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Newsroom Firings and Couric's Big Adventure

By Ben L. Kaufman · September 5th, 2007 · Media, Myself & I
August is an awful month for news until some sap screws up and discovers he -- and it's usually he in our Hall of Shame -- is the only story in town. This past month has been worse than awful. No sap. No screw-up. No media frenzy to critique.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) comes close, but the story fizzled -- except for his ability to drag it out. To its credit, The Idaho Statesman sat on an unrelated Craig gay sex accusation for months, publishing only after his arrest. As the reporter said: One accuser, a credible denial; tie went to the senator.

So I'm reduced to Curmudgeon Notes:

· Cliff Peale's last column in the Enquirer business pages was a treat. His candid assessment of local problems is sharp and nuanced. Further good news are his new assignments: higher education and the business side of health care. My inference? The Enquirer is tired of following Cincinnati Business Courier -- and both are very big business. Let's hope the choice of Peale to cover higher ed -- the worst assignment I had in 30-plus years at The Enquirer -- means his editors will eschew such perennial bullshit as "Freshmen arrive" and "Seniors graduate." They'd be news only if they didn't arrive or graduate. Maybe Peale also can tell us more about troubles with University of Cincinnati finances and its off-campus redevelopment. These aren't secrets: Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan is on the UC board.

· Peale's move means there are openings for two savvy, hard-nosed and experienced business reporters. The Enquirer fired investigative reporter Jim McNair last month. McNair says he was told only that there had been complaints about his work. A previous editor brought McNair to Cincinnati to improve the business pages. He did. Now conspiratorialists wonder if the current editor and publisher responded to pressure from unhappy advertisers. I doubt that. Who? Smiling Bob? Or is McNair the victim of influential Cincinnatians who tired of his being insufficiently deferential or protective? If his work is so bad, where are the clarifications and corrections?

· I'm aware of one attempt to get me fired for an Enquirer story. My editor said a public figure approached our publisher at a social event, complained about my story and urged my dismissal. The accurate story was embarrassing to my critic.

The incident underlined how position and wealth carry access and influence. In this case, I was lucky. A confident editor took my side.

· Another local child is dead. Not stuck in a closet but negligently left in a Mercedes-Benz SUV in lethal heat for hours. Where are the vote-seeking prosecutors on courthouse steps calling for blood? Or is a high-status and sympathetic mother treated differently from a foster mom living in a tacky three-way?

· Do you really care if Katie Couric surges into Baghdad and Damascus to anchor what remains of CBS Evening News? She's a tourist.

· Michael Vick? This lying thug's media star power will enhance the association of dog fighting with young urban black men and erode its image as a rural white vice. The question is whether the intense media coverage will reinforce the pit bull as a street swagger staple.

· Ten years ago Diana, the Princess of Wales, died after her drunken driver drove into a Paris bridge abutment. I still wonder at the irony of blame heaped on paparazzi who captured every move by this most perfectly manipulative media star.

· The Enquirer's Ray Cooklis wisely asks why kids are in school in August. He should have added that it is un-American to resume class before Labor Day.

· So a PTA or whatever special interest groups are called these days is providing bottled water to students. Can't the kids drink city water from hallway fountains? Do we really want the Best and Brightest to enter college suffering RSS (Repetitive Stroke Syndrome) from twisting water bottle tops off and on?

· Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), the strongest signal at our remote Ontario fishing camp, broadcast Phallus in Wonderland, an often hilarious two-hour deadpan tour through a virtual museum dedicated to the phallus. Don't try this on your home NPR station.

· CBC also produces a continuing 30-minute drama, Afghanada. CBC says it's "the war in Afghanistan through the eyes of Canadian soldiers. Every day Canadian soldiers on the ground confront the chaos and violence of life in Afghanistan. Afghanada offers a grunts'-eye view of the conflict, mirroring events currently taking place overseas." Some common curse words during midday broadcast. Again, not the sort of thing a real 'Mercan network would carry.

· Third monthly edition of the free Cincinnati Beacon hits the stands, published by the eponymous blog. Top story is about sexually transmitted diseases in Cincinnati. Days later Enquirer story on local STDs suggests ideas are infectious.

· Page 1 of The New York Times reveals how politicians, corporations, non-profits and even someone at the The Times edit Wikipedia entries about them to assure a positive slant. This isn't new or news. Who wouldn't do that? After all, it's anonymous. That's one reason Wikipedia lacks credibility. You know who writes signed encyclopedia articles and bylined news stories. It's called accountability.

· Enquirer story on a reunion of men and women involved in the 1981 Mariemont teachers' strike overlooks a related First Amendment victory. Mariemont High school student Jim DeCamp asked the U. S. District Court to intervene when administrators tried to stop or limit his freedom to take photos inside the building during the strike and sell the pictures to the news media. DeCamp was a yearbook photographer. Judge S. Arthur Spiegel found in his favor. A prize-winning photographer for The Columbus Dispatch today, DeCamp is the son of Graydon DeCamp, a former reporter and editor at The Post and The Enquirer.

· For years money lenders have been offering sub-prime mortgage loans to vulnerable people who wouldn't need them if they could repay standard loans. Why did so many consumer reporters, editorial writers and columnists, troubleshooters and business page editors ignore the obvious -- or are their perceptions so thoroughly shaped by money lenders that these journalists couldn't conceive of a problem if bankers and brokers weren't complaining?

· USA Today is 25 this month. The gutsy, smart Gannett innovation, dismissed as McNews or worse, matured into a true national newspaper. At The Enquirer, temporary assignments at USA Today were coveted even while we initially grumbled about our ad revenues going to assure the new paper's survival.

· Will business and transportation reporters ask the new Delta boss why his former airline long has been called Northworst?

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.


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