Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Brotherhood of the Traveling Pants

Friday, January 14th, 2011

I wonder, are “security breeches” similar to chastity belts?

I may want security breeches myself if I’m asked to go through a backscatter X-ray next time I’m traveling by plane…

Life is So Uncertain

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

This is the first sentence of the Boston Globe’s Friday article about the latest developments in the Red Sox owner’s efforts to purchase Liverpool FC:

The Liverpool Football Club will host Blackburn Sunday; that much is certain.

The only problem is that Liverpool is playing their Liverpudlian neighbors Everton on Sunday. (They’ll host Blackburn on the following Sunday—or should I say, “Sunday week.”)

Who could have predicted that the most dramatic news story of the week would be bicontinental legal wrangling over the purchase of a football club, rather than the rescue of the Chilean miners? (And no, I’m certainly not certain about that.)

…As Long as You Get My Name Right

Friday, May 7th, 2010

It’s nice to see the Oakland Tribune covering the wonderful improvements that are about to be made to the southern end of Lake Merritt, where a dreadful ten-lane thoroughfare is going to be turned into a pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly area with expanded lakeside parkland. It would have been nice, too, if they hadn’t flubbed the name of my City Councilmember in a photo caption in this morning’s paper:

Her name is Patricia—or usually, just Pat—Kernighan, as any copy editor at the Tribune should know. Nancy is the first name of the other Councilmember whose district includes part of the lake, Nancy Nadel. A minor error, to be sure, which was fixed in the online edition and quickly followed by a published correction, but whenever I see these sloppy mistakes in the Tribune, I always think of a new line that was added to the paper’s front page nameplate at the beginning of this year:

Ah, I see, the Oakland Tribune is now merely “an edition of the San Jose Mercury News.” No wonder they sometimes can’t keep the people on the Oakland City Council straight!

Local Paper Tars City with Knee-Jerk Headline

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Since when is it okay for the Oakland Tribune refer to Oakland as “crime central” in huge font in the lead front page headline?

A lot of people complain that the media are biased against Oakland—that they focus too much on Oakland’s crime and not enough on the good aspects of Oakland, that they depict Oakland as nothing but a violent wasteland, etc., etc. I am not one of those people: while I think that press coverage of Oakland could be dramatically improved (press coverage of everything could be dramatically improved), blaming Oakland’s bad reputation on the media instead of on the actual crime and violence and blight amounts to putting one’s head in the sand.

That said, “crime central” is over the top, especially for a nominally hometown paper which is supposed to have a more nuanced understanding of the city than, say, that other paper across the bay, or the national press. When I went out to walk the dog and picked up the paper from my stoop this morning, I was puzzled at first, wondering if the headline was referring to a particular neighborhood or intersection, because I couldn’t believe that the Tribune would actually paint the city as a whole with such a broad brush in huge letters above the fold on the front page. When I saw the subhead, however, I realized that indeed they were actually referring to the entire city of Oakland as “crime central.”

In the Trib’s defense, the article itself is okay (although pointing out that cities as varied as New York, Los AngelesSan Francisco, and Minneapolis and St. Paul have seen far more dramatic decreases in violent crime might have been nice), and the online version of the headline is unobjectionable, albeit uninspired (“Data: Oakland crime down 10 percent in 2009”). So this is likely a case of a copy editor trying to quickly dash off a punchy headline, and too few editorial eyeballs there on a New Year’s Eve to second guess the decision. Still, I can’t help but wonder if that headline would have made it into print if the Tribune were still a truly local operation, instead of being part of a chain of mostly suburban papers, whose coverage of Oakland and surrounding neighborhoods seems increasingly to merge with that of the Contra Costa Times and other affiliated papers. The move of the newsroom out of the landmark Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland, and into a bland office building next to a freeway a few years ago may not have made a real difference in its coverage, but as symbolism goes, it’s pretty lousy: Local Paper Abandons City Center for Office Park Near Airport.

The Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Phil Bronstein has a silly post on his SFGate.com blog in which he points out that the New York Times article on Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts uses the same anecdote in the lede that a San Francisco Chronicle article used two months ago, about Batts initially declining to apply for the Oakland job, then changing his mind after the four Oakland police officers were killed a few days later. Bronstein gets all huffy and suggests that the New York Times took the anecdote from the Chronicle—the headline of his post refers to the Times’s “borrowing policy” and he claims to have compared the bylines on the articles to see if they were the same:

Maybe the Times was just being economical. So I checked the names. Chronicle reporter Matthai Kuruvila wrote our story. There was another completely different name on the Times piece.

And it probably wasn’t just me. A few of the other (57 percent) of the Times readers who also get the Chronicle may have felt like they’d seen it before, too.

Here we are, always bitching about how Google or MSN or Yahoo is stealing our original content and making money from it. It doesn’t really help our case if we’re raiding closets and borrowing outfits from members of our own fraternity without at least asking.

To be fair, a reasonable amount of what was in the Times story was different than the Chronicle’s, and written well enough.

Why is this silly? For several reasons: first of all, it’s obvious from the Times article that the reporter interviewed Batts, and the exact quotations used in the anecdotes are different. So it’s pretty clear that this is one of Batts’s standard anecdotes, which he recounts whenever he talks to someone about his decision to leave Long Beach and come to Oakland.

Secondly, the Chronicle’s own article made clear that the anecdote was told by Batts at a press conference when he was introduced as Oakland’s next police chief, and in fact the Oakland Tribune also recounted the anecdote on the same day as the Chronicle, in its own article about his press conference. Does Bronstein believe that the Chronicle has exclusive rights to anecdotes told by public officials at press conferences? Or does he merely believe that once an anecdote has been used as the lede in one article, no other publications should be allowed to use that anecdote as a lede ever again? Unfortunately, Bronstein didn’t explain precisely what he thinks the Times’ crime was, because he was too busy coming up with metaphors about fraternity brothers raiding one another’s closets. (Earlier in the post, he used a metaphor about how the Times arrived in the Bay Area wearing “panties and floaties” instead of “full battle gear;” I knew Bronstein was kind of the macho type, but still….)

If Bronstein thinks it’s so terrible for a paper to use an anecdote which has already appeared in another paper, then he might be disturbed to discover that yet another version of Batts’s anecdote had appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram five days before it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. Obviously this doesn’t mean that the Chronicle “borrowed” or “stole” anything from the Press-Telegram; all it means is that Batts tells this anecdote a lot, and reporters from many different papers (I think we’re up to four so far, after about 2 minutes worth of “research” on my part) find the anecdote interesting enough to feature prominently in their articles.

Bronstein ends his post this way:

Note to NYTimes Editor Bill Keller who, like his predecessors, still puts out a generally impressive product: The interwebs has all sorts of digital magic to check stories for prior use. Punch up the Tribune before you make your next move into Chicago.

Note to former SFChronicle Editor Phil Bronstein: The interwebs has all sorts of digital magic to check stories for prior use. Punch up the Google before you make your next indignant complaint about an oft-repeated anecdote being proprietary to the Chronicle.

Local newspaper executives have said that they are not threatened by the Times’s expansion of its Bay Area coverage, and that’s probably true in some ways—the Times is not really equipped to compete with local dailies when it comes to getting scoops or covering breaking news, and local publishers and editors certainly have bigger problems than the New York Times to worry about. Bronstein’s post suggests to me, however, that resentment about the NYT’s bigfooting on local turf, which has always existed in regional newsrooms, may have grown larger now that the Times has planted a flag more securely in Bay Area soil. And while the Times may not be able to compete journalistically with the Chronicle, it can certain compete for home delivery subscribers and web readers.

The New York Times Places a Bet on the Bay Area

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I cancelled my home delivery of the New York Times about 3 years ago, after they raised the subscription rate for the second time in a single calendar year. Having read a hard copy of the Times nearly every day for more than 15 years (not to mention having worked there for about 5), I expected the absence to be a shock to my system, but in fact I have hardly missed the paper edition. I read some of it online, and the stuff I no longer read apparently wasn’t as indispensable to me as I once believed.

Since I haven’t really missed getting a dead-tree edition, I never expected that I would feel any temptation to restart my subscription, but I have to admit that the Times’s launch of expanded Bay Area coverage on Fridays and Sundays is slightly enticing, and I feel some temptation to support their efforts by subscribing again:

The Bay Area pages initially will be written and edited by New York Times journalists and contributors and will include enterprising coverage of local concerns, focusing on public affairs, culture and lifestyles in San Francisco, the Silicon Valley, the East Bay and the region. The pages will expand on the work of The Times’s 10-person San Francisco news bureau and its already extensive coverage of the Bay Area.

A longer-term objective of this initiative is to work with local journalists and news organizations in a collaborative way, first in the Bay Area and then in other major markets around the country. The Times is in discussions with news organizations in the Bay Area about supplying journalism for these pages.

The first Bay Area section will appear tomorrow, and next week the Times website will start a blog called “The Bay Area” as well. When it comes down to it, I probably won’t end up resubscribing because it’s quite expensive for me (just getting the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday paper costs a whopping $10.40 a week—more than $500 per year!), but even if I don’t start taking the paper again, I can see myself buying a hard copy on the occasional Friday or Sunday, which I never do these days. And just the fact that I feel even a slight temptation to resubscribe suggests to me that this is a smart move for the paper—this region is full of the sort of educated, well-to-do people that make up the NYT’s target audience, and if expanding local coverage tempts even a few readers to drop their subscriptions to the atrophying Chronicle or BANG papers, and switch to the NYT, then it’s probably an experiment worth trying. (Even if it doesn’t attract a significant number of new subscribers, but draws more people to the website, then it may still be worth it.)

As newspapers wobble and topple around the country, there are definitely vacuums to be filled, and it remains to be seen how much of the void will be filled by local blogs, or by the non-profit journalism startups that are popping up here and there, or by other so-called “new media.” (I’m dubious of many distinctions between “old media” and “new media”—there’s good journalism and there’s bad journalism, and that’s the more important distinction to make.) It makes sense, though, for a paper with the national reach of the Times to try to step into the space left by shrinking newsrooms at local papers around the country, and the Bay Area seems like a sensible place for them to start. I won’t predict whether this bet will ultimately pay off or not, but I’m glad to see them trying—as far as I’m concerned, the more regional reporting there is, the better off we are, whether it’s being done by local blogs, j-school students, non-profits, or a newspaper based on the other side of the country.  I for one hope they manage to pull it off—whatever complaints I may have about the Times, I certainly don’t want it to shrivel up and disappear.

The Trouble with Washington Political Reporting

Friday, September 4th, 2009

The New York Times had a brief write-up last night about James K. Glassman being appointed as the founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, an “action-oriented think tank” which will be part of the GWB Center at Southern Methodist University. Glassman is a former journalist and pundit who also served in the State Department in Bush’s second term, so there is nothing particularly surprising about his appointment.

What is a bit surprising is that the Times, in three paragraphs of biographical information about Glassman, somehow failed to mention the thing he may be most famous for: writing a book in 1999, on the eve of the collapse of the dot com bubble, called “Dow 36,000,” which argued that stocks were undervalued and that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would more than triple within a decade. Needless to say, he was wildly wrong, and many people who followed his advice presumably lost a lot of money by doing so.

It’s not shocking to me that being completely wrong didn’t seem to hurt his career. (In Washington political and policy circles, particularly in the GOP, being conspicuously wrong often seems to be considered a virtue.) Neither is it shocking that his infamous book is not mentioned in the press release announcing his appointment (it is amusing, however, to see that the press release touts his experience as an “investment columnist” for the Washington Post in the early 90’s).

The New York Times, however, is supposed to be doing more than just passing on information from press releases. Even if the reporter somehow didn’t know that Glassman wrote a much-discussed bestseller called “Dow 36,000,” a cursory glance at the first paragraph of Glassman’s Wikipedia entry would have clued him in. While the Times report omitted Glassman’s dramatic public failure as a soothsayer, it did point out that Glassman “has also been writing a blog largely critical of the Obama administration. He argued that its economic proposals ‘are dangerously off-course and the result will be a huge debt burden that will slow American growth for many years.’ ” One would think that Glassman’s glaringly abysmal history when it comes to predicting economic developments might be worth mentioning if you are going to air his predictions about the effects of Obama’s economic policies.

Glassman’s appointment to run Bush’s think tank is not an especially important piece of news, but the Times’s handling of the announcement is very telling. To most Washington reporters, the political back and forth between Republicans and Democrats is the relevant and important part of any story. Whether or not someone is telling the truth, and whether or not someone has been proven completely wrong in the past, to the point where they have no credibility on a particular issue, is considered a non-issue that needn’t be mentioned at all.

For another example of blinkered political reporting, see today’s Times article on Betsy McCaughey, who is providing pseudo-intellectual cover for the false assertions about what health care reform would involve. The Times article starts with an irrelevant anecdote about how Erica Jong (Erica Jong!) was bamboozled into thinking that McCaughey was a serious public intellectual, then says that “Ms. McCaughey’s role as a central, if disputed, player in the national health care debate has surprised friend and foe alike.” Has it really? From what I have been reading, people who remember McCaughey’s role in spreading falsehoods about Clinton’s health care plan in the early 90’s were not at all surprised that she is reprising the role 15 years later. The only surprise is that anyone in the media still treats people like her and Glassman as if they are serious thinkers.

And in fact, despite the sentence I just cited, the Times article doesn’t actually quote anyone except Jong who seems “surprised” by McCaughey’s role—it quotes some other people, such as McCaughey’s college roommate, who seem disappointed that she has a habit of indulging in publicity-gaining smear campaigns, but none of them actually sound surprised. Perhaps only newspaper reporters, who get so caught up in the daily rough and tumble of media and politics that they can’t remember McCaughey’s role in defeating “Hillarycare” or Glassman’s role in promoting the late 90’s stock bubble, are surprised when people behave the way they have been behaving for years. (The Times article even carried the headline “McCaughey, Unlikely Critic of Obama’s Health Care Plan” until it was later changed to the less idiotic “Resurfacing, a Critic Stirs Up Debate Over Health Care.)

Incidentally, Peter Baker, who wrote the Times item on Glassman, also had an article in the paper yesterday about an incorrect rumor that Chelsea Clinton was going to get married on Martha’s Vineyard last month. In the article, he writes that “The persistence of the rumor despite the lack of tangible evidence says something about the Internet-driven media culture, where facts sometimes do not get in the way of a good story.” His then proceeded to mention that the rumor was first published in the Boston Globe, then spread to New York Magazine, the Daily News, Fox News, the Washington Post (where Baker used to work), and finally, to the Times itself in a Travel section feature on Martha’s Vineyard. It must be nice for people like Baker to have the internet as a convenient scapegoat when they spread false rumors, but it would have been useful if he had explained how the “Internet-driven media culture” caused editors and reporters at respected papers like the Globe, the Times and the Post to report unconfirmed gossip in their pages.

This Headline Contains No Puns

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Here is the beginning of the New York Times stylebook’s entry for “puns.”

puns have a place in the newspaper, but as a trace element rather than a staple. A pun should be a surprise encounter, evoking a sly smile rather than a groan and flattering the intelligence of a reader who gets the joke. Plays on personal names never qualify; no one will be flattered to read, say, that a pitcher named Butcher carved up the opposing team.

It goes on from there, too longwindedly for my taste, but the basic advice seems sound for a newspaper (or hell, even for a blog) that aspires to a dignified tone (who could begrudge the Post or Daily News their front-page puns?). I don’t know if the Los Angeles Times has any similar guideline, but an article in Friday’s LA Times, about Czech women who choose not to add the feminine “ova” to their last names, bore the following headline and subhead:

Being a Czech mate can cause women pain and suffix

Their society and the very language have an ‘ova-reaction’ to eliminating last names’ feminine endings

I count three puns in 25 words (a 12 percent pun rate!), and none of them particularly flatter me. “Pain and suffix” is especially clumsy. The article itself is unobjectionable—even interesting!—and blessedly pun-free until the final few paragraphs. Is this what happens when you halve your editorial staff in less than a decade?

An Editorial on a Local TV Newscast?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

I was surprised to see an editorial at the very end of the local NBC affiliate’s 11 o’clock newscast last night. I’m not saying that they did a story that was so opinionated that it should be considered an editorial rather than a news story (that wouldn’t have been so surprising). It wasn’t even a commentary from a single person’s point of view, a la Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, or the experiment with outside commentaries that CBS did when Katie Couric first took over the CBS Evening News.

No, this was explicitly an editorial along the lines of what you see in most newspapers, labelled as such on the screen and with the station’s “Editorial Director” using the royal “we” to describe the station’s editorial position (you can watch it yourself here). The topic was same sex marriage and domestic violence, and this was the summation:

NBC Bay Area believes that to protect marriage, we should spend time and energy on problems that truly affect marriage, and stop using the word “protection” to disguise discrimination. That’s what we think; what do you think? Log on to NBCeditorials.com.

I’ve lived in several cities around the country, and have watched a lot of different local newscasts in those cities, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a newspaper-style editorial done by a TV station before. So I’m curious if I’ve just had my head in the sand, or if this is as unusual as I think it is. I tend to watch the CBS affiliate’s local newscast most nights, but I do occasionally watch the ABC or NBC affiliate instead, and I’ve never seen them do this before. The page you reach when you go to NBCeditorials.com lists only one other editorial, from May 20th, so maybe this is a new feature.

Does anyone know of any other TV stations which do editorials?

Hunger in America

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Breadline USAMy friend Sasha Abramsky has just come out with a book about hunger in the United States, called Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It. I picked up a copy yesterday, and while I’m only about 50 pages into it so far, I can already highly recommend it to anyone interested in “food insecurity” (to use a current buzzword) and the myriad ways that increasing inequality has bred increasing hardship in modern society.

There have been a number of worthy and well-known books about American food culture in recent years, such as Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and those two in particular were revelatory to many of us in their own ways. Those books, however, tend to focus on the perverse consequences, both social and medical, of an abundance of cheap calories, due to corn-based industrial agriculture, fast food chains, and so on.

That’s an important story, to be sure, but Sasha’s book addresses the flip side of our food problem, which is not a surplus of affordable food, but a deficit, and the fact that growing numbers of Americans—including people with full-time jobs—struggle to feed themselves and their families. As housing costs, medical costs, transportation costs, and food costs increase, while wages stagnate (or vanish altogether as jobs are lost), more and more people are forced to choose between medicine and protein, or between paying for their housing or paying for their dinner.

To say that Breadline USA is about food is like saying that Anna Karenina is about adultery: while food insecurity is the thread that stitches the book together, one can’t discuss hunger without delving into the larger economic forces that have put us in a situation where people working full-time at low-wage jobs often rely on food banks to keep their refrigerators minimally stocked. It’s no fluke that the first chapter is more about energy costs than food, describing the difficulties faced by residents of rural Siskiyou County, in the shadow of Mount Shasta, as transportation costs rise, public transportation is skeletal at best, and jobs in one’s own town are often nonexistent. Food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens these days don’t only serve the homeless or the unemployed—more and more, they are the last resort of the working poor, retirees, or others who had previously prided themselves on never having had to accept a handout from anyone.

The book is a compelling mixture of on-the-ground reportage backed up with data and policy discussion, interspersed with personal narrative—a combination that will be familiar to anyone who has read Sasha’s earlier books on the criminal justice system or voting rights. The bulk of the reporting for the book was done before the implosion of the housing bubble caused our house-of-cards economic system to teeter so frighteningly, and it’s safe to say that the hardships faced by the poor and the lower middle class are now much more dire than they were when the book went to press, as jobs continue to disappear and government safety nets fray. You can get a taste of what Breadline USA is all about by listening to Sasha’s interview at Truthdig or reading some of the articles at his website or for the Guardian newspaper (California readers may be interested in his Guardian articles on our state’s economic problems as well).

Is San Jose’s mayor out of touch, or just a panderer?

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Every so often, newspapers print articles about the struggles of some of the wealthiest people in our country, who are barely scraping by on several hundred thousand dollars a year. The New York Times’s 2007 story on “working class millionaires” in the Bay Area was a classic of the genre. And last year, when the San Francisco Chronicle’s conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders dared to call people making $200,000 to $250,000 a year “rich,” she received so many indignant responses from high-earning readers that she decided to follow up in her next column, answering the objections of people like the lawyer who wrote in to inform her that a $200,000 salary cannot, by definition, make someone rich because “a ‘rich’ person does not need to work.”

The Wall Street Journal had a version of this old chestnut yesterday, in an article about how much people who make $250,000 to $400,000 a year will suffer if their taxes go up during President Obama’s administration. I won’t waste too much time explaining why it nauseates me, particularly in these tough economic times when many people are losing their jobs entirely, to hear people who earn more than 98 percent of Americans talk about how they struggle to pay their bills, but here’s an excerpt that gives you a sense of how hard it is to eke out a living on $260,000 a year:

“I’m not complaining, but the reality is Obama may call me wealthy, but I thought we were just good old middle class,” says Ms. Parnell. “Our needs are being met, but we don’t have a load of cash to cover wants.”

…For the Parnells, their perception of themselves is based on the math. The value of their house is down $60,000. Ms. Parnell says the couple’s gross income last year was about $260,000. Taxes, premiums for medical care and deductions for Social Security and their 401(k) contributions cut the gross to about $12,000 per month. The family tithes $1,300 a month at their church. Their mortgage, second mortgage and payment on land they bought is nearly $4,000 a month. Other expenses, including their family car payment, insurance and college funds, as well as basics like food, utilities and donations to charities, leave them with about $1,200 left over each month.

“I’m not after sympathy. We are blessed. What I want is a reality check on what rich means,” Ms. Parnell says. “I can pay my mortgage and I can buy some clothes. I’m not going without, but I’m not living a life of luxury.”

If anyone needs a reality check, it’s people like Ms. Parnell. (It’s interesting how the word “rich” is often the trigger that provokes such a strong reaction; people such as Ms. Parnell are perfectly willing to admit that they are “blessed,” or “fortunate,” or any number of other euphemisms, but call them “rich” and you will immediately be challenged.) I understand that life is expensive for a family of five, and that even for households who earn a quarter of a million dollars a year, there are a lot of things that they cannot afford, but do the Parnells realize that the $1,200 that they have left over each month—after putting money into their retirement accounts and college funds and tithing to their church and donating to charities—is more than the entire monthly income of about 15% of American households? Another person quoted in the article makes $400,000, but says, “I’m barely getting by.”

Presumably these people know that a lot of people “get by” just fine on much less than they do, so even if they don’t want their taxes raised (who does?), you might think that they would be a bit embarrassed to tell a newspaper that they are “barely getting by” or “don’t have a load of cash to cover wants.” (If the mysterious “land they bought” was not a “want,” then what was it? A need?)

I’ve read so many articles like this before that I am no longer surprised when I see some of our nation’s highest earners explaining to reporters how tough it is for a family to make ends meet on a mere $150,000 a year after taxes. I was surprised, however, to see the mayor of San Jose buying into this blinkered view of the world:

Changes to the tax code don’t generally make adjustments for high costs of living in particular areas of the country.

San Jose, Calif., Mayor Chuck Reed calls a family living in Silicon Valley earning $250,000 “upper working class.” That is about what two engineers working at a technology firm can expect to make, but “a family earning $250,000 a year can’t buy a home in Silicon Valley,” he said.

What on earth is Reed talking about? If he wants to think of Silicon Valley engineers as “upper working class,” then I guess that’s his right, but the notion that a family earning $250,000 a year can’t buy a home in Silicon Valley is absurd. The median single family home price in Reed’s own city of San Jose is now under $500,000, down from about $600,000 a year ago. In nearby Mountain View, the median price is under $1 million. If Reed’s hypothetical household of Silicon Valley engineers bought an above-median home in San Jose or a middle-of-the-road home in Mountain View and took out an $800,000, 30-year mortgage at a 6% rate (that’s higher than current rates), their payments would be a bit less than $4800 per month—less than $60,000 per year. Even if they only brought home $140,000 after taxes, they would still have more than $80,000 left after their mortgage payments.

To put that number in perspective, the census bureau reports that San Jose’s median household income was $76,354 from 2005-2007. Let’s round that up to $80,000. So our hypothetical engineers could buy a decent house in many parts of Silicon Valley, and the money they had left over after taxes and mortgage payments would still be more than the median pre-tax income of all San Jose households. It’s obviously true that $250,000 doesn’t get you as much in Silicon Valley as it would in most other parts of the country, and you might not be able to afford a house in Atherton on that income, or a vacation condo at Lake Tahoe, or private school tuition for 3 school-age children, or any number of other things that you might wish you could afford, but it’s still more than most residents of San Jose earn, and it is certainly enough to buy a home, if that is your goal and if you have any basic ability to manage your other spending.

I don’t follow San Jose politics at all, so I don’t know if that quotation is characteristic of Reed, or if he just said a silly thing this one time, or if he was quoted out of context, or if he just figured that the price to pay for saying something dumb was less than the price he would have paid for offending his well-off constituents by failing to commiserate with their plight. But if I were among the 50% of San Jose households who earn less than $80,000 a year, I would wonder whether Reed is out of touch with the parts of his community that are truly “working class.”

The State of California announced this morning that the official unemployment rate reached 11.2 percent in March. Many Silicon Valley technology companies are laying off workers because of the economic downturn. Even Google, which somehow made a profit in the 1st quarter even though most of its revenue comes from advertising, has laid off some workers for the first time in its history.

Given that context, I would have hoped that a public official like Chuck Reed would add some much-needed perspective to the views of the other people quoted in the article, instead of endorsing their distorted view of reality.

Seriously?

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Andy Rosenthal, the New York Times Editorial Editor, had this to say in response to an online question about why the Times has no “serious” female columnists:

I would be the last person alive to suggest that Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins are not serious columnists. They are indeed, very serious.

The last time I saw Rosenthal call someone “serious” was when he said this about Bill Kristol, who had just been given an Op-Ed Column:

The idea that The New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual — and somehow that’s a bad thing. How intolerant is that?”

Kristol, remember, is the “serious, respected conservative intellectual” who met Sarah Palin during a stopover in Juneau on a Weekly Standard cruise, and was so impressed with her that he went back to Washington and became one of her biggest cheerleaders. As for whether Palin herself is a serious, respected intellectual, we’ll have to check with Rosenthal about that.