Sunday, August 10, 2014

Drums, drums in the deep

You get back from a week at a conference and it looks like somebody just dropped a theory bomb all over the Fair 'n' Balanced Network. Let's enjoy a few not-quite-random selections from the day's top stories, interspersed with random commentary.

Like the human brain, the "media agenda" (and the political agenda, from which we kinda-sorta liberated the idea back in the early 1970s), has a limited carrying capacity. At Fox, it's pretty much four stories at a time. That adds up to a lot of discrete stories if you count all the bobbing and weaving that goes on through the course of a news day, and it gets more complicated when two agenda levels are happening at once. With the Graham story above, there's both issue salience -- Iraq, and specifically the ISIS insurgency, is the day's biggest story -- and attribute salience: basically, run! So life's not just scary, it's complicated.

Conveniently, there's a master frame to help organize things. The Kenyan has screwed things up again: 

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham sounded the alarm Sunday about the growing threat of Islamic State launching an attack on American soil unless President Obama takes more decisive action to stop the terror group’s surge across Iraq and Syria.

Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that the well-funded, swiftly-strengthening organization, which has taken control of large parts of both Middle East countries, is a “direct threat to our homeland.”

“Mr. President, be honest with the threat we face,” Graham said. “They are coming.”

Pretty well cuts your cognitive workload in half, doesn't it? It's a story about the usurper's fecklessness, and it's a securitized story: we need to do something about this now, or else there won't be a "we" to do anything about it in the future. You really don't even have to notice that the morning's most important story isn't about something that happened to change your assessment of Iraq; it's about something somebody said.

Which helps you understand the No. 3 story this morning (actually cribbed from a story earlier in the week; note that the subject was "unavailable for comment Wednesday"). This one too has a master frame: Libruls R Hypocrites. And it also illuminates the routines that go into making a news story at Fox:

Labor Secretary-turned-college professor Robert Reich’s latest lectures on income inequality don't square with his $240,000 salary for teaching just one class, economists tell

Hold that thought.

Reich, who served in the Clinton White House and is now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, took on the topic of “Work and Worth” in an Aug. 2 post on his blog. In it, he lamented that there is “little or no relationship” between what someone is paid and their actual worth to society, and he wrapped up his post by calling for student loans to be forgiven for graduates in fields like social work, nursing and teaching.

... But a professor who earns a one-percenter's income for a relatively easy workload has a tough time complaining about how unfair the economy is, according to some critics.

Who might "economists" and "some critics" be? 

“It’s definitely hypocritical,” said Dan Mitchell of the Washington-based Cato Institute. (Quick, kids, see if you can guess what question from the intrepid Fox reporter he was answering!) “And not only does he earn that salary, but I’m sure he pulls in a lot of money from consulting and from giving speeches. But he’s obviously in the top 1 or 2 percent, so if he really thinks that society mismeasures these things, then why isn’t he giving some of his money away?”

You need another source for a story this big, so it's a good thing you can just call someone  on the Fox payroll:

... Peter Morici, a professor of business at the University of Maryland and a Fox News contributor, echoed Mitchell’s take, saying most people get paid what the market says they're worth.

“He’s just an ideologue, he’s not really an economist,” Morici told “He’s basically a social scientist. This is his belief to me; it’s not an analytic position.”

OK, somebody missed that first-semester lecture on what "social science" means in the adult world. And you have to admire the convenience; it's as if the NYT's Washington bureau was to call Maureen Dowd for a comment on whether Bush Jr. is fit for high society. But we've learned something important about how news is structured, which is going to come in handy for our last example, which reached the No. 2 position in early evening:

A heart-wrenching new video shows the teary-eyed young children of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini in an impassioned appeal to President Obama for help in getting their father freed from an Iranian prison.

In other words, the Kenyan should never disgrace America by negotiating with terrorists, unless Fox thinks it's a good idea to negotiate with terrorists. Somebody should probably tell the teary-eyed young children that Fox's views on that matter can change pretty fast.

Anyway, that's how I spent what passes for summer vacation in these parts. Hope you had a good one too.

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