Friday, August 31, 2012

Media Framing

Over the past two years there have been two stories that raise the question of the role of the media in framing events.

In the summer of 2010 the pastor of a small Florida church proposed to publicly burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9-11. The church, known for its anti-Islam and anti-gay views, had not received much attention until a short article appeared on a site called Religion News Service in July. From there it was gradually picked up by other, bigger, news sites, eventually being picked up by the international media, which in turn help stir up riots and escalated things still further. The pastor, Terry Jones, was being interviewed by print and broadcast media.

It raised serious questions about the role of media in reporting stories. The executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, was quoted in his paper as saying, “The freedom to publish includes the freedom not to publish.” In this had the general media chosen to ignore the story, there would not have been riots, lives would not have been put at risk and American reputation would not have suffered damage.

A year after this story, in July, 2011, the media were all abuzz again. This time it was over Carmageddon, which would result from the 53 hour closure of a 16 kilometer stretch of highway (Interstate 405) in the Los Angeles area. According to the media the shutdown of America’s busiest highway would result in complete and utter traffic chaos from the mother of all traffic jams. And what happened? Traffic in the Los Angeles area actually declined by 65% during this period.

It nicely illustrates the media’s (and society’s) obsession with cars. And it shows in the language used by the media: trains chug, cars are vehicles, public transit and passenger rail are heavily subsidized, no one considers the massive subsidies given to the automobile, roads and highways get investment, rail is obsolete, while cars are considered a necessity. Given this it’s no wonder that the media can only picture catastrophe with the shutdown of a major highway.

These two stories nicely illustrate how the media can take a small story and blow it WAY out of proportion: the first with very serious consequences, the second providing comic relief and a window into the North American obsession with cars.

In a future post I’ll talk about how the media has taken BIG stories and blown them WAY under proportion.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Mixed Legacy Of Helen Gurley Brown

A special post on the death of Helen Gurley Brown: In her day Brown was certainly a powerhouse and a pioneer of sorts in the publishing business.

One cannot help, but admire her gutsiness in rising to the top, despite not having had any higher education. She had her wits and a flair for publicity. She took Cosmopolitan from decline to super stardom among magazines. Ad revenues were a mere $1.5 million when she took over in 1965. Two years before she left, in 1997, they were $159 million. As Jane Francisco, editor of Chatelaine, put it, “She (Brown) brought glitz and glam into women’s magazines.” A look at women’s magazines around the time Brown took over Cosmopolitan readily verifies Francisco’s comment. In a word they were dull.

Another thing Brown did was to bring discussion of women’s reproductive health out into the open. It’s hard to imagine now, but at one time a person could be jailed for promoting birth control. Even after it became legal birth control still tended to be talked about in hushed tones. (And I’m not talking about abortion.)

However, Brown had her downside. Before she left the American editorship of Cosmopolitan (She remained editor-in-chief of the international editions until her death.) she downplayed the danger of aids to heterosexual women. She also disregarded the issue of sexual harassment on the job.

As a Christian, I certainly cannot agree with her quip, “Good girls go to heaven; bad girls go everywhere.” (Bad girls do not go to heaven.) I agree that by the 1960s a frank and open discussion about sex was and still is needed. However, I felt that Cosmo under Brown went way too far and promoted sex for sex’s sake. I remember picking up the magazine and seeing an article on having an affair with your boss. Cosmo promoted extramarital sex and casual sex, which I cannot condone.

The whole image of Cosmo seemed to be to promote women as sex objects and to do what they can to please a man sexually. This seemed to be setting up vulnerable women to live in abusive situations. Some critics felt Brown made women cartoonish.

Brown said she wanted her legacy to be, “She created something that helped people.” In my view she left a mixed legacy.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Deflation Update

Fourteen months have passed since I last warned of a new great depression and in those fourteen months have things gotten any better? No. The situation in Europe has gotten a lot worse. Italy, Spain and Cyprus have joined Greece in needing bailouts. The Americans have not done a thing to reduce their debt, which continues to get worse by the day. The banking industry comes up with scandal after scandal.

Economists, for what it’s worth, which isn’t much, say that Europe is now in recession. Even China’s economy, considered the powerhouse of the world, is slowing.

The only thing that continues to hold up the markets is optimism, optimism that somehow the central banks of the world, particularly those of Europe and the United States, can somehow turn things around. So far all their quantitative easing and twists and printing of money and keeping interest rates low (They don’t have a choice with interest rates.) haven’t worked. Neither have all the meetings of the European leaders to resolve the debt crisis worked. The Germans are growing increasingly tired of sacrificing their economy to save the economies of their weaker neighbors.

It is a given that Greece will formally default on their loans and will leave the Euro Zone. Other European countries, such as Spain, are likely to follow. Once this begins to happen it will trigger an even bigger banking crisis than in 2008 and global economic crisis. As part of this process the Euro will collapse,possibly along with the European Union.

It’s not just me who is warning of this, Elliott Wave International (where I picked this up from), Weiss Research and Comstock Partners, to name a few, are all warning of deflation and depression. They are also all saying we haven’t much time left before this economic crisis happens.

To totally switch gears here, hearty congratulations to Silver Don Cameron for being awarded the Order Of Canada. For anyone not knowing who Silver Don is, he is a great and highly respected writer of long standing. I have nothing but admiration for the quality of his writing skills.