Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The awfulness of TV news, cont'd: a Bloomberg edition

Two things:

1.I wonder sometimes just how off the cuff seemingly spontaneous conversations on television are, especially in a news/chat format like this. For example, at around 4:00 Veronique de Rugy seems to practically do a super slow wind-up of a pitch about "Univerity of Chicago professor Stephen Lev-something, something, and his theory of something-or-other," giving the interviewer plenty of time to anticipate when to deftly interrupt her and talk over her so we don't know what the Univ of Chi-town prof has a theory about. Maybe it just my imagination.

But who knows, maybe we're supposed to think we're being unduly churlish and fussy if we want to know what exactly they're talking about, and what we missed in the crosstalk. After all, Ms. de Rugy and the interviewer are both so nice and serious and knowledgeable, so they couldn't possibly be trying to befuddle or misdirect us, and it couldn't have been that important anyway.

Anyway I went to the University of Chicago's website to find Professor Steve, he of the blah blah blah department. Sociology? Public Policy? I dunno, but I am a major nerd, and unduly churlish, so I had to do it.

Steven Levitt's page at the U. of Chicago says "Levitt, editor of the Journal of Political Economy, has authored several recent articles about crime, including "Legalized Abortion as an Explanation for the Decline in Crime"

I assume this article's thesis is what de Rugy is referring to, and I'll admit I find myself wondering how important its thesis is relative to the subject of the US prison population. Is it considered a really big intellectual storm in the study of prisons? I don't know. Likewise, I don't know that the apparently rehearsed crosstalk was in fact intentional, although if my thesis is correct about de Rugy and the interviewer is correct, it reinforces my overall sense that the whole segment may be a bit of flim-flam misdirection, acknowledging the massive US prison population while also indirectly suggesting it's for the best and not really due to excessive sentences, or any other reasons worth worrying too much about.

2. I suppose I shouldn't be amazed by the chart a visual that suggests the other 75% 'other factors' apart from long sentences are essentially too murky and unknowable. What's interesting to me is how they pivot away from discussing how huge the US prison population is to the drop in crime, as if the questions of whether or not US prison sentences are too long or whether we allocate too many resources to locking people up were about to be discussed, but then they shift the conversation to the drop in crime, suggesting to the lazy viewer in a very indirect way that yes, the US has a large prison population and long prison sentences, but it's worth it. And perhaps most importantly, they never even discuss the war on drugs, another elephant in the room.

de Rugy has an article discussing this at reason.com, which also avoids the question of the drug war but is somewhat less fuzzy about those mysterious 'other factors.'

see also

Alternet,"Why Ending the War on Drugs is a Social Justice Imperative"

Also from Reason.com, an interview with Mark Kleiman,‘Long Prison Terms Are Wasteful Government Spending’

Salon.com, "The day the drug war really started"

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