Do Debates Matter? – by Joseph P. Williams November 13, 2015

Democrat Sen. John Kennedy, left and Republican Richard Nixon, right, as they debated campaign issues at a Chicago television studio on Sept. 26, 1960. Moderator Howard K. Smith is at desk in center.

They’re often described with action words reserved for warfare or contact sports – battles, fights, counterattacks – with winners and losers determined within minutes of completion. Participants come armed with battle plans, self-serving data and talking points intended to create headline-generating heat, not necessarily policy light.

Critics say the televised, speed chess-meets-Mortal Kombat competitions between politicians who want to lead the free world too often turn on stumbles, errors and style over substance. Supporters insist on their value, but want reforms, now more than ever.

[READ: Immigration, Foreign Policy Splits Republicans In Fourth Debate]

Given such high stakes, relatively low expectations and declining overall TV viewership in an era where Twitter is a news source: Why are presidential debates still a thing?

Though they sometimes resemble the reality show “Survivor” more than a serious forum about the nation’s future, presidential debates are one of the top sources of information for voters, according to analyses and TV ratings. They can also determine which candidates can tap the ever-widening pipeline of money in politics – from small donors kicking in a few dollars to wealthy elites deciding which future president, or super PAC, is the best bet for their millions.

Yet the decades-old, gladiators-on-TV format is looking increasingly battle-worn.

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Trevor Noah Takes On Ben Carson’s Media Bias Claims – Posted: 11/10/2015 03:22 PM EST | Edited: 11/10/2015 03:33 PM EST



“Challenge accepted, Dr. Carson.”

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Trevor Noah on Monday decided to take a closer look at GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson’s assertion that the media is vetting his background more intensely than it did for President Barack Obama during his presidential campaign.

Republican candidates have spent a great deal of time so far in this election cycle criticizing the media for liberal bias — from critiquing the way debates have been moderated to complaining about being treated “unfairly” by the media — and Carson has been no exception to this trend. In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Carson claimed that the media is investigating his past with more fervor than any other presidential candidate in prior elections.

“I have not seen that with anyone else,” Carson told NBC’s Chris Jansing. “If you can show me where that’s happened with someone else, I’ll will take that statement back.”

“Challenge accepted, Dr. Carson,” Noah said on “The Daily Show,” before showing a montage of news clips from the 2008 election cycle in which the media exhaustedly vetted then-Senator Obama’s background — going so far as to question whether he was really a U.S. citizen.

“Yeah, so they vetted Obama to the point where they questioned that he was a legitimate natural-born American citizen,” Noah said. “But at least no one ever accused Obama of not stabbing a guy.”

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J.J. Abrams, Star Wars Superfan, on Directing The Force Awakens – Scott Dadich November 2015

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Photo by Dan Winters

Step through the sleek, anonymous metal door of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions and you enter a world of memorabilia—the murderous Talky Tina doll from The Twilight Zone, rows of old VHS tapes labeled “Midnight Movies,” a Six Million Dollar Man board game, assorted Godzillas. But if you look closely (we looked closely) you will see a meticulous­ness to the madness: The props and tchotchkes are all dust-free and carefully arranged. Those vintage 1970s Star Trekaction figures aren’t just sitting there. They’re posed. This stuff is well loved. It’s clear that in addition to being one of the most gifted movie directors in the world, somehow the heir apparent to both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Abrams is also a superfan.

That puts him in a precarious situation. He has inherited the one mega­franchise to rule them all. Sure, this won’t be the first time Abrams resurrects a beloved Enterprise. But … this is the saga. It’s one of the things that invented modern superfandom. And this is no reboot. With The Force Awakens, Abrams is marshaling the same actors, writers, designers, and even the same composer to reanimate the char­acters and themes that made the original Star Wars into, well, Star Wars. He loves those movies as much as you or any of your laser-brained friends do. But when he first met those movies he was just an apprentice. Now he must become the master.

No pressure, right? After all, the stakes are merely the future of the franchise that made Abrams a filmmaker; a mythology held precious by millions of people for four decades; and, oh, right, billions and billions of dollars in movies and merch over the next half century (at least). I sat down with Abrams to ask him about balancing these competing (ahem) forces to tell an epic story from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away. The lightsabers are drawn; the coordi­nates for the jump to hyperspace are calculated. Can Abrams do it? Well, you know what Yoda said about merely trying.

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Student protestors at the University of Missouri want a “no media safe space” – Updated by Libby Nelson on November 9, 2015, 7:30 p.m. ET

Members of the Concerned Student 1950 movement speak to students after president Tim Wolfe announced his resignation. — (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

The media flocked to cover football players at the University of Missouri protest the handling of racial incidents on campus, but some of the student protesters balked at the influx — going so far as to form a human shield to keep reporters away from the action.

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Traditionally, protesters might have welcomed coverage of their plight, certain that the national media’s attention would amplify their calls and put more pressure on the institution.

There are many reasons for this. The students already accomplished their landmark goal — these tweets were sent after university president Tim Wolfe announced his resignation on Monday. The campus has seen dozens, if not hundreds, of reporters descend, most of them, like the national media, overwhelmingly white. And these students have come of age after the rise of digital organizing. The national media is just another institution they don’t need, as the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery points out:

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The standoff appears to have caught many members of the national media, as well as student journalists at the university, off guard.

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Rubio and Cruz See Spike in Attention – By JANET HOOK Nov. 8, 2015 5:30 a.m. ET

After standout performances in Colorado, candidates see rise in donations and poll standings

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are two of the Republican presidential candidates that have gained the most traction following last month’s debate.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are two of the Republican presidential candidates that have gained the most traction following last month’s debate. PHOTO: CHRIS CARLSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two of the presidential candidates who gained the most traction out of the last Republican debate are a pair of 44-year-old Cuban-Americans who are first-term U.S. senators.

There the similarity ends, and their differences define a fork in the road for the Republican Party.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, after standout performances at the debate in Colorado last month, have both seen a spike in media attention, donations and poll standings. But they are appealing to very different wings of the GOP electorate, with Mr. Cruz rallying anti-Washington conservative forces and Mr. Rubio drawing strength from to the party’s business-friendly establishment wing.

Their differences of both style and substance will surface again Tuesday in the third GOP debate in Milwaukee, where both senators will try to keep the momentum going in a forum focusing on economic issues.

Mr. Cruz rails against illegal immigrants; Mr. Rubio takes a more welcoming approach. Mr. Cruz opposed President Barack Obama’s fast-track trade bill; Mr. Rubio supported it. Mr. Cruz traffics in the highflying oratory of an evangelical minister’s son; Mr. Rubio’s brand of eloquence is more low key.

Both senators still trail the political novices— Donald Trump and Ben Carson—who lead the GOP field. But the Cruz-Rubio surge raises a surprising prospect: Two Cuban Americans are moving from long-shot to top-tier candidates in a party that has struggled to win support from Hispanic voters.

Mr. Cruz said it was “plausible” that the primary would wind up being a Rubio-Cruz face off, citing the history of GOP contests that pitted a conservative against a more moderate candidate.

“I think Marco is certainly formidable,” Mr. Cruz said. But, he added, ”once it gets down to a head-to-head contest between a conservative and a moderate…I think the conservative wins.”

A super PAC supporting Mr. Cruz took off the gloves last week in an ad in Iowa that attacked Mr. Rubio for his record on immigration.

“We all loved how Marco Rubio took apart Jeb Bush in the debate,” says the narrator of an ad from the pro-Cruz PAC, Courageous Conservatives. “But what’s Rubio ever done?…Marco Rubio looks good on TV, but that’s about it.’’

That is a change in rhetoric from a major Senate debate in 2013—the filibuster to block funding for Obamacare—when Mr. Cruz showered his colleague with praise. “I don’t know if there is anyone more effective, more articulate, or a more persuasive voice for conservative principles than my friend Marco Rubio,” Mr. Cruz said.

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George Will’s had enough lying: His battle with Bill O’Reilly is finally an intellectual battle to reclaim the GOP from Fox News – HEATHER COX RICHARDSON SUNDAY, NOV 8, 2015 02:59 AM PST

“Killing Reagan” battle is really for the soul of the GOP. Too bad both sides are grifters and hacks

George Will's had enough lying: His battle with Bill O'Reilly is finally an intellectual battle to reclaim the GOP from Fox News

George Will’s Thursday attack on Bill O’Reilly is not really about Ronald Reagan’s presidency. It is an opening salvo in a fight for control of the Republican Party. In a blistering op-ed—an op-ed, mind you, not a book review—Will savaged the newest book in O’Reilly’s killing series: Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency. Will loathed O’Reilly’s contention that John Hinckley’s assassination attempt started Reagan’s descent into dementia only 70 days into his presidency. But that questioning of Reagan’s mental capacity is not what’s at the heart of Will’s attack on O’Reilly. What’s really going on is that establishment Republicans want to cut the extremists away from the party.

It may be too late.

Will’s criticism of Killing Reagan indicts O’Reilly for, well, making shit up. The book, Will notes, is “a tissue of unsubstantiated assertions.” Neither O’Reilly nor his ghostwriter actually did any research. They did not visit the Reagan Library; they did not interview any of the key players in the Reagan White House. Will calls the book “a no-facts zone,” and condemns it as “nonsensical history and execrable citizenship.” Will uses the inexcusable deficiencies of Killing Reagan to attack “today’s cultural pathology of self-validating vehemence with blustery certitudes substituting for evidence.” In other words, Will has had it with politicians who lie and then bully people into believing in their fantasy world.

The irony of Will’s outrage is that it was President Reagan who enabled such political storytelling to take over the Republican Party. After the second World War, when party leaders tried to resurrect the free-for-all economy of the 1920s that had collapsed into the Great Depression, President Dwight Eisenhower stepped in to articulate instead a new vision for the Republican Party. He led Republicans to back the New Deal consensus. Eisenhower agreed with Democrats that the government must regulate business, provide for social welfare, and develop the nation’s infrastructure, and he believed that bringing labor leaders, businessmen, and intellectuals to the same table—sometimes literally, as he invited men to dinner—to debate would enable political leaders to reach the best possible outcome for the nation. Eisenhower insisted on grappling with the complexities of reality and begged his opponents to do the same.

But businessmen who had thrived in the unregulated economy of the 1920s could not stomach the New Deal consensus. To combat it, they could not use reality-based arguments, for those arguments invariably led voters to government activism. Instead, in the 1950s, those opposed to the New Deal consensus began to create a cartoon version of reality. They laid out a storyline in which America was under siege by secular New Dealers. These “Liberals,” were ushering communism into America by insisting on an activist government that destroyed American individualism and religion.

They sold that storyline with bluster and bullying. Wisconsin’s Sen. Joseph McCarthy led the way. In his highly publicized attacks on supposed communists in Eisenhower’s administration, he presented himself as an outsider defending America from the communists who had infiltrated the government. He hectored witnesses, he bullied, he shouted, he made dramatic—and demonstrably false—statements. By the time fact checkers caught up with old lies, McCarthy was on to new ones. Movement Conservatives noted his techniques.


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7 times John Oliver perfectly captured what’s wrong with America — and triggered real reform – ADAM JOHNSON, ALTERNET SATURDAY, NOV 7, 2015 04:00 AM PST

The HBO host has accomplished what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert never could. Here are a few of his best segments

7 times John Oliver perfectly captured what's wrong with America -- and triggered real reform
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetJohn Oliver’s “This Week Tonight” is far and away the most refreshing thing on late-night TV. While other shows center around round-table chats and celebrity interviews, Oliver uses his massive platform to highlight overlooked but important political issues. Recently, he told CBS that his focus was “absurd public policies.”

By highlighting the absurdities of American institutions, he milks the injustice for a laugh while drawing the attention of millions of viewers to the issue. It’s a brilliant combination that, when it fires on all cylinders, makes for great comedy and sometimes even triggers reforms.

Here are his seven best segments.

1. Net Neutrality 

Arguably Oliver’s breakout hit, this segment masterfully dissected the knotty issue of net neutrality and its effect on free speech. Oliver explained why creating a two-tiered Internet was unfair, and even recruited the Internet’s “vile commenters” to spam the FCC’s website, which was taking public comment at the time. As a result, the website crashed and FCC Chair Tom Wheeler had to hilariously insist to the public that he “wasn’t a dingo.”

2. Abusive Animal Agriculture Practices

Possibly the least sexy topic his show has ever covered, Oliver took on huge poultry processing corporations that exploit small farmers and work to gut legislation that regulates the industry and protects animal welfare. In one of the more clear-cut political wins, the segment actually resulted in a pro-industry rider being left out of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill this summer for the first time in years. Several members of Congress cited Oliver’s segment for providing the political will to remedy the problem.

3. Bail System Exploits the Poor

America’s bail system is a two-tiered system where those who can afford to pay their bail go free and those who can’t are often forced to plead guilty or waste away in lockup before trial. Like many of the topics Oliver covers, it’s an injustice that exists largely due to inertia, despite being widely condemned as being unfair. One month after Oliver’s segment aired, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announcedthe city was reforming its bail system to lessen the burden on low-level offenders, allowing a judge to release up to 3,000 defendants awaiting trial. While there were certainly other factors at play, many pundits insisted Oliver’s segment helped bring the topic to the forefront of public debate.

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At Least 51 of My Colleagues Have Been Murdered Since 2003 – —By Xiomara Orellana | Sat Nov. 7, 2015 6:00 AM EST

This is what it’s like to be an investigative reporter in Honduras.

A masked member of the Barrio 18 gang inside the San Pedro Sula prison in 2013 Esteban Felix/AP


Chamelecón is a neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where the streets are lonely and the houses are marked. On one side of the street, two initials stand out on the walls: MS, the familiar scrawl of one of the most feared gangs, or maras, in Honduras: Mara Salvatrucha. Just across the street, another block of homes have the number 18 written on them—the tag for Barrio 18, the rival gang that also has taken up refuge in Chamelecón.

In recent years, the 50,000 people who live in the neighborhood have been terrorized by the maras. It’s a lawless place where entering means risk—especially for a journalist. But that’s my job, so I went to Chamelecón to try to bring this world to my readers at the Diario la Prensa, the newspaper I’ve worked at for the past 10 years in San Pedro Sula, a city that some experts consider to be the most dangerousin the world.

I always go out reporting with a photographer and a driver, and this story was no different. On our way there, we passed through a bunch of the barrios and colonias controlled by the gangsters. People told us not to go beyond the school, because no one would be able to protect us there. But that didn’t stop us. Our mission was to take photos, get a better look at these abandoned streets, and explain how the gang bangers dominate turf and change the lives of thousands of families there.

“Being a journalist in Honduras is for the brave,” my friends like to say—and even more so when you’re reporting on violence, corruption, or drug trafficking.

It was two in the afternoon, and when we arrived a few teens on bikes, and some more hanging out on the street corners, sounded the alarm. Immediately one grabbed his cell. He was a bandera—that’s what they call the kids who tell the gang leaders that there are strangers present. My photographer was taking some shots from inside the vehicle when, just a few minutes later, one of the banderas approached. “What are you looking for?” he asked. We tried to explain our work, but he didn’t give us time to say anything. “You’d better leave, or there will be problems.”

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