The Statist Media

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Two more data points for my theory that the legacy media aren’t liberal, they’re just authoritarian.

First, while covering this week’s Senate TSA hearings, Time Washington correspondent Alex Altman rises above the the fray, and bravely throws cold water on all you shrill anti-TSA types. Here’s his lede:

Some dramas seem tailor-made for the Internet’s ephemeral obsessions, and the kerfuffle over the Transportation Security Administration’s new airport screening procedures is a perfect example. It’s got all the ingredients to feed a media circus: a whiff of government overreach, children prodded to tears, bold push-back, splashy protests, federal employees apparently frisking nuns–an irresistible  recipe seasoned by the immediacy of next week’s Thanksgiving travel crunch.

Altman then goes on to debunk all this infantile Internet screaming by citing a poorly-worded public opinion poll showing support for x-ray scanners, and helpfully pointing out that members of no less an esteemed, august institution than the U.S. Senate expressed solidarity with the TSA.

Well. I guess we stand corrected, then.

Altman doesn’t really get into whether these invasive new measures will actually make flying any safer, or whether the x-ray machines themselves are safe for passengers (where’s that damned Precautionary Principle when you need it?). No, his evidence that all this talk about the government abrogating our rights in the name of security theater is mere “drama”, “tailor-made for the Internet’s ephemeral obsessions” is a series of quotes saying as much from . . . members of the government.

It’s especially rich to see this in Time, a magazine with a long history of ginning up hysteria over the likes of Pokemon, satanic cults, dirty words, Internet porn, and has never met a faddish new drug that wasn’t just as bad as heroin. Of course, Time’s attempts to gin up moral panic have always at root been about people exercising their personal freedom in ways Time writers and editors find objectionable; the stories are always wrapped in urgent we must do something appeals for government to protect people from themselves. The TSA backlash is about government violating personal freedom. So of course now is the hour for a Time correspondent to step up all sober-minded like to call foul on the protests.

The other example comes from Glenn Greenwald, who had a bizarre exchange with NPR National Security Correspondent Dina Temple-Raston over the Obama administration’s plan to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, and, more broadly, its assertion that it has the power to assassinate American citizens without trial, oversight, or even letting anyone know it happened. You can watch video of the exchange at the link, but here’s a summary from The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer:

It’s really an amazing exchange — Temple-Raston snaps at Greenwald, asking him, “Isn’t it possible that I’ve seen something you haven’t seen?” When asked about the evidence of al-Awlaki’s operational role in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, she smugly tells him that “he doesn’t do national security for a living.”

As Serwer explains, the point here isn’t whether al-Awlaki is a good person, though let’s not forget that we were repeatedly told that only the “worst of the worst” were housed at Gitmo. The issue is whether the executive can be trusted with this sort of power, not just with al-Awlaki, but in the future.

There’s no more important function of the press than government watchdog. Whether it’s to protect or curry favor with official sources, preserve access, or just a jones for authority and the cult of expertise, the legacy media too often comes off as government’s biggest fan. And it’s a problem that transcends left-right ideology.

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44 Responses to “The Statist Media”

  1. #1 |  Bob | 

    “… that members of no less an esteemed, August institution than the U.S. Senate expressed solidarity with the TSA.

    Well. I guess we stand corrected, then.”

    And god knows that the Senate always treats everyone with honesty and dignity.

    Now strip naked and get on the probulator.

  2. #2 |  SJE | 

    The Washington Post this morning editorialized in defense of scanners.

  3. #3 |  MRK | 

    The fact that NPR feels they need a “National Security Correspondent” tells me the terrorists are getting exactly what they want.

  4. #4 |  K9kevlar | 

    There have only been 4 incidents of unlicensed pilots causing death since May 26, 1926. Other than Sep. 11, 2001 the government has made sure that all airplanes that crash have been inspected and piloted by licensed pilots. The solution is to require all terrorists to be licensed.

  5. #5 |  lunchstealer | 

    Hey Radley, one thing I haven’t seen in the risk/cost analysis for TSA screening procedures is an analysis of the risk of discouraging air travel in favor of other forms of travel.

    Your risk of dying per passenger mile in an airline is, IIRC, lower than any other form of travel. Given the current state of Amtrak, the only viable non-aviation option for most people is highway travel. This is the riskiest form of travel. So if the TSA policies push even a small percentage of air-travel trips to car-travel trips, won’t this result in an increase in American deaths?

    So if any TSA policy pushes travelers into cars, isn’t the TSA killing Americans?

  6. #6 |  orogeny | 

    There are mob bosses and drug lords here in the states who the authorities are quite sure have ordered the deaths of American citizens. I wonder if the administration thinks it would be OK for the local authorities to sanction them?

  7. #7 |  Marty | 

    nice logic, Lunchstealer!

    anyone wanna make a bet whether Altman’s on the ‘a list’ for all the kickass Washington Christmas parties?

  8. #8 |  JS | 

    I agree and this kind of shows how left and right don’t matter anymore. It’s people who want freedom versus those who want government control. The whole liberal/conservative thing is an outdated dichotomy and people need to wake up to that.

  9. #9 |  Richard K. Jones | 

    Oh, well if a journalist who won an essay award from Northwestern University in 1986 for a piece focusing on why Henry James never wrote about Belgium tells me that she’s seen secret evidence of al-Awlaki’s operational role in al-Qeda, then that’s good enough for me. In fact, I think that is from the Advisory Committee Comment to Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(4)(I can’t believe that a civil rights journalist from an ostensibly “liberal” organization thinks this kind of fucking horseshit is and ought to be the acceptable level of proof for a policy involving the assasination of American citizens) et. seq.

  10. #10 |  Highway | 

    You missed a chance for a great turn of phrase, Radley:

    “There’s no more important function of the press than government watchdog. But whether it’s to protect or curry favor with official sources, preserve access, or just a jones for authority and the cult of expertise, the legacy media too often comes off as government lapdog.”

  11. #11 |  Juice | 

    Whether it’s to protect or curry favor with official sources, preserve access, or just a jones for authority and the cult of expertise, the legacy media too often comes off as government’s biggest fan. And it’s a problem that transcends left-right ideology.

    What should transcend left-right is the Bill of Rights. Irrespective of political ideology, can’t all Americans at least agree to preserve it?

  12. #12 |  chuchundra | 

    Nate Silver discusses the costs of extra airport security on FiveThirtyEight today. And since it’s Nate, you know there’s data.

    The Hidden Costs Of Extra Airport Security

  13. #13 |  JS | 

    Juice “What should transcend left-right is the Bill of Rights. Irrespective of political ideology, can’t all Americans at least agree to preserve it?”

    No not at all. In fact it seems like the majority of Americans would gladly give up their freedoms, rights, and dignity for the illusion of safety or financial security or other reasons.

  14. #14 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    There’s no more important function of the press than government watchdog.

    Major Smedley D. Butler said “War is a racket. It always has been.” I believe you can update that with “ALL of government is a racket. So is the press.” Follow the money and you’ll find out why press is licking boots now.

    It’s got all the ingredients to feed a media circus: a whiff of government overreach, children prodded to tears, bold push-back, splashy protests, federal employees apparently frisking nuns…

    I put my Godwin glasses on and Nazi Germany meets all these ingredients. So there you have it! Alex Altman cannot tell the difference between the greatest evil of the last century and just a trivial “media circus”.

    How long before our dear leaders at TSA decide to arrest someone for enjoying their pat-down too much–and possibly allow their agent to sue for infliction of emotional distress. I bring this up because I think a good protest would be to have thousands of travelers choose the pat-down and add audible moans of pleasure while leaning into that hand cupping your apple bag or kitty through some thin jogging shorts worn commando style. MAKE THEM TOUCH YOUR JUNK. The truly dedicated can pop a few Viagra to really make ‘em remember you. Dang…turned creepy there.

  15. #15 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “… the legacy media too often comes off as government’s biggest fan.”

    The “legacy media” or MSM as it is commonly known, IS the government. Or more precisely, the State.

    #1 Rule of the State — defend itself at all costs against all comers.

  16. #16 |  Mario | 

    It’s especially rich to see this in Time, a magazine with a long history of ginning up hysteria over the likes of Pokemon, satanic cults, dirty words, Internet porn, and has never met a faddish new drug that wasn’t just as bad as heroin. Of course, Time’s attempts to gin up moral panic have always at root been about people exercising their personal freedom in ways Time writers and editors find objectionable [...]

    Bravo, Radley! And +5 Insightful.

  17. #17 |  Sean L. | 

    You know, there’s one sure-fire method to fix this problem with the media…

    Federal funding!

    /sarcasm

  18. #18 |  delta | 

    #5: “Hey Radley, one thing I haven’t seen in the risk/cost analysis for TSA screening procedures is an analysis of the risk of discouraging air travel in favor of other forms of travel.”

    I’m always on the cusp of telling my statistics students the following: “Someday you will spend a month doing a well-researched piece of statistics. Then it will turn out to indicate that your boss is wrong, and he will tell you to go to hell.”

    But I figure that’s a bit too depressing.

  19. #19 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    And don’t forget we need to start subsidizing all these journalists before they go out of business. American society simply won’t be able to function if these institutions aren’t around to publicly fellate our political masters.

  20. #20 |  delta | 

    Hey, just last night I learned about “PBA Cards”:

    “Having the card marks you as a friend to the force, and can be used to get out of minor jams. Flash the union card to an officer who has stopped you for speeding or is citing you for illegally parking, and the cop will forgo the ticket and let you off with a warning and wink. Police unions long encouraged their members to honor the cards when presented at a car stop — especially since they are often carried by cops’ relatives.”

    Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/friend_of_pba_cards_for_sale_TozNobzy8W1AK8NzwTBC9H#ixzz15lQUi8Fm

    I know there’s corruption. But I’m amazed that there’s actually written, official paperwork about who you’re supposed to cheat in favor of.

  21. #21 |  Chris Bray | 

    Time can’t even be bothered with the plainest details:

    “The TSA administrator declined to provide some details about the nature of the pat-downs, citing security concerns. But he tried to allay fears stoked by the media rumor-mill. Children under 12 are exempted from the pat-down process, he said.”

    That’s *not* what John Pistole said — he said that children under 12 will get a different kind of pat-down, which he said would be less intrusive. But he has never described that altered pat-down, so we don’t know what it means.

    “The breathless headlines and expert discussion forums provide a distorted picture of public perception. According to a CBS News poll, 81% of Americans approve of the decision to use full-body X-ray machines to weed out terrorist threats. Sometimes the screams of an aggrieved minority drowns out the rest of the public, and this may be one of those cases.”

    The findings of that one very early CBS poll have been badly eroded by later polls taken as people find out what these screenings are actually like, and as they think about risks and consequences in a more informed way. But never mind, because you’ve gotta use the older poll that shows support for government policy if you’re going to paint skeptics as hysterics.

    Lazy, sycophantic, worshipful of power, indifferent to facts. Time magazine — subscribe today!

    So, so, so tired of it. When does Time get sold for a dollar, and merged with a shitty website?

  22. #22 |  mad libertarian guy | 

    @21

    Tell that to this child. Surely she’ll agree that pat-downs for children are less intrusive.

    And since when the fuck is “less intrusive” an acceptable alternative to “unobtrusive”. You want my kid to go through the metal detector, fine. But you will NOT take pictures which depict my child’s naked body, and you will NOT put your hands on my child in ANY way.

    And while we’re at it, since when does the majority (assuming that the CBS poll is representative of public opinion) get to decide what constitutes a breach of an individuals personal rights to privacy?

    Fuck the TSA.

  23. #23 |  Chris Bray | 

    And speaking of statist media:

    http://www.gq.com/news-politics/politics/201012/joe-biden-interview-vice-president-obama?printable=true

    Do they actually fall to their knees to type this shit up?

  24. #24 |  K9kevlar | 

    Stormy Dragon you sound just like Robert McChesney sans the part about the blow jobs. A free press can not exist without government money and regulation.

  25. #25 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Two more data points for my theory that the legacy media aren’t liberal, they’re just authoritarian.

    As if “liberal” and “authoritarian” are mutually exclusive. They’re definitely also liberal. I would write the statement as follows:

    “Two more data points for my theory that the legacy media aren’t just liberal, they’re also authoritarian.”

  26. #26 |  David in NYC | 

    Highway #10: “the legacy media too often comes off as government lapdog.”

    That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

    And for anyone naïve or foolish enough to think this has anything to do with actual security:

    “We’ve been doing random searches for years,” said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole. “None have been in response to particular threats. It’s more to show force.”

    As for polls:

    If a million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. — Anatole France

  27. #27 |  Chris Bray | 

    And I love the exchange in CQ’s Biden interview:

    “The two major things you’ve done, you and the president, health care and the stimulus, are both successes.”

    That’s a journalist’s *question* for a person in power.

  28. #28 |  Eyewitness | 

    To the 81 percent and those who cite them:

    Eat shit, 50 billion flies can’t be wrong.

  29. #29 |  claude | 

    Congratzi on getting a mention on Olbermann. LOL

  30. #30 |  Pasquin | 

    Time Magazine, for one, welcomes our new overlords and hopes they will shows deference to them when it comes time to grant licenses for free speech.

  31. #31 |  JD | 

    “…a magazine with a long history of ginning up hysteria over the likes of Pokemon, satanic cults, dirty words, Internet porn, and has never met a faddish new drug that wasn’t just as bad as heroin.”

    Unless, of course, that faddish new drug is a major advertiser.

  32. #32 |  Joe | 

    Some of us just don’t dig our junk being tugged by strangers.

    I know, I know, it seems weird. But that is the way we are.

  33. #33 |  dsmallwood | 

    there is also a delightful hubris to the NPR comment

    “perhaps I’ve seen something you haven’t …”

    really? REALLY?

    who gives a flying F what she’s seen?!? is that the post 9/11 standard for due process? the 4th amendment calls for a jury of your peers or a kowtowing journalist.

    she should be embarrassed

  34. #34 |  MPH | 

    I’m waiting to hear about some confident person, of either gender, just stripping in the security checkpoint. One could argue that such behavior would be legal. The TSA asserts it has jurisdiction over the checkpoint. TSA is a federal agency. So one could argue that therefore the checkpoint is “federal territory”. Since there are no federal laws against nudity, getting naked in federal territory is legal.

    That’s the defense used by the nude sunbathers at Playalinda Beach, which is part of the federal preserve that Kennedy Space Center is on. There have been multiple local news stories about Brevard county police arresting nude sunbathers on the federal beach, and I’ve never seen a story in which the county could make the charges stick (FYI: I live in Brevard county). According to the reporting, federal property is not subject to local control. I am, of course, depending upon both my memory and the reporting I am recalling being accurate about this.

    The only difference with the security checkpoint is that the checkpoint is not actually owned by the TSA and/or federal government. But I imagine one could make a good argument that by claiming jurisdiction over the checkpoint, they own it “in effect” if not “in fact”.

    Of course, once someone does this willingly, TSA may make it mandatory. Won’t that make flying fun.

  35. #35 |  InMD | 

    Much of the media has become nothing more than stenographers for people in power.

    For anyone interested there’s an oped at the New York Times today describing how little a threat al-Awlaki actually poses (he’s never been anything but a low level propagandist, Greenwald also discusses the story today).

    Also folks should look up the much referenced poll on the scanners. The wording of the question doesn’t even come close to describing what is actually happening.

  36. #36 |  Joe | 

    There is a 4th estate…that basically exists to protect the 4th estate.

  37. #37 |  Joe | 

    And in NannyYork, cops exist to justify their existence.

  38. #38 |  LibertarianBlue | 

    #8

    The right and left is meaningless because they are both authoritarian, just in different ways.

    #37

    Dont you just love government thugs?

  39. #39 |  Athena | 

    Given the nature of mainstream media, I suppose I can’t be expecting any major outlet to do a piece on the opinion of those on the TSA front lines performing these searches. Shame, too, because, what little I’ve seen suggests they really don’t like it (hope that’s the right code for this commenting structure, or that’s going to be really long).

    And why WOULD they like it? Can you imagine if, suddenly, your job description involved being called “sicko” or “pervert” all day, placing your hands all over the unwilling, even, as one commenter suggested, being forced to search the skin folds of particularly obese passengers?

    Given the nature of the job market, currently, many of these low-skilled individuals are in no position to quit. I think I’d be showering with bleach every night, myself, while searching for a new job. @_@

  40. #40 |  dad29 | 

    Time, a magazine with a long history of ginning up hysteria over the likes of Pokemon, satanic cults, dirty words, Internet porn, and has never met a faddish new drug that wasn’t just as bad as heroin…

    Don’t forget PLASTIC GUNS!!!

  41. #41 |  croaker | 

    @14 That would be Major General Butler.

    And in other opt-out grape news, a passenger’s pat-down left him covered in urine. Someone else’s. Aren’t these smurf rapists supposed to change gloves between victims? Ewww.

    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/travel-safety-security/1150676-tsa-pat-down-leaves-traveler-covered-urine.html

  42. #42 |  Windy | 

    I’ve been saying for years that the mainstream media has been more of a government lapdog than a watchdog for the people. Just glad I’m not the only one. But when the hell are the vast majority of people ever going to realize it?

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