Posts tagged ‘Radley Balko’

Death of the Commerce Clause

A century of Progressive attacks on the Constitution have come to this.  I am just going to quote Radley Balko in full:

"¦.a federal judge has just ruled that the federal government can force me to purchase a product from a private company, under the argument that my not purchasing that product affects interstate commerce.

For those of you who support this ruling: Under an interpretation of the Commerce Clause that says the federal government can regulate inactivity, can you name anything at all that the feds wouldn't have the power to regulate?

And if you can't (and let's face it, you can't), why was the Constitution written in the first place? As I understand it, the whole point was to lay out a defined set of federal powers, divided among the three branches, with the understanding that the powers not specifically enumerated in the document are retained by the states and the people.

But if that set of powers includes everything you do (see Wickard and Raich), and everything you don't do (what Obamacare proponents are advocating here), what's the point in having a Constitution at all?

Raich was bad enough.  In that case the high court said the Feds could regulate home-grown marijuana that was grown and consumed entirely in California because that activity might still affect prices in other states (presumably because Californians could have smoked imported weed if they had not grown their own).  (I can't understand how anyone can call this a "conservative" court when it handed down Raich.  Clarence Thomas wrote in Raich:

Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.

Police and Accountability

I have written before that the inexpensive handheld video camera is perhaps the most important innovation in police accountability in my lifetime.  So of course, the police want them banned.

In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists....

In short, recordings that are flattering to the police - an officer kissing a baby or rescuing a dog - will almost certainly not result in prosecution even if they are done without all-party consent. The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent.

Folks who read Radley Balko or Carlos Miller will not find a lot new hear, but it is a very good overview of an issue that is hot among blogs but rarely if ever makes the major media.

After an encounter with the public goes wrong, the police have historically been able to make up any story they want and make it stick, in many cases shifting the blame to innocent civilians.  It is scary to see how many times this happens, with the officer's story shown to be a lie by cameras on site (and even then it can be hard to get the police to investigate).  Only the combination of cameras and YouTube (to publicize the video so it can't be ignored) have begun to bring some justice to these encounters.

HT Alex Tabarrok

Civil Forfeiture

This is an issue that has been around for a while, and one of the illiberal legacies of the war on drugs.  Police have broad powers to seize your property with very little due process, and the incentive to do so as they are generally allowed to keep the proceeds of these seizures in their budgets.  John Stossel writes about the problem in his column today.  Unfortunately, I see little bleed-through of this issue our of libertarian blogs into the partisan ones, though I do remember Kevin Drum doing something on it a while back.  Knowing politicians, I hold out little hope that in a time when government budgets are under assault, politicians will voluntarily give up the power to grab operating funds off the street.

Most of the stories in the article were familiar to me, though this expansion of the concept was new:

[Radley] Balko has reported on a case in which police confiscated cash from a man when they found it in his car. "The state's argument was that maybe he didn't get it from selling drugs, but he might use that money to buy drugs at some point in the future. Therefore, we're still allowed to take it from him," Balko said.

Sounds like that Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report," where the police predict future crimes and arrest the "perpetrator."

If I Had to Listen to Congress Every Day I'd Short Treasuries Too

Repeat after me:  There is nothing wrong, immoral, evil, or even unsavory about short-selling.  No one gets mad at you for selling an over-valued security which you actually own, so there should be no ethical difference in selling an over-valued security you don't actually own.  Somehow people who are traditionally long in the market (e.g. corporate executives) have convinced the world that short-sellers should be vilified.  I don't understand it.  If you love the stock and short-sellers drive it down, you should treat it as a gift that the stock you love can now be bought more cheaply.

So I thought this was particularly awesome:

On Oct. 8 and 9, 2008"”as the Federal Reserve was bailing out American International Group Inc."”an account Sen. Isakson held invested more than $30,000 in ProShares UltraShort 7-10 Year Treasury and UltraShort 20+ Year Treasury, the records show. These are "leveraged short" funds, designed to gain $2 for each $1 drop in the daily value of U.S. Treasury bonds.

Isakson claims he was not actively managing the account, a claim that is probably true given the ethics rules in Congress (not that anyone follows those).  My response in his place would have been, "F*cking-A right I was shorting government bonds.  Haven't you been paying attention over the last 12 months?"

Unfortunately, Isakson falls out of my hero category into my "hypocritical goat" category for this:

In February, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) argued on the Senate floor that "we don't need those speculating in the marketplace to take unfair advantage of the values of equities that are owned by Americans all over this country for the sake of making a buck on a short sale."

Again this unaccountable bias that somehow people who are long are morally superior, and somehow more entitled, than people who are short.

Ht Radley Balko

An Immigration Proposal

It is increasingly hard to have an immigration discussion here in Phoenix.  The vast majority of residents are absolutely convinced, despite evidence to the contrary, that they are in the middle of an apocalyptic version of the Mariel boatlift and have found themselves surrounded by Tony Montana's ready to carve them up save for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's brave intervention.

You never meet anyone who has actually had a problem with immigrants, and most like the immigrants, even the illegal ones, they know.   The other night a friend of mine said that we were all victims - I asked, "how?"  Everyone seems to have stories of immigrant hijinx, but they are all like the stories of the lady who put her cat in a microwave -- it happened to someone else.  And we do have stories of immigrant crimes on TV, but like shark attacks and extreme weather events, we overestimate their frequency because only certain outliers at the edges of the normal distribution get reported.

As an aside, one of the interesting things about the immigration debate for those of us who have read US history is how amazingly similar current arguments against particularly Mexican immigrants  (the commit crime, they don't integrate, they take jobs from Americans) are identical to arguments used against the Irish, Italians, and most eastern Europeans at one time or another.   I heard a woman at a part a while back of Slav background talking about how here immigrant grandparents were different than these Mexicans.  I told her that the exact same arguments she was using were used against Easter Europeans in the early 20th century, and in fact, and in fact the first real immigration quotas in this country were meant to keep her ancestors out.

As a result, I tend to grab the pro-immigration side in debates, even though I think there are some sensible reasons it probably has to be restricted or restructured, just because I really don't like the vibe coming from the immigration opponents around me.  When people take positions out of irrational fear and loathing, I am hugely reluctant to make any sort of common cause even if some of our concerns overlap.

Bruce McQuain argues that the main barrier to his advocating open immigration is the welfare state, and I am sympathetic to that argument.  I still, however, think we are smart enough to have a safety net and allow much more open immigration.  Bruce Pick has some sensible suggestions, and I published my own plan here.

And, as a final thought, the locals are never, ever going to convince me to their side when they trot Joe Arpaio up to the podium to make their case.  I have opposed the current immigration law in Arizona less because of any immigration issues and more because Joe does not need any more arbitrary authority.  I like what Radley Balko wrote the other day:

Dear Tea Partiers,

Ask Joe Arpaio to be your keynote speaker, and you've lost me.

He's a power-mad thug with a badge, the walking, mouth-breathing antithesis of the phrase "limited government."

Yes, this is but one state chapter in your movement. So distance yourself from them.

It's one thing to have a few idiots and nutjobs show up at your rallies.

It's quite another to invite one to speak.

Yours,

Radley Balko

More good stuff here.

Immigration is a thorny issue. But when we stand around and say "we don't want you here", I have to break ranks. When they say "these immigrants are damaging our economy", I have to break ranks. I don't have all the answers as to how to fix the problem, but I know that I refuse to close our country to people who want to live the American Dream. We have to enforce our laws, but when our laws are contrary to the very fabric of America, those laws need to change.

Thought For the Day

Radley Balko with this observation:

I don't promote government failure, I expect it. And my expectations are met fairly often. What I promote is the idea that more people share my expectations, so fewer people are harmed by government failure, and so we can stop this slide toward increasingly large portions of our lives being subject to the whims, interests, and prejudices of politicians.

I will concede that there's a problem, here. In the private sector failure leads to obsolescence (unless you happen to work for a portion of the private sector that politicians think should be preserved in spite of failure). When government fails, people like Dinauer and, well, the government claim it's a sign that we need more government. It's not that government did a poor job, or is a poor mechanism for addressing that particular problem, it's that there just wasn't enough government. Of course, the same people will point to what they call government success as, also, a good argument for more government.

It's a nifty trick. The right does it with national security. The fact that we haven't had a major terrorist attack since September 11, 2001 proves that the Bush administration's heavy-handed, high-security approach to fighting terrorism worked! But if we had suffered another attack, the same people would have been arguing that we need to surrender more of our civil liberties to the security state. Two sides. Same coin.

Exhibit A For School Choice

For years I have argued that the killer app that may someday actually lead to school choice will not be individual liberty (because no one in government gives a rip about that any more) and not education quality (because again, its clear no one really cares) but speech and religion.  If the right messes up schools enough, the left might finally be willing to shed their alliance with the teachers unions and consider school choice.  From a live-blog of a Texas Board of Education meeting (via Radley Balko)

9:27 - The board is taking up remaining amendments on the high school world history course.9:30 - Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with "the writings of") and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson's ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don't buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar's problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

9:40 - We're just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board's far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America's exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America's Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.

Chart of the Day

Via Radley Balko and Pat's Papers, comes this chart on Canadian water consumption during the Olympic Hockey finals.  As he asks, what happens when everyone in the country goes to the bathroom at the same time?

Photography is Not a Crime

I made this from a link at Radley Balko's site for Carlos Miller.

The Most Depressing Thing I Read Today

I hope JD is wrong:

Further complicating this picture is that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, despite erratic and confrontational conduct that has repeatedly put him at the wrong end of lawsuits and press coverage, is immensely popular with Maricopa County voters. In fact, recent polling suggests that the governor's office is his for the asking. He's a favorite for the Republican nod and an apparent shoe-in in the general election.

I was under the impression that the Repub's cut Arpaio loose in the last election, but I don't really follow the politics stuff much.  JD has an update on the latest Arpaio shenanigans, as does Radley Balko:

  • The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office announced on Tuesday that Stoddard would surrender to jail ahead of his midnight deadline to aplogize. But when Stoddard showed up, the jail refused to book him, citing a "clerical error." Stoddard insisted on spending the night in jail anyway.
  • Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced he has filed a federal lawsuit against the county and its judges, alleging a "widespread conspiracy" against Arpaio and his officers. Arpaio remarkably and apparently with no self-awareness whatsoever called the county a "good ole boys network," and commented that he had "never seen these kinds of things occur in the justice system." Arpaio also called Donahoe's contempt finding against Stoddard a "vendetta," and said, "For political reasons, [Stoddard's] been thrown to the wolves."
  • Yesterday, the day after Stoddard spent a night in jail, 19 sheriff's deputies scheduled to work security at the courthouse called in sick, throwing the day's court proceedings into disarray. The building also had to be evacuated after a phone-in bomb threat.
  • As crowds returned after the bomb threat was cleared, the law enforcement unions commenced with a conveniently-timed rally in front of the courthouse, calling Stoddard a "victim" and demanding that he be released from jail.

Wow, it sure is a real coincidence when a bomb threat against the public defenders (it was a public defender the deputy originally stole the document from) at the exact same moment the sheriff's were trying to disrupt the courthouse over a dispute involving the public defenders office.

Those who don't live here would be appalled and disgusted by how such a large segment of the local population absolutely revere this man.  He's like the right-wing Obama, living off a manufactured image.

Culture of Corruption in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

This may see obvious to those of you in the rest of the country, but there are real problems with treating a man uniquely allowed to use force against the citizenry like a rock star.  And that is how certain segments of the local population treat Sheriff Joe Arpaio.   As one abuse of power after another is revealed, his supporters respond  "Isn't he so colorful, just like an old-time western sheriff."

For the rest of us his schtick gets old.  The county has spent millions defending lawsuit after lawsuit against him.  The INS has stripped him of his power to track down illegal immigrants, but he still ventures out on sweeps to arrest folks for driving while Mexican, arresting more people of Mexican decent than I though even existed in certain neighborhoods.  He has arrested reporters who criticized him, and arrested people who applauded a speaker who criticized him.  He even launched a mini-coup attempt against the County which employs him, invading the County offices and taking over a computer system that contained emails he had been unable to subpoena.  In the latter case, the County had to seek a restraining order against its own Sheriff!

Unfortunately, Arpaio's indifference to due process and individual rights obviously has percolated to the entire staff.  Here is the most recent craziness -- during  a trial, a Sheriff's deputy starts going through the defendant's attorney's papers, and takes some of them  (all of which were attorney-client privileged).

The explanation was that the documents had not been screened for contraband and weapons, so the deputy had to take (what looks like a couple of sheets of paper) away to study them to make sure there was no gun  stapled to them or something.  This so lame I am not sure how they can even say it with a straight face, but true to form the Sheriff's office is rallying around its own.  More in the AZ Republic.

Why is it the organizations (ie police departments) whom we entrust with uniquely scary power to use force on us citizens tend to have the least well developed internal checks and accountability processes?

Update: Random example of police not getting prosecuted for abuse of power, from today's news.  Folks like Miller and Radley Balko can fill their blogs with these type cases every day and not get them all.

Jeff Flake Rocks

I really like our AZ Congressman Jeff Flake -- the libertarian goodness of Ron Paul without the weirdness and connections to racism.  This is pretty funny, from his site (ht:  Radley Balko)

Washington, D.C., Oct 28 - Republican Congressman Jeff Flake, who represents Arizona's Sixth District, today released the following statement regarding his vote against H.Res.784, a bill "honoring the 2560th anniversary of the birth of Confucius and recognizing his invaluable contributions to philosophy and social and political thought."

"He who spends time passing trivial legislation may find himself out of time to read healthcare bill," said Flake.

Our City's Finest at Work

Phoenix police pump six rounds into the back of an innocent Phoenix homeowner who was still on the phone with 911 calling for their help with an intruder.

The scary part is how absolutely natural and well-polished the police's actions are in initiating a cover-up.  They may be screw-ups in the use of force, but they seem well-practiced in protecting their own from accountability.  Only the lucky break of having the 911 call still in progress and being recorded in the room the police were planning the cover-up prevented it from working.  Without this evidence, one wonders if the victim (who lived, incredibly) would have found himself accused of some heinous crime to take scrutiny away from the police.  "Oh, what's this here -- looks like a bag of white powder..."

One priceless detail is that the officer said he fired without seeing any gun in part because he thought he saw a Hispanic guy.  Wow -- if he loses his job with the Phoenix police (doubtful) I am sure Sheriff Joe would be thrilled to hire him.

We see this all the time nowadays - police roll without a thought into cover-up mode, and only the accident of video or audio recording prevents the cover up from working.  One wonders how many times they get away with this game when there is no electronic scrutiny.  Which is, I suppose, why police have invented a non-existent law that it is illegal to record their actions in public.  I am all for lojacking all of them with permanent electronic recorders.  (via Radley Balko, who has a roundup of a lot of similarly scary stories).

Postscript: The innocent homeowner (Tony) survived despite this treatment by police of his bullet-riddled body:

Officers ... painfully dragged Tony by his injured leg, through the home and out to his backyard patio, where they left him bloodied and shot right in front of [his family]."

The Arambulas say the officers later dragged Anthony onto gravel, then put him on top of the hot hood of a squad car, and "drove the squad car down the street with Tony lying on top, writhing in pain."

Three Quarters of A Million Americans Arrested For Marijuana Possession in 2008

In the US last year, 754,224 people were arrested for possession (not dealing or production) of marijuana.  By the logic of US drug laws, all of these folks are better off with an arrest record and possible incarceration that they are from the nominal negative effects of smoking marijuana (FBI report here, via Radley Balko).  These numbers are just insane.  And while the report only gives race numbers for total drug arrests rather than for just marijuana offenses, a hugely disproportionate number are black (over 1/3 of arrests).

And speaking of equal protection, the arrest numbers for gambling are eye-opening (table 43).  75% of all people arrested for gambling last year in the US were black, including 90% of the arrests of those under 18 for this offense.  It seems it is A-OK for whites to play poker at home for money (I'm guilty) or to bet in Super Bowl pools (guilty again) or to clad themselves in polyester and head to the casino boat, but blacks who choose to compete with the state gambling/lottery monopoly will get arrested.  As an aside, I have always laughed at the government piously suing tobacco companies for targeting minorities with their advertising and then using the same techniques themselves to target minorities for their lottery sales.

Avoid Jericho, Arkansas at All Costs

Not many people have seen it, but one of my favorite movies is Interstate 60.  It has a story thread through the movie, but what it really becomes is a series of essays on freedom and slavery.  One the best parts is the town where everyone is a lawyer.  The only way anyone makes money is when someone breaks the law, so their laws are crafted such that it is impossible not to break the law.

The town of Jericho, Arkansas sounds very similar.  It has 174 residents, no businesses, but a police force of 6 that tries to find ways to support itself.  Apparently, everyone in town is constantly in court for traffic citations.  When one man got fed up, and yelled at the police in court for their stupid speed traps, the police shot him - right in the courtroom.  In a scene right out of Interstate 60, the DA, after investigating the shooting, couldn't remember the name of the police officer who did the shooting and said no charges would be filed against the police, but that misdemeanor charges were being considered against the man shot.  Probably for littering, due to his bleeding on the floor.

Via Radley Balko (who else?)

I'm Not That Big on National Mandates, But...

...requiring dash cameras in every police vehicle would be a great idea.  Via Radley Balko, of course, video in his post here.

I do think Ms. Harmon has her lawsuit a bit misdirected.  I don't think Tasers per se are the problem.  If this guy didn't have a Taser, it would just be a nightstick or physical force.  The issue is that many police act as if they are dictators of the local area within their line of sight.

It's Official -- MADD is About Tea-totalling, Not Drunken Driving

Hat tip to Radley Balko, from 1150 WDEL

And, the leader of an anti-drunk driving group hopes those images don't send the wrong message to the millions of young people who saw the president drinking on TV.

Nancy Raynor is president of the Delaware chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

She says her group isn't "prohibitionist," but it is is concerned about what teens and childrens take away from seeing the president drinking on TV.

Kids would have seen the President drinking a very modest amount of alcohol, and then not driving. And this has what to do with drunk driving? Answer: nothing. Because despite her protestations, MADD has become a prohibitionist organization.

Transparency

Funny quote from Radley Balko, discussing the lack of any real information at the new White House web site:

Good to know they're at least working hard to make flattering photographs of the president "more accessible" to the public. Who says Obama has dropped the ball on transparency?

Saturday Links

I almost never publish links posts.  But I was really stuck when I read Radley Balko's Saturday Morning Links post because every one was awesome.  Balko is not only one of the best bloggers out there, but a great journalist as well in a field of us pundits who put on pretensions of being pajama-clad investigators.  So here are all of his morning links:

Why there are 60 minutes in an hour

Bloomberg takes the next step down the road toward anti-tobacco hysteria.

Zimbabwean newspaper prints billboards on paper made from the country's worthless currency.

Legless frogs epidemic probably not caused by pollution, but by dragonfly nymphs with a jones for frogs' legs.

Obama administration will support indefinite detention of terror suspects without a trial; drops the news late in the evening on a summer Friday.

TSA detains man for comic book script. Kicker: Scropt was about a guy who gets wrongfully harassed by the government for writing fiction about terror attacks that came true.

Junk Science in the Courtroom

I used to write a lot about junk science in civil cases.  I have never really liked the idea of limitations on liability awards as a solution for nutty civil rulings -- after all, how can Congress know in advance exactly what real damages will arise, and why should my ability to recover real damages be capped?

I always have felt that such solutions were beside the point, that what tort law needed was:

  • Better immunization against junk science
  • A rollback of the flawed notion that deep pockets are automatically liable, regardless of their actions, combined with some acknowledgment of individual responsibility
  • Protection of dependents from nuisance suits and mass torts, both of which derive their power from the cost of defense rather than the facts of the case, forcing the innocent to settle just to avoid these defense costs.

I always had naively thought that the junk science issues were mainly limited to civil courts, and that criminal courts, with their much stronger protections against false convictions, did not really have these problems.

The more I read Radley Balko, though, the more depressed I get about innocent people sitting in jail as the result of really flawed evidence.  The most recent example:

Last weekend, we looked at the case of Bill Dillon, the Brevard County resident imprisoned for 27 years before DNA tests set him free...

At least two other men suffered the same fate "” and another shared link: a dog.

Not just any dog. A wonder dog helped convict all three men: a German shepherd named Harass II, who wowed juries with his amazing ability to place suspects at the scenes of crimes.

Harass could supposedly do things no other dog could: tracking scents months later and even across water, according to his handler, John Preston.

Can We Afford to be This Forthright?

Radley Balko linked to this article for a different reason (at least I think it was for another reason -- I actually can't figure out why he linked to it, but all those Reason guys are often too hip for me to follow).  But I thought this line was funny:

An off-duty Essex police officer could face charges for shooting his allegedly neighbor's dog after it tangled with his Pug, state police say.

"Allegedly neighbor's dog?"  Is the fact that he is a neighbor in doubt?  Or is the ownership of the dog in doubt?  Or is it the species of the animal that is in doubt?

What, Was Ralph Nader Busy?

Per Overlawyered:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is anything but an uncontroversial organization, as the Washington Times, Radley Balko, and our own archives make clear. Among the bad, sometimes awful ideas with which it has been identified are a reduction of the blood alcohol limit to 0.4 (meaning that for some adults a single drink could result in arrest), blanket police roadblocks and pullovers, the 55 mph speed limit, traffic-cams, and the imprisonment of parents who knowingly permit teen party drinking, to name but a few. Of particular interest when it comes to the policies of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it has backed proposed legislation demanding that costly breathalyzer-ignition interlock systems be foisted on all new cars, whether or not their drivers have ever committed a DUI offense; it's also lined up with the plaintiff's bar on various dubious efforts to expand liability.

Now President Obama has named MADD CEO Chuck Hurley to head NHTSA. Drivers, car buyers, and the American public had better brace themselves for a season of neo-Prohibitionist rhetoric, nannyist initiatives, and efforts to criminalize now-lawful conduct. It won't be pretty.

Olson has tons of history linked on his site.

Regulation as Incumbent Protection

This is a great example of a point I often make about regulation aiding incumbents and large companies against smaller companies and upstarts.  From the DC Examiner, via Radley Balko

Philip Morris, openly and without qualification, backs Kennedy's and Waxman's bills to heighten regulation of tobacco.

Philip Morris stands to benefit from this regulation in many ways. First, all regulation adds to overhead, and thus falls more heavily on smaller firms. Second, restrictions on advertising help Philip Morris' Marlboro, a brand everyone already knows, by keeping lesser-known brands in the shadows. (Existing restrictions on advertising have already helped Philip Morris in this regard, with an added benefit spelled out in Altria's annual report: "Marketing and selling expenses were lower, reflecting regulatory restrictions on advertising and promotion activities. "¦ ")

Finally, if the bill passes and the FDA gets added control over the industry, Philip Morris, more than any of its competitors, will have access to those bureaucrats and agency heads making the decisions. For all these reasons, RJ Reynolds and other tobacco companies oppose the bills Kennedy and Waxman are pushing.

The Classy Way to be Fired

Radley Balko demonstrates it.  Thank them for the opportunity, express sorrow for the passing of a good relationship, look for the next new thing.

Don't Dance on the Times' Grave

Recent circulation numbers showing continued, substantial declines of traditional newspapers give me an excuse to make a point I have wanted to make for some time. 

I am a frequent critic of newspapers.  I think they have lost focus on the hard-hitting investigative journalism which used to be their highest and best calling, instead considering reiteration of an activist's press release sufficient to check the journalism box on some particular issue.  When investigative reporting does occur, it almost always is focused to support the dominant or politically correct outcome, rather than to really challenge conventional wisdom.   Media coverage of any technical issue involving science or statistics or economics is often awful, in large part because journalism is too often the default educational path of folks who want to avoid numbers.  Any time I have been on the inside of some issue receiving coverage, I have generally been astounded by how little the print descriptions matched reality.  Now that I am interviewed more as a source for articles, I never think my views are well-quoted (though that may be my fault for not talking in sound bites).  And, like many, I get irritated that the media's arrogance and self-referential reporting seems to increase in direct proportion to their drop in circulation.

All that being said, the world without healthy newspapers is a bad thing. 

First, we bloggers can blather on all day about being the new media, but with the exception of a few folks like Radley Balko, we're all editorial writers, not reporters  (I consider my role at Climate-Skeptic.com to be more like journalism, but only because there is such a glaring hole on that topic in traditional media).  I couldn't do what I do here, at least on this particular blog, without the New York Times and the Washington Post.  I'm a remora feeding on their scraps.  I can't bring down the big fish by myself, I can only feed on the bits they miss.

Second, and perhaps more important in this world of proposed reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, print media is the mode of speech best protected by the First Ammendment.  This isn't the way it should be -- all speech should be equal -- but in reality goofy regulatory regimes for radio, TV, and even the Internet all offer the government leverage points for speech control they don't have with the print media.  It's why half the dystopic sci fi novels out there have a world dominated by TV -- because that is where government has the most control of speech.

So here's hoping you guys at the NY Times get your act together.