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by inoljt

Thoughts About the Pope’s Resignation

9:03 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

In many ways Pope Benedict XVI has not been as influential as his predecessor Pope John Paul II. John Paul II was highly loved and good at playing with the media. Benedict XVI, not so much.

Yet if Benedict XVI sets a precedent with his resignation, it may be he who is more remembered by history. Future popes may choose to follow his path, handing the reigns to another rather than holding office until death. In fact, this seems like an eminently sensible thing. A person who’s dying probably would be unable to uphold and fulfill the momentous responsibilities of the papacy. It leaves a chasm in the Catholic Church. It’s actually kind of a mystery why it hasn’t been done before.

The counterargument is that politics may eventually come into play. Popes may be pressured to resign by their detractors or internal enemies. This is a good argument. Yet I think that the benefits outweigh the negatives when a Pope unable to fulfill his duties resigns.

Finally, it has been somewhat shocking to hear the criticism of Pope Benedict XVI by news organizations such as the New York Times. Of course Pope Benedict XVI is a very conservative person; in many ways his views are the exact opposite of your typical journalist. So journalists inherently don’t like him, nor the Catholic Church as an institution. For instance, there’s been a lot of criticism of the Pope with respect to child sex abuse scandals. Yet the Pope has apologized and the local churches have handed out compensation; what more do you want him to do? The Catholic Church is vast, and Rome often has very little control or knowledge about much of what happens in faraway countries like the United States. One ought to give more respect for the Pope during this time. After all, this is a very brave decision for him to make. It’s deserving of respect, not criticism.

– inoljt,

by inoljt

The Myth that Hugo Chávez Controls Venezuela’s Media

5:42 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

One belief that many well-educated Americans have is that Venezuela’s government controls its media. According to this belief, this is the reason why Hugo Chávez continuously wins elections. Since all the television channels and newspapers are pro-Chávez, the common people are “tricked” into supporting him.

In fact, this appears to be a completely false myth. On balance, Venezuela’s media is anti-Chávez. A person who watches Venezuelan news coverage, listens to a Venezuelan radio program, or picks up a Venezuelan newspaper is more likely than not to hear bad things about Chávez.

There’s a reason why Americans believe that Chávez controls the Venezuelan media; all the American media continuously publishes stories about media suppression undertaken by the Chávez government. (For examples, see here, here, and here.) These stories are not false in the sense that they describe events which actually happened (i.e. Chávez has taken action against anti-Chávez network RCTV). But they are very misleading.

Let’s take a look at television. Venezuelan television is dominated by four networks: Venevisión, Televen, Globovisión, and Venezolana de Televisión (VTV). Of these four networks, Venevisión and Televen are moderately anti-Chávez, Globovisión is extremely anti-Chávez, and VTV is extremely pro-Chávez. Venevisión and Televen hold 60% of the TV audience in Venezuela. VTV appears to hold only 6% of Venezuelans.

According to this article (published by a pro-Chávez newspaper), during the first week of the presidential campaign three of these four channels gave more favorable coverage to Chávez’s opponent Henrique Capriles Radonski. Televen gave 15 minutes of favorable coverage to Chávez but 28 minutes to his opponent; Venevisión gave 9 minutes of favorable coverage to Chávez but 75 minutes to his opponent; Globovisión gave 56 minutes of favorable coverage to Chávez but 8 hours and 38 minutes to his opponent; and only VTV gave 8 hours and 26 minutes of favorable coverage to Chávez compared with 3 hours and 23 minutes to his opponent.

American media outlets often claim that government television is overwhelmingly favorable towards Chávez. This is true but misleading. VTV, the government network, is biased for Chávez, as the statistics indicate. But only six percent of Venezuelans watch VTV. Another claim is that Chávez often interrupts news programming with hours of cadenas, which this Times article beautifully describes as “torrents of propaganda usually in the form of a speech delivered to a handpicked audience of Chávez loyalists.” But are the cadenas enough to outweigh the 23 other hours of anti-Chávez broadcasting?

Let’s take a look at print media. Venezuela has three major newspapers: Últimas Noticias, El Nacional, and El Universal. Últimas Noticias is pro-Chávez; El Nacional and El Universal are anti-Chávez. El Nacional is owned by Miguel Henrique Otero, a founder of the anti-Chávez organization Movimiento 2D. As for El Universal, this is what it published during the failed 2002 coup d’état against Chávez:


Note that ¡Un Paso Adelante! means “A Step Forward!” in English.

Finally, let’s look at radio coverage. While some American media articles indicate that it’s getting harder and harder to find anti-Chávez radio stations, other sources are more skeptical. For instance, Mark Weisbrot – whose article was actually the inspiration for this post – writes:

According to CONATEL data, only about 14 percent of radio is publicly owned; and since there is more strongly anti-government radio in Venezuela than TV, the opposition almost certainly has more advantage in radio than in other media.

Indeed, it seems that the Venezuelan media played a major role in supporting the failed 2002 coup d’état against Chávez. Coup plotters collaborated with Venezuelan media figures before the coup. The media refused to show statements by officials condemning the coup d’état. When the coup d’état failed, the private Venezuelan networks refused to broadcast the news that Chávez had returned to power.

Since the failed coup, the tone of the media – especially Televen and Venevisión – has become less anti-Chávez. Nevertheless, most Venezuelan media is owned by right-wing business elites who loathe Hugo Chávez. Most Venezuelan media played an active part in in the failed 2002 coup d’état against him.

In writing this post, I should note that I am not a supporter of Hugo Chávez; indeed, I have previously criticized his failure to reduce inequality in Venezuela. If I were Venezuelan, I would vote against Chávez and for the opposition.

But one’s personal dislike of Hugo Chávez has nothing to do with the bias of Venezuela’s media. It’s fair to say that, on balance, Venezuela’s media is biased against Hugo Chávez. Unfortunately, too many journalists writing in too many American media sources have let their dislike of Chávez blind them to the truth. This has left too many intelligent Americans badly misinformed.


by inoljt

How The News You Read About Africa Gets Made

10:03 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

While scouring the news around the world, I recently came across a fascinating article. Written by Laura Seay of Foreign Affairs, it criticizes the West’s media coverage of Africa.

This is not too surprising; there are plenty of articles which make similar critiques. But what’s really good about the article are its details into just how exactly reporters make the news you read about Africa. The second page of the article is especially enlightening.

It’s not pretty. Making news about Africa is kind of like making a hot dog – you don’t want to see how it’s done.

Seay writes about how most “major Western media outlets assign one correspondent for the entire continent,” a tradition which has persisted for decades. Most of these reporters, of course, are hopelessly out of their depth and unable to deal (or speak) with the numerous languages in the continent.

So reporters, Seay continues, turn to “fixers.” The author goes into great depth about this phenomenon, and it’s worth quoting her in full.

The problem is not simply that reporters cannot be expected to speak all of Africa’s 3,000-plus languages; it is that foreign correspondents tend to rely on the same small group of fixers to arrange interviews, interpret, and manage logistics.

Yet fixers tend to take reporters to talk to the same subjects, over and over and over again. An echo chamber often results, as the same interviews are done with essentially the same questions and the same answers. The echo-chamber problem is much worse in conflict zones, where NGOs often arrange safe travel for reporters in a bid to get their stories out (and to raise funds for their humanitarian operations). Given the challenges of reporting in the midst of open conflict, this symbiotic relationship works well for both parties: The journalist gets the story, and the NGO gets good press for its campaign.

Seay continues with a specific example about a conflict in Sudan:

The problem is that this tends to produce very one-sided and nonobjective reporting. For example, much of the recent coverage of the conflict in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains has been facilitated by the U.S.-based NGO Samaritan’s Purse. Many of the reporters traveling with Samaritan’s Purse have used the same fixer for their stories, Ryan Boyette, a former employee of the group who is married to a Nuba woman and runs a local effort to document atrocities occurring there. In the space of just a few weeks, Boyette also became the subject of a fawning New York Times profile by Nicholas Kristof, was a centerpiece of Jeffrey Gettleman’s reporting for the same publication, and was interviewed by Ann Curry for NBC’s Today. This is not to question Boyette’s credibility or challenge his analysis (though he is far from a neutral observer), but rather to point out one of many examples of the way the West’s Africa reporting becomes biased due to a lack of access and local language skills. As Karen Rothmyer noted in a Columbia Journalism Review article, many reporters working on Africa rely “heavily, and uncritically, on aid organizations for statistics, subjects, stories, and sources.” It is thus no wonder that much reporting on Africa is so heavily focused on crises and that many pieces read like little more than NGO promotional materials.

All in all, it’s a fascinating article. You very rarely read things like this which unveil the secrets of how journalism is actually done. It’s not pretty, but it’s definitely worth learning about it.


by inoljt

Why Are All the Females at Fox News Blonde?

1:53 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Fox News is the most popular cable news channel in America, and it’s quite unique. Most obviously, there’s Fox’s conservatism. Other differences are more stylistic. A lot of Fox News programs are fairly similar to talk radio, for instance. Indeed, shows such as Hannity actually star on conservative talk radio stations.

Then there are the women on Fox News:


The women on Fox, whether they be anchors or guests, are quite different from the women found on other news channels. They wear a lot more make-up. They are a lot more, shall we say, blonde.

This holds true as well for their behavior, especially when interacting with men at Fox News. There’s a very strange dynamic at work between the men and women of Fox News. The women laugh, giggle, and say silly things. The male host condescends and says that the women are wrong.


It’s all very strange, even weird. Sure, there’s a time and place for things like this to occur, but this is a news channel. Supposedly.

Fox News, of course, is America’s main outlet for conservatism. One hopes that the higher degree of blondeness of women at Fox News has nothing to do with this. Surely conservatives aren’t that superficial, right?

by inoljt

Why These Olympics Were So Much Less Interesting Than the Last Ones

11:24 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt


The 2008 Summer Olympics were some of the most exciting Olympics ever. Riots in Tibet, protests on the Olympic torch relay, an earthquake in Sichuan – for reporters, it was a wet dream. There was even a war to cover. As the Opening Ceremony commenced, the whole world got to see Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, seated together, awkwardly discussing the Russian army’s advance into Georgia.

The sporting events themselves were also pretty nice to watch.

The 2012 Olympics? Not so exciting. There were been no wars this time. Nor any interesting protests (although Mitt Romney did manage to insult the United Kingdom). Was there even an Olympic torch relay?

Even the sports were less interesting; Michael Phelps is no longer winning eight gold medals.

Of course, there’s a good reason why these games were so much relatively less interesting. The host of the 2012 Olympic Games is the United Kingdom, which has been a very boring country ever since losing its empire. Since then the U.K. has happily bubbled along as a wealthy European country which has studiously avoided doing anything that would make news. The London Olympics have thus been reduced to a mere sporting event.

In 2008, the host was China. And China is a very interesting country; it constantly makes the newspaper headlines. A lot of people have very strong feelings about China, something that isn’t the case for the United Kingdom. In 2008 both China and its varied opposition were determined to politicize the Olympics. They were extremely successful. The Olympics were thus quite memorable.

The Olympic committee should decide to hold the next games in India or Russia. Or better yet, Israel. A Jerusalem Olympics would be very, very interesting.


by inoljt

How the Media Portrays Africa, China, and India Differently

10:13 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

I recently had the pleasure of listening to a fascinating presentation in my Introduction to International Relations class. The professor showed the class pictures what one family in a variety of different countries ate during the duration of a week. The pictures came from the book Hungry Planet, by Peter Menzel. Time Magazine published a series of excerpts (part one and part two) of these pictures.

It was quite interesting to see the typical weekly meal of one family in several countries, ranging from Japan to Germany. The American photo, unfortunately, was the picture-perfect stereotype of over-consuming pre-prepared food (rather than real food).

There was something else that caught my eye, however, as the presentation went on. Like many people, I looked forward to seeing the typical weekly meal of a family in China and a family in India.
Here is India:


This is, needless to say, not a typical family in India. In one of the most crowded countries in the world, this Indian family is the proud owner of an entire house. It looks to be a very nice and well-maintained house as well.

Just by looking at the photo, it’s pretty clear that this Indian family is far and above better off than most Indian families. It’s not very representative of India.

Here’s China:


Again, there’s a big surprise here. This Chinese family has somehow managed the trick of having two children. The family also appears to live in a pristine apartment which is definitely not working-class.

It probably requires a lot of money or connections to have more than one child in China. That means that the family pictured here, just like the Indian family pictured, is very unrepresentative of the typical Chinese family. Both families are much wealthier than the typical citizens of their countries.

What’s the point of this?

Well, here’s a picture of a family in Chad:


This is the stereotypical “starving” African family. The food is obviously not enough for the six people in the picture.

There are two pictures of sub-Saharan African families in the entire photo set – and the other photo also fits the stereotype to a tee.

But this family is very definitely not a typical family in Chad. The family here is living in a refugee camp for Darfur refugees, called the Breidjing Camp. Most Chadians do not live in refugee camps. The family pictured here is probably in the poorest ten percent of Chad’s society. It’s not very representative of Chad.

What you may not know is that Africa’s GDP per capita is actually higher than India’s GDP per capita. There’s an argument to be made that Africans actually live better than Indians.

Yet the African family pictured is chronically short of food, while the Indian family (with their comfortable house) obviously belongs to the country’s elite. So does the Chinese family with its multiple kids.

The Point

China, India, and Africa are not nice places. There are hundreds of millions of very very poor people in all three areas.

Yet, as this picture-album perfectly shows, the portrayals of these three civilizations couldn’t be more different. The media always shows India and China as making great progress. China and India are on the path to the good life. Thus the elite families portrayed in this album.

Africa, on the other hand, is perpetually portrayed as an impoverished wasteland. Dictators, starvation, war – it’s hell. Supposedly. The impoverished Chadian and Malian families in Peter Menzel’s pictures are great examples of this theme.

What would the world be like if the media showed impoverished Indian and Chinese peasants all the time? What would the world be like if the media showed rich and wealthy Africans, rather than starving war refugees, all the time? It’s certainly possible to do. There are more than a billion poor peasants to pick in China and India. Africa has plenty of rich people. But somehow I feel that this won’t happen anytime soon.


by inoljt

Watching Herman Cain

9:42 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Presidential candidate Herman Cain has enlivened the Republican field. Known for running a pizza company and his catchy 9-9-9 tax plan, Cain has caught much attention. He briefly held a polling lead, only to see some support lost amidst accusations of sexual harassment.

Herman Cain is widely referred to as one of the better and more polished candidates in front of the camera; when Cain does an interview, he comes out as supposedly more likeable.

Several weeks ago, I had my first opportunity to watch Cain actually speak (on the television, of course). It wasn’t a very special speech, merely another normal interview. This one was on the Hannity Show.

Indeed, Cain did seem well-spoken in the interview. The media often refers to him as folksy but lacking seriousness; to me, however, he seemed very serious (a lot more serious and less prone to joking than I’d previously anticipated given his media image). Nothing, in fact, differentiated him from any other serious Republican candidate. He didn’t make a joke.

The media also states that Cain is very prone to talking about his 9-9-9 tax plan; every time Cain answers a question, he supposedly is able to magically switch the topic to 9-9-9. However, I didn’t hear Cain mention 9-9-9 once in the interview.

Finally, the media states that Cain has a talent for dodging questions, or rather a skill in transforming a ridiculous assertion into a perfectly reasonable-sounding point. I got to see Cain do this in action when Hannity questioned him about why he was visiting Tennessee rather than another more important early primary state. The implication was that Cain wasn’t really campaigning seriously for president. In response, Cain went on a very convincing deflection about the importance of southern states in the early primaries. I would have been perfectly convinced myself if I had known less about the primary process.

All-in-all, watching Cain was a very interesting experience. Seeing him talk on television for the first time was a lot different from the expectation of what he’d be like that I’d  created from the media.


by inoljt

Why is Nancy Pelosi So Unpopular?

4:23 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

The somewhat old news that Democrats selected Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to continue as House Minority Leader led a number of commentators to note her continuing unpopularity. Blogger Nate Silver, for instance, came up with a column titled “Is Pelosi America’s Most Unpopular Politician?

There is no denying that Ms. Pelosi is very, very unpopular. This is old news, and relatively boring stuff.

What is more interesting is exploring how Ms. Pelosi became one of the least-like politicians in America.

When Democrats came roaring to take control of Congress in 2006, Ms. Pelosi was a favorite Republican target. Conservative commentators liked to warn Americans about how extreme to the left Ms. Pelosi was. And the House leader was quite an inviting target: a congresswoman from a hotbed of American liberalism, who did not look good on television, and who occupied an inherently unpopular position (quick: name one House speaker who’s ever had positive approval ratings).

These attacks continued throughout her term in power; indeed, they continue to this very day. Republicans were quickly able to succeed in making Ms. Pelosi as disliked a figure as possible amongst conservatives. It was not hard, especially given Ms. Pelosi’s inherent liberalism.

But what really killed Ms. Pelosi’s approval ratings was the fact that Democrats declined to defend her. Ms. Pelosi got punched and punched and punched, and Democrats never bothered to punch back. Take, for instance, an everyday occurrence in cable news: a Republican commentator blasts Ms. Pelosi for being an extreme liberal out-of-touch with mainstream America. If this happens, one almost never sees the Democratic counterpart arguing that Ms. Pelosi isn’t out-of-touch. This is quite different from what happens, for instance, when a Republican commentator attacks President Barack Obama.

Even Ms. Pelosi herself didn’t bother to defend her reputation. Instead, she spent her time passing laws Republicans hated and making the life of the Republican minority miserable. Ms. Pelosi was quite good at doing this; indeed, her skills at whipping the Democratic caucus rival those of the legendary Lyndon Johnson.

In not bothering to defend Ms. Pelosi, Democrats calculated that her unpopular approval ratings did not really matter; they would not affect the mid-term or presidential elections. Most probably don’t like Ms. Pelosi anyways.

The correctness of this calculation is almost impossible to prove. The Democratic Party’s good results in 2008 would indicate that Ms. Pelosi’s unpopular ratings had little effect. Their bad results in 2010 would indicate the opposite.

Whatever the truth, one can be fairly certain that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will continue doing her best to make Republican lives as miserable as possible.


by inoljt

A Textbook Example of Media Embellishment

2:16 am in Uncategorized by inoljt

I recently wrote a post title: The Great Twitter/Facebook Revolution Fallacy. This post noted that:

For some strange reason, the American media has always been obsessed with Twitter and Facebook…

This applies to foreign affairs as well. In the context of the events occurring in the Middle East, the Western media loves to argue that Twitter and Facebook constitute catalysts for revolution in the modern era. Indeed, some articles called the 2009 Iranian protests the “Twitter Revolution.”

It then went on to argue that, in fact, Twitter and Facebook played a negligible role in the Arab revolutions, given the very very few individuals in those countries who use Twitter or Facebook (let alone have access to the Internet in the first place).

In fact, given that the Internet was blocked for much of the Egyptian protests, it’s safe to say that Twitter and Facebook had absolutely no role in the Egyptian revolution during its most crucial period. Neverthess, many still insist that the revolution could not have happened without sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Let’s add Youtube to the list.

America’s media has always exaggerated the role that Youtube plays in spreading political change and unrest. A few days ago, the New York Times wrote an article titled Qaddafi Youtube Spoof By Israeli Gets Arab Fans. This article was an inspiring story about how:

A YouTube clip mocking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s megalomania is fast becoming a popular token of the Libya uprising across the Middle East. And in an added affront to Colonel Qaddafi, it was created by an Israeli living in Tel Aviv…

Mr. Alooshe, who at first did not identify himself on the clip as an Israeli, started receiving enthusiastic messages from all around the Arab world. Web surfers soon discovered that he was a Jewish Israeli from his Facebook profile — Mr. Alooshe plays in a band called Hovevey Zion, or the Lovers of Zion — and some of the accolades turned to curses. A few also found the video distasteful.

But the reactions have largely been positive, including a message Mr. Alooshe said he received from someone he assumed to be from the Libyan opposition saying that if and when the Qaddafi regime fell, “We will dance to ‘Zenga-Zenga’ in the square.”

It sounds great. Isreali-Arab friendship. Fun being made of Libya’s dictator. And most importantly, the rising influence of the new media.

There’s just one thing wrong with this picture.

Notice how, in the comments section of the video, everything is in English. At the moment this post was being written, this individual scrolled through eleven pages before seeing one comment in Arabic.

If this Youtube video is so popular with Arab fans (as the article’s title implies), how come there are no comments in, you know, Arabic?

Perhaps the number of viewers from the English world swamped the Arab world after the Times published the article. But the earliest comments, made article was published, are largely English. Of the first 100 comments, only 15 were written in Arabic.

It doesn’t take much searching to find a video with a mainly Arabic-speaking audience. Here is one example, of an apparently popular musician. About 90% of the comments are written in Arabic. Contrast that with the Zenga Zenga video, in which the amount of Arabic in the most recent commentary approaches zero percent.

One wonders how the Times journalist came upon this video and concluded that it was a hit amongst Arabs. Perhaps the author saw the video and thought it was cool. Maybe the author had an urgent deadline and needed to bullshit an article.

But whatever the truth, it is almost certain that the Zenga Zenga video is far more popular in America than it is in the Middle East.


by inoljt

Foreshadowing the Jeremiah Wright Scandal

6:20 am in Uncategorized by inoljt

If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me. I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.

- Jeremiah Wright, April 2007

Today, former Reverend Jeremiah Wright is nationally infamous as the controversial former head of President Barack Obama’s former church. During the primary campaign, tapes of Mr. Wright’s sermons did deep damage to Mr. Obama’s candidacy, to which Mr. Obama later responded with a unique and heartfelt speech about race. To this day the Wright affair remains the most damaging scandal the president has encountered.

ABC’s news report, however, was not the first time that a news organization reported about Mr. Wright’s controversial statements. Take, for instance, this fascinating New York Times story – a report written a full year before the Jeremiah Wright scandal exploded.

The story is titled “A Candidate, His Minister, and the Search for Faith.” Generally the report is about what the title says it is – Mr. Obama’s experience with religion and the black church. Given Mr. Wright’s involvement with the latter, he is also a presence in the report.

The Times cannot help but note several of Mr. Wright’s controversial stances, including his support for black liberation theology. It quotes a professor who says that “Some white people hear it [black liberation theology] as racism in reverse.” Later, a long quote goes:

Mr. Wright’s political statements may be more controversial than his theological ones. He has said that Zionism has an element of “white racism.” (For its part, the Anti-Defamation League says it has no evidence of any anti-Semitism by Mr. Wright.)

On the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Wright said the attacks were a consequence of violent American policies. Four years later he wrote that the attacks had proved that “people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West went on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns.”

Presumably the reporter had read Mr. Wright’s statement that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” or something quite similar.

What is most interesting about this report is what happened afterwards: nothing. No controversy broke out. Fox News did not take up the report. The story disappeared into the black hole of history, even though it expressed concern about many of the same things ABC News later would.

There are reasons for why this happened. A written description of a controversial statement holds much less power to incite than actually hearing said statement on video. This is especially true with Mr. Wright, who preached in a particularly passionate and inflammatory manner. And Mr. Obama’s candidacy was barely known in April of 2007; he still trailed far behind Ms. Clinton at the time, and most did not believe the candidate had a chance of becoming president.

The story finishes with a distinctly prophetic statement – the quote at the beginning of the page. More than a year before the Jeremiah Wright controversy exploded, Mr. Wright himself predicted that Mr. Obama “might have to publicly distance himself from me.”

And that is exactly what happened.