Author: Zoe Zatz

Columnist Conversations

As I was going through the columnist section of the opinion section of the New York Times, I found that most columns in the section deal with Trump and his basket of deplorables. The two articles that most easily caught my eye were both written by Gail Collins, who has been working at the Times longer than I’ve been alive. I decided to go with the more colorfully titled article, titled “What if They Don’t Even Make a Sausage?” which Collins co-wrote with fellow Times columnist Bret Stephens.

The title told me nothing about the content of the piece. I started off my skimming through the comments to get a gist of the article was about before diving in; I found that Stephens and Collins have differing political views, and the article is set up as a “conversation” between the two authors. This should make for some interesting reading.

Stephens starts off the conversation with a discussion about the baseball game shooting that injured a Congressman. He says that the shooting promoted three types of reactions from people (who he called the “national commentariat,” which is a bit pompous in my opinion). The three reactions include: the shooter is nuts; the other side of the political divide is nuts; and the country is nuts. In response, Collins calls for a saner gun culture in which it is more difficult to get one’s hands on a semiautomatic rifle. Stephens furthers his statement, defending the Second Amendment (which was written when guns could only shoot once every few minutes).

One of Stephens’ statements irked me. I’ve seen it a lot, and whenever I come across it, it doesn’t sit well with me. Stephens says he wants to “keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people.” This doesn’t sit well with me, particularly because he does not delineate when and where a mental illness deems someone ineligible to wield a weapon. Which mental illnesses make someone ineligible? How severe does the condition have to be? Does this apply to people on the autism spectrum, and if so, where on the autism spectrum does this ineligibility come into play?

Another issue is the perceived violence-enthused nature of mentally ill people. We often perceive mentally ill people as being violent, deranged, and unpredictable. This isn’t necessarily the case. According to Teplin et. al.’s[1] study of crime victimization in adults with severe mental illness, more than a quarter of persons with severe mental illness had been victims of a violent crime in the past year, which is eleven times greater than the general population even after controlling for demographic factors such as socioeconomic status; this study gives concrete evidence that people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than to be perpetrators. Much of our perceptions of people with mental illnesses as violent comes from exposure to media that portrays mentally ill people as violent. In their 2008 study of mental disorder stigma in the media, Klin and Lemish determined that the depiction of mental illness in media may be “contributing to the perpetuation of stigmas about mental illness.”[2] According to Heather Stuart, an epidemiologist at Queen’s University[3], the news media reinforces cultural stereotypes by using them to provide the context for the events presented. Stories require the reader to employ negative cultural stereotypes and common-sense understandings of what it means to be mentally ill.

This isn’t to say, of course, that persons with mental illness should be given weaponry. However, our perceptions of mental illness are almost certainly influencing the judgement to restrict access to guns. If someone has a history of violence or the potential to become violent, then their eligibility for firepower must be reconsidered. According to Collins, even though the shooter had a history of anger issues, he would not have been deprived of the right to buy a weapon. This raises a rather strange question for me – I do not have a history of violence or anger issues, but I do have a history of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, all of which are mental illnesses that affect my daily life and have done so for years. If someone with anger problems but no mental illness can get a gun, would I (someone pretty level-headed and nonviolent) be barred from carrying one because of a disease I happen to have? (Not that I want one anyway)

After this, the authors move on to talk about health care. They say something about a sausage factory, but I don’t quite understand it.

Stephens says that he would not support a health care law that would “abruptly and unexpectedly kick people off their insurance.” He wants to give insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, supports HSAs, and says that the government should reasonably tackle small problems one at a time rather than going through a huge overhaul. Collins calls Stephens “utterly unrealistic,” and points out the hyperpartisanship of the US government. She then gives this fun statement that I agree with:

“The reason Obamacare is a mess is because Senate Republicans opted to pull out of negotiation on a bill that included many of their own ideas, and just focus on ruining whatever came down the pike. I doubt Chuck Schumer is going to reward them for that and seven years of political torment by helping them out.”

Stephens acquiesces that the government is likely too partisan to work together, but still hopes for incrementalism. This makes Collins laugh; the conversation now moves on to talk about the Supreme Court agreeing to take a case on the subject of partisan gerrymandering.

This new topic brings a good sentence from Stephens:

“The partisan gerrymander has been the worst thing to happen to our politics in recent years, turning once-purple districts either bright red or deep blue, and accelerating the rise of the fringe and the decline of the center.”

Overall, this was an interesting piece to read. While I was quite distracted by Stephens’ comment about gun control, the format was interesting and the differing political views made for a good piece.

Works Cited

[1] Teplin, L. A., McClelland, G. M., Abram, K. M., & Weiner, D. A. (2005). Crime Victimization in Adults with Severe Mental Illness: Comparison with the National Crime Victimization Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(8), 911–921. http://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.62.8.911

[2] Klin, A., & Lemish, D. (2008). Mental Disorders Stigma in the Media: Review of Studies on Production, Content, and Influences. Journal of Health Communication, 13(5), 434-449. doi:10.1080/10810730802198813

[3] Stuart, H. (2006). Media Portrayal of Mental Illness and its Treatments. CNS Drugs, 20(2), 99-106. doi:10.2165/00023210-200620020-00002

The Left Keeps Turning – Revisiting Evergreen Through FAIR

In this post, I am going to go back to the Evergreen State College controversy, described in detail in my post “When The Left Turns On Its Own.” FAIR, a left-wing media criticism site, recently covered this situation and I am interested in their take on the story.

The article begins with a discussion of issues of on campus free speech. According to the article, the news media is quick to anger about censorship of right-wing speakers but is silent or near silent about censorship of left-wing activists. He points out the preponderance of media coverage of Ann Coulter being prevented from speaking and the lack of coverage surrounding the perspective of the Evergreen State College student protesters. According to the author, campus free speech is treated differently “when you’re on the left.”

After this, the author gives some background to the Evergreen State College controversy. This account is different from that of the New York Times in that it clearly supports the student protesters over professor Weinstein. The author says that “marginalized communities suggested white students and faculty leave campus” for the annual Day of Absence, and then goes on to talk about how much “fun” the Day of Absence is for participants. The author places all blame for the heated atmosphere at Evergreen on those who didn’t agree with being told to leave:

Some in the Evergreen community, however, heard the call for the altered event as a demand – and their reaction made things worse.

The author clearly does not like Bret Weinstein, the biology professor who refused to leave on the Day of Absence. Weinstein did not appreciate being told to leave, and let the Evergreen community know his position. The article goes on to talk about how Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times all covered Weinstein’s side of events but never the student protesters. Personally, I can see why it would be hard to ask students for their position; usually a protest like this won’t have a central voice and will have many internally conflicting opinions. However, that does not mean that student protesters should not be given the chance to speak their mind.

Overall, I was not as impressed with this article as the one in the New York Times; for one thing, it is hypocritical. It talks about how no media outlet has talked to the student protesters, then still only focuses on Weinstein and not the students of Evergreen. The middle of FAIR’s article was somewhat suspect in that it draws a link between a white supremacist attack and the events on Evergreen’s campus (also suspect is the author’s insistence on repeatedly mentioning unrelated Palestinian activism while clearly pejorative of a Jewish man, but I won’t get into that). After my last post, I was intrigued to find out more about the students’ perspective, and I am still left in the dark. I am still only seeing mudslinging from one side of the argument to another with no input from students at Evergreen. This particular article seems to be highly critical of a singular figure, with criticism of the news media taking a backseat.

I am not impressed with this particular piece from FAIR. Hopefully, the next piece will be more illuminating.

The Public Editor Weighs In

For this post, I read a post from the New York Times’ previous public editor, Margaret Sullivan. She was the fifth public editor for the Times. In class, we talked about the structural biases of journalism, including maintenance of the status quo, which led to a discussion of how the New York Times and the Washington Post both published a preponderance of articles about Hilary Clinton during the democratic primaries, with relatively few about her challenger Bernie Sanders. The article I chose by Margaret Sullivan is titled “Were Changes to Sanders Article Stealth Editing?” and was published in March of 2016.

 

The post by Sullivan points out that Sanders supporters are unhappy with the Times, but points to an article that originally praised Sanders but, through editing, was changed to be more critical of the congressman. Over the course of the day, the article in question was changed so much that many people noticed. Sullivan gives three examples of outside sources calling out the Times for changing the article.

 

In addition to many readers, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said that the Times was “caving in” to Hillary Clinton’s interests. Sullivan explains the concept of stealth editing – “making substantial changes to articles without explaining that to readers.” Readers were confused and upset that such big changes were being made to the content of a story, rather than just making corrections.

 

This is when Sullivan decided to look internally into the editing staff of the New York Times. The author of the article said it was an editing decision, so Sullivan focused on the editing staff. What I find interesting is that she uses the full names of people on staff – I was expecting her to avoid using names for some kind of privacy, but that does not seem to be the case. She specifically pointed out Matt Purdy, who thought the article needed “more perspective” about Sanders. He also talked about giving the story more context. Sullivan then clears accusations that the Clinton campaign reached out to the Times.

 

Sullivan clearly doesn’t agree with the editing staff. The editing staff said that they were adding nuance and depth, but Sullivan point-blank stated that she doesn’t agree. She states that the revisions should have been noted and that they changed the tone and substance of the article.

 

Sullivan points out that the Times could easily start up a timestamped update system, and suggests that it does so.

 

This particular post was updated, and the update is my favorite part of the article:

A number of readers have made a point that I should have made earlier. The Sanders article was not a breaking news story, but rather a look back at his legislative record. Given its sensitivity and importance (it ended up on the front page on the morning of major primaries), why didn’t senior editors vet the story and make all the editing changes before it went online? Digital platforms, after all, are not a test run, and non-urgent stories don’t need to be pushed out as quickly as this one apparently was. I would also observe that the “context” added here looked a lot like plain-old opinion to this reader, and quite a few others.

1996 vs. 2001: Middle East News Coverage

For this post, I took a slightly more involved and, well, difficult approach. The original plan was to compare coverage of the Middle East in three different time periods: April 1996, October 2001, and June 2017. In the interest of time, I will cover June 2017 in a later post, possibly over this weekend. I chose April 1996 because that’s when I was born, and I chose October 2001 because that’s when my little brother was born. A contrast between these two dates can be seen immediately in that October 2001 is only a month after the 9/11 attack. My little brother was born into a different world than I was, and this can be seen in journalism coverage of the Middle East.

 

Before setting out to do my research, I spoke with my professor. He recommended I use LexisNexis, which was incredibly useful. For each time period, I analyzed three articles; one from The New York Times, one from The Washington Post, and one from the Guardian. The Guardian is based on London, so it has a more British slant to politics. For each time period, I will discuss the Guardian, then The Washington Post, then The New York Times.

 

Disclaimer: I do have a Zionist bias. I know it is there, and my judgement of news media is affected by this bias.

 

April 13-14, 1996

Articles during these two days focused on a skirmish between Israel and Hezbollah. It was interesting to see how the three different news organizations handled the story. I partly judged these articles based on how they portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The context for these articles comes from a series of suicide bombings done by Hezbollah and Israel’s retaliation.  

 

The Guardian’s article, “Those Tongues of Gun Fire,” written by Martin Woollacott, discussed the prevalence of violence in the Middle East. He starts off by stating that “the peoples of the Middle East are all fluent in the region’s second language, that of violence.” Messages are sent from country to country, from country to organization, from organization to country, and from organization to organization through the spillage of blood. Syria used proxies to kill people to send the message to other countries that they are a force to be reckoned with. He also states that “the stereotypical Israeli situation is one in which you kill people in order to send a message to another government that it should use violence against the people who are using violence against you.” The use of force arises in part from the need to maintain a certain image and to convince citizens that governments are worthy of leading them. The author states that there was never an “age of innocence” in the modern Middle East, and that violence has clear objectives (i.e. smashing the PLO, ethnically cleansing Jews, etc.).

 

I was pleasantly surprised at this article. It recognizes that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations and that Israel not only targets just these specific organizations, but also warns civilians before bombing. I was expecting a witch hunt against Israel, but in this article the Jewish State is not treated as a villain nor a saint. This article presented factual information in a clear, mostly unbiased manner.

 

The next article, “Israel Steps Up Lebanese Attacks; 12 Killed, Including Syrian Soldier, in Air Assault Against Hezbollah” comes from John Lancaster of The Washington Post. This article starts off with actual reporting that Israel intensified attacks on Lebanese guerillas in Beirut and South Lebanon; they killed 12 people, including a solder, and forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes. The article does recognize that this is an escalation in Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah, which the article defines as a Shiite Lebanese group rather than a terrorist organization. The article recognizes that Israel warned the residents of forty-four villages that they would start air strikes (this is a common Israeli practice). This is because the targets were terrorists, not civilians. The article talks about attacks committed by Israel, but not those committed by Hezbollah. The article mentions that the people of Lebanon side with Hezbollah because they “have a certain dignity in fighting the Israelis.” The article paints Israel as the sole aggressor of the region, which is blatantly false. It then says that Hezbollah is defending “the homeland,” defending a terrorist organization. The article makes a passing mention that Hezbollah is a radical Islamic group, but then humanizes the terrorist organization by stating they have their own hospitals and clinics (author’s note: so does Hamas. Both are terrorists).

 

This was a more sensationalist view of the skirmish. It featured descriptions of displaced Lebanese citizens and humanized Hezbollah. This is about what I was expecting from The Washington Post, which is not a fan of Israel.

 

The New York Times article I read was published on April 14th but was datelined April 13th, just like the other two. Titled “Israel and Guerrillas Joined Again in Deadly Dance,” Serge Schmemann takes a much different view from the Guardian’s Martin Woollacott. This article starts out by calling the strike against guerrillas an offensive strike rather than a retaliation; this is misleading. It does not take a spy to see that this article is staunchly anti-Israel, as evidence by this quote:

“Israel’s strategy in what has been dubbed Operation Grapes of Wrath is brutally simple. It is to inflict maximum damage to the Party of God, the Iran-backed guerrilla organization better known as Hezbollah, which is bent on driving the Israelis out of southern Lebanon, and to make life for Lebanon and Syria so difficult that they will be forced to rein in the militants.”

While the other two articles point out that Israel warned citizens before the strike, this article does not. This article takes time to point out that Hezbollah’s rockets are old and “hopelessly inaccurate.” Throughout the article, the author makes a point of calling Hezbollah “Party of God,” perhaps because of the connotation that the name of the terrorist group holds. The author briefly recognizes Hezbollah’s increased aggression towards Israel, but puts “incidents” in quotes to minimize the violence from Hezbollah. He doesn’t mention the suicide bombings until the middle of the article, at which point many readers would have turned the page and started the crossword.

 

This article was the most disappointing of the bunch, and I would not look forward to reading more from this journalist. In his efforts to implicate Israel as the sole aggressor of the region, he contradicted himself; he calls President Peres the architect of peace in the Middle East, and no less than a paragraph later says that Peres would have ordered the attacks into Lebanon regardless of the suicide bombings.

 

It is clear that these three different news sources have different slants and biases. The most “neutral” seems to be the Guardian, followed by The Washington Post, and The New York Times is incredibly biased. I was slightly surprised by this. The Guardian has a reputation nowadays for publishing clickbait, so I was not expecting neutral reporting about such a nuanced situation.

 

October 15-16, 2001

At this point in time, Israel and Palestine were pushed into the background of discussion in the Middle East. This period in time occurred just a month after the 9/11 attack, and much of the news coverage of the Middle East dealt with Iran, Iraq, and Al-Qaeda. My judgement for these articles is less biased.

 

The first of the 2001 articles is the Guardian’s article “Attack on Afghanistan: Middle East: New blow to allies’ peace effort as Arafat arrives in UK: Killing by Israeli army undermines truce.” This article did not follow in the footsteps of the earlier Guardian article. Its first sentence is “Israel sabotaged US and British efforts to solidify a Middle East truce yesterday by carrying out the first assassination of a Palestinian militant since the attacks on America on September 11.” The first sentence mentions 9/11, which is expected. The militant that who assassinated was Abed Rahman Hamad, a 33 year-old who was shot twice in the chest. The article discusses how Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, was meeting with then-PM Tony Blair; this meeting was seen as crucial to a diplomatic offensive to persuade Arab states that the US and Britain were serious about seeking a peaceful solution to conflict in the Middle East. Blair supported the principle of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. The article mentions that Hamas has said that they will resume killing civilians inside Israel. It isn’t until later in the article that the article discusses Hamad’s activities as an orchestrator of suicide bombings; he had orchestrated a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21 Israelis, mainly teenagers.

 

Once again, the article tends to pain Israel as the aggressor in all or almost all situations. This is closer to what I expected. The article’s headline says that Israel has sabotaged peace negotiations, but doesn’t spend any considerable amount of time explaining or expanding upon this allegation. If someone had just read the headline, they would assume that Israel was maliciously and deliberately derailing peace negotiations.

 

The Washington Post posted an article on the “Bush Doctrine” titled “Allies Are Cautious on ‘Bush Doctrine.’” The article starts off by describing how President George W. Bush started to view every country more suspiciously. The author defined the doctrine as “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Bush pushed for the elimination of the “scourge of international terrorism,” including countries who harbor terrorists. The US would be the unilateral judge of whether a country was supporting terrorism and how to change that. The US was supposedly aiming for a coalition between Iran, Iraq, and Syria, so it tended to walk on eggshells on eggshells around these countries. Bush decided to focus on Al-Qaeda, which makes sense as they were the perpetrators of 9/11. The article describes the sticky situation in which alliances form in the Middle East, and mentions that the US will be in dangerous waters if we attack further than Afghanistan. This article describes the US as more suspicious of the Middle East.

 

This article was a little hard to wrap my head around because it’s such a complicated and nuanced situation. That being said, the author made an effort to remain neutral and to explain what the heck was going on.

 

The third article was The New York Times’ article about Iran-US relations. This one was published on October 16th, a day after the other two. This article discusses the ways in which Iran and the US were apprehensively cooperating with each other. Iran sent a message saying that they would rescue any American military personnel in its territory after the US told Iraq that we would respect their territory and airspace. This is interesting, as the article points out, because Iran is the largest safe haven for terrorists in the region (they support both Hezbollah and Hamas). To me, it looks like the US is throwing Israel under the bus in order to appease Iran.

 

I have my own suspicions about the United States’ behavior: the US was most likely trying to protect its oil interests while gaining a quasi-ally against Al-Qaeda. Nowhere in the article does the author mention that the US was the party that provided Al-Qaeda with its weapons, which is not surprising.

 

Before 9/11, much discourse in the news media dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, after 9/11, coverage of the Middle East grew more hawkish against terrorism. Where articles could dismiss radical Islamic groups before 9/11, there was no way to doubt or minimize these organizations after 9/11. In both time periods shown, the Washington Post seems like a middle-of-the-road between the Guardian and the New York Times.

 

Over the weekend, I will write another post discussing news coverage of the Middle Easy as it is in 2017. From a quick glance, it looks as though it’s a strange combination of 1996 and 2001 coverage.

 

Works Cited

DeYoung, K. (2001, October 16). Allies Are Cautious On ‘Bush Doctrine’ The Washington Post, p. B1.

Goldberg, S. (2001, October 15). Attack on Afghanistan: Middle East: New blow to allies’ peace effort as Arafat arrives in UK: Killing by Israeli army undermines truce. The Guardian, p. 8.

Lancaster, J. (1996, April 13). Israel Steps Up Lebanese Attacks; 12 Killed, Including Syrian Soldier, in Air Assault Against Hezbollah. The Washington Post, pp. A01-A23.

Schmemann, S. (1996, April 14). Israel and Guerillas Joined Again in Deadly Dance. The New York Times, p. 10. Retrieved June 9, 2017, from Israel and Guerrillas Joined Again in Deadly Dance

Part of Archives requirement for blog post

Sciolino, E. (2001, October 16). A NATION CHALLENGED: TEHRAN; Iran Dances a ‘Ballet’ With U.S. The New York Times, p. B1.

Part of Archives requirement for blog post

Woollacott, M. (1996, April 13). THOSE TONGUES OF GUN FIRE; In the Middle East, killing your enemies sends a message to your friends. The Guardian, p. 26.

 

 

Interview with a Journalist: Social Media and Journalism

In class today, we briefly discussed the prevalence of social media in journalism. We talked about how social media can be overwhelming for journalists. For this blog post, I interviewed David Zatz, the editor of Allpar, an automotive news site that covers Fiat Chrysler. While Allpar covers news, it also features articles on classic cars, Chrysler history, and repair tips.

Allpar has social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and more platforms. The news section of Allpar operates based on WordPress, and it has an extensive forums site for readers to interact with each other. 

Zoe Zatz: How have advances in technology, such as faster servers and WiFi, affected the growth of Allpar?

David Zatz: Not really; in some ways it’s slowed our growth. On the one hand, we get more people browsing; on the other, everyone expects huge photos and video on big screens and tiny photos and video on phones.

ZZ: How has the explosion of the internet affected Allpar?

DZ: Up to a point, it’s been a major boon. The more people who can find the Internet, the more people can be readers. However, Facebook and Wikipedia have drawn off people faster than the Internet expansion has added them.

ZZ: Has attribution become an issue?

DZ: Heck, yes. It’s always been an issue. We have exclusive photos, and a Canadian newspaper, rather than simply giving credit, literally retouches the photos to remove our copyright notice. You get a photo or story, and everyone else just copies it. If you get any attribution on [a certain site], if you’re not part of the AOL family, it’s a tiny note at the end with a link – but who clicks on that? Nobody, really. And you don’t get “link credit” from Google because they only link your name, not a keyword.

ZZ: How have you used social media as an automotive journalist?

DZ: Mostly to publicize. It is rare I get anything from Facebook. Sometimes a story comes from someone doing something foolish on Twitter. If you count forums as social media, then the story is very different. Forums generate a lot of stories.

ZZ: Are there social media platforms that are useful for automotive journalism?

DZ: Not as far as I know.

ZZ: Are there social media platforms that hinder Allpar?

DZ: Facebook draws of visitors. It dominates the time of readers and they don’t go to my site. Also, it changes expectations. It makes everything have to be more instant, more visual, no depth.

When we post stories on Facebook, people make snap decisions based on the headline, nothing else. A small proportion click through.  It’s harder with the more nuanced stories, like “Who tuned the “offending” diesels?” The solution is not, as Facebook readers seem to believe, throwing the EPA into jail.

ZZ: What proportion of your views comes from social media links?

DZ: 6% come from Facebook, less than 1% come from Twitter and all other social media combined.

Note: It is likely that Allpar is somewhat different from other news sources as it caters to an older audience, which generally doesn’t use much social media. 

ZZ: How has social media affected the way you interact with your writers and inside sources?

DZ: Really, it hasn’t.

ZZ: How do you interact with your readers on social media?

DZ: Reluctantly, because many of them will make snap judgements based on their prejudices. Normal people become idiots when they’re on Facebook, including me.

My main interaction is posting for others to read, the old “one to many” media model. I do look at comments and if I find things I need to change or fix, I dot it, so there’s some self correction that I get from readers.

ZZ: Does the high prevalence of social media on the internet make your job easier or harder?

DZ: It makes it harder to attract and retain an audience.

ZZ: You have forums for readers to interact with each other and with you. Do you think this is more or less effective than a high social media presence?

DZ: It’s a lot more effective for interaction. People take more time for thought. It’s nearly all text. Memes are rare and simple-minded black-and-white views don’t usually last long. People learn from each other. Forums have been working well for years but most are suffering from Facebook, based on what I’ve read in a forum administrator forum.

ZZ: In one of the textbooks I’ve read, the authors stated that the news has a set of values, including: timeliness; impact; currency; conflict; emotions; prominence; and proximity. How does automotive journalism at Allpar relate to these values?

DZ: Yes, definitely. Emotions determine how much viewership (and therefore money) you get, regardless of anything else. Timeliness can make or break a story – but it’s weird, if we run something and [a big automotive news site] picks it up two weeks later, we  have to run it again because [a big automotive news site] doing it makes it a story again. Conflict increases discussion but not viewership. Not sure about the rest.

ZZ: Do you have any other comments or concerns? Is there anything I missed?

DZ: See my blog post Mild to wild: The nuttiness of ‘net comments

Dave maintains a blog much like the New York Times Insider where he discusses the inner workings of Allpar. This blog is run on WordPress. In the blog post linked above, Dave discusses the differences in online comments. He talks about how more technical websites get better comments than mass-media news sites. He suspects that bots have something to do with the quality, or lack thereof, of comments on the internet. This blog post includes this quote about Facebook: 

Facebook is a mixed bag, largely because it gets the fewest comments. The main distinction of Facebook is that most people never read more than the headline of any story, which is hard, because many headlines are mild clickbait — not untrue, but also not telling the whole story. That’s largely due to length limits and, well, my desire to have people leave Facebook and go to my site. I don’t get a salary from Facebook, after all.

Comment Commentary

In my last post, I discussed an article from the New York Times that dealt with the HIV epidemic in the black LGBT community in the Southern United States. My discussion was centered around the article’s claim that rates of HIV in the South are higher than those in all countries, including Africa. My post pointed out that there is most likely severe underreporting of HIV in LGBT communities in Africa due to anti-gay sentiments that will prohibit gay or bisexual men from outing themselves.

This post will look at the comments section of this article. What I found interesting is that there are three sections within the comments section: all comments, reader’s picks, and New York Times picks. I started with the New York Times picks, and there were two NYT picks on this article.

The first of the NYT picks was from a college professor from Massachusetts. She teaches a college course on the politics and history of HIV/AIDS. The commenter makes an excellent point about sex education in the United States. Students are told that in order to prevent contracting HIV, they should use a condom. I am like many of these students; I did not know about PrEP until I read this article. However, I got slightly better sex ed and got myself tested for all STDs. The commenter criticizes the US’s sex education system. She makes a scathing comment that if her home state of liberal Massachusetts has poor sex ed, then it’s not surprising that the rest of the country, quite a lot of which teaches abstinence-only sex education, will only fuel the epidemic. The commenter then complemented the author for her “compelling article, bringing so many of the strands of the current epidemic together” and putting them in context.

The next comment was from a middle-aged gay white man with HIV. He talks about how the support from his family and his liberal surroundings made his recovery much easier. He discusses how he did not appreciate his support until he did outreach in the black LGBT community.

The next section was on reader’s picks. The first comment I saw was from a medical practitioner that described the multi-pill regimen that HIV patients take. Patients take many pills, and in the past this would have many side effects. On a more personal note: when someone in my family got cancer (and chemo), I saw the effect that taking multiple pills takes on someone. This person has lost his short-term memory, which is pretty heartbreaking (though it is fun to tell him good news multiple times). After seeing this, I can totally see why someone with AIDS would want to avoid taking a multi-pill regimen.

I honestly learned more from the comments than I did from the article. The comments were shorter and more to-the-point, and discuss the meat of the article rather than the anecdotal frills.

However, the comments section is not available on all articles. There were some articles I wanted to comment on, namely one about OSHA cutbacks, but the comments section was unavailable.

America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic

Yesterday, the front page of the New York Times featured an article on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black LGBT community in the southern United States. The article claims that “America’s black gay and bisexual men have a higher HIV rate than any” other country in the world. I will discuss that claim later in this post, but first I must take issue with the language that the author uses. The phrase “black gay and bisexual men” is an oddly put-together phrase. It makes it sound as though the black men in the southern LGBT community are both gay and bisexual, which is impossible as one is exclusive male-male attraction and the other is defined as attraction to all genders. Knowing the definition of “gay” and “bisexual” makes it somewhat obvious that the two are different sexualities.

Much of the article is anecdotal, following the philanthropy of Cedric Sturdevant in the HIV/AIDS-ridden Jackson, Mississippi. Sturdevant is a project coordinator for My Brother’s Keeper, an HIV/AIDS support group. Sturdevant watches over a plethora of young black men with HIV. Much of the article is centered around this. I was more interested in the empirical side of the article to see where the author’s claims came from.

The more empirical parts of the article make good points. The author talks about how the HIV crisis is the most prevalent in the South. The South makes up 37% of the country’s population and 54% of all new HIV cases. The South is home to 21 of 25 cities in the US with the highest HIV rates, and there are fewer resources for gay men in this area. 40% of the gay or bisexual men in Jackson, MI have HIV.

The article briefly talks about Truvada, a preventive drug against HIV. The acronym for this is PrEP, and was approved by the FDA based on two clinical trials. More than 80,000 patients have filled prescriptions in the past four years. This sounds great, but only 48% of black gay or bisexual men use preventive drugs against HIV, and the numbers are lower for younger men. Black people only account for 10% of all PrEP prescriptions.

The beginning of the article claims that rates of HIV/AIDS in the black LGBT community in the Southern United States are higher than in all countries. I found this to be an odd claim to make, given the anti-gay sentiments in many African countries that would prevent men from reporting their sickness. For example, Uganda passed an anti-LGBT bill that, according to the Guardian, led to a tenfold increase in violence against LGBT people. The BBC reports that anti-gay hate crimes are a quite large problem in South Africa, despite its allowance of same-sex marriage. Politicians in Kenya hold strong anti-gay sentiments, according to NPR.

Such a hostile environment against LGBT people, and the perceived connection between homosexuality and HIV will only prevent gay or bisexual men from reporting that they have the autoimmune disease. The NIH supports this phenomenon of inaccurate reporting.

I do agree with the article that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic, but at no point in the article did the author recognize the phenomenon of inaccurate reporting of HIV levels in Africa.

My next post will be on the comment section regarding this article.

When the Left Turns On its Own

On June 1st, the New York Times published an article titled “When the Left Turns on Its Own,” written by guest columnist Bari Weiss. This is part of a series of opinion articles called “On Campus.” The article starts out with a description of a newly controversial person: professor Bret Weinstein of Evergreen State College. Weinstein supported Bernie Sanders, supported Occupy Wall Street, and identifies as “deeply progressive.” The article does not state, however, that he is also a critic of how the left handles itself.

 

 

The article is clearly defending Weinstein, as evidenced by the title and some quotes throughout the piece. These quotes from the article showcase this bias:

  • “He had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation”
  • “It was an act of moral bullying – to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.”
  • “Yet reasonable debate has made itself absent at Evergreen.”

Weinstein was challenging a “Day of Absence” that has been a campus tradition since the 1970s. Traditionally, students and faculty of color would organize a day that they would all take off. This year, white students were to leave. Apparently, this decision was made “after student of color ‘voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.'” Weinstein did not agree with the decision.

“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.”

I am inclined to agree with Weinstein in this case. By participating in this tradition, by the context shown in the article, white students would be showing that they would rather students of color go away.

However, the article fails to make it clear that the decision to have white students leave was not made by white students, but by students of color. This high highlighted in Weinstein’s quote above, and makes the quote clearer.

The article takes time to point out that a social experiment like a Day of Absence could be enlightening by showing the lack of diversity on campus. However, the author only gives a sentence to this thought, and it could have been left out without much change to the story itself.

After protesting the Day of Absence, Weinstein has been called a white supremacist, has been told he would not be sage on campus, and had to hold classes in a public park. (The author uses this as an opportunity to make an unnecessary comment on safe spaces).

The final paragraph of the article likens the experience of Weinstein to the experiences of conservative speakers. By doing this, the author is equating the “deeply progressive” Weinstein with conservative speaker Heather MacDonald, who defends police violence and frequently criticizes Black Lives Matter.

I was not fully satisfied with the information given in the article, so I found information elsewhere so I could see the story from a larger scope. This included buying a 2-month subscription to the Wall Street Journal, reading the LA Times, and going through Bret Weinstein’s very confusing Twitter feed. The LA Times article is linked above, in reference to Heather MacDonald, and Weinstein’s tweets are embedded above.

What I found interesting is that Weinstein himself published an opinion article on the situation in the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ leans conservative, which makes it an odd choice for a progressive to speak. Weinstein’s opinion article was published by the Wall Street Journal on May 30th. 

Weinstein starts off by describing his environment. He talks about holding class in a public park and how protesters were searching cars for him. Weinstein points out that he has been teaching at the institution since 2003. He describes the history of the Day of Absence, and points out that this year, white students and faculty were asked to leave.

“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles . . . and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away,” I wrote. “On a college campus, one’s right to speak—or to be—must never be based on skin color.”

The quote from Weinstein above is again in this article, and makes more sense in this context. He is saying that there’s a difference between people voluntarily removing themselves for a day and asking another group to leave.

Weinstein then talks about the way Evergreen teaches – with full academic years rather than semesters – and then decides to talk about George Bridges. George Bridges is the president of Evergreen State College.

His vision as an administrator involved reducing professorial autonomy, increasing the size of his administration, and breaking apart Evergreen’s full-time programs. But the faculty, which plays a central role in the college’s governance, would never have agreed to these changes. So Mr. Bridges tampered with the delicate balance between the sciences and humanities…

Weinstein paints the administration of the college as an organization aiming to divide and conquer the faculty.

After reading both articles and going through Weinstein’s Twitter feed, I lean towards siding with Weinstein. However, I have not seen videos from protesters, so my view of the situation is biased. From what I have read, Weinstein is objecting to the demand from one group that another leave campus. This should not be a controversial statement. It is common for people (liberals included) to take things at face value or misinterpret them, so Weinstein’s comments on “A Day of Absence” may have fallen prey to misinterpretation. In any case, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Novelists as Journalists

In the first textbook reading, one particular section called out to me. On pages 32-34 of “The News Media: What Everyone Needs to Know,” the authors discuss how Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and other novelists were also journalists. This caught my eye because I like Mark Twain and I enjoy any opportunity to learn more about him. Mark Twain was really funny, and his quotes on Congress still ring true (especially recently).

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
Mark Twain, a Biography

The section starts out with a small mention of Anne Frank, which I skipped over because when Anne Frank is mentioned, people are usually trying to guess what she would do if she hadn’t been murdered. I would rather not think about her death, especially given that my brother is the same age now as she was then.

What I found interesting is that Jack London was a journalist, and I would have been excited to learn more about London’s journalism because I read so many of his books as a kid. According to the book, John Steinbeck wrote about Okie migrant camps in California before writing The Grapes of Wrath. George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984, worked as a journalist.

The text points out that authors are told to write what they know, which would make journalism a logical occupation to chase. Many authors also wrote nonfiction in non-journalism form. Isaac Asimov was a scientist, and wrote scientific pieces as well as humor-filled science fiction.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…”

Isaac Asimov, 1920-1992

Similar to Asimov, Keith Laumer had a scientific profession before becoming a writer: he was an officer in the United States Air Force. In 1960 (and revised in 1970), Laumer published his only non-fiction book How to Design and Build Flying Models, which RPI actually has a copy of in its library. During his lifetime, Laumer was lauded for his science fiction writing, with Dinosaur Beach being among one of his most well-liked books.

As the authors of The News Media write, authors are united in a deep love of fact; this includes science fiction writers such as Asimov, novelists such as Steinbeck, and journalists. The lines between these different types of authors is fuzzy.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

I missed a day of class, so I am writing a make-up post. I normally wouldn’t talk about sports because they generally don’t appeal to me (except for hockey) and don’t have much relevance in the course, but this is a fun opportunity to shake things up a bit.

On May 26th, the New York Times posted an article in the sports section discussing the Stanley Cup playoffs (hockey). Over the past few months, teams from across the United States and Canada face off against each other for the coveted title of Stanley Cup champion. In high school, I was enlisted by my best friend to be a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins even though I’ve only been to Pittsburgh once in my life.

The article, written by Chris Adamski, is titled “The Stanley Cup Favorite Penguins Aren’t Counting Their Chickens,” so it immediately caught my eye. The fourth paragraph features a quote from team captain Sidney Crosby talking about how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup two years in a row. This makes sense, as throughout the playoffs and the regular season players earn injuries. For example, goalie Matt Murray suffered from a lower body injury for the first few rounds of the playoffs, Sidney Crosby had a concussion that took him out of a couple of games, and Kris Letang has an issue with his spine that has kept him off the ice for the entire playoffs.

The Penguins just won round 3 against the Ottawa Senators, which brings them to the Stanley Cup final; if they win, this will be the fifth time the team has earned the Cup. According to the article, since 1967 only two teams (the Montreal Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers) have won the Cup at least five times. This would put them in elite company.

I have some comments to supplement the article from the Times. The Predators have largely cruised through the playoffs, while the Penguins had a more difficult time getting to the finals. Multiple injuries and a reliance on a single goalie made the road to the Stanley Cup quite difficult for the Penguin’s return to the finals. Through the third round of the playoffs, the team largely relied on elite goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to keep pucks out of the net. In game 7 of Round 2, Fleury earned the team a shut-out (2-0) against the Washington Capitals. However, after a disappointing period Fleury has been benched in favor of the younger Matt Murray (who is also quite skilled). As of writing this blog post, the Penguins have beaten the Predators in the first game of the finals in a 5-3 game. (Yay!)