Blowjobs and Snow Jobs revisited: Teenage (journalistic) wasteland

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Back in 1999, I noticed what I thought was an epidemic of stupid reporting about teenage blowjobs. Much to the chagrin of my editors at The Nation, I wrote a column called "Blowjobs and Snow Jobs," in which I argued that some of the worst reporting you'd find anywhere could be found on this topic, much of it in The Washington Post (for reasons about which I declined, and continue to decline, to speculate). I had no position of the topic, save the desire to point out that per usual, many of the people in the MSM and all of the pundits spouting, ahem, off on it, had no idea whatever they were talking about. Read the column and enjoy the hysteria now that the data are in. According to a study written up in Newsweek of 15-to-19-year-olds by the Guttmacher Institute, "teen sexual behavior in general hasn't changed much since 1991. Just a little more than half the teens studied had engaged in oral sex, only 5 percent more than had engaged in vaginal sex. Most teens who had had oral sex had also had intercourse, and only one in four teen virgins had had oral sex -- not exactly the makings of a teen oral sex epidemic." ... According to the study's author, Laura Lindberg, 'There is no good evidence that teens who have not had intercourse engage in oral sex with a series of partners.' " And remember this: " According to a study published in the 2005 Journal of Adolescent Health, teens who had taken abstinence pledges were six times as likely to have engaged in oral sex as teen virgins who hadn't taken the pledge."

Of course, the moral of my story is only partially about blowjobs. Reporting this crappy is, alas, the norm, not the exception. It's just as evident when the topic is Bush, McCain or Obama, when one takes the trouble to look carefully.

George Zornick writes:

The American Journalism Review has an interesting article on the disappearance of Iraq from both the media and the public consciousness. (See also our recent Think Again on the subject, "Iraq Disappears from View.")

Some of the hard facts from the AJR piece:

  • During the first 10 weeks of 2007, Iraq accounted for 23 percent of the newshole for network TV news. In 2008, it plummeted to 3 percent during that period. On cable networks it fell from 24 percent to 1 percent, according to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
  • By [Sacramento Bee public editor Armando] Acuna's count, during the first three months of this year, front-page stories about Iraq in the Bee were down 70 percent from the same time last year. Articles about Iraq once topped the list for reader feedback. By mid-2007, "Their interest just dropped off; it was noticeable to me," says the public editor.
  • A daily tracking of 65 newspapers by the Associated Press confirms a dip in page-one play throughout the country. In September 2007, the AP found 457 Iraq-related stories (154 by the AP) on front pages, many related to a progress report delivered to Congress by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Over the succeeding months, that number fell to as low as 49. A spike in March 2008 was largely due to a rash of stories keyed to the conflict's fifth anniversary, according to AP Senior Managing Editor Mike Silverman.
  • By March 2008, a striking reversal had taken place. Only 28 percent of Americans knew that 4,000 military personnel had been killed in the conflict, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Eight months earlier, 54 percent could cite the correct casualty rate.
  • TV news was a vivid indicator of the declining interest. The three broadcast networks' nightly newscasts devoted more than 4,100 minutes to Iraq in 2003 and 3,000 in 2004. That leveled off to 2,000 annually. By late 2007, it was half that, according to Andrew Tyndall, who monitors the nightly news.

AJR spoke with many reporters and editors across the country, and found a variety of reasons they say war coverage has tapered off, from economic concerns to the crush of campaign coverage, to an administration that would obviously prefer if the public turned its head from the catastrophe:

  • With no solutions in sight, with no light at the end of the tunnel, war fatigue has become a factor. Over the years, a bleak sameness has settled into accounts of suicide bombings and brutal sectarian violence. Insurgents fighting counterinsurgents are hard to translate to an American audience.
  • The sheer cost of keeping correspondents on the ground in Baghdad is trimming the roster of journalists. The expense is "unlike anything we've ever faced. We have shouldered the financial burden so far, but we are really squeezed," [Los Angeles Times' foreign editor Marjorie] Miller says. Earlier, the L.A. Times had as many as five Western correspondents in the field. The bureau is down to two or three plus Iraqi staff.
  • When Lt. Col. Billy Hall was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in April, his family gave the media permission to cover the ceremony -- he is among the highest-ranking officers to be killed in Iraq. But, according to [The Washington Post's Dana] Milbank, the military did everything it could to keep the journalists away, isolating them some 50 yards away behind a yellow rope.
  • Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, points to May 24, 2007, as a major turning point in the coverage of U.S. policy toward Iraq. That's the day Congress voted to continue to fund the war without troop withdrawal timetables, giving the White House a major victory in a clash with the Democratic leadership over who would control the purse strings and thus the future of the war. Democrats felt they had a mandate from Americans to bring the troops home. President Bush stuck to a hard line and came out the victor. "The political fight was over," Jurkowitz says. "Iraq no longer was a hot story. The media began looking elsewhere."
  • Jurkowitz cites what he calls an eye-catching statistic: In the first three months of 2008, coverage of the campaign outstripped war coverage by a ratio of nearly 11 to 1, or 43 percent of newshole compared with 4 percent.

If the presidential campaign begins to center around the war issue, it is possible coverage could rise again - but journalists shouldn't wait for that to happen. There are a lot of important decisions going in Iraq that aren't being covered, and unfortunately, if the media can't even find time for basic stories about battles and casualties, there isn't much hope that crucial stories like this will gain traction -- The Washington Post reported yesterday that "[t]he depth of U.S. involvement in Iraq and the difficulty the next president will face in pulling personnel out of the country are illustrated by a handful of new contract proposals made public in May."

Seems important, no? But I hear Bill Clinton is lashing out at Vanity Fair ...

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Art Brodsky
Hometown: Olney, MD

On Saturday, May 31, the WaPo ran an editorial opposing regulation on cable systems. It didn't mention the Post owns systems in 19 states and has about 700,000 cable subscribers, according to the Post's 2007 annual report. Howie should feel right at home.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC

Dr.: You ask whether Michelle Malkin is a racist and possibly an idiot. Just judge her from her own works. When you write a book justifying the forced removal and internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans, an overwhelming majority of whom were not involved in any criminal or treasonous acts, many serving honorably during WWII such as Sen. Inouye D-HI, then if you continue to advocate a present-day version of the same, well maybe you are a racist and idiot or just have no understanding of history or the Constitution.

Name: Derrick Gibson
Hometown: http://allpanthersareblack.blogspot.com/

But Senator Barack Obama is hours away from doing what no one has done for decades: winning an election over a Clinton.

At what point in time does he start to get credit for being able to take on "brass-knuckled" opponents?

Your first correspondent on Monday's post seems to not be able to see this, but what is so interesting about this campaign is that Obama has demonstrated an ability to hew to the high road, while at the same time -- as exampled this past Saturday -- patiently explain to his opponent that he has the votes to split a contest 50/50, all the while saying that he is willing to accept a "compromise," that more or less says the MI contest of this past January was just a beauty contest.

If Harold Ickes wrote the rules and he was still left sputtering at the end of the day, perhaps this Obama guy knows a thing or to about this politics game.

Name: Stephen A. Brown
Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA

Letter writer J DAllessandro writes, "This is the basis for the support of the brass knuckles Clinton candidacy over the Hopeful Obama one by so many of us, but that battle is over."

The Clintons play brass knuckle politics when it is about them, not when it is about principles. Ms. Clinton could have stood to President Bush once or twice during the run up to the war in Iraq and later, she chose not to because she thought it would be bad politics.

The Clintons do not solve the liberals as wimps problem.

Name: Karl Weber
Hometown: Irvington NY

J DAlessandro laments that the "brass knuckles" candidacy of Clinton won't get a chance to take on the Republicans this fall. But the Obama campaign outmaneuvered, outsmarted, and out-battled the Clinton campaign repeatedly -- which is why Obama won. I wouldn't be so quick to assume that Hillary would have run the tougher campaign against McCain.

Name: Ron Curtiss
Hometown: Studio City, CA

While I agree with Rick G. from Albany about R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, it was the last gasp. Ex-drummer Bill Berry was a huge component in the band's songwriting and his decision to leave the band put an axe in the band's writing ability and hence the resulting weak albums. The latest one is a simple mishmash of words and riffs from past albums and I think that's why Eric [sic, actually Sal] said it was R.E.M. trying to sound like R.E.M.

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI

So "Don Henley has, I submit, the most beautiful voice of any white man alive." Well, last I checked, the following white men were still alive:

Mose Allison
Tony Bennett
Bono
David Bowie
Lyle Lovett
Van Morrison
Willie Nelson
Robert Plant
James Taylor

And that's just a partial list. I don't know enough about jazz or musicals, and I know nothing about opera. Don Henley? Puh-leeeze.

Eric replies: You lose, except maybe James Taylor. Tony and Willie are long past their prime. Van too. Bono is not beautiful and Mose and Plant? Puh-leezze...

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