As an example of IRS intrusiveness, the Enquirer reports that the Liberty Township Tea Party received a questionnaire demanding information the IRS is not allowed to seek. “The letter was signed by a local IRS official, who did not return calls seeking comment,” the paper initially reported. Who? Name names. If the IRS employee signed and sent an official government document, there’s no reason to grant anonymity.
Later in its initial full page A-section story, the Enquirer quotes Ohio IRS spokeswoman Jennifer Jenkins saying, “Mistakes were made.” By whom? Again, names, please. Americans increasingly favor the passive voice, “mistakes were made” but no one made them. If the paper pressed for names of mistake-makers, it’s not evident. And who was fired? Anyone?
The Associated Press — whose reporter broke this scandal story — says the Cincinnati mess is at least two years old. This isn’t new. We’ve seen IRS harassment of activists before and probably will again. Each time, it’s a scandal. Or should be.
Any loss of residual confidence in IRS nonpartisanship is a helluva lot more serious than the muddle surrounding the killing of four Americans in Benghazi or the murder of three spectators at the Boston marathon.
I’m sure it’s coincidence that the Cincinnati IRS harassment preceded the 2012 election. And I’m sure those employees were motivated only by zeal to protect the purity of the 501(c)(4) status from improper or illegal political activity. But I’m also sure that any agnostic or atheist Republicans are looking at this Cincinnati-born national IRS scandal as proof that “there is a God.” Now, to keep that wrath boiling with hearings until 2014 elections.
• The Associated Press says it’s the target of a sweeping Justice Department search for the news service’s confidential sources. Monday, AP reported the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors . . . in what the news cooperative's top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.
“The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of calls.
“In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”
Maybe it’s time to call in the Plumbers.
• I’m no fan of public radio’s Ira Glass. His whiney voice sends me to WLW 700 AM radio for something more insanely macho. Now, he’s shoveling natural soil enrichment in recorded promos for public radio fund raising. I heard them on WVXU-FM’s just-ended fund drive. His point: We should all be happy because everyone who listens to public radio helps support public radio. Not true. Never will be. At WVXU, fewer than 10 percent of us donate to its support. That means Ira Glass’s everyone are mostly parasites, listening but not paying. (Our family is a sustaining member of WVXU and WGUC . . . )
• How do our local news media track Macy’s commitment to ethical sourcing of its house-brand clothing from Asian countries where factory fires, collapses, etc., are just a cost of doing business? Contracts go where labor is cheapest. People work or go hungry. It’s only going to get worse when huge numbers of youngsters mature. Macy’s said the right things after hundreds died after a Bangladesh factory crumbled, but now it’s up to reporters to stay on the story.
• I glad Macy’s says it will continue to buy products made in Bangladesh. Pleasing writers of anguished Letters to the Editor and leaving Bangladesh in a virtuous huff doesn’t employ or feed anyone. I’ve been in and out of developing countries for half a century. Lots of cheap unskilled or semi-skilled labor feeds more families than one machine (that breaks and rusts unrepaired). Whether it’s subsistence farming, breaking stones with hammers for roadbeds, pedaling a rickshaw or laborers carrying building materials up ladders in baskets on their heads, it’s work that feeds. We can feel guilty, but walking away helps no one...else.
• BBC accuses the Plain Dealer of racist news judgment over stories about kidnapped young women freed recently after a decade of imprisonment and abuse. BBC based its provocative judgment on its count of stories about two of the three young women, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. “In Cleveland, the newspaper stories were mainly about the white girl,” BBC News Magazine reporter Tara McKelvey wrote. “In the 10 years Berry was missing, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper published 36 articles about her, according to a search of electronic news archive Lexis-Nexis. During the nine-year period that DeJesus, who is Hispanic, was missing, the newspaper published 19 articles about her case.”
This is typical of American news media where MWW (Missing White Woman) gets more coverage than black or Hispanic girls and women, according to academics McKelvey quoted.
But Chris Quinn, the Plain Dealer’s assistant managing editor/metro, rejects McKelvey’s accusation. He says it’s not only wrong but “based on an analysis so simplistic we would have thought it beneath an organization such as yours.” Quinn said his “much more thorough review” shows the reverse of the BBC tally. “The number of stories about DeJesus actually is greater than the number mentioning Berry, contrary what you assert. Your analysis did not include all variations of the DeJesus first name, a rather glaring lapse.”
Quinn continued, “Because of the racial aspect your network chose to focus on, we also included in our review stories about Shakira Johnson, a black child who went missing around the same time as Amanda and Gina. The hunt for Shakira was as big a community effort as the hunt for the other missing girls.” Here’s his tally:
Stories mentioning Shakira Johnson and not Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry: 145
Stories mentioning only Gina DeJesus (or Georgina DeJesus): 24
Stories mentioning only Amanda Berry: 17
Stories mentioning Berry and DeJesus together: 8
Stories mentioning Berry, DeJesus and Johnson: 6
Stories mentioning DeJesus and Johnson together: 2
And Quinn closed, “The suggestion that this newspaper has used race as any kind of filter in its story choices is offensive in the extreme. We’re shocked that such a poorly reported story could be posted by a network with your reputation.”
• You can thank Time magazine and writer Steven Brill for prying comparative hospital costs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Enquirer carried a sample for local hospitals.
According to Poynter.com, the journalism website, Brian Cook at the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tells Brill the move “comes in part” because of Brill’s article from March about health-care costs. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also offering $87 million to the states to create what she calls “health-care-data-pricing centers.”
Poynter continues, saying the centers will make pricing transparency more local and user friendly than the giant data file. Brill says the report “should become a tip sheet for reporters in every American city and town, who can now ask hospitals to explain their pricing...If your medical insurance requires you pay a percentage of a procedure’s cost, that’s very useful information.”
• When are reporters going to call their bluff when speakers wax lyrical about the joys of good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns? Instead of spreading these fantasies, interview people who train others in the defensive use of handguns. Or talk to police and military firearms instructors and combat veterans on how difficult it can be to overcome the normal resistance to shooting another person.
Look at news stories that describe how many rounds officers fired in armed confrontations; adrenalin does nothing to steady the gun hand or restrain how many times an officer pulls the trigger. And these are the best we have.
I’ve used handguns for more than 50 years. I passed the official Ohio 12-hour concealed/carry course for a CityBeat cover story. If anyone thinks that training prepared them to provide armed response in schools, movie theaters, malls, etc., they’re suffering a potentially deadly delusion. It’s time reporters began to add that context to the debate of guns in our society.
• College campuses are perfect for training student reporters. These schools typically are rich with conflicts of interest, executives with edifice complexes, misspent millions, and bureaucrats eager to escape blame or avoid offending alumni. The Columbus Dispatch reported this example last week about suburban Otterbein University, a United Methodist four-year school.
It said Otterbein agreed to stop requiring students involved in sexual-assault cases to sign confidentiality agreements because student newspaper journalists discovered it was violating federal law. After initially denying it, the Dispatch reported, an Otterbein official told reporters for the student newspaper that he didn’t realize Otterbein had had victims, as well as others, sign a nondisclosure clause.
“We just followed the bread crumbs,” Chelsea Coleman, a 21-year-old journalism and public relations major who wrote the Tan & Cardinal story with another student, told the Dispatch.
• One need not agree with Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman to appreciate his recent criticism of how news media handle stories involving expertise. In his New York Times op-ed column, Krugman singles out the Washington Post but he could have included many if not most news media.
Citing a controversial study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the Post warned that Americans are “dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.” Krugman pounced. “Notice the phrasing: ‘economists,’ not ‘some economists,’ let alone ‘some economists, vigorously disputed by other economists with equally good credentials,’ which was the reality.”
Reporters can be too eager to substitute formulaic brevity for accuracy: doctors say, psychologists say, weight loss experts say, police say, reporters say, etc. My advice: beware of any news story that identifies someone as an “expert” without a clear explanation of their expertise.
Western & Southern in a press release today announced an agreement with Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) that will sell the Anna Louise Inn in Lytle Park to W&S for $4 million, ending years of entanglements between the two entities over what should be done with the property in need of millions of dollars in renovations.As part of the deal, ALI will move to a new location in Mount Auburn at the corner of Reading Road and Kinsey Avenue, in the same vicinity as the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and The Talbert House. The settlement also provides CUB time to construct the new Inn, so none of the current residents will be displaced. CUB will still retain its $13 million in funding to develop the new property.
The Anna Louise Inn, which provides safe and affordable housing for low-income women, has called the Lytle Park location home since 1909. The new agreement will dissolve all ongoing litigation; most recently, W&S accused ALI of potentially discriminating against men.
In 2009, W&S passed up on an opportunity to purchase the Inn for $3 million, before CUB obtained city- and state-distributed federal funding to renovate the building and stay in the neighborhood, a decision Western & Southern admitted it regretted. Since then, the Fortune 500 company has been battling with the ALI in hopes of getting another chance to purchase the property.
According to the CUB website, the settlement came about for several reasons, including concern that ongoing litigation with W&S would have caused it to lose tax credits earned through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which were due to expire at the end of 2013 and cannot be used during ongoing litigation.
Now W&S plans to renovate the building into an upscale new hotel, which will essentially give the company a monopoly on real estate in the Lytle Park neighborhood.
It's a bittersweet change for the women and staff at the Inn, explains CUB President and CEO Steve MacConnell, but "ultimately, it's the right decision," he says. MacConnell says CUB learned about the plot of land just three to four weeks ago, when they started seriously considering a move. "After two years of litigation, the women — and us — we were all feeling so much uncertainty," he says, "and ultimately what's best for the women is what we've always had in mind."
One of Cincinnati’s largest neighborhoods and business districts is adamantly against a proposed plan to lease the city’s parking systems.
A Dec. 7 letter to the mayor from Clifton Town Meeting President Peter Schneider calls the plan “baffling,” “short sighted” and “counter-intuitive.”
The city administration wants to lease all Cincinnati parking meters, garages and surface lots for 30 years in exchange for an upfront payment of at least $40 million and a share of the profits.
The city wants to use $21 million of the upfront payment to help close a $34 million hole in the upcoming budget.
Schneider writes that the proposal is bad for business, making it harder for customers to find cheap or free parking near retail areas like Clifton’s Ludlow Avenue corridor.
He also worried that a private operator would ratchet up the price for parking, making the facilities “unidirectional ATM’s (sic) benefiting a third party that provides minimal or no value to the citizens.”
Schneider also complains that Cincinnatians have not been given details of the deal or the opportunity to weigh in on it.
“It is unconscionable that the City administration would allow a similar plan (to the citizen-defeated red-light cameras) affecting parking meters and services be railroaded through City Hall without the appropriate sunshine and input of the populace,” he wrote.
He also compares the proposal to Hamilton County’s mishandling of the stadium deals, claiming that a similar long-term lease is unwise.
Schneider ends the letter by admitting that there are some aspects of outsourcing that could be beneficial, such as private management of surface lots or garages or maintenance, but the idea of privatizing everything goes too far.
A Cincinnati outdoor advertising company announced Tuesday that it will take down controversial billboards that opponents claim are aimed at intimidating voters.
Norton Outdoor Advertising had been contracted to put up about 30 billboards that read “Voter Fraud is a Felony!” The billboards also listed the maximum penalty for voter fraud — up to 3 and a half years and a $10,000 fine.
Opponents of the billboards claim they were strategically placed in predominantly low-income and black neighborhoods in Cincinnati as a means to discourage those largely Democratic voters from going to the polls.
The billboards were funded by an anonymous “private family foundation.”
In a statement posted online, Norton Executive Vice President Mike Norton said the displays would be taken down as soon as possible. He wrote that the foundation and Norton agreed after hearing criticism that the sentiment surrounding the displays was contrary to their intended purpose.
The family foundation didn’t intend to make a political statement, but rather make the public aware of voting regulations, he wrote.
“We look forward to helping to heal the divisiveness that has been an unfortunate result of this election year,” Norton wrote.
Norton had previously told CityBeat that the billboards were not targeted but distributed randomly throughout the city.
Several Cincinnati officials wrote to the company requesting the billboards be taken down.
ClearChannel Outdoor Advertising announced on Monday that it was removing similar billboards in Cleveland and Columbus.
The billboards throughout Ohio had garnered national criticism and media attention.
A rival outdoor advertising company is putting up 10 new billboards to rebut the voter fraud ones.
The new red, white and blue billboards will read “Hey Cincinnati, voting is a right not a crime!”
Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in an emailed news release that he reached out to Lamar Advertising Company to ask if they would donate the billboards throughout Cincinnati.
“We should be encouraging folks to participate in our democratic process, not trying to scare them,” Sittenfeld wrote. “I salute Lamar’s generosity and their support in encouraging citizens to raise their voice and not be scared away.”
The Ohio Ballot Board on Thursday approved new summary language for Issue 2, which would take the decennial redistricting out of the hands of politicians and task a nonpartisan commission with redrawing congressional lines. The Dispatch reports that the new summary removes factual inaccuracies and included previously omitted information about who would select members of the new citizens commission. Secretary of State and Ballot Board Chairman Jon Husted said the board tried to make the language as generic and concise as possible, but Democrats and voter advocates say the new language is too long and technical and would confuse voters.
Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld became the first elected official in the nation to host an online town hall. The Enquirer reports that Sittenfeld is taking questions on the online tool CrowdHall and by next Friday will have answered them via text or video. He is also asking Cincinnatians to post suggestions as to how they would balance the budget or spend the new casino revenue.
Rush Limbaugh on Thursday theorized that Al Qaeda colluded with President Barack Obama to give up Osama bin Laden to help Obama look good and win reelection.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney defines “middle income” as $200,000 to $250,000 a year. The Associated Press reports that Romney made the comments during an interview broadcast Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The Census Bureau meanwhile reported this week that the median household income is just over $50,000. CityBeat’s reporting staff wishes management would promote us to middle income level.
Speaking of ABC, they’re being sued by Beef Products Inc. for $1.2 billion over a report of the beef filler “pink slime.” The beef company says the defaming report disparaged the safety of pink slime.
Obama again apologized for America called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and called on him and the Muslim Brotherhood to stand with Washington against protesters who are attacking the U.S. Embassy in what The New York Times called a “blunt phone call.”
Jimmy Kimmel took the iPhone 4S onto the streets, telling people it was the new iPhone 5, proving that Apple cultists enthusiasts will love anything the company puts out.
Confirming rumors that swirled for two days through media circles, The Enquirer’s top editor has written a memo outlining how some editions of Sunday’s newspaper included a photograph with the word “fuck” in it.
Once editors learned about the photo, several thousand copies of the newspaper that hadn’t yet been distributed were trashed. The edition was reprinted without the offending photo.
Enquirer Editor Carolyn Washburn confirmed the gaffe in an email to staffers sent at 4:10 p.m Monday, which CityBeat received today.
“I learned about this after midnight Saturday when someone in our operation saw this photo and alerted us,” Washburn wrote. “We stopped the presses to change the photo and threw out thousands of papers still sitting at our dock.”
Reportedly, Washburn has been fielding complaints from readers who received the paper for the past two days.
The page in question was laid out by a “design hub” in Louisville, which is part of a push by The Gannett Co., The Enquirer’s owner, to centralize some functions like many copy-editing duties into regional locations.
The same design hub was responsible for a similar incident in December when a Gannett paper in South Carolina, The Greenville News, published an article with the word “fuck” randomly inserted into it. The gaffe caught the attention of several websites including The Huffington Post and Romenesko.com.
Sunday’s incident occurred just two days after four veteran copy editors at The Enquirer left after taking an “early retirement” severance deal to reduce the newspaper’s expenses.
Here is the full text of Washburn’s email:
Sent: Mon 4/16/2012 4:10 PM
From: Carolyn Washburn
To: Cin-News Users
Subject: in case you are getting calls about a photo in Sunday's paper
A photo ran on the state government page of a protestor holding up a sign that used the word f#*&. It was caught on the press and replated but it still went out to several thousand homes.
Here is how I am responding.
Yes, the photo was completely inappropriate, on many levels.
I learned about this after midnight Saturday when someone in our operation saw this photo and alerted us. We stopped the presses to change the photo and threw out thousands of papers still sitting at our dock. Unfortunately a few thousand papers had already gone out to carriers.
I deeply apologize and am working this morning to understand why this photo was chosen in the first place and why it was not caught sooner. I take this very seriously.
Again, I apologize.
The bloodletting in the newsroom at The Enquirer is over, at least for now.
Editor Carolyn Washburn sent an email to the newspaper’s editorial staff this morning, announcing the names of 12 people who have decided to accept a voluntary “early retirement” severance deal offered by The Enquirer’s parent firm, The Gannett Co.
CityBeat already has reported that political columnist Howard Wilkinson, longtime photographer Michael Keating and Editorial Page Editor Ray Cooklis were among those departing the media company.
Other editorial staffers who are taking the buyout are business reporter Mike Boyer; Features Editor Dave Caudill; news reporter Steve Kemme; Copy Desk Chief Sue Lancaster; Production Manager Greg Noble; Butler/Warren Editor Jim Rohrer; sports copy editor Bill Thompson; Copy Editor Pat Tolzmann; and Copy Editor Tim Vonderbrink.
They join Assistant Managing Editor/Sports Barry Forbis and Deputy Sports Editor Rory Glynn, who announced their resignations in March.
In her email, Washburn wrote that the company will throw a party in its conference room for the departing staffers on April 12.
As one ex-Enquirer reporter said when hearing about the plans, “Some sendoff for those leaving. Washburn is throwing them a ‘proper party,’ whatever that is, for them on the 20th floor, no doubt in the sterile training room where staffers learn about inane new corporate initiatives. A ‘proper party’ for the loss of 350-plus years of experience and institutional knowledge would be an employee tavern of choice with an open bar, but what would Washburn know?”
Gannett announced the buyout offer Feb. 9 and gave employees 45 days to decide whether to apply for the deal.
At the close of the offer period, editors reviewed applications and made final decisions; some people who apply for the deal potentially could've been turned down if their position is deemed essential to the newspaper’s operation.
Under the deal, newspaper employees who are age 56 or older and have at least 20 years of service with Gannett as of March 31 are eligible. Although executives said 785 employees meet the criteria, the deal only is being offered to 665 employees “due to ongoing operational needs at the company.”
As part of reductions mandated by Gannett, The Enquirer has laid off about 150 workers during the past two years. Also, employees have had to take five unpaid furloughs during the past three years.
Gannett recently gave Craig Dubow, its CEO who allegedly left the company due to health reasons, a $37.1 million compensation package. The Columbia Journalism Review examined what Gannett could’ve bought with that money instead, including paying for the starting salaries of 1,474 staffers at The Indianapolis Star or 310,720 annual subscriptions to The Tallahassee Democrat's website.
Here is the full text of Washburn’s email:
From: Washburn, Carolyn
Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2012 8:39 AM
To: CIN-News Users; ohiodaily
Subject: saying thank you to our new retirees
It's official now. In the next couple of weeks we will say thank you and best wishes to these colleagues who have decided to take the company's early retirement offer. The complete group is, in no particular order:
Dave Caudill, Greg Noble, Jim Rohrer, Sue Lancaster, Pat Tolzmann, Tim Vonderbrink, Bill Thompson, Michael Keating, Mike Boyer, Steve Kemme, Howard Wilkinson, Ray Cooklis
Ray will be here until April 27. Greg's last day in the office was a week or so ago, before a furlough and vacation. Everyone else will have their last day next Thursday, April 12.
We will have a proper party in the 20th floor conference room on April 12 at 4pm.
I'll meet with some small groups in the next few days and we'll have a full staff meeting the week of April 16 to talk about what's next, now that we are confirmed on who chose to retire. There is a plan. :)
We will be very sad to say goodbye. But I am happy for these folks who decided this was the right thing for them.
Thanks again to Dave, Greg, JR, Sue, Pat, Tim, Bill, Michael, Mike, Steve, Howard and Ray.
(**UPDATE AT BOTTOM)
The Enquirer’s sole remaining editorial writer is among the employees who will be departing the newspaper as part of a round of “early retirement” buyouts.
Executives accepted the buyout application submitted by Ray Cooklis, the newspaper’s editorial page editor, multiple sources have confirmed. Cooklis assumed control of The Enquirer’s Op/Ed pages in July 2009 when his predecessor, David Wells, was laid off.
Cooklis, who also is a classically trained pianist and previously served as a music critic, didn’t respond to an email this morning seeking comment.
In recent months, the daily newspaper has been criticized in journalism circles and on some blogs for only publishing one original, locally produced editorial a week, so it’s unclear what impact Cooklis’ departure will have.
Sources say others who are leaving The Enquirer include Features Editor Dave Caudill; photographer Glenn Hartong; reporter Steve Kemme, who covers eastern Hamilton County; Copy Desk Chief Sue Lancaster; Bill Thompson, a sports copy editor and occasional music critic; and Copy Editor Tim Vondebrink.
CityBeat confirmed Tuesday that political columnist Howard Wilkinson and longtime photographer Michael Keating also were leaving the newspaper.
The Gannett Co., The Enquirer’s corporate owner, announced the buyout offer Feb. 9 and gave employees 45 days to decide whether to apply for the deal.
Under the deal, newspaper employees who are age 56 or older and have at least 20 years of service with Gannett as of March 31 are eligible. The Enquirer’s goal is to eliminate 26 positions through the buyouts, sources said.
As part of reductions mandated by Gannett, The Enquirer has laid off about 150 workers during the past two years. Also, employees have had to take five unpaid furloughs during the past three years.
Of the departures announced so far, Cooklis’ resignation could have the most immediate impact for readers.
Some progressive voices in Cincinnati dislike Cooklis because he is ardently right-wing in his opinions; they believe he too frequently blasted Democratic politicians, while turning a blind eye to excesses by their Republican counterparts and local corporations. Further, Cooklis lacked the courage to criticize some of the people and institutions that are among The Enquirer's many sacred cows, they added.
Still, Cooklis’ departure is a bad omen for local news, with some media observers worried that it means The Enquirer has abandoned its First Amendment duty to hold powerful people accountable for their deeds.
Virginia-based Gannett also owns USA Today, more than 100 newspapers nationwide and 23 TV stations.
(**UPDATE: Glenn Hartong is not taking the buyout. Despite some sources at The Enquirer saying that he was, Hartong is only 51 years old and, thus, ineligible.)