As the newspaper industry continues to suffer from declining ad revenues and a migration of readers to the Internet, The Cincinnati Enquirer is being hit particularly hard.
Dozens of newspapers nationwide reported drops in circulation, according to the latest figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. But the figures reported for Cincinnati’s only daily metropolitan newspaper were in the double-digits, well above the national average decline of 7 percent.
Scott Aiken died this month. We’ve been colleagues and friends for more than four decades. My wife and I moved to Cincinnati in 1967 and subscribed to the Enquirer. I called Scott to compliment the analyses of foreign events for which he’d been hired on the Enquirer editorial page. After swapping tales about our work overseas and people we knew there, he offered to introduce me to Bob Harrod, the local editor, who hired me for weekend reporting. It was the perfect antidote to grad school. That began 30-plus years at the Enquirer for me. Scott and I stayed in touch after he left daily journalism for corporate public relations. Our friendship survived my reporting of accusations of illegal wiretapping by Cincinnati Bell; Scott was head of the telephone company’s public relations. Our last lunch shared stories of his and Anne’s visit to Rome. Sheila McLaughlin’s obit on March 9 covers his career admirably, including Scott’s accidental matchmaking for a young reporter/colleague.
• Urbi et orbi. Accusations of omission and commission by Pope Francis when he was a priest and Jesuit leader during Argentina’s murderous “Dirty War” demonstrate how religious leaders risk charges of collaboration when a dictatorship falls. Recent examples taint the Russian Orthodox Church and South Africa’s Dutch Reform Church. But it’s a rare priest who rises to the modern papacy without the historians, news media and others questioning their careers. Pius XII is accused of being too close to Nazi Germany as diplomat Cardinal Pacelli before World War II. John XXIII was the subject of debate whether, as a chaplain sergeant in World War I, he gave Italian troops the order to leave their trenches, “go over the top” and attack. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Ratzinger was drafted into the Hitler Youth near the end of World War II, something everyone learned when he became Benedict XVI.
• The 200-plus complaints about papal coverage moved NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos to admit he, too, was “pope-ed out.” One listener wondered if NPR stood for National Papal Radio? Schumacher-Matos blogged that “NPR aired 69 stories since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation Feb. 11 and Pope Francis was selected as his successor Wednesday. That averages out to about two radio magazine or call-in segments per day, not including the steady drumbeat of shorter items delivered by hourly newscasts that are not transcribed. Most of the complaints have concerned the 47 stories that aired in the four weeks between the day after Benedict announced his resignation and the morning before Francis was announced — a period during which there was less major news about the subject and more ‘horse-race’ speculation about who might be selected.”
• Of course, there was a Cincinnati connection to the papal election: Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a contributing writer to Article 25, Cincinnati’s street paper dedicated to human rights, was detained by Italian police for demonstrating at the Vatican for women’s ordination. The French news agency, AFP, missed her connection to Article 25, identifying her only as “an excommunicated female priest” from Lexington, Ky., and a member of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. It was unclear whether Sevre-Duszynska was arrested or removed as a distraction when cardinals assembled to elect a new pope. AFP did not respond to CityBeat questions about her detention. She was dressed in liturgical robes and carrying a banner, “Women Priests are Here.” AFP quoted Sevre-Duszynska as saying, "As the cardinals meet for their conclave to elect the new pope, women are being ordained around the world! There are already 150 female priests in the world. The people are ready for change."
• Much as I would have loved to be back in Rome covering the election of the pope, there was an even better assignment that kicked my envy into overdrive. The Economist sent a reporter on 112-day road trip through and around Africa. I once hoped to travel the mythic Cairo Road from Capetown to Cairo. Not going to happen. The Economist’s reporter did that and more. He found more cause for cautious optimism than is reflected in typical stories of rebellion, massacre, poverty, disease and stolen elections.
• Why did Cincinnati Business Courier take down its online story about Henry Heimlich’s attempts to save his reputation and that of his Heimlich Maneuver? Granted, it wasn’t flattering, but it didn’t go beyond what Curmudgeon has reported. Reporter James Ritchie forwarded my request for an explanation and editor Rob Daumeyer responded, “Thanks for asking, but we don't have anything to add for you.”
• I like the tabloid Enquirer. I worked on daily and weekly tabloids overseas; it’s a familiar format. Whether readers enjoy turning pages to find stories promoted on section covers is uncertain; with logos, ads and visuals, there’s little else. Inside, long stories jump from page to page to accommodate reduced page size. I hope Enquirer editors recognize the power of the back page in each section and treat it as prime news space. And I’m looking forward to reporters and editors learning to produce sharp, short stories suited to tabloids; it still reads like the old Enquirer.
• Curmudgeon Notes on Feb. 20 shouldn’t take credit for Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster over Obama’s assassination by drone. However, the Kentucky Republican echoed Curmudgeon’s anxieties whether Obama will use drones to kill Americans in our country. To his credit, Paul’s almost 13-hour standup routine forced an answer from prevaricating Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder’s letter repeated and answered Paul’s question: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no.” Perfectly clear? No. Who defines combat? Deadly confrontations with feds at Ruby Ridge, Wounded Knee, or David Koresh’s Branch Davidian Ranch near Waco, TX?
• Enquirer’s Cliff Peale is probing the costs of post-secondary education and how many recent debt-burdened college grads can’t find full-time employment requiring their costly degrees. Coincidentally, Cincinnati Business Courier reports how local vacancies for skilled workers threaten the region’s economy. Is the conventional wisdom — everyone must earn a BA or more — undermining our economic security? Maybe Peale can probe high school curricula and counseling to see if capable students are being steered away from well-paid blue collar careers and into crippling debt for degrees of dubious value. Maybe it’s time to interview welders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, etc., to find out what their ROI (Return on Investment) is.
• It’s an old problem: courtiers mistaking their privilege of emptying the king’s chamber pots for royal power. Poynter.org reports this example from the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service:
Rosenzweig, a staffer for Vice President Joe Biden, ordered Capital
News Service student reporter Jeremy Barr to delete photos he took at an
event in Rockville, Md., when Biden announced an anti-domestic violence initiative.
Barr quoted Rosenzweig, saying, “I need to see your camera right now.” She called Barr’s presence in the non-press area an “unfair advantage” over the other members of the media (whatever that meant). Rosenzweig watched him delete the photos, Barr said, and then she looked at Barr’s iPhone to make sure no photos were saved there.
“I assumed that I’d violated a protocol,” Barr told Capital News Service. “I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was following proper procedures.”
J-school Dean Lucy Dalglish complained in a letter, saying, “Rockville is not a third-world country where police-state style media censorship is expected.” Biden press secretary Kendra Barkoff responded with an apology to Dalglish and Barr.
My comment: Dalglish is a lawyer. Before taking the dean’s job she was executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It’s ironic that her student reporter didn’t know there is no “protocol” or “proper procedures” that required him to give up his images. He should have held on to his images and phone and told Rosenzweig to fuck off.
• Intimidating a student reporter (above) wasn’t a first for Biden’s staff, jimromenesko.com added. “After the vice president made a remark during the presidential campaign that Republicans would put voters ‘back in chains,’ Politico’s Jonathan Martin reported the veep’s staff ‘tried to edit media pool reports for any potential landmines that could be seized on by Republicans and even hovered at close range to eavesdrop on journalists’ conversations with attendees at Biden rallies’.”
• Republicans evince an unnatural fascination with our dead ambassador at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Often, in their frenzy of blame, Obama critics mistakenly call the torched facility the “Embassy.” Ignorance now appears to be nonpartisan. Maybe repetition has warped liberal minds. For instance, in her blog on the thedailybeast.com, Caitlin Dickson repeated the error. In Libya, our embassy is in Tripoli, the capital.
• Jimromenesko.com says media worldwide were suckered by a satirical column on the Internet about Nobel-winning economist, professor, columnist and blogger Paul Krugman declaring bankruptcy.
The Boston Globe’s boston.com wasn’t immune. Under the headline, “Paul Krugman Files Chapter 13 Bankruptcy,” someone using the nom de plume “Prudent Investor” wrote that “Paul Krugman, the king of Keynesianism and a strong supporter of the delusion that you can print your way out of debt, faces depression at his very own doors. According to this report in Austria’s Format online mag, Krugman owes $7.35 million while assets to his name came in at a very meager $33,000. This will allow the economist and New York Times blogger to get a feel of how the majority of Americans feel about their dreadful lives . . . “
Romenesko says Globe editor Brian McGrory told Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, “The (Krugman) story arrived deep within our site from a third party vendor who partners on some finance and market pages on our site. We never knew it was there till we heard about it from outside.” The paper, McGrory says, did “urgent work to get it the hell down” from boston.com. McGrory adds, “The idea that we’d have a partner on our site is actually news to me” and the Globe plans to “address our relationship with that vendor.”
My comment: the editor of New England’s dominant daily has a “third party vendor” who provides content for business pages and the editor doesn’t know what that content is?
• Paul Krugman, who isn’t bankrupt (above), responded tongue in cheek on his New York Times blog, The Conscience of a Liberal. “OK, I’m an evil person — and my scheming has paid off. On Friday I started hearing from friends about a fake story making the rounds about my allegedly filing for personal bankruptcy; I even got asked about the story by a reporter from Russian television, who was very embarrassed when I told him it was fake. But I decided not to post anything about it; instead, I wanted to wait and see which right-wing media outlets would fall for the hoax. And Breitbart.com came through! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go give a lavishly paid speech to Friends of Hamas.”
• Weekly Standard senior writer Matt Labash’s March 18 column suggests he’d be a great guy to meet in a bar. Here’s a sample: “ . . . there are enough headline-hunting researchers making enough questionable discoveries (about health) that the four shakiest words in the English language have come to be, ‘a new study shows’.” And here’s another: “I am a professional journalist. It’s my job to pretend to know things that I don’t.”
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.
The Internet’s strange allure can’t be resisted.
First, local blogger and veteran journalist Bill Sloat decided to revive his excellent Daily Bellwether blog after an absence of several months, once again offering his fresh take on news around Ohio’s major cities.
Now Jim Hopkins has brought back his insightful Gannett Blog, offering news, analysis and criticism about the newspaper and media giant that owns The Cincinnati Enquirer and USA Today.
• A wet daily paper is near-useless. By the time the Enquirer and New York Times dry, my day is underway. I might get back to them after supper. However, we have a new delivery person who, unlike the woman she replaced, understands that double-bagging only helps if the bag openings are alternated and neither opening exposes the highly absorbent newsprint to rain or snow.
• Poynter Online reports the growing number of news media hoping to profit from the Times-Picayune’s retreat from daily journalism in New Orleans. The Baton Rouge Advocate plans to produce a New Orleans edition in October, when the T-P plans to cut printed editions to three days a week.
Coincidentally, Poytner reported, four online news organizations in New Orleans said they’re forming an online news collective called the New Orleans Digital News Alliance. The four are The Lens, My Spilt Milk, NOLA Defender and Uptown Messenger. (All but the Lens are for-profit sites.) “The members will begin promoting each other’s work immediately through social media and other avenues, and closer cooperation is being developed,” their press release says. My Spilt Milk honcho Alex Rawls says in a post, “Our collective goal is to provide sustainable, up-to-the-minute, hyperlocal online journalism serving the New Orleans community.”
That’s not the only online newsroom planting a flag in New Orleans local coverage, Poynter continued. Gambit Weekly Editor Kevin Allman says NOLA Beat, “a nonprofit startup planned in the mold of ProPublica or the Texas Tribune,” is planned to start up before the end of the year. Gambit is a New Orleans paper.
• Trust must exist between news media and audiences and journalists and their editors. No medium is immune. NPR recently had to retract a story after being alerted to a reporter’s plagiarism. Here’s the NPR editor’s note from July 9: “Earlier today, we published and distributed a story by Ahmad Shafi recounting his experience witnessing a public execution in Kabul in 1998. Since the story was published, it has come to our attention that portions of the piece were copied from a story by Jason Burke, published by the London Review of Books in March 2001. We have removed Shafi's story from our website.”
• Journatic, a commercial attempt to provide hyper-local news to major newspapers is in trouble because of journalistic fraud, fabrication and plagiarism. The agent of its distress was a former Journatic employee who explained how low-paid writers in Asia provided the local U.S. stories under phony bylines to unsuspecting American dailies. The revelation came on public radio’s This American Life in early July.
Journatic seemed perfect in an era of corporate cost-saving at any cost, readers’ trust be damned. Cheap outsourced labor allowed Americans to be fired. Poynter Online said the Chicago Tribune, which invested in Journatic, laid off about 20 American journalists and reassigned another dozen who’d worked on Trib suburban papers and websites. Journatic stories made that possible.
Other papers that substituted Journatic stories for those that could have been done by local journalists included the Chicago Sun-Times, Houston and San Francisco Chronicles.
The Enquirer still struggles to provide the kind of hyperlocal or local-local news — “Local Youth Wins Trumpet Contest” — that executives believe readers want. It tried in print and online. It never found the right formula and gutting its reporting staff left it without people do it all.
Gannett helped by buying most of the Tristate weeklies. While not hyperlocal — you can’t cover two or more neighborhoods and be hyperlocal — this was a good idea. There is nothing second rate about community weekly journalism; it has some different news values and high credibility among readers and advertisers. Some of my former students have created productive jobs and careers on community weeklies.
• Jimromenesko.com eports a fascinating poll result: YouTube has become a major way to get news. Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism said YouTube poses “a signficant opportunity and also a challenge” for mainstream news media. Romenesko included these findings:
The most popular news videos tended to depict natural disasters or political upheaval-usually featuring intense visuals.
News events are inherently more ephemeral than other kinds of information, but at any given moment news can outpace even the biggest entertainment videos.
Citizens play a substantial role in supplying and producing footage.
Citizens are also responsible for posting a good deal of the videos originally produced by news outlets.
The most popular news videos are a mix of edited and raw footage.
Pew added, “The report points out that viewership for TV news still easily outpaces those consuming news on YouTube — 22 million people on average still watch the evening news — but fast-growing YouTube is now the third most visited destination online, behind only Google and Facebook.”
• Former Enquirer reporter Cam McWhirter and Wall Street Journal colleague Keach Hagey scooped NPR about NPR’s investment in a nonprofit startup in New Orleans called NewOrleansReporter.org. It’s the latest effort to complement the diminished New Orleans Times-Picayune, which is cutting back from daily to print editions three days a week. NPR’s partner will be University of New Orleans. Poynter Online says NPR could be chipping in an initial $250,000. NPR followed with its announcement, NPR issued a press release after the story, saying the new site will follow a ”public radio funding model” and will be open source, like ProPublica and The Texas Observer. NewOrleansReporter.org will be based in WWNO’s newsroom, and its general manager Paul Maassen will run both organizations. NPR, the release says, is “providing consultation to WWNO around technology infrastructure and online revenue generation as well as training to support the rapid deployment of a multimedia newsroom.” It also says NolaVie and The Lens are “content partners.” The Lens recently announced (above) it would also be part of an online news collective called the New Orleans Digital News Alliance.
Maybe you’ve heard her on BBC Radio via the Internet, when she’s filled in for Diane Rehm on National Public Radio or seen her as a pundit on one of TV’s political talk shows. No matter, British journalist Katty Kay has a growing American fan base.
• Court rulings allow the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s heir to own and control his “I Have a Dream” speech to the 1963 march. Anyone wanting to use more than a few words must pay. My first reaction was “WTF? It was a public event in a public place and a public speech to the public. That can be ‘owned’? Yup.
• Stenographic reporting of the so-called debate over whether to bomb Syria back into the Stone Age helps build acceptance for a new war. Similarly, assertions that Assad’s forces gassed civilians are repeatedly reported as evidence or proof.
As of this writing, reporters have quoted no top Obama administration official willing to offer evidence or proof. Instead, as evidence, we have unverified videos online and interpretations of what the images show. Reporters don’t tell us who provided death figures or who provided information that White House is using the claim Sarin gas was used.
• Meanwhile, the constitutional expectation that only Congress can declare war has suffered the same fate as the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable seizures and searches; dying if not dead.
Germany and Japan attacked us. Congress responded for the most recent time: 1942. Russia’s surrogate attacked our dictator across the 38th Parallel in 1950 and triggered the still-unresolved Korean police action. LBJ was conned or knowingly lied about reported 1964 attacks on American warships in the Tonkin Gulf and moved us into the undeclared Vietnam War. Luckily, Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in1990 and started Gulf War I. The CIA’s totally mistaken 2002 “slam dunk” assurance about Weapons of Mass Destruction was used by Bush to justify undeclared Gulf War II. After 9/11, Afghans sheltered Osama bin Laden before our allies in Pakistan sheltered him and that was used to justify our unfinished and undeclared war against the Taliban in both countries although the Taliban never attacked us. Let’s not even get into the invasion of Panama or Grenada or fiasco in Somalia. All that’s missing in this latest rush to bash a hornets nest is a repeat of the New York Times sycophantic reporting that Saddam Hussein had and would use weapons of mass destruction.
• If you want a weapon of mass destruction, how about the AK-47, the totemic Soviet assault rifle that is ubiquitous on every continent or the simple machete/panga with which millions have been and are being murdered and/or mutilated. No chemical, biological or nuclear weapon has killed so many people.
• When will some national reporter ask, “What’s surgical about a surgical strike?” Nothing unless we’re comparing it to carpet bombing a la Germany, Japan, Laos or Vietnam.
Other than assassinating Assad with a drone-launched guided missile — good enough for Americans in Yemen — any attack on Syria will create “collateral” damage. They used to be called innocent victims, sort of like French civilians killed by Allies’ D-Day bombing.
“Surgical strike” is a debasement of the language. I’m surprised that surgeons — whose marketing mavens constantly promote ever-smaller and more precise bodily invasions — don’t ask the Pentagon to abandon the phrase, “surgical strike.”
However, it’s no mystery why news media are willing, even eager to echo this desensitizing insider language. It recalls “RPG,” “IED,” “smart bombs,” “boots on the ground” and similar military language embraced by civilian reporters for their civilian audiences. Except those buzz words weren’t for civilian audiences; it was how reporters assured military sources that journalists were savvy and sympathetic listeners.
“Surgical strikes” serves us as badly as reporting unsupported assertions and assumptions as fact. Accurately reported bullshit is still bullshit.
• Accurate reporting requires context. Why is gassing hundreds of Syrian civilians in Damascus worse than shooting and killing as many or more civilians about in and around Cairo? Why is the killing and wounding of thousands in Cairo worse than endlessly raping, wounding, mutilating and killing millions of civilians in the horribly misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo?
• Our selective condemnation of poison gas recalls the 11th-century papal ban of the cross bow; peasant crossbowmen could kill armored knights from an unmanly and impersonal distance. That also was bad for the social order. Welsh bowmen faced no such opprobrium although their arrows killed far more mounted knights.
Jump ahead almost a millennium. There is debate on what is a chemical weapon and not all gasses — think tear gas — are poisonous. Poison gas was used infrequently but without sanction during the past 100 years.
Germans and the British gassed each other during World War I. Communists were accused of using poison gas during Russian Civil War. Italians gassed native troops in Ethiopia in the 1930s in years when colonial powers were suspected/accused of gassing rebellious native troops. Japanese gassed Chinese during early World War II. Egyptians gassed Yemeni forces in the 1960s but Americans denied using toxic/blister gasses in Vietnam and Laos. Iraq deployed lethal gas against its own people and Iranian forces in the insane Iraq-Iran 1980s war. Politicians and UN officials fulminate against gassing civilians but they only remind us how selective agony and journalism can be.
• No less authority than President Obama relegated the comparative to the dustbin of grammar. His speech at the Lincoln Memorial last week praised King and other civil rights activists, saying “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair.” True, but I’ll bet King would have said, “freer and fairer.”
• Everyone’s lauding David Frost’s evocative interviews with disgraced Richard Nixon after he resigned the presidency. He died after a heart attack on Saturday.
My memory of Frost is different: TW3, the original That Was the Week that Was on BBC TV. It was as irreverent as posh Brits from Oxbridge could be and Frost was a central figure in its creation in 1962 and weekly broadcasts until it was cancelled to avoid criticism as the 1964 general election neared. Two skits stand out in my memory, in part because my Saturday night duties at UPI included watching and filing a story on anything newsworthy that TW3 did/said.
The first showed an otherwise empty set with seemingly naked Millicent Martin, then young and drop-dead lovely, astride and leaning over the back of a curvy, modern Arne Jacobsen chair. It was the same pose call girl Christine Keeler used when photographed during the scandal over her affair with government minister John Profumo. You can see the original Keeler image at www.vam.ac.uk. Martin resembled Keeler just as Tina Fey looked like Sarah Palin. Martin looked straight at the camera and said something like, “John told me I was sitting on a fortune.” That was it. Perfect lampoon but there was no way to use that skit on UPI’s wire.
The second memorable skit followed the apparent TW3 and BBC late night sign-off. A De Gaulle look alike, right down the uniform and kepi on his head, addressed the Brits contemptuously over some strategic or diplomatic blunder. Then the broadcast ended. That skit was newsworthy. BBC said its switchboard operators — remember, this was the early 1960s — were overwhelmed. Seemed the perfect jab at the Establishment by its children fooled a lot of Brits; they thought BBC really had broadcast a De Gaulle speech.
• On a celebratory note, authorities dropped charges against Tim Funk, religion reporter for the Charlotte Observer, who arrested while he interviewed “Moral Monday” demonstrators at the Statehouse in Raleigh, NC. He was charged with second-degree trespass and failure to disperse.
Tim’s a Northern Kentuckian and among the ablest of decades of my undergraduate students. After the local prosecutor came to his senses, Tim told the AP, “It was clear to everyone there that I was a news reporter just doing my job interviewing Charlotte-area clergy about how they felt about being arrested. The reporter’s job is to be the eyes and ears of the public who can’t be present at important public events like this protest. That’s all I was doing.”
When his June 10 arrest was reported, at least one respondent noted that Tim was among the first detained, stopping him from seeing how police handled demonstrators.
His editor, Rick Thames, told AP, “This is clearly the right result, and we congratulate the district attorney for making the right decision. Tim Funk was working as a journalist inside the most obvious public building in our state. The videotape of Tim’s arrest demonstrates clearly that his only purpose in being there was to provide our readers a vivid firsthand account. He was clearly not obstructing the police. It’s hard to understand why he was arrested in the first place.”
• Cincinnati taxpayers need to know more about competing — and inescapably costly — plans to overcome years of city council shortchanging the city pension fund. The news isn’t good. As the Enquirer’s James Pilcher put it Sunday, “if every man,woman and child living in the city of Cincinnati contributed $2,000 apiece, it still wouldn’t be enough to fill the plan’s current $870 million gap.”
There’s a timeline with his explanatory story that screams for elaboration: What, if any, roles did mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley play in council decisions to deepen the pension debt?
And I howled at the quote from state auditor Dave Yost: “ . . . the city is in a fork in the road . . . And I’m concerned Cincinnati is not doing enough to avoid going down that fork in the road.”
Don’t try this at home. Sort of like standing with a foot on each side of a barbed wire fence. Reminds me of a friend who’d look right, point left and say, “Go this way.”
Maybe with Yost’s sense of direction, Cincinnati should consider the road not taken.