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What? You look like that?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club February 8, 2013 05:01 PM

Here's what's funny about hosting a radio show: people are shocked when they find out how you look.

I've mostly avoided this until recently - as I also appear on TV ("Beat the Press" on Boston's PBS station, WGBH).

But over the last few months, I've had several people look at me and say: "Wow, it's weird to put a face with the voice!" or "Oh, you look different than I thought!"

I know the feeling.

As a devoted NPR listener, I used to think Robert Siegel looked pretty much like this:

BillGates2012.jpg

And Terry Gross looked like this:

sue-herera.jpg

Obviously. Anyone who had listened to them knew that.

Except that I was totally off on both counts, and it was a little mind-blowing (and unpleasant) to have my well-entrenched visions shattered.

Behold, Robert Siegel:

siegel hi res-2.tif.jpg

And Terry Gross:

Terry_Gross.jpg

Whahah?!?

And now I'm going to be one of those hosts whose picture perplexes and disillusions listeners? One of those people who was supposed to be blond with glasses or tall with curly brown hair.

Or, worse, people will imagine that I look like some famous movie star, as - apparently - they do with other radio hosts, if Buzzfeed is to be believed.

Aaargh. Maybe radio hosts should stay in the bunker. Or become Salinger-like recluses. I'm taking it under serious consideration.

BTW, what radio personality - NPR or otherwise - were you shocked to see in person? What did you think they looked like?

Are Women Really Pulling Ahead?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club January 31, 2013 08:17 AM

How comfortable do men feel being stay-at-home dads?

How comfortable do they feel when their wives or girlfriends out-earn them?

Even in 2013, lots of men and women may be initially skeptical of both scenarios - though that aversion is slowly being eaten away by both logic and an acceptance of women’s increasing financial power.

“When women find themselves pulling ahead [of their partner],” author Liza Mundy told me in a recent interview, “it can come as a surprise and it can be disconcerting sometimes.”

Mundy’s book, The Richer Sex, notes that, increasingly, women out-earn men. And in a country in which a higher percentage of bachelor’s degrees go to women, that trend seems unlikely to abate. (More and more graduate degrees also go to women.)

As CBS News reported last year, “roughly 20.1 million women have bachelor's degrees, compared to nearly 18.7 million men — a gap of more than 1.4 million that has remained steady in recent years.”

Some experts, like Mundy, believe younger women will continue to exacerbate the gap, increasingly looking to education to increase their earning potential.

Here’s the problem, though - highlighted by Philip Cohen in this month’s Boston Review - men still rake in more money than women, even when they’re doing the same job. In part because women are simply less likely to advocate for themselves.

A new book from Sheryl Sandberg, whose TED talk about women went viral, will argue that women are simply socialized to demand less. And less is what they get.

A friend in a very well-compensated profession told me that when she was hired, an older woman warned her that women often fail to demand the same sort of contracts as the men around them.

Men, she said, generally ensure they get the vacation time and expense accounts they want before accepting the job in the first place. “You’re lucky to have me working here,” the guys would insist. Women, meanwhile, tended to think: “You really want to hire me? That’s so exciting!”

But Cohen notes that women suffer not just from socialization (being liked is a top priority) but from structural disadvantages:

In policy, the United States lags atrociously on vital matters of work-family integration. Specifically, paid family leave might reduce the career consequences of unpaid care-work obligations. Universal preschool education would smooth women’s reentry into the labor force after childbirth while reducing the inequalities in childcare that help reproduce class inequality.

Which means that women are still far more likely to stay at home and raise a family than men. And they are still more likely to be in marriages where their spouse out-earns them.

Will this change? Can it?

We may be in the midst of a great social movement. But movement can be slow - painfully slow.

Truths about College Rankings

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club December 12, 2012 01:31 PM

Take a look through this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, University of Chicago.

It’s a parade of nearly-impossible-to-get-into schools, scored by metrics that often privilege reputation over real student experiences.

For example, U.S. News notes that it:

“gives significant weight to the opinions of those in a position to judge a school's undergraduate academic excellence. The academic peer assessment survey allows top academics—presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions—to account for intangibles at peer institutions such as faculty dedication to teaching.”

Well, OK, but how much do you value the opinion of, say, Stanford’s provost?

Does he think like you? Does he think about good education in the same way? And perhaps, most importantly, does he have a solid grasp of what life is like at the University of Chicago, MIT, or the University of New Hampshire in 2012?

(If you’re wondering, Stanford’s provost, John Etchemendy, holds degrees from the University of Nevada and Stanford).

But U.S. News’ approach to colleges is flawed not just in subjective ways (what does Stanford’s provost think of a school he never attended and likely knows little about?) but in objective ways too.

In the statistics that accompany the ratings, for example, Yale - this year’s #3 school -(Harvard and Princeton are tied for #1) has a 7.7% acceptance rate.

Which sounds rather low. Until you start looking at the real numbers, which make 7.7% look like an open-door policy.

As Yale’s alumni magazine noted last year, many of those who are admitted fall into special categories (this would be much the same at any Ivy League school, as well as dozens of other schools). For example, at Yale:

  • 13.5% are children of alumni
  • 13.0% are recruited athletes
  • 20.8% are underrepresented minorities
  • 9.9% are international students
Certainly, there is some overlap in these groups; you may have a recruited athlete who is also the child of an alum, so you don’t want to simply add up the numbers above. But even so, what the statistics reveal is that, almost without question, at least a third of Yale’s slots that will not be open to you if you are not the child of an alum, a recruited athlete, an underrepresented minority, or an international student.

For you, then, the 7.7% acceptance just slipped to about 5%

And the value of U.S. News’ ranking system slipped too. Which makes you wonder if a one-size-fits-all ranking system is doing us more harm than good.

Lou Dobbs on Stocks, CNN, and Honey Boo Boo

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club October 18, 2012 12:22 PM

dobbs360.jpgMore than 30 years ago, a brash college dropout named Ted Turner created an unorthodox, game-changing media force: CNN. And one of his first hires was a local TV anchor and reporter, Lou Dobbs, who had spent the past few years bouncing around stations from Arizona to Washington State.

But once he arrived at CNN, Dobbs stuck. Having been trained in economics at Harvard, Dobbs led CNN’s financial coverage for nearly three decades, during which time he rarely hid his bold and sometimes controversial views. By the fall of 2009, however, differences with network leadership and Dobbs’ desire for something new led to a permanent break from CNN.

Briefly, Dobbs thought about running for office. He made a cameo on CBS’ The Good Wife, and he worked on his side business: a horse farm.

Finally, though, he found his way back to cable news and the Fox Business Network, where he now hosts a nightly program, Lou Dobbs Tonight.

I spoke with Dobbs about the role of the economy and stock market in this election, what he thinks of CNN’s rating woes, and why it makes sense to defund public broadcasting (stay tuned for some fireworks).

You were at CNN for a long time. What do you think when you read all the press about their ratings woes?

It’s not just bad press. It is clearly a network and an organization that has completely lost its way. For those of us who were part of building it, it’s very disappointing what has happened to them.

What has happened?

It’s a failure of leadership. A failure of values. I revel every day in the fact that we at Fox beat the other cable news networks. There’s not really a twinge of sadness for CNN. I enjoy the victories that Fox achieves.

You thought for a while about running for office. Is that totally off the table now? Or is it still on your radar?

When I made the decision to come to Fox Business Network, my wife and I talked about it for a good part of the summer. I love being part of Fox Business. It’s my fortunate present and my future.

Since you’re enmeshed in economics and politics, do you think the stock market will react differently to a win by Governor Romney than to a win by President Obama?

I personally believe that there will be a significantly different reaction to the prospect that Romney will win versus Obama. I believe that, particularly given the tortured relationship between Obama and business people. I think it will be very negative for markets should Obama be reelected.

Romney has not been very specific about his tax plans -- except the fact that he will cut 20% across the board. He says he’ll get rid of loopholes and deductions, but he doesn’t mention which ones. Should he?

Those specifics will be resolved and negotiated with Congress. As the governor of your great state of Massachusetts, that’s how he worked and negotiated with others. The same reporters who are demanding specificity on Romney’s plan have not questioned Obama’s record. It’s more urgent to focus on the 23 million people who are unemployed. Why is that not the national agenda?

The national media has given the President a pass. He has not met with his labor secretary for over six months and rarely meets with the cabinet.

You’ve said that the President has a “woman problem” and a “Hispanic problem.”

That was said with some sarcasm. But what I observed was that in two polls Romney had made gains with women and Hispanics, two groups which had been a problem for him. The President is losing ground across the spectrum, including with women and Hispanics.

Mitt Romney did something very smart. He talked about the values of Hispanic Americans and that the Republican Party is their natural home -- it was an important and compelling statement.

How about “self deportation”?

I think Romney said what he meant. He sees it as unconscionable that the four million people trying to get in legally have to go through such hurdles. But he did also reach out to young immigrants who are already here and want to make a path for themselves.

OK. A couple more questions about media and business. You beat CNBC’s Larry Kudlow in the most important demographic (25-54 year olds) during the third quarter, the first sustained win like that for FBN over CNBC. Why do you think that is?

I’ll leave that to others to discern. What we try to do is put together a broadcast with perspective and analysis. We’ve got a great team here. I don’t particularly watch competing shows, as I want us to come up with our own ideas.

You’ve complained about the $445 million the government spends on public broadcasting each year. And Romney mentioned in the first debate that he wasn’t “going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.” Full disclosure here, I host a show on an NPR station in Boston about innovation. But the money we spend on all of public broadcasting each year amounts to less than half of 1/100th of 1/100th of our public debt. Aren’t we taking our eye off the big-money items in the budget?

I understand the affinity for public broadcasting. And there are areas in which it contributes. But I don’t think taxpayer money should go to public broadcasting to sponsor what are often a lot of liberal voices. Taxpayer money shouldn’t go into a closed liberal feedback loop. What is the purpose of taxpayer money? And, Kara, half a billion dollars is a lot of money.

It is a lot of money, but it depends on the context. Not compared to the big programs that the government spends the vast majority of its money on.

Are you looking down your NPR nose at this issue? Shouldn’t we let public programs compete in the market?

Well, the question is what those programs would look like in a few years if they were always competing to feature the latest McDonald’s commercial. Would NOVA be able to focus as much on science and learning?

NOVA makes a lot of money. It would be fine. It would become like the Discovery Channel or The Learning Channel.

But The Learning Channel [TLC] now features Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

[Laughs] By the way, I love NOVA, Masterpiece, Masterpiece Mystery. We should have this discussion as a country. There are a lot of old, rickety institutions that we should ask questions about -- not just public broadcasting -- the Department of Education, The Department of Defense, state and local governments.

5 Reasons Obama Was Scared

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club October 4, 2012 08:54 AM

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No question about it. President Barack Obama seemed subdued last night. He held back.

But why? Why let Mitt Romney go on the offensive, tout grand new programs, and eviscerate the President’s record?

Assuming Obama’s a smart person - which seems beyond question - there must have been something that cowed him into relative silence, platitudes, and an inexplicably all-positive-all-the-time theme.

What was it? Here are the top five possibilities, culminating with the one I believe is most likely:

1. He wasn’t prepared. Romney squirreled himself away in Vermont and practiced like a Harvard-bound kid whose grade point average depended on the final exam. And, like lots of smart, high-achieving kids, the Governor produced. Obama, on the other hand, thought: “Pish tosh! I’m in the lead. I’ve got this thing in the bag. Forget studying, dude. I’m coasting."

2. Debates don’t matter. Obama and his advisors looked back at 50 years of debates and found that almost none turned the race around. The match-up between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter - so often mentioned by Republicans - likely did not owe its turnaround to the debate. As Democratic strategist Bob Beckel noted last night, "having been involved with President Carter's campaign that year, I can assure you the stage had already been set for a Reagan victory."

3. Who is this guy? Romney came at Obama with the long knives out. And the carving and filleting was artful. Take this shot from Romney near the beginning:

Under the president's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They're just being crushed. Middle- income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300. This is a -- this is a tax in and of itself. I'll call it the economy tax. It's been crushing.

At the same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the president. Electric rates are up. Food prices are up. Health care costs have gone up by $2,500 a family. Middle-income families are being crushed.

That necessitates a comeback. I waited 90 minutes. Nothing came.

Was it because the President - like all presidents - lives in a bubble? In which everyone agrees with him? As historian Jon Meacham noted today, it's likely that no one has spoken to the President at any point in the last four years with the same sort of irreverence that Romney did.

4. Whose policies are these? To be fair to Obama, the Romney who showed up last night felt remarkably centrist - compared to the one who appeared in the 47% video, who moved from Massachusetts to the Tea Party, who proclaimed himself a "severe conservative." The Governor knew the game had shifted to the center of the field; just about 10% of centrist voters are in play, and reaching out to them is his final mission. Last night, Romney was all about empathy, supporting health care and Medicare, helping the middle class, and making inroads with suburban voters in Virginia and Ohio.

5. Don’t attack. Just don’t attack. Getting angry, Obama knew, would be out of character for him. He’s a cool guy. Blue, not red. Icy, not hot. He may have worried that too much engagement could lead to disaster - a flash of outrage that could turn him into the same kind of rough-and-tumble politician as everyone else. Rather than the man who told us there was no red America or blue America - just the United States of America.

In addition, as New York Magazine’s John Heilman has noted, Obama has, privately, “a lot of contempt for Romney,” and not letting that show through may have felt like a paramount goal.

Can we ever agree?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club August 13, 2012 10:03 AM

US100000dollarsbillobverse.smaller.jpgWhat can Americans agree on politically?

Maybe not much. Abortion should be legal, abortion should be outlawed. Global warming is real, global warming is a hoax. Health care should be mandatory, health care should be optional.

Let’s put it this way: John Kerry and Michele Bachmann aren’t likely to have a meeting of the minds anytime soon.

And yet there are issues where I think we could find agreement. Granted, they might be somewhat peripheral, but finding notes of harmony might start to change the tone in Washington.

(Too much Kumbaya for you? Think both sides will refuse to bend? Well, after more than a decade of increasing polarization, we could simply give into perpetual stalemate - or try a different strategy.)

One of those issues is taxes on the wealthy. And by wealthy, I don’t mean families earning $250,000 a year. Or $500,000 a year. Or $1 million a year.

Let’s look instead at families and individuals making multi millions every year. As The New York Times reported on Friday:

[T]his summer the Internal Revenue Service released data from the 400 individual income tax returns reporting the highest adjusted gross income. This elite ultrarich group earned on average $202 million in 2009, the latest year available. And buried in the data is the startling disclosure that six of the 400 paid no federal income tax. The I.R.S. has never before disclosed that last fact... 27 paid from zero to 10 percent of their adjusted gross incomes and another 89 paid between 10 and 15 percent.

There has, of course, been debate in Congress over what constitutes “rich.” Should families that make $300,000 or $400,000 a year see their tax rate go from 35% to 39%? President Obama and Democrats say yes, arguing that the rich have to pay their fair share. Republicans counter that 39% is too high for people who may be creating jobs. And who’s to say that someone making $300,000 a year is rich?

But I’m fairly sure we can all agree that a family making $100 or $200 million dollars a year is wealthy. And we can probably also agree that they shouldn’t be paying less in taxes than a bank teller, a truck driver, or the poor sap who earns $300,000.

So, could Republicans and Democrats get together to make sure that people who make $200 million a year don’t pay fewer taxes than middle-class voters? Grover Norquist might not like it, but, as a stand-alone measure, it might just pass.

And such a compromise could highlight a surprising truth: that Democrats and Republicans can, on occasion, agree.

Obviously, ensuring that the richest people in America pay a few bucks in taxes would not mark our finest hour. But, heck, it’s a start. And you never know where that might lead.


Healthier School Lunch?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club July 18, 2012 08:31 AM

school.lunch.smallr.jpgWe all know the stories.

Kids who grab the brownie and roll off their tray and dump everything else. Kids who complain that healthier food has come to school - so they have to smuggle in Doritos from home in order to survive until 3:00 pm.

When I was in fifth grade, I refused to eat sandwiches for a year, and my mom packed me pieces of pumpkin bread, along with cookies and fruit. Not super balanced, but I was a stubborn kid.

When I asked my husband what he remembers about cafeteria food, he told me that, "People's favorite vegetable was ketchup. They thought it was great. They put it on everything."

And the most popular food in his Pennsylvania school? "It had to be wraps. People loved wraps. They would give you a tortilla, some chicken fingers, and French fries, and you wrapped it all up."

What? The filling for the wrap was French fries and chicken fingers?

"You obviously never saw how popular it was," he said, dismayed at my inability to understand the wraps' appeal. "There was a huge line for those things."

But - in a country where one in three kids now qualifies as overweight or obese - the food kids get in school is attracting increased scrutiny. (For low-income students, who may be entitled to both free breakfast and free lunch, school food can easily constitute more than 50% of their daily calories.)

Enter the Chef Initiative, an outgrowth of Project Bread, which partnered with Harvard School of Public Health to bring trained chefs into Massachusetts public schools. But the road has not been easy.

Chef Kirk Conrad graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked at the posh restaurant Top of the Hub before advising public schools, and he says kids are the toughest critics he's ever had.

"The age range from five to nineteen are the most difficult critics that you will ever encounter in the food services department," he admitted to me earlier this week on WGBH. "I’m telling you that right now truthfully."

Conrad works with cafeteria staff to help them cook food from scratch, despite the fact that there are a lot of prepackaged options out there.

"They were buying pre-made sandwiches," Conrad recalled. "They come in frozen, so they're already pre-made, sliced bologna sandwiches that they take out a day ahead of time. And what the cafeteria employees were doing is they were opening the bags up and putting lettuce and tomato in them. By the time it takes you to open up these frozen, pre-made sandwiches, we could have had fresh rolls, sliced turkey and ham, lettuce and tomato and had fresh-made sandwiches for less money than it cost to get these pre-made sandwiches in."

The results of the Chef Initiative are pretty impressive - students at schools aided by chefs consumed more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than those at other schools (yes, the researchers collected the kids' trash, so they knew how much was being thrown away).

But it's not necessarily an instant fix. "One of the big messages that we found is that it does take kids a little while to acclimate," said Juliana Cohen, a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health. "Research often finds that kids need to taste something ten times before it becomes familiar and something that they really like. So these changes don't happen overnight."

Which raises a fascinating question: can all school cafeterias embrace healthy foods? What have you seen with your own kids? How hard is it to get them to eat more nutritious fare? And how hard should we - as a state and country - try?

Doritos Rise Again

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club June 27, 2012 09:19 AM

256px-Doritos_Tangy_Cheese.jpgIn a sign of Americans’ schizophrenic approach to food (brown rice followed by a quick trip to Krispy Kreme? why not?), New York Times reporter William Grimes has now offered up a review of Taco Bell’s new Doritos Locos Taco.

For a paper whose most-emailed articles are frequently from the “Recipes for Health” column - quinoa, spinach, and mushroom salad; Swiss chard and rice soup - the review felt somewhat incongruous.

The Times, after all, is the home of Mark Bittman, high-end restaurant reviews, and from-scratch recipes for everything from “French potato and green bean salad” to “rose-scented berry tart with an almond shortbread crust.”

But, in truth, we all live with that sort of high-brow (be healthy, do the right thing), low-brow (soft serve is awesome) incongruity.

For example: I adore broccoli. Which makes me feel good about myself. But I particularly like it when it’s drowned in oyster sauce, so that the oily, excess liquid squeezes out of the florets when I bite down, like a soupy bonus.

Which, in a sense, brings me back to the Doritos Locos Taco - an emblem of our national ambivalence about healthy food. We love it. Except when the unhealthy stuff tastes better.

As the Times reported, Taco Bell’s new offering has turned out to be a blockbuster: their most successful roll-out ever, with customers crunching down on 100 million tacos between the beginning of March and the end of May.

And Grimes, who bit into the orange-colored shell for the sake of journalistic integrity, ultimately proclaimed it “pretty good” - which, I’m sure, felt heretical to a newsroom more inclined towards farmer’s markets than chicken nuggets or suspiciously-colored Mexican(ish) food.

Still, Grimes did suffuse the review with artistry, calling the taco “russet-colored” and “paper-thin,” and noting that the “clamorous spicing” of bagged Doritos chips was considerably more muted in shell form, preventing it from overwhelming the beef, lettuce, and cheese.

Salty, cheesy, spicy, orange-powdered, beef-filled.

You’re thinking about it, aren’t you? Wouldn’t hurt to try one. At night, preferably. Alone. Unaccompanied by friends who’d rather scare up some heirloom tomatoes.

Or maybe I’m just projecting.

From Barney Frank to "Little House on the Prairie": Questions for Melissa Francis

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club June 18, 2012 08:33 AM

francis.frank.resized.jpgFox stars are used to run-ins with Barney Frank.

In 2008, as financial institutions were in meltdown, we witnessed perhaps the most epic of these battles, as Frank joined Bill O’Reilly to talk about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on “The O’Reilly Factor.” O’Reilly called Frank an unmanly “coward,” and Frank called O’Reilly “boorish” and stupid.

By contrast, Frank’s run in with Fox Business Network’s Melissa Francis earlier this month may have seemed relatively tame, though Frank complained during the interview that Francis was interrupting him and offering viewers a “Fox perspective” on employment (i.e. downplaying the good news and emphasizing the high unemployment rate).

I caught up with Francis to ask about the Frank interview, whether it shook her, and what the shift from CNBC to FBN has been like. Plus, Francis talks about being a child star on “Little House on the Prairie” - and landing a minimum wage job after graduating from Harvard.

Do you feel like your conversation with Barney Frank got out of hand?

No. I’ve interviewed Barney Frank many times in the past. In fact, a former colleague said unless he pulls the earpiece out of his ear, you haven’t reached the pinnacle of your career.

But you can’t argue with numbers. They are what they are. I had the data and was quoting from it. It was from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I don’t think that anyone in this country would say they are satisfied with where things are now - so far past the financial crisis. I think every side and every human being is dissatisfied. I think he’s frustrated with what’s going on in the economy and eventually admitted that.

You recently left CNBC for Fox Business Network, and you’re now hosting a new show. How do the two workplaces differ?

Roger Ailes [Chairman and CEO of Fox News] just told me about his vision for the network, and it was so exciting that I just jumped at the chance to move. I think that Fox is a lot broader. CNBC caters to day traders who are trading stocks from home, and Fox has more politics and more Main Street implications.

But I loved CNBC. I was there for nine years and still have a lot of friends there. I also love Fox and am having a fantastic time.

You first got into economics while at Harvard. Did you always know that you wanted to cover the financial world?

I majored in econ at Harvard. Harvard doesn’t have practical majors! After freshman year, I went to career counseling to see what I wanted to do. My dad said maybe you want to be a lawyer, or I could have potentially gone back into acting. But I got an internship at the Fox affiliate in L.A., went there for a summer, and I was hooked. It was such a rush of adrenaline, working up to the deadline of the show.

And did you get a job in journalism right after Harvard?

I was literally the only person from my graduating class to go to Maine. And I was probably the only person to take a job for $6.10 an hour. I didn’t tell my parents. They had sent me to Harvard, and here I was working minimum wage.

My job in Maine was to literally rip the scripts for the news anchors. Electronic prompters existed, but we were too low on funds to buy them. So, I’d rip the scripts and lay them on a conveyor belt. It was like “Broadcast News.” I was running around, and people were yelling at me. Dan Harris [now an anchor and correspondent at ABC] was there too.

How did you work your way up?

I went from Maine to Manchester to Providence. As soon as I got a job, I was making a tape for the next station. The trick I used to use was: I would tell a station that I was coming into town to meet with the competition. Then I’d say, “Can I stop by and drop off a tape?” And it wasn’t always true that I had a meeting already lined up. But then I saw it worked, and it would be true the next time! I always told them later, though.

Finally, I have to go back to your childhood and ask about your star turn in “Little House on the Prairie.” That was one of my mom’s favorite shows, and if we complained about not having the exact dinner we wanted - or a myriad of other things - she’d say, “On ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ they’d be happy just to be having dinner.” When you were on the show, you were very young. Did you understand you were acting, or did it feel like visiting Plimouth Plantation?

It’s funny. I write about this in my new book, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter. But it was a lot of fun. By the time I got there, they had it down to a science and knew how to train kids. They expected you to be incredibly professional. Michael Landon was a real professional and liked to do everything in one take. That means a strict work ethic.

But they also valued a job well done, and the show taught me the importance of hard work. A lot of kids on that show turned out really well - you don’t hear about people going into rehab.

Melissa Francis hosts “MONEY with Melissa Francis” weekdays at 5 p.m. on Fox Business Network.

Facebook Fading?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club June 7, 2012 08:55 AM

zuckerberg.resized.jpgIn general, I refrain from assessing candidates, boning up on history, or planning for the future based on polls of the American people.

That’s skating on thin ice. (See my previous blog post about a recent current-events survey.)

Which is why - right about the time Facebook went public - I paid little attention to a poll showing that just under half of Americans think Facebook is a fad.

After all, there was a period when silent film stars believed talking movies might be a flash in the pan. “I think that silent acting is much more difficult than the talking screen acting,” Birth of a Nation star Henry Walthall insisted. “You must put so much into your face and gestures in the silent pictures. In speaking lines, too, you drop all expression. Talking pictures lack effectiveness for that reason.”

And you know how that turned out.

So, when I read about this spring’s Facebook poll - conducted by CNBC and the AP - I thought: meh. Maybe people want the site to be a passing fad, considering how much time it sucks out of their day. But Facebook is addictive, alluring, and, as a researcher told me recently, it allows us to leap over all sorts of barriers.

For example, let’s say you meet a guy. Just once. You’re intrigued. You want to see snapshots of him, know who he's friends with, and check out what his significant other looks like. In the real world, it would be really creepy to ask for those sorts of pictures right off the bat. And, if you did, your budding friendship would quickly be over.

But on Facebook, you can see anything you want. Significant other? Check. Recent parties? Check. Circle of friends? You betcha.

On Facebook, you can find out who that kid you liked in high school is married to now, even if you would be totally mortified if he or she knew about your sleuthing.

But the very ability of Facebook to entertainingly devour hours of productive time may have fomented a backlash - a notion supported by both anecdotal and statistical evidence.

A number of friends have recently told me that they’ve largely stopped checking Facebook, worried about how central it has become in their lives.

My husband actually deleted 400 friends, even though he was an early adopter of Facebook. When he joined the site in 2004, it was less than six months old.

“I joined because everyone was doing it,” he said. “But now it’s not a helpful social tool because it’s too bloated. I don’t talk to most of the people from high school, for example. So many of the updates are about people I basically don’t know.”

And this week, anecdotal suddenly got backed up by numbers. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, more than 1 in 3 people who use Facebook report spending less time on the site than they did just 6 months ago. Only 1 in 5 say they’re spending more time scrolling through timelines.

The precipitous drop in Facebook’s IPO (down about 30% at one point) has also seemed to undermine the company, making us wonder whether a saturation point has been reached. And whether, one day, when someone mentions Facebook, people will ask: “Isn’t that the site they made a movie about?”


A Tough News Quiz

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club May 29, 2012 08:57 AM

Jon_Stewart_and_Michael_Mullen_on_The_Daily_Show.resize.jpg What do you know?

If you get your news from Fox or MSNBC, not much, apparently.

That’s according to a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which found that well-informed Americans tend to listen to NPR, the Sunday political talk shows, and The Daily Show, while Fox and MSNBC viewers score below-average in their knowledge of current events.

Earlier this year, pollsters asked about 1200 Americans questions like these:

-“To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in removing Hosni Mubarak?”

-“Which party has the most seats in the House of Representatives right now?”

-“It took a long time to get the final results of the Iowa caucuses for Republican candidates. In the end, who was declared the winner?”

Those who listen to NPR did best when it came to both national and international questions. As a host on an NPR station in Boston, that makes me feel quite proud - except for the fact that NPR listeners don’t have much to write home about either.

Out of five international questions, NPR listeners got an average of 1.97 questions correct, while watchers of Fox News and MSNBC (1.08 and 1.23, respectively) landed on the other end of the spectrum.

But even 1.97 seems weak - a result, perhaps, of people catching scraps of news here and there - jumping in and out of cars during the day, dipping into NPR for a few minutes before a child’s soccer game, or catching a half-story about Syria before pulling into the garage.

And once you do get home, get dinner fixed, emails answered, kids bathed, and the wash done?

You click around for some news on TV, but it’s not there.

In our fractured television landscape - a landscape that was supposed to offer us a smorgasbord of options - there’s, quite frankly, very little news.

There’s a lot of opinion, which is interesting and sometimes worth hearing. But try consistently finding the top stories of the day at 9 p.m. or 10 or 11 (without turning to a non-American outlet, such as the BBC or France’s TV5). I dare you.

I get four all-news channels, but news can be hard to come by. One such channel, HLN, used to stand for Headline News, but, like KFC, they decided to go the initials-only route.

At least KFC kept the chicken.

Excitement? Not for Mitt.

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club May 16, 2012 08:39 AM

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Consider George W. Bush.

Even if you’d rather not.

In particular, consider what he said while walking into a New York elevator on Tuesday.
“I’m for Mitt Romney,” the former president yelled to an ABC reporter as, presumably, the sliding metal door closed between them.

Not the most thrilling endorsement of all time. But still.

Now factor in a couple more - admittedly lightweight - pieces of political intelligence that have struck a nerve this week.

First, a quasi-rap video featuring Romney from The Gregory Brothers, whose YouTube stylings have garnered millions of hits. Showcased on The New York Times website, the video pokes fun at the former Massachusetts governor’s awkwardness, highlighting his famous love of Michigan’s trees.

The Gregory Brothers’ Romney rap also resurrects a gem of a quote from the campaign trail, in which Romney talks to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about loving comedy: “I used to watch Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, even The Keystone Kops.”

Not sure that will help bridge the gap with younger voters. But, frankly, I’m a huge Laurel and Hardy fan. And they don’t get a lot of press anymore.

Finally, this week also brought us James Lipton’s odd brand of Romney outreach.

On New York Magazine’s website, Lipton offered the candidate unsolicited advice on “How to Act Human,” which must have struck those at Romney HQ as a somewhat slightly cringe-inducing title.

“Another of Mr. Romney’s acting sins is sartorial,” Lipton notes, after fretting about the Republican nominee’s laugh and worrying that his body language is robotic. “Calling Wardrobe! The combination of neatly creased blue jeans below and crisp white dress shirt or bespoke jacket above is a failed mash-up of bowling alley and country club. Inauthenticity is, after all, today’s topic, and I suspect that if Mr. Romney weren’t running for president, he wouldn’t be caught dead in that mismatch.”

But - despite the slights and the jabs - something unexpectedly great happened to Mitt Romney this week: a New York Times/CBS poll reported that he has now pulled three points ahead of President Obama nationwide, up three points from a month ago.

Remarkably enough, the same poll also shows Obama crushing Romney when it comes to favorability, 45% to 31%. But perhaps, in a time of deep economic anxiety, likeability has somehow gotten decoupled from electability.

What if the malaise of 2012 has changed the conventional calculus? Forget “who would you rather have a beer with?” Maybe the new yardstick is: “who would I rather have invest my portfolio?” Or “who would I rather have do my taxes?”

If that’s the case, James Lipton can go back to his day job. Sometimes, acting human can be overrated.

Fat, Drumsticks, and Froot Loops

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club April 24, 2012 11:20 AM

ice cream2.jpgSince I just finished a Drumstick (Nestlé, not chicken), I’m feeling particularly well qualified to write about junk. (Though I’m also feeling a little guilty, since it’s only 10:30 in the morning, and who knows how many chocolate-topped treats lie ahead.)

Recently, of course, sugar has been the object of our national scorn. Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco, has argued passionately and publicly about the potentially poisonous properties of the sweet stuff.

Even “60 Minutes” assigned CNN’s Sanjay Gupta to look in-depth at Lustig’s claims. The resulting segment - tellingly titled “Is Sugar Toxic?” - featured Gupta asking Lustig: “What are all these various diseases that you say are linked to sugar?”

“Obesity,” Lustig said.“Type II diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease itself.”

To a dessert-o-phile like myself, this was a truly horrifying statement.

Kimber Stanhope, a researcher from the University of California Davis, has also studied sugar closely and told Gupta that the data motivated her to make lifestyle changes: “I started drinking and eating a whole lot less sugar. I would say our data surprised me.”

Ensconced on the couch, concern etched into my forehead, I immediately started wondering how many years I’d be willing to sacrifice for brownies. Two, at least. And, to be safe, I should throw in another year for coffee-oreo ice cream.

Of course, there have been many, many verboten foods over the past few decades.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Robert Atkins insisted that carbohydrates were the enemy and encouraged a diet of meat, vegetables and fat. (Atkins based the advice on an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which helped him and many of his patients lose weight.)

In the 1990s, Dr. Dean Ornish advocated a drastic reduction in meat and fat consumption, arguing that this sort of diet could substantially reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.

We’ve cycled through it all: low-carb, high-carb, low-fat, high-protein, meat-intensive, dairy-free. You name it, America’s tried it.

During the low-carb craze, I remember wondering how so many Asians could stay thin if carbs made you fat. During the low fat craze, I wondered why the French looked so good if butter made you fat. And during this anti-sugar moment, I’ve thought often about some lovely time I spent in Geneva, where croissants, mousse, and tarte tatins are on every corner. And yet, people in all those places are generally much trimmer than they are here.

I, apparently, am not the only one who has noticed this, as evidenced by the recent ascendance of European-style parenting manuals, which tout - like Karen Le Billon’s French Children Eat Everything - the importance of well-rounded meals: from organic celery salad to chocolate ice cream. Quelle diversité!

Which brings us back to sugar - and the question of just how harmful that chocolate ice cream is.

Probably not that bad, in my decidedly non-scientific view, if it’s washed down with Le Billon’s celery salad.

Our problem, though, is that we just don’t consume much wholesome food to balance out the ice cream.

As author Michael Pollan has noted, Americans don’t eat enough of the real stuff. Real chicken. Real broccoli. Real rice. Real oranges. Whatever.

Collectively, we've drifted far from the kitchen - and even from the bundt pans - into the world of Hot Pockets, GoGurt, Doritos, and Pop-Tarts. (I absolutely love S'Mores Pop-Tarts, so I’m far from guiltless here.)

As the New York Times reported this week, even Kellogg - the purveyor of super-sugary cereals like Froot Loops (would spelling “fruit” correctly give consumers the wrong impression?) - can’t keep up with on-the-go Americans, who increasingly opt for portable food.

That’s why Kellogg is working hard to develop products like waffles with flavorings baked in (who has time for syrup anymore?) - and will soon shell out $2.7 billion for Pringles.

It’s a steep price, but, as the Times points out, Kellogg has had to wrestle with a strange new truth: “The ultimate convenience food — which is how cereal was once billed — is just not convenient enough any more.”

And that, I would submit - not sugar or butter or carbs - is our core problem.


Trayvon Sparks New Racial Questions

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club March 27, 2012 09:58 AM

loving3.png

If the death of Trayvon Martin has started a national discussion about race, get ready for some tough talking points.

Among them: a spate of recent polling about interracial marriage.

Not so long ago, a white man named Richard Perry Loving wanted to marry a black woman named Mildred Jeter (left). They left Virginia - where interracial marriage was then illegal - and traveled to Washington D.C. to get married.

Back in Virginia, they were arrested and pled guilty to breaking the law.

That was 1959.

Eight years later, when Loving and Jeter’s case reached the Supreme Court, every single member of the Court ruled in the couple’s favor, believing that Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

But unanimity on the Supreme Court does not translate into unanimity across the nation.

“As recently as 1994,” according to Gallup, “less than half of Americans approved” of marriage between blacks and whites.

By 2007, 75% of whites approved of interracial marriages (the percentage was considerably higher among blacks - 85%).

And this month, when Public Policy Polling asked Republican primary voters in Illinois their view on interracial marriage, the numbers were similar. Three in four said they thought interracial marriage should be legal.

But look at the flip side of that number.

Fully 25% of respondents either believed that interracial marriage should be illegal (16%) or were unsure (9%).

The numbers were even starker during a poll in Mississippi a couple of weeks ago, which appeared to show that 46% of the state’s likely Republican voters either believe interracial marriage should be illegal or aren't sure.

What do these poll results say about a national conversation on race? About the prejudices touched on in the discussion of Trayvon Martin?

Chris Wallace: Inside Super Tuesday

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club March 6, 2012 09:01 AM

wallace1_0_300.JPGThe political media has cooked up plenty of odd duos: Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, Al Franken and Arianna Huffington (back when she was conservative).

But Fox News’ Chris Wallace referees what may be the oddest political match-up on air today: Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s longtime advisor, and Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign manager. “I’ve got the best job in the world,” Wallace says. “Rove and Trippi have forgotten more about politics than I’ll ever know.”

And tonight the three will hold court again, hashing through Super Tuesday results in what Wallace, unabashedly, refers to as the political junkie’s Super Bowl.

I talked with the Fox News Sunday host (who once served as NBC’s chief White House correspondent) about preparing for tonight’s coverage, why an “ugly win” is still a win, and what he’ll be doing tomorrow.

What do you have your eye on today?

I’ll be focusing on Ohio, which is enormously important. Blue collar, working class, lots of Catholics. A key state that Republicans may need to win the presidency. If Mitt Romney wins, he starts to separate himself. If Rick Santorum wins, we’re back to talk about Mitt Romney being a weak frontrunner.

The other state I’ll be looking at is Georgia. If Newt Gingrich can’t win, he may have to drop out. But, as we saw with Michigan, even an ugly three-point win is a win.

Why do people keep talking about the white-knight scenario, the idea that Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush will ride in to save the day?

Let’s say Mitt Romney had lost Michigan, his home state. Well, the conventional wisdom in the Republican Party would have been that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum might not be able to beat Obama. And the Party thinks that Obama is vulnerable. If Rick Santorum beats Mitt Romney in some Super Tuesday contests, I think you’ll hear people bring that up again. People will talk about a contested convention

What are election days like at Fox News?

Actually, election days are the longest and most boring days of the campaign until 4 or 5 p.m., when you get exit polls. You wait and wait until 5, and then you are deluged with information. It’s like trying to drink out of a fire hose. If you’re a political junkie, it’s the Super Bowl.

I’ve got the best job in the world, running a panel with Karl Rove and Joe Trippi. They’ve forgotten more about politics that I’ll ever know. It’s particularly amazing to see Karl sit there and crunch the numbers.

What’s the most interesting statistic or bit of analysis that Rove has thrown at you so far this season?

Well, he links into the website of each state's Secretary of State. And he’ll look at individual precincts. He was able to do that on the night of the Michigan primary at about 9 p.m., and by 9:15 he knew Mitt Romney was going to win. The computer models didn’t figure that out for an hour and a half.

How do you prep for tonight? Social media? Favorite go-to websites?

Social media is an important way to get your message out there. I don’t do Twitter myself. Some people on our staff do it. But I’m certainly on the Internet a lot. There’s no way you can’t be - I look at everything from Politico to Fox News to Huffington Post to The Drudge Report.

We did a debate with Google, and, in the process, they were able to show us these amazing ways of measuring the economy in different states. You can see how often people search “foreclosure” or “mortgage refinancing,” for example.

If Mitt Romney emerges as the likely nominee tonight, what do you think the primary process has done to him - both good and bad?

I think it’s done a lot. It has strengthened him, toughened him up. He hasn’t sailed to the nomination but has had to fight for it.

And in a couple of cases - like Florida and Michigan - it has also brought up lines of attack that Democrats will certainly take advantage of in the fall.

What did you think of the media’s focus on Romney’s gaffes - like, for example, the picture of him at Ford Field? Did the press get off-topic by focusing on the fact that 80,000 people can fit in the stadium and only 1,200 came to see the candidate? Or is that a legitimate issue?

It wasn’t the biggest story coming out of that speech. He did announce a tax plan.
But look, to a certain degree, it hurt that his campaign had leaked out some of the details. And for the campaign to make that kind of basic, elementary gaffe was striking. It’s Advance Work 101. Get a small room and put a large crowd in it.

Tomorrow - after we leave Super Tuesday behind - you’ll pick up the Sol Taishoff award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism from the National Press Foundation, which has been won by Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell, and Jim Lehrer, among others. How do you feel about getting it?

It’s a big deal. “60 Minutes” has won it - and Ted Koppel, Charlie Gibson, Brit Hume. Quite frankly, some of the people I admire most in the business. To be invited to stand with those heavyweights means a lot. It really means a lot to me.


Ed Schultz: Behind the Scenes

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club March 5, 2012 08:48 AM


ed_schultz.jpgEd Schultz isn’t the kind of guy who holds back.

A one-time pro football player, Schultz rose to prominence as liberals’ (tamer) answer to Rush Limbaugh. And in recent days, Schultz has dished up unsparing criticism of Limbaugh, saying that “this could be the beginning of the end for the man behind the golden microphone.”

But, while Schultz keeps one eye on the Limbaugh firestorm, he is also gearing up for Super Tuesday coverage on MSNBC, where, for almost three years, he has hosted “The Ed Show.” After some timeslot hopping, the hard-driving, personality-infused hour now occupies the same 8 p.m. slot held by the network’s one-time lynchpin Keith Olbermann.

I spoke with Schultz about his predictions for tomorrow, his morning reads, what birth control has done for Rick Santorum, and why Newt Gingrich is a “sly fox.”

What is coverage like at MSNBC on a big primary day? Take us behind the scenes.

Normally, about an hour before we go on the air we get a briefing from polling experts, and we get a pretty good idea of the way things are going. But we’re not in a position to say anything.

Really, for primary night, preparation is key. You have to have researched the area, the states in play, the trends, be able to put things into historical perspective. You just can’t show up and wing it. You have to come in with a few different areas where you’re rock solid in your research.

Other than that, it’s basically a crap shoot. Things unfold in front of us on the air that we have to put in perspective quickly. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of it.

So there’s a window of time when you have poll results but you can’t disclose them, since people are still voting?

We get trend information, but we don’t get rock solid information. That gives us an idea of what could unfold so we’re not completely blindsided.

With so many states in play, what do you think we’ll see tomorrow?

If you relate this to the presidential election in November, all eyes should be focused on Ohio. Ohio’s going to be very, very interesting - it’s a state that’s very concerned about the economy. I would say that’s Mitt Romney’s forte. It’s a state that’s very strong on social issues, and that, of course, is a big part of Rick Santorum’s campaign. And Ron Paul has his 10-13%.

Newt Gingrich is really pulling down Santorum’s campaign right now because if Gingrich were out of the race a lot of those votes would go to Santorum. Gingrich has gone on record to say he has to win Georgia.

I would imagine that Romney will not have any problem winning Massachusetts or Vermont. North Dakota’s going to be interesting. Could Santorum peel some votes away from Gingrich in Georgia? What is Romney’s Southern strategy? What state is he going to win?

You know, Newt Gingrich is a sly fox. He’s saying: if I don’t win in Georgia, I’m not relevant. He’s positioning himself for a big win, but he wants everyone to know that he’s really up against the wall here. It’s really interesting how he games the media.

What role does the birth control issue play here?

That issue really hurt Santorum in Michigan. He’s back now to talking about manufacturing and economic issues, and those were the issues he was talking about when he won Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado.

And then all of a sudden his campaign took a turn. He lost the Catholic vote in Michigan. He lost the women’s vote in Michigan. It can all unravel so fast on these candidates.

How do you explain the difficulties that Mitt Romney’s campaign has had? Has the media been fair to him?

I don’t think you can run for president and be a referee on the media at the same time. If you want to get in this game, you have to be prepared for everything.

What do you make of the Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren Senate race?

I guess Elizabeth Warren is a pretty good lefty. And I think there is probably a pretty good angst out there about Brown’s support and co-sponsorship of the Blunt Amendment. It seems to me that would be pretty hard to explain to half of the electorate.

I think because of her consumer protection advocacy work, the Republicans are probably pretty nervous about Elizabeth Warren getting into the Senate.

What is your day like? How do you prep for your nighttime show?

Normally I’m up about 7 a.m. and surf the Net. I pay attention to Twitter obviously. I read the New York Times, the Huffington Post. I don’t go to Politico very much. I used to, but I see a real conservative bent.

I’ll lift some weights and walk. Do that at least four times a week. I get into the office at about 11 and do the radio show from 12 to 3.

I feel like I get a good pulse from listening to callers on a national show. For example, the comments by Limbaugh [about Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke] set people on fire.

On MSNBC, I’ve done the 6 p.m., 10 p.m., and 8 p.m. Three time slots in a period of about a year. Now we’re in second place in the slot. It feels like we’re making good progress.

The Cost of Marriage?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club February 21, 2012 09:51 AM

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I have been fascinated by the coverage of Charles Murray’s new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, in which he notes that marriage has, increasingly, become the domain of the upper class.

In 1960, for example, 88% of those in the top fifth of income earners were married. By 2010, the percentage was nearly identical: 83%.

Among those in the working class, though, the numbers fell off a cliff. In 1960, 83% of those in the bottom 30% of income earners were married; by 2010, only 48% were.

In many ways, this is an astounding transformation, a radical shift that somehow did not
touch those who buy their food at Whole Foods, their sheets at Garnet Hill, and their overstuffed love seats at Pottery Barn.

But why?

Murray attributes the problem to several factors: a reduction in available jobs for those with high school educations, a decline in religiosity, and a disappearing stigma against out-of-wedlock births and divorce, among others.

It’s certainly true that single parents are now the norm in many American cities and towns. Fifty years ago, fewer than 10% of working-class women had children outside marriage. Now we’re about 50%.

“It was like living with another kid,” 27-year-old Amber Strader explained to The New York Times. “...I’d like to do it, but I just don’t see it happening right now. Most of my friends say it’s just a piece of paper, and it doesn’t work out anyway.”

The comment served to buttress statistics showing that unmarried women under 30 now have more children than married women under 30, and educational level appears to be a major factor.

Among white women under 30, only 8% of those with a college degree have children out of wedlock. For those who have never attended college, more than half of children - 51% - are now born to unmarried mothers.

To me, this feels like fascinating stuff, and I’ll follow up in a subsequent column. But first I’d like to hear your view: what has happened here? What do you see around you?

Where are the businesswomen?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club February 7, 2012 07:16 AM

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for liz_claman_smallestcropped.jpg.jpg

Liz Claman left WHDH-7 for CNBC in 1998. And she quickly became absorbed by the business world - frequently interviewing titans like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson.

Now an anchor for the Fox Business Network, Claman just returned from the annual nexus of politics and business: The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This year, the Forum imposed a quota for the second year in a row, requiring many companies to bring at least at one female representative.

But why the need for a quota in the first place? Why have so few women ascended to corporate leadership positions? Read my Boston Globe interview with Claman here, and, below, check out the outtakes from our discussion:

What’s the effect of having so few women at Davos?

Last year, I walked into a panel run by Arthur Sulzberger of the New York Times. I sat down, and I was the only woman in the audience - except for the Forum’s media representative. I was stunned. I just looked around and thought: this is what they’re talking about.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has said that women sometimes exclude themselves from the corporate climb, as they think ahead to marriage and children. Is that why there so few women in top management positions?

I think it’s a work in progress. I think that, for me, I never paid attention. Now, I’m a big feminist. I’m a member of the Feminist Majority Foundation. Rah, rah, women. Except that part of that belief is that it’s a meritocracy, and nobody should get in the door unless they deserve to be there. So, in a way, I think part of it is very much women’s fault in that they don’t push themselves in there.

But, on the other hand, a lot of corporate CEOs I spoke to last year said: “you know, we just weren’t thinking about bringing a woman.” But when we they were encouraged to find women, they did find people who deserved to sit at the table. And last I checked, women have just as good ideas as men.

How did you end up breaking through and succeeding?

My parents are Canadian and very nice. I had to say: stop being so Canadian. I was getting passed up to be an anchor, and one day I stormed into my boss’ office, and I made a case to him that I should be an anchor.

This was in Columbus, Ohio, and I was getting passed up because I was a good reporter. And they didn’t want to lose me as a reporter. So I said: “if you don’t let me anchor, you’ll be punishing me for being good.” I said that I’d work unpaid part of the time if they’d let me anchor, and they bought the deal.

Romney's Real Florida Puzzle

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club January 31, 2012 09:33 AM

Today, Mitt Romney will almost certainly capture Florida.

But the real question brewing in the run-up to the primary is whether he - or Newt Gingrich - can win the state when it really matters: the general election.

Florida, after all, went for President Obama by 2.5 points in 2008. Not a landslide, perhaps, but, by Florida standards, pretty convincing.

And part of that win meant appealing to Latinos, who make up more than 22% of the state’s population. Certainly, some of those Latinos are Cuban-Americans who cotton to anti-Castro rhetoric, but many of them are from other backgrounds: Puerto Rican, Mexican, and others. And they care about politicians’ stands on immigration. (More Latinos in Florida are now Democrats than Republicans.)

“Romney said at the Dec. 10, 2011 debate in Iowa," Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenhimer has noted, "that the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the country should be given a ‘transition period’ to ‘settle their affairs and then return home.’ He later described it as a ‘self-deportation’ plan.”

Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. has unequivocally condemned Romney’s missteps: “the dishonest and cynical way in which the former governor of Massachusetts has dealt with the immigration issue on the campaign trail shows that he has a problem being consistent... We never forget a slight. And, in that respect, Romney has given us plenty to remember.”

In an election primarily focused on the economy, race may feel somewhat peripheral. But, since Florida is never peripheral, issues of race and immigration could prove crucial in the general election.

Gingrich may have taken down an ad labeling Romney "anti-immigrant," but the Governor still has a tough battle ahead.

Money and Elitism: Romney v. Gingrich

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club January 24, 2012 11:44 AM

One of the most fascinating questions to come out of yesterday's debate - and today's Romney tax returns - is a simple one: who exactly is elite?

On NBC last night, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spent several minutes arguing about who truly pulled themselves up by their bootstraps - and who operated as an insider.

Gingrich, Romney alleged, not only roamed the halls of power but, after leaving the Speakership, began "working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac was paying Speaker Gingrich one million, six hundred thousand dollars."

In the past, of course, Newt has attacked "elites" and "the elite media," presumably excluding himself from either group. And he has insisted that he is the best representative of average, salt-of-the-earth conservatives.

Romney too has tried to distance himself from elites, noting that he "didn't inherit money" from his parents and, instead, made it on his own.

Both Gingrich and Romney are doing their best to sidle away from the "elite" moniker. But it hardly matters. Both are, by any measure, elites.

(If you want to take it to the dictionary here, my old-school, Webster's New World Dictionary defines "elite" as "1. the group or part of a group selected or regarded as the finest, best, most distinguished, most powerful, etc.")

Gingrich has a Ph.D., served as a college professor, rose to become Speaker of the House (second in line to the presidency), and, according to his tax returns, earned north of $3.1 million last year.

As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein has written, Gingrich has also "co-authored New York Times op-eds with Sen. John Kerry. He served on the bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security and as co-chair of a task force on UN reform... If Newt Gingrich is not a Washington elite, no one is."

Romney, to his credit, has essentially acknowledged that he is among the financially elite - and today's tax returns, showing he made more than $20 million in both 2010 and 2011 testify to that. But his repeated claim that he made it on his own is questionable.

First, he is the son of a former governor of Michigan who ran for president and headed up a major American car company. The notion, therefore, that he "lived in the real streets of America" seems credible only in the most literal sense. I'm sure he has, in fact, always lived on a real street in America (except when he lived overseas).

Second, PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning arm of the Tampa Bay Times, noted that even while Mitt was still in school, having recently married Ann, they seemed to be benefitting from outside financial help.

"It's not clear who paid for his education, but Romney wasn't exactly a struggling student: enough cash for plane tickets, a car as a wedding gift, stock that kept him from having to work, help buying a home."

Which leads to an interesting question: what exactly is elite? And who is part of it? Is elitism defined by education? By income? (And how much is enough?) By the ability to wield power or influence?

Perhaps, but not if Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich have anything to say about it.

What do you think the definition of elitism is?

Money and Elitism: Romney v. Gingrich

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club January 24, 2012 11:44 AM

One of the most fascinating questions to come out of yesterday?s debate - and today?s Romney tax returns - is a simple one: who exactly is elite?

On NBC last night, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spent several minutes arguing about who truly pulled themselves up by their bootstraps - and who operated as an insider.

Gingrich, Romney alleged, not only roamed the halls of power but, after leaving the Speakership, began ?working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac was paying Speaker Gingrich one million, six hundred thousand dollars.?

In the past, of course, Newt has attacked ?elites? and ?the elite media,? presumably excluding himself from either group. And he has insisted that he is the best representative of average, salt-of-the-earth conservatives.

Romney too has tried to distance himself from elites, noting that he ?didn?t inherit money? from his parents and, instead, made it on his own.

Both Gingrich and Romney are doing their best to sidle away from the ?elite? moniker. But it hardly matters. Both are, by any measure, elites.

(If you want to take it to the dictionary here, my old-school, Webster?s New World Dictionary defines ?elite? as ?1. the group or part of a group selected or regarded as the finest, best, most distinguished, most powerful, etc.?)

Gingrich has a Ph.D., served as a college professor, rose to become Speaker of the House (third in line to the presidency), and, according to his tax returns, earned north of $3.1 million last year.

As The Washington Post?s Ezra Klein has written, Gingrich has also ?co-authored New York Times op-eds with Sen. John Kerry. He served on the bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security and as co-chair of a task force on UN reform... If Newt Gingrich is not a Washington elite, no one is.?

Romney, to his credit, has essentially acknowledged that he is among the financially elite - and today?s tax returns, showing he made more than $20 million in both 2010 and 2011 testify to that. But his repeated claim that he made it on his own is questionable.

First, he is the son of a former governor of Michigan who ran for president and headed up a major American car company. The notion, therefore, that he ?lived in the real streets of America? seems credible only in the most literal sense. I?m sure he has, in fact, always lived on a real street in America (except when he lived overseas).

Second, PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning arm of the Tampa Bay Times, noted that even while Mitt was still in school, having recently married Ann, they seemed to be benefitting from outside financial help.

?It's not clear who paid for his education, but Romney wasn't exactly a struggling student: enough cash for plane tickets, a car as a wedding gift, stock that kept him from having to work, help buying a home.?

Which leads to an interesting question: what exactly is elite? And who is part of it? Is elitism defined by education? By income? (And how much is enough?) By ability to wield power or influence?

Inside the SC Primary with CNN's John King

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club January 19, 2012 09:13 AM

John King may be in South Carolina this week gearing up for Saturday's Republican primary, but he's still a Boston-bred boy.

John_King_CNN.jpg

When I caught up with him this week, we chatted about Mitt Romney's taxes, the Willie Horton Effect, Southern BBQ, and - of course - the Patriots.

In some of the recent polling in South Carolina, we see Gov. Mitt Romney at least ten points ahead of his nearest competitor - Newt Gingrich. Could the issue of Romney waiting to release his taxes - and paying a lower rate than many middle-income Americans - make a difference in South Carolina?

I think it has the potential to make a difference. Remember the history of the South Carolina primary. Governor Romney comes in having won New Hampshire and Iowa - and if he wins South Carolina, that might get him awfully close to the nomination.

So, they’re trying to stop him. Is it a surprise that a wealthy man pays lower taxes? Not really. But they’re trying to present it as: "he doesn’t get you."

Gingrich is Romney’s closest competitor, with about a quarter of the vote in South Carolina. What do you make of Gingrich’s chances?

His support is significant. But it doesn’t seem to be growing fast enough to catch Mitt Romney. He’s from Georgia, which is next door. He’s a Southerner. Strong debate performances. An affinity for the South. But it might not be enough.

What does that tell you? People don’t want to go back to the future. More than other candidates, Mitt Romney has decent support in every slice of the Republican Party. He many have a ceiling, but he also has a very strong floor.

You’re in South Carolina right now. Tell me what it feels like there. What’s the energy on the ground?

South Carolina voters feel passionately that they matter. New Hampshire is so proud of being the first primary state, but South Carolina gets their chest puffed out. They view this as a trophy - knowing it’s crucial to the nomination.

In terms of the passion on the ground, you feel less energy from the voters than in past years. It doesn’t mean they’re not listening, though. This just seems like a calmer, more methodical campaign. Republicans want to beat Barack Obama - so they’re very, very serious.

We hear a lot about super PACs, but we’ve seen negative ads in the past - think back to Willie Horton. Are super PACs really so different? Are they changing?

I was the Massachusetts AP guy covering Michael Dukakis. The super PACSs are taking the space of things like Willie Horton. They are taking the place of leaflets that used to appear on people’s cars. But the new ads feel like leaflets hooked up to concert speakers.

We were in a meeting last night, and the TV was on in the corner. We just kept stopping to watch the ads. It’s a bludgeoning. It’s softer during daytime programming. Harder around sports and news. It’s a Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em environment.

You are originally from Massachusetts. How closely are you watching the Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren race?

That may be the most interesting race in the country right now - that and the Patriot’s path to Super Bowl victory.

Look, it’s the Kennedy Senate seat. It will get national attention, and it’ll be even more fascinating if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face off. Usually Massachusetts is ignored in election years, but this would bring a lot of attention to Massachusetts.

I asked Fox’s Carl Cameron what he was eating on the trail. Got to ask you too.

Barbeque. We had barbeque last night - pulled chicken, mac and cheese, cardiologist included. It’s a “when in Rome” moment. Some people also eat biscuits and gravy for breakfast, but I don’t. I’m not really a breakfast person. I try to work out at the gym.

In the 1988 campaign, I gained 25 pounds. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. In '92, thanks to Clinton, I gained a little, but not as much.

You cover the election a lot with your wife, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash. When you go home, are you still talking politics? Or do you leave that for work?

It really depends. On the big days, we talk about it when we first get home. It’s like the Patriots post-game show. We’re both passionate about our work. But then we pivot.

Do your children watch you on TV?

I have older children, and they sometimes roll their eyes at me. But I have a son who’s a freshman at BC, and he’s starting to think this stuff is important. My seven-month old is shown CNN by his grandparents, who claim he recognizes me and does a half-yelp, half-laugh. Then he exercises his better judgment and turns away.

Tonight, John King will moderate the final Republican debate before South Carolina votes on Saturday.

Inside the South Carolina Primary with CNN's John King

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club January 18, 2012 09:12 PM

John King may be in South Carolina this week gearing up for Saturday's Republican primary, but he's still a Boston-bred boy.

John_King_CNN.jpg

When I caught up with him this week, we chatted about Mitt Romney's taxes, the Willie Horton Effect, and - of course - the Patriots.


Inside NH with Fox News

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club January 10, 2012 09:15 AM

cameron1.jpg

(Screenshot courtesy Fox News)


Fox News Channel’s Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron (above) has been immersed in the New Hampshire Primary for decades.

Before 1996, when he joined Fox, he worked at WMUR, the ABC affiliate in Manchester. (And his family has had a home in Carroll County, NH for almost 90 years.)

So, as the Primary enters its final hours, I caught up with Cameron on the trail - he had to run straight from our conversation to an on-air update - to ask which candidates have real energy on the ground, how he sees the race going as we move south, and what he eats on the road (we went into a lot more detail on that question than I expected).

What candidates are pulling in the biggest crowds in NH? Where are crowds the thinnest?

In general, the crowds and energy in NH are substantially less than in cycles past - because Mitt Romney has been the prohibitive front runner for so long. Lots of candidates this time around - especially those less known and less well-funded - chose not to do intensive, on-the-ground work and instead did debates and cable TV interviews. Santorum did the retail stuff in Iowa, and it paid off.

But didn’t Newt Gingrich rise because of media attention, not because of on-the-ground organization?

True, but Rick Santorum’s example in Iowa will come through. I think Jon Huntsman will validate that example. Huntsman’s support in New Hampshire is largely from Independents and Democrats. The latest UNH poll shows that. Also, at some point, the Republican Party will have to decide whether it’s positive or negative to have debates so often, which overshadows campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire. These first-in-the-nation voters are bummed out about it. They’re very earnest and interested in the campaign.

You were once the political director at WMUR in New Hampshire. How have you seen the media’s presence in the New Hampshire primary change?

The number of media has exploded. Exponential. Now, in addition to all the cameras, there are people working off iPhones and blogging. There’s very little time for anything that isn’t on the record. In 1995, Lamar Alexander walked across New Hampshire by himself in a red, flannel shirt. He sat in people’s living rooms. And almost no one noticed. Of course, he didn’t win.

How big is your entourage in New Hampshire?

My intrepid and fantastic producer, Sarah Courtney. And camera and audio people who have worked with me since 1996. They’re great. They’re not my entourage. We’re a team.

What do you find yourself eating in New Hampshire? Lots of diner food, as you follow campaigns to greasy spoons?

My briefcase is filled with PowerBars. My preference is Harvest, particularly oatmeal raisin. I also carry power drinks - caffeinated and non-caffeinated - as well as Mucinex, my laptop, chargers for seven to fifteen devices, and make-up (because I’m on TV).

OK, back to politics. What do you see looking ahead to South Carolina on January 21st?

If Romney wins in New Hampshire, there’s a chance that this whole process could be over. But conventional wisdom has been turned on its head from the outset.
There’s the possibility that this will be a reflection of 2000. John McCain upset the frontrunner - George W. Bush - in New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney is going to win New Hampshire this time, but he may get beaten up in South Carolina, whether he loses or wins there. And we may find out who the conservative alternative will be. Florida could be Romney versus the conservative. Florida has a nice cross-section of the country and is a nice battlefield.

Using history as a guide, no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning South Carolina [whose primary began in 1980]. And no one has won South Carolina without winning either New Hampshire or Iowa. When Mitt Romney wins New Hampshire, he’ll block the others out - at least historically. But it’s also dangerous to use history as a guide.

What will Fox News be doing to distinguish its coverage?

I went to Dixville Notch Tuesday night. It’s fun for me because I have the home-field advantage. South Carolina’s fantastic too. It’s clear that everything that’s done here is aimed at South Carolina voters.

[On Fox tonight, Cameron will be live from a campaign, reporting on the New Hampshire results as they come in.]

NH and Beyond: Romney's Conundrum

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club January 9, 2012 08:48 AM

Sometimes, perfection has its price.

Mitt Romney outperformed in Iowa. He’ll likely run laps around his opponents tomorrow in New Hampshire (according to the latest poll, he's 17 points ahead of his closest competitior). And he has - essentially - run a flawless campaign.

But what if that’s not quite as awesome as you might think?

A few months ago, in its annual, education-themed Sunday magazine, The New York Times featured an article about the slipperiness of success. In the piece, heads of schools noted that, often, students who perform best in the long run have to deal with setbacks in the short run.

David Levin - co-founder of the widely-praised KIPP charter schools - kept track of students who came to KIPP in the late 1990s, and was shocked by what he discovered.

Turns out, many of the exceptionally high achievers ultimately dropped out of college. And those who did graduate “were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP.”

Instead, they were the kids who hadn’t just skated through, kids who had been roughed up a little by life, kids who knew how to deal with setbacks.

And so, the article asked, “What if the secret to success is failure?”

This may also be a central question for the Romney campaign. Certainly, Romney has failed in the past - he ran for president in 2008 - and dusted himself off to fight another day.

But he may skate through this primary season almost completely unscathed, rarely having to wrestle with a challenging situation. And that may prove to be a liability in the long run.

Sure, Romney hasn’t ever been the flavor of the month. There was Michele Bachmann, who got pushed off her pedestal by Rick Perry’s entrance into the race. There was Perry, of course, who ran into trouble while counting. There was Herman Cain, whose campaign died of a thousand self-inflicted wounds. And there’s Newt Gingrich, whose past caught up with him - as he must have known it would.

Santorum, too, has started to suffer from huge amounts of money and scrutiny being deployed against him: Has he favored big government programs? Pork-barrel projects? How about his personal rejection of contraception? And his recent rant against making “black peoples’ lives better by giving them somebody else’s money”? (Even though, as Charles Blow has noted, 13.3 million whites receive, for example, food stamps, compared to 8.9 million blacks.)

Time and again, Mitt Romney stands by as his opponents self-destruct.

But there are electoral hurdles lurking - hurdles Romney may not start to truly tackle until he gets to the big leagues - and faces an exceedingly well-financed Obama machine.

In December, for example, pollster Peter Hart - working on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center - asked Republicans to evaluate candidates in different scenarios.

What if Romney needed to get a plane ticket, Hart inquired, but there was only one left?

Voters thought he’d try to pay to get to the front of the line.

And what if Romney was a member of your family, wondered Hart. Who would he be?

“Neighbor." "Cousin." "Twice removed." “The dad who's never home."
Romney hasn't adequately addressed concerns that he’s aloof, overly-removed, or ultra-cautious - because he hasn’t had to. But, for Romney, success may not come without a little failure.

“If Mitt Romney was working at Bain Capital,” former George W. Bush strategist Matt Dowd asked Charlie Rose last week, what would he think of a company whose strategy was to maintain the status quo? A company that said: our four-year plan is not to increase market share, to be ultra cautious, not to make any mistakes, to have the same company in four years that we have today,

“Mitt Romney,” Dowd said, “would probably fire that CEO. That has been Mitt Romney’s campaign."

Getting roughed up in the primaries - as “Comeback Kid” Bill Clinton can attest - often toughens you up for the general election.

So far, of course, perfection has been a winning strategy for Mitt. But sometimes
even perfection has its price.

About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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