Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Women and Work, Again

August 14, 2007

How’s this for a sobering statistic:

“Women occupy 50.6 percent of managerial and professional positions, according to the research organization Catalyst, but make up only 15.6 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers.”

This is just one of many gems from a recent NYTimes article about women in the workforce that’s actually in the Business section instead of the Style section. It’s about how many women are now (only half-)joking that they want a wife at home to take care of the housework while these career women actually work. Since, you know, behind every successful man there’s a kick-ass woman and all.

The article also notes that, while working women tend to be penalized for having children–mostly through less overall compensation–working men may actually be rewarded for fatherhood.

But this article also departs from the Times’ usually flippant and matter-of-fact tone toward social phenomena involving women in the workplace. The story may still be slightly flawed, but the author actually acknowledges counter-arguments, cites real studies and statistics about labor discrepancies, and respects women who have career ambitions in addition to family lives.

The tone she takes is closer to a recent NPR story about a new phenomenon sweeping suburban Connecticut: the four-child family as status symbol. Thankfully, NPR does not commit the sin of taking these “trends” as actual sociological trends, but rather looks at the whole thing with a bit of humor and perspective. Their story approaches an anthropological tidbit about the lives of the rich, and their reporting makes this clear.

These are two stories in welcome contrast to the New York Times’ prior coverage.


The Most-Emailed List

July 8, 2007

Several nights ago, I had one of those typical young-cynical-urbanites-talking-over-drinks kind of conversations about the New York Times most-emailed list. We all generally agreed with the sentiment expressed in this recent Onion article. Reading the articles topping it right now, it seems that the most-emailed list is becoming less relevant to what’s actually in the news. There was last week’s article in the Style section about how mothers and daughters now have closer relationships, and–gasp–even friendships (it’s behind the Times select firewall, but here’s a nice excerpt):

There have always been close-knit mother-daughter relationships. But social, demographic and technological changes have made it more common for adult daughters to keep their mothers’ apron strings tied tighter — and for longer, say researchers who study the transition into young adulthood.

Today, it is not unusual for unmarried middle-class women in their 20s or 30s to share with their mothers the diary-worthy details of their lives, plan weekly outings with them and call the Mommy Batphone when they need backup.

Even Paris Hilton — who has been labeled many things, though never a momma’s girl — revealed that it is her mother, Kathy Hilton, to whom she turns in a crisis. When last month a judge ordered the 26-year-old back to jail, she did not call out for a lover, her lawyer or God. In her hour of need, she cried, ”Mom!” Upon being released Tuesday, she ran into her mother’s arms.

Developmental psychologists and sociologists say this phenomenon of attachment is only now beginning to be studied. They have identified several factors that could be contributing to an intensified mother-daughter symbiosis: technology that makes it easy to stay connected; the smaller number of children in each household; young adults who are prolonging decisions about career, marriage and children; parents who want to have a less-hierarchical relationship with their offspring; and parents who feel the need to keep their grown children close at a time when anxiety and depression levels among young adults are at some of their highest points ever.

Additionally, parent-child contact during the college years has dramatically increased. Professors say that many students these days stroll around campus talking into cellphones — and not to one another. It is not surprising, experts say, that some of that behavior spills over into the post-college years, including a reliance on parents to continue to pay the bills.

”There is a higher level of dependence,” said Vivian Gadsden, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. ”In that way they are very much a product of this period in our history.”

Frank F. Furstenberg Jr., the chairman of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood and a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said the trend is ripe for research.

”The fact is that very little is known about this topic,” he wrote in an e-mail message. ”Our research network is doing a slew of studies on changing relations among young adults and their parents, but the research is still in the field.”

Many of the women who spoke of their closeness to their mothers also said that they had a warm relationship with their fathers, though hardly as uncensored.

”My mom is absolutely my best friend,” said Jennifer White, 25, a paralegal in Manhattan. ”We do everything and anything.”

Karen Bauer, 36, of Englewood, N.J., and her mother have spent every Saturday afternoon for 14 years having lunch and shopping. ”I won’t give that up for anything,” said Ms. Bauer, an executive assistant. ”I’ve turned down jobs because they wanted me to work on Saturday.”

Wendy Spero, 32, took the analogy further, likening the relationship to that of husband and wife: so long, significant other; hello, significant mother.

If Paris Hilton’s doing it, well, then, it must be a sociological phenomenon!

And then there’s this Sunday’s topper from the Style section, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,” which is pretty much an anecdotal study of hipster librarians living in Williamsburg. Which actually describes in ten words most of what these trendy articles tend to be: hipsters living in Williamsburg (or Park Slope) doing x that used to be nerdy:

How did such a nerdy profession become cool — aside from the fact that a certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies.

And though many librarians say that they, like nurses or priests, are called to the profession, they also say the job is stable, intellectually stimulating and can have reasonable hours — perfect for creative types who want to pursue their passions outside of work and don’t want to finance their pursuits by waiting tables. (The median salary for librarians was about $51,000 in 2006, according to the American Library Association-Allied Professional Organization.)

“I wanted to do something different, something maybe more meaningful,” said Carrie Klein, 36, who used to be a publicist for a record label and for bands such as Radiohead and the Foo Fighters, but is now starting a new job in the library at Entertainment Weekly.

Michelle Campbell, 26, a librarian in Washington, said that librarianship is a haven for left-wing social engagement, which is particularly appealing to the young librarians she knows. “Especially those of us who graduated around the same time as the Patriot Act,” Ms. Campbell said. “We see what happens when information is restricted.”

Ms. Campbell added that she became a librarian because it “combined a geeky intellectualism” with information technology skills and social activism.

What neither of these articles offer is statistics, or even really many facts, to back up what they claim to be trends backed up by facts. The library article mentions that, by one estimate, there are 13 librarians living in one neighborhood in Brooklyn. There is also a vague statement about the “steady increase in library information science enrollments over the last 10 years.”

The mother article contains absolutely no statistics, just some stories and a couple of quotes from psychologists who seem rather cautious to make any committal statements.

All I can think is that they have to sell papers somehow, and if anecdotal sociology is what NYT readers want–and they seem to, judging by its email popularity–that’s exactly what they’ll get. Everyone wants a little dessert after reading all that dense international news or the depressing week in review. Why not a light, punny article about hipster librarians?

And if it means an enhanced Sunday Styles section and more tipsy conversations about how much hipper those New Yorkers are than us DCers, well, I guess I wouldn’t be so opposed to that.

Sicko–Exactly What I was Thinking

July 5, 2007

This op-ed in the New York Times expresses much more eloquently and succinctly what I was thinking about Sicko than I could write here.

Philip Boffey, a Times editorial writer who specializes in science, writes:

The film is unashamedly one-sided, superficial, overstated and occasionally suspect in its details. But on the big picture — the failure to ensure that everyone who needs medical care gets it — Mr. Moore is right.


Yet it is hard to know how true the stories are — Mr. Moore never gives enough details to help viewers determine — or how common the abuses may be. The stories are told from the viewpoint of the victims, with nary a peep from the insurers and not much from doctors who might know whether the refused care was appropriate.

And finally:

Mr. Moore’s heart clearly lies with the single-payer, tax-supported, governmental health systems abroad. That solution would be hard to sell here, where suspicion of the insurance companies is matched if not exceeded by suspicion of the government. Yet the case for some form of universal coverage is strong. The claim that we provide the best medical care in the world is hollow; international comparisons rank us below other industrialized countries on measures of quality, access and clinical outcomes. Mr. Moore is right to ask how a country that spends so much more on health care than any other nation can’t take care of everyone who is sick.

The movie is worth seeing, keeping these caveats in mind. The common counterargument is that even if Moore had provided a more balanced view, he would not have been taken seriously. I think that his argument would only have been stronger had he talked to doctors or others involved in creating a fuller perspective on these anecdotal cases.

Motivating people to anger is good. But it’s time to grow up, Michael Moore, make yourself even more relevant, and motivate people to actual action.

Studies suggest headline discrepancies

June 28, 2007

Did the New York Times and LA Times headline writers actually read the same study about antidepressants and birth defects? The LA Times says, “Birth defect-antidepressant link found.” The actual article is relatively non-alarmist, about a recentstudy that found a very low risk of birth defects in infants born to women taking antidepressants.

The New York Times read it differently, and tells us “Antidepressants Rated Low Risk in Pregnancy.” Pretty similar article. Pretty different implications in that headline.

Also, the LA Times reports:

One of the reports, funded in part by Paxil maker GlaxoSmithKline, associated Zoloft [a Pfizer product] with a nearly sixfold increase in cases of omphalocele, in which intestines or other abdominal organs protrude from the navel. The birth defect is very rare, occurring in one of every 5,000 births, according to federal statistics.

Is this really a fair study? Is the LA Times really justified in being so quick to jump to conclusions in its headlines?

Pandas! Polar Bears! Cuteness Oh My!

April 24, 2007

Today was “Panda Day” in DC. Because the Chinese let us keep Tai Shan for another two years. According to Wonkette, it’s because China has more cute baby ones and Tai Shan is just last year’s washed up cute animal. The Washington Post felt the need to remind everyone why we fell in love with Tai Shan in the first place, even though he’s now about two-thirds the size of his parents and no longer qualifies as the new hip cute thing in the world.

It’s probably all a carefully timed publicity ploy (apparently the panda relations/PR person employed by the Smithsonian makes almost as much as disgraced secretary Larry Small–but don’t quote me on that because my source was a frivolous trivia night conversation) to take away from the enormous popularity of Knut and redirect attention to the forgotten, overgrown panda who was all the rage in DC last year.

Poor Tai Shan. He just can’t compete. But as Derek wisely pointed out, pandamania vs. polar-ice-bear-mania in DC can be measured by number of Wonkette posts devoted to said cute animal.  And by that measure, Tai Shan still beats the cutepants off Knut, by about a hundred to two.

Pandamonium. Pandamania. Call it what you will, apparently we’ll never get over it here in DC, no matter how many renditions of beedogs, Knut blog, or Alberto Gonzalez charming the pants off Congress* we see. Maybe this is why they won’t give us the vote.

*Note to reader: this never actually happened.

More Fun in the Blogosphere

December 24, 2006

I was about three months late on the Ahmadinejad blog, and now I’m only two weeks late on Tom DeLay’s. At this rate, I’ll catch up to the actual rate of new blogs sometime in the next month. But on Tom DeLay’s…

A snapshot of Tom DeLay’s Blog:

“The top tier candidates appear to be RINO-IN-CHIEF John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Romney, who was looking to run from the right, touted himself as the lone conservative of the three, however, former statements and gaffe’s that have recently been revealed suggest otherwise.”

Okay, fine, but John McCain is hardly a RINO (Republican in name only). The guy’s scary because people think he’s a centrist but he’s not. Even his own party thinks he’s centrist! But the American Conservative Union gave him a score of 83. By comparison, they gave Barack Obama an 8.

Another gem is DeLay’s comparison of Nancy Pelosi to Leon Trotsky. And his tag of “Liberals Gone Wild” for the Media Research Center’s kookiest liberal awards.

As my friend Bryn pointed out, for the first 75 minutes that DeLay’s blog was posted last week, people could comment uncensored. Here‘s the link to a snapshot of the site. Even if the site is a phony, it’s a pretty amusing one.

Blogging President

December 15, 2006

Pervez Musharraf has written a book. Now, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has a blog. You can read it in English at

The best part is the comments from Americans. One says, “you are a sad person, you need help may God have mercy on our world.” Another calls Ahmadinejad an idiot. But mostly, Americans are commenting in support of his effort to reach out to the US in an open letter to the God-fearing citizens of our country. A particularly good one from a contributor named “Phantom Justice”:

“Your site is very nteresting and entertaining. We are watching for the sign. The future awaits

My other favorite thing about this blog is imagining the possibilities that would abound if George W. Bush started his own blog. Imagine the pictures of the first pet, the sound clips of particularly triumphal speeches, the sanitized public memos assuring us that we are still winning the war in Iraq. Maybe George Bush’s blog would be a bit boring. Maybe it would look a lot like the White House press page.

But on Ahmadinjad’s blog, in a turnaround from his earlier efforts to block bloggers in Iran, he encourages everyone to send him online feedback. Who’s heard such a call for opinions coming out of the White House lately?

The San Francisco Chronicle

October 1, 2006

Rep. Mark Foley messed up bigtime. The Republican leadership messed up bigtime. And it’s hitting the news just in time for the midterm elections. So when the New York Times’ top front page Sunday headline is “Top G.O.P. aides knew in late ’05 of e-mail to page,” what does the San Francisco Chronicle print? “Red West shifting to Blue.” Granted, it’s an interesting election year story, and California is a Western state, but it is of dubious importance when something as big as the Foley scandal is happening, or the torture bill is still in the picture. Perhaps I ought to concede finally that the Chronicle really is out of touch with the rest of the media. Sure, it’s a quirky hometown paper, and I can always have a special place in my heart for the clapping man. But putting only a small mention to Foley on the front page, rather than a story? Maybe the Chron is only playing to the hometown constituency, knowing that most Bay Areans already think most Republicans are slimy and don’t need another reason to think so. But this is national headline-making news. And the story is on page A15. Get with it Chronicle. Make yourself relevant. Publish some news.