Why won’t the mainstream news media give us a firm number for the Beck rally at the Lincoln Memorial?

It seems odd to me that in general the mainstream news media seems so reluctant to report a substantial number for those in attendance at Glenn Beck’s rally dedicated to the care and feeding of racial code words.   

To my mind, how many people attended would be the most important news about the rally because it would be a measure of the strength of the Tea-and-values movement that Beck and Palin want to spearhead.  And yet the mainstream news media approached ascertaining this fact with the same investigative skills with which they investigated Bush II’s claim that Sadam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

As this small review will show, most of the mainstream media ran away from talking about numbers, burying it near the end of the story and then just taking the claims of other sources without either questioning or backing those claims:

  • I can’t find the link, but Associated Press did the most-widely disseminated version, which puts “thousands” in its headline and first line, and then buries the organizer’s claim of 500,000 near the end of the story, as if the numbers in attendance were one of the least important parts of the story.
  • Los Angeles Times puts “thousands” in its headline and first line, and then buries the organizer’s claim of 500,000 near the end of the story.
  • New York Times’s headline has no mention of numbers nor is there any until near the very end of the story, at which point it says, “Washington officials do not make crowd estimates, but NBC News estimated the turnout at 300,000, while Mr. Beck offered a range of 300,000 to 650,000. By any measure it was a large turnout.
  • Washington Post:  I don’t have a link, but the Post followed the line of calling it “thousands” in the headline and first paragraph and then burying the numbers until the end.  The Post did run a story about the ahead-of-time prediction of a think tank hack paid by the ultra-rightist Koch brothers, along with his completely scurrilous statement that it would exceed the total to watch Martin Luther King deliver his “I have a dream” speech.
  • Many regional newspapers like the Harrisburg Patriot-News did a local follower story, interviewing people at the rally who came from the area; these stories never mentioned total numbers.

Some media finally saw today that the discrepancy in estimates was a story; all of these supported Glenn Beck’s number:

  • Daily News led the way by listing all the estimates except for the one by CBS, the only one in which the estimator told us how the number was derived, AKA the lowest estimate (see below).  While finding no room for the low number, the Daily News was able to print Minnesota Representative Michelle’s Bachman’s truly deranged estimate of one million people.
  • Some one writing for Yahoo! started with the Beck estimate and then spent a good part of the article condemning the CBS low estimate without giving a reason why. Even a movie review site chimed in to defend the high estimates.

Funny that no mainstream media focused on the CBS estimate of 87,000 in attendance except to refute it.  And yet, the CBS estimate was the only one backed by a scientifically-proven methodology, a methodology, by the way, similar to what some civil engineers sometimes use when estimating people or vehicles.

Let’s let CBS talk for itself:

“An estimated 87,000 people attended a rally organized by talk-radio host and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck Saturday in Washington, according to a crowd estimate commissioned by CBS News.

The company AirPhotosLive.com based the attendance on aerial pictures it took over the rally, which stretched from in front of the Lincoln Memorial along the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument. Beck and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spoke at the rally.

Beck, who predicted that at least 100,000 people would show up, opened his comments with a joke: “I have just gotten word from the media that there is over 1,000 people here today.”

AirPhotosLive.com gave its estimate a margin of error of 9,000; meaning between 78,000 and 96,000 people attended the rally. The photos used to make the estimate were taken at noon Saturday, which is when the company estimated was the rally’s high point.”

The best way that the mainstream news media can ignore or discount the scientifically-based 87,000 estimate as the closest to the actual number of attendees is to ignore the issue of numbers attending in covering the story.  The mere fact that only 87,000 attended shows how relatively unimportant the Beck-Palin voters really are.  The comparison of Beck’s estimate of a half a million to the probably total of fewer than 100,000 demonstrates once again how willing Beck is to lie or stretch the truth to make his points.  The mainstream news media purposely looked in the other direction from the real news story to protect the radical right from exposure to these painful facts.

It’s not the first time that the mainstream news media has seemed to act in concert to magnify the importance of the Tea party and “values” movements. My conclusion: they and their owners want to keep pushing the country to the right.

The news media keeps busy covering celebrity worship and parents trying to game the educational system.

A while back I wrote about Parade’s use of the July Fourth celebration as a platform for worshipping celebrity culture.  As I said then, it’s the “modus operandi” (the way it works) in the mass media. 

This past Sunday, Parade once again reminded us to worship actors and entertainers, this time as part of the new rite of passage for American teens—going off to college.

The title of the article says it all: “Schools of the Rich and Famous.”

And who are these rich and famous?  Of the 30 names mentioned, 27 are actors and entertainers, skewering young but ranging from Emma Watson to Joan Rivers.  Two are titans of business, Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs.  The other is a caterer turned home advice expert turned business titan and entertainer, Martha Stewart.  There are no writers, scientists, explorers, astronauts, diplomats, inventors, community activists, physicians, politicians, elected or government officials, classical or jazz musicians; not even an athlete, which is truly weird.

Once again, Parade is telling us that the highest achievement is to be in front of a camera on TV or in the movies.

What’s truly hilarious is how the writer Rebecca Webber presents this list of where celebrities went to college:  She gives us a multiple choice quiz.  The subhead is “Test your knowledge of celebrities and their student days.”  Celebrity trivia is not a body of knowledge, nor will accumulation of information about where celebrities went to college help anyone either to solve today’s pressing problems or to consider the wisdom of the ages.  There is no knowledge involved or discussed in this article at all.

On the other hand, perhaps Webber thinks that taking her quiz will help the kids prepare for their standardized exams.

I think I’ll nominate Webber’s use of the word “knowledge” for a Ketchup award, which this blog will give at the end of the year to the most obnoxious and most absurd bending of language of the prior year.  I call it the Ketchup Award in honor of the condiment that the Reagan administration declared a vegetable for the purpose of evaluating the nutritional value of the federal school lunch program.

Turning to another growing trend, The Sunday New York Times placed an article on the decision to hold a child back for a second year of kindergarten on the front page of the Sunday Styles section, right under its steamy coverage of the breakup of a billionaire’s marriage. 

Now of course, certain children need to start late because of emotional problems or maybe they aren’t ready to learn how to read.  But in many cases, as the Times reports, parents are holding back their children so that they will have an edge in sports and in the classroom. 

It’s another trick of parents trying to give their kids a leg up instead of letting them stand on their own two feet.  It works in sports, perhaps.  But in the case of holding them back so they do better in school, it won’t work and in some cases it may backfire.

The hold-back trend had already taken hold when my son was getting ready to go to kindergarten.  At that time, the cutoff for school had recently changed from December 31 to September 30, but every boy born after June 30 whom we knew in our large middle class circle of acquaintances was held back by their parents.  And virtually all of them had some behavior problems in early grades.  Hey, maybe they were bored.  And years later, it turned out that a lot of the kids who started on time got into top-notch universities, even the youngest, while lots of the kids who started late ended up going to D list colleges.  Now that’s strong evidence, but keep in mind that it’s all anecdotal, based only on my experience.  So don’t put that much stock into it.

But think about this notion: if all parents or even a significant number held back their kids, then the advantage would be lost. 

Parents who hold back their kids for sports should compute the statistical odds of their children becoming professional athletes: There are about 3,700 jobs a year in the four major sports, or about two-thousandths of one percent of the population of U.S. males.  Then again, many athletes now come from other lands, so the odds are even worse.  So, realistically athletics are fun only.  Ask yourself, then, do you want your kids to start their careers or go to graduate school a year later for an edge in a fun activity? 

Be that as it may, in most cases starting kids late, for either academic or athletic reasons, is just another way to extend childhood and another way for parents to interfere in the educational process to give their child an unfair, although in this case a dubious, advantage.

Much feature news in the business pages of the newspaper are really little PR packages for products or services.

Yesterday I analyzed an article by Ron Lieber in the Saturday “Business Day” section of the New York Times. I want to take a broader look at the entire section today, because it exemplifies what has been the norm in business feature reporting for decades.

The business section of virtually all American newspapers and news magazines has always sprinkled consumer finance features into true business news like recalls, market movements, mergers and economic reports.  These consumer finance features seem to always focus on solving a problem or addressing a trend.  But in fact at the heart of all of them is the selling of a product or service.

Let’s take a look at the consumer finance features in Saturday’s New York Times:

  • We’ve already spoken of the Lieber article, which isn’t selling you on any product, except the subtle hint that your journey to love begins by buying an on-line ad.  The Lieber article instead, sells you on the concept that buying things is the essence of any relationship.
  • “The Bean, the Pod and the Battle” sells us on buying the environmental disaster that is the home pod system for brewing espresso.
  • “A Buying Guide for the Cheap” sells us on using an on-line shopping service.
  • “Sizing up FreshDirect” sells us on buying food through an on-line supermarket.
  • “As Private Tutoring Booms, Parents Look at the Returns” sells us on the need to get a private tutor if we want our kids to do well on the SATs and get into a good school.
  • “Birth Control Doesn’t Have to Mean the Pill” sells us on intrauterine devices (I.U.D.) for birth control.

In all these articles, the writers advocate the ideology of consumerism in subtext and asides, typically with unproven assertions such as “a product that has become a must-have among the chic urbanites,” “Some physician practices are not very familiar with longer-lasting, more expensive methods…” and “since money is still no object when it comes to their children.”  The implication always is that money will buy what you want and what you want can only be bought.

The New York Times is far from alone in filling its pages with features that do little more than sell products and services.  Selling goods and services is the primary function of most news media and serves as the core topic for most feature stories in business, lifestyle, entertainment, health and other non-hard news sections of newspapers, broadcast news, consumer and business magazines, e-zines and news websites. 

Financial columnist offers advice on love to the frugal: spend more money on your dates if you want to impress.

Once again we can count on the New York Times Ron Lieber to present the assumptions of the American ideology of consumerism as facts in an effort to convince readers that the way to happiness is to participate in the great American potlatch and spend lots of money, hopefully beyond your current means.

Several months back I wrote about Lieber using an article on how parents answer tough question from their children about the family finances to promote the core American value of consumerism—that the essence of all of life and all happiness is to buy things.   

Now in Saturday’s Times, Lieber offers advice to those frugal men who want to attract the typical American girl, whom of course Lieber implies as only being impressed by ostentatious displays of wealth.  Frugal, according to Merriam Webster, is “economical in the use or expenditure of resources: not wasteful or lavish.”  Sounds like something that most people would look for in a spouse.  But not according to Lieber and the expert he quotes.

Lieber starts the article by citing a recent ING study in which 1,000 people were asked what came to mind when certain words were used to describe a blind date.  Only 3.7% found “frugal” to be “sexy,” while 15% found a person described only with the word frugal to be “boring,” 27 % found frugal to be “stingy.”  Now much further down in the article, Lieber reports that 49% of survey respondents thought it was “smart” to be “frugal,” which to this blogger (who when single tended to go after women who liked smart men) pretty much invalidates the need for the article.  But Lieber buries this survey result deep in the article so he can persist in his veiled attack on those of us who aren’t spendthrifts.

Most of the rest of the article consists of the banter of experts and daters on why women (and gay men) don’t like to date frugal men.  In the very last few paragraphs, however, Lieber gives some advice for those who want to tell potential dates and mates that they are frugal in online ads.

The structure of this article is built on two absurdities: 1) The absurdity at the end which proposes that one would even mention being frugal in an online ad.  Why would it come up in a paragraph introduction?  Frugality or the lack of it could certainly emerge on a first date or even on a get-acquainted phone call or email exchange, but it seems odd and out-of-place to mention it in an online ad.  The advice is stupid because it’s telling you how to do correctly something that you shouldn’t even be doing.

2) The absurdity that a frugal person should be concerned because only 3.7% of the population thought one of the many traits he or she had was “sexy.”  First of all, it’s just one of many traits.  But even if it were all that mattered, so what!  At any given time, we assume that you’re in the market for one person only.  Why would you want to date someone who you know is incompatible because they do not like your frugality? Remember, the frugal members of the sex you are seeking also only have 3.7% of the population from which to select a date, mate or special friend.  Seek him or her, and forget about the others.  That’s what people do when they decide to only date professionals, members of their own faith, people who live within a 20-mile radius, bikers, those who abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages or those who like dogs.

Of course, Lieber’s idea is not to present a reasoned argument, but instead to indoctrinate all of us—frugal or otherwise—that the norm is what sociologist Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption” some 110 years ago.  All Lieber really wants to do is tell us that it is the frugal person who is the odd duck in the dating game and must seek to mediate the impact of his or her financial discipline by either changing or using euphemisms to describe it.  It’s just not true.

Wal-Mart makes it official: helicopter parents are a demographic group.

For the first time ever, I’ve spotted a TV commercial that focuses on helping the helicopter parent.  So let’s give Wal-Mart the credit it deserves for being the first to go after this upscale target market.

I’ve defined helicopter parents before.  They’re the ones who take absolute control of the lives of their children, especially when it comes to school and progressing towards college or other post-secondary education.  They’re the ones who are obsessed about getting in the “right” school, be it college, high school or kindergarten.  They hold their kids back a year so they do better in school and high school sports; have their kids take one course in summer school to have a lighter load during the high school year; hire educational consultants; put their kids through rigorous SAT training; wrestle over the phone with admissions counselors; make their kids go to high school summer camps at prestigious universities; and hire people to write their kids’ college application form essays.  There are even documented examples of parents going with their children to their first job interview.

And now one of Wal-Mart’s back-to-school TV commercials focuses on how the mass merchandiser can help the helicopter parent guide her child to a better elementary or middle school experience.  As with all the lifestyle ads that Wal-Mart has done over the past few years, the focus is on the adult woman shopper.  In the universe that Wal-Mart portrays in their lifestyle ads (as opposed to their ads about low prices), adult men are noticeably absent.

In this ad, shots of the mother shopping for back-to-school items are interspersed with shots of the mother helping the daughter to prepare for either a bake sale or other charitable project at the school or the girl’s campaign to be elected to a class office—I couldn’t really tell because the shots are all quite short to suggest a whirlwind of activity.  In helping the daughter we see some appropriate actions for adults, such as helping to make something.  But there are also some helicopter parent actions, the most obvious of which is a shot of the mother handing out flyers for something to other children at the school.  Now that’s just not appropriate—it should be up to the kid to do his or her own canvassing at school (or anywhere else), especially to other children.  It’s with a soft touch that Wal-Mart shows split- seconds of a parent providing a heavy helicopter touch.

Interestingly enough, the family in this case is African-American.  Let’s analyze that creative decision by Wal-Mart.  I haven’t seen any studies but I’m fairly confident that a helicopter parent is more likely to be upscale or rich than the non-helicopter parent, because the helicopter parent’s unhealthy interference into their children’s lives mostly manifests itself by buying primarily upscale goods and services.  Additionally, the case histories in the media about helicopter parenting skewer decidedly to the wealthier among us.

In the United State, sadly, even almost 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, African-Americans still have on average less income and wealth and a lower percentage of them would be considered upscale or wealthy.  So in a sense, even as the commercial quietly shows us that Wal-Mart can help in some basic helicoptering, it is aspirational for African-Americans, who, with rural white Americans, tend to symbolize the poor and lower middle class in this country in the mass media.  To this group, the message is, at least in part, “You may not be able to afford to send your child to a $1,500 SAT prep course, but you can still support their school career.” 

I’m not saying that Wal-Mart is advocating parental helicopterism.  It is merely accepting it as a new norm and trying to appeal to that segment of the market, while seeking to expand the number of people who have a helicopter motive as their rationale for engaging in a commercial transaction at Wal-Mart 

Arguments of those opposed to gay marriage don’t make any sense.

While Ground Zero may have become ground zero in the endless struggle for equal protection under the law, the skirmish in California over same-sex marriage slogs on like World War I’s Battle at Verdun.

Every day there’s news about the appeal of Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to overturn the California ban on gay marriage.  Today I want to talk about an argument that the opponents of same-sex marriage (AKA the proponents of Proposition 8, which was the law the good Judge overturned) have been giving as a major reason to oppose allowing people of the same sex to marry: “that the state has an interest in promoting responsible procreation through heterosexual marriages which would be harmed if gay marriages were permitted.”  

The argument is specious because the existence of gay marriage does nothing to harm responsible procreation, and in fact may lead to a slight increase in more responsible procreation. 

Let’s say you believe that responsible procreation can only occur in a heterosexual marriage: What difference does it make to you then if people of the same sex marry?  Does anyone really believe that heterosexuals will stampede to gay marriage just because it’s available? 

Now to the argument that the presence of same-sex marriages in society would be a bad influence on children: that’s pretty absurd.  There is always a difference between the values of every home and those of our diverse society.  Good parents do a good job of instilling their values in their children.  Let me give you the example of our home when my ex-wife and I were raising my son: We actively spoke against tattoos, which are not allowed under Jewish law.  No Disney book, movie or TV was permitted.  We frowned on guns and didn’t allow any toy weaponry (until he got some giant soakers as a teen).  We also frowned on gambling.  To many Americans, some or all of these choices will seem odd, but we made them and they stuck, as my son has no tattoos, doesn’t gamble or carry a gun and is completely uninterested in virtually all manufactured entertainment.  In a similar way, a parent against same-sex marriage can instill those beliefs into their children, and if done with love quite effectively; but be forewarned, if your child is GLBT, it may not take.

Let’s assume that the essence of responsible procreation is responsible parenting. Would allowing gay marriage lead to less responsible parenting?  It is true that the more same-sex marriages there are, the more children, natural or adopted, will be raised in homes in which both parents are of the same sex.  But virtually all responsible studies on the issue of gay parenting show that children of gays grow up the same as children of heterosexual parents in every way.  That means they are no more or less likely to excel in what they do, no more or less likely to get into trouble, no more or less likely to be gay.  In other words, by allowing same-sex marriage, we increase the potential pool of responsible parents, and therefore the possibility of more responsible procreation.

Besides, procreation is not the only reason to marry: Among heterosexuals, there are plenty of marriages of convenience, marriages based on financial considerations and marriages in name only.  I know a number of happily married heterosexuals who have decided not to have children.  It’s their right, and that’s fine with me, and it should be fine with everyone else, too.

There are plenty of people that believe that homosexuality is a sin against their deity, and these people have a right not to marry people of the same sex in their churches, synagogues and mosques.  But we live in a secular country in which everyone is equal under the law.  Our state-performed marriages are civil, not religious ceremonies.  Now I see nothing wrong with the state validating marriages of religions which do not allow same-sex marriage.  By the same token, though, there is no reason that the state—which means our national, state and local governments—should have any bans on same-sex marriage.

It’s going to take a few more years, but I believe that eventually all the legal bans on same-sex marriage will fall in all states.  And after that, I predict that we will see religious organizations start to accept it more, as they seek to keep up with the changing times.  Conservatives have been quite successful turning back the clock on unionism and equitable distribution of wealth in America.  They’ve slowed things down considerably when it comes to matters of global warming and environmental protection.  I don’t know what will happen on these very important issues.  But when it comes to allowing same-sex marriage, I am very confident that victory is close at hand.

It doesn’t matter if you are for or against building the NY mosque, what matters is if you accept it’s legal.

When I first read that a CNN/Opinion Research poll showed that 68% of 935 registered voters said they were against building a mosque in New York City that met all zoning and environmental requirements, I was hopeful that CNN/Opinion Research had asked a trick question, a favorite technique of pollsters wanting to cook the results.

But much to my dismay at first, the question was direct: As you may know, a group of Muslims in the U.S. plan to build a mosque two blocks from the site in New York City where the World Trade Center used to stand.  Do you favor or oppose this plan?

And 68% opposed the plan, while only 29% were in favor; 3% had no opinion.  The survey breaks down the respondents demographically, and only among the group self-identified as liberals does a majority favor building this mosque, and that by a mere 51% to 45%.

My first, gloomy thought: What a sad day for the United States of America.  But then I thought again.  As President Obama reminded us over the weekend, the issue is not of favoring or disfavoring the mosque, but of granting all groups equal rights and protection under the law. 

I’m not saying CNN/Opinion Research was wrong to ask the question they did, but that they neglected to ask the other, more important question, “Do you believe that the group of Muslims in the U.S. planning to build a mosque two blocks from the site in New York City where the World Trade Center used to stand should have the legal right to go through with their plan?” 

Additionally, CNN/Opinion Research should have asked the like/dislike question first half the time and the legal/illegal question first half the time, since answering one question usually colors how people answer subsequent questions.

Only by asking both questions would we know if the citizens of the United States are turning their backs on the basic principle of religious freedom that has been a foundation stone of our civil society since before the Revolutionary War.  You see, it really doesn’t matter if people favor or disfavor the project; all that matters is if they accept the right to build the mosque at that location.

Those who started and are dragging out the campaign against the project have all said it is insensitive to the pain of the families of the people who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.  The factual basis of this statement is not exactly correct, since a number of families of the victims are enthusiastically supporting the project. (See the article about Mayor Bloomberg in the August 13 edition of the New York Times.)

More to the point, the premise behind the opposition to the project is patently racist: that somehow the burden of a very small number of terrorists falls on all Muslims and taints the entire Islamic religion.  As I and others have said before during this controversy, the vast majority of Muslims, including the backers of the New York mosque, are peaceful, hate terrorism and have had nothing whatsoever to do with Al-Qaida. 

Take this one example, from a report on Yahoo! news:

“This is not about freedom of religion, because we all respect the right of anyone to worship according to the dictates of their conscience,” US Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said on Fox News Sunday.

“But I do think it’s unwise… to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as a result of a terrorist attack.”

That would be true, Representative Cornyn, but only if all or a significant part of Islam staged the attack.  It would be true, but only if we really were in a Holy War with Muslims, and of course, we are not.

Or take Ross Douthat (please!).  In his opinion piece in today’s New York Times, Ross proposes that there are two American cultures (I think he means ideologies), one that believes allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences and the second which “looks back to a particular religious heritage.”  Douthat says these two ways of looking at the world are clashing on the issue of the New York mosque and that both “have real wisdom to offer.” 

Douthat goes on to say that the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans.  “Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale.  Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.”

Now without some chapter-and-verse examples, all Douthat has done is engage in some cheap name-calling.  Douthat must know that lots of people will take this statement at face value without wondering who these Muslims are he’s accusing of supporting “illiberal causes.”  The words slide by so easily, but what we have here is a slanderous accusation for which Douthat provides not one shred of evidence.  And even if it were true, what does that have to do with the organization with plans to build the mosque?  By this logic, Douthat should want to stop American Jews from building a synagogue in Michigan because a few Israeli seamen went crazy and shot up a boat bringing humanitarian aid to Palestinians in refuge camps.  I suppose that Douthat would also protest the construction of a new “Sons and Daughters of Italy” club in any big city since many people associate the Mafia with Italians.

So make no mistake about it, this is not an issue of sensitivity to any group or a clash between two American ideologies.  It’s a matter of equal protection under the law and the attempt by the right-wing to deny such protection to a religious group.

Blogger comes clean with his personal agenda of opinions on important issues of the day.

I never said I didn’t have opinions.  I have expressed a number of views over my first year of writing the OpEdge blog.  I think I have expressed these views explicitly and without rhetorical manipulations and that I have proven my points with facts and reason. 

So without further ado, here are the ideas that I have been promoting on OpEdge since I began the blog on August 5, 2009.  Call it my personal agenda.

First, my views on current events, all of which I believe are proven truths as matters of fact:

  • Since the ascension of Ronald Regan to the presidency 30 years ago, the United States has experienced a net transfer of wealth and income up the economic ladder from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.
  • It takes money to provide basic government services that we expect as residents of a post-industrial nation, and that means we have to raise taxes.
  • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been huge failures and financial sinkholes and would never have been fought if the Bush II Administration had not knowingly deceived the American public.
  • Social Security is financially strong but endangered by right-wingers who do not want the federal government to pay the Social Security Trust fund what it has borrowed from the fund for the past 30 years.
  • The United States does not always have the right answer to social and economic problems and we could learn a lot by looking at the educational, public transportation, healthcare and other public services systems in Western Europe.

Two political and social views about which I did not get around to writing this past year are a woman’s right to an abortion and the right of gays to get a government-sanctioned marriage.  Sometime soon I will demonstrate my support for both those basic rights with detailed analyses.

Now for some broader, more philosophical ideas that I have expressed over the past year.  Of the four on this list, the first two are proven scientific theories, while the last two represent my subjective take on the lessons of human and natural history.

  • The overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence concludes that global warming is occurring and that the actions of human beings are accelerating its pace.
  • Darwinism provides an accurate explanation of the origins of life in general and human beings in particular.
  • Nations thrive when there is a relatively equitable distribution of wealth among people and a large middle class, and decline when money begins to collect at the top of the wealth and income ladder.
  • To survive as a species, humans must reduce our population and I prefer that the means by which we decrease our numbers involve birth control and planning, and should not involve famine, war and pandemics.

Again, these are not my only beliefs, just the ones that I discussed on OpEdge this past year.  It will be interesting to see how different the list is when (and if) I do a 12-month review in the dog days of August 2011.

Trends in media coverage sometimes may say more about the direction of the country than does the news itself.

One or even two Supreme Court decisions don’t tell you if the court is drifting right or left.  It takes a few years of consistent decisions to suggest where the court is taking us.  And a Supreme Court can often give mixed signals as to where it’s headed; for example granting more rights to corporations while at the same time constraining the rights of individuals (see David Cole’s article on Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project in the August 19, 2010 edition of the New York Review of Books for a full explanation of this example).

In the same way, the fact that the media covered the Bush II Administration’s pre-invasion assumptions about Iraq or the death of Michael Jackson in a certain way, while certainly very interesting, may ultimately prove less useful to understanding our era than the broader news trend, e.g., how the news media treat all unproved government assumptions or celebrity deaths.

Over my first year of blogging as OpEdge, I have found myself seeing the same patterns in media coverage again and again.  These patterns manifest the emerging and continuing trends in the news and news coverage.  Over the past year, I have written more than a few times about each of these trends.  For example, the first trend on my list is the tendency of mainstream news media to allow right-wing news media to set the agenda for the discussion of issues.  Examples I discussed through the year included health care legislation, gun control, addressing the federal deficit, and coverage of non-mainstream candidates in primary elections (providing all the coverage to candidates of the right and none to progressive candidates).

This list by no means exhausts the enormous number of trends we can identify in the news media.  It’s only a list of the ones about which I wrote.  So, for example, I never wrote about the news media’s knee-jerk lauding of all new consumer technology, support of nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels or the war against modernism (e.g., James Joyce and John Coltrane) on the cultural pages, all important trends.  Maybe I’ll get to them in the next 12 months.

In any case, here are eight of the more important trends in news and news coverage.  First four trends in coverage of political and economic issues:  

  • Mainstream media allow the right-wing media to set the terms of the debate for virtually every issue.
  • The mainstream news media consistently overestimate the impact of the Tea Party, and in effect, has become instrumental in creating whatever impact the Tea Party and its candidates have had so far.
  • The mainstream news media actively try to keep alive the controversy over the very existence of global warming instead of focusing attention on what we should do about it.
  • The mainstream media actively promote the ideas that free market solutions work best and that it is always best to act selfishly.

Now four trends in entertainment media (which includes TV, radio, movies, music, video games and the lifestyle, entertainment, fashion, consumer technology, health and other feature sections of print and Internet news media):

  • There has been continued growth in the long-term trend of leisure activities and entertainment that infantilizes adults, that is, turns adults into children by having the scope of ideas and sophistication of entertainments from their childhood.  Just think of all the adults who go to a Disney amusement park for vacation or spend their free time playing video games.  Think of all the adults at Star Trek and comic book conventions.  Think of Harry Potter’s popularity among adults.
  • There has been continued growth of false values marketing, which is the linking of a product to a cause or idea when it has nothing at all in common with the cause, for example giving healthy attributes to junk food or claiming a product is environmentally friendly.
  • More advertising seems over the top or bizarre than ever before, but it turns out that these ads are invariably based on solid consumer research in the predilections of a special target market.
  • The combined effect of the portability of media and the accessibility of equipment and venues for “do-it-yourself” art is resulting in the lowering of the production values and sophistication of thought in virtually all forms of communications.  Look to reality TV and the video game plots of blockbuster movies as ready examples.

Don’t hesitate to leave a message or comment at the OpEdge page on Facebook, or to make a comment on this blog, if you have identified any media trends that you think are worth noting or that you want me to explore in the coming months.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up this “annual blogport” with a list of some of the ideas with which I have been trying to brainwash my gentle readers.

Day after day, news and entertainment media make unstated assumptions which define the American ideology.

Of the several definitions of ideology in Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, one is relevant to a discussion of communications and propaganda: “a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture.”

What I call the ideological subtext of communications, be it in a TV ad, a news article, a billboard, a website or a movie, are the unspoken “content of thinking” assumed to be true in these media.  We can also call them the basic beliefs and values that the mainstream media share and advocate.  These assumptions color the selection of details of virtually all the media that we experience.  They are hammered into us from childhood to the point of brainwashing.

Over my first year of blogging, I have uncovered eight ideological principles that writers, advertisers and other “media workers” want us to take for granted.  Often asserting one or more of these tenets is the true purpose of a story; for example, all those articles a few months ago advocating that people with money walk away from underwater mortgages were really thinly veiled attempts to uphold several of these core assumptions.

I’m not pretending that these eight core tenets represent the entire American ideology.  These are just the ones that I have discovered time and again in the news and entertainment media and have discussed at length in my blog entries over the past year.  If anyone knows some others, please send them along to me, either as a response to the blog or to the OpEdge page on Facebook.

And just in case it does not go without saying, I want to be clear that I in fact disagree with all of these core tenets, which may be the reason I have identified them so easily.

Eight Core Tenets of the American Ideology:

  1. The market solution is always good, whereas solutions to social problems involving the government are always bad.
  2. The best solution always is acting selfishly in one’s own best interest, whether it’s telling your kids to pay for their own college or walking away from a mortgage when you can make the payments; often called “the politics of selfishness.”
  3. The commercial transaction, that is, buying something, is the basis of all relationships, celebrations, manifestations of love, respect or all other emotional states, and every other emotional component of life.
  4. All values reduce to money—if it makes money it’s good and the only measure of value is how much money you have or earn.
  5. Learning and school are bad and all intellectual activity is to be despised or mocked.
  6. The most admirable people and most worthy of emulation are celebrities, especially movie, Internet and television entertainers.
  7. Suburbs are good and cities are bad.
  8. As a nation, we need the guidance of experts before making virtually all decisions, but only those experts whose advice is always the same: to buy something.

The fact that most of these core tenets have to do with money probably results from the source material: the news and entertainment media which to a large degree have dedicated themselves to selling the products and services of their advertisers and sponsors.

It looks as if this review of my first year of blogging has turned into a four-parter.  Tomorrow I’ll talk about some trends in the news I identified over the past year and Friday wrap up with a statement of my own political and social agenda.