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The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is Just Nerds Again, as it Should Be.

It’s a good sign that I didn’t recognize anyone during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner broadcast until halfway through. In the previous eight years Hollywood celebrities parachuted into the nation’s capital to strut up a red carpet and mingle with various tuxedo-clad political barnacles. That kind of hobnobbing woefully gives hope to impressionable student council presidents that if they work very hard and spend six hours a day on LinkedIn, they too may one day sit at the cool kids’ table with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Fortunately that’s over now. Donald Trump, a man so intensely unlikable that satellites spontaneously redirect their orbits to avoid him, has rent asunder the unholy alliance between politicians and coolness. Celebrities skipped this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner to attend Samantha Bee’s rival Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner instead. The president refused to let journalists lob verbal tomatoes at him, so instead visited a rally in Pennsylvania to promote his ambitious agenda of getting more Americans to wear bright red hats.

Absent Hollywood big shots and White House carbuncles, journalists attending the dinner this year by default had to discuss journalism—and the ominous threat President Trump poses to it. Jeff Mason of Reuters said, “Freedom of the press is a building block of our democracy. Undermining that by seeking to delegitimize journalists is dangerous to a healthy republic.” Bob Woodward gathered applause with, “Mr. President, the media is not fake news.” And during his keynote address, Hasan Minhajs veered away from jokes to warn, “Donald Trump doesn’t care about free speech. The man who tweets everything that enters his head refuses to acknowledge the amendment that allows him to do it.”

Usually the White House Correspondents Dinner looks like a cross between prom and a Comedy Central roast, but this time the enmity between the White House and the press manifested in some sober reflections on the Fourth Estate. Speakers celebrated the First Amendment, and warned of the menace which government might pose when it’s no longer run by a liberal philosopher king.

Journalists sounding the alarm about the president have a point—Donald Trump is America’s answer to Silvio Berlusconi. If he had an attention span greater than that of a cocker spaniel, I would be seriously worried about his threats to open libel laws. It’s unnerving that he expels syndicates from White House briefings when they displease him, and that he routinely lambasts the media as “fake news” and enemies of the American people.

That said, perhaps part of why Americans have such abysmally low opinions of the media in polls is that journalists keep describing themselves as objective, even-handed seekers of truth—they certainly styled the profession that way at this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner.

In economics Public Choice Theory says that politicians have basic human impulses even after getting elected—they want to keep their jobs, they want to get invited to parties, and they want people to like them. They don’t turn into selfless Vulcans after they’re sworn in. Journalists aren’t magically exempt from the same cognitive bias or groupthink that effects all other humans (although a lot of them seem to think so.) Glenn Greenwald espouses a different school of thought: that journalists should try to be evenhanded, but also own up to their biases so that people can make informed assessments of their reporting.

This year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner looked less giddy than years past; more of a vocational awards ceremony than a nexus of pundits and starlets. In that capacity balance may have been restored to the Force. Donald Trump, loudmouth authoritarian though he is, kicks up mushroom clouds of hostility every time he interacts with reporters. So at least for now, journalists are antagonists to government—as they should be.

For more on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, watch below.

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Solving The News Bubble Problem

The technology for delivering news to consumers is too good now. Facebook, for example, can serve up only the types of content they already know will interest you. The problem with that model is that each political group ends up in an information bubble where they only see the stuff with which they already agree. That doesn’t make for a healthy republic.

So how do you solve that?

I would like to see special URLs (like Bitly shortened links) that automatically bring the best counter-points with every political story. And let’s say the selected story plus the best counterpoints pop up in a split-screen format, so you can’t miss the opposing views. 

That would give publications the option of creating these special “balanced” links or sometimes ignoring them and going their own way. This system would improve over time because consumers would complain when the balancing links are omitted, and they will complain when the balancing links include weaker counter-arguments than are available. So as long as the public is watching, balance should come to the news links over time.

Alternately, the big publishing companies can continue to do their bubble reporting and a third-party could create the “balance links” for anyone who wants to Tweet or share responsibly. 

Regular readers of this blog will recognize this as the “bad version” of an idea that is useful as a starting point. I make no claim that this idea can work as described. Maybe some of you have ideas for improving it. That’s how things get done.

It’s a system, not a goal.

You might enjoy reading my book because it is all about how systems are better than goals.

I’m also on…

Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

YouTube: At this link.

Instagram: ScottAdams925

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