John Oliver interview with Edward Snowden.

John Oliver has been knocking it out of the park ever since he left The Daily Show to start his own comedy news show on HBO. Last Week Tonight manages to both entertain and inform and, in some ways, is a better show than TDS. Best of all, HBO and Oliver makes full length segments of the show available on YouTube so you don’t have to pay for HBO to see it.

Each week Oliver picks a topic and does a deep dive on it and this week he’s tackling surveillance and Section 215 of the Patriot Act and how we’re not having the debate we should be about the NSA and domestic spying. It’s a great segment, but it’s even better because he managed to score an interview with the man who arguably made it possible to have this debate, Edward Snowden, and he doesn’t pull any punches with his questions:

Once again I have to marvel at how a comedy news program manages to do better journalism than the supposed news channels. It also breaks things down into a context that is not only funny, but which the average person can comprehend.

As Oliver points out, part of the reason we’re not having this debate is because the subject matter is so highly technical and hard to understand for most folks. It’s doesn’t help that too many people barely pay attention to what’s going on around them. Ask them who Taylor Swift is and they can recite lyrics from her latest single, but ask who Edward Snowden is and too many don’t have a clue. These programs need to be seriously revised and given more transparency, but that’s not going to happen so long as we don’t bother to talk about them.

Finally, this gives me a chance to make use of this:

Would've been funnier back when it was still winter, but fuck it.

Would’ve been funnier back when it was still winter, but fuck it.

And now for some news bloopers…

I needed a quick laugh today and found this did the trick:

The Daily Show on Republican fear mongering over health reform.

It’s hard to watch news reports on the disruptions of town hall meetings by the bat-shit insane bloc of the Republican party without shaking your head in despair. As per usual the Conservative pundits have been hard at work honing their hypocrisy into a razor sharp edge that can cut through cognitive dissonance in a single slice as this report from The Daily Show reveals:

When the Left do it, which we really haven’t on the scale we see today, we’re called Nazis. When the Right do it they’re merely expressing their First Amendment rights.

It should come as no surprise that since Walter Cronkite passed away a recent Time Magazine poll listed Jon Stewart as the most trusted newscaster, but it is rather sad. Not because Stewart doesn’t do a good job of presenting news, but because The Daily Show is a fake news program that was never meant to be anything other than funny. That a humor program does a better job of presenting the news than most of the major news programs/channels shows just how fucked up things have become. Not to mention that it takes a fake news program to hold the likes of FOX News accountable for their blatant misinformation and propaganda. Something you would expect the other news operations to undertake.

I suppose that would be difficult to do, however, when the corporations that own the major news channels are declaring truces that force their anchors to censor themselves. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC was doing a fairly decent job of taking FOX News in general, and Bill “Douche Bag” O’Reilly specifically, to task over the idiocy they put on the airwaves. Granted it wasn’t exactly hurting Keith’s ratings to take on the stunningly popular O’Reilly, but at least someone besides Jon Stewart was calling out their bullshit. All of that came to an end recently when the heads of both networks got together at a meeting mediated by Charlie Rose to agree to reign in their attack dogs:

It was perhaps the fiercest media feud of the decade and by this year, their bosses had had enough. But it took a fellow television personality with a neutral perspective to help bring it to at least a temporary end.

At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

In early June, the combat stopped, and MSNBC and Fox, for the most part, found other targets for their verbal missiles (Hello, CNN).

“It was time to grow up,” a senior employee of one of the companies said.

That’s how the companies are spinning this agreement, but what it’s really about is the corporate owners censoring the news because it was rocking the boat. The New York Times article I quoted above totally fails to highlight that simple fact. Something which Glen Greenwald at Salon.com was stunned by:

According to the NYT, both CEOs agreed that the dispute was bad for the interests of the corporate parents, and thus agreed to order their news employees to cease attacking each other’s news organizations and employees.

Most notably, the deal wasn’t engineered because of a perception that it was hurting either Olbermann or O’Reilly’s show, or even that it was hurting MSNBC.  To the contrary, as Olbermann himself has acknowledged, his battles with O’Reilly have substantially boosted his ratings.  The agreement of the corporate CEOs to cease criticizing each other was motivated by the belief that such criticism was hurting the unrelated corporate interests of GE and News Corp.

[…] So here we have yet another example—perhaps the most glaring yet—of the corporations that own our largest media outlets controlling and censoring the content of their news organizations based on the unrelated interests of the parent corporation.

Greenwald goes on to point out the hypocrisy of Charlie Rose’s involvement considering statements he made back in 2003 in which he claimed the news organizations ABC, NBC, and CBS “are not influenced by the corporations that may own those companies.” Apparently a lot has changed in the six years since. Greenwald goes on to point out that MSNBC isn’t above using a corporate lobbyist—former Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe who now works for Public Strategies, Inc.—as a “guest host” and “political analyst” on their network. Public Strategies, Inc. is a corporate communications firm run by former Bush White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett and it touts Wolffe’s frequent appearances on NBC and MSNBC in his bio to their clients. They don’t specifically say that if you hire them you’d have access to someone who frequently appears on a major news network as a supposedly objective analyst, but the implication is certainly there. Which just goes to show that you can’t even necessarily trust the news network that supposedly leans to the left to be honest with you. Though, if you were to believe the Conservative pundits, all American news shows outside of FOX are so far left they make Pravda look like it’s objective and impartial.

So we’re left with the host of a fake news program as the most trusted anchor in America since Cronkite kicked the bucket and the continuing need to seek out multiple sources of news to try and separate the wheat from the chaff. This is less of a problem with the Internet these days though it is a lot more work to take in the multiple sources and figure out what’s being influenced by bias and what is plain old factual. I would guess the extra effort is what contributes to the ability of news organizations like FOX to make shit up and present it as fact and have most of their viewers swallow it without question. It’s too much work to get to the truth and it’s so much easier to have your own prejudices and preconceptions catered to from a single source.

The moon landing coverage if it had happened today.

This is an interesting little video put together by the folks over at Slate. It attempts to show how the coverage of the moon landing would be different had it happened this year instead of 40 years ago. The resulting clip is both funny and sad at the same time:

Walter Cronkite just passed away the other day and I think all the reflection on his amazing career made folks realize just how infantile and shallow television news coverage has become in recent times. I think part of that has to do with the advent of 24 hour news channels with their constant struggle to fill the day with enough “news” to keep their ratings up. Back when CNN and Headline News got started they did a pretty good job, but it didn’t take long before competition came along and the Powers That Be realized that shallow infotainment pieces generated a lot more ratings for less cost than more traditional reporting did. It says something when Ted Turner, the man who started both channels, publicly admits he can’t stand to watch them anymore:

On Headline News: “Headline News used to be straight news anytime you wanted it. It’s unwatchable now. It’s heartbreaking.”

On celebrity news: “The media are too busy with Michael Jackson. The greatest fear we could possibly have today is an uninformed electorate. That is what really scares me.”

[…] On CNN: “It will be on in my hospital room when I die. That, or the Cartoon Network. Scooby- Doo has been very good to me.”

Think about that for a moment. Ted Turner puts Cartoon Network on an equal level as CNN as something that he may be watching when he dies. That says a lot about the quality of the news reporting at CNN to me. Not that CNN alone is to blame. FOX News is arguably the most to blame for dragging the quality of the 24 hour news channels down since the day it started. When you combine the shittiness of the current 24 hour news channels with the fact that more and more newspapers are cutting back or folding up shop altogether, well, it doesn’t bode well for a properly informed electorate in the future.

Of course that assumes the electorate has any desire to be properly informed in the first place, which is a whole other can of worms in itself…

I’ve been contacted by German news show “MorgenMagazin.”

Seems they’re coming to Michigan to do a news story on the transformation that the city of Detroit is going through. The show’s producer came across one of my entries about having a hard time finding work and how we were considering leaving Michigan, a discussion we just had again the other night, and dropped me an email. She’s looking for people who used to work for GM and are now thinking of moving away. I technically qualify on both counts, but I wasn’t a part of the massive layoffs that are about to happen having left GM voluntarily over a year ago. The fact that I was also a contractor probably means I’m not the person she’s hoping to interview, but perhaps I can point her to someone who is.

So if you’re in the Detroit area and are a former or soon-to-be former employee of GM and are thinking about moving out of Michigan let me know. The story’s deadline is Thursday. They plan to be here today and/or tomorrow. I don’t think you absolutely have to be living IN Detroit to participate, the fate of GM is going to affect pretty much all of South Eastern Michigan and the State as a whole, but there’s probably bonus points if you are.

My ranking on the Pew “News IQ” test.

I like to think of myself as fairly well-informed on current events, something my old high school history teacher Mr. Nuss would scoff at I’m sure, but I didn’t realize I was this well informed:


Click to embiggen!

According to the Pew “News IQ” Test I score in the 97 percentile along with approximately 3% of the public where as the national average is a pitiful 50%. The site lets you break things down further by gender, educational level, age group, question by question, and demographic by question. It frightens me to think that with just a year and a half of college under my belt I still scored better than people with a college degree (63%). There’s only 12 questions on the test and most of them were pretty softball questions. For that matter, the only reason I did as well as I did was because it was a multiple choice test. If you asked me outright who is chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board I’d probably stammer for a couple of moments while trying to recall his name, but when I see it amongst a list of other possibilities it makes picking it out easy as hell. Only 28% of people knew the correct answer to the question: Since the start of military action in Iraq, about how many U.S. military personnel have been killed? That’s something I’d have guessed everyone knew—they don’t—more people knew the answer to Which of the following recently declared its independence from Serbia (46%) which was the question I figured most folks would get wrong.

The thing is, I’m hardly a news junkie. I get most of mine from a little morning news before work, a little NPR while in the car, and just reading various blogs around the web. I don’t sit around with the TV tuned to CNN all day or with NPR on the radio at work. I have to take most of my news in small chunks so as not to get horribly depressed. Well, I do watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on a semi-regular basis (once or twice a week) as he makes it a bit more palatable by pointing out the absurdities, but otherwise I don’t generally tune in to news programs. This explains why I’m so often saying to people: How do you not know that? It’s all over the frickin’ news!

Found via ***Dave who apparently missed one question himself.

BBC’s Newsnight has report on video games raising your IQ.

Now this should be an interesting news report on tonight’s BBC Newsnight:

An investigation into why children’s IQs are rising despite complaints from parents that their kids spend too much time playing video games and surfing the internet. This special report reveals that there’s some evidence to suggest that gaming is part of the reason why 21st century school children are apparently getting smarter.

That’s just a teaser as the show hasn’t aired yet, but it should be interesting to see what they have to say. If nothing else it’s a welcome bit of positive gaming news as opposed to the video-games-will-make-us-all-into-rabid-killers story we usually get.

Alas we don’t get BBC America so if any of you guys get a chance to check it out leave a comment and fill us in on some of the details.

SEB WTF of the Day: FCC rules “TMZ” and “700 Club” are newscasts.

I guess the standards for what constitutes a newscast are slipping these days:

The Federal Communications Commission has ruled as such in the cases of Fox’s “TMZ” and the Christian Broadcast Network’s “The 700 Club,” declaring Friday that each show meets the test for “a bona fide newscast” and therefore would not trigger political equal-time requirements.

Those requirements hold that “if a licensee allows a legally qualified candidate for public office to use a broadcast station, it must afford equal opportunities to other such candidates for that office,” according to FCC regs.

Congress defined “bona fide newscast” as one that holds “genuine news value” and is not intended to boost or aid any particular political candidate.

I’ve seen episodes of both shows and it seems pretty clear to me that the last thing they might be are “bone fide” newscasts. In TMZ‘s defense I suppose it’s only fair to grant the the status seeing as Entertainment Tonight also qualifies and I don’t really see that as much of a newscast either, but to say that the 700 Club doesn’t boost or aid any particular political candidate is laughable.

I do find it interesting that I’m nearly as appalled with TMZ as I am with the 700 Club in terms of the content. It’s hard to say which one was more vapid and potentially harmful to brain cells. I don’t recommend large doses of either over long periods of time.

It’s been a busy Monday and an Anniversary.

First I went to work and it was actually somewhat busy for a change. Then I left work early to head to my second interview with the unnameable (thanks to an NDA) big .com company in Ann Arbor that went very well indeed. Nothing is official yet, but I’ve got good reason to believe I have landed the job. I should know for certain tomorrow and I’m pretty excited about it. It seems I know just enough Linux that I’m a good fit without knowing so much that they can’t train me to do things their way. Plus my potential boss has already done his homework and found my blog and it ended up being a positive as he likes people who are different and I’m pretty different. The work environment sounds refreshingly casual, I can wear jeans and t-shirts to work, and there’s lots of opportunities to learn all sorts of news things and expand my skill base. So that was all good and I came home with a very positive attitude.

Then I took my wife out to dinner and a little shopping because today is our seventh wedding anniversary. I brought her a bouquet of daisies and tulips and spent the evening out doing what she wanted to do. She picked up a few books at Borders and bought me a couple of pairs of jeans for the new job and then we had ice cream at a local shop. Her anniversary gift to me, which proves that I made the right choice in deciding to marry her, was a pre-order of Grand Theft Auto IV Collector’s Edition. Now I just have to be patient until it comes out on the 29th.

So, yeah, a pretty damn good day all around. I’m feeling good and things are looking up. With a little luck I’ll be getting back to posting on a regular basis here too.

Local news team goes orb hunting. Film at 11.

As I was headed to bed the other night my attention was caught by a news item on Channel 4 News (the local NBC affiliate) about some woman who believes she’s seeing the spirit of her dead daughter in the form of orbs in photographs she’s taken. “Spirit orbs” are pretty much rejected by most ghost hunters these days as nothing other than dust reflecting the camera flash and for good reason, because that’s what they are for the most part. So I was surprised to see Channel 4 doing a news item about that sort of nonsense.

I was going to blog about it when I got the chance, but Orac of Respectful Insolence beat me to it so I’ll just point you to his article instead:

Sometimes woo jumps out and hits you from sources from which you least expect it.

Such was the case earlier this week, when I found my self in Detroit lazily watching a local newscast. Now, I realize that local news is not the place to look for skepticism. Heck, just the other day, I mentioned a really egregious example of a newscast from Oklahoma City that credulously regurgitated Generation Rescue talking points as fact. But it’s rare in my experience to see such a sterling example of woo appearing in a major market newscast. So there I was, sitting in front of the TV, when I saw a story come on entitled Orbs: Myth or Real? The leadup to the story made it clear that it was a story in which it was being claimed that “orbs” appearing in photographs represent the spirits of the dead being captured on film (or on digital media), with one of the newscasters even asking the question at the beginning of the newscast, “Could they really be a spirit from the afterlife captured in your photo?”

I think I annoyed my mother-in-law because at one point I yelled at the TV: It’s friggin’ dust you morons! DUST!!!

Sometimes my skepticism isn’t appreciated.