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The State of Facts

By Ben L. Kaufman · February 27th, 2008 · On Second Thought

Friend, broadcaster and stockbroker Chris DeSimio loves this quote from John Adams' Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials in December 1770: "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

This recent Enquirer letter to the editor recalls Adams' admonition:

So Gov. Ted Strickland's idea to let high school seniors straddle the college fence is creating a buzz.

There's nothing new about it. He's just chasing a socialist idea from Australia. In Australia they only have 11 grades in the public schools.

His next step will be to eliminate the 12th grade once the U.S. is further into socialism.

Those Democrats sure do love all those socialistic ideas.

Only its publication is more breathtaking than this writer's lack of fact and weird inference.

On the other hand, the choice of letters for publication fascinates me. Why are letters that begin with demonstrably false or suspicious assertions of fact published? The Enquirer even publishes letters damning it for publishing something it did not publish.

It's as if there are no false facts. Anything a letter writer asserts seems to suffice. Checking � with Internet search engines and e-mail � is too demanding even if letters might mislead readers.

In the pure sense, there is no "false opinion." There are, however, opinions of doubtful value when based on nonexistent "facts." This letter and its bizarre inference screams for a closer look.

Chelsey Martin, counselor for public affairs at the Australian embassy in Washington, D.C., assures me that public secondary education in her country includes 12th grade: "I went through it." She says there also are opportunities to take post-secondary courses to get a jump on university demands or careers in skilled trades.

But wait, it gets worse. This response was published to the "Australian" letter:

Regarding the letter "Strickland's education idea socialist" (Feb. 12): It seems that the writer is viewing this idea, and indeed any other progressive idea, through an old pair of Eugene McCarthy's red-colored lenses. Perhaps he would like to return to Gov. Bob Taft's Ohio, or better yet, leave the atavistic, spurious socialist accusations to the dust bin of history where they belong.

Poet/politician and liberal Minnesota Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy perceived most Americans through rose-colored glasses but it was Republican Joe McCarthy, the duplicitous drunken junior senator from Wisconsin, who viewed us all through "red-colored lenses."

Editors are supposed to catch such obvious mistakes. That's why writers value good editors. They save us from the humiliation our published mistakes might provoke. Someone on the opinion page read and chose this letter. Someone presumably read and approved that selection and later read page proof. They all missed it.

Not to be outdone, Pulse, a free weekly that evolved out of The Downtowner, further promotes Cincinnati's reputation for civility and sagacity with a letter from Bill Donabedian, managing director of Fountain Square. In it, he admonishes the writer of an earlier letter, "May I suggest removing your head from a certain part of your body so you can actually see what's happening."

Curmudgeon notes:

� Papers sometimes sit on a story, hoping readers forget the competition had it first.

Here's a recent Enquirer Sunday business page cover story: "Is Cincinnati's tallest building about to be adorned with a corporate logo? Kendle International Inc., which decided to keep its headquarters at downtown's Carew Tower after receiving economic incentives from Cincinnati and the state of Ohio, wants to hang its brand prominently atop the building."

Five weeks earlier, CityBeat's Joe Wessels wrote this: "Think the 'Princess Diana tiara' that will adorn the planned Great American Insurance Building at Queen City Square looks tacky? Try a big K-E-N-D-L-E lighting up the nighttime sky. From where else? Atop the beloved Carew Tower."

The real fun begins if editors ask why they've been scooped and reporters who had it first must explain that the competition is following them.

� Here's one that local news media have missed. There is no door opener from the Goodman Street garage to the protected connector to the University Hospital and Hoxworth building. Patients in wheelchairs or on crutches must struggle with a heavy, narrow door or to take the elevator to street level and go outside to reach their destination(s). Patients going to Hoxworth's building must also cross the street. That's "reasonable accommodation" for the handicapped from the University of Cincinnati and Health Alliance.

� Other story tips: Is Cincinnati shortening yellow light duration to enhance money-gathering power for new intersection cameras? Who will do unannounced, independent spot audits of Ohio votes to see if reported totals agree with paper ballots? What cost controls will build, equip and operate a streetcar system within budget or will this be another local public works screwup?

� When it comes to public relations, can anyone match terminal tin ear afflicting the bosses at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center? Despite whining op-ed columns by center execs, The Enquirer's opinion page doubts the wisdom of taxpayers building the center a new $1.4 million front door. When that happens, it's time for a final fitting in pine. Maybe Freedom Center execs should return to their original quarters � in the Enquirer publisher's offices � where wiser heads might limit or hide their ineptitude.

� Another gripping correction from New York Times editors who apologized for WMD, Jayson Blair and Wen Ho Lee: "An entry on the Pulse page last Sunday about Stella McCartney lingerie omitted the first sentence in a description of the bra and panties. It should have read: 'The Stella McCartney woman tends to let her flirty, feminine side peek out from under sharp-shouldered jackets."

� Sam Roberts of The Times does a wonderful job on the national news pages recently illustrating borrowings by politicians (or their speech writers). So Hillary is unhappy that Obama used a line from buddy Gov. Deval Patrick without giving him credit. Big deal. It's not like he paraphrased the Gettysburg Address or "I Have a Dream" speech because he didn't know who gave the original. Now that would be news. Meanwhile, Slate.com belittles the ABC News claim to have broken the Hillary/Obama/Patrick speech story; The Boston Globe had it months ago.

The Times' rush to the Internet helped arch-competitor Washington Post match its story story about McCain and The (Younger Slender Blonde) Lobbyist. Editor & Publisher senior editor Joe Strupp says, "The Washington Post, which published its own story ... hours after The New York Times broke the story, was unable to finish its work on the story until The Times broke the news, according to (Post) Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. 'We had elements of the story in story form. ... When the Times story appeared on their Web site last night, we were able to talk to sources who gave us further information that made it able to be published today. There were people who talked to us last night in ways that made us able to finish our story after the Times story went up. ... We were aware of what The Times was doing because we were talking to the same sources. ... Sources in our story became more cooperative in recent days than they had been before, which may have had something to do with the fact that the Times story was imminent. ... That included sources in the McCain camp."

Here we go again. The Times tries to report the news and ends up being the news. Remember the Page 1 nonstory about drug use that Obama admitted years ago in his published autobiography? Not only is the McCain story old, but it appears The Times sat on it for weeks. Maybe this is a Times effort at Fair and Balanced.

As The Post conceded, the McCain story "had been reported on the Drudge Report web site in December." This is part of what the Drudge Report said on Dec. 20: "McCain ... has been waging a ferocious behind the scenes battle with The New York Times ... against charges of giving special treatment to a lobbyist! McCain has personally pleaded with NY Times editor Bill Keller not to publish the high-impact report involving key telecom legislation before the Senate Commerce Committee. ... Jim Rutenberg has been leading the investigation and is described as beyond frustrated with McCain's aggressive and angry efforts to stop any and all publication. The drama involves a woman lobbyist who may have helped to write key telecom legislation. The woman ... strongly denies receiving any special treatment from McCain. Rutenberg, along with reporter David Kirkpatrick, has been developing the story for the last 6 weeks. Rutenberg had hoped to break the story before the Christmas holiday ... but editor Keller expressed serious reservations about journalism ethics and issuing a damaging story so close to (a primary) election. McCain campaign officials Rick Davis, Charlie Black and Mark Salter are also said to have met with The New York Times ... to halt publication. Developing ..."

If McCain and the Lobbyist had a romantic/sexual affair and it influenced McCain's handling of legislation, that's the story. McCain denies it. As of this writing, neither The Times nor The Post documents an affair. So what's the story? At 71, McCain still likes Younger Slender Blondes?

CONTACT BEN KAUFMAN: letters@citybeat.com



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