(These are the people on TV  you only see from the shoulder up)


12-7-15 - THE TALKING HEADS.  This scene was on automatic, put on display as an example of what technology can do.

The scene was an office with the head of a beautiful brown, curly haired woman, bouncing around on the desk while she spoke, announcing what the 'talking head' man was going to talk about. The man was older and talked about the various cycles that a man goes through, and they are separated by specific time spans which was shown by a rod that comes down between the 'talking heads' of the man that were lined up on the far side of the room.  The woman had one head, the older caucasian man had multiple 'talking heads'.

I don't recall what they said.  I was too busy watching what they were doing in the demonstration.

Media Watch: The battle of television’s ‘experts’ and talking heads

media screens


                                                                                         DO YOU RECOGNIZE THESE PEOPLE ON SIGHT? 

                                                        TALKING HEADS CNN              FOX TALKING HEADS               TALKING HEADS MSNBC





A pundit (sometimes also called a talking head) is a person who offers to mass media their opinion or commentary on a particular subject area (most typically political analysis, the social sciences, technology or sport) on which they areknowledgeable (or can at least appear to be knowledgeable), or considered a scholar in said area. The term has been increasingly applied to popular media personalities. In certain cases, it may be used in a derogatory manner as well, as the political equivalent of ideologue.

The term originates from the Sanskrit term pandit (paṇḍitá), meaning "knowledge owner ". It refers to someone who is erudite in various subjects and who conducts religious ceremonies and offers counsel to the king and usually referred to a person from the Hindu Brahmin caste but may also refer to the Siddhas, Siddhars, Naths, Ascetics, Sadhus, or Yogis.

From at least the early 19th century, a Pundit of the Supreme Court in Colonial India was an officer of the judiciary who advised British judges on questions of Hindu law. In Anglo-Indian use, pundit also referred to a native of India who was trained and employed by the British to survey inaccessible regions beyond the British frontier.[

In the English-speaking West, pundits write signed articles in print media (blurbs included), and appear on radio, television, or the Internet with opinions on current events. Television pundits may also be referred to as Talking Heads.

Punditry has become a more popular vehicle in nightly newscasts on American cable news networks. A rise of partisanship among popular pundits began with Bill O'Reilly of Fox News Channel. His opinion-oriented format led him to ratings success and has led others, including Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, and Nancy Grace to express their opinions on matters on their own programs. The judge in the David Westerfield trial in San Diego in 2002 referred to the pundits as "talking heads": "The talking heads are doing nothing but speculating about what the jury may or may not be thinking".

At the same time, many people who appear as pundits are recognized for having serious academic and scholarly experience in the subject at hand. Examples are pundits Paul Krugman, who received a Nobel Prize in Economics, and Stephen Biddle, who received U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Medals in 2003 and 2006.

In sports commentating, a "pundit" or color commentator may be partnered with a play-by-play announcer who will describe the action while asking the pundit for analysis. Alternatively, pundits may be asked for their opinions during breaks in the play.


A columnist is someone who writes for publication in a series, creating an article that usually offers commentary and opinions.

Columns appear in newspapers, magazines and other publications, including blogs. They take the form of a short essay by a specific writer who offers a personal point of view. In some instances, a column has been written by a composite or a team, appearing under a pseudonym, or (in effect) a brand name. Some columnists appear on a daily or weekly basis and later reprint the same material in book collections.  Sometimes they also have regular television shows.

A critic is a professional who communicates their opinions and assessments of various forms of creative works such as art, literature, music, cinema, theater, fashion, architecture and food. Critical judgments, whether derived from critical thinking or not, may be positive, negative, or balanced, weighing a combination of factors both for and against. Cultural critic Clement Greenberg wrote that a good critic excels through "insights into the evidence ... and by ... loyalty to the relevant"; poet and critic T.S. Eliot wrote "a critic must have a very highly developed sense of fact".

Formally, the word is applied to persons who are publicly accepted and, to a significant degree, followed because of the quality of their assessments or their reputation. Unlike other individuals who may editorialize on subjects via web sites or letters written to publications, professional critics are paid to produce their opinions for print, radio, magazine, television, or Internet companies. Persons who give opinions on current events, public affairs, sports, media, and historical events are often referred to as "pundits" instead of "critics."

Critics are themselves subject to competing critics, since critical judgments always entail subjectivity. An established critic can play a powerful role as a public arbiter of taste or opinion.

The word critic comes from Greek κριτικός (kritikós), meaning "able to discern", which is a Greek derivation of the word κριτής (krités), meaning a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation or observation


TV’s talking heads: who are they and why do we need them?

Breaking news provides a forum for experts willing to hold forth. But why do we need them?

It was shortly after 6am when a BBC radio producer woke Simon Boxall for his instant opinion on a tsunami 6,000 miles away about which he had no prior knowledge.

Boxall, an oceanographer at the University of Southampton, knew the drill. He was live on air within two minutes of waking up. He recalls doing a further 20 phone interviews before he had time for a shower. “Then I was ready for TV.”

With every breaking news story — from natural disasters to terrorist attacks — there is an immediate rush for explanation. Rolling news channels come into their own. News shows, usually a series of tightly edited packages, tear up their scripts.

“It’s a step into the dark,” says Stewart Purvis, former editor-in-chief of ITN, describing the first few minutes after a major event. “You have no pictures [from the scene]. You’re left with people to fill the time.”

The people broadcasters really want are the decision makers — prime ministers and presidents. The next best thing are the pundits, talking heads and rent-a-quotes: anyone who is credible, engaging and, most importantly, available.

Boxall is one of the willing participants. He has commented on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and a flotilla of lost rubber ducks reaching the UK mainland.

“Academics come in three sizes,” he says. “There are those who you wouldn’t want to comment, because they’d be awful. There are those who are happy to comment but some time next week when they’re free. And there are those who think someone needs to comment straight away.”

Not infrequently, broadcasters’ hunt for a talking head goes wrong. In January, Fox News interviewed Steve Emerson, a self-described terrorism expert, who said that Birmingham contained “no-go zones” for non-Muslims, and that London had “actual religious police” beating inappropriately dressed pedestrians. (“You know, mistakes are made. What can I tell you?” an apologetic Emerson said afterwards.)

In 2006, a Congolese man called Guy Goma turned up at the BBC for a job interview in the IT department, was mistaken for a technology journalist, accompanied to a television studio and interviewed live about a trademark dispute. (“It was so fast — I just said, ‘Keep going,’” said Goma who, incidentally, didn’t get the IT job.)

Even when mis-steps are avoided, viewers can be left unsatisfied by these experts. “We’re left knowing a lot — but understanding little,” says Alain de Botton, a philosopher whose last book The News: a User’s Manual tackled the news industry. “We need to be invited to think something.” Others dismiss pundits as blowhards marketing a book or an organisation.

So who are the talking heads? And do they really help us understand anything?

. . .

In the US, where competition between cable news networks has created a dedicated class of pundits, the best are so in demand that they receive six-figure sums to work exclusively as contributors to a single broadcaster. David Axelrod, former adviser to Barack Obama and Ed Miliband, has just signed on with CNN ahead of next year’s US presidential election.

Budgets are less lavish in the UK, where show producers have to be more resourceful — for example, keeping an expert on hold on the phone so that a rival broadcaster can’t get through. The BBC, Sky and others do usually offer contributors a small payment — perhaps £75 for a TV slot, less for radio. “These things are nice little extras,” says David Learmount, an expert on aviation. “If I did freebies, my phone would never stop ringing.”

isis talking head

For the most conscientious experts, breaking stories are an opportunity to bring their passions into the limelight. In the search for flight MH370, there was little that could be said about what had happened to the airliner. But it was at least a chance to correct “a misunderstanding of how vast the oceans are,” says Boxall, who fell in love with oceanography through sailing. Similarly, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was being “blown out of proportion”, so he endeavoured to put it in the context of other environmental disasters.

But the major prize is profile and influence. “It’s hard to get the public interested in things,” says Mike Conway, an assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University. “Then you have that moment where everyone is paying attention.”

The aftermath of the Paris attacks has provided a forum for former security officials, antiterrorism experts, former diplomats, lawyers, psychologists. A former British soldier appeared on MSNBC and quoted Chinese general Sun Tzu. (“That’s a great start to any conversation,” responded the host.) A representative of an Iranian and Kurdish women’s charity told the BBC that she was concerned about “a selective concern on social media” for terrorist attacks that targeted the west.

Soon the experts were focused on policy options. “That’s where these guys really come into their own,” says Gill Penlington, director of European programming at CNN. A Qatari academic told Al Jazeera that Isis fighters were likely to have taken shelter against air strikes. A former Isis hostage asked, “Is revenge really a proper response?”

Objections to talking heads can be well-founded. The first doubt is whether they are really experts at all. According to research group Media Matters for America, of the 891 guests who appeared on US evening cable and broadcast news shows in the first six months of 2015 to discuss the economy, only 3 per cent were economists. (Meanwhile, on the country’s Sunday morning talk shows,white men made up about two-thirds of all guests — about double their proportion of the general population.)

British output may be different but, says Purvis, “I’ve always thought that anyone with an hour’s notice and access to Wikipedia could make themselves an expert on anything.”

What’s more, even if they are experts, they may not be worth listening to. A study of 284 forecasters by Canadian-American psychologist Philip Tetlock concluded not just that their predictions fared badly over time but that the more frequently an expert appeared in the media, the more likely their forecasts were to be inaccurate.

“[T]here is something wrong with existing mechanisms for getting to the truth both in the media-driven marketplace of ideas and in the top-secret world of intelligence analysis,” he wrote. The qualities prized by the media — succinctness, confidence, showmanship — may not be compatible with the qualities conducive to sound scientific judgment. (Tetlock’s latest book does identify a small group of forecasters who are accurate over time — including a former British defence ministry official and a Maryland pharmacist.)

Another analysis of US pundits, following the attacks of 9/11, found that retired military officials were being portrayed as objective, while maintaining close business ties to the Bush administration. These 20 military analysts were quoted in the media more than 4,500 times in six years, according to Media Matters — equivalent to an average of more than once every two days, per pundit.

On British television, partly because of impartiality rules, few experts are bombastic. “Stick to what you know,” is the refrain of many talking heads. “There’s an assumption from the presenters that we have a hotline to exactly what’s happened,” says Boxall. “I get my news from the same news channels I’m commenting on.”

As Learmount, the aviation expert, puts it, “You can be very useful to a media outlet just by ruling things out.” For example, even shortly after an air crash, it is a reasonable bet that the cause of the plane was not a wing breaking off — because wings rarely break off from modern aircraft.

A separate, contrasting criticism is that the experts miss the wood while they are busy looking at the trees. “The enemy of understanding is the constant quest for impartiality,” says de Botton. He argues that instead of focusing on the minutiae of events — who, why, when and where — TV should concentrate on the broader meaning of events, particularly tragedies.

“The ideal coverage of the Paris attacks”, he says, “would find time to consider: why we find the attacks so compelling, what it means to live in a world where we might suddenly be killed, and the relationship between the fact that we will all die, possibly suddenly, but only a very few of us will be killed suddenly.”

This might, de Botton recognises, require “a commentator who combined the psychological wisdom of a Freudian psychoanalyst with the wisdom of Montaigne and the political insight of Alexis de Tocqueville.” Even so, he believes “it should be do-able, if broadcasters stopped being so lazy” — though few viewers would welcome a rolling news version of Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.

Even pundits themselves occasionally groan at these established formats in the media. “People’s little black books can get a little dated,” admits Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas and a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4. “I once said something vaguely republican and, for about five years, people would call me up.”

Fox is also wary of debates where producers appear to be creating false dichotomies. The use of experts “disguises honest, open discussion”, she suggests, and can be used as “a substitute for investigative journalism”.

She adds: “There are times that it is utterly frustrating, and you think, ‘What a waste of my life.’ [But] the media’s remarkably powerful.”

For years, talking heads have been almost the cheapest form of news coverage available — able to fill time for a small fee and a return taxi journey. And yet “viewers are actually baffled”, says Purvis, recalling a focus group where audience members were asked what they made of experts. “They said, ‘We think you journalists are the experts — why do you keep asking these other people?’”

The role of the expert talking head may, however, be shrinking. First, the spread of mobile phones, Skype and other forms of technology mean that there is less time to fill before broadcasters can go directly to eyewitnesses and reporters. “It’s made it easier to get primary voices,” says Sam Taylor, controller of the BBC News Channel. “It’s changed dramatically in the last couple of years.”

Second, there is now an even cheaper alternative to studio pundits: screenshots of Twitter and Facebook messages. Broadcasters have access to a livelier — and probably more diverse — group of opinions online than through their contacts books. With the right graphics, “you can make these sources of information into good television”, Taylor says.

For now, the prescription for potential pundits remains the same: sound authoritative, talk in short sentences, and always answer your phone.

Henry Mance is the FT’s media correspondent


Why Are TV’s Talking Heads So Angry All the Time?

Two researchers dive into the spittle-flecked world of outrage media.

If there’s one thing American media does well, it’s outrage. Take a quick glance at your favorite news source, whether The O’Reilly Factor or Pardon the Interruption, and you’ll see it: wide-eyed, incredulous, puffed-up outrage that anyone could be so stupid!

Despite our nation’s saturation with outrage, argue two Tufts researchers, we know very little about how the genre works. So Jeffrey M. Berry, a political scientist, and Sarah Sobieraj, a sociologist, assembled a research team and dove into the spittle-flecked world of outrage media. They listened to and read countless transcripts, coding it for content; interviewed fans of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other superstars; and examined the regulatory and business shifts in American mass media that led to our current screamfest.

In a recent interview, Sobieraj spoke with Pacific Standard about the formula of outrage media, why the right wing dominates it, and the weirdly intimate relationship between talk radio hosts and their listeners. The below transcript is edited for length and clarity.

So what exactly is outrage media, and how do you differentiate it from a regular lack of civility?

When we think about outrage, we think of political speech that is intended to provoke an emotional response. So fear, anger, or moral indignation—that sort of thing. Most of the existing literature on incivility talks about interruptions or sighing or things like that, and what we notice is that outrage is such a muscular negativity that it’s not captured by those kinds of studies or questions. It’s just a whole different ballpark. The research on incivility tended to look at things like political advertisements, for example, and we were thinking about this whole other area, this genre where there is a mainstay of emotionally laden speech and behavior that is really designed to rile up the audience.

Emotion has a place in political speech. It’s actually quite important if you think about something like the civil rights movement or 9/11. People’s stories and the social problems they animate are often very important. But what’s different here are the calculated techniques that they use in an effort to evoke those emotions.

"Most of the research shows that we only talk about politics with people we already know agree with us and we usually do it in the privacy of our own homes."

And it sounds like “calculated” is the right word, because you guys write that outrage media is pretty formulaic.

It is. It’s very predictable. In fact, sometimes when I’m having a better day or in a better mood or feeling more tolerant, I can find it in myself to find it amusing, the way that the techniques are so similar on the left and the right.

You know you could hear, for example, a host talk about the fringe far-left and if you’re on another network you can hear them talk about the fringe far-right, and so sometimes the language is literally the same. And not just the language, but the techniques, the things like misrepresentative exaggeration and belittling and conspiracy theories.

Are there any other big markers? Misrepresentative exaggeration, belittling....

Insulting language is another really important one. Calling people idiotic or pompous. Name-calling is definitely one too. I’ve heard, for example, bloggers refer to Obama’s supporters as “Obamatards,” things like that.

As for exaggeration, there is lot in political life, but this is a different level of a very dramatic negative exaggeration. For example, saying that something is intended to bring down capitalism. That would be a good example—very few things are actually designed to bring down capitalism. So I would say that misrepresentative exaggeration, mockery, definitely the ideologically extremizing language like “radical right-wing nut,” “socialist,” “fascist.” Those types of things are probably the most common.

I think a lot of people are skeptical of the claim that it’s as bad on the left as it is on the right, and you did a good job of pulling quotes from folks like Mike Malloy that really are angry and negative and out there. But you did find, overall, that there’s something about this sort of media that appeals more to folks on the right, and there’s a huge gap in the amount of outrage media between the two sides.

Yeah, so there are actually two different questions embedded in there. One is whether it’s the same or different in terms of the intensity and the volume and that sort of thing. Some people have suggested that when we point out that it happens on the left it’s a false equivalency. And that’s actually not what we’re doing at all.

What we notice is that the techniques are very similar on the left and the right. So something like belittling or exaggeration—you’re going to find that with Ed Schultz or Lawrence O’Donnell just like you’ll find it with Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. But the volume is very different, in terms of the sheer number of platforms on the right. Talk radio is over 90 percent conservative so there’s just more of it.

Now the other question that you’re asking is whether outrage is more attractive to those on the right, and I think it is for a number of reasons. It’s actually kind of complicated—there are a lot of things going on. One is that the left is less distrustful or more accepting, depending on how you want to say it, of conventional news. So the right has historically been less comfortable with the major networks or The New York Times, for example, and the left is more comfortable in those spaces.

Another thing that comes into play is that there is some research that suggests that conservatives have a personality type—this is, of course, not all of them—and that there’s a greater propensity for comfort with black-and-white argumentation, which is very common in the outrage genre. There are good guys and there are bad guys. You are with us or you are against us. So there is that type of appeal.

But also, and I think probably most interestingly, since the rise of multiculturalism, with words like “tolerance,” “inclusion,” and “diversity” being viewed as good and important, for those who are conservative, to share your political views on things like same-sex marriage or immigration—those views can be viewed as intolerant and you can feel as though you are being judged and stigmatized. So we think that these shows, or what we hear when we talk to fans, are that these shows and blogs really become a safe space where their views are validated and they’re not criticized.

That struck me actually, because I really did like the interviews you had with fans of Beck and Limbaugh and some other conservative hosts, and there was this genuine fear that I found surprisingly easy to empathize with. They said they feel like they can’t talk about these issues or they’re going to be tarred as racist.

It makes me feel really happy to hear that you were able to empathize with it because I think that whether someone is racist is sort of beside the point. I think we can find racism on both sides of the political spectrum, and it just wasn’t the question that we were measuring for, but what we find is that fear of racism just looms over them in such a different way.

I felt like when we were doing the interviews and a respondent would start to tell a story of a time that that happened to them, that someone perceived them as racist, it was as if that had just happened. They really react strongly to being perceived as racist—it was so fresh in their memories and so powerful to them because it’s really upsetting.

I think it’s a big social risk. Nobody likes to talk about politics very much publicly these days no matter what your views are, but I think the difference between those on the left and those on the right is that those on the left are criticized as being bleeding heart or being socialist or unpatriotic. It’s insulting, but it just doesn’t sting in the same way that being called a racist does. And so I think that the conservatives feel that it’s not that their policy preferences are judged necessarily, but rather that they themselves as people are judged because of their views. And I think that that’s a terrible feeling, and I think that it’s meaningful, and these shows do everything imaginable to make coming and tuning in feel good, and it does.

Whatever you think of Limbaugh or Beck, their shows are some form of political discussion. But you write that part of their appeal is they let peopleavoid more contentious real-world political discussion.

This was something I didn’t necessarily expect. I thought that on these programs there would be more on-air conflict. But there’s actually so little of it—they rarely have people on who disagree with them, and if they do they’re folks who disagree but who are more prone to acquiesce, or they are going to disagree softly or quietly. And so I think that that conflict isn’t present but if you’re even on Facebook, on the other hand, if you share your views publicly, you could end up with a slap on the wrist quite easily. Most of the research shows that we only talk about politics with people we already know agree with us and we usually do it in the privacy of our own homes.

I was very much struck by the rather intimate relationship between outrage hosts and their audience, as though the hosts are serving some sort of deep-seated psychological needs.

They eliminate the fear of social conflict, that someone’s going to reject you. They also reduce discomfort that people express in feeling ill-informed. That’s another thing that can happen if you talk politics, even with somebody who agrees with you. Maybe you don’t know enough about whatever the events of the day are, and when folks tune in to these shows they feel like they are being informed, and so that’s another fear that sort of disappears for them.

You also write that part of the appeal of outrage hosts is that they’re a bit self-deprecating. So how does that jive with research suggesting that people are drawn to figures who provide strong predictions or black-and-white authoritarian viewpoints? It sounds like part of the art of being a successful outrage host is marrying those two almost conflicting characteristics.

I think that part of what’s really important, especially on the right where there’s a lot of criticism of the liberal elite—you may remember at various points during Obama’s campaigns he was called “professorial” as an insult—there is a real disdain for being talked down to. There’s that accessibility, the fact that somebody is going to say, “Well, I’m just a regular guy,” or “Well, you and I, we’re sort of cut from the same cloth.”

This happens on the left, too: Ed Schultz is really proud of talking about hunting and fishing and meat and potatoes. He gives all these working class or middle class signifiers constantly to let people know this he is someone you can relate to. There’s an appeal to that that really resonates in an era where we’re used to things like reality television and we want people to be sort of “real.” We want it to feel authentic.

On the other hand, what fans admire in these folks is not necessarily just their breadth of knowledge—though that comes up a lot when people talk about Glenn Beck, for example, or sometimes Michael Savage or Rachel Maddow. But they also really respect the way that they can articulate the things that are frustrating them. So it’s sort of: You or I may have these feelings of frustration or anger that we can’t really put into words, but when we tune into our favorite radio show or television show and we wait and we listen to the person we admire sort of zing it to the other side, they’re saying the things we wish we had thought to say. They are us, but better.

That ability—the charisma and the zing—is what’s desired. Somebody was saying recently, and I thought this was a really good analogy, that in a way it’s like professional hockey, where you’re waiting for the big conflict to happen, the big fight to happen. And if it doesn’t you almost feel disappointed, and that is how you watch outrage programs in some ways. Maybe fans are enjoying the information or the details, but what I think they really value are those outrageous moments, the zing, the insult that’s flung in an artful way. It feels good. It’s satisfying. As one respondent told me, “I guess these guys are obnoxious in a way we can’t be.”

So you had to listen to a lot of this stuff and code the individual moments of outrage. Do you think that did any lasting psychological damage to you or your research team?

You know, there are moments when I came to really appreciate the art form, the genre as a genre, and I would enjoy listening to someone do this routine well, and there were moments I found it funny or ridiculous. But there were also moments when I found it really disturbing. And the one that stands out for me was when health care was on the agenda in 2009 quite some time ago, watching the misinformation wing around from program to program to blog to social media and really have quite a significant impact. I found that pretty sobering, a reminder that this isn’t just entertainment, that this has significant political consequences.

So what are the next steps for research into the outrage industry?

I think one thing that’s interesting, which we thought about including but decided we already had plenty on our plates, is that advocacy groups certainly use these same techniques. They’re not trying to get ratings, per se, but they’re trying to get donations or members, and so you might have your favorite advocacy group using these very same techniques. It would be interesting to look at how outrage appears in other spaces.

It would also be useful to do a content analysis when we have a Republican in the White House and see if the balance of outrage tips. You could make the case that perhaps there was more outrage on the right because the right had more fodder with Obama in office—that may be the case. And so I would be very curious to see if that gap narrows somewhat if we did that.

That could at least provide some insight as to why Air America was such a colossal flop.

Yeah, I think Hollywood in general has a real reluctance around innovation, so when something—not just Hollywood but entertainment—when something fails like that it sends a very strong message, and it becomes something that looms over thoughts of repeating that attempt in the future.

Similarly, when something works we end up with spinoffs and sequels and prequels and all of these type things, because they want to continue to work that. And I think that’s one reason, again, that outrage on the right has been successful, because there were models that it could be very profitable: Rush Limbaugh probably has many folks who have come in his wake because of his success.

Anything else you wanted to add or anything I should have asked?

I guess one thing that didn’t come up that I think is significant is sort of the consequences that we see. On one hand, as you mentioned, it is political discussion and there is some research that suggests that people who watch and use these programs are more politically engaged. And that feels positive, so there may be some good things that come of this in that way.

On the other hand, we worry somewhat that there is a fair amount of misinformation. I alluded to the health care issue before: 30 percent of Americans believed that death panels were a part of the proposed health care plan and 45 percent of those who reported watching Fox News thought that was true. So if you’ve got folks who are misinformed and are more active than the average person that’s probably not great.

But there are other consequences, too: We worry very much that it lessens our openness to the views of people who disagree with us in our communities and our workspaces and neighborhoods. We also worry that it stigmatizes collaboration and compromise in Congress because every vote becomes a test of party purity and ideological truth, with legislatures very well aware that their votes are being monitored by the outrage industry. It can be scary to rethink a position and that’s not healthy—that’s certainly not healthy. So those are two things that we worry about as potential consequences of the success of the genre.

about as potential consequences of the success of the genre.  



Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?

Talking heads like former General Jack Keane are all over the news media fanning fears of IS. Shouldn’t the public know about their links to Pentagon contractors?


Lee Fang


If you read enough news and watch enough cable television about the threat of the Islamic State, the radical Sunni Muslim militia group better known simply as IS, you will inevitably encounter a parade of retired generals demanding an increased US military presence in the region. They will say that our government should deploy, as retired General Anthony Zinni demanded, up to 10,000 American boots on the ground to battle IS. Or as in retired General Jack Keane’s case, they will make more vague demands, such as for “offensive” air strikes and the deployment of more military advisers to the region.

But what you won’t learn from media coverage of IS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry.

Keane is a great example of this phenomenon. His think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which he oversees along with neoconservative partisans Liz Cheney and William Kristol, has provided the data on IS used for multiple stories by The New York Times, the BBC and other leading outlets.

Keane has appeared on Fox News at least nine times over the last two months to promote the idea that the best way to stop IS is through military action—in particular, through air strikes deep into IS-held territory. In one of the only congressional hearings about IS over the summer, Keane was there to testify and call for more American military engagement. On Wednesday evening, Keane declared President Obama’s speech on defeating IS insufficient, arguing that a bolder strategy is necessary. “I truly believe we need to put special operation forces in there,” he told host Megyn Kelly.

Left unsaid during his media appearances (and left unmentioned on his congressional witness disclosure form) are Keane’s other gigs: as special adviser to Academi, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater; as a board member to tank and aircraft manufacturer General Dynamics; a “venture partner” to SCP Partners, an investment firm that partners with defense contractors, including XVionics, an “operations management decision support system” company used in Air Force drone training; and as president of his own consulting firm, GSI LLC.

To portray Keane as simply a think tank leader and a former military official, as the media have done, obscures a fairly lucrative career in the contracting world. For the General Dynamics role alone, Keane has been paid a six-figure salary in cash and stock options since he joined the firm in 2004; last year, General Dynamics paid him $258,006.

Keane did not immediately return a call requesting comment for this article.

Disclosure would also help the public weigh Keane’s policy advocacy. For instance, in his August 24 opinion column for The Wall Street Journal, in which he was bylined only as a retired general and the chairman of ISW, Keane wrote that “the time has come to confront the government of Qatar, which funds and arms IS and other Islamist terrorist groups such as Hamas.” While media reports have linked fundraisers for IS with individuals operating in Qatar (though not the government), the same could be said about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where many of the major donors of IS reportedly reside. Why did Keane single out Qatar and ignore Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? Is it because his company, Academi, has been a major business partner to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s primary rival in the region?

Other examples abound.

n a Washington Post story about Obama’s decision not to deploy troops to combat IS, retired Marine General James Mattis was quoted as a skeptic. “The American people will once again see us in a war that doesn’t seem to be making progress,” Mattis told the paper. Left unmentioned was Mattis’s new role as Keane’s colleague on the General Dynamics corporate board, a role that afforded Mattis $88,479 in cash and stock options in 2013.

Retired General Anthony Zinni, perhaps the loudest advocate of a large deployment of American soliders into the region to fight IS, is a board member to BAE Systems’ US subsidiary, and also works for several military-focused private equity firms.

CNN pundit Frances Townsend, a former Bush administration official, has recently appeared on television calling for more military engagement against IS. As the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit that studies elite power structures, reported, Townsend “holds positions in two investment firms with defense company holdings, MacAndrews & Forbes and Monument Capital Group, and serves as an advisor to defense contractor Decision Sciences.”

“Mainstream news outlets have a polite practice of identifying former generals and former congressmembers as simply ‘formers’—neglecting to inform the public of what these individuals are doing now, which is often quite pertinent information, like that they are corporate lobbyists or board members,” says Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College.

Media outlets might justify their omissions by reasoning that these pundits have merely advocated certain military strategies, not specific weapons systems, so disclosure of their financial stake in the policy need not be made. Yet the drumbeat for war has already spiraled into calls for increased military spending that lifts all boats—or non-operational jets for that matter.

When the Pentagon sent a recent $2 billion request for ramped-up operations in the Middle East, supposedly to confront the IS issue, budget details obtained by Bloomberg News revealed that officials asked for money for additional F-35 planes. The F-35 is not in operation and would not be used against IS. The plane is notoriously over budget and perpetually delayed—some experts call it the most expensive weapon system in human history—with a price tag now projected to be over $1 trillion. In July, an engine fire grounded the F-35 fleet and again delayed the planned debut of the plane. How it ended up in the Pentagon’s Middle East wish list is unclear.

“I think an inclination to use military action a lot is something the defense industry subscribes to because it helps to perpetuate an overall climate of permissiveness towards military spending,” says Ed Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School for Journalism. Wasserman says that the media debate around IS has tilted towards more hawkish former military leaders, and that the public would be best served not only with better disclosure but also a more balanced set of opinions that would include how expanded air strikes could cause collateral civil casualties. ”The past fifty years has a lot of evidence of the ineffectiveness of air power when it comes to dealing with a more nimble guerrilla-type adversary, and I’m not hearing this conversation,” he notes.

The pro-war punditry of retired generals has been the subject of controversy in the past. In a much-cited 2008 exposé, The New York Times revealed a network of retired generals on the payroll of defense contractors who carefully echoed the Bush administration’s Iraq war demands through appearances on cable television.

The paper’s coverage of the run-up to a renewed conflict in the region today has been notably measured, including many voices skeptical of calls for a more muscular military response to IS. Nonetheless, the Times has relied on research from a contractor-funded advocacy organization as part of its IS coverage. Reports produced by Keane’s ISW have been used to support six different infographics used for Times stories since June. The Times has not mentioned Keane’s potential conflict of interest or that ISW may have a vested stake in its policy positions. The Public Accountability Initiative notes that ISW’s corporate sponsors represent “a who’s who of the defense industry and includes Raytheon, SAIC, Palantir, General Dynamics, CACI, Northrop Grumman, DynCorp, and L-3 Communication.” As the business network CNBC reported this week, Raytheon in particular has much to gain from escalation in Iraq, as the company produces many of the missiles and radar equipment used in airstrikes.

In addition to providing reports and quotes for the media, ISW leaders have demanded a greater reaction to IS from the Obama administration. In The Weekly Standard this week, ISW president Kim Kagan wrote that President Obama’s call for a limited engagement against IS “has no chance of success.”

ISW’s willingness to push the envelope has gotten the organization into hot water before. In 2013, ISW suffered an embarrassing spectacle when one of its analysts, Elizabeth O’Bagy, was found to have inflated her academic credentials, touting a PhD from a Georgetown program that she had never entered.

But memories are short, and the media outlets now relying heavily on ISW research have done little to scrutinize the think tank’s policy goals. Over the last two years, ISW, including O’Bagy, were forcefully leading the push to equip Syrian rebels with advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry to defeat Bashar al-Assad.

For Keane, providing arms to Syrian rebels, even anti-American groups, was a worthwhile gamble. In an interview with Fox Business Network in May of last year, Keane acknowledged that arming Syrian rebels might mean “weapons can fall into radical Islamists’ hands.” He continued, “It is true the radical Islamists have gained in power and influence mainly because we haven’t been involved and that is a fact, but it’s still true we have vetted some of these moderate rebel groups with the CIA, and I’m convinced we can—it’s still acceptable to take that risk, and let’s get on with changing momentum in the war.” That acceptable risk Keane outlined has come to fruition. Recent reports now indicate that US-made weapons sent from American allies in the region to Syrian rebels have fallen into the hands of IS.

Keane, and ISW, is undeterred. The group just put out a call for 25,000 ground troops in Iraq and Syria.


Why Media Talking Heads Claim ISIS Will Attack US 9/11-Style

The talking heads in media are now painting a terrorist threat scenario against the US to fear-monger the public into believing that the al-Qaeda “splinter” group known as ISIS is planning an attack on America.

Senator Lindsey Graham, co-author of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) spoke on Face the Nation, is claiming that “officials have warned the next major attack on U.S. soil could emanate from the region.”

Graham said: “The seeds of 9/11s are being planted all over Iraq and Syria. They want an Islamic caliphate that runs through Syria and Iraq…and they plan to drive us out of the Mideast by attacking us here at home.”

On This Week, retired General Peter Chiarelli echoed Graham by saying that “all Americans should be concerned” about ISIS’ sudden appearance in Iraq.

House Representative Mike Rogers told Fox News: “I guarantee you: this is a problem that we will have to face and we’re either going to face it in New York City or we’re going to face it here.”

Rogers elaborated: “These are not monkey bar terrorists out in the desert somewhere planning some very low-level attack. These are sophisticated, command and controlled, seasoned combat veterans who understand the value of terrorism operations external to the region, meaning Europe and the United States. That is about as dangerous a recipe as you can put together.”

The Congressman also mentioned a “jihadist Disneyland” happening in Syria because of tremendous radicalization.

Rogers said that ISIS “is an al Qaeda-inspired group that certainly has al Qaeda ties, that now has the capability to tap people with Western passports to send them back to Europe and the United States for terrorist activity. That’s a problem for us.”

Another talking head, Army Colonel Kenneth King maintians that ISIS has made “indications” of the al-Qaeda spin-off’s intent because, according to King, the alleged leader of ISIS said in 2009, “I’ll see you guys in New York.”

Michael Morell, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and current intelligence and national security expert for CBS News, claims that in 2013, it was predicted that ISIS would become a serious threat to America via al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen.

Morell said: “If it looks like the U.S. influence in Iraq is increasing once again, the threat from ISIS could also rise. That’s one of the downsides of U.S. involvement. The more we visibly get involved in helping the [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] government fight these guys, the more we become a target.”

Unverifiable photos were published online that claim to show ISIS members killing Iraq soliders.

Juan Zarate, analyst for CBS News told the media al-Qaeda is influencing the group called ISIS who is made up of rebels from Syria.

Zarate said: “You do have very senior al Qaeda figures who have migrated to the Syrian conflict to provide strategic guidance and direction and to me that’s incredibly dangerous because you have operatives and strategists who have had squarely in mind to turn the attention of these groups toward the west.”

The rebels in Syria, known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are comprised of Salafi militants from Saudi Arabia.

These same faction of terrorists that attacked the villa where US Ambassador Stevens was murdered is in Syria fighting the proxy war for the US.

The Salafi terrorist cells are given different names depending on their location geographically (such as al-Qaeda, FSA, etc. . .) so that the idea that they are separate is purveyed to the general public. However, they are subscribing to an extreme form of Islam that is encompassing in Saudi Arabia.

The Partisans of Sharia (PoS), or Ansar al-Sharia, are directly connected to the Muslim Brotherhood who believe that those who do not adhere to Sharia law should be crucified .

During the manufactured Arab Spring in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to obtain power through violence against the Egyptian citizens.

Partisans or followers of the Muslim Brotherhood are tied to the Salafi version of Islam that demand complete adherence to the religion, lest they be deemed an infidel and killed.

The Salafis being used in Syria are exceptionally violent and adhere to sectarianism with complete abhorrence for the US.

This ideal is fostered because it helps to facilitate the psychological mindset necessary for manipulation.

Back in October of 2012, the FSA were being armed by Saudi Arabia.

The attack in Aleppo was actually funded with ammunition and weaponry from the US-aligned Middle Eastern nation. The FSA denied knowledge of how they came to obtain this shipment from Saudi Arabia; however it is fairly obvious that the Salafi extremists in their country are supporting the US-backed terrorist faction.

Saudi officials declined comment thinking that refusal to speak will correspond with their ignorance. Yet, Saudi ammunition has been used since the inception of the CIA-trained “rebels” paid for my “foreign aid” from the US and British governments.

This subversive supplying of weapons to terrorists has resulted in the use of IEDs and car bombs to destroy the intelligence headquarters of the Syrian government in Damascus.



Social media wrap: Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow and the battle of TV's talking heads


Beck consistently generated the highest volume of “chatter” across social networks, or a plurality at more than 50% of user comments on public forums. Stewart placed second in both volume of ...

 ... chatter and like/dislike votes at about 16/10%. Wolf Blitzer of CNN, meanwhile, fared last at about 1% of either.

Other talking heads featured in the study compiled by Alterian, a social-media marketing firm, were Keith Olbermann (MSNBC), Anderson Cooper (CNN), and Stephen Colbert (Comedy Central).


 (Chart credit: Alterian)


 (Chart credit: Alterian)

O’Reilly had the biggest swing from like-dislike, registering in fifth place for volume of comments about his work and seventh on the “like” scale, but jumping to third place on the “dislike” scale.

In terms of chatter generated by TV networks, Fox News (largely driven by Beck’s show), leads the pack, with MSNBC placing second followed by Comedy Central (largely driven by Stewart and Colbert) and CNN finishing fourth.

Before we get to the complicated methodology behind the statistical analysis, which was compiled in the three-month period ending with Beck’s rally and examined social-media comments from U.S.-based English-speaking users, we’d like to offer our own (relatively) unscientific conclusions from the data:

+ Love him or hate him, as social-media users clearly do, Beck is by far the most polarizing -- but more importantly entertaining -- of all the talking heads mentioned above. The more outlandish Beck’s theories, the more chatter and traffic he seems to generate. His D.C. rally is a case in point. On the day of his rally, he swamped his combined competition in traffic and chatter by more than a factor of ten (as the Ticket also noted, 
Beck and his rally partner Sarah Palin also lit up the newly launched Google RealTime search engine on that day).

+  We base the conclusion above on the “entertainment” factor of CNN anchors Cooper and Blitzer. CNN famously a few years back purged outlandish political demagogues from many of its shows, preferring to concentrate their programs on straight -- or at least semi-straight -- news gathering and presentation.  No matter what you choose to call Cooper or Blitzer, neither has the “wow-did-he-really-say-that?” factor that Beck possesses in spades. Stewart, also an entertainer, consistently ranked highly also.

+ We asked Alterian to run its analysis with and without the “spike” effect of Beck’s rally. This resulted in a slight drop in Beck’s average volume of chatter, but not a significant swing either way for his like/dislike ratio.  

+ The study didn’t take into account social-media chatter in relation to TV viewership. Beck and O’Reilly at Fox News are far ahead in viewership figures than both Cooper and Blitzer, for example, which undoubtedly affects the amount of chatter they generate on social networks. The study’s authors have pledged to examine this in more detail.

+ Interesting to note is the positive/negative aspects of the “like/dislike” factor. For one, it’s not broken down into “strongly like,” “like,” or “strongly dislike,” as users did not fill out a survey (this is key). The research is based on people’s public social-media posts, not their solicited answers. It’s a straight like or dislike choice that is automatically generated from a keyword search of users’ postings. Ah, we hear you say, what if a teenager in the modern parlance says something is “sick” -- is that a like or dislike? Which leads us into the methodology bit. 


 (Chart credit: Alterian)

[The number of searches here is skewed by Beck's rally in D.C. We asked Alterian to rerun the results discounting the effect of Beck's rally.]

Michael Fisher, a senior vice president at Alterian, says the data collected by his researchers on TV's talking heads indicated a “large volume of conversation,” a “weekly pattern of conversation” and conversation “primarily driven by Twitter and social networks."

As the data are harvested by a variety of computer programs from public comments on social networking sites, Fisher says the data are not therefore affected by concerns over how a particular survey question has been posed.  “It’s unsolicited feedback that describes consumer sentiment and commentator popularity; it absolutely shares and describes the nature of those conversations.  No one has been prompted, no one has said, ‘Fill out this survey.’”

Therefore, Fisher says, the data have no statistical margin for error (although it does not take into account multiple postings on the same subject from the same user or group of users, or the possibility of computer-generated “spamming” of notice boards, or the political leanings of the Facebook/Twitter audience in general, or the average age of respondents).  

Alterian has compiled similar social-media trending studies for the Super Bowl, soccer World Cup and the UK’s general election earlier this year and researches the effects of social-media usage in areas such as company branding and consumer loyalty.

In terms of user comments examined, Fisher says, “Anything private is out of bounds. If it is publicly available, we’re happy to share.” He says resources include Twitter, Facebook, newspaper and blog notice boards, Digg, Reddit, Delicious, YouTube and Flickr.

He says the data are broken down by a series of algorithms and language-processing tools by keywords, which are cross-referenced against a customizable dictionary of terms or topics.     

He says the analysts “sometimes look at conversation directly. If there is commentary that doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t abundantly clear, you need to manually go in there and take a look. Language and meaning evolve. We consistently refine our dictionary.”

On the “Beck effect,” Fisher says: “Results were incredibly favorable for him. His commentary is polarizing, resulting in a lot of positive and negative sentiment and more communication volume across different channels. Absolutely the one most people like or hate. He’s equalized.”  

On social media’s influence and effects in general, Fisher says: “Because consumers are involved in these social networks with groups of people, one person can have a significant influence in forming opinion. It exposes the power of these networks and the power of social communities.”  

-- Craig Howie





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