Wednesday, August 6, 2014

NY Times reveals its conservative bias in its reporting of primary elections

By Marc Jampole

The New York Times management probably thinks the paper got a lot of progressive street cred by coming out in favor of the total legalization of marijuana. The Times has published a series of very long editorials that take apart every aspect of the subject and conclude that legalization is the right thing to do. I concur with the Times and am pleased it has come out so aggressively on this relatively minor social issue.

But that doesn’t change my mind about the electoral politics the Times news department subtle favors in its news coverage.  First of all, just because you support legalization of pot doesn’t mean you’re a progressive. Progressives do not have ownership of the legalize pot issue—libertarians are also in favor allowing recreational use of the devil weed.

More to the point, while the Times editorial page has been smoking, the news room has a chronic case of Tea Party conservatism when it comes to election coverage. The coverage of the primary results in Kansas and Michigan provides an excellent example of the way the Times has been reporting primaries since 2010: The article titled “Senator Beats Tea Party Challenger in Kansas” reports the results of three Kansas and two Michigan primaries—but only on the Republican side. The story follows the Times overarching narrative of the 2014 election, which is the same narrative the newspaper—and the rest of the mass media—foisted on the American public in 2010. The story is the bitter and dramatic battle for the soul of the Republican Party between ultra-rightwing Tea Partiers and the merely conservative traditional Republicans.

But what about the Democrats?

There is no national narrative about the Democratic Party, except an occasional mention of a candidate running away from Obamacare. No coverage of the races in which progressive candidates are facing centrist Democrats. In fact, no coverage of Democratic primaries at all!

It’s not just the New York Times, of course. A Google search comparing coverage of the Republican and Democratic primaries in Kansas and Michigan shows a decided bias in covering the doctrinal disputes between factions of the Republican Party, while ignoring anything that has to do with Democratic primaries or the Democrat’s process of selecting candidates:
·         Inputting “Chad Taylor,” who won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator from Kansas, reveals 16,000 stories on Google News; do the same for the Republican nominee Pat Roberts (the incumbent) and it’s 30,300 stories.
·         In Michigan’s 11th district, a Google News search of Democratic nominee Bobby McKenzie yields 1,570 stories; a search for the Republican nominee Dave Trott yields 3,790, more than twice as many.

I searched Google News for all five races covered in the Times article and in each case there were many more stories in the national news about the Republican winning than about the Democrat (although in two of the cases, the Democrat ran unopposed).  Even more revealing is the fact that a majority of the stories I read focus on the Republican race, only mentioning the Democrat as the candidate whom the Republican will have to face in November.

Just as in 2010, casual perusers of newspapers and the Internet might come to the conclusion that no Democrats are running for any office come November. They certainly will learn a lot about the nuances that distinguish the hard right from the very hard right while culling almost nothing about what issues divide and unite the Democrats—who, BTW, are the larger party in terms of membership and total votes cast for both the presidential and Congressional races in 2012.

It’s as if the mass media are collectively writing the story of the election from the point of view of the Republican Party. Even though the New York Times and the rest of the national mainstream media will endorse Democrats, their news coverage in fact endorses the Republic Party by focusing primary election coverage almost exclusively on Republican races; providing extensive coverage of the Republican’s extreme element while ignoring the far left of the Democratic Party; and framing most national and international issues from the Republican playbook.   

Monday, August 4, 2014

Marketers are discovering a rapidly growing group of consumers: adults who want to remain children

By Marc Jampole 

The latest marketer to cash in on the trend of adults wanting to remain children is a museum.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), that venerable icon to the natural sciences, is now offering special sleepover parties—for adults only.  That’s right, for a mere $375 a person ($325 for members), you can snuggle up in jammies in your sleeping bag on a cot provided by the museum under the enormous blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life with 149 people you never met before. I don’t know if they’re serving cookies and milk or ‘Smores and hot chocolate, but I understand that lights out is about 1:42 am. BTW, the museum has offered sleepovers for families for about eight years.

Now, the adult meaning of sleepover is much different from when the term is applied to children. For adults, a sleepover means having sex, usually for the first time or early in a relationship. For kids through their late teens, by contrast, it means making popcorn, watching movies, talking through the night and having mom make pancakes or French toast in the morning.

Which do you think the American Natural History museum’s resembles? There is no way the museum trustees, the insurance companies or the police are going to allow condoned sex, nor do I think many adult couples who attend the sleepover are going to want to engage in conjugal relations in full sight and earshot of everyone else trying to sleep on a cot. There may be some hidden hanky-panky among the mastodons or in a bathroom stall, but the point of the AMNH sleepover is not sex. It is therefore not an adult sleepover, at least not in conventional or traditional terms.

What is it then? Well you get a chance to see the exhibits—just like a regular visit or a special event such as a singles night or members day. You get to hear guest lecturers-- just like a regular visit or a special event . You get the run of the place pretty much to yourself, which is not like the wall-to-wall masses of chattering humanity of a regular visit, but very much like a special museum event.

The only thing that differentiates the sleepover from other museum events then is the sleepover itself. The big sell point for an adult event is something for children.

In other words, a major American museum is appealing to those adults who want to do something from their childhood—have a sleepover.  The museum’s marketing department is trying to cash in on the growing number of adults who collect My Little Pony dolls, play with Legos, like to go to Disney theme parks, read comic books and juvenile fiction like Harry Potter or spend a lot of time playing shoot-‘em-up video games. And judging from the stories we see in the mass media, their number is growing by leaps and bounds. You can see just how much infantilization of American adults has progressed when  you peruse the growing number of movies dedicated to adults preserving the life they led as children: “Harold & Kumar” movies,  “Neighbors,” “The Internship,” “Old School,” “Big,” “Grandma’s Boy,” “Ted,” “The Wedding Crashers,” “Billy Madison,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “Dodgeball,””Step Brothers,” “The 40-year-old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” all three “Hangovers,” the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,” “Hall Pass” and “Identity Thief” start the long list of movies that glorify not growing up.

Going to the museum is a pretty adult thing to do, unless it’s a children’s museum or the museum has decided to focus an exhibit on a child’s level of discourse. And keep in mind that the purpose of children’s museums or children’s exhibits is to guide children in learning how appreciate the adult experience that is museum-going. So how does a palace dedicated to the scientific education of all ages attract the fast-growing segment of adults who don’t want to grow up?  AMNH has come up with the brilliant solution by combining the very adult pleasure of looking at scientific specimens and analyzing information about the natural world with the child’s treat of having a sleepover.   

While we should all retain a child’s sense of wonder and curiosity, I believe that at a certain point, it’s time, as Saul of Tarsus said, to put away childish things. His full quote, according to the King James version of the Christian Bible is “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

The infantilization of American adults is a clear and present danger for representational democracy because adults who constantly participate in child-like activities are not practicing their adult thinking and emotional skills. I believe that mass marketers like infantilized adults because they make more docile and credulous consumers. But I for one would much rather have those who think like adults make decisions in the real world.