Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Plural of Anecdote, Mindy McCready Edition

I don’t generally follow either country music or celebrity addiction porn, so the only reason I recognized the name Mindy McCready when stories of her suicide hit the news this week was her tangential involvement in Roger Clemens’ life, which came to light during his trial(s) for allegedly lying to Congress about performance enhancing drugs (which, in turn, I heard about because I'm a sports fan).

McCready was found dead Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, on the same spot at her home on which her former boyfriend, David Wilson – the father of one of her children – was found about a month ago, also dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound (apparently… the local sheriff’s department has opened an investigation into his death).

Would Wilson and McCready still be alive if there hadn’t been at least one gun in that household? Maybe not: McCready’s life had been bedeviled by abuse, addiction, and legal problems, and there are obviously other ways – some of which McCready herself had previously tried – to commit suicide… though there is a state-by-state correlation between rates of gun ownership and suicide death rates.

One thing, though, we can conclude reasonably certainly: If McCready had not had a gun, Wilson’s dog would still be alive.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Media Matters

I’m predisposed to be skeptical of complaints – from either side of the aisle – about the “mainstream” (or “beltway” or “corporate” or “lamestream”) media, but this story has me scratching my head. Under the headline “Obama State of the Union lands with a thud in Congress” and beginning with the line, “That went nowhere fast,” NBC News’ First Read ostensibly reports on Congress’ reaction to President Obama’s Tuesday night address, but in fact reads more like a Mitch McConnell campaign mailer. Remind me again what McConnell’s position is within the Senate leadership? Oh, right: Minority Leader. The article is almost entirely devoted to McConnell’s (absolutely unsurprising) outright rejection of the proposals the president advanced in his speech, along with some backup singing from Speaker of the House John Boehner. Only one Democratic member of Congress – California’s Maxine Waters – is even mentioned, and she’s given a two-word quote presented so without context that it’s unclear whether she’s responding to Boehner or the president.

It’s perfectly legitimate to report on Republican leaders’ reactions to the speech; it is not legitimate to present their reactions as the reaction of Congress as a whole, silently writing off nearly half of the House and the majority of the Senate. It is also not legitimate to suggest that the speech – which was popular with the public, and with Democratic and liberal commentators and opinion leaders, and (most relevantly to this story) with Democratic members of Congress – was a failure merely because the president’s two most predictable (not to say kneejerk) critics didn’t like it.

It would also be perfectly legitimate to present some analysis of the president’s proposals chances of being enacted by this Congress, which are admittedly slim for many of the specific ideas… but the article doesn’t do that, either: All it really does is give two partisans a podium from which to attack the president. That may be something, but it’s not reporting the news.