Tuesday Edition


1. The Media’s Role in Making Us Miserable

The U.S. no longer ranks among the top 20 happiest countries in the world, according to the latest Gallup World Happiness Report. (Ink Stained Wretches)

The U.S. dropped from the 15th spot to the 23rd. Young adults are mostly driving the decline in U.S. happiness (although it’s dipped at every age level). Researchers and experts attribute the trend to social media, loneliness, money problems and anxiety.

Ink Stained Wretches podcast host Chris Stirewalt says there’s another factor to consider — the media plays a role in driving negativity, but doesn’t own up to it.

Stirewalt reacting to coverage of the U.S. happiness decline: “Not mentioned is the news. Not mentioned is the fact that all of the facile, doomsaying, clickbait, hot garbage that is pumped out of newsrooms across this country, day in and day out. about what a catastrophe everything is, how bad everything is all the time. I wonder if that has any effect whatsoever on how people think about the future. … People didn't just wake up one day and say, ‘I'm very concerned about this.’ The failure of the media to take ownership of the ways in which doomsaying, catastrophized, anti-American, anti-everything coverage has negative effects just compounds the error of focusing on happiness as a scientifically measurable problem. Then when they look to place the blame, they don't blame themselves at all. They blame social media, and I'm sick of it."

Studies have shown the media has a bias for negativity:

  • A 2011 study found about 50% of campaign coverage in the U.S., Germany, Italy, and Austria was negative, with only around 6% showcasing positive news.

  • A more recent study found that from 2000 to 2019, the “proportion of headlines denoting anger, fear, disgust and sadness” significantly increased.

  • An analysis of COVID-19 coverage determined: “Eighty seven percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus

    fifty percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty four percent for scientific journals.”

Data suggests news readers respond to negativity, too.

  • A study published last year found negative wording significantly increased news consumption rates, whereas positive wording reduced them.

Bubba’s Two Cents: We’re seeing that the media we consume is truly a diet, and we’re being fed objectively bad news as a result of misaligned incentives. There is a healthier balance to be struck between serving audiences the stuff they will click on and accurately contextualizing what’s going on in the world.

2. Boeing Scandal Gets Politicized

Amid concerns about safety issues with Boeing planes, the company announced yesterday its CEO, Dave Calhoun, is stepping down. (NYT)

Earlier this year, Boeing failed 33 out of 89 audits by the Federal Aviation Administration on 737 Max jet production. After a panel flew off a 737 Max 9 in midair in January, the FAA grounded the Boeing model across the U.S.

While most observers seem to agree the issues stem from a profit-driven corporate culture that prioritized cost-cutting over safety, the left and the right have also come up with partisan explanations for Boeing’s troubles. The liberal narrative is that greedy executives pushed union workers to the side to hire cheaper but less knowledgeable laborers (in the midst of the controversy, the company’s largest union has already demanded a 40% pay hike). Conservative narratives accuse greedy executives of placing trendy diversity initiatives above the hiring of competent employees.

Nathan Newman, a writer for left-leaning political magazine The Nation: “Boeing sought to cut costs by busting their union by moving to South Carolina –– and destroyed a 100-year reputation for expertise in airplane production.”

James Lindsay, an academic and popular anti-woke commentator: “Whistleblowers from Boeing have pointed out safety concerns with Boeing's production quality issues since 2018, but instead of prioritizing safety and fixing these issues, the company created bonuses that incentivize management to focus on hitting [diversity, equity and inclusion] goals.”

Bubba’s Two Cents: Both sides might be right about why Boeing's having safety issues, but don't expect them to admit the other side might have a point. They're too busy capitalizing on what they see as a political opportunity. At the heart of it, Boeing is a once-proud company that lost its way. Instead of focusing their culture on top-notch products, they're chasing profits and jumping on the latest corporate fads, from cutting unions to getting caught up in DEI initiatives.

3. Pick Your Flavor of Populist Economics

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a long shot for 2024, but he’s far and away the most popular option behind Donald Trump and President Biden. (Axios)

Recent polls show him picking up nearly 20% of the vote, while other candidates not named Biden or Trump are struggling to break the low single-digits. As Axios reporter Sophie Cai noted, Kennedy is polling better than any independent candidate in over 30 years (that is, since Ross Perot in 1992). According to Cai, the Biden campaign has taken notice and “built an entire operation dedicated to attacking Kennedy.”

While there are certainly plenty of differences between Kennedy, Trump and Biden, when it comes to economic policy, none of them are really coming from a fiscal conservative point of view.

  • RFK Jr. supports universal free childcare, raising the minimum wage nationwide and wants to “Prosecute union-busting corporations so that labor can organize and negotiate fair wages.”

  • Biden’s messaging has centered around creating jobs for blue-collar workers, raising tax hikes on the wealthy and winning the support of the country’s biggest unions.

  • Trump’s outlook is probably the closest to that of a traditional “tax cuts and limited government” Republican, but he’s also heavily courted union endorsements and floated tariff policies that are arguably more radical than anything proposed by Biden. As president, Trump didn't put much emphasis on reducing government debt—a task made even harder by the pandemic, to be fair.

Nikki Haley, the 2024 presidential campaign’s last remaining torchbearer for the classic Republican worldview, saw her run flame out without ever really posing a threat to Trump.

Bubba’s Two Cents: Polling has shown that economically progressive policies are popular. Our 2024 options are a sign of how traditional fiscal conservatism has fallen out of favor somewhat. What’s yet to be seen is how the public’s apparent preference for economic populism stacks up against our national debt crisis.

4. Not All Republicans Watch Fox News

The share of Republicans who primarily watch mainstream news is pretty much the same as those who get most of their information from Fox News, according to a new poll. (NYT)

A New York Times/Siena poll found about 30% of Republicans get news from mainstream sources like CNN, a similar percentage to those consuming conservative media.

  • 100% of Republicans who mostly consume conservative media plan to support Donald Trump, compared to 79% from mainstream media viewers.

  • Mainstream media Republicans are 20% less enthusiastic about Trump as a nominee and 30% less likely to say his policies helped them personally.

  • They’re also three times more likely (34%) to say Trump has acted criminally, compared to conservative media viewers (7%).

A 2023 study found switching Fox News viewers to CNN for a month affected their political views, making them less supportive of hard-right stances and more critical of Trump.

Bubba’s Two Cents: For me, this study and survey are a good reminder that the average person is just not that engaged in news and politics. The media often presents modern day Republican voters as “ultra-MAGA,” Trump flag-waving, culture warriors. Yes, there’s a dedicated core of people who are actively watching Fox News and scrolling X/Twitter year-round. But for the most part, people tune in when the election gets close and otherwise they’re just kind of living their lives.

5. One for the Road

Bubba’s Two Cents: A relatively small share of Americans use Twitter/X. But the platform punches above its audience size when it comes to shaping news and politics conversations. And for all the talk of alternatives to Twitter, none of them have really gotten off the ground.

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