How to Respond to Charges of Misinformation

The New York Times has an article about a University of Maryland study that shows that for the most part, the more people watched Fox News, the more they were misinformed about issues pertaining to the 2010 election (e.g., Fox News viewers were more likely to think that TARP began under Obama rather than Bush).

Asked for comment on the study, Fox News seemingly dismissed the findings. In a statement, Michael Clemente, who is the senior vice president of news editorial for the network, said: “The latest Princeton Review ranked the University of Maryland among the top schools for having ‘Students Who Study The Least’ and being the ‘Best Party School’ – given these fine academic distinctions, we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with.”

Mr. Clemente oversees every hour of objective news programming on Fox News, which is by far the nation’s most popular cable news channel.

For the record, the Princeton Review says the University of Maryland ranks among the “Best Northeastern Colleges.” It was No. 19 on the Review’s list of “Best Party Schools.”

(NYT’s statement about the Princeton Review seems to be true.)

So now we know: if someone accuses you of making shit up and misleading your audience, just make some shit up.

(Update: Clarification suggested by alert reader Fez.)

No Pr0n Policy at UMD

A while back, I mentioned that a student group at the University of Maryland was going to show a porn flick. A state legislator got bent out of shape at the thought that 18-20-year-olds might be thinking about sex, and threatened to cut off state funding to the university. Eventually, the university was told to come up with a policy regulating which movies can be shown on campus.

According to the Post,

Regents of Maryland’s state university system voted Wednesday to defy a legislative order to regulate pornography on campus, concluding that any such rules would be impossible to enforce.

The review found that pornographic materials generally have constitutional protection unless they are deemed obscene. But “there are few, if any, films that have been declared obscene by any court,” the report states. As a result, top legal minds “have not been able to draft a policy that is narrowly targeted toward ‘obscene’ films.”

A broader rule to govern pornography would probably be found unconstitutional, the report states, because governmental restrictions on speech must be “content and viewpoint neutral,” and cannot be confined to adult films.

So I guess the forces of reason and untwisted panties sometimes prevail.

UMD to End Graduation Prayer

According to the not always reliable
(hey, whaddya want? It’s a student paper), the University of Maryland
senate has voted to stop having prayers at graduation ceremonies. This
doesn’t affect individual colleges’ ceremonies, though.

It seems to have been a pretty decisive vote, too: 32-14.

The main arguments against the move seem to confuse secularism with

“We need to be careful not to send the message that
secular language is seen as superior and acceptable while religious
language is seen as inferior and unacceptable,” [the university’s
Episcopalian chaplain, Peter Antoci] said.

It’s quite simple, really: if I’m at a staff meeting, and others are
talking about last night’s basketball game, and I say “Could you
please stop talking about basketball so that we can get on with the
business at hand and get out of this meeting early?”, I’m not saying
that basketball is a Bad Thing, or that talking about basketball is
bad. I’m just saying that it’s irrelevant to the purpose of the
meeting, so please do it on your own time.

According to the article, the university still employs 14, count ’em!,
14 chaplains, and I’m not aware of any movement to fire or censor them
(unless your definition of “censorship” includes denying them a
captive audience).

Of course,
some people
are appalled that this happened around the same time that
a porn flick was going to be shown on campus:

Great: Porn is ok; prayer is not.

I guess I’ll mark this one as “straw man”, since no one is suggesting
that porn be shown at graduation ceremonies.

MD Legislature Censors Porn at University

Just to show how out of touch I am with local news, the Hoff movie
theater at the University of Maryland was going to show a porn film,
Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge
(Wikipedia link; should be SFW), preceded by a talk by a representative of Planned
(Washington Post,

Then the Maryland General Assembly heard about this, and pushed
through an amendment to a budget bill denying the university state
funds if it showed a XXX-rated movie. The university pulled the film,
and the amendment was withdrawn.

As you can imagine, this has caused a certain amount of discussion on
teh Intertubes.

The Post says that the state funding that would have been withdrawn
amounted to $424 million. I haven’t managed to find the current
budget, but in
FY2003, the
total budget for this campus was $1.16 billion, of which $633 million
(54%) came from the state. Assuming that the current year’s budget is
comparable, clearly this amounts to a threat by the legislature to
cripple the university, if not shut it down entirely. I’ll leave it up
to the courts to decide whether this is legal or not, but clearly it’s
an attempt at censorship.

The Diamondback quotes Vice President for Student Affairs Linda
Clement as saying,

We thought it was an opportunity to have a dialogue revolving around pornography as a film genre and promote student discussion

and in that spirit, the Mod +1: Insightful award of the day goes to
commenter Stephanie,
responding to another comment:

“Psychological studies have shown that pornography creates a subconscious idea of what sex should be and how females should behave, and generates anger.”

This is exactly why we need to have conversations about pornography instead of just relegating it to a private space.

One thing to bear in mind is that the movie in question isn’t Jamaican
Amateurs 19
or Asian Cum-Shots 116 or some similar
piece of Extruded Pr0n Product. Evidently Pirates II had a
of $8 million,
(NSFW), costumes, CGI effects, and even a
It was released both as a hardcore porn movie, and also in an
abbreviated R-rated version.

So presumably it would have served as an illustration of what porn can
be, not what it usually is (something like what Moore and Gebbie did
Lost Girls).

Of course, I haven’t seen this movie, so I’m probably assuming too
much. But if you were going to have a conversation about pornography,
and show a movie so that everyone’s talking about the same thing, this
movie seems like a reasonable choice.

I wouldn’t mind exploring questions like, does porn degrade women? If
so, is this a necessary feature of porn? Does it set unrealistic
expectations about sex?

I can understand the latter objection. But on the other hand, one
might also argue that romance novels and “chick flicks” set
unrealistic expectations about love and romance. And why doesn’t
anyone complain that action movies set unrealistic expectations about,
well, a whole slew of things? Does anyone think they can jump out of a
fourth-story window while dodging a hail of bullets, roll behind a
parked car, and fire back at one’s attackers? Or engage in a 60 mph
car chase through crowded city streets without wrapping oneself around
a streetlight? In these cases, we understand that what’s on the
screen, while grounded in reality, frequently takes flights of fantasy
because it looks cool. Why can’t we take the same approach to porn?
(The first piece of advice that I saw on cunnilingus, possibly in
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid
to Ask
, basically said to forget how it’s done in movies; if
you’re doing it right, you’re blocking all the action with your head,
so it doesn’t make for good cinema.)

Another comment that caught my attention was
this one
by Jor:

The screening wasn’t intended to be recreational but rather educational.

which brings to mind the words of Tom Lehrer:

I do have a cause, though: it is obscenity. I’m for it.

Unfortunately, the civil liberties types who are fighting this
issue have to fight it, owing to the nature of the laws, as a matter
of freedom of speech and stifling of free expression and so on, but we
know what’s really involved: dirty books are fun, that’s all there is
to it. But you can’t get up in a court and say that, I

I have to ask: what if this screening were purely
recreational? How would that change anything? The Hoff theater
plenty of movies just for fun, without a lecture or discussion
attached. It’s at the student union, fer cryin’ out loud. Downstairs,
there’s a bowling alley with pool tables and video games, but no one’s
suggesting that those should be frowned upon unless you can tie them
to a talk about newtonian mechanics or computer graphics. Across the
street is a football stadium; I’ve never heard the slightest inkling
of a suggestion that it be used only to teach about game theory or the
dynamics of competing groups.

So how is a screening of Pirates II different? Well, it’s
got sex in it, obviously. But why is sex always
the great exception?

In recent years, I’ve seen the term “porn” applied metaphorically to
non-sexual content. E.g., The Passion of the Christ has
been called
biblical porn“,
and the Left Behind series has been called
Armageddon porn“.
The idea is that the point of the œuvre is quite
obviously to show some subject (Jesus’ suffering and pre-tribulatin
suffering, in the examples above), and everything else is there to
allow that depiction to happen. There are plenty of videos that fit
that description, usually filed under “special interest” at the video

Then there’s
this gem:

Pornography IS the largest industry on the internet … why try to draw MORE viewers to it by attempting to make it publicly acceptable? Check out Patrick Carnes book, “Out of the Shadows”. Sex addiction is right up their with alcoholism and food addiction. But it’s worse because the shame of it is often carried by the addict alone, while the addict destroys his world trying to keep it a secret. I’m speaking from experience. Please don’t dismiss this as fun or educational.

The argument here seems to be “porn is not socially acceptable, so
people feel ashamed when they watch it in private. But if it were
socially acceptable, more people would watch it, and would feel
ashamed”. Obviously a circular argument, along the same lines as “gays
should stay in the closet, because otherwise they’ll be made to feel
miserable by homophobes like me”.

Okay, there’s the other argument, that some people have a real problem
with sex addiction. This may even be true. But hiding porn and trying
to pretend that it doesn’t exist doesn’t solve anything, any more than
Prohibition helped alcoholics.

And no, I’m not denying that 90+% of porn is crap, and that many of
the prudes’ allegations may be true. But can we at least face the
problems head-on, openly, like adults, and not try to sweep them under
the rug?

The Kids Are All Right

While walking back from lunch today, I saw a group of preachers in the
semicircular plaza in front of the student union. One had a big banner
telling people to repent their sins and come to Jesus Christ, and the
main ranter was wearing a sandwich board that said pretty much the
same thing in front. On the back, it had a list of people who should
beware the wrath of God, the merciful, the most compassionate. I’m
going to trust
Amanda Gibbs’s
transcript, because it sounds about right:


Fornicators, drunkards, sodomists, pot smokers, gangster rappers, immodest women, darwinists, gamblers, feminists, socialists, abortionists, pornographers, homosexuals, jihadists, dirty dancers, hypocrites


I walked around the back to read the whole thing. Broke out laughing.
Saw a bunch of smiles appear among the people in the front row.

It took me back to my own student days, when
Tom Short
would stand in front of the library and rant fundamentalist Christian
inanity for hours.

It gladdened this shriveled old cynical heart to see the reaction of
the students watching today’s spectacle. It ranged from outrage to
mild amusement to wild amusement. One woman ran out to get a piece of
chalk and draw pagan signs on the ground around Ranty Sandwich Board

So it looks to me as if the young’uns are being pushed away from
right-wing crazy religion, and toward either moderate religion or no

I struck up a brief conversation with one of the students in
attendance, in which he told me that he too had been raised Russian
Orthodox, and had been pressed into service as an altar boy a few
times. So we laughed, shook hands, and swapped stories of abusing the
communion wine.

Yeah, I think they’ll be fine.