The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan criticizes the "Trigger-Happy Generation" in her latest column, adding to the increasingly wide range of media figures questioning the merits of "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" on college campuses. But her attacks in particular reveal a troubling element largely missing from this debate: an honest assessment of the crisis of mental health support for students.
Trigger warnings and safe spaces, in theory, attempt to warn and shield students from material that might remind them of past trauma or reinforce a hostile experience. In practice, they take on many different forms, giving ammunition to both defenders and critics who often see them as overzealous attempts to shield students from reality.
In her May 21 column, Noonan places herself squarely in the critics' camp, labeling on-campus advocacy for safe spaces and trigger warnings as "part of a growing censorship movement." She specifically targets an opinion piece in a Columbia University newspaper, which described in part a survivor of sexual assault wanting greater protection after feeling triggered during a class discussion on the rape scenes in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Noonan argues that the world is an unsafe place, and that students shouldn't try to shape it into something more comforting:
There is no such thing as safety. That is asking too much of life. You can't expect those around you to constantly accommodate your need for safety ... [I]f you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself? Might it mean you need a lot of therapy?
Noonan is being flippant, but her dismissive joke actually points to a growing problem: colleges don't offer students enough mental health support, which may be one explanation for the growing trend of students trying to create safe spaces and safe texts for themselves.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and the same day Noonan's column was published, a report released as part of the campaign found that millennials who work (which would include many college students) have the highest rates of depression of any generation. Last year, The Washington Post noted that according to recent studies, "44 percent of college students experienced symptoms of depression, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students."
And victims of rape, intimate-partner violence, stalking, or sexual assault -- which the Columbia University student Noonan highlighted reportedly was -- are "drastically more likely to develop a mental disorder at some point in their lives," according to a 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association study, CNN reported at the time.
These students often don't have access to help, including the therapy Noonan blithely suggested. In 2011, the American Psychological Association labeled the state of mental health on campuses a "growing crisis," and they've continued to track the concerns since. College counseling centers, they explained, "are frequently forced to come up with creative ways to manage their growing caseloads. For example, 76.6 percent of college counseling directors reported reducing the number of visits for non-crisis patients to cope with the increasing number of clients." 88 percent of campus counseling centers surveyed by the American College Counseling Association said they experienced staffing problems due to the increase in demand, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2013.
But as of 2012, only 56 percent of four-year colleges and universities offered on-campus psychiatric services. Fewer than 13 percent of community colleges did as well. The services can't keep up with the rise in demand.
To be sure, not all of the students asking for safe spaces or trigger warnings on their campuses need therapy, nor are they all seeking these spaces because of a general lack of robust mental health service on their campuses. However, I know at least some of them are, because that's exactly what I did.
For three years running, The Wall Street Journal editorial board has championed an annual report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) claiming that federal regulations are a "hidden tax" that cost Americans almost two trillion dollars every year and nearly $15,000 per household. But The Washington Post Fact Checker has described the CEI report as "unbalanced" and "misleading" because it has serious methodological problems and completely ignores the economic benefits of regulations, and policy and economic experts who spoke to Media Matters agree that the report is heavily biased and hugely flawed.
Mainstream media are highlighting the Clintons' recent disclosure of their personal finances to suggest that Hillary Clinton will not be able to address poverty and income inequality as a 2016 presidential candidate, ignoring how her past policies and work have helped to alleviate these issues.
Conservative media outlets rushed to scandalize Bill and Hillary Clinton using the newly released "Deflategate" NFL report finding it was "more probable than not" the New England Patriots conspired to tamper with footballs.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board is siding with four teachers in California who are suing their unions, claiming "coercion" and "political extortion" because "critical benefits" are being withheld from non-member employees who don't pay for them, but failed to mention the challenge is seeking to overturn decades-old precedent.
In April, four teachers filed suit against the California Teachers' Association and several other teachers' unions, arguing that their denial of certain benefits to non-members was unconstitutional, despite Supreme Court precedent to the contrary. The teachers had refused to join their representative unions because they disagree with the groups' "political activity," which is funded by members who pay full membership dues. While even non-members are required to pay some dues to the union -- a reduced share known as "agency" or "fair share fees" -- that money cannot be used for political activities.
In a May 4 editorial, the Journal sided with the suing teachers, calling their lawsuit an opportunity "to end the political extortion" by unions, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of agency fees. The editorial took special exception to the fact that non-members aren't covered by a disability insurance program that provides paid maternity leave, claiming that it is unfair for teachers to have to "ante up to receive substantial employment benefits":
Teachers who disagree with the union's agenda can opt out of membership and not pay dues. Trouble is, they then must forfeit material benefits including legal representation in workplace disputes as well as union insurance that is necessary for disability and maternity leave. They also cannot vote on collective-bargaining agreements that govern the terms and conditions of their employment.
The coercion is particularly insidious in the case of maternity leave, which the union does not collectively bargain. Teachers who want to take leaves of absence are guaranteed full-time pay only for their unused sick days. After that, their pay gets docked substantially. So if new mothers want to take a couple of months off, they in effect must either join the union -- and finance its political advocacy -- or take a huge pay cut.
Imagine if a bank made maternity leave and flex time available only to workers who contribute to a Republican political action committee. This is essentially what the union public-school monopoly does: restrict critical benefits to those who support their political spending.
Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor since 2001, was named chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board on Monday. Under Gigot, the Journal editorial page has had several ethical lapses and has been a regular source of misinformation on climate science, health care, the Iraq War, and a host of other issues.
Pulitzer administrator Mike Pride told Media Matters a new board chair is chosen annually and the board member or members who have served nine years of their 10-year term normally get the post.
Gigot, who is going into his 10th and final year on the board, was the only member in that position this year, Pride said.
"It is really relatively automatic and nine years on the board give you a greater understanding in the way things work."
Pride, a former board member from 1999 to 2008, left in April 2008 after one year as co-chair with Joann Byrd. He is also the former editor of Concord Monitor. Pride became board administrator in September 2014.
But while Gigot's appointment is fairly routine, his position is one of power and influence over the board that distributes the most coveted awards in journalism, Pride said.
"The chair has some powers for sure in deciding which things we emphasize and which things we focus on," Pride said, later adding, "It's not a weak position at all, it's a strong position."
"He is on all the committees and is really involved in everything."
Gigot's appointment comes at a time when the Pulitzer Prizes have undergone sharp changes in recent years. In 2008, the categories were opened up to allow online-only entries, a major shift for the prizes that had previously been limited to newspapers.
And this year marked the first time magazine entries were allowed, in two categories. As board chair, Gigot can influence what changes are made or not, Pride said.
"The chair has a big effect on that so if the chair decides to slow down something the process will slow down," he explained. "If the chair decides to move faster, it will move along. It is a person that helps to determine the future of the prizes."
NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen called news of Gigot's new position "strange," noting that the Journal's newsroom "often rolls its eyes at the editorial page's evidentiary standards."
In 2011, Women's Wear Daily reported that the Journal's newsroom "often has objections to Paul Gigot's editorial page." The New York Observer noted that "under editorial-page editor Paul Gigot, opinion writers freely dispute the facts reported in the rest of the paper," while "news staffers disavow the contributions from Mr. Gigot's side."
One staffer told the Observer in 2006 that the editorial section is "wrong all the time" and that "they lack credibility to the point that the emperor has no clothes."
Rosen also noted it should "concern journalists" that the Journal editorial page under Gigot "has been a leader in the manufacture of doubt about climate change." As evidence, he linked to a Journal editorial comparing modern climate research to the party dogma of the Soviet Union.
The Journal's editorial page has also been criticized for ethical lapses under Gigot. In the run-up to the 2012 election, the paper routinely failed to disclose columnist Karl Rove's ties to political organizations acting to prevent President Obama's re-election and published at least 23 different op-eds from various Mitt Romney advisers without disclosing their blatant conflict of interest. (The paper eventually added a mention of Rove's political groups to his bio.)
In addition to its climate coverage and ethical problems, Gigot's editorial page has misled on several issues over the years, including electoral politics, the labor movement, health care, and the economy.
The Journal editorial page's low point under Gigot was probably its role in furthering falsehoods in the run-up to the Iraq War. The Journal routinely promoted the idea that Saddam Hussein either had -- or was on the verge of obtaining or producing -- weapons of mass destruction. A characteristic Wall Street Journal editorial from 2003 claimed that the coalition force would find "nasty weapons and the cheering Iraqis...when it liberates the country."
The Wall Street Journal editorial board falsely blamed the Obama administration for the closing of for-profit college company Corinthian Colleges, ignoring mountains of evidence that the company engaged in exploitative practices against its students.
Corinthian Colleges Inc. announced on April 26 that it would immediately shut down its 28 remaining campuses, following reports that it has been "teetering on the brink of collapse for months." About 16,000 students in five states are affected by the move, which Mic.com called "the final act of a slow-motion disintegration."
On April 27, The Wall Street Journal editorial board defended Corinthian, claiming that the "feds and [California Attorney General] Kamala Harris put 16,000 students on the street." The editorial alleged that the Department of Education (ED) "began to drive Corinthian out of business by choking off federal student aid," that Corinthian was held at "government gunpoint," and that an ED "penalty scared away prospective buyers." The editorial concluded:
Though Corinthian has established an escrow account for refunds, the reserve likely won't be sufficiently capitalized to cover 16,000 students. Maybe there would be more money for students if Corinthian didn't have to spend so much defending itself from the government. But for the Obama Administration, protecting students has always been second to its mission of doing whatever it takes to put for-profit schools out of business.
The WSJ's attempt to blame the ED for Corinthian's collapse is misguided given that the for-profit company has been under investigation for years for "exploitative practices," including "predatory lending, deception in performance data and job placement rates, and bogus career services." Last summer, the ED cut Corinthian off from receiving federal aid, and penalized them with a $30 million fine earlier this month for 947 confirmed cases of "misrepresentation of job placement rates." California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit against Corinthian in 2013, alleging that the company "targeted some of our state's most particularly vulnerable people -- including low income, single mothers and veterans returning from combat."
A group of former Corinthian students also announced earlier this year that they would "not repay any federal student loans they took out to attend Corinthian's schools," calling it a "debt strike." Officials from the ED, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Department of the Treasury met with those former students last month and listened to claims that "they were either lured into taking out loans with bogus promises of future job prospects or were simply signed up for loans by their school's staff without their consent." Think Progress further noted in its "inside story" on Corinthian:
The company's bait-and-switch approach to recruiting students -- or making sales to customers -- lured many ambitious people who thought they were investing in future economic security, workplace dignity, or job satisfaction. But ultimately, many of them were just buying a meaningless degree at a very high price.
This isn't the first time the WSJ has used faulty arguments to defend for-profit colleges, or even its first foray into deceptive reporting on higher education and student debt. This editorial echoes a larger trend within conservative media to ignore the realities of America's student debt crisis.
Image at top via Flickr user Jeramey Jannene using a Creative Commons license.
It's Earth Day, a day on which people around the world put "environmental concerns front and center" to help build "a clean, healthy, diverse world for generations to come." But for the right-wing media, Earth Day signifies something else entirely: The opportunity to engage in another round of conspiracy theories, anti-science claims, and unwarranted attacks. Here's how they are celebrating this year:
Rush Limbaugh celebrated Earth Day by inventing a new and extremely bizarre conspiracy theory: Earth Day has prompted the government to tell people to ignore food expiration dates, which will lead them to "ration" health care and eventually lead to "death panels."
On the April 22 edition of his show, Limbaugh berated the U.S. Department of Agriculture for trying to limit food waste by providing consumers with a tool educating them on the types of foods that have incorrect or overly cautious expiration dates. Limbaugh went on to claim that the government will eventually use expiration dates to ration medicine and health care, and that "there are going to be death panels." He concluded: "All of this has as its root, Earth Day."
Right-wing websites National Review and Townhall thought it was important to "remind" their audiences about the story of Ira Einhorn, who claimed that he was the co-founder of Earth Day and was convicted for murder several years later. Both outlets stated that Einhorn "composted" his girlfriend. Though Einhorm participated in the first Earth Day, leaders and organizers of the original 1970 Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia have made clear that Einhorn inappropriately disrupted the event and played no role in organizing it.
Less than one week into Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and it's a blurry image from a fast-food restaurant security video that's emerged as the defining media image. After "news" broke that Clinton, en route to Iowa to meet with voters, stopped in at an Ohio Chipotle for lunch and that the order was captured on film, the press corps basically went bonkers, treating it like a Tupac sighting and going all-in with fevered reporting.
The New York Times first got hold of the security cam video and reported that Clinton's order "included a Blackberry Izze drink, a soda and a chicken salad, and was filled just after 1 p.m." (1:20 p.m., to be exact, according to the New York Daily News.) Who carried the tray after payment? Clinton herself, the Times explained to readers.
Stories like the original Times report are not entirely out of the ordinary for campaign coverage. But the way the rest of the press went completely overboard in its wake suggests we could be in for a long and painful 19 months before the 2016 election.
More tick-tock details followed. "The newly-minted presidential candidate ordered a chicken bowl with guacamole, a chicken salad and fruit juice," according to ABC News, which interviewed the restaurant's manager. (The guacamole and fruit juice information was considered a mini-scoop; Business Insider noted guacamole "costs extra.")
For days, Clinton's Chipotle stop served as a treasure trove of information: Who made Clinton's burrito bowl? Politico sent a reporter to Maumee and determined, "The 25-year-old who cooked the chicken that went into the burrito bowl Hillary Clinton ordered at the Chipotle here on Monday makes $8.20 an hour and splits rent with two roommates." And assistant general manager Jef Chiet got Clinton her drink, Politico confirmed, "first a blackberry Izze, which she decided she didn't want after she read the ingredients, so he replaced it with an iced tea."
But campaign sleuths weren't finished. Bloomberg confirmed that, "The change from the meal totaled less than a dollar, but it was pocketed rather than deposited in the tip jar as many customers at the restaurant do."
Could any political analysis be gleaned from the mundane lunchtime stop? Of course:
"Hillary Clinton Goes Unnoticed at Chipotle In Botched Retail Politicking Bid" (Washington Times)
"Clinton Bypassed Centrist Taco Bell for Liberal Favorite Chipotle" (Wall Street Journal)
"What Hillary Clinton's Chipotle Stop Says About Her Campaign" (Christian Science Monitor)
Is it possible that maybe she was just hungry?
The Chipotle nonsense reached such heights (or depths), that even starstruck E! called out the political press for its ridiculous overreaction to the story, and the fact that "ChipotleGate 2015" triggered "all sorts of in-depth analysis, from what her choice in burrito bowl means for America, to whether her decision to don sunglasses means she's unfit to be president."
During her first week on the campaign trail, Clinton has avoided any defining, self-inflicted gaffes. The same cannot be said of the press.
News organizations have gone on a "staffing binge" in preparation for the 2016 campaign, according to the Washington Post. That means political units have to produce content, no matter how trivial and innocuous. The machine must be fed (clicks must be harvested). And right now, that machine is spitting out some dreadful, breathless, and gossipy campaign dispatches that are divorced from anything remotely connected to a public discourse.
Just think about the Chipotle story. Was Clinton in hiding at the time? Had she dared the press to find her out? Was there any reason to think her highway pit stop for food was newsworthy? No, no and no. Maybe -maybe -- if it were the final weeks of an historically close White House campaign, that kind of myopic attention paid to a lunch order would be warranted. But 70-plus weeks before voters go to the polls? It's unfathomable.
Chipotle Week was so bad it produced a sense of dismay among some media observers and practitioners, as expressed on Twitter.
Daily Beast executive editor Noah Shachtman:
Hillary's campaign is only three days old and it has already been the subject of some of the worst political "journalism" of all time.-- Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) April 15, 2015
New York Times writer Nate Cohn:
A lot of the analysis of the nascent Clinton campaign is unusually vacuous--and that says something-- Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) April 15, 2015
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen:
Detecting a sense of dread coming over watchers of campaign coverage after the first few weeks... Plotting how to write criticism into that.-- Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) April 15, 2015
The irony was that while the campaign press freaked out over the trivia surrounding Clinton's lunch order, some pundits were simultaneously castigating the candidate for not rolling out a sweeping campaign agenda.
Politico assigned no fewer than eight reporters for an article about how, just 72 hours into her likely 18-month campaign, Clinton "has been slow" to articulate detailed positions on issues such as fast-track trade agreements and the need for reform at the National Security Agency.
The team at NBC's First Read agreed: "That lack of a message was on display at her Iowa event yesterday." Well, actually that wasn't true. NBC conceded that Clinton had already detailed four fights she wants to wage: "1) building an economy for tomorrow, 2) strengthening families and communities, 3) fixing America's political system by getting rid of "unaccountable" money, and 4) protecting the country."
Additionally, NBC reported Clinton had struck a "populist tone" and condemned income equality in America. But NBC didn't think any of that counted as much of a "message" from Clinton because she was just saying "what you hear from 90% of Democratic candidates running for downballot office."
Clinton didn't say anything entertaining and newsy! "She didn't say anything unique, which was always going to be the shortcoming of a rollout emphasizing theater over substance/message," according to NBC.
And there's the media's inadvertent punch line: It's Clinton who's guilty of emphasizing "theater over substance."
The staff at the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle might disagree.
The Wall Street Journal is calling on states to "revolt" against the EPA's Clean Power Plan, claiming that "virtually everyone who understands the electric grid" is warning that the plan will threaten grid reliability and could lead to rolling blackouts. In reality, nonpartisan energy experts say the EPA's proposal will not affect Americans' access to electricity.
In its analysis of an unprecedented change to how the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is selected, The Wall Street Journal ignored the significant financial contributions a right-wing group made in support of the move, which would strengthen conservative control of the court before it examines possible illegal campaign coordination between that same group and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). Instead, the editorial board focused on the fact that the current chief justice has a lawyer who is on the board of directors of a judicial election reform group founded by George Soros.
On April 7, voters in Wisconsin approved a constitutional amendment that changed how the state supreme court picks its chief justice. For the past 126 years, the longest serving justice on the bench was automatically selected to act as chief justice. After passage of the new amendment, which was supported by Republican lawmakers in the state and boosted by hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent spending from conservative groups, the court itself will now elect which justice they want to serve as chief.
The conservative majority of the court is expected to replace current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal, with one of their own.
But in an April 9 editorial, the Journal failed to mention the conservative support for the amendment and the influence outside spending had on the outcome of the vote, and instead attacked Abrahamson for filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new amendment. The editorial went on to add that her "lawyer is Robert Peck, a member of the board of directors of George Soros's Justice at Stake. The group wants to end state judicial elections and replace them with nominating commissions that allow state bar associations to hand-pick judges."
Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.
Mainstream media outlets are pushing the campaign message from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) that he is inclusive and is reaching out to diverse voters, including minorities, women, and low-income Americans, while ignoring his extreme policy positions that may adversely affect those voters.
Right-wing media have falsely suggested that the civil rights protections in Indiana's "religious freedom" bill force business owners to endorse messages that they share serious ideological disagreements with. But a recently-decided discrimination case in Colorado debunked this argument, differentiating between discrimination on the basis of ideology and discrimination on the basis of membership in a protected class.
On April 2, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed an anti-discrimination amendment to his state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) after facing widespread criticism due to the law's potential to authorize anti-LGBT discrimination. To address that danger, the amended law explicitly prohibits individuals and business owners from invoking RFRA to deny services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Right-wing media were quick to criticize Pence, arguing that the amendment "gutted" the state's RFRA and claiming that the revision would "force" the devout to violate their religious beliefs by holding them accountable to generally applicable civil rights protections. A number of conservative media outlets like The Wall Street Journal took this argument further, falsely claiming that forcing religious business owners to abide by anti-discrimination laws would also "compel" them to serve customers with "politically unacceptable thoughts":
For that matter, should a Native American printer be legally compelled to make posters with an Indian mascot that he finds offensive, or an environmentalist contractor to work a shift at a coal-fired power plant? Fining or otherwise coercing any small number of private citizens -- who aren't doing anyone real harm but entertain politically unacceptable thoughts -- is thuggish stuff.
But a recent "religious discrimination" case from Colorado illustrates how this hypothetical betrays a fundamental inability to understand that the RFRA debate was over discrimination against gay people, not gay "thoughts."
Mainstream press are relying on a flawed timeline to suggest former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of an iPad to send State Department emails is a contradiction to her explanation that she established a private email account in order to use only one mobile device to conduct email correspondence. But such speculation ignores the fact that the iPad did not exist until the year after Clinton's private email account was established