Listened to Waiting For a Game-Changer from On the Media | WNYC Studios
A silver bullet isn't coming—but the media and the public are running out of patience.

Over the past few weeks, the public has been introduced — by way of Gilead Science, and a leaked video of doctors discussing their preliminary trial data — to a new potential therapy for Covid-19. Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication, was cleared by the FDA this week to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients, despite limited preliminary results from a handful of clinical trials.

Some in the media initially touted the drug as a potential miracle cure. But as the mounting pressure to cope with an increasingly dire pandemic makes anything less than a silver bullet difficult to swallow, Derek Lowe, the organic chemist behind the science blog In the Pipeline, urges caution. He speaks with Bob about how to report on the so-called "game changer" drugs, and where he believes reporting on the "race for a cure" falls short.

Nice coverage about some of the drug process.

Some thoughts and questions about online comments

Podcast cover art reading "On the Media" and "WNYC Studios" on a simple white backgroundI’ve spent part of the morning going town a rabbit hole on comments on news and media sites and reading a lot of comments from an old episode of On the Media from July 25, 2008. (Here’s the original page and commentary as well as Jeff Jarvis’ subsequent posts[1][2], with some excellent comments, as well as two wonderful posts from Derek Powazek.[3][4])

Now that we’re 12 years on and have also gone through the social media revolution, I’d give my left arm to hear an extended discussion of what many of the principals of that conversation think today. Can Bob Garfield get Derek Powacek, Jeff Jarvis, Kevin Marks, Jay Rosen, Doc Searls, and Ira Glass back together to discuss where we’re at today?

Maybe we could also add in folks like danah boyd and Shoshana Zuboff for their takes as well?

Hopefully I’m not opening up any old wounds, but looking back at these extended conversations really makes me pine for the “good old days” before social media seemingly “ruined” things.

Why can’t we get back more substantive conversations like these online? Were we worried about the wrong things? Were early unfiltered comments really who we were and just couldn’t see it then? Does social media give us the right to reach in addition to the right to speech? How could we be doing better? Where should we go from here?

Read Comments on comments on comments by Jeff JarvisJeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine)
On the current On the Media, Bob Garfield launches into a screed on those who launch into screeds in online comments. He quotes Gawker — Gawker! — getting on his high-horse about comments. He talks with This American Life’s Ira Glass about why he got rid of comments on his site. But then he asks Glass something so leading — Garfield only tells about about his question but unfortunately does not reveal it to us — that Glass loses his constant cool for a moment in a rousing defense of vox pop. And then, for balance, Garfield has on a newspaper editor who — amen to this — says she thought we were way past this debate as she explains the value she gets from comments.
I read all the comments too as part of my rabbit hole this morning.
Read Comments on Comments | On The Media (web.archive.org)
There's been a bit of a backlash recently against the angry commenter on newspaper websites. Some are calling for newspapers to stop allowing comments sections all together. But what about democracy on the web? Bob, with the help of "This American Life"'s Ira Glass, ruminates on the dark side of the comments section.

I just wrote a long, considered, friendly, and I hope helpful comment here but — sorry, I have to see the irony in this once again — your system wouldn’t let me say anything longer tahn 1,500 characters. If you want more intelligent conversations, you might want to expand past soundbite. 

In 2008, even before Twitter had become a thing at 180 characters, here’s a great reason that people should be posting their commentary on their own blogs.

This example from 2008 is particularly rich as you’ll find examples on this page of Derek Powazek and Jeff Jarvis posting comments with links to much richer content and commentary on their own websites.

We’re a decade+ on and we still haven’t managed to improve on this problem. In fact, we may have actually made it worse.

I’d love to see On the Media revisit this idea. (Of course their site doesn’t have comments at all anymore either.)
Annotated on February 25, 2020 at 10:47AM

Listened to OTM Presents: U.S. of Anxiety's "40 Acres in Mississippi" from On the Media | WNYC Studios

Our WNYC colleagues fact-check a family legend about "40 acres and a mule," and find a story about the promise and peril of the American Dream at the end of Reconstruction.

Elbert Lester has lived his full 94 years in Quitman County, Mississippi, on land he and his family own. That’s exceptional for black people in this area, and some family members even say the land came to them through “40 acres and a mule.” But that's pretty unlikely, so our WNYC colleague Kai Wright, host of The United States of Anxiety, went on a search for the truth and uncovered a story about an old and fundamental question in American politics, one at the center of the current election: Who are the rightful owners of this country’s staggering wealth?

- John Willis is author of Forgotten Time

- Eric Foner is author of The Second Founding

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is located in Montgomery, Alabama. For more information about documented lynchings in Mississippi, and elsewhere, visit the Equal Justice Initiative's interactive report, Lynching in America. You can navigate to each county to learn about documented lynchings there.

Listened to Corporations Were Always People from On the Media | WNYC Studios

Ten years ago Citizens United declared that corporations are people and that their money is speech. A historian tells us actually, it was ever thus.

No discussion of money and politics is complete without a tip of the hat to Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court ruling of 10 years ago that recognized corporations as people and their money as speech. 

That ruling was followed a few years ago by the Hobby Lobby decision, giving business owners the right to flout federal law based on their religious beliefs. To many Americans, particularly on the left, both rulings were bizarre and ominous expansions of corporate rights. But, if you think this is the novel handiwork of a uniquely conservative Supreme Court, you haven't been paying attention to the past three or four hundred years of court cases and American history.

Adam Winkler, professor of law at UCLA, is the author of We the Corporations: How American Business Won Their Civil Rights. He told us in 2018 that the principle of corporate rights has been litigated forever and predates our very founding. 

To even out the playing field we should definitely prevent corporate interests from dominating the discussion. Certainly they may need some protections in law where it comes to owning property and some of their basic functions, but allowing them outsized influence in governance is not necessary.

This episode has some fantastic historical discussion. It is painfully disappointing to hear corporations taking advantage of the 13th and 14th amendments that African Americans weren’t able to appreciate in the same way at the same time.

Listened to Norm! from WNYC Studios

Another affront to executive norms, a new level of secrecy for CBP, and the 32-year story of one family's new life in America.

Attorney General Bill Barr appeared to spar with Donald Trump in the latest chapter of the Roger Stone case. On this week’s On the Media, why the apparent interference in the Justice Department’s work should cause concern. Plus, Customs and Border Patrol builds a new bulwark against disclosure and transparency. And, a family migration story three decades in the making. 

1. Dahlia Lithwick, writer for Slate, on what the latest Dept. of Justice news tells us about the fragility of American justice. Listen.

2. Susan Hennessey [@Susan_Hennessey], executive editor at Lawfare, on the latest threats to "prosecutorial independence." Listen.

3. Ken Klippenstein [@kenklippenstein], DC correspondent at The Nation, on Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)'s re-designation as a "security agency." Listen.

4. Jason DeParle [@JasonDeParle], author of A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, on the 32-year process of reporting one family's migration story. Listen.

We really are allowing the very worst of us ruin so much of the basic values of being American. I worry that the “purity” requirements of both sides is going to be the downfall of us all.
Listened to Picture-Perfect Democracy from On the Media | WNYC Studios

The history of the American primary; the first town to vote; and New Hampshire reporters do some self-reflection.

The sloppy roll-out of Iowa results prompted disinformation and confusion over the mechanics of the caucus system. This week, On the Media looks at the origins of the nomination process to explain how we got here. Plus, local reporters in New Hampshire examine the power struggle at the heart of the upcoming contest. 

1. Galen Druke [@galendruke] on the history of America's unique primary system. Listen.

2. Stranglehold reporters Jack Rodolico [@JackRodolico], Lauren Chooljian [@laurenchooljian], and Casey McDermott [@caseymcdermott] on Dixville Notch's mythical status. Listen.  

3. Lauren Chooljian [@laurenchooljian] examines how New Hampshire's local press benefits from being a first-in-the-nation primary. Listen.

Listened to How Rush Limbaugh Paved The Way For Trump from On the Media | WNYC Studios

And transformed the GOP.

A lot was reported about Tuesday night's State of the Union address. President Trump's characteristic self-congratulation, the fact-checking of his error-filled speech, and Nancy Pelosi's sensational paper rip stunt. Tuesday night also solidified Rush Limbaugh's ascent to Republican royalty. By awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Trump inducted Limbaugh into a gilded class of American history, featuring Norman Rockwell, Maya Angelou, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr. According to Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, the award could be seen as the culmination of the GOP's transformation, precipitated by Limbaugh and solidified by Trump.

Read Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories. (nytimes.com)
We analyzed some of the most popular social studies textbooks used in California and Texas. Here’s how political divides shape what students learn about the nation’s history.

📑 Highlights and Annotations

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

I can’t help but think here about a recent “On The Media” episode A Civilization As Great As Ours which highlighted changes in how history is taught in India. This issue obviously isn’t just relegated to populist India.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:22AM

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

If they wanted to add more “depth and nuance” wouldn’t they actually go into greater depth on the topic by adding pages instead of subtly painting it such a discouraging light?

But Texas students will read that some critics “dismissed the quality of literature produced.”

Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:27AM

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

Here’s where OER textbooks might help to make some change. If free materials with less input from politicians and more input from educators were available. But then this pushes the onus down to a different level with different political aspirations. I have to think that taking the politicization of these decisions at a state level would have to help.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:30AM

How Textbooks are Produced

  1. Authors, often academics, write a national version of each text.
  2. Publishers customize the books for states and large districts to meet local standards, often without input from the original authors.
  3. State or district textbook reviewers go over each book and ask publishers for further changes.
  4. Publishers revise their books and sell them to districts and schools.

This is an abominable process for history textbooks to be produced, particularly at mass scale. I get the need for broad standards, but for textbook companies to revise their books without the original authors is atrocious. Here again, individual teachers and schools should be able to pick their own texts if they’re not going to–ideally–allow their students to pick their own books.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:33AM

“The textbook companies are not gearing their textbooks toward teachers; they’re gearing their textbooks toward states,” she said.

And even at this they should be gearing them honestly and truthfully toward the students.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:39AM

Listened to The Weinstein Trial Begins from On the Media | WNYC Studios

As Harvey Weinstein faces trial, we discuss the essential role of gossip and whisper networks in protecting the vulnerable and spreading news that threaten the powerful.

In New York this week, jury selection began in the trial of former Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein. News of his alleged sexual predations launched the movement in October 2017, through investigative reporting from both The New York Times and The New Yorker. Even as he prepares to stand trial in New York, sexual assault charges were filed against him in Los Angeles. To date, over eighty women in the film industry have accused him of rape and sexual assault and abuse. Weinstein claims they were all consensual acts. 

The reporting has been groundbreaking in its detail, laying out the allegations for the public. But in Hollywood, Weinstein’s abuses already were an open secret. In 2017, Brooke spoke with Buzzfeed senior culture writer Anne Helen Petersen about the essential role of gossip and whisper networks in protecting the vulnerable and spreading news that threatens the powerful.

Listened to The Hidden Truths of Hanukkah from On the Media | WNYC Studios

A special history lesson in time for the holidays.

Today is Christmas, but it's also Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights. With its emphasis on present-giving, dreidel games and sweet treats, the holiday seems to be oriented towards kids. Even the story of Hanukkah has had its edges shaved down over time. Ostensibly, the holiday is a celebration of a victory against an oppressive Greek regime in Palestine over two thousand years ago, the miracle of oil that lit Jerusalem's holy temple for 8 days and nights, and the perseverance of the Jewish faith against all odds.

According to Rabbi James Ponet, Emeritus Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale University, the kid-friendly Hanukkah mythology has obscured the thorny historical details that offer deeper truths about what it means to be a Jew. In his 2005 Slate piece, "Hanukkah as Jewish Civil War," Ponet looked at the often-overlooked Jew-on-Jew violence that under-girds the Hanukkah story. In 2018, he and Brooke discussed how this civil war lives on in Jewish views on Israel, and how the tension between assimilation and tradition came to define the Jewish people. We're re-releasing it today in time for the holidays.

Listened to Can Restorative Justice Save The Internet? from On the Media | WNYC Studios

How theories of criminal justice reform can help us detoxify the web.

As prison populations soar, advocates on both side of the spectrum agree that the law-and-order approach to criminal justice is not making us safer. On this week's On the Media, we look at restorative justice, an alternative to prison that can provide meaningful resolution and rehabilitation. Meanwhile, harassment and bullying are plaguing our online lives, but social media companies seem fresh out of solutions. OTM brings you the story of a reporter and a researcher who teamed up to test whether restorative justice can be used to help detoxify the web.

1. Danielle Sered [@daniellesered], author of Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair, on her promising foray into restorative justice. Listen.

2. Lindsay Blackwell [@linguangst], UX researcher at Facebook, and OTM reporter Micah Loewinger [@micahloewinger] share the story of their online restorative justice experiment. Plus, Jack Dorsey [@jack], CEO of Twitter, and Ashley Feinberg [@ashleyfeinberg], a senior writer at Slate, on the toxic state of Twitter. Listen.

Listened to Ken Kesey's Acid Quest from On the Media | WNYC Studios

We have never-before-heard tapes from Ken Kesey, the man who taught the hippies how to be hippies and inspired the psychedelic 60's.

Happy New Year! In this pod extra, we're celebrating what might be your first hangover of 2020 — whether it's fueled by alcohol or just the thought of the year ahead. So, we thought we'd bring you the story of an odd holiday known as Bicycle Day, April 19: the day in 1943, when Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann rode his bike home from work after dosing himself with his lab concoction, lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. The first acid trip.

Hofmann’s wobbly ride is what launches us into an exploration of a moment, when Ken Kesey, an evangelist of acid would emerge from a Menlo Park hospital lab, and plow through the nation’s gray flannel culture in a candy colored bus. Some know Kesey as the enigmatic author behind One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — others, as the driving force in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid TestTom Wolfe’s seminal work in New Journalism. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the release of Acid Test, Brooke spoke in 2018 with Wolfe (since deceased) and writer River Donaghey about how acid shaped Kesey, spawned the book and de-normalized American conformity.

This segment is from our April 20, 2018 show, Moving Beyond the Norm.

Listened to Hindsight Is 2019 from On the Media | WNYC Studios
We take a walk down memory lane, and ask ourselves some existential questions.

2019 started on a note of fakery, as we made sense of the conspiracies and simulacra that distort our information field. It's ending with a similar air of surreality, with impeachment proceedings bringing the dynamics of the Trump presidency into stark relief. Along the way, we've examined forces, deconstructed narratives, and found the racist core at the heart of so much of the American project. And as we've come to look differently at the world, we've come to look differently at ourselves.

With excerpts from:

  1. When The Internet is Mostly Fake, January 11th, 2019
  2. United States of Conspiracy, May 17th, 2019
  3. Trump Sees Conspiracies Everywhere, October 4th, 2019
  4. Understanding the White Power Movement, March 22nd, 2019
  5. Why "Send Her Back" Reverberated So Loudly, July 19th, 2019
  6. The Scarlet E, Part II: 40 Acres, June 14th, 2019
  7. Part 1: The Myth Of The Frontier, March 29th, 2019
  8. Empire State of Mind, April 5th, 2019
  9. The Perils of Laundering Hot Takes Through History, March 1st, 2019