Wonder Woman as political media

Cover of Wonder Woman comicWe had an interesting class discussion of “entertainment media” as “political media.” I brought in what I had learned from an interesting story in Smithsonian magazine (“The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman“) that discussed the agenda behind the creation of the Wonder Woman comic character.

Wonder Woman was created with a couple of goals. One was to take the heat off of the comic book publisher because many people thought comic books were dark, perverse, and/or subversive. After only being around ten years, comic books were already blamed for leading the nation’s youth down the wrong path. Comic books were described as a “national disgrace” by one newspaper. To rehabilitate the image of comic books the publisher hired psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston who wanted bring in characters that reflected the growth of women’s power in society. In the words of Moulton, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”

There have actually been two books recently published on the origins of Wonder Woman. The Smithsonian article was based on The Secret History of Wonder Woman. I had already read a free sample chapter of Wonder Woman Unbound. I’m not a big fan of comic books, but it was a topic that generated a lot of discussion about the motivations behind media.

I know this strays beyond the usual bounds of a Texas politics course. However, I thought the reference to old comic books was an interesting way of engaging some students who usually sat out class discussion.

Cover of the Secret History of Wonder WomaCover of Wonder Woman Unbound


When is an influence peddler not a lobbyist?

Recently, the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) unanimously agreed to fine Michael Quinn Sullivan $10,000 for failing to file as a lobbyist. You can read a Texas Tribune story about it (“Ethics Commission Slaps Conservative Activist With Fine“) or read the original TEC order (pdf). The debate has drifted over to press relations as legislators try to decide who should be counted as media in the Texas Capitol (“Analysis: A Conundrum for Texas Capitol Gatekeepers‘).

Sullivan heads Empower Texans. It is widely recognize that Empower Texans has become one of the most influential organizations in the state and Sullivan was paid well over $100,000 a year to head the organization. The law specifics requires you to register as a lobbyist if you get paid to communicate directly with legislators in an attempt to influence legislation. Part of Sullivan’s defense is that he merits an exemption from the registration requirement because he is “media.” Some of that argument is spelled out in a Empower Texans statement (“Why Every Journalist Should Care About the Michael Quinn Sullivan Case“). The argument seems very weak to me and I’m not surprised that they lost on a unanimous vote.

Empower Texans has attacked the TEC process (as spelled out by spokesman Joe Nixon) and the TEC certainly merits scrutiny. However, it’s worth pointing out the TEC is not some liberal bureaucracy. Four of the commissioners were appointed by Governor Perry, two by the Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, and two by Speaker Joe Straus. That group seems unlikely to form the kind of malicious kangaroo court described by Sullivan’s defenders.

Sullivan has become living proof that the hubris so common in Austin and Washington is not limited to those in office. It’s unfortunate that a group committed to transparency in government would spend so much time and money undermining transparency in the massive lobbying industry. Anyone who has read the vague spending reports filed with the TEC (lobbyists don’t report precise payment, they report a range of contract costs), seen the massive amount given to candidates, and obscene amounts spent on feeding legislators and staff would have trouble believing that restrictions in Texas are too tight. Over 1,000 lobbyists register every legislative session (1,663 managed to do so in 2013). It’s clearly not a burden that unreasonable.

Empower Texans donors can look forward to seeing their contributions go to an expensive bank of lawyers attempting to squeeze Sullivan through loopholes in the law. That doesn’t seem like a fiscally responsible thing to do.

The roots of blogging

Pre-Internet Blogging
I felt like I should share this perspective on blogging. It’s a good way to keep myself from taking the blog too seriously. Also, posting this is easier than mowing the yard.

A gift that keeps on giving

As the year winds down, you might think about giving to (or investing in) the Texas Tribune. While the Tribune relies on tax-deductible donations to operate, it has turned into a great source of Texas news and data that would be worth a subscription fee. They make being an informed Texan a lot easier.

Check out their story (T-Squared: More Than 5 Million Reasons to Give) for more information.

News you should use

Cover of Niche NewsUniversity of Texas professor Talia Stroud has a new book out (Niche News: The Politics of News Choice) talking about how people use the news. I’m looking forward reading it because citizens’ media use has become an important factor in national politics. Stroud’s argument is that citizens’ selection of new sources often results in people choosing sources to confirm what they already believe. Stroud is not the first scholar to observe this. However, it is a topic that is especially important given the tremendous number of media sources available and the increasingly partisan nature of some of them.

So, where should you turn every day for news? Thanks to our friends at the Internet we have lots of choices. I start my days at the kitchen table checking my favorite news sources to see what’s up in the world. I check national sources pretty closely because I teach both national and Texas politics.


National news

  • The Hill – The Hill focuses on Congress and it’s a great source if you want to see what  is going on inside Congress.
  • Roll Call – Roll Call employs one of my favorite analysts, Stuart Rothenberg.
  • National Journal – One of the best places to find in-depth stories on policy and the politics behind them. George E. Condon Jr. does a great job of covering the presidency for them.
  • Washington Post – Good all-around coverage of politics.
  • New York Times – Good coverage of national and international politics.
  • RealClearPolitics – RCP’s Washington editor, Carl Cannon, has the best sense of history and politics of anyone writing today.

A boring story

The truth is often boring. Rumors and innuendo are much more interesting. So, I feel compelled to note the boring demise of a potentially fun story.

Earlier this year, a blogger broke the story that Rick Perry’s campaign had spent $78.26 for a business meeting at “La Te Da” in Key West, Florida. What makes the story potentially so much fun is that “La Te Da” was labeled as a “well-known destination for gay travelers with a popular cabaret that features drag show acts.”  Now, you have to admit that it is pretty funny to picture Perry’s campaign staff sitting down to discuss the advancement of social conservatism while a man dressed as Cher performs on stage.

However, the Austin American Statesman debunked the story by revealing that “Cabaret La Te Da” is part of a hotel complex (The Hotel at La Te Da) with a variety of venues and that Anita Perry was lunching in the much more typical restaurant frequented by tourists and local families.

So, the truth here is no damn fun. The real story is not the kind of story that gets repeated over and over on blogs and talk radio until the misperception is so deeply embedded that the truth is drowned out. Maybe some people will learn a lesson about relying on angry, opinion-driven media.

Probably not.

We now return you to your regular programing.

Do-it-Yourself analysis of the 2010 results

Texas governors race by counties-2010The Texas Tribune has produced two really nice features that let you do your own analysis of the 2010 election.

Using one set of maps, you can see which counties Perry carried and which counties White carried, where each candidate did best, or look at voter turnout by county. I could tell you what I thought of these results, but that would undermine the invitation to judge for yourself.

Linked to their story, “Cost Per Vote Varies by Race,” the Texas Tribune provides a data base that brings together vote counts with spending. You can see who spent the most per vote (Carol Kent spending $64.06 per vote in her losing attempt to hold House district 102) and who spent the least (Cheryl Johnson who spent less than a penny per vote in holding onto her seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals).

Of course, the overall comparisons aren’t always fair. (Sorry Justice Johnson, I suspect you rode the Republican wave and that the $1,400 you spent didn’t single-handedly charm 3.8 million Texans into voting for you.)  That’s okay because the Texas Tribune’s online tool lets you sort out winners and losers or Democrats from Republicans. My favorites were Hector Uribe (7¢ a vote) and Jerry Patterson (who spent a whopping 36¢ a vote) who squared off the race for Land Commissioner. Not only did these two guys run the most civil race in the state, they did so without squandering a tons of donors’ dollars. True, Patterson spent about a million bucks–but that’s not too bad for a state-wide race in Texas. After all, Rick Perry spent about $40 and Bill White spent almost $25 million and I don’t think Texans came away actually liking either one of those guys more.

The Texas Tribune is doing what digital media should be: giving readers tools to understand politics. And, they’re doing a great job. So, here’s a thought: Instead of giving the candidate of your choice hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on ads that are likely to leave you feeling ashamed to have helped them, become a member of Texas Tribune and let the Tribune provide Texans with kinds of news and information that they need to make their own informed decision.