By Doug Porter
There were a flock of SD Free Press writers at the Balboa Theater last night for Mayor Bob Filner’s first State of the City speech. I’m sure that we’ll provide a variety of viewpoints and plenty of detail as the week goes on. So I’ll skip the details in my report this morning.
I watched it at home, eating vanilla ice cream every time one of the words in the State of the City Drinking Game was mentioned. Words like “neighborhoods”, “seat at the table” and anything in Spanish were cues to consume. I had a good sugar buzz going by the end.
I won’t go into any of the Mayor’s promises, premises or proposals here. Hizzoner could have droned on into the evening with charts and graphs. That would have, I suppose, made the Twitterati happy. Instead they moaned and groaned about the lack of specifics.
I chose to understand Dr. Bob’s speech as a healing moment. He reached out. He promised progress. He didn’t demonize anybody or incite fear to talk about hard choices.
Filner’s metaphor of the City as a healing patient was spot on. What impressed me most was his bedside manner. Bob Filner didn’t have to share the spotlight with Nathan Fletcher, the City Council, the first lady, and the citizens he honored for their public service last night.
But he did. Together, San Diegans can build a great future. Divided, we’ll be going nowhere.
The Gun Wars Continue
President Obama will make another speech on guns and gun violence at the White House today, urging Congress to move quickly to pass bills limiting access to more deadly weapons. Among the guests at Wednesday’s speech: children who wrote to him after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Locally, San Diego’s Police Chief has jumped into the fray on the side of the President:
“I could not be more supportive of the president for taking the position he has,” San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne told KPBS. “I think it’s courageous with the politics involved in this process. But I think it’s going to eventually make the country safer and certainly safer for my officers that have to respond to these calls. “
Lansdowne said he would like to see a national policy on importation of assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines, along with a national database on gun sales. He said gun control laws do decrease crime.
“Those states that have the fewest number of guns certainly have the lowest number of homicides,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s just the homicides you need to look at. You need to look at the suicides, the unintentional accidental shootings that take place. And for every homicide, there are three shootings that took place. And the difference between a homicide and a shooting, gang-involved or whatever it happens to be, is just the aim.”
Not to be outdone, the National Rifle Association brought out its own set of children to make their case: President Obama’s children. Last night the NRA posted a video accusing the president of being “an elitist hypocrite” because his daughters have armed guards at school. CNN reported the video is running on the Sportsman Channel, a cable network focused on outdoors programming such as hunting and fishing. Here’s what the NRA says:
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?” the NRA ad’s narration reads. “Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”
Since taking office, President Obama has averaged 30+ threats a day on his life. That’s 43,830 death threats for his first four years alone.
Perhaps if the National Rifle Association wasn’t out there providing aid and comfort to the enemies of democracy and setting a tone with their rhetoric that encourages the fringe elements in our society, this ‘elitist’ protection wouldn’t be necessary. Enough! I say.
The Consequences of Sponsored Journalism
Since the earliest days of what is now called journalism, the issue of separating content from financial considerations has loomed large over the industry. Now that we’re in the throes of the digital age, new challenges are emerging.
Commenters here at the SD Free Press have been talking about Voice of San Diego’s coverage vis-avis their relationship with big money donors. And this columnist tries to never miss an opportunity to point out UT-San Diego publisher Doug Manchester’s clumsy meddling.
This morning we’ll take a look at one contributor’s view of what’s going on at the Huffington Post and provide some coverage of what may be remembered as the biggest flop ever in this new age of ‘sponsored content’ at the venerable Atlantic Magazine.
The H ff ngt n P st: More Sideboob, Less Content
Researcher and activist Chip Berlet is no wild haired conspiracy theorist. I’ve known him and his research into the dark side of the American psyche for nearly 40 years. Indeed, what sets Berlet apart from the maddening crowd is his stubborn insistence on letting the facts tell the story. From Wikipedia:
The most recent of Berlet’s three books, co-authored with Matthew N. Lyons, is Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, published in 2000 by The Guilford Press. It is a broad historical overview of right-wing populism in the United States.
The book received generally favorable reviews. Library Journal said it was a “detailed historical examination” that “strikes an excellent balance between narrative and theory.” The New York Review of Books described it as an excellent account describing the outermost fringes of American conservatism.
In articles, Berlet has argued that the United States is currently undergoing a right-wing backlash that is the most sustained of its kind in U.S. history. He argues that although 95% of the US‘s hate crimes are committed by people not affiliated with any group, they have nevertheless internalized a narrative developed and promoted by the right wing that demonizes certain groups, including blacks and gays.
Berlet has contributed articles to Huffington Post on a regular basis since 2008. His profile and listing of articles on HuffPo’s index runs over 10 pages long. So when I saw the following message on Facebook recently, I started to wonder just what’s going on:
Huffington Post refuses to post my blog entries on their site and refuse to tell me why. It’s been going on for months.
Normally I write this sort of stuff off as part of being a freelancer. I used to be a freelance journalist. Now I am a freelance “content provider.” It’s not like Huffpost pays me, but they do still make money off my name, which is what irritates me. Not a week goes by that I don’t get an automated e-mail from Huffpost alerting me to another person “fanning” my work.
What work? Huffpost owns the rights to my old posts, which they refuse to take down, but they refuse to post my new blog entries.
So here is a public message to all my friends and fans who have “fanned” me at Huffpost. It’s not me being lazy and not posting my new material on Huffpost, it’s that Huffpost has silenced me. Why? I have no idea. They do not respond to my requests for an explanation. So look for my work at Talk2Action or Daily Kos…but not at Huffpost.
I wondered if, perhaps, Berlet had gone off the deep end in his old age (he’s a year older than I am). So I went and read two of his most posts; one tackling Survivalism, Apocalyptic Aggression, and Violence, another on the ridiculous claims by the tin-foil hat set about the Newtown shootings. It was solid stuff; good analysis on top of a solid factual foundation.
Then I went and glanced at the of Huffington Post. In addition to obvious examples of “sponsored posts”, i.e., stuff put there posing as news to get you to buy something at the end of the day, the bottom feeding kinds of headlines being displayed are nothing short of astonishing. It’s like reading a combination of the bygone tabloid Weekly World News and the tawdriest gossip website imaginable.
Just look at these headlines:
EEK! Taylor Swift’s Red Carpet Wardrobe Malfunction
5 Things A Man NEVER Thinks When He Sees You Naked
Vanessa Hudgens Flaunts Cleavage In Plunging Dress
NSFW PHOTOS: eBay User Accidentally Posts Naked Pic
So, in case you haven’t noticed, I’d say it’s safe to assume that Huffpo’s now excluding actual content for “web traffic” and “internet voyeurism”. More people need to speak up about this crap. Or just stop going there.
The Atlantic Magazine’s Scientology Adventure
The one-time home of great thinkers like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. has taken a decidedly more generalist approach in recent years as it searched for a path to profitability.
Yesterday that path led them off a cliff into a ravine populated by propagandists for the Church of Scientology.
From Josh Stearns:
On Monday night, the Atlantic presented a Church of Scientology ad dressed up as a news article. The response from journalists and readers was immediate and bruising and within hours the piece had been removed and replaced with a note from the editors promising to “review their sponsored content guidelines.”
The episode shines a spotlight on a longstanding trend of embedded advertising and sponsored content that has been picking up steam in recent years. As advertising dollars have migrated away from news organizations, the search for new business models has also meant pushing the boundaries between the newsroom and ad sales. There are some compelling arguments about why journalists need to understand the business side of things, but the Atlantic episode illustrates that the business side also needs to understand the newsroom.
Jack Shaefer at Reuters discussed the implications of the Atlantic/Scientogy collaboration:
Setting aside the substance of the Atlantic‘s advertising policies, the Scientology advertorial illustrates a dual break-down. First, the church misserved itself by producing such a dorky exercise in propaganda. Can its executives and advertising department be so oblivious about how media works that they didn’t know the ad would subject them to ridicule from non-church members and a yawn from the faithful? If I ran the church, I’d be dispatching its copywriters to “The Hole,” Scientology’s alleged reeducation camp in theCalifornia desert.
If I ran the Atlantic‘s advertising department – the most frightening thought I’ve had all day! – I’d not have allowed the Church ofScientology to run that ad in the first place. If an ad director decides to accept a customer’s advertising, he doesn’t want one-off business. He wants repeat ads, from the beginning of time to the end, and he therefore looks out for the customer’s interests. Assuming that ad dollars from the Church of Scientology can, in good conscience, be accepted – a view I hold – the Atlantic‘s ad director was remiss in not taking the church aside and saying, “Look, I know you’re suffering a public-relations beating out there with the publication of Lawrence Wright’s expose, Going Clear. But the North Korean quality of this advertorial singing a song of praise to David Miscavige is unwise, and in your best interests I reject it. Let’s see if you can do better.”
But wait! It gets worse! (And more ironic)
This morning the mecca for sponsored content on the web, also known as Buzzfeed, is up with a seriously good article that puts the Scientologists advertorial into a context. It seems as though all the Scientology real estate being promoted in the Atlantic may be part of a much bigger problem.
Former church members are alleging that the group is using its new-found gilded temples as bait for a fundraising scam. And the Church is experiencing some serious internal dissent. It ain’t pretty, and it’s all but obvious the current marketing push was a cynical ploy to aimed at putting lipstick on a very ugly pig. From Buzzfeed (there is a LOT more there. Do follow the link.)
Across the country, donors and high-ranking executives say that the aggressive fundraising and construction scheme is used to enrich the central church at the expense of the rank-and- file, helping to grow the Scientology war chest to over a billion dollars. Two former members, Mike Rinder and Mark Elliott, went so far as to call the project a “real-estate scam.” To some of these defectors, the structures are metaphors for the religion itself: garish on the outside, empty on the inside. The irony is that the very expansion that Scientology lauds as its renaissance is actually a symbol of internal dissent and decline.
This increasingly public wave of internal strife comes at the worst possible time. Over the past year, the number of vocal and visible Scientology exiles began to increase at a rate that surprised even the staunchest of church critics. TomKat fever boosted news coverage, while Lawrence Wright’s sprawling 2011 New Yorker profile of filmmaker Paul Haggis, who split acrimoniously and loudly from the church, gave way to a new book. Along with Janet Reitman’s 2011 book, Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion, investigators and defectors have begun to organize like never before, shining uninvited klieg lights into the church’s carefully cultivated shadows. Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master wasn’t the thinly veiled exposé some may have clamored for, but still sparked conversation about Hubbard and the religion’s history; sophisticated whistleblower news sites like Mark Bunker’sxenutv.com, shared among defectors, did even more.
On This Day: 1919 – The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited the sale or transportation of alcoholic beverages, was ratified. It was later repealed by the 21st Amendment. 1961 – Mickey Mantle signed a contract that made him the highest paid baseball player in the American League at $75,000 for the 1961 season. 1987 – The Beastie Boys became the first act censored on “American Bandstand.”
Eat Fresh! Today’s Farmers’ Markets: Carlsbad (Roosevelt St. btw Grand Ave. & Carlsbad Village Dr.) 1 – 5 pm, Encinitas Station (Corner of E Street & Vulcan in parking lot B) 5 – 8 pm, Mission Hills (Falcon St. btw West Washington & Ft. Stockton) 3 – 7 pm, North San Diego at Sikes Adobe Farmstead (I-15 at Via Rancho Parkway. 12655 Sunset Dr., Escondido.) 11 am – 2 pm, Ocean Beach (4900 block of Newport Ave. btw Cable & Bacon Sts.) 4 – 8 pm, San Marcos – Cal State San Marcos (333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd., Parking Lot B) 3 – 7 pm,Santee (10445 Mission Gorge Rd. abandoned school parking lot) 3 –7 pm, Temecula (40820 Winchester Rd. Promenade Mall, parking lot btw Macy’s & Penny’s) 9 am – 1 pm
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