Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Media

Can We Fix Those Media Bias Charts?

Have you seen those charts that try to sort media outlets by political orientation? They have bothered me for years. They tend to use a single left/right scale, and they tend to position the centrist media as if it were “balanced” or “unbiased”. When of course the reality is that the centrist press has its own position, one which is distinct from both the left and the right. So I’ve been thinking–can I make a chart that fixes this? Can we chart political orientation in a useful way?

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How Changing Understandings of Democracy Create New Possibilities for the Left

Yesterday, I gave a short talk for the Platypus Society at Goldsmiths‘ in London about interactions between democracy and leftism. The following post is a transcript of that talk.

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The Press is Helping Howard Schultz Blackmail the Democratic Party

Howard Schultz, the billionaire Starbucks executive, is not very good at politics. His independent campaign for the presidency has produced some of the lowest favorability ratings in American political history. Just 4% of respondents in a recent Change Research poll view him positively while a whopping 40% view him negatively. Schultz clearly will never win the presidency. The purpose of his campaign is to blackmail Democratic primary voters into nominating a centrist. This was obvious from the start, but Schultz has now made it explicit, offering to drop out of the race if the Democrats nominate someone he considers acceptable:

I would reassess the situation if the numbers change as a result of a centrist Democrat winning the nomination.

So we have a billionaire everyone hates who is attempting to use his wealth to fund a presidential campaign no one wants so that he can intimidate ordinary Democratic primary voters into voting for his preferred candidate. Most billionaires intervene in primaries by donating to the candidates they like–Schultz is threatening to depress Democrats’ general election vote counts to get his way. Initial polling shows he might take two to four points from a Democratic nominee. This billionaire is helping Donald Trump because he is mad at primary voters. And yet, despite this, he continues to receive an immense amount of free publicity from American journalists. Just this week, CNN gifted Schultz with a televised town hall, and piles and piles of media outlets elected to cover the things Schultz said. Much of this coverage was negative, but as we’ve seen with Donald Trump, giving someone free press–even negative free press–helps them build name recognition. 56% of people still don’t know who Schultz is. Based on the early polling, for every 10 new voters who become familiar with Schultz, one of them might become a Schultz supporter. Telling people he exists is unhelpful. Even this post, insofar as it introduces new people to Schultz, is counterproductive. But I do want to make a wider point about the media’s relationship with wealth, and hopefully that wider point is worth the cost of mentioning this cretin. Read the rest of this entry »

The Kavanaugh Hearings Encapsulate the Rampant Emotionalism of American Politics

The British have a visceral hatred for Donald Trump. It’s not because of his positions on immigration or tax policy–there are plenty of European politicians who are at least as far right as Trump is, substantively. No, it’s because of the way Trump presents himself. He’s combative, he gets angry, he makes flippant, emotional remarks. When British politicians show emotion it exposes them as weak, out of control, and unstable. If a British politician shouts or cries in public–especially in a formal setting–it’s embarrassing. It’s not proper behaviour. Everyone in Britain knows, from an early age, that this is just not how politicians are supposed to behave. They like their leaders calm, stoic, controlled. This is less true than it used to be–for a time, Tony Blair got away with wearing his heart on his sleeve. But there were always those who made fun of it, who thought it “un-British”. Whenever a British politician makes an emotional display and gets away with it, there is a chunk of British people who write nervous columns about creeping Americanisation. Having spent some years in the UK, I can spot the kind of American politics they hate a mile off. And it has never been so blatant, so in-your-face, as this senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh.

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The Decline of the 20th Century Political Campaign

Political campaigns started getting expensive in the 1960s, when television advertising became the next big thing in campaigning. Even before TV, reaching people was hard work. You needed to knock on doors, phone bank, and send out mailings. All of this required a lot of dedicated activists and dedicated dollars. And so politicians depended very heavily on the activists and donors who could provide these things. All of this is in the process of changing. Activists and dollars are becoming less important than they used to be. They still matter, but not as much. And as time goes on, they grow weaker.

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