Have you been following the news less? A lot of people have, and that can be good, but it can also spell trouble for those of us in the news business. We're about to find out, because Mother Jones has a $350,000 fundraising goal right now. In "Slow News Is Good News," I try to reset after several chaotic years and make a longer-lasting case for why our nonprofit journalism matters. I hope you'll read it and that you'll pitch in if you can.
Have you been following the news less? A lot of people have, and that can be good and bad. It's unnerving, because Mother Jones has a $350,000 fundraising goal right now. In "Slow News Is Good News," we try to reset after several chaotic years and make a longer-lasting case for why our journalism matters. Please read it—and please pitch in!
Every country on this page is now experiencing a rise in COVID-19 deaths. Britain’s trendline is going nearly straight up with no sign of having reached its limit. Germany, Sweden, and the US aren’t far behind.
Here’s the officially reported coronavirus death toll through January 11. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.
The more we learn about the events of 1/6, the worse they get. Now the Justice Department is saying that they’re looking at bringing “significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy.” They’re also promising to reveal some additional, “shocking” information about what happened inside the Capitol building during the riot.
I sure hope one of the broadcast nets is putting together a quickie two-hour documentary/tick-tock on this whole thing. Because new information is dribbling out in bits and pieces, I think most people don’t realize just how bad the whole incident was. And this is, unfortunately for us print journalists, a story that can really only be told on TV. It starts right after the election, when Republicans began their long campaign to convince the public the election was stolen. Then it segues into the surprisingly well planned and well funded effort to bring a mob into Washington DC. On the day itself, only TV can really bring home just how bad it looked, and only a tick-tock can explain why Donald Trump’s behavior was even worse than you think. And then, of course, the assault on the Capitol itself, which produced five deaths, as well as scores of injuries to both rioters and police.
And then the coda, in which Republican politicians and Fox News almost instantly agree on a storyline that discounts any conservative responsibility and blames liberals for the whole thing.
But it’s a story that needs both detail and images, and it needs be told pretty quickly even if we’re still finding out new things every day. The public, I think, is nowhere near as shocked about this insurrection as they would be if they saw the whole thing laid out in one dramatic telling. So let’s get cracking on this, OK?
The second challenge Biden must face is the cynicism of millions of Americans who view the economy as a permanently rigged game. Taking office in the wake of the financial collapse, Obama departed from soaring oratory to offer a laundry list of program ideas: “We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.”
Twelve years later, voters on the economic margins have heard it all. Empty slogans like Biden’s awkwardly phrased “Build Back Better” are unlikely to create bonds of trust with the incoming president. From “green jobs” to “rebuilding the infrastructure,” standard Democratic rhetoric about the economy has become forced and mechanical. The widespread feeling is that programs will be announced and promises made, as the rich become richer and everyone else struggles to keep their heads above water.
This is such conventional wisdom that I can barely bring myself to disagree with it. But it’s just not right.
Take the belief that the economy is rigged in favor of the rich. In 2016 an Edison poll showed that 91 percent of Americans agreed. In 2020, however, a Crosscut poll pegged it at just a little over half and a Marketplace poll was in the same ballpark. Four years of strong wage growth seems to have made a significant dent in how the American public feels about this.
Likewise, voters “on the economic margins” may indeed have heard it all. But since the end of the Great Recession, household incomes of the poorest quintile have increased 22 percent (adjusted for inflation, of course). Half of that has come just in the past four years. It’s unlikely that they’re unusually unhappy about the economy.
The surprising thing about all this is not Shapiro’s view that the working and middle classes have gotten the shaft over the past few decades. Of course they have. The surprising thing is that this fact generally hasn’t triggered much of a backlash. Remember Occupy Wall Street? That was about as close as we’ve gotten recently to a grassroots protest against a rigged economy, and it fizzled out after just a few months. Nothing similar has ever taken its place.
“For Biden’s inaugural address to influence the politics of the next four years,” Shapiro says, “the incoming president must find a way to reach at least some of the disillusioned and the disaffected.” Sure. But money really doesn’t seem to be at the root of this disaffection. Consider this chart:
Although the spike after 9/11 makes it hard to tease out the underlying trend, it’s apparent that trust in government took a sharp downward fall starting in the early 2000s and continuing through about 2009. When the Great Recession hit, trust leveled out. When the economy began to recover, trust continued to be level. During the strong growth of the past four years, it stayed level yet again. It’s pretty clear that something happened during the first few years of the 2000s that started a long downward spiral, one that we’ve never recovered from. Money obviously doesn’t seem to be at the root of this in a broad sense, and polls of financial satisfaction confirm that the same is true in a more personal sense. It’s something else. And whatever it is, it’s what Joe Biden needs to address.
There’s a hint in the chart: again, it’s something that started to affect us around the year 2000. And it’s probably not strongly related to money. But what? I’ll provide the answer tomorrow.
Morning Consult informs us today that the number of Americans who think the country is on the right track is at 19 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2016. But exactly who thinks this?
When Donald Trump lost the election, lots of Republicans suddenly decided the country was no longer on the right track. Lots of Democrats felt the opposite. No surprises there.
But what’s up with the events of 1/6? Democrats had no reaction at all and Republicans suddenly plummeted. But why? Was it because many of them were appalled by the events at the Capitol? Or because after the Senate confirmed Joe Biden’s victory they gave up all hope? It makes a great deal of difference which it is.
After seeing first hand the consequences of its primetime hosts promoting conspiracy theories about the election being stolen, Fox News is taking a step back. In a memo to the Fox News staff, CEO Suzanne Scott announced a reorganization of its news shows designed to turn down the outrage dial a bit. “Recent events have stunned everyone,” the memo says, “and we need to understand the role we played in this.”
Ha ha ha. Did you believe this? Sucker. The only true part is that Fox News did announce a reorganization. But it was designed to turn up the outrage dial:
The major change for Fox News is the move of “The Story With Martha MacCallum” out of its 7 p.m. Eastern time slot to make way for a new opinion show, tentatively named “Fox News Primetime,” which will have a rotating group of hosts.
MacCallum’s program — which featured interviews with newsmakers and commentators — will air at 3 p.m. Eastern. “The Story” had seen its audience level fall in recent months as Newsmax, a competing right-wing channel, had gained viewers in the hour with its host Greg Kelly. While Kelly has never topped MacCallum in the ratings, his program has provided an alternative for the Fox News audience looking for solace after the election. Fox News viewers do tend to tune out after the election of a Democratic administration.
Overall, Newsmax has averaged around 326,000 viewers in prime time since the election, well below even the recent numbers of Fox News, which on Friday averaged close to 3 million viewers. Kelly, a former Fox News correspondent, has been a relentless defender of Trump’s attempts to overturn his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden, even in the days after Trump’s supporters staged a siege at the Capitol.
Believe it or not, this is actually true. Even after their coverage played an obvious role in triggering the insurrectionary mob that occupied the Capitol and killed five people—a number that we now know might have been higher if the mob’s leaders had been either luckier or more competent—Fox News has decided that three hours of incendiary rants isn’t enough. From now on, they’re going to air four hours of incendiary rants. And if that doesn’t provoke a full bore white people’s rebellion? Then I guess we’ll get five hours.
This is the kind of thing that leaves my jaw on the floor. Even for Fox News, it’s hard to believe. Seriously, who are the monsters running that place?
KIPP has done some great work in its charter schools. The question is, can they continue to do great work if they expand by 100x?Knowledge Is Power Program
NOTE: I wrote this last week and then forgot all about it. I guess something else must have grabbed my attention.
Over at New York, Jonathan Chait has a longish piece about charter schools. His main point is that there’s been something of a revolution in the charter school space that progressives have ignored because of their fealty to teachers unions. I don’t feel like getting into the union stuff right now, but the broad area of charter schools is one that I’ve followed off and on pretty regularly for the past ten years at least, so I was interested in Chait’s primary thesis:
What the charter movement has developed is highly effective networks of public charters — such as Success Academy, the Knowledge Is Power Program, and Uncommon Schools — that specialize in closing the achievement gap between Black and white students….Many of those gains are huge, effectively wiping out the educational inequities that have persisted for the entire history of American schools.
In part because of charters’ messy evolution, the mounting proof that the schools work has been met with a nagging roster of objections. Some skeptics have raised the suspicion that these schools are merely “teaching to the test,” incentivizing teachers to robotically drill their pupils in narrow subject matter….Another possible objection is that charters can only help students whose parents have the motivation to seek them out. This turns out not to be true either….Doubters have fallen back on the claim that, even if charters help the students who enroll in them, the children left behind are harmed….But the research, so far, doesn’t support a zero-sum view.
After reading this I did some checking to see if I had missed anything big over the past couple of years. It doesn’t really seem like it. The basic shape of things with charter schools is that, on average, they perform about as well as regular schools, but the best charters do indeed perform quite a bit better. The very best, as Chait says, even produce gains for their Black kids that nearly wipe out the Black-white educational gap that’s been a feature of American education forever.
This is good news in a way, but I have a couple of objections that Chait doesn’t take on. Both of them are related to scalability:
In all human endeavors, the top 10 percent, by definition, perform better than the other 90 percent. That’s true of teachers, accountants, truck drivers, bloggers, and everyone else. Practically all of recent human history has been defined by efforts to figure out what those top 10 percent do and how to transfer their performance to everyone else. It generally hasn’t worked very well. The top 10 percent, it turns out, are generally just smarter, more enthusiastic, and harder working than everyone else, and there’s no way to make everyone in the country as good as them.
The charter networks that Chait mentions are still quite small, serving barely more than 100,000 students in total. What’s more, they rely mostly on young teachers who are required to put in very long hours for fairly moderate pay. There’s simply a limited number of teachers willing to put up with this for more than a few years.
It’s easy to say that we need to focus not on charter schools in general, but only on the charter programs that work. However it’s far from clear that these top performers can scale up nationwide even under the best of circumstances. This is one reason that a program like KIPP, for example, has expanded so slowly. After 25 years they now serve about 90,000 students, an agonizingly slow growth rate.
Scalability is the Achilles’ heel of practically every good idea, which is why the ones that do scale get so much admiration. So far, it’s also been the Achilles’ heel of the charter movement, and unfortunately there’s no good reason to think that anyone has any idea how to address it.
I took this picture a few weeks ago while I was stopped at a red light, and at first I was pretty pleased with it. But then I got home and looked at my Facebook feed. A friend of mine had posted a beautiful video showing the entire, crystal clear arc of the rainbow over the mountains. I had missed it, and got just this piece later in the day. Suddenly I was no longer so excited about my picture. Jealousy is a terrible thing, isn’t it?
After months of stoking anger about alleged election fraud, one of America’s largest talk-radio companies has decided on an abrupt change of direction…. “We need to help induce national calm NOW,” Brian Philips, executive vice president of content for Cumulus, wrote in an internal memo, which was first reported by Inside Music Media. Cumulus and its program syndication arm, Westwood One, “will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended. The election has been resolved and there are no alternate acceptable ‘paths.’ ” The memo adds: “If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately.”
….Since the election, Cumulus has remained silent while some of its most popular hosts — which include Mark Levin and Dan Bongino — have amplified Trump’s lies that the vote was “rigged” or in some way fraudulent. On his program on Tuesday, the day before the march on the Capitol, for example, Levin fulminated about Congress’s certification of electoral votes for Biden, describing the normally routine vote as an act of “tyranny.”
“You think the framers of the Constitution … sat there and said, ‘Congress has no choice [to accept the votes], even if there’s fraud, even if there’s some court order, even if some legislature has violated the Constitution?’ ” Levin said, his voice rising to a shout.
If Cumulus can do it, maybe Fox News and all the rest of them can do it too.