Every Halloween, when Al and Tipper Gore lived at 1 Observatory Circle, they threw a costume party for journalists and staffers. Ted Kennedy's office Christmas Parties were famous for his Santa Claus impersonations. Even the Cheneys opened the doors of their house to cocktail parties where journalists were sometimes invited. Journalists of a certain rank -- a rank higher than mine -- are often invited to State Dinners. The White House brings in anchors and correspondents to brunch with the president before the State of the Union addresses. So the decision by Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden to throw a summer hootenanny on their front lawn is part of a long tradition of convivial commingling.
Accepting a few hours worth of hospitality from the Bidens may be just that -- a chance for families to get together and enjoy each other's company. The main attraction, aside from the Vice President and his family, were the rides for kids, the face painting, and the moon bounce. The adults chit-chatted on the upper part of the lawn while the kids -- journalists' kids, Biden's family, the children of White House officials -- chased each other around with water guns. It was a nice way to spend a hot Saturday afternoon.
But these aren't ordinary afternoons, and the very idea that a journalist would accept a slice of watermelon from the Vice President strikes many a critical activist as criminally insane -- an example of the cozy relationships that exist between journalists and their sources, an example of how the oppositional role of the press has been compromised by people in power.
Well, yes. The relationships can be cordial, occasionally cozy, and they can simultaneously be professional and skeptical. Indeed, has there ever been a time when journalists and the political establishment have been MORE skeptical about each other?
I take this argument to heart: journalists worthy of the name ought to be on duty 24 hours a day, and in an ideal world, any opportunity to interact with administration officials should be an opportunity to grill those officials on any range of subjects. Journalists, if they're good for anything, should use whatever access they have to consistently and relentless pressure powerful interests. We're at war; the government is detaining people indefinitely; there's a huge oil spill in the gulf; there are better things to do.
But a bunch of really good, hardened, news-breaking, interest-accountable holding reporters are in fact able to share more comfortable moments with people they cover. For the record, the event was paid for by the Democratic National Committee, not by taxpayers. There was no additional Secret Service presence needed, so I don't think the afternoon produced any hidden costs to the government.
Am I fatally compromised?
Well, I walked out of the Naval Observatory Saturday afternoon. I carried a view of the Vice President I hadn't before seen, a few tips from senior administration officials about a variety of subjects, a wet shirt from Rahm Emanuel's water gun, and that's about it.
Perhaps that warm feeling will lead me to somehow subconsciously cover the vice president less aggressively. Actually, in writing about the event, which was on the record, I may never get an invitation to one again. And that's OK. I know readers are interested in these types of things, and I think there is some value in sharing how one journalist rationalizes them, even if it will only serve to make critics more angry.
This was an experience, a chance to catch up with sources, a chance to observe the Vice President in his natural element, a chance to see the chief of staff interact with his family, a chance to kibitz with other journalists. We did talk about Helen Thomas.
My self-identity as a journalist has evolved from the days when I used to see myself as a neutral arbiter between equal parties. I trust the government less than I did. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence facility and the way in which its operators may be circumventing restrictions on interrogations. I wasn't rounded up and thrown into jail. I had some rough conversations with senior administration officials. And then I shared a beer (well, not really, because I don't drink) with those same officials. I'm working on a follow-up to the DIA story. I continue to believe that the White House political operation is tame. I continue to believe that Iraq is much less stable than it appears to be. I'm still fairly certain that health care will wind up costing taxpayers more than current estimates project (although with less of an impact than doubters believe).
The Onion had a problem: It fell behind the times. The mock newspaper hadn’t printed an issue on actual paper since 2013, and in the period since, it never redesigned its website. As the media world changed—as the New York Times and the Washington Post adapted the ways they published stories online—The Onion lost a key satirical weapon. Visually, it no longer looked like many of the publications it parodied. And so, like it had done many times before, The Onion tagged along.
In 2008, I was elected governor of Delaware. In politics, timing is everything. You can be a fantastic candidate and run in a bad year for your party and get clobbered. You can be an absolute dud and run in the right year and get the brass ring. 2008 was a good year to be a Democrat.
But beyond the political benefit, my timing was awful. A month before I took office at the depths of the Great Recession, Chrysler closed its assembly plant in Newark, my hometown. A few months after my inauguration, General Motors shuttered its plant a few miles away. That fall, Valero closed its refinery. Those three employers had represented the best opportunities for high school graduates to get middle-class jobs for decades. Within a year, all were gone.
Infomercials are fond of marketing strategies that rely on a theory of psychological pricing. You don't pay a flat fee for your Shake Weight or Magic Bullet or Ginsu Knife; you dish out three easy payments. And your payments aren't $40, of course; they're $39.99.
Most of us, for better but probably for worse, are familiar with the sneaky logic of infomercials. That doesn't mean, however, that we are immune to their charms. Nor are we immune to the pull—ironic, and also very much not—of the products that are sold to us in the late night and early morning, our most vulnerable hours, via charismatic pitchmen and sad-sack stand-ins for human frailty. Oxyclean. The PedEgg. The Pocket Hose. The Clapper. The Socket Dock. The food dehydrator. GLH. Which is, I mean, hair that you spray onto your scalp! Even the most savvy consumers among us can find ourselves ensnared by the bleary promise of life-improvement that can be ours, we are told, for only two easy payments of $19.95 (plus shipping and handling).
In 2004, two women who were long past college age settled into a dorm room at a large public university in the Midwest. Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, and Laura Hamilton, then a graduate assistant and now a sociology professor at the University of California at Merced, were there to examine the daily lives and attitudes of college students. Like two Jane Goodalls in the jungle of American young adulthood, they did their observing in the students’ natural habitat.
The researchers interviewed the 53 women on their floor every year for five years—from the time they were freshmen through their first year out of college.
Their findings about the students’ academic success later formed the basis for Paying for the Party, their recent book about how the college experience bolsters inequality. They found that the women’s “trajectories were shaped not only by income ... but also by how much debt they carried, how much financial assistance they could expect from their parents, their social networks, and their financial prospects.”
The question that most people ask themselves as they walk into their boss's office to negotiate their salaries is likely some variant of "What am I going to say?" But according to hostage negotiator Chris Voss, that might be the least important thing to keep in mind when negotiating.
Voss, now an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, spent 24 years at the FBI. It was as an FBI agent that he started to get interested in hostage negotiations. At the time, a supervisor told him to start by volunteering at a suicide hotline to gain the set of listening abilities that a hostage negotiator needs. By 1992, he was training at the FBI's school for negotiators, and from 2004 to 2007, he was the FBI's lead international hostage negotiator. After retirement, Voss founded The Black Swan Group to bring negotiation know-how to the business world.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Though at first glance, science and fantasy seem to be polar opposites, the Venn diagram circles of “scientists” and “Lord of the Rings fans” have a large overlap. One could (lovingly!) label that region “nerds.”
Fight me on that if you want, but there’s plenty of evidence that suggests scientists love J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic. Several newly discovered animal species have been named after characters from the books—a genus of wasps in New Zeland is now called Shireplitis, with species S. bilboi, S. frodoi, S. meriadoci, S. peregrini, S. samwisei and S. tolkieni. The wasps bear the names of the hobbits because they too are “small, short, and stout,” according to a press release. On the other side of the size spectrum, paleontologists named a 900-pound ancient crocodile Anthracosuchus balrogus, after the Balrog, a giant whip-wielding fire monster from The Lord of the Rings. There is also a dinosaur named after Sauron, which seems kinda harsh to me. And many, many more, if the website “Curious Taxonomy” is to be believed.
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city's publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city's police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today's riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made: