Five Best Thursday Columns

Gabrielle Giffords on the Senate's rejection of background checks, Michael Moynihan on media coverage of the Boston bombings, Atul Gawande on how Boston hospitals saved lives, Heidi Moore on the toppled heroes of economics, and Ayesha Siddiqi on the cultural importance of Spring Breakers.

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Gabrielle Giffords in The New York Times on the Senate's rejection of background checks The Senators who voted, some almost gleefully, against a bill requiring background checks for gun purchases, writes former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in an op-ed that everyone seems to be reading, "looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing." By ignoring the 90 percent of Americans who favored such legislation, Giffords wrote, the Senators fell short of their political duty to their constituents: "They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony." Writing for The New Republic​, Adam Winkler agreed, but focused on the underlying power dynamic: "Ultimately, most of the blame for the failure of new guns laws belongs to gun control opponents, who see every gun law as the beginning of the end of gun rights." Others focused on the political reality of the Senate. Dan Balz at The Washington Post wrote that the bill's defeat "symbolized the difference between the power of public opinion and the strength of a concerted minority." The Daily Telegraph's Tim Stanley, meanwhile, heaped blame on the President. "Why should conservative senators give him a legislative victory after he has spent four years painting them as knuckle-dragging rednecks who hate women and the poor?" he asked. And it remains unclear what the consequences of the Senate's vote, if any, will be. While Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast portends an upheaval — "You cannot oppose the will of 90 percent of the public and expect no consequences." — Matthew Lewis at The Daily Caller doubts the intensity of the electorate's feelings on gun violence, writing, "The fact that 90 percent of Americans favor something is largely irrelevant. ... According to Gallup, just 4 percent of Americans see guns as the most pressing problem to be addressed. So the support for gun control is an inch deep and a mile wide."

Michael Moynihan at The Daily Beast on media coverage of the Boston bombings Does anyone know what's going on in Boston? "Three days in, it's nearly impossible to keep track of who has been wrong about what," writes Michael Moynihan, who recounts the spread of misinformation from Beantown and beyond: "On Monday evening, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reported that additional bombs had been found on the marathon route. The AP, citing a "senior U.S. intelligence official," likewise said, "Two more explosive devices have been found near the scene of the Boston marathon where two bombs detonated earlier." On Wednesday a Los Angeles Times reporter tweeted that "feds have I'’d TWO suspects." Interested in, yes, but not identified." Identifying similar flaws in stalwart outlets like The New Yorker, Moynihan wonders if anyone is immune to error in a fast-moving story. "Isn't the outrage here a bit selective and, under the banner of keeping journalists honest, a tad dishonest?" One outlet in particular, the New York Post, attracted considerable criticism for overstating the number of casualties and reporting that police were investigating a "Saudi national" in connection to the bombings. "If there's anything the Post, as a proud big-city tabloid, is supposed to be good at, it's big crime stories; working cop sources as well as sources buried deep inside the FBI and the federal government," says Eric Boehlert at Media Matters. " ... This debacle is bad; really bad. Even for the New York Post." (They're up to it again today.) Over at Bloomberg View, Jeffrey Goldberg warned against political sniping, of which both New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin were accused. "Part of talking for a living is knowing when to shut up," Goldberg said.

Atul Gawande at The New Yorker on how Boston hospitals saved lives How did Boston-area hospitals manage to save so many lives in the aftermath of the bombings in Copley Square? "Something more significant occurred than professionals merely adhering to smart policies and procedures," observes Atul Gawande. "What we saw unfold was the cultural legacy of the September 11th attacks and all that has followed in the decade-plus since. We are not innocents anymore." Trained as a surgeon, Gawande notes how Americans approach sudden catastrophes — quickly, calmly, and carefully. "At every hospital, clinicians considered the possibility of chemical or radiation contamination, a second wave of attacks, or a direct attack on a hospital. Even nonmedical friends e-mailed and texted me to warn people about secondary and tertiary explosive devices aimed at responders. Everyone’s imaginations have come to encompass these once unimaginable events." Responding in The Washington PostSarah Kliff highlighted "the strength of Massachusetts' (and Boston's) hospital system," noting that "Boston’s hospitals are safe—and also numerous. ... Six of the eight hospitals [that took in patients were] within approximately two miles of the bomb site."

Heidi Moore at The Guardian on the toppled heroes of economics We place too much trust in economics, argues Heidi Moore. "We want heroes. We want to be told what is right by philosopher-data-kings, poring over numbers that will point us toward the right policies and ways of thinking. When we want to address inequality — like raising the minimum wage or paying women an equal amount, or giving immigrants a chance to contribute to society, or paying CEOs less – economics helps bolster those arguments." But economics is too weak a field to undergird national policy, she continues, after considering the latest scandal to rock the economics world — a coding error embedded in a popular paper published in 2010. "Economics is called a science, but it's really more of an art. Its numbers are estimates, arguments, and easily debated or disproved. So the next time that lawmakers point to a single economic study to make their point, be skeptical. The fact that economics spits out cold, hard numbers should not fool us that it produces the cold, hard truth." Slate's Matthew Yglesias is less kind to Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinart, the authors of the aforementioned paper, which argued that national debt can impede growth. "Reinhart and especially Rogoff have spent years now engaged in a high-profile political advocacy campaign grounded in a causal interpretation of their empirical work that both of them knew perfectly well was not in fact supported by their analysis." The error itself, however, is all too common, as Matthew Zeitlin at Bloomberg View observes. "History is littered with coding errors — failure to convert units, missing data, incorrectly entered figures — that had global and even extraterrestrial consequences."

Ayesha Siddiqi at The New Inquiry on the cultural importance of Spring Breakers In a collection of essays describing Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers as "the most written- about cultural product of 2013," Ayesha Siddiqi argues that the film unsettles the male-dominated culture its four heroines take for granted. "These girls not only demand public space while (almost) naked—they own it," she writes. "In scenes that echo theaters of masculinity and its accompanying sexual violence, not a single allusion is made to the possibility of that violence. Ignoring rape culture could have been naïve, but in the Skittle-lit world of the movie it was a power move. By not acknowledging the threat of their surroundings, they situate themselves as the threat. ... That is how a film starring four young women in bikinis subverts the trope of female bodies as sites of experience for others." In an accompanying essay, Gawker's Cord Jefferson addresses the critique that Spring Breakers glorifies violence against women. "James Franco’s character, Alien, shouts to a crowd of adoring fans that life is about just two things: bikinis and big booties," Jefferson notes. "It's grotesque, though not because of the nudity or innuendo. Rather, it's grotesque because it’s so obviously a recreation of behavior that goes on at college spring breaks across America all the time  ... It’s not funny because it’s true; it’s horribly dark and difficult to watch because it’s true."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.