Category Archives: Media criticism

Should the EPA fund the Chesapeake Bay Journal?

I like advocacy journalism as well as the next fellow — at least I consume a lot of it as a reader. That doesn’t mean the federal government should be funding it, thereby giving a boost to one side of environmental debates in the mid-Atlantic region. My new piece for the DC Examiner examines the Environmental Protection Agency’s longstanding subsidies for the influential Chesapeake Bay Journal. (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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My Oprah Winfrey Show reminiscence

My recollection of what it was like to be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey talk show early in my career has appeared in the Frederick News-Post.

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Tomorrow’s tame press, at Morgan State today?

Morgan State University (Baltimore) journalism school dean DeWayne Wickham, writing in USA Today, wants to ditch freedom for religiously irreverent speech, by redefining it into the category of “fighting words.” In the course of arguing that French magazine Charlie Hebdo is unendurably disrespectful toward the founder of Islam, Wickham absurdly cites Sage of Baltimore H.L. Mencken, who spent most of his career being disrespectful in the extreme toward religion. More: Allahpundit.

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Loosie in the streets, with patdowns

In a Saturday editorial, the Washington Post calls for further hiking Maryland’s tobacco tax so as to push the state’s smuggled-cigarettes rate, currently around 20%, closer to New York state’s Bloomberg-influenced, nation-leading 57%. The New York policy has proved a highly effective way to bring petty and not-always-so-petty crime to New Yorkers’ everyday lives. With I-95, I-70 and other corridors, Maryland is already one of the most accessible states for contraband smugglers, and if the Post has its way organized gangs on the streets of Baltimore stand to get their hands on a new cash engine that, as one Brooklyn distributor is said to have boasted on wiretap, is “better than selling drugs.” What could go wrong?

P.S. The Post’s editorial never even mentions smuggling or evasion of the law, let alone bring up the Eric Garner case in Staten Island, although the Post’s own news analysts and opinion writers have repeatedly explored the role of taxes in that case. Is it too much to ask of the Post editorialists that they keep up with their own paper? [rewritten and expanded; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty]


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The scandals editors harp on — and the ones they don’t

“Report: Bridge scandal probe finds no tie to Christie, feds say” reads The Hill’s headline. The report says “unnamed federal officials briefed on the criminal investigation told NBC 4 New York they have, so far, uncovered no evidence [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie had knowledge of or directed the road closures.”

Now we find out! And yet pretty much everyone who follows the news knows all about Bridgegate, and no matter what the evidence does or does not show, the story is going to color our view of Christie. That’s what saturation media coverage will do. Rightly or wrongly, some scandals get firehose media coverage — while others get barely a sprinkle.

Take, for example, a scandal far more consequential to the well-being of its state than Bridgegate, namely the $125 million implosion of Maryland’s Obamacare health exchange website. As I noted last month, columnist Barry Rascovar calls the failed rollout an “immense fiasco,” a “monumental disaster that should have been foreseen,” even “the costliest debacle in Maryland state history.” Especially since (as I put it then) “Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is now the Democratic candidate for governor, had been assigned to oversee the rollout as his big project, having few other duties attached to his position.”

Yes, places like the Washington Post did give a smattering of coverage to the scandal and Brown’s involvement in it — enough I suppose that the editors can acquit themselves in their own minds of the charge of not having covered it at all. But if you weren’t paying close attention you might have missed the stories, and within few days outlets like the Post were content to let the matter drop. No steady flow of reportage, investigative pieces, human interest sidebars, columns, and editorials asking tough questions and insisting that the Maryland public deserved answers.

These days, what’s remarkable is the way the Post contrives to avoid noticing the scandal as an election issue even when you’d think circumstances would make it tempting to do so. On Tuesday, for example, the Post’s Jenna Johnson reported on the relaunch of the failed Maryland site, scheduled to take place this coming Nov. 9. Johnson does mention in passing “the deeply troubled Web site that debuted last year and crashed almost immediately.” Isn’t there something that kind of jumps out about the date Nov. 9? That it’s only five days after Election Day — a day in which the Maryland Democratic ballot will be headed by the author of the earlier failure, Anthony Brown? Yet in a fairly lengthy piece, Johnson — whose beat is described as including both the 2014 election and the administration of Martin O’Malley — refrained from mentioning either the election timing or Brown.
All of which helps explain why I constantly meet Post readers from the Maryland Washington D.C. suburbs, otherwise well-informed and civically minded people, who simply have no idea that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown played a central role in (to quote Rascovar again) this “monumental disaster that should have been foreseen,” this “costliest debacle in Maryland state history.” It’s why I keep meeting Post readers who have no clue that the O’Malley administration, solicitous of Brown’s interests, has put off a what-went-wrong reckoning until well after the election in which he’ll be on the ballot. And because they don’t know about these things, they also don’t think to question how Brown has utterly failed to take responsibility for what happened, instead dodging and diverting blame to departing O’Malley health director Josh Sharfstein. The Baltimore media on the whole has done a better job at covering these questions — and have you noticed how much trouble Brown is having with popularity these days in the Baltimore area?

Had the Post and other D.C.-focused media outlets kept on the health exchange story the way they kept on Christie’s Bridgegate story, I think Anthony Brown would today be behind in the race against Republican Larry Hogan for governor. The good news is there’s still six and a half weeks before Election Day for them to catch up.

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The Post’s Hogan endorsement

Asking the Washington Post editorial board to weigh in on a Maryland Republican governor primary is like asking me to review an Indian cricket match. I could accurately report some of the goings-on, without really grasping the bigger picture.

So it is with the Post’s endorsement of Larry Hogan. What does the Post consider the chief points in Hogan’s favor? “Mr. Hogan offers the best hope for a real race in November” because he has “distanced himself from more doctrinaire Republicans” and  “[positioned] himself to the left of the GOP’s bomb-throwers.” In particular, he “has distinguished himself from his main primary rivals by toning down the anti-tax brimstone and acknowledging the reality that Maryland is not Texas and a Republican governor will have to meet Democratic lawmakers in some conciliatory middle ground.” Also, it seems he is “genial” and his father was a Congressman in the 1970s.

As it happens, I am part of what should be the target constituency for an appeal like this. I do think Maryland Republicans need to keep constantly in mind that the state is effectively part of the Northeast these days in its voting preferences, that most of its voters are not radically discontented at present with the way the Democrats have been running state government, and that if a Republican manages to get elected governor any time soon (which I do think is possible) he or she will need to know how to work with  a heavily Democratic legislature. And I agree that many party nominees come off as doctrinaire and hard to elect unless they are running in extremely GOP-loyal districts. While the Post does not mention it, I also like that Mr. Hogan is the quietest of the GOP candidates on social issues.

As the Post notes, Hogan has kept aloof from the MD-GOP and its local base, instead campaigning as if he were already the party’s nominee. Yet he’s “vague about the targets of spending trims,” and not just on those. “Given the time he’s had to plan his run, his campaign is glaringly short on policy specifics, and his views on education, health care and the environment are gauzy at best.” That absence is all the more curious because of the innovative way in which Mr. Hogan chose to prepare his run for governor. That method was first to build a nonprofit group, Change Maryland, that might easily have been mistaken for a policy-oriented research outfit,  and then abruptly turn it into a campaign, so that people who had signed up for the CM email list suddenly found themselves getting what looked like successor mailings from Hogan for Governor. (The Hogan people say this was all done on the up-and-up through an arms’-length buyout of CM assets, which has not kept his two main opponents from filing an ethics complaint.) Despite the Post’s claim to discern now in Hogan a “conciliatory tone,” especially on taxes, and a “reluctance to declare war on the Democratic establishment,” Change Maryland actually did spend a lot of its time inveighing against both taxes and the Democratic establishment.

Mr. Hogan’s main GOP opponents, Harford County Executive David Craig and Del. Ron George (R-Anne Arundel), are by contrast running hard as if they were in a Republican primary. They are traveling the state with their running mates spending time with base Republican voters, reminding constituents of their credentials as conservatives, and, yes, trying to show some vision of where they would take the state if Democrats somehow fall asleep at the switch and let them. Since Maryland is now what is known as an early primary state, there will be four and a half months after primary day to turn to themes more likely to connect with centrist voters, independents, and others not well represented in GOP primaries.

The Post appears to accept the postures the candidates are striking at this stage as sure indications of how they would campaign later and how they would govern if elected.  It entirely fails to inquire how the three have actually behaved in office or, in Hogan’s case, not in office (though he did hold an important post back in Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s administration). David Craig has served two terms as Harford County executive, and if he came across as some sort of “bomb-thrower” in that capacity, or was unable to work with Democrats, I’d be very surprised. When I heard Del. Ron George speak in Frederick, he made a point of pride of describing how he had found ways to cooperate with Democrats to get legislation passed in Annapolis, rather than just vote no on everything. Does Mr. Hogan take the prize for being the most “genial” of the three in private settings? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he does not.

Mr. Hogan had a lead in the GOP polls last time I checked, he has a decided money advantage, and he benefits from his opposition being split. What he has not done, so far as I have been able to tell, is to close the sale, with an unusually high number of Republican primary voters remaining undecided. We’ll see whether he succeeds in doing that over the next four and a half weeks.

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Whoops: Frederick News-Post has to fix column that attacked Charles Murray

On May 12, as part of a column about how Republicans are supposedly waging a war on women, Frederick News-Post community columnist Patricia Weller made some strikingly ill-informed drive-by assertions about Charles Murray, a prominent public intellectual who happens to be a resident of Frederick County. The result was embarrassment for the newspaper, which published a letter today from Catherine Bly Cox that begins as follows:

Patricia Weller’s May 12 column, “Thinking outside of the kitchen,” requires correction. It is full of untruths about American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray, who is a resident of Burkittsville, and my husband.

Most of the quotations offered by Ms. Weller are the fabrication of a satirical website called Newslo. Newslo allows you to push a button that highlights the facts woven into their satire. Women have undeveloped brains and deserve lower pay? Anyone can visit the site and discover that this was written by the website, not by Charles, who has never, anywhere, said any such thing.

Charles is not educational adviser to the Texas gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott. He had never even heard of him until recently, when someone reported that Mr. Abbott had once cited Charles’ work in a footnote. That constitutes the entire connection.

Cox goes on to detail other misrepresentations in the column. The News-Post republished the piece with substantial editorial changes to remove the whoppers noted in Ms. Cox’s letter. That’s nice. It would be even nicer if the paper chose to exercise more editorial judgment over what went into its columns in the first place.


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