What’s Aleppo ?

“worse than you imagine possible even taking into account the fact that it is worse then you imagine possible” — Brad DeLong

OK so Gary Johnson former governor and libertarian candidate for president asked Mike Barnicle “What’s Aleppo”. This is shocking and appalling, but the New York Times managed to top it.

I will assume that angry bear readers know what Aleppo is (it is quite probably the oldest continuously inhabited city although some archaeologists think that Jericho is older) and what has been happening there in the past few years.

Alan Rappeport wrote that Aleppo is the de facto capital of Daesh. Then an anonymous editor added a correction writing that Aleppo is the capital of Syria. So one New York Times article has two highly embarrassing corrections.

Zack Beuchamp tweets.

This is just one of four strange things which happened recently at the New York Times.

One lesson we learn is that the New York Times would be imrproved and Vox.Com worseneedif Alan Rappeport and Zack Beauchampt traded jobs. In general this reminds me that the new journalists who started out as bloggers are vastly superior to the MSM journalists with traditional career paths.

But I think it mainly shows the catastrophic cost of the journalistic field called campaign or political journalism. The Times’ latest catastrophe must have something to do with the fact that an article on “what’s Aleppo” was written by a political journalist not a foreign affairs journalist. Also the editor must be a political journalism sub editor not a general sub editor. The Times also employs Karen Zraik who know a lot about Aleppo.

This rant was meant to be a long introduction to a comment on this post by Jon Chait, who asks why Hillary Clinton is so unpopular.

The key related interesting passage is

The mechanics of campaign coverage add to the problem. One set of reporters covers Trump, and another covers Clinton. The Trump reporters are overwhelmed with evidence of his unsuitability. The Clinton reporters have a job, too — they need to cover their subject in a suitably tough fashion. The toughest subject matter with Clinton is her email and foundation problems. Even when reporters are doing their jobs well, the political narrative that comes through is two different candidates afflicted by different but essentially parallel vulnerabilities. Every day, Trump is nagged by questions about his fitness for office and his racism, and Clinton by questions about her ethics.

By a priori editorial decision the NY Times (and all news organizations) covers Trump and Clinton separately and, therefore, automatically writes (or says) roughtly as much about either. This causes balanced reporting even when fair reporting would be unbalanced. The convention of political journalism is that good reporting is finding a scandal, Ok reporting is finding a gaffe, and discussing a policy proposal is just not done. So a priori it was decided that Clinton is roughly as scandalous as Trump (for the political news pages — the opinion pages are roughly fair and therefore totally unbalanced).

This isn’t the whole story, Chait goes on to note that reporters don’t reliably do their jobs well.

And even within this restrictive framework, journalists don’t always do their job well. The New York Times recently reported a completely innocuous episode — in which the Clinton Foundation requested special visas to help rescue hostages from North Korea and was turned down by a fastidious State Department — as “rais[ing] questions” about “ties.” Matt Lauer grilled Clinton on her emails and let Trump blatantly lie without challenge about having opposed the Iraq War.

He also notes sexism, discussing evidence from experimental psychology that both men and women disapprove of ambition in a hypothetical female politician but not a hypothetical male politician. He also blames Bernie Sanders (this is Chait the anti leftist liberal writing, but he does have data on his side). Finally he notes the disfunctional relationship between Clinton and the press and traces the origin to Clinton’s “paranoia”. Oh well aside from that it is an excellent essay. Reading that word, if felt like screaming “just because they’re out to get you doesn’t mean that you are paranoid.” It seems to me that Clinton’s belief that the press is out to get her is not a psychopathology and is instead the only sensible conclusion consistent with the evidence of the past 24 years.

Ooops slipped into ranting. The relevant point, is that Chait argues that The New York Times fails to inform, because its reporters specialize. So there are Clinton reporters (which means Clinton pseudo scandal reporters) and Trump reporters but no one who writes about the facts of both cases in the same news story. This is like the problem that there are political/campaign reporters and reporters who actually know something about something and they don’t communicate.

This can make the Times a journal of record which can’t answer two questions
1) “What’s Aleppo ?”
2) What’s a scandal ?