Over the last week, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Joe Biden and Al Gore were two of the leading candidates in the 2016 presidential race—charismatic, principled leaders that voters wanted, nah, demanded, lead our nation for the next eight years.
After all, political reporters swooned last week at the news that Al Gore might make another run for the presidency. Reuters chased the BuzzFeed scoop, as did ABC News, the Christian Science Monitor, and other outlets. But severalaccounts quickly downplayed such a possibility, with a Gore spokeswoman saying there was “no truth” to it. The disappointment of reporters was palpable, not because the press likes Gore—they actually despise him with a passion—but because he is a known quantity on the campaign trail who, when milked, produces excellent copy.
The Gore episode (and the Biden one, which we’ll get to in a minute) inadvertently illustrated the press corps’ deepest prejudice. It’s not for liberals or conservatives—or even for declared candidates. What reporters lust for are contenders capable of generating usable story material, and these contenders are almost always the candidates who enjoy high voter recognition, often for a previous run for the presidency. Mitt Romney likewise moved the press corps from exhilaration to despondency in January when he flirted with a third run for the White House. The press wasn’t hankering for a Romney campaign any more than it was hankering for a Gore campaign. But their political longevity has produced giant flumes of coverage over the years, and that coverage can be captured and reused by reporters to write new stories. Veterans of previous Gore and Romney campaign are the greatest beneficiaries whenever rumor or scuttlebutt has it that either intends another run: a spin of the Rolodex, a few phone calls, and voilà, the reporter’s old notes are refreshed and a new news story is created.
The press corps’ preference for thoroughbreds—have not Mitt Romney’s presidential musings gotten more coverage this year than those of announced candidate George Pataki?—helps explain the disdain reporters have long-shot candidates. By necessity, presidential campaign coverage this far out from the general election must be of the horserace variety. The leaders must be handicapped only if to cull the field to a manageable size. No newspaper, magazine, TV network or Web site has the resources to cover in depth every declared candidate. A reporter could, I suppose, write a series of compelling story about James Webb or George Pataki if he put his mind to it. But who would read it? Few journalists are willing to write about the presidential candidates who can’t possibly win unless it’s to point out that the candidates can’t possibly win and that their every gesticulation is futile. Still fewer outlets are willing to run such coverage.
The ideal candidate in the press corps’ view is a veteran candidate who has kept his (or her) place high in the news since his last campaign. For Campaign 2016, the ideal candidate is Hillary Clinton, a previous loser in the presidential derbies who is always giving reporters new material to write about. Better to write in depth about one controversial Clinton email, the political reporter knows, than the entire policy platform of a Lincoln Chafee.
This ideal-candidate formula isn’t perfect. Long-shots sometimes have a way of becoming ideal candidates, even if they haven’t run before and sun-bathed in the news. During this campaign cycle, Bernie Sanders has turned the formula inside out. He’s neither run before nor been much of a newsmaker outside of his progressive mini-circles. The press has begrudgingly elevated his status from long-shot to contender because of his success in the polls and his skill at drawing crowds. Another outlier, Donald Trump, whom the press keeps predicting will pop and crash, has earned his way to contender status by virtue of his polling numbers. Given its druthers, the press would like to snub him and his gauche ways because there seems no way the current system could elect him president. But the press has proved powerless to suppress him. As with Sanders, the press must cover Trump because he has achieved notoriety that can’t be ignored.
The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times. How many articles will Facebook get to publish per day? What is the revenue sharing breakdown? How does the Times protect the independence of its journalism, say, if the paper runs a hard-hitting investigation on Facebook? And what happens when the Times allows Facebook to insert itself between its journalism and its readers?
Not surprisingly, the prospect of a Facebook partnership is generating palpable anxiety inside the Times newsroom, with some Times journalists casting it as an end-of-the-Times-as-we-know-it inflection point. When rumors of a deal surfaced last October, the Times‘ late media columnist David Carr articulated this view, writing “the wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike.”
Another source of anxiety: the secrecy around the deal. “It’s referred to as the ‘confidential project.’ No one will talk about it,” one senior Times executive told me.
The talks have been dragging out for weeks as Times CEO Mark Thompson has pushed for the most favorable terms. According to one source familiar with the talks, a major sticking point for the Times has been ensuring that any Facebook deal protects its paid digital audience, which is crossing the crucial one-million subscriber mark. “The New York Times‘ obsession with this product is their subscribers,” the source said. “They shouldn’t kill their subscriber business and the data around that.” Officials with the Times and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.
As much as anything, the Facebook deal is a concession by Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. that the paper’s app strategy failed to produce the turnaround the company hoped for. Now the Times is throwing its fate into Facebook’s hands. “This is really about the crown jewels,” a senior media executive familiar with the deal told me. “The stakes are that high.”
The images spread rapidly online Tuesday, some more graphic than others: A caged Jordanian pilot, captured by the militants of the Islamic State late last year, was shown apparently being burned alive.
The video was readily available, particularly on social media. It raised a sensitive issue for news outlets once again: Should they show the images, just a click away for most readers anyway, or refrain?
The slickly produced video, showing what appeared to be the burning of First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, who was captured on Dec. 24 after his jet went down over northern Syria, was perhaps the most shocking in a series of filmed killings by the extremist group; previous videos had all shown beheadings.
The Daily News in New York published an image of the flames appearing to engulf Lieutenant Kasasbeh. And BuzzFeed posted a series of images, following the flames as they approached him.
But most other outlets chose to use images from earlier in the 22-minute video. The New York Times initially showed Lieutenant Kasasbeh standing outside the cage in an orange jumpsuit, with militants behind him. Online, The Washington Post published a photo of him in his uniform. The paper’s editor, Martin Baron, said by email that he would probably settle on an image similar to the one used by The Times: “Outside the cage and before any flame. That’s in line with what we’ve done previously with the beheadings.”
A Reuters story on the death showed the pilot’s family holding up image of him at a rally calling for his release. The Associated Press used a similar photograph with its story.
In an exclusive interview, VICE News meets Luz, the surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonist behind the magazine’s controversial Prophet Muhammad covers.
Speaking with us in his sniper-proof Paris apartment, Luz describes the scene he witnessed after gunmen attacked the magazine’s offices, explains the ideas behind the magazine’s latest cover, and addresses the mixed reactions it has sparked. He also discusses how things can quickly spiral out of control when breaking taboos in the internet age, and offers his surreal sense of becoming an unwitting icon of free expression.
The acclaimed essayist explains why we need more reporting, more facts – and perhaps fewer essays and opinions
The first person is a tradition I relate to and that I use; historically it’s been the voice I work in. But the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I’m referred to as a “confessional” writer. To me, confessing means kind of just blurting out thoughts that are not fully formed, out of a compulsion or a visceral need to get them out. For me, writing essays is very much about processing ideas, and offering them up to the reader so that they are fully cooked. I don’t think of them as confessions. I think of it as converting experiences into ideas, and hopefully then into universal concepts that readers can apply to their own lives.
It hits me every time I am writing in it! Nothing is a dead end if you do it right. If anything is a dead end it’s the second person – using “you.” I think every college student has a moment where they discover the “you” and write a story or an essay – “This is great! Wow!” And you realize that’s not a good idea; everyone does it just once.
I’m really careful about using it. Obviously, I’ve just written a book that’s all in the first person, that’s very personal, and the way it’s being received it’s easy to describe it as very revealing. But I’m more interested in ideas and abstractions than stories – even my own stories. So I pretty quickly try to get on to other things.
Because of social media, we have a lot of personal essays floating around; you see them on Facebook, everyone’s either reading them or writing them. Some of them are great, some of them are diary entries put forth as essays. When you do that, the first person gets a bad reputation. That’s why I’m careful about it. I defend the “I” narrator even while I recoil against it.
I feel like it came out of self-help culture. I think it started in the ’80s. I don’t think the literature of [the hippie era] was quite as solipsistic. It might have been – I’m just thinking out loud here – a watered-down version of feminism. You have all these women’s magazines publishing female voices; in the very reasonable and necessary quest to publish women, some of it got dumbed down into fairly navel-gazing type stuff. I don’t think that’s because women are actually that way; more women read, so there’s more of that floating away. I think it may’ve come out of that late ’70s, early ’80s “find yourself” genre. People started writing about their divorces, their relationships. As there came to be platform for feeling conflicted about your life, that stuff started to come out.
I’ve been around long enough to have once marveled at the improbability of the fax machine — that can’t be real! — but I like to think of myself as modern. Which should mean that I’m a big fan of disruption, but that depends on who is being disrupted, doesn’t it?
I read on Friday that the price of taxi medallions in New York City had fallen about 17 percent, a drop created by competition from ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The impact is remarkable because neither company possesses big capital assets, or a huge number of employees. Instead, they put a new user interface over cars and drivers already on the road. In the same way, Airbnb has remade the rental markets, not by buying properties, but simply by surfacing available units on the web to people in need.
In both cases, inefficiency was reduced by using software and smarts to create a new market of underused assets — and consumers have benefited. (Perhaps not in ways that will continue to pass regulatory muster, but that’s a longer story.)
I work in an industry that has also been profoundly disrupted. The shift of news and information to the Internet meant that the heavy investment in trucks and presses that once served as a barrier to entry disappeared. Insurgents flooded in with new approaches that eliminated much of the inefficiency and created whole new streams of content. Again, great for consumers, not so great for the traditional news industry, because those inefficiencies were also profits by another name.
Right now, The New York Times is in the middle of a round of buyouts in an effort to cut 100 positions, to stretch existing revenue over a smaller cost base. The packages are generous — three weeks of salary for every year worked for union employees — and those who have been at the newspaper for at least 20 years are eligible for an additional payout of 35 percent of the total severance.
Buying out those folks — layoffs will follow if the goal of 100 jobs is not met — also allows the organization to invest in new technologies and the people who build them.
The Times, which has been disrupted from without, is doing some disrupting from within, striving to make sure that articles are visible on the web and resonate on social media, that we have advertising that merits something besides commodity prices, and that our video journalism will reflect our news values while meeting the changing needs of consumers. Even with the cuts, we will be about as large as we’ve ever been, with new faces and new skills. It’s all good, right? Well, not all of it.
“We want to know: Why? What happened?”
So many questions, so much we still don’t know about the case of the woman shot to death by the Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police on Oct. 3, 2013, after a car chase from the White House to Capitol Hill. Her 13-month-old daughter survived in a car seat.
“Did we miss something?”
Barbara Nicholson is asking. The office manager of a dental practice in Ardsley, N.Y., is standing in the hygiene room, remembering the woman who used to clean teeth at this chair. Miriam Iris Carey — that was her name. She was one of the best dental hygienists and “one of the nicest people” Nicholson ever hired.
“We’re left with a void and no answers,” Nicholson says. “It’s like she was wiped off the face of the earth.
Nicholson’s voice catches. She pauses and looks away. “She’s missed. She’s very missed.”
Do you remember Miriam Carey? Her remarkably public death at 34 mesmerized us for a couple of news cycles. Then we moved on pretty quickly. I had to look up her name when I first started puzzling over this case. The main thing I remembered was that incredible video — the one showing the two-door black Infiniti surrounded by Secret Service officers with guns drawn near the Capitol Reflecting Pool. The car looks trapped. Suddenly the driver backs into a squad car and accelerates away. There’s the sound of gunfire while tourists take cover on the West Lawn. The Infiniti reappears, making a loop around a traffic circle, and proceeds up Constitution Avenue to what would be the fatal encounter outside the Hart Building.
What an afternoon. We were told that Carey “rammed” White House and Capitol “barriers.” That she tried to breach two security perimeters. That she had mental problems.
District Police Chief Cathy Lanier said federal officers acted “heroically.” The House of Representatives offered a standing ovation.
It was easy to call this a tragedy and turn the page.
Except that some of what little we thought we knew hasn’t held up. The part about ramming White House barriers and trying to breach two security perimeters? Not exactly true.