Remembering the veteran news media hoaxer Alan Abel.
This past week’s coverage of Hurricane Florence has had all the trappings of a terrible storm: the satellite images, the sandbags and empty grocery stores, the newscasters dressed in flood gear. One recurring side character we seem to have avoided this time around, though, is the doctored image of a shark swimming on a flooded highway.
It’s a preposterous hoax that succeeds, occasionally, on the merits of some kernel of truth; for instance, whole swathes of interstate highway in North Carolina are, as of this moment, covered with water. That kernel of truth is what hoaxers and jokers build their handiwork upon — as did the veteran hoaxer Alan Abel, who passed away late last week at the age of 94.
Abel made a name for himself inventing characters and causes and turning the joke on the media; in 1980 he staged his own death and got himself an obituary in the New York Times.
Brooke spoke to Abel — and his daughter, Jenny Abel, the director of the documentary, "Abel Raises Cain" — in 2008.
As Hurricane Florence bears down, we discover that FEMA has $10 million less in its budget. The money was siphoned off to pay for detention and removal of immigrants.
On Wednesday, as Florence swirled ominously off the coast of the Carolinas, and states prepared for imminent disaster, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) thought it would be a good time to draw everyone’s attention to the shifting priorities of this administration. Specifically, he released a budget that showed the Department of Homeland Security had transferred nearly 10 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pay for detention and removal operations.
FEMA officials maintain that the smaller budget won’t hinder their operations, but as wildfires rage and hurricanes make landfall, they have a lot on their plate. We don't think about FEMA much, until that's all we think about. Historian Garrett Graff says the agency’s, quote, “under-the-radar nature” was originally a feature, not a bug. Graff wrote about "The Secret History of FEMA" for Wired last September and he spoke to Bob about the agency's Cold War origins as civil defense in the event of a nuclear attack and how it transitioned to "natural" disaster response. Plus, they discuss the limitations to FEMA's capabilities and why it has such a spotty record. Graff is also author of Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself -- While The Rest of Us Die.
The anonymous op-ed, the Kavanaugh hearings, decorum, civility, and the freedom to speak.
Between the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill and an anonymous op-ed from within the Trump White House, a wave of rule-bending and -breaking has crashed on Washington. This week, we explore how political decorum and popular dissent have evolved since the early days of our republic — and how the legal protections for those core freedoms could transform our future.
1. Brooke and Bob on how best to cover the anonymous op/ed written by a "senior official in the Trump administration." Listen.
2. Geoffrey Stone, professor of law at University of Chicago, on our evolving — and occasionally faulty — interpretations of the first amendment. And, Laura Weinrib, professor of law at University of Chicago, on how early-20th century labor struggles gave birth to our modern ideas about freedom of speech. Listen.
This summer we revisit some of our most important Breaking News Consumer Handbooks. Episode 3 in this mini-series is Airline Crash Edition.
When a commercial plane goes down, media speculation ensues. With the help of The Atlantic's James Fallows, we give you some tips that can help you comb through the coverage.
This summer, we're revisiting some of our favorite Breaking News Consumer Handbooks. Episode 2 in this mini-series is Military Coup Edition.
Back in the summer of 2016, Turkish putschists shut down highways, attacked government buildings and took broadcasters hostage, world media outlets struggled to provide sober reports of the coup. During the chaos, some listeners told us on Twitter that they’d appreciate an OTM Breaking News Consumer's Handbook: Coup Edition. Coups are especially tricky to report on because they're mainly about perception and narrative. Plotters and the government are both trying to establish dominance, and misreporting can determine whether the attempt succeeds or not.
Naunihal Singh, author of Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups, says the first step for a successful military coup is to take control of radio and tv broadcasters. From there, they can literally and figuratively control the narrative.
Brooke spoke to Singh about how to understand coups through the media, and how to understand whether an attempt will succeed or fail.
This summer we revisit some of our Breaking News Consumer's Handbooks. To mark the ramping up of hurricane season, the first episode in this mini-series is the US Storm Edition.
For media professionals, hurricanes offer the very best kind of bad news because the story arc is predictable and invariably compelling. In this summer series revisiting some of our Breaking News Consumer’s Handbooks, we examine the myths, misleading language, and tired media narratives that clog up news coverage at a time when clarity can be a matter of life and death.
Brooke speaks with Dr. Robert Holmes, National Flood Hazard Coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey; Gina Eosco, a risk communication consultant; and Scott Gabriel Knowles of Drexel University, author of The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America.
Did they err? Or did they lie?
Six weeks ago, CNN broke a blockbuster story: According to several anonymous sources, President Trump had advance knowledge of the infamous Trump Tower meeting. It was a potential smoking gun, until one of those sources — Lanny Davis, attorney for Michael Cohen — recanted.
Beyond that headache for CNN, there was another. The original article had claimed, "Contacted by CNN, one of Cohen's attorneys, Lanny Davis, declined to comment." Depending on how you understand the word "comment," and depending your general disposition, that claim could be technically true or woefully, mendaciously disingenuous. Bob spoke with Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi about the implications — and dangers — of this latest media mishap.
End-of-times narratives themselves are nothing new; only the means have changed. While once a few horsemen and a river of blood were enough to signal the dusk of man, apocalypse now requires the imaginations of entire atomic laboratories — or roving squads of special effects crews. This week we look through a few recent highlights from the genre: from a 1980's made-for-TV spectacle, to a new piece of speculative fiction documenting a hypothetical nuclear conflict with North Korea.
3. Anne Washburn, playwright, on "Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play," in which she imagines American cultural life after a devastating nuclear event. Listen.
This summer we are revisiting some of our favorite Breaking News Consumer Handbooks. Episode 4 in this mini-series is Tectonic Edition.
After an earthquake struck Nepal in April of 2015, the post-disaster media coverage followed a trajectory we'd seen repeated after other earth-shaking events. We put together a template to help a discerning news consumer look for the real story. It's our Breaking News Consumer's Handbook: Tectonic Edition. Brooke spoke to Jonathan M. Katz, who wrote "How Not to Report on an Earthquake" for the New York Times Magazine.
Understanding how news is reported and the good and bad of it can certainly help one be a better consumer of it. This episode was quite enlightening about how disaster reporting is often done wrong.
An investigation into the media's coverage of white supremacist groups.
For more than a year, Lois Beckett [@loisbeckett], senior reporter at The Guardian US, has been showing up at white nationalist rallies, taking their pictures, writing down what they say. And she finds herself thinking: How did we get here? How did her beat as a political reporter come to include interviewing Nazis? And what are the consequences of giving these groups this much coverage?
In this week's program, we revisit this deep dive into what the news media often get wrong about white supremacists, and what those errors expose about the broader challenge of confronting racism in America.
1. Elle Reeve [@elspethreeve], correspondent for VICE News, Anna Merlan [@annamerlan], reporter for Gizmodo Media’s special projects desk, Vegas Tenold [@Vegastenold], journalist and author of Everything You Love Will Burn, and Al Letson [@Al_Letson], host of Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting, on the pitfalls and perils of covering white supremacist groups. Listen.@garyyounge], editor-at-large for The Guardian, and Josh Harkinson [@joshharkinson], former senior writer at Mother Jones, on how individual identity impacts reporting on discriminatory movements. Listen.
4. Ibram X. Kendi [@DrIbram], professor of history and international relations at American University and author of "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America," on the enduring myths surrounding the perpetuation of racist ideas and whose interests these misconceptions serve. Listen.
A stunning story and solidly great reporting. I heard the end of this on the radio a few weeks ago and circled back to listen to it a second time. I hope all journalists working in politics take a close look at it.
I particularly liked the Ibram X. Kendi portion of the interview and am ordering his book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which was a National Book Award Winner.
WNYC’s weekly investigation into how the media shapes our worldview.