Cleveland officials are apparently trying to outlaw flash mobs, describing them as violent, unruly terrorizing of communities and family-friendly events. That's not how AT&T presents them in this cell phone commercial.
• Enquirer reporter Sharon Coolidge’s use of open records law documented Cincinnati’s lax enforcement of lead paint removal orders. She told CityBeat that her coverage included positive impacts in addition to those above in my main column:
The day after her story was published, Mayor Mark Mallory ordered health officials to explain why they hadn't forced problem landlords to clean up their properties.
Three public hearings led to a comprehensive city plan to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010. The plan lowers the medical threshold at which health officials can intervene, thus catching lead poisoning in its earliest stages.
City Council gave the health department more than $1 million to finance reforms. Poor families are getting kits to detect whether their homes are contaminated.
In one of his first acts as new governor, Ted Strickland allowed cities to sue lead-paint producers; Cincinnati is suing Sherwin-Williams.
State lawmakers are considering a new law, named after a family featured in the Enquirer story, to provide $20,000 grants for lead removal.
• A more recent public benefit from open records laws involved the Enquirer suit to obtain secret streetcar vendors’ bids. Attorney Jack Greiner, who handles First Amendment issues for the paper, said that Cincinnati's ordinance requires bids be available for public review. Faced with resistance, the Enquirer went to court. Hamilton County appellate judges agreed with the paper, rejecting company arguments that records were exempt from public records law as "trade secrets."
• Unless you’re living under a Rock of Cliches, you’ve read or heard that flu is sweeping the nation. Every sneeze, every cough, every chill and shiver warns us that the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse is tethering his pale horse at our curb. The catch is that despite breathless news media offerings, little unusual is happening except for an early, aggressive onset of the perennial scourge. Thousands die every year from flu, most of them elderly. It would be news if we didn’t. Annual death estimates — hampered by incomplete reporting and similar health problems — range from 3,000 to 49,000.
• An Enquirer Sunday Forum carried Michael Kinsley’s column about Hillary Clinton’s extensive foreign travel as secretary of state. Kinsley doubts the value of much of her travel but in today’s world, “The less important the trip, the more prestige you gain by taking it.” Having time and money to waste proves you have time and money to waste . . . even if you’re on the taxpayers’ clock and paycheck. Maybe that explains an otherwise inexplicable Enquirer revelation that Steve Chabot is a foreign policy expert, citing his extensive foreign travel at taxpayer expense.
• Enquirer reporter Dan Horn produced two nay-saying front page stories. Both were welcome surprises from Cincinnati’s “get on the team” daily. One questioned the argument that right-to-work laws provide an economic boost in states like Indiana, Michigan, or, potentially, Ohio. That anti-union policy was a staple topic in my 1950s high school debating days. Economic analysis, like divining why crime rates change, is more complicated than whether union membership is optional or required in a “union shop.” Too many union/right-to-work debates — fueled by no-compromise advocates putting re-election before public benefit — ignore complexity.
• A second invocation of skepticism by the Enquirer’s Dan Horn raised serious doubts about feel-good gun buy-back programs. I’ll go this far on guns: each firearm bought back and destroyed (not bought back and sold to dealers for resale) is a gun that won’t kill someone. Cincinnati Police destroy buy-back weapons not needed for investigations. Buy-back, however, won’t change life on Cincinnati streets where scores of young men kill each other each year. Anyone who wants a firearm can get one faster than you can say, “Your money or your life.” Similar doubts about Cincinnati’s gun buy-back program made Page 1 of the New York Times.
• Fox 19’s Dave Culbreth came up with a smart take on the controversial idea of arming teachers and school administrators. He interviewed Target World assistant manager Amy Hanlon who demonstrated how a woman could carry a concealed handgun. As Culbreth noted, there was nothing special about her clothing: slacks, blouse, overshirt. By the end of the interview, she’d removed nine concealed semi-automatics or revolvers, including one tucked under her bra in a holster that also was displayed on a counter-top mannequin bust.
• WCPO-TV plans an online local news challenge to the Enquirer’s Cincinnati.com, according to Business Courier’s Jon Newberry. It’s a pioneering effort by Cincinnati-based E. W. Scripps that could go national, Newberry suggested. Whether additional reporters, producers, editors, etc., will come from the Business Courier and other established news media was not clear. Scripps — a Cincinnati-based national print and broadcast company— published the Cincinnati Post until it closed the barely-sustaining joint operating agreement with the Enquirer ended in 2007.
• Blogger Peter Heimlich tipped me to Channel 19 anchor Ben Swann’s web gig called Full Disclosure. Swann says there are enough witnesses to challenge official police narratives of single shooters at three recent massacres: the Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh temple; Aurora, Colo., Batman movie premiere, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Salon.com challenged Swann about his apparent validation of those counter-narratives and he replied in part, “The bottom line for me is the issue of asking questions. As you will notice, I don’t call these operations ‘false flag’ as many people do … (his ellipses) But as a journalist, that is not my job. Rather, my job is to be a critical thinker.” And he added, “most of our media fail to question stories . . . a journalist’s job is not to have the answers, it is to ask the questions and search for truth.”
• There’s a pathetic undercurrent in the Enquirer’s Monday Page 1 profile of Henry Heimlich’s efforts to regain American Red Cross support for his eponymous “maneuver.” The physician claims there is no research to support the Red Cross’s decision to return to back slaps rather than Heimlich abdominal thrusts as first response to choking. Other than Heimlich’s self-serving claims, there is no research proving his maneuver works as well or better than back slaps. Assertions are not evidence. Moreover, the Red Cross adopted Heimlich’s maneuver years ago without the research Heimlich is calling for now. Heimlich has anecdotal evidence of lives saved but that’s not research. Wisely, reporter Cliff Radel quoted skeptics and critics of the maneuver. That kind of even-handedness usually escapes admiring Enquirer stories about Heimlich. And if the paper ever corrected a Memorial Day feature on water safety, I missed it. The Enquirer drew national ridicule with its illustration on how to use Heimlich’s maneuver to revive a standing near-drowning victim.
• It’s spitting into the wind to ask sports reporters to question what jocks tell them, especially when truth-telling endangers future access. In the Good Old Days, who read about fornicating, drunken and racist professional athletes? More recently, golf reporters and publications didn’t write about married Tiger Woods’ screwing around. This time, it’s Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s stories about the heart-ripping death of girlfriend Lennay Kekua from leukemia. Editors loved it. Now, it seems she was a fiction amplified by incurious and credulous reporters. It took sports blog Deadspin.com to reveal the fraud after its reporters could find no public records of her birth, life, education or death. Almost as nauseating as the saccharine original stories about her death are the faux introspection by sycophant reporters caught by the fraud.
• We’ve gone a week without a promo for Oprah’s interview with champion liar-cheater Lance Armstrong. That’s closure. So what does Armstrong do now? Pitch performance enhancing drugs and blood transfusions on ESPN and late TV?
Gore sold his troubled Current cable network to Al Jazeera, the
satellite network based in Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Good. Nothing bars
foreigners from owning a cable network here, unlike the law that forced
Australian Rupert Murdoch to obtain U.S. citizenship after he bought Fox.
Backed by the ruling Qatari emir, Al Jazeera scandalized Americans for broadcasting tirades by Osama bin Laden and other anti-western Arab leaders. We should have welcomed what they said in Arabic for home audiences. Too often, we rely on sanitized remarks for non-Arabic-speaking audiences or Washington assurances it was trying to verify that speakers were who they said they were. Al Jazeera also infuriated Arab audiences by carrying interviews with American and Israeli officials that others in the Middle East ignored or rejected.
Most American cable companies won’t carry the newer Al Jazeera English but its website is one of my daily stops, especially when, say, AQIM kidnaps oil workers in Algeria or French Legionnaires assist Mali’s pathetic army in trying to halt and turn back Islamist rebels.
Al Jazeera coverage of “Arab Spring” was so aggressive that embattled North African rulers correctly accused it of supporting anti-government demonstrators. So is Al Jazeera open to interference by the Qatari government? Yes. Are its biases plain to anyone who listens or reads? Yes. We don’t ignore Fox News for its biases.
• American news media employ local nationals in foreign bureaus for their contacts and language skills. That reliance failed when no one reported the 2010 anti-semitic rant by Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who now is Egypt’s president. In part, Morsi called Jews “apes and dogs” and shared the fantasy that the Palestinian Authority was “created by the Zionist and American enemies for the sole purpose of opposing the will of the Palestinian people and its interests.”
Still nastier, he urged listeners “to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews . . . bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”
A stump speech in his Nile Delta hometown, it took more than two years to reach English-language news media. The original Arabic video is on YouTube now. I encountered a translation of Morsi this month on a Forbes website that, in part, chided the New York Times for missing or killing the story. Days later, it was on Page 1 of the Times. After that, the Obama administration an official “tut-tut.”
• Maybe they’ll blame one of those ominous Canadian Cold Air Masses (meteorological, not theological) for the brain freeze that disabled news judgment at the Toronto Star. Flippant columns about rape aren’t funny. Jimromenesko.com posted these first two paragraphs of Rosie DiManno’s column about testimony during the sexual abuse trial of a local physician:
“She lost a womb but gained a penis.
“The former was being removed surgically — full hysterectomy — while the latter was forcibly shoved into her slack mouth..."
• Headlines are an art that always risks a step too far in an attempt to cure the copy editor boredom and draw readers to a story. This one, from philly.com, achieves both in what has become a national story about a popular and well-connected parish pastor: “Catholic priest/meth dealer liked sex in the rectory.” You know you’d read more.
• Finally, this from Shannyn Moore, who blogs on HuffPost as “Just a Girl from Homer, Alaska.” It appeared first in the Anchorage Daily News and makes her points without venturing beyond the pale into bad taste: “I'm not advocating for no guns. I like mine and am not about to give them up. But in this country, my uterus is more regulated than my guns. Birth control and reproductive health services are harder to get than bullets. What is that about? Guns don't kill people — vaginas do?”
There are a lot of things that don’t make it into any given news story. When you attend an event as a reporter, such as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s visit to Union Terminal last Saturday (as I did), you wait in line for about an hour, then wait inside for another hour while security checks every visitor.
During that time, you’re talking to people who are attending, taking notes to provide color for the story (things such as what songs are playing, slogans on shirts or signs, the general mood or atmosphere) and getting information from the event staff, such as how many tickets were given out, how many people are estimated to attend, etc.
Then there are the speakers — about an hour of politicians talking. After that, there’s the counter press conference with local Democratic officials. Then you make phone calls to fill in any gaps.
With all of that material and the average reader attention span on 800 words, a lot of information gets left out of any given piece. So here are some things I found interesting from Romney’s visit that didn’t make it into my story that day.
The most popular attire seemed to be Reds items. Many event-goers wore Reds T-shirts or caps, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who spoke at the event, wore a Reds ballcap and opened his speech with “So Cincinnati, how about these Redlegs?” and talked about Jay Bruce’s homer the previous night. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner attended the rally. I remember seeing him on TV at the Republican National Convention and commenting that he didn’t look as tan anymore. Must have been the cameras. In person, he was at least five shades darker than the pasty Portman. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot also spoke at the rally. While most speakers stuck to short speeches meant to pump up attendees and introduce Romney, Chabot got local. He encouraged attendees to vote against Issue 2, a ballot measure appearing in November that would change the way redistricting is done in Ohio. Currently congressional redistricting is done by the Legislature, which can give one party an advantage if they control both houses and the governor’s mansion. Chabot said Issue 2, which would set up an independent commission to redraw congressional districts, would allow special interest groups to take voters out of the equation and have the lines drawn by “unelected, unaccountable” people. (CityBeat covered this year's redistricting issue here and here.) As politicians do, speakers from both Republican and Democratic camps tried to spin the message. Portman told rally attendees that we were in the midst of the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, a statement independent fact checkers determined to be false. UPDATE 9/5/12: According to Republicans in the Joint Economic Committee and a report by The Associated Press economic growth and consumer spending have recovered more slowly from this recession than any time since The Great Depression. A PolitiFact check of Romney's claim that it was the slowest jobs recovery was deemed to be false. Meanwhile, in their press conference after the rally, Democrats had maybe a dozen local Cincinnatians in a small public area near Music Hall. Obama’s campaign provided signs and had them all crowd behind a podium where local politicians spoke. For the TV cameras, it probably looked like a sizeable crowd, which is an old trick.
Big media corporations have taken over, sucked the profits out of and are now closing newspapers left and right. Subscription rates are down and ads fill more space than editorial content.So the questions are there:
• I’m grateful to the Enquirer for running a story on Sen. Rand Paul’s response to the State of the Union Message. It wasn’t on NPR or any other network that I could find. His Washington office did not respond to my question of whether the Kentucky Republican offered his remarks to any broadcasters/cable networks.
• Tens of millions of Americans will become eligible for subsidized medical care under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Who’s going to treat them? I haven’t seen that in the news. And while reporters are working out that story, ask how the required additional primary care physicians will pay off college and medical school debts on the salaries that will be paid to their specialties.
• And once journalists dig into the supply of physicians to handle Medicaid expansion, I hope they’ll ask who’s going to staff quality preschool education for every American child. Obama can be aspirational, but we’re not talking about minimum wage diaper changers. Early learning centers require trained pre-school educators. And while they’re at it, reporters should ask where these new early childhood educators will train and who’s going pick up the tab. After all, they’ll never repay college loans on day care wages.
• Maybe I missed it in the admiring coverage of our government killing American Islamists abroad with drone rocket attacks: What prevents Obama from killing Americans in this country with drone strikes? None of the news stories or commentaries I’ve read or heard addressed that point.
There would be no shortage of targets. Wouldn’t the sheriff have loved a drone-launched missile to kill Christopher Dorner, the rogue ex-LAPD cop? That might have spared the deputy whom Dorner killed during the flaming finale in the San Bernardino mountains. And what prevents our increasingly militarized police from using their own armed drones?
Imagine what authorities could have done with armed drones during earlier, infamous encounters:
A missile fired at armed members of the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, S.D., could have avenged inept, vain and foolish George Armstrong Custer and FBI agents killed in the 1973 siege.
No feds would have died if a drone-launched missile incinerated Randy Weaver’s family with during its deadly 1992 confrontation with feds at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
David Koresh and the Branch Davidian religious sect were incinerated by the feds’ 1993 armored assault in Texas. That would have been a perfect photo op for a domestic drone attack.
• Sometimes, “national security” is the rationale for requested or commanded self-censorship, even when secrets aren’t secret.
For instance, British editors held stories about Prince Harry until he returned the first time from Afghanistan. However, an Australian women’s magazine reported he was in combat. The non-secret was a secret because no one paid attention.
More recently, the new U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia was supposed to be a secret. Obama officials asked major news media to hold the story and they agreed. National security, you know.
But it wasn’t a secret. Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple said Fox News already had reported U.S. plans to build the facility in Sept. 2011. Three months before that, the Times of London reported construction of the Saudi drone base.
When the New York Times broke the agreement and reported the Saudi drone base, everyone jumped on the story. Now, the Times, the Post and AP are trying to explain why they kept the non-secret from us.
• Gone are the days when senior Israeli government officials could call in top editors and broadcasters and tell them what they could not report. Last week, a tsunami of technology overwhelmed official Israeli efforts to censor the story of Prisoner X. Israeli journalists were not to report his existence or mention the censorship order. National security, you know. However, an Australian network named an Aussie as Prisoner X and said he reportedly committed suicide three years ago in an Israeli prison. Social media and the online world took it from there: "Aussie recruited by Israeli spy agency dies in Israeli prison." Israel dropped efforts to censor the Prisoner X story and is issuing official statements about the case.
• San Bernardino’s sheriff asked journalists to quit tweeting from the final gunfight with former LAPD cop Christopher Dorner. Bizarre. If authorities feared Dorner would gain tactical information, they misread his situation: Dorner was surrounded in a mountain cabin, tear gas was being lobbed in and men outside were trying to shoot him. He probably was too busy to read tweets. Moreover, only one reporter was close enough to tweet anything remotely useful to anyone. Most reporters initially or finally ignored the sheriff.
The tweet issue first arose during the 2008 Muslim terrorist attack on Mumbai when invaded the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Some authorities reportedly feared accomplices outside were reading news media tweets and forwarding tactical information about police and army movements to gunmen inside. I don’t remember if anyone asked reporters to quit tweeting.
• A new poll says Fox hit an alltime low for the four years Public Policy Polling has tracked trust/distrust among TV networks: 41 percent trust Fox, 46 percent do not. The poll didn’t find anything for other networks to brag about. Only PBS had more “trust” than “distrust” among viewers: 52 percent trust, 29 percent don’t trust. The poll questioned 800 voters by telephone from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.
• Garry Wills’ new book, Why Priests, sets out to debunk Catholicism’s dearest dogmas and doctrines concerning priests, bishops and the papacy. NPR’s Diane Rehm gave him an hour last week to say why Catholic ordained clergy are an unnecessary accretion. Then she asked an outgunned parish priest from the Washington, D.C. area for a rebuttal. If she really wanted a lively, informed argument, there is no shortage of priest-scholars who could have matched Wills’ credentials and talents as an historian. It was unfair and cringe-worthy.
• It’s touchy when an unpleasantry is brought up in an obit: a long forgiven conviction, a “love child,” whatever. More often, predictably awkward moments are omitted in the spirit of de mortuis nil nisi bonum. Here’s HuffingtonPost on a full-blown omission in the recent obit on former New York mayor and mensch Ed Koch:
“The New York Times revised its Friday obituary . . . after several observers noticed that it lacked any mention of his controversial record on AIDS. The paper's obituary, written by longtime staffer Robert D. MacFadden, weighed in at 5,500 words. Yet, in the first version of the piece, AIDS was mentioned exactly once, in a passing reference to ‘the scandals and the scourges of crack cocaine, homelessness and AIDS.’ The Times also prepared a 22-minute video on Koch's life that did not mention AIDS. This struck many as odd; after all, Koch presided over the earliest years of AIDS, and spent many years being targeted by gay activists who thought he was not doing nearly enough to stop the spread of the disease. Legendary writer and activist Larry Kramer called Koch ‘a murderer of his own people’ because the mayor was widely known as a closeted gay man.”
• New York’s Ed Koch admired Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl’s recorded last words before Muslim terrorists beheaded him. Koch had Pearl’s affirmation of faith engraved on his own tombstone in Manhattan’s Trinity Church graveyard: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”
• A former student reporter rarely rates an obit in the national media, but Annette Buchanan wasn’t ordinary. In the mid-1960s, she refused a court order to name sources for her story about student marijuana use on the University of Oregon campus. Her story ran in the Oregon Daily Emerald, the campus paper. No shield law protected her promise of confidentiality. The Emerald said she was fined the maximum $300 and the state supreme court affirmed her contempt of court conviction. That led to the creation of Oregon’s shield law for journalists. She died recently.
• An unresolved First Amendment issue is whether bloggers can be protected by state shield laws that allow journalists to keep sources secret. The latest case is from New Jersey. Poynter.com said blogger Tina Renna refused to identify government officials whom she said misused county generators after Hurricane Sandy. Union County prosecutors demanded the 16 names, saying Renna wasn’t a journalist protected by New Jersey’s shield law because she’s been involved in politics, her blog is biased and she’s often critical of county government.
The Newark Star-Ledger took her side. It said shield law protection “shouldn’t hinge on whether someone is a professional, nonpartisan or even reliable journalist. It’s a functional test: Does Renna gather information that’s in the public interest and publish it? Yes.” Renna “can be a little wild, she’s not the same as a professional reporter and she drives local officials crazy. But part of democracy is putting up with Tina Renna.” A court will probe whether Renna is a journalist as defined by the state shield law; that is, whether bloggers can be included by analogy under protected electronic news media.
• Few ledes — introductory sentences in news stories — are as lame as those saying the subject “doesn’t look” like some stereotype. For years, it usually referred to a woman in an unconventional (read men’s) occupation or pastime. “She didn’t look like a steelworker . . . “ or, “You wouldn’t think a tiny blonde bagged a deadly wild boar with a huge .44 magnum revolver.” Male subjects aren’t immune, as in this lede from a recent Washington Post story: “Farmer Hugh Bowman hardly looks the part of a revolutionary who stands in the way of promising new biotech discoveries and threatens Monsanto’s pursuit of new products . . . ”
What do revolutionaries look like? Lenin was pictured in suit and tie. Gandhi wore a white, draped sari or dhoti, Mandela and fellow ANC rebels often wore suits and ties. Young 1960s American and French student rebels never wore suits and ties and needed haircuts. Today’s young North African activists dress the same for class or a demonstration.
“Doesn’t look like” wouldn’t even fit an androgynous male model in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show. He’d be there because he looks like a classic, young, leggy “angel.”
• Have you noticed how hurricanes, floods, blizzards and tornadoes are morphing from evidence of climate change into photo ops? News media see them as so common that little reporting is required beyond images and stories of hardship: shoppers hoarding sliced white bread, downed trees and shattered homes, marooned airline passengers and days without power. Maybe there’s the throwaway quote from some climatologist about change affecting weather, but for the most part, that’s it. I’m betting this deliberate ignorance is a Republican Party plot to show that increasingly frequent, dangerous weather reflects the Intelligent Design that gave us dino-riding cavemen a few thousand years ago.
• The Enquirer devoted Page 1 to a dramatic OMG! graphic and story suggesting Cincinnati was terrible because it had no black candidate for mayor. An accompanying list of movers and shakers had few blacks. The presentation suggested the all-white mayoral contest meant amiss in a city where whites are the largest minority. However, whites and blacks told reporters that leadership rather than color was foremost among attributes they sought in a mayor. Moreover, with so many African Americans in visible leadership roles in the city, having a black mayor succeed a black mayor was less of an issue than the paper suggested.
A few weeks ago, I caught this story as it was firing up: Sacramento, Calif., morning radio hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States spent more than a half-hour making disparaging and dehumanizing comments about transgendered children on their May 28 radio show. People were pretty up in arms about it. I was among the hundreds of people who wrote letters to the station manager expressing my unwillingness to tolerate such content.
For once, executives at The Enquirer probably are happy to have the newspaper deemed average.
Jim Hopkins, who operates The Gannett Blog, recently tallied the circulation losses during the last five years at the media giant's 10 largest newspapers. Hopkins compiled the data from Gannett's annual reports to shareholders.