedding bells resound. And, finally, if you're preparing to greet Columbus Day with a soupcon of liberal guilt, why not instead get behind the only holiday that exclusively celebrates failing upward?

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

An index of key moments in the discussion:

1:07 - Ebola

ebola virus

11:05 - Supreme Court And Gay Marriage

supreme court

22:43 - Columbus Day

christopher columbus

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

Sam Stein   |   October 10, 2014    8:15 PM ET

As the U.S.-led coalition continues to engage the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, much of the world's attention has been focused on Kobani, a city on the northern border of Syria, a stone's throw from Turkey, that the militant group is seemingly determined to capture. The implications for those inside Kobani are dire: its citizens are facing the prospect of a massacre that's being compared to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia.

The Huffington Post's Sam Stein and David Wood discussed the fate of Kobani in the most recent taping of The Huffington Post's roundtable interview series, "Drinking & Talking." They were joined by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, Time magazine reporter Mark Thompson and the Center for a New American Security's Nora Bensahel. At issue: Can the situation in Kobani spur the United States' regional partners to act, or is the U.S. playing a dangerous game of chicken?

The panel debated the global impact of Kobani falling, the motivations of neighboring Turkey, and just how difficult it has been to build and move a coalition against ISIS.

"It is not a situation where people are waiting for their assignment papers," Psaki said.

This is a short clip from a larger panel discussion. The full episode of "Drinking & Talking" will be released next week.

Jon Stewart Turning Down 'Meet The Press' Is The Smart Move For All Involved

Jason Linkins   |   October 9, 2014    4:15 PM ET

New York Magazine's Gabriel Sherman managed to get media observers all hot and bothered yesterday when he splashed a pretty great scoop from behind the scenes at NBC News. As Sherman reports, when NBC News' president Deborah Turness was pondering "Meet The Press'" transition from the David Gregory Era to its current Chuck Todd-issance, she briefly paused along the way to sound out "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart on whether he might want to take over as the "MTP's" host. According to Sherman's source, NBC News was richly baiting the lure: "They were ready to back the Brink's truck up."

Obviously, this courtship was ultimately unconsummated. And for everyone involved, this is probably for the best. (For example, NBC News still has that Brink's truck, which is nice.)

The person who really dodges a bullet here is Stewart himself, by not allowing this truck full of Peacock ducats to tempt him into taking a job that he'd not only really, truly hate having, but also would probably have damaged the legacy he's built for himself as an outsider critic. There's something genuinely Faustian about this attempted assignation: How much money would it take to convince a man to become the thing he's always despised? In this case, the answer would appear to be "more than you can put in one armored car."

But the idea of having Stewart take over "Meet The Press" isn't crazy. Sherman points out that "the comedian-cum-media-critic possesses something that broadcast executives covet: a young loyal audience." You can actually extend that covetousness well beyond the realm of broadcast news -- the millennial audience in particular is the nut that every media organization is currently trying to crack. Some are handling the task with more aplomb than others. More often than not, it's the traditional media outlets that have struggled to unlock its treasures. As Nieman Lab's Ken Doctor writes:

[The millennial] generation will spend $200 billion annually by 2017 (and $10 trillion in their lifetime) in the U.S. alone. It's the lower end of the 25-54 audience that TV advertisers covet, and therein lies a new tale of budding ad competition. Young consumers' brand buying preferences remain open to suggestion.

Add it all up, and we see why hundreds of millions of dollars is being invested in these newsy millennial-targeting sites. These startups may take differing approaches, but they share a dead aim at the sweet spots of this era. For audience: video, mobile, and POV reporting. For revenue: native, social, and video advertising.

Legacy media gnaw at these phenomena. They try to graft them on to their mature trunks; often the graft doesn’t quite take. It's far easier for digital native newsy companies to meld them into products and businesses that look different.

And let's face it, bringing Stewart to the "Meet The Press" studio would have been something of an awkward graft. Stewart's always been a capable interviewer, if we define "interviewing" as the simple task of genially greeting a guest and provoking an entertaining conversation. Once Stewart strays from that sort of interview to actual journalistic interlocution, reviews are mixed. Sherman, for example, assesses Stewart quite highly. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum rates him about as low as you can go. For my part, I've found Stewart to be an intermittently capable and always well-meaning interrogator whose reach sometimes exceeds his grasp. (There's nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, one of Stewart's finest journalistic qualities is his willingness to admit this, as he did in the aftermath of his failed interview of Bush-era legal counselor John Yoo.)

Mediaite's Joe Concha, who's got a really fine read on this story as well, goes further in pointing out that the circumstances that allow Stewart to succeed at "The Daily Show" just aren't viable for "Meet The Press":

But while Stewart often does a good interview, for him to carry a full hour with panels and deep dives into policy would not play well once the novelty of seeing him in Tim Russert's old chair wore off. Throw in the fact that he wouldn't have the benefit of 18 writers or (and this is important) a pumped-up studio audience applauding every line, and you have a show that would largely come across as out of place in terms of content and atmosphere.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about Stewart is that he's never been eager to claim the name of journalist, preferring instead to maintain his "comedian-first" identity. ("Daily Show" alum and "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver maintains the same distinction.) To many, this is something of a maddening dodge. After all, Stewart makes many of the moves of traditional journalism, while at the same time handing down critiques of the media with something of a triumphalist flair. Critics of his "I'm just a comedian" pose often characterize his stance as an unwillingness to take responsibility for his work or to admit that as a person of influence, he's accountable for the quality of his product.

A more balanced view of Stewart's philosophy is to concede that he's more vested in taking responsibility for the comedy (by honoring the traditions from which he emerged). It's a simple declaration (or maybe a warning) that he's not always going to choose to do what journalism demands -- that sooner or later, Stewart's going to have to go with whatever generates the most laughter. Like it or not, he's allowed to do that. But that also makes him a poor choice to helm a Sunday morning public affairs show.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to learn that Turness was contemplating such a radical departure for "Meet The Press" -- and pay through the moment of zen for it -- because now we know that somewhere at the back of Turness' mind lurks the notion that something really drastic must be done with the show, beyond the new host and remodeled set that it has now.

She's not wrong. One of the more infuriating things about the major networks' Sunday morning offerings -- "Meet The Press," "Fox News Sunday," "This Week" and "Face The Nation" -- is that for all we hear about the intense competition that exists betwixt and between these brands, each show seems caught in the same hall of mirrors, and the only race is in the direction of becoming a wan and enervating imitation of all the others. Collectively, the four shows have all of the substance and energy of a pool report, with none of its cost-effectiveness. Meanwhile, if you go back to the organizations that are competing for the younger audience noted in Ken Doctor's piece, you see a drive toward innovation and differentiation that the Pale Kings of Sunday Morning consistently lack.

There's room to do something bold on Sunday morning. Sooner or later, one of these Sunday morning shows is going to quit this slow game of chicken and take a chance. Let's say this about the notion of getting Jon Stewart to fill Tim Russert's shoes: It's a bad idea, but it's the right instinct.

NBC Wanted to Hire Jon Stewart to Host "Meet the Press" [Daily Intelligencer]
Stewart's "Meet the Press" Courtship Another Leak During Tumultuous Turness Tenure [Mediaite]

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It's Getting Harder To Sort Out How Greg Orman Will Sort Himself

Jason Linkins   |   October 8, 2014    5:38 PM ET

Now with the resolution of some thorny legal matters concerning whether or not Kansas Democrats were technically allowed to unilaterally withdraw from the state's U.S. Senate race, businessman and self-styled independent candidate Greg Orman could eventually emerge as the favorite in the race against incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R). With that come questions. Will he be a Republican or a Democrat? A spoiler or a savior? And is his whole game founded on insincere schtick, or does he have some sort of a plan?

Orman is essentially running as an anthropomorphic conundrum that has decided to subordinate himself to the fickle finger of Fate. A cursory glance at the "issues" page of his website reveals that he supports women's reproductive rights, that he would have been a reliable "yes" vote for the Manchin-Toomey bill on gun background checks, and that he supports a constitutional amendment to roll back the damages done by Citizens United. At the same time, his stance on corporate tax reform places him fairly solidly in GOP Rep. Dave Camp's ... uhm, camp. And as far as the Affordable Care Act goes, Orman says that "it's clear that with the Affordable Care Act the Congress simply expanded a broken system." (His solution to that? Currently, it is the null set, decorated with bromides.)

Beyond these hints, however, we have Orman's most notable campaign promise: If elected, he will caucus with whichever party wins the majority in the Senate. That essentially means that if Kansas voters elect Orman, they will have to wait for voters in Alaska and Arkansas and Louisiana and Georgia and North Carolina, among others, to have a sense of what the senator from Kansas is going to do.

According to the Washington Examiner's David Drucker, this all makes perfect sense to Orman's supporters:

Independent Senate candidate Greg Orman has been cagey about whether he'll caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected.

His supporters think that's the whole point.

Some of the Kansas businessman's core supporters, including registered Republicans and independents, argue that his lack of a political party would grant him outsized influence on Capitol Hill.

But in multiple interviews this week at two Orman campaign volunteer organizing events, supporters referenced the candidate's IQ and business success as the basis for their belief that he can singularly end partisan gridlock and develop politically palatable solutions to the country's most intractable problems.

These are some particularly beautiful ideas, as far as gossamer dreams go, but this does not actually make sense. Many have made efforts over the past few years to "end partisan gridlock." There have been, as Drucker points out, "Gangs of [X]" galore. There have been committees and super committees. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) vowed to rustle up a posse of moderates to end the most recent government shutdown. All of these efforts have fallen short. Is it really possible that anyone believes that one guy, with one vote -- who requires the approval of one party or the other even to bring amendments to the floor or sit on a Senate committee -- is going to single-handedly fix the Senate with buzzwords and really deeply felt feelings?

Never mind that as a senator from a very Republican state, Orman will be on something of a short leash. Should he end up caucusing as a Democrat, managing his voting record is going to be like crossing that room full of lasers in "Entrapment" -- he's not representing a constituency that wants its senator to vote with Harry Reid all that often. And if he ends up caucusing with the Republicans, well, I'll let Vox's Dylan Matthews give you the two digestible scenarios:

Option one, he gets valuable committee assignments and gets to offer his amendments and gets to see his bills considered on the floor and gets support from other Republicans on issues of importance to Kansas and gets support from the party when he runs for reelection and, in general, gets to represent Kansas effectively, just like he promised he would. He also votes like a Republican on major bills, with maybe a few freebie defections here and there.

Option two, he gets frozen out of the good committees and watches Republicans bottle up his bills and ignore his amendments and generally make Kansas rue the day they elected Orman to represent them. Hell, maybe he even gets expelled from the caucus and has to run for reelection with Kansans knowing he couldn't even keep his promise to caucus with the majority.

"Orman will pick option one," Matthews predicts.

I'm with him on that, if only because bodies at rest in the Senate tend to want to get re-elected to the Senate. If Orman was coming to Washington to represent Vermont, he'd get a lot of slack from the GOP caucus. But the Republican Party understands that it can bring a solidly conservative senator out of Kansas in nine elections out of 10. It won't have any reason to countenance regular apostasy from Orman.

As Orman's Hamlet-act has drawn greater scrutiny, he's gamely attempted to offer some clarifications as to what he'll do should he get to Capitol Hill. But if anything, his latest statements only make things more confusing. According to an interview he gave NBC News, once he's picked a side, Orman's going to grant himself the option to un-pick that side:

"If four or five months goes by, and it's clear they're engaged in the same old partisan politics, we'll be able to change our allegiances and work with the other side," he said. "And I think that's a really strong and important tool, to hold the Senate accountable for actually getting something done."

At first blush, that's quite a bold statement. But if you start thinking through this scenario, you might well say to yourself, "Wait, what?"

Let's break this down. Say Greg Orman gets elected, and as promised, he joins the majority. As a member in good standing of said majority, Orman could have a hand in setting the agenda. That's ostensibly the whole point of his "will he or won't he caucus with somebody" act: Orman's belief that Kansans deserve to have their senator sit in the majority. As a member of the agenda-setting majority, he'd be in the driver's seat for "getting something done."

What, then, could impede this "getting something done"? What might bring back "the same old partisan politics"? Clearly it will be the actions of the minority party, which can use the filibuster and other sundry parliamentary procedures to gum up the works.

So in order to hold to account the people responsible for gridlock, Orman is prepared to ... switch to that side? This is just not logical.

I suppose a second scenario might exist, in which Orman determines that the agenda of the party he's joined is not something he can support, and he ultimately colors his distaste for that agenda with paeans to bipartisanship and ending dysfunction. In that scenario, switching sides makes more sense. It will raise an obvious question, however: "Why did you join that party in the first place?"

Ultimately, Orman's well-worn routine may boil down to the simple fact that this is what a guy like Orman has to do in order to get elected to the Senate from Kansas in the first place. And Kansas voters may simply be taking his promise to caucus with the majority in stride because they're of the mind that a GOP takeover of the Senate is a near-certainty.

Of course, most polling models (at the time of this writing, anyway) have control of the Senate looking less like a GOP lock and more like a coin flip. In that way, I guess it's fitting that one can't make heads or tails out of Greg Orman.

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Just Chill With All The Predictions, Bill Kristol

Jason Linkins   |   October 6, 2014   12:40 PM ET

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol ... well, he has this reputation of "faulty predictions" and "bad advice" and being "consistently wrong" about everything. And he could do a lot to help take control of that reputation, by just chilling out and dialing things back a notch. It would be so easy!

But the man just can't help himself. Here's his latest humdinger, courtesy of the New Jersey Senate race:

The new Quinnipiac poll of the New Jersey Senate contest shows Jeff Bell only 11 points down to Cory Booker, 51 to 40 percent, among likely voters. It goes without saying that a race can move a dozen points in the final five weeks of a campaign -- especially when a little known challenger (but one who's well-regarded by those who do know of him) is taking on a pro-Obama incumbent who's barely above 50 percent in an anti-Obama, anti-incumbent year. (Obama's approval in New Jersey is hovering around 41 percent.)

But take a further look at the poll results. Booker leads Bell, 51-40. Seventy-six percent of Booker supporters and 84 percent of Bell supporters say their mind is made up. Do the math. Among those whose mind is made up, Booker leads Bell 39 to 34 percent.

Kristol takes from this the notion that Booker's "hard lead" -- whatever that is! -- is "a mere five points," and that the cited Quinnipiac poll is likely to be Jeff Bell's "fire bell in the night."

O-kay, well, let's flash forward to Monday morning's Monmouth poll of the race:

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker holds a 15 point lead in his re-election bid according to the Monmouth University Poll. The poll of likely voters found that few know GOP challenger Jeff Bell or see any benefits in his main campaign plank of returning U.S. currency to a gold standard.

Among Garden State voters likely to cast a ballot in next month’s election, incumbent Democrat Cory Booker garners 53% support and Republican nominee Jeff Bell holds 38%. Another 2% say they will vote for a third party candidate and 7% are undecided.

Meanwhile, the HuffPost Pollster polling average, which combines all publicly available polling data, finds Booker ahead of Bell 51.1 to 37.3 percent as of Monday, after factoring in both the Quinnipiac and Monmouth University polls.

I'm prepared to be wrong about this and I'll happily pre-draft a post titled, "Hallelujah, Bill Kristol Was Right About New Jersey" right now. But I really don't understand why Kristol can't content himself with more reasonable predictions, like, "The Republicans are likely to take over the Senate," or "Daylight saving time is going to end soon." Just keep things simple and notch a few gimmes. It's just this idea I had.

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Remember How We Defended The Secret Service Last Week? Well, Funny Story...

Jason Linkins   |   October 4, 2014    8:00 AM ET

So, that happened: The 2014 election is right around the corner, and HuffPost Pollster's Mark Blumenthal says it's "gut-check time" for the media's polling wonks. Meanwhile, far from the hullabaloo of the midterms, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange lies dreaming in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where HuffPost's own Ryan Grim paid him a visit. And remember how we defended the Secret Service last week? Well, funny story...

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

An index of key moments in the discussion:

1:00- Julian Assange

julian assange

14:50- 2014 Election Polls

mcconnell grimes

28:20- Secret Service

secret service fence

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

The Military Can't Come Up With A Name For Its War Against ISIS. We're Here To Help.

Jason Linkins   |   October 3, 2014    2:48 PM ET

One of the things that our ongoing military operation against the Islamic State does not currently have -- besides congressional approval, clearly demarcated goals, the sense that it won't turn into a long-term military commitment, or an exit strategy, I mean -- is a name. These things have got to have a zazzy name, for branding purposes. Remember "Operation Enduring Freedom," and how much awesome durable freedom we got from that? That's what this war-ish thing in Iraq and Syria needs. But as HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reported Thursday, it might not get one:

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who served as assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, said the Pentagon usually names military operations to bolster public support and bring attention to the campaign. In bombing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, attention might not be what the Obama administration wants.

"Usually when you do that, you're trying to rally public support for it," said Korb. "I assume that's why they're not trying to do that. You expect there are going to be a lot of casualties. I think what they're trying to do is keep this on as low a profile as they can."

As the Wall Street Journal's Julian Barnes reports, the main idea anyone has had for a name is "Operation Inherent Resolve," which is a strange because once you start dropping bombs on people, stuff stops being inherent and starts getting pretty damned explicit. And insisting on the "inherence" of your own resolve sounds like the sort of thing that someone who is really unsure of himself does. So it's not surprising that "Operation Inherent Resolve" sort of landed with a wet thump at the Pentagon. Per Barnes:

To some military officers, Inherent Resolve didn’t properly evoke the Middle East. Others faulted it for failing to highlight the international coalition the U.S. had assembled. Still others simply found it uninspiring.

One senior official said Inherent Resolve was a placeholder name and never seriously considered for the overall war effort. Other officials said had the name been better received it might well be the new war’s moniker.

“It is just kind of bleh,” said a military officer.

Well, if it's inspiration and non-bleh nicknames that the Pentagon needs, Eat The Press is here to help. Here are fifty really great names that the Department of Defense can have for free:

1. Operation Slutty Ron Burgundy Costume
2. Operation Nic Cage Covered In Flaming Snakes
3. Operation Schmoperation
4. Operation Use Figuratively And Literally Interchangeably
5. Operation Biden's Bringin' Hoagies You Guys
6. Operation Native Advertising
7. Operation Lindsey Graham Just Crying At You For Days
8. Operation Supertemporal Eagle Talon
9. Operation Enough With All The IPAs, Christ
10. Operation Demented Goatherd
11. Operation Whoops Now You've Pissed Off Beyonce
12. Operation Who Are The Good Guys In Syria Again?
13. Operation Infinite ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
14. Operation Limitless Quagmire
15. Operation The Wacky Doctor's Game
16. Tyler Perry Presents Madea's Family Operation
17. Operation #CancelColbert
18. Operation Everlasting Shia LaBeouf
19. Operation Incessant Needing To Check Google For How To Spell Shia LaBeouf's Name
20. Operation Wow If Shia LaBeouf Has A Google Alert On His Name This Is Going To Confuse Him
21. Operation I Hope This Isn't Going To Result In Shia LaBeouf Doing Performance Art Outside My Apartment
22. Operation You Just Never Know With That Guy, Shia LaBeouf
23. Operation Really Sketchy Subreddit
24. Operation Perpetual Social Commentary From Lars Von Trier
25. Operation Third Season Of Homeland I Can't Even
26. Operation Try Not To Drop Food And Weapons On The Wrong Guys
27. Operation Revenue-Neutral Operation
28. Operation Thought Catalog
29. Operation Guy Fieri Doing Something Downright Satanic With Buffalo Wing Sauce
30. Operation Comcast Will Be There Between 12 and 4, Trust Us
31. Operation Dangling Participle
32. Operation FedEx Field Parking Lot
33. Operation Dot Tumblr Dot Com
34. Operation The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell
35. Operation Sempiternal American Flag Gif
36. Operation Perdurable FUBAR
37. Operation The Thesaurus Entry For 'Infinite' Really Gets A Workout When You Do This Sort Of Thing
38. Operation Do You Think Someone At The Pentagon Just Has This Job, Naming Operations?
39. Operation That's Probably A Pretty Good Job For Someone From The Iowa Writer's Workshop
40. Operation Maybe This Is What Thomas Pynchon Does Between Novels
41. Operation Who's Up To Go Apple Picking This Weekend?
42. Operation Thirsty Rando Eyeing You From Across The Bar While Vaping
43. Operation Vox Explainer
44. Operation Why Can't I Get Anything For Lunch That's Not Quinoa At This TED Talk
45. Operation Everlasting Misogynistic Ed Champion Screed
46. Operation Here's Some Hot Garbage From The Latest Politico Magazine
47. Operation Desperate Email From A Democratic Senate Candidate
48. Operation Incalculable Pumpkin Spice
49. Operation Affleck Dong
50. Operation America Is Basically This GIF Spinning Eternally Now:

grimes mcconnell

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Congress Runs Away From Obama's War On Terror Twofer

Jason Linkins   |   September 27, 2014    8:00 AM ET

So, that happened: The long-promised airstrikes on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria began this week as uninterested members of Congress crossed their fingers and left town. But not before they held hearings on whether the Secret Service could have done a better job protecting the White House from a guy with a pocketknife. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama's attempt to crack down on tax dodgers was challenged by the conservative canard-waving ... Bill Clinton?

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

An index of key moments in the discussion:

00:51 - ISIS: "War Were Declared"


10:37 - Clinton vs. Obama On Tax Inversion

bill clinton obama

19:30 - The White House Jumper

white house

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

President Obama Is At The Vanguard Of A Major Cultural Shift In America

Jason Linkins   |   September 25, 2014    3:10 PM ET

Former White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer was the guest this morning at Buzzfeed HQ, for a "Buzzfeed Breakfast" round of Q&A. Among the topics discussed, according to Capital New York's Jeremy Barr, were the media consumption habits of President Barack Obama.

As Barr reports, Pfeiffer told those assembled that Obama "reads the daily news ... both print and online," and also indulges in a healthy amount of long-form journalism. One source of news, however, is not on the menu:

However, Pfeiffer said: "Where he does not consume a lot of media is on television."

The president does not watch cable news, with its horse-race political coverage, or the morning news shows.

Frankly, I think that this is where the rest of the country is heading, slowly and inevitably. I'd wager that within a generation, most of America will be tuning out today's version of cable news and the Sunday morning shows, as the aging viewers of such media surrender to the grip of mortality and younger generations settle into the 21st-century news environment.

I've said this before, but I feel confident in these predictions. What we know as "cable news" will, of course, adapt, and even be superb. The future for that platform will most likely be a home to programming like high-impact documentary news features (like the acclaimed "Blackfish") and longer reported features focused on public affairs (like HBO's "Last Week Tonight"). The faces you see on cable news -- which currently, and too often, are just a cruddy mélange of interchangeable pundits, "thought leaders" and "insiders" -- will give way to journalists of an altogether different ethos.

You'll think I'm crazy to say this (unless you're fortunate enough to have read this), but the guy who really embodies that ethos right now is Anthony Bourdain, who recently told Fast Company, "I'm not a Middle East expert. I'm not an Africa expert. I'm not a foreign-policy wonk. But I see aspects of these countries that regular journalists don't. If we have a role, it's to put a face on people who you might not otherwise have seen or cared about" (emphasis mine).

Once cable news completes this necessary evolution, viewers will flock to watch televised news that really focuses on and impacts the lives of normal human Americans.

In this regard, Obama is an early adopter, whether he knows it or not. I'm an even earlier adopter of this manner of news consumption and, I can tell you, life has never been better. I recommend it!

You can read Capital New York's report here. For additional coverage of Pfeiffer's Q&A at Buzzfeed, check out these stories.

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