Monthly Archives: February 2013

Monday roundup: awards, complaints, etc.

Christopher B. Daly 

As so often happens, Monday morning brings a bunch of things to consider:

–The White House press corps is pissed about being kept away from Obama and Tiger Woods. Rightly so. Why schlep to Florida if you can’t go golfing?

This photo is a composite!

This photo is a composite!

 

 

 

 

 

 

–David Carr has a fascinating example of what I like to call The Power of Reporting. He tells how one reporter got out of the office to examine the apparent truth of a dramatic photo. 

 

Photo by Stephanie Sands

 

Photo by Stephanie Sands

 

 

 

 

–The new Polk Awards are out (they are something like the Golden Globes vis-a-vis the Academy Awards). 2012 was a good year to be reporting about the inexplicable fortunes amassed by the families of some of China’s most powerful men. Among the winners: David Corn of Mother Jones (for breaking the story about Mitt Romney’s fateful “47 percent” comment) and David Barboza of the New York Times for his series from China “Princelings.” Congrats to all winners. Good luck in the competition for the Pulitzer Prizes (due out in April).

–The NYTimes Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, continues to explore the dust-up between Times auto writer John Broder and the head of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk.

[Full disclosure: I am wildly biased on this issue by my desire to own a Tesla some day.]

 

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Essaying the essay

By Christopher B. Daly

Don’t miss this marvelous essay about essays by one who knows — Philip Lopate. He is the editor of The Art of the Personal Essay and a prolific essayer in his own right. I love his emphasis on doubt and on the use of the essay to explore doubt. In an age of assertion, this seems worth remembering, or at least I think so.

17DRAFT-blog427

 

Now, time to get back to that biography of Montaigne, the ur-essayist.

As Montaigne himself put it, the starting point of the essay is this: What do I know? roll that around in your head, or on your tongue, putting the emphasis on each word in turn.

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Using research in journalism

By Christopher B. Daly

This column by James B. Stewart in today’s Times is a good example of the power of using research. When journalists avail themselves of expertise and data, they can get past myths, slogans, and he-said/she said. In the column, Stewart examines the claim that rich people move to avoid income taxes. That claim, a favorite of tax-cutters, is an assertion that should be testable by facts. Turns out, it has been tested — multiple times — by social scientists. What did they find?

Here’s Stewart’s take-away:

It turns out that a large majority of people move for far more compelling reasons, like jobs, the cost of housing, family ties or a warmer climate. At least three recent academic studies have demonstrated that the number of people who move for tax reasons is negligible, even among the wealthy.

Cristobal Young, an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford, studied the effects of recent tax increases in New Jersey and California.

“It’s very clear that, over all, modest changes in top tax rates do not affect millionaire migration,” he told me this week. “Neither tax increases nor tax cuts on the rich have affected their migration rates.”

The notion of tax flight “is almost entirely bogus — it’s a myth,” said Jon Shure, director of state fiscal studies at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research group in Washington. “The anecdotal coverage makes it seem like people are leaving in droves because of high taxes. They’re not. There are a lot of low-tax states, and you don’t see millionaires flocking there.”

Despite the allure of low taxes, Mr. Depardieu hasn’t been seen in Russia since picking up his passport and seems to be hedging his bets by maintaining a residence in Belgium. Meanwhile, Russian billionaires are snapping up trophy properties in high-tax London, New York and Beverly Hills, Calif.

“I don’t hear about many billionaires moving to Moscow,” said Robert Tannenwald, a lecturer in economic policy at Brandeis University and former Federal Reserve economist.

Far too often, journalists fall for the anecdote, such as the noisy departure of Gerard Depardieu from high-tax France. 

(pool photo)GD embraces Putin, leader of his "adoptive" country -- or is he evaluating Putin as a possible hors d'oeuvre?

(pool photo)
GD embraces Putin, leader of his “adoptive” country — or is he evaluating Putin as a possible hors d’oeuvre?

Or else, they repeat the assertion unexamined, or “balance” it with an offsetting comment by someone from the other side.

 

 

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Tesla v. NYTimes

By Christopher B. Daly

I have been hanging fire on this one, but now comes a terrific blogpost by Dave Weinberger that not only has a wise take on the whole thing, but it also contains most of the relevant links. That way, you can see all the original contributions to this fascinating dust-up between  the New York Times and Tesla Motors. My problem is, I want them both to be right (and adult about it), so I am waiting for more data to emerge.

Vroom or bust?

Vroom or bust?

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Minimum wage: international comparisons

By Christopher B. Daly

Thanks to Wikipedia, here is a chart showing how the current U.S. minimum wage compares to the minima in other countries (at least, those that have a minimum.)

For handy reference, below is the same chart reorganized a bit. What I did was to sort the annual wage column (the amount a person in a given country would earn by toiling at the minimum for an entire year) in a descending fashion. So here you can see, already converted into US$, how we stack up. We are #12 on the list.

(Note: some countries were excluded for various reasons; if they were counted here, I bet that Sweden, Norway, and Germany would all rank ahead of the USA.)

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 1.27.34 PM

 

The list goes on and on, but I could only capture so much in a single screen shot.

 

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NBC News now a tiny cog in Comcast

By Christopher B. Daly

It is worth noting that the once-mighty NBC News division is now a tiny cog in the giant money-making machine thatimgres-1 is Comcast. Exercising a legal prerogative, the giant cable provider decided to go ahead and gobble up the rest of NBC Universal that it did not already own.

As a result, the entire NBC Universal, including TV news carried by NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, et al, are now owned by the biggest cable provider in the US. So, from one point of view, the journalists at NBC News have a new set of conflicts of interest: how do they cover Comcast and its many problems, regulatory issues, lobbying efforts, etc.?

Before anyone gets too teary-eyed, it should be noted that NBC Universal is a kind of trophy being passed back and forth between multibillion conglomerates. To put it in perspective, NBC News is a tiny part of NBC Universal (which is mainly an entertainment company with a news caboose.) 

imgres-4According to today’s Times, NBC Universal was sold for $17 billion or so from GE (a $147 billion corporation) to Comcast (a $62.5 billion corporation).

 

 

 

 

Some history of all these players:

imgres-6

(via Wikipedia)

Comcast Cable was originally formed as American Cable Systems in 1963[9] and was founded by Ralph J. Roberts, Daniel Aaron and Julian A. Brodsky based on a recommendation from Pete Musser, who brought the deal to Ralph Roberts to buy his first cable system in Tupelo, Mississippi. The company was incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1969, under the new nameComcast Corporation.[10][dead link] The name “Comcast” is a portmanteau of the words “Communication” and “Broadcast”.[11]

Then, there’s GE:

(via Wikipedia)

Before 1889, Thomas Edison had business interests in many electricity-related companies. . . In 1889, Drexel, Morgan & Co., a company founded by J.P. Morgan and Anthony J. Drexel, financed Edison’s research and helped merging those companies under one corporation to form Edison General Electric Company which was incorporated in New York on April 24, 1889. The new company also acquired Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company in the same year.[12][13]

At about the same time, Charles Coffin, leading Thomson-Houston Electric Company, acquired a number of competitors and gained access to their key patents.
General Electric was formed by the 1892 merger of Edison General Electric Company of Schenectady, New York and Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts with the help of Drexel, Morgan & Co.[13] Both plants continue to operate under the GE banner to this day.[14] The company was incorporated in New York, with the Schenectady plant used as headquarters for many years thereafter.

In 1919, GE formed a subsidiary called the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to get into the new business of imgres-2manufacturing radios. A few years later, RCA executives, led by chief executive David Sarnoff, realized that they could also make money by providing programming to radio (and thereby stimulate further sales of the hardware, too), and they formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). In radio, NBC quickly became dominant in entertainment programming and in the brand-news enterprise of putting news on the airwaves.

In 1930, GE sold off RCA under antitrust pressure from the government. Operating independently, RCA moved into its new headquarters in the new Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, taking over the most prominent address in the complex, the skyscraper known as “30 Rock.” NBC was so dominant in radioimgres-5 that, again under antitrust pressure in 1943, it spun off a big chunk of its radio operations, which became the core of the new ABC.

Sarnoff pushed RCA and NBC into television after WWII, and NBC News evolved from primarily a radio operation into primarily a tv operation. In the following decades, NBC News grew into a large-scale news-gathering operation, associated with its prominent TV evening news anchors: Chet Huntley & David Brinkley, John Chancellor, and Tom Brokaw.

In 1986, GE bought RCA back and brought into the corporate fold once again, adding broadcasting to its global mix of businesses ranging from lightbulbs to locomotives to jet engines to finance and a lot of other things. So, once again, RCA/NBC was a small part of a big corporation. In that context, NBC News had plenty of conflicts of interest when it came to covering GE, since it was a large defense contractor and had a hand in dozens of industries.

If it is true that “freedom of the press belongs only to those who own one,” we are still a long way from having a truly free and independent NBC News division.

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Westminister dog show gets it wrong, again

By Christopher B. Daly

Well, they’ve done it again. The judges at the Westminster Kennel Club have chosen a silly, small breed of dog as this year’s “Best in Show.” They picked an “affenpinscher.” An affenpinscher? What is that? It sounds like some kind of

A silly small dog.

A silly small dog.

Austrian pastry, not a dog. 

Next time I’m in the Demel in Vienna, I will ask if I can have an affenpinscher. Mit schlag. 

Sheesh.

To be taken seriously, a dog should at least be bigger than a cat. There is something seriously wrong when the judges could have picked a golden retriever and failed to do so. I am through with Westminster until they come to their senses and pick a golden (or at least a Lab or some other real dog).

Cody (a real dog) Photo by Fred Conrad/NYT

Cody (a real dog)
Photo by Fred Conrad/NYT

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