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by Ben L. Kaufman 03.11.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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New 'Enquirer' Tabloid Out Today

Ben Kaufman says it looks nice, arrived on time

Enquirer reporters and editors should be satisfied with their initial tabloid effort. Today’s inaugural edition — smaller and printed in Columbus — is a curious hybrid. It arrived on time. It feels and looks like a tabloid, but it reads like a familiar Enquirer rather than something exciting and new. 

That might not be bad. Others — who haven’t spent 50-plus years in the newspaper and wire service trade and worked on two tabloids — will decide whether the tabloid Enquirer works well enough to buy. That’s important because print ads bring in many times the cash of online ads.

Page 1 is a showcase. Catch the readers’ attention to turn them inside to highly promoted stories. That’s tabloid. Enquirer designers have been refining this for months on larger pages last printed yesterday.

Page 2 is weather and other stuff. My question: Will older readers complain about the small type? Readers who need glasses probably are the majority.

The organization of the rest of the paper is familiar and most stories are short. Good. Few stories today require more than that, especially one that continues for days and weeks. Regular readers will learn enough. Readers who are unsatisfied can learn more elsewhere without abandoning the Enquirer. It would be no crime if longer versions appeared on Cincinnati.com. That could be a productive synergy.

If there is a problem in the news pages, it’s the black/white inside news photos. Sports suffers most. Too many are too small, too dark. That could be an inking problem on the new Columbus Dispatch presses. If not, it would be ironic if the new Enquirer format meant fewer inside color photos and photographers having to relearn black-and-white photography.

And small news photos. Here’s where the format cramps. A large photo doesn’t leave much room for type and there is a limit to how many times readers will go to another page to learn more about the pictured event.

The special promotional section about the paper — with names and images of the staff — is a keeper in addition to the existing online contact list. It was good to see old colleagues and friends looking well and to put faces to new names. 
My one complaint is that the shift in headline type. Now, news stories and ads that imitate news stories now have the same or similar bold black headlines. That’s bad. Previously, news and ads had starkly different type faces. That was an honest effort to alert readers to the difference. I hope the Enquirer will find a new type face for ads since the bold, black headlines work for tabloid news.

Having nursed a new daily to life years ago, I still can recall the pleasure of holding that first edition. I hope Enquirer journalists know that feeling today.
 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 03.06.2013
Posted In: Media Criticism, Media, News at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Curmudgeon Notes 3.6.2013

The satirical website, The Onion, added kiddie porn to the Academy Awards. It tweeted about the 9-year-old Oscar nominee for Best Actress: “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013.”

Miss Wallis was nominated for Best Actress in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Traditional and new media exploded with contempt but few spelled out the “C-word.” Most offered the first letter and asterisks: C***. 

The Onion took down the tweet in about an hour and Onion CEO Steve Hannah crawled back on Facebook. He wrote, in part, “I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis . . . for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive . . . No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.”

Hannah wrote that “We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again. In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.

“Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.”

Ciao, papa vecchio. Viva il papa nuovo! Did anyone else notice that Benedict was driven to his helicopter in German cars? I didn’t recognize one macchina italiana among the black sedans. At the helicopter, a papal aide belted Pope Emeritus into his passenger seat. He knows the drill; Benedict is a licensed pilot who has piloted a chopper from the Vatican City to the summer villa at Castel Gandolfo. He left this flight to the Italian Air Force. CBS followed Benedict’s chopper from liftoff to arrival in suburban Castel Gandolfo about 15 miles southeast of Vatican City. Boring video. Really boring. Obviously, CBS feared missing something if anything went wrong. It’s the same reason the press travels with the president...

Unless Benedict really wants to live out his days in the Vatican City, why would he leave Castel Gandolfo? That lovely Alban Hills town was a favorite for long lunches when I worked in Rome: a great view over Lago Albano, wonderful pollo al diavolo and fresh trota.

Most Cincinnatians don’t read the Enquirer. They never did. However, they often are affected by reporters watchdogging government and businesses that rarely appreciate the attention. In recent years, no one was better at this vital First Amendment function than the Enquirer’s Barry Horstman. His coverage of the Cincinnati city pension fiasco and other issues was vital to public awareness. He died last week after a heart attack in the newsroom. Barry was a good man and a fine reporter. When then-editor Tom Callinan hired Barry despite a chill on new hires, it was a coup. The city gained a seasoned investigative reporter who understood the necessity of depth in reporting and writing; quickie stories don’t suffice when public millions are involved. After Barry’s memorial service, Callinan told me, “It was an important message to the staff that while we may have fewer people we will have the best. He was that and more.” 

Randy Mazzola and Julie Irwin Zimmerman have returned to the Enquirer. I’ve worked with both; it’s good news. Randy is a talented graphic artist. If the new tabloid format is to work, visuals are vital. Julie is a fine reporter and writer. At different times, we both covered religion. 

I’ll never understand the news media fuss about snow storms in the Plains states and Midwest. It’s winter. Snow happens. Plows clear streets. Kids slide. Image-hungry TV is the worst. They just don‘t get it. Sort of like Cincinnatians who try to drive up Straight or Ravine streets or West Clifton Avenue after an inch of snow. Those of us who grew up with snow storms expect traffic snarls. We keep warm stuff in the trunk in case we must drive but get stuck. We mumble, “I am not going to die of a heart attack shoveling snow.” Then we shovel. Or hope a neighbor kid tackles the job. 

Farmers love snow. It melts and nourishes their crops, replenishes their wells and waters their cattle. Blizzards can kill but drought is worse.  This by AP via the London Guardian: “Meteorologist Mike Umscheid of the National Weather Service office in Dodge City, Kansas, said this latest storm combined with the storm last week will help alleviate the drought conditions that have plagued farmers and ranchers across the Midwest, and could be especially helpful to the winter wheat crop planted last fall. But getting two back-to-back storms of this magnitude doesn't mean the drought is finished. ‘If we get one more storm like this with widespread two inches of moisture, we will continue to chip away at the drought, but to claim the drought is over or ending is way too premature,’ Umscheid said.”

I don’t know the laws governing public records in South Africa, but two inexplicably tardy news stories suggest that inattentive reporters were dazzled by the premeditated murder charge against the Olympic gold medal winner Oscar Pistorius. He’s the double amputee sprinter and that nation’s most famous living athlete. 

It took days after Pistorius shot his girlfriend to report that Hilton Botha, chief police investigator and disgraced star witness at Pistorius’ bail hearing, already was charged with seven counts of attempted murder arising from a traffic stop. Botha reportedly shot at the van and its seven occupants and his bosses took him off the case when the attempted murder charge made news. 

Still later, reporters told us that Oscar Pistorius’ brother Carl faced imminent trial, charged with unlawful negligent killing/culpable homicide after his car collided with a female motorcyclist. 

The  Oscar Pistorius murder case is perfect for the American news media: hero athlete killer, lovely blonde victim. Oh, we’ve done that story. Here’s a different angle for reporters: releasing Pistorius on bail wasn’t a race issue; it’s what happens in almost any country where a rich and famous person hires the best legal defense possible. Oh, we’ve done that story. Repeatedly. 

Pistorius is white, but even in race-conscious South Africa, fame and cash can speak louder than color. If you doubt me, look up the criminal record of Jacob Zuma, a black man and a longstanding leader in the ruling African National Congress. A South African judge acquitted him of rape in 2006, saying the unprotected sex was consensual. In 2005 and again in 2007, Zuma was charged with corruption, racketeering and tax evasion. Prosecutors dropped charges, saying political interference fatally tainted their case. Zuma was elected president of South Africa in 2009. 

I love a good hoax and "Golden Eagle Snatches Kid" on YouTube was delicious. Reactions illustrate the credulity of old and new media and people who believe what they see/read online. BuzzFeed.com freelancer Chris Stokel-Walker said the video got “17 million views within a day, just shy of 42 million views in total, 14 million minutes in viewing time in the U.S. alone, embedded on major news websites worldwide, broadcast on morning talk shows and linked from countless message boards — which proved this in historically impressive style.”

Stokel-Walker traced the hoax to Professor Robin Tremblay’s video-effects class at Centre NAD, a technology university in Montreal. “In October, he challenged his students — as he did the previous two semesters — to make a viral hoax video. If it got more than 100,000 views, then congratulations, you got an A.”

Four students created "Golden Eagle Snatches Kid." Twenty minutes after showing the video to their class, they uploaded it to YouTube and adjourned to a local bar.  

Meanwhile, Portuguese teenager Tiago Duarte spotted the hoax. "It looked so fake to me," he told Stokel-Walker. "The main thing that gave it away was the baby falling down. It really looked like a 3-D model to me." He went online and "every single person was believing it, and the top comment at the time was something like, 'If you want to say this is fake, you better provide some proof.' So I did." 

Stokel-Walker said “it took the 17-year-old less than five hours to debunk a month-and-a-half's worth of work. Duarte used his video editing skills, uploaded his version of "Golden Eagle Snatches Kid" to YouTube and proved his point.   

Unintended effects of a helter-skelter search for cheaper health care can be deadly, as British news media have revealed. In a reality that recalls Sarah Palin’s fantasy “death panels,” the British government is paying incentives to hospitals to reduce the number of beds occupied by the terminally ill. 

One response is for physicians to hurry patients into the hereafter by withdrawing nourishment, hydration and medical treatment. Without intended irony, Brits call this lethal option Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP). Revelations are beyond sensational. Here’s part of a National Health Service press release:  

“The LCP is intended to allow people with a terminal illness to die with dignity. But there have been a number of high-profile allegations that people have been placed on the LCP without consent or their friend’s or family’s knowledge. Concerns have also been raised about hospitals receiving payments for increasing the number of patients who are placed on the LCP . . .  (A)s we have seen, there have been too many cases where patients were put on the pathway without a proper explanation or their families being involved.” Worse, some patients or families didn’t give required permission. 

London’s Daily Mail, among those most actively pursuing the Liverpool Care Pathway story (above), wrote Sunday that:

“Leading doctors have claimed NHS patients are being routinely placed on the controversial Liverpool Care Pathway by out-of-hours medics who are ‘strangers’ who have never been involved in their care. The claims suggest patients are often left to die on . . .  ‘bedside evidence’ alone and without fully understanding the patients’ condition or medical history.

“The LCP has been the subject of much debate since it was introduced in the 1990s. More than 130,000 people are put on it each year but it was revealed in December 60,000 patients die on the procedure each year without giving their consent. 

“Concerns have been raised that clinical judgments are being skewed by incentives for hospitals to use the pathway. Health trusts (that run National Health Service hospitals) are thought to have been rewarded with an extra £30million ($45m) for putting more patients on the LCP. Critics say it is a self-fulfilling prophecy because there is no scientific method of predicting when death will come.”

Here’s a story that any reporter could do: did the advent of ubiquitous urban and suburban school busing — for whatever reasons — cause or coincide with the explosion of K-12 obesity? News media are full of obesity stories bemoaning fat Americans and blaming everything from school lunches, fat, salt and sugar to oversize portions of everything. Maybe, just maybe, it has more to do with the end of walking or biking to school. 

Death cafes aren’t Starbucks spinoffs where philosophers and others have spirited conversation as they sip soy milk hemlock lattes. (Gift cards are one-use only.) Rather, death cafes are where people can talk about what comes next. This growing movement appears to be news to Cincinnati-area news media. Huffington Post tipped me to Columbus, Ohio, leadership in the U.S. death cafe movement. Here’s some of what HuffPost and others reported:

Ohioans met on a Wednesday evening in a community room at a Panera Bread near Columbus for tea, cake and conversation “over an unusual shared curiosity. For two hours, split between small circles and a larger group discussion, they talked about death:  How do they want to die? In their sleep? In the hospital? Of what cause? When do they want die? Is 105 too old? Are they scared? What kind of funerals do they want, if any? Is cremation better than burial? And what do they need accomplish before life is over?

Organizer Lizzy Miles says the latest gathering included new and previous attendees plus a public radio reporter. “I set the ground rules. No recording during the Death Café. He had to participate as a regular guy. Then afterwards, we would ask for volunteers as to who would be willing to talk for radio. Several people volunteered and we had a mini Death Café discussion . . .  I felt he did a good job of capturing the essence of the Death Café in his WOSU broadcast, ‘Columbus Death Cafe concept Spreads Across the U.S’.” 

 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 02.19.2013
 
 
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Curmudgeon Notes 2.20.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

 • Giovanna Chirri, the veteran Vaticanista who understood the pope’s Latin, broke the news that he’d just announced his resignation. She works for the Italian news agency, ANSA. Her skill recalled Ernest Sackler at Rome’s UPI bureau when I was a photojournalist stringer during John XXIII’s papacy. Ernest truly understood Vatican Latin well enough to turn it into flowing English; colleagues spoke of him with awe. 

• 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. 


 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 02.06.2013
 
 
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Curmudgeon Notes 2.06.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

Be suspicious of statistics that suggest a reporter doesn’t understand, doesn’t care or knowingly isn’t telling us everything the numbers do. For instance, we have tens of thousands of firearm deaths every year in our country. Uncritical reporting suggests these are homicides that buybacks or proposed federal gun controls could prevent or reduce. Nope. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 31,672 firearm deaths recorded in 2010, the last year for which complete statistics are posted. Of those, 19,392 or 61 percent were suicides, not homicides. The remaining 39 percent included accidents, fatal encounters with police, etc. 

• Critical thinking was in short supply at the Senate Judiciary Hearing where gun control foes testified. It’s sort of like using a faux quote by Hitler to prove gun registration leads to confiscation, which leads to socialism or worse. Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women’s Forum told senators that “guns make women safer” and a ban on assault-style weapons with high-capacity magazines would endanger women. 

To illustrate her case, Trotter cited 18-year-old Sarah McKinley’s successful defense against an armed intruder near Blanchard, Okla. Police there told CityBeat that she killed him with a 12-gauge pump shotgun, a classic hunting weapon owned by millions of Americans. That was a good choice for McKinley but an unfortunate example for Trotter; no one is suggesting that shotguns be included in proposed gun controls. 

Then, as if to prove that fewer Americans are hunting or serving in the military and know what they’re talking about (also see below), MSNBC mistakenly said she used a rifle. ABC News was no smarter: It had her reenact the shooting with a double-barreled shotgun.  

McKinley’s single-barrel pump shotgun was taken as evidence in the homicide, probably to be returned when her claim of self-defense is affirmed. Meanwhile, Guns Save Lives, a nonprofit, sent her a similar, replacement shotgun. 

Not only does Oklahoma allow lethal force for self-defense inside a person’s home, but McKinley asked the 911 operator what she could do to protect herself and her child. The dead intruder’s companion reportedly told police the intruders were after prescription painkillers that they assumed McKinley’s husband left when he died a week earlier from cancer. 

• A secret shooter? After Obama’s comments to the New Republic about having fired a gun, the White House released a photo of the president on the Camp David retreat skeet range. Wearing protective glasses and ear protection, he’s firing a shotgun at the 4-5/16 inch flying clay discs (pigeons) last August. "Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," Obama told the New Republic. "Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there." However, the AP story accompanying the skeet shooting photo in Sunday’s Enquirer mistakenly says he’s firing a rifle. I’m not sure whether Obama used an over-and-under shotgun, but it certainly didn’t look like a rifle. That inexplicable clanger escaped AP and Enquirer editing despite our unprecedented national debate over certain types of firearms. NRA pooh-poohed Obama’s comments and photo, saying it changes nothing in NRA opposition to greater gun control. 

• John Kerry drew scorn in 2004 after he was photographed with Ted Strickland and others with just-shot geese in an eastern Ohio cornfield. Possibly recalling that ill-conceived effort to bond with hunters, Obama didn’t release his skeet shooting photo before the election last year. Kerry’s goose hunting was ridiculed as a dumb photo op, especially because Kerry borrowed the farmer’s hunting outfit and double-barreled shotgun for the day. Whether Kerry bagged any additional rural voters was unclear; Bush won Ohio. 

• I began contributing to the new National Catholic Reporter in the mid-’60s when I started covering religion at the Minneapolis Star. I freelanced for NCR when I had that same assignment at the Enquirer. A privately owned, independent weekly based in Kansas City, Mo., NCR was a voice of Roman Catholics who embraced the spirit as well as the documents of the Second Vatican Council. 

Traditional churchmen had little reason to love NCR. It was a pain in the ass and collection basket. It reported the flight of clergy and nuns, often into marriage. Jason Berry pioneered reporting of priestly child abuse. Penny Lernoux covered Latin American death squads and links between murderous reactionaries and the church. Murders of nuns, priests and bishops who embraced liberation theology and the church’s “preferential option for the poor” received extensive, probing coverage. 

The bishop of Kansas City and a former diocesan editor, Robert W. Finn, recently joined predecessors’ fruitless condemnations of NCR’s journalism. In a letter to the diocese praising official church media, Finn was “sorry to say, my attention has been drawn once again to the National Catholic Reporter. … In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial (official) teaching, and a litany of other issues.

“My predecessor bishops have taken different approaches to the challenge. Bishop Charles Helmsing in October of 1968 issued a condemnation of the National Catholic Reporter and asked the publishers to remove the name ‘Catholic’ from their title — to no avail. From my perspective, NCR’s positions against authentic Church teaching and leadership have not changed trajectory in the intervening decades.

“When early in my tenure I requested that the paper submit their bona fides as a Catholic media outlet in accord with the expectations of Church law, they declined to participate indicating that they considered themselves an ‘independent newspaper which commented on “things Catholic.” ’ At other times, correspondence has seemed to reach a dead end.

“In light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name ‘Catholic.’ While I remain open to substantive and respectful discussion with the legitimate representatives of NCR, I find that my ability to influence the National Catholic Reporter toward fidelity to the Church seems limited to the supernatural level. For this we pray: St. Francis DeSales (patron of journalists), intercede for us.”

• Rarely have I seen such a neat dismissal of creationism and defense of evolution as the following by 19th century skeptic Robert Ingersoll. It’s quoted in a review of The Great Agnostic, a biography of Ingersoll, in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard

“I would rather belong to that race that commenced a skull-less vertebrate and produced Shakespeare, a race that has before it an infinite future, with an angel of progress leaning from the far horizon, beckoning men forward, upward, and onward forever — I had rather belong to such a race … than to have sprung from a perfect pair upon which the Lord has lost money every moment from that day to this.”

The Weekly Standard also published “A teacher’s Plea: The GOP shouldn’t write off educators.” Eloquent Colleen Hyland speaks beyond partisanship for her vocation and colleagues in her Jan. 21 essay. Among other things, she hopes to shake Republican/conservative ideologues out of their animus toward public school teachers and their unions. Among her points: Hhateful generalizations about teachers and their desire for a living wage also degrades women. 

• I didn’t know Kevin Ash and I’m not a rider but I read his motorcycle reviews in London’s Daily Telegraph for years. Details of his death in South Africa are unclear, but he died during the media show testing the new BMW R1200GS motorcycle. His informed, passionate writing was a delight for itself, even if I never thought to get on a two-wheeler again. When I was what the Brits’ call a “motoring correspondent,” my interest was cars, whether with three or four wheels. There were a lot of us writing about cars and motor racing/rallying in Europe and Britain in the 1960s; postwar Europeans were getting into cars for the first time in most families’ lives. We were read whether it was the test drive of an exquisite new Zagato OSCA coupe (built by the original Maserati brothers) or a boring Opel sedan. But getting killed during a test ride? Since most of us had some inkling of what we were doing astride a motorcycle or behind the wheel, that would have been very bad luck. 

Time Magazine’s world.time.com website posted this howler. The original Time story purported to look at Oxford and Cambridge roles in Britain’s social mobility. Appended to the online story, Time’s correction has a lawyerly tone. Here it is at length and verbatim:

“This article has been changed. An earlier version stated that Oxford University accepted ‘only one black Caribbean student’ in 2009, when in fact the university accepted one British black Caribbean undergraduate who declared his or her ethnicity when applying to Oxford. 

“The article has also been amended to reflect the context for comments made by British Prime Minister David Cameron on the number of black students at Oxford. It has also been changed to reflect the fact that in 2009 Oxford ‘held’ rather than ‘targeted’ 21 percent of its outreach events at private schools, and that it draws the majority of its non-private students from public schools with above average levels of attainment, rather than ‘elite public  schools.’  

“An amendment was made to indicate that Office for Fair Access director Les Ebdon has not imposed but intends to negotiate targets with universities. It has been corrected to indicate that every university-educated Prime Minister save Gordon Brown has attended Oxford or Cambridge since 1937, rather than throughout history. The proportion of Oxbridge graduates in David Cameron’s cabinet has been updated — following the Prime Minister’s September reshuffle, the percentage rose from almost 40 percent to two-thirds. Percentages on leading Oxbridge graduates have been updated to reflect the latest figures. 

“The article erred in stating that private school students have ‘dominated’ Oxbridge for ‘centuries.’ In the 1970s, according to Cambridge, admissions of state school students ranged from 62 percent to 68 percent, sinking down to around 50 percent in the 1980s. The article has been amended to clarify that although only a small percentage of British students are privately educated, they make up one-third of the students with the requisite qualifications to apply to Oxbridge. 

“The article erred in stating that Oxford and Cambridge ‘missed government admission targets’ for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Rather, the universities scored below ‘benchmarks’ for admission of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds which are calculated by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, a non-governmental body. The article was amended to clarify the point that Cambridge continues to run Sutton Trust summer schools. 

“The article mistakenly suggested that the current U.K. government had launched an ‘initiative to reform Oxbridge.’ There was no official initiative, but rather a marked push by the government to encourage change. The article referred to Cambridge and Oxford’s efforts ‘in the past two years’ to seek out underprivileged students. In fact, their commitment is far more long-standing — programs to reach out to underprivileged students have been operating at the two universities since at least the mid-1990s. 

“The article erred in suggesting that Cambridge had protested state school targets, and in stating that it had ‘agreed to’ ambitious targets, rather than setting the targets themselves that were then approved by the Office of Fair Access. The article has been amended to clarify that there is debate over whether the ‘school effect’, whereby state school students outperform private school students at university, applies to those at the highest levels of achievement, from which Oxford and Cambridge recruit. 

“The article has been changed to correct the misstatement that a lack of strong candidates from poor backgrounds is not the concern of Oxford and Cambridge. The article has amended the phrase ‘Oxford and Cambridge’s myopic focus on cherry-picking the most academically accomplished,’ to more fairly reflect the universities’ approach.”

• Until I read the Time correction above, I’d forgotten one in which I was involved. A young reporter covered a Saturday national church meeting in suburban Cincinnati at which denominational leaders argued how to respond to homosexuals in the pews and pulpits. This was when such a discussion was courageous, regardless of the views expressed. I edited the story. It was a good, taut story and it ran in a Sunday Enquirer. All hell broke loose. The reporter attributed exactly the opposite views to each person quoted. Instead of a forthright correction, I recall running a new, corrected story plus the apology.


 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 01.22.2013
 
 
enquirer

Curmudgeon Notes 1.23.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

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, ConnSalon.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? 

Al 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?”

 
 
by German Lopez 01.16.2013
 
 
news_chris_seelbach

Morning News and Stuff

New restrooms stalled, Medicaid expansion saves money, there is no “climate debate”

City Council wants to do more research before it proceeds with freestanding public restrooms in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. The vote has been delayed. Critics say the restrooms are too expensive at $130,000, but supporters, particularly Councilman Chris Seelbach, insist the restrooms will not be that expensive. A majority of City Council argues the restrooms are necessary because increasing populations and growth in downtown have made 24-hour facilities necessary.

A new report found Ohio’s budget would benefit from a Medicaid expansion. The expansion would mostly save money by letting the federal government pick up a much larger share of the cost for Ohio’s population, particularly prison inmates. A previous study found Medicaid expansions were correlated with better health results, including decreased mortality rates, in some states. Another study from the Arkansas Department of Human Services found the state would save $378 million by 2025 with the Medicaid expansion. Most of the savings from the Arkansas study would come from uncompensated care — costs that are placed on health institutions and state and local governments when uninsured patients that can’t and don’t pay use medical services.

The Dayton Daily News has a wonderful example of how not to do journalism. In an article on the supposed “climate debate,” the newspaper ignored the near-unanimous scientific consensus on global warming and decided to give credence to people who deny all scientific reasoning. To be clear, there is no climate debate. There’s the overwhelming majority of scientists, climatologists and data on one side, and there’s the pro-oil, pro-coal lobby and stubborn, irrational conservatives who will deny anything that hurts their interests on the other side.

The Ohio Board of Education approved policies for seclusion rooms. The non-binding policy requires parents to be notified if their children are placed in a seclusion room, and the Ohio Department of Education can also request data, even though it won’t be made public. More stringent policies may come in the spring. Seclusion rooms are supposed to be used to hold out-of-control kids, but an investigation from The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio found the rooms were being abused by teachers and school staff for their convenience. 

If the city wants to buy Tower Place, the mall will have to be cleared out, according to City Manager Milton Dohoney. Last week, the remaining businesses at Tower Place were evicted, and Dohoney said the city did not sign off on the eviction orders. Apparently, the city really didn’t agree to or enforce eviction orders, but the city’s buyout requires evictions. Dohoney said the eviction notices should signify the deal to buy Tower Place is moving forward.

Dohoney appointed Captain Paul Humphries to the assistant chief position for the Cincinnati Police Department. Humphries has been on the force for 26 years, and he currently serves as the chief of staff to Chief James Craig.

Cincinnati’s Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP) is targeting Mt. Airy and Carthage. Starting March 1, police, businesses and civic groups will begin putting together accelerated revitalization and reinvestment plans for the communities. NEP emphasizes building code enforcement, crime, neighborhood cleanup and beautification.

Good news, everyone. Cincinnati is no longer the bedbug capital.

Bob Castellini, owner of the Reds, was named the region’s master entrepreneur by Northern Kentucky University.

The Ohio Department of Transportation released a website that has real-time traffic information.

Some people really suck at political slogans.

Oh, science. Apparently, particle physics could improve Netflix’s suggestions.

 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 01.08.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism, Ethics at 03:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
enquirer

Curmudgeon Notes 1.09.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

Here’s a story for local health/medicine reporters: why is Christ Hospital reducing service at its outpatient cardiac rehab center? Recently, patients received this bizarre letter: 

“In order to continue the highest level of care for our growing patient volume, we have adjusted our office hours. Effective January 2nd, 2013, (sic) hours of operation for Phase II cardiac rehabilitation will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 6:00 AM through 4:00 PM. Hours on Tuesday and Thursday will be 6 AM to 2:30 PM. Thank you for choosing The Christ Hospital Health Network.” 

That significantly shortens the afternoon/evening hours daily for a “growing patient volume.” Didn’t anyone read this Orwellian language before it went out over an exec’s signature on hospital letterhead? To continue the highest level of care Christ will provide less, especially if patients need outpatient cardio rehab after work?    

If outpatient rehab has too few clients, are cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at this aggressively marketed heart hospital urging patients to work out at the Mount Auburn facility? Aren’t these docs telling us to quit smoking, lose weight and exercise more?

It’s not a question of the quality of the care by therapists and RNs at the outpatient rehab center; if it were, it would be closed. 

The Sunday Enquirer carried a valuable column on Dec. 30 on what Ohio laws passed in 2012 mean. Picked up from the Columbus Dispatch, it’s a marvel of brevity and clarity and it proves there still can be substance inside the Sunday Enquirer Local section. 

In the Good Old Days, the Enquirer would fill local pages with “evergreen” stories written before holiday slow news days. If these timeless trivia weren’t used, they could be spiked or recycled for future fallow news days. Today, evergreens apparently have been tossed on the editorial pyre while this metropolitan daily’s diminished staff is filling its shrunken news hole with staff and reader pet photos. 

God help the Enquirer photographer who brings in a horizontal (“landscape format”) photo for page A1. It won’t fit. Formulaic layout has ads and promos bannered across the top and bottom, a deep multi-column vertical photo or graphic on the left and a little bit of news beside and beneath that photo or illustration. It seems to be the same every day, regardless of events. It hardly qualifies as design. Cover pages on the Local section fare no better. My guess? The format saves thinking every day about how best to present the news (“content” or “product”) for remaining page editors at some central Midwest location.

The Nation offers evidence-based insights into school shootings from Katherine S. Newman, coauthor of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings and dean of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins. 

For starters, teach kids it’s right, good and potentially life-saving to tell adults when other children or teenagers talk about killing, shooting, etc. Peers of potential killers are our best early warning system. 

Newman’s research also rebuts NRA’s grandiose goal of an armed “guard” in every school; most schools are unlikely to become killing grounds. She wrote:  

“These shootings tend to happen in small towns with no history of background violence rather than in big cities which suffer almost every other kind of brutal attack except this one. There has been only one example of a rampage school shooting in an urban setting since 1970. All the others have taken place in rural towns miles from places like New York or Chicago, or in suburbs in the Western states.”

Paducah, Ky., was one of the towns that her team studied after Goth-wannabe Michael Carneal shot five Heath High School classmates: three died, one is paralyzed and another was badly wounded. 

Newman’s research reflects that of many others in describing Carneal as typical of school shooters. He was a nerdy young white male who couldn’t make lasting friendships and never fit in at school or in his football-worshiping community. He was looking for acceptance and “shooting people is drawn straight from the Hollywood playbook that equates masculinity with violence.”

Carneal talked a lot about shooting and killing but no one risked being called a snitch by alerting his parents or adults at school. 

What Were They Thinking? Gannett’s Journal News in suburban New York went online with the names and addresses of handgun permit holders in two counties in its circulation area. The paper says it will sue to force a third county to provide that information. The paper claims the list and accompanying interactive map showing permit holder’s locations are a public service. Malarkey. Horse puckey.  Madness. So what if the data come from public records? So do names of men and women who claim to be victims of sex crimes. We don’t publish that. So what is a reader supposed to do with the handgun information? Cui bono?

Wingnuts spin wild fantasies about burglaries to obtain handguns from permit holders or burglars hitting homes where no one has a conceal/carry permit. My problem is different: it’s hard enough to wrest public documents from dim and self-serving officials. Decisions by the Journal News can’t help but undermine remaining public support for investigative/database reporting.  

The Enquirer, Louisville Courier Journal and Indianapolis Star also are Gannett papers.  I hope the Journal News'  perversion of First Amendment assertiveness doesn’t become a route to Gannett corporate rings for editors and publishers. (My name will appear if the Enquirer identifies permit holders in its circulation area. I took the class, passed the exam and obtained my permit for a cover story a year after Ohio allowed counties to issue conceal/carry permits.)

Anger over the Gannett paper’s online posting of names and addresses of handgun permit holders (above) quickly morphed into online retaliation. Some critics posted what they said was the home address and photo of Gannett corporate CEO Garcia Martore. Other Gannett execs’ home addresses have been posted and bloggers have listed home addresses and contact information for staffers at the Journal News. The paper has hired guards for its Westchester headquarters. If guards aren’t active law enforcement officers, they must have handgun permits and could be included in lists published by the paper. 

The daily Brattleboro Reformer bannered this headline across page 1 recently: “Let is snow, let is snow, let is snow.” Executive editor Tom D’Errico told romenesko.com that it was a “terrible, terrible typo. The night crew was short-staffed and we had an unusual last-minute early deadline with the storm marching in.” Later, he wrote in his blog: “I kept running over the reasons in my mind . . . of how or why a mistake like this can and does happen. But everything just sounded like an excuse. And the truth is: there is no excuse.” 

Ailing former President George H.W. Bush had one of those “greatly exaggerated” brushes with eternity recently. (That now-a-cliche expression originated in Mark Twain’s response to a reporter who confused him with ailing cousin James Ross Clemens. Snopes.com says Twain actually told the reporter, “The report of my death was an exaggeration” but  added “greatly” in a manuscript.)

Back to Bush the Elder. Houston’s WBAP-AM blasted an email saying, “The Death of a President: George H. W. Bush.”  Romenesko and Texas Observer reported that news director Rick Hadley blamed the error on a common practice among news media: “We get our obituaries ready to go for people who aren’t doing well.” When Bush entered a local hospital’s ICU, WBAP prepared an email blast for his death. Hadley said a problem with the email system sent the death message to about a third of the station’s subscribers. Thirty minutes later — after callers alerted the station to its misstep — WBAP quickly sent out a corrected email. Hadley said the bulletin was not read on the radio. 

WBAP was typical of smart news media: It updates obits of prominent men and women to avoid being unprepared when the inevitable occurs. Unfailingly, that’s on deadlines when staff is short and sources are unavailable because of holidays or late/early hours. These advance obits have blanks for timely details: age, cause of death, where the person died and a credible confirmation of death. Then they are filed in ways meant to prevent all-too-common premature release. 

That caution didn’t prevent Germany's respected news weekly Der Spiegel from mistakenly publishing Bush’s obituary in late December. AP said, “The unfinished obituary appeared on Der Spiegel's website for a few minutes before it was spotted by Internet users and removed.  In it, the magazine's New York correspondent described Bush as ‘a colorless politician’ whose image only improved when it was compared to the later presidency of his son, George W. Bush.”  A Der Spiegel Twitter feed said, "All newsrooms prepare obituaries for selected figures. The fact that the one for Bush senior went live was a technical mistake. Sorry!"

Years ago at UPI, we put out HOLD FOR RELEASE obituaries of leading figures worldwide.  Some of our client media saved the incomplete obits to await news of the death. Others removed mention of death and often published them as space-filling weekend feature stories.  

The Associated Press doesn’t send out advance obits as a practice but Dan Sewell, AP’s correspondent in Cincinnati, noted a different problem: the subject outlives the byline reporter. Last year, New York Times ombuds Margaret Sullivan wrote generally about obits after talking to obit editor Bill McDonald and touched on that problem: “Occasionally, the author of the obituary was already dead by the time the piece ran – Vincent Canby on Bob Hope and Mel Gussow on Elizabeth Taylor, for example. Mr. McDonald said that in most cases when an obit subject outlives the writer, The Times does a new piece. ‘But in select cases,’ he added, ‘we feel the obit is too fine to discard, particularly if it is by a writer who brings a certain authority to it.’ The Times assigns a live body to update the obit and, in the case of Mel Gussow, offered a note to the reader acknowledging the status of the author.”

We’ve all won another battle to hold cops accountable.  The American Civil Liberties Union sued to preempt Chicago police who object to an ACLU project on police accountability. ACLU wanted to make sure its employees wouldn’t be busted for recording officers’ words. The federal appellate court in Chicago said we all share a First Amendment right to record what police say to us. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Chicago police appeal, affirming the lower court ruling. Earlier last year, federal courts said we have a right to  photograph police in public. My guess is dimmer, bolder police everywhere will continue to arrest reporters who record their words and others who photograph their actions. That’s not futile. The possibility of an arrest record — even knowing the charge will be tossed by a judge or prosecutor — can be intimidating and leave cops free of scrutiny.   

Let Congress obscure methods and goals in naming legislation but reporters should challenge any legislator who  talks about “preventing” gun violence. 

We can’t prevent it. With some nuts among the 300-plus million living in this country and almost nonexistent mental health programs, some killers will find and use firearms on other people. We can’t prevent it. That we have hundreds of millions of firearms makes massacres even likelier. Reporters should press vote-seeking legislators on how their proposed restrictions will limit casualties from inevitable firearm violence. That brings us back to the 1994 restriction on high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic weapons. Hunting weapons and pistols for self-defense don’t need or use them.

 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 12.26.2012
 
 
enquirer

Curmudgeon Notes 12.26.2012

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

How a small weekly responds to an unimaginable disaster and scores a world scoop is a lesson in the best of journalism. Poynter online’s Julie Moos described what happened after Newtown Bee associate editor Shannon Hicks heard the initial call over her police scanner. 

Hicks drove the mile and a quarter and arrived behind the first dozen police officers. She started taking photographs through her windshield and captured her image of a line of children being led away from the slaughter. “I’m conflicted,” Hicks said about her photo. “I don’t want people to be upset with me, and I do appreciate the journalists, especially, who have commented, saying ‘We’re just documenting the news.’ It’s harder when it’s in your hometown and these are children we’re gonna watch grow up, the ones who made it. I know people are gonna be upset, but at the same time I felt I was doing something important.”

Fellow editor John Voket explained what was behind that image. “Police and school system have a protocol” for evacuation. “Children get into a conga line, shoulder to shoulder, and the only person that’s allowed to keep their eyes open is the locomotive at the front of the line, usually an adult. And every other kid has to keep their eyes closed from the minute they were exiting the classroom to when they got about a couple hundred yards into the parking lot.”

Voket arrived about 20 minutes later and colleague Hicks “passed the baton” to him. Hicks also is a volunteer firefighter. The firehouse is next to the school. “I literally put on my firefighter gear . . . I was there as a firefighter probably for not even more than 20 minutes before my editor said he wanted me back in the office to work with him to coordinate coverage from there.”

Voket continued reporting, but “We operate a little differently because our job is to take care of the community so we were inside helping to comfort victims and trying to provide human support without necessarily making reporting the No. 1 priority. The publisher came down to comfort some of the families a little later in the day.” R. Scudder Smith has been Bee publisher since 1973; he is the fourth member of his family to run The Bee since they founded it in 1877. The paper, which has a full-time editorial staff of eight, circulates to about two-thirds of the community of about 29,000. 

It was Friday and the weekly Bee front page was ready to print. It couldn’t be changed.  “We’ve been putting everything on our website,” publisher Smith told AP.  

Voket added that the traffic surge repeatedly crashed the website until the Bee acquired “an intermediary service to supersize our bandwidth . . . We got back up and running this (Saturday) morning.” The staff used social media to spread information about school lockdowns, re-routed traffic, and grief counseling. “Facebook and Twitter accounts have been a lifeline to our community and it shows because 20 percent of the community are following us.” The Bee also was  “looking at doing a special extra to be on the newsstands Monday.” 

For those of us outside Newtown, Conn., we can turn to the renewed duel over gun control. If it were a song, tired and familiar gun control lyrics would be among “Worst Hits Ever.” It didn’t take long for gun control advocates to embrace the Sandy Hook massacre and the bellicose NRA to opt for rare silence.  Obama renewed his unredeemed calls for gun control although he and Mitt Romney dodged the issue in the just-ended campaign. It was a hornets’ nest neither man opted to kick and reporters apparently were unable to raise with the candidates. 

After the Sandy Hook slaughter, fair and balanced Fox News banned discussion of gun control from the cable network. Maybe Fox News feared we really would decide if they really reported. New York magazine said the ban spotlights the “growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and [Fox News president] Roger Ailes.” Ailes reportedly is a gun enthusiast. Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., which owns Fox News, had tweeted a call for stricter gun control, imploring for “some bold leadership action” from Obama. 

Let me be churlish when everyone else is sympathizing with families, survivors and first responders. Slaughtering 20 children is awful, but reporters and editors are familiar with how badly Americans treat urban, suburban, small town and rural children every day. In Obama’s Chicago and many other urban areas, gunfire is an omnipresent fact of childhood. Possibly one-fourth of all American children live in poverty as defined by federal guidelines. For these kids, federally funded school meals might be more than a complement to home meals. Health care for poor and malnourished children isn’t much better than their educations. Medicaid is among the anti-poverty programs high on the GOP priorities for absolute cuts and/or reduced annual increases. And let’s not even get into continuing coverage of physical and sexual child abuse, trafficking minors and lifelong handicaps from poor or nonexistent prenatal care or maternal drug and alcohol abuse. 

Only foolish or ignorant reporters credit pious assertions that legislation can prevent disturbed individuals from obtaining guns and killing as many people as they can. There are more than 310 million people in this country. Some are or will become seriously mentally disturbed and obtain one or more of the hundreds of millions of firearms Americans own. A Columbine or Sandy Hook could happen again any day. 

Focusing on the shooting victims rather than shooters might reduce any copycat effect. Stories and photos elevating killers to celebrity have been blamed for further rampages. Even though the killer never was identified, that was the inference drawn from Tylenol poisonings 30 years ago; copycats tried to poison Tylenol capsules. When coverage began to fade, so did copycat crimes. 

NRA leaders realized years ago that traditional (and valuable) Eddie Eagle gun safety comics and courses were insufficient to motivate and keep members and their dues. Fear and anger would be more effective. Real and imagined government controls became NRA’s cause. Few modern American movements have been as durable and effective as the NRA. 

NRA is powerful because we are a democracy. It can mobilize more than 4 million members and fellow travelers as voters, donors and voices in the news media. Elected representatives who want to keep their jobs quite reasonably try to avoid the NRA’s opposition.  Gun control advocates evince nothing like this single-minded devotion to their cause. 

In 1994, the Clinton administration won a10-year limit on the sale of assault-style weapons and large capacity magazines for their ammunition. I went to a gun store in Hamilton to cover a rush to beat the ban. Chinese assault-style rifles and curved high-capacity magazines were selling as fast as staff could pry open crates. As I watched, the price rose $10 with each new crate: demand and supply. Men who talked to me said they were buying because of the imminent controls on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines. A few admitted fear of civil unrest or some undefined federal assault. Most said they wanted a military-style rifle for shooting targets or empty beer cans and this might be their last chance.That 10-year ban died in 2004 when Republicans owned all three branches of federal government and didn’t seek renewal. However, recent killings that required assault-style weapons with large-capacity magazines might prompt reconsideration of the ban. Adam Lanza reportedly carried hundreds of rounds of ammunition in high-capacity magazines. No one knows why he didn’t use them.

Any gun control measure that’s not DOA will have to respect millions of long guns — rifles and shotguns — used by hunters, farmers and others.  That distinction is an important part of this story already handicapped by the paucity of journalists who hunt or otherwise own firearms. 

In addition to an unfamiliarity with firearms, partisan hyperbole also handicaps writing about guns and gun control. It can be hard to find neutral sources who share reporters’ interest in accurate coverage. Stenographic reporting giving “both sides” isn’t good enough; journalists must know enough to challenge obvious partisan misstatements. We are not obligated to report what we know to be untrue or to label it as such. 

Unfamiliarity with gun control cropped up in a recent Enquirer story about a failed armed robbery attempt inside a suburban Sunoco station. Employees with a handgun and a shotgun fatally wounded the would-be bandit. The Enquirer story said it was unclear whether the employees had conceal-carry licenses for those firearms. Unless someone somehow cloaked a shotgun’s 18-28” barrel, no conceal/carry permit is required. Unless the other Sunoco clerk carried the pistol under his clothes, he didn’t need a permit. Wearing it openly or storing it under the counter does not require a conceal/carry permit. So what was the point of that line in the story? Just because a cop might have said it doesn’t mean the reporter had to share it. That’s what I’m talking about.

Missing in much gun control coverage is Congress’ inability to craft sensible, workable bipartisan gun control specifics that can survive NRA opposition and Supreme Court scrutiny. Firearm confiscation is out of the question. So is universal registration which raises NRA-orchestrated fear of confiscation — by ATF, the UN or some other demon de jour —  to hysteria. Moreover, the court affirmed an individual Second Amendment right to own guns in 2010 but it did not rule out federal, state or local regulations governing firearm use.  

Reporters faced with new rage over shootings should remind partisans that we have gun control already. Forty nine states issue conceal/carry permits but specify where those handguns may not be carried.  Illinois — State No. 50 — is under court order to replace its ban with  a conceal/carry permit system. Many if not most municipalities bar gun owners from firing their weapons within city limits with the exception of self-defense. States commonly limit when hunters can use rifles and/or shotguns and they can require a certain size bullet for large-game hunting. Landowners may bar hunters from their property during state-sanctioned hunting seasons.

There are federal limits on how short a “sawed off” shotgun or rifle barrel may be. There are laws limiting ownership of silencers and fully automatic machine guns and submachine guns. Federally licensed firearms dealers must run background checks on prospective buyers and turn away those who fail or won’t comply. Dealers can deny convicted felons a gun under federal and many state laws. A legal purchaser may not buy a firearm for someone who would fail a federal background check. Mentally-ill customers can be turned away by dealers. 

Few of the roughly 12,000 Americans shot to death annually are killed with shot with shotguns or rifles. They’re shot with pistols. So when gun control is promoted, reporters should press advocates to say what they mean: handguns. 

• Before reporters share the lunacy of arming teachers, ask local cops how many rounds typically are fired from their handguns in an armed encounter . . . and how many of those bullets hit their target. Not many. It's very, very difficult for someone trained even at the level of police to accurately fire when adrenaline is pumping. The teacher might end up shooting more students than the intruder. Better to count on the low probability of an armed intrusion. Think about how rare this is. Awful when it happens, but very, very rare, even in communities where other shootings are far more frequent.

 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 12.11.2012
Posted In: Media Criticism, Media, News at 05:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
enquirer

Curmudgeon Notes 12.12.2012

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

As much as I usually enjoy Krista Ramsey’s controlled, empathetic reporting and writing, I don’t understand why Enquirer editors wasted her talent and their limited space on their serial about a bank-robbing granny. Who cares? If I learned anything, it was from the front page dedicated to the start of the serial. It was pure, screaming tabloid and perfect practice for the day the Enquirer shrinks its page size again. 

The Enquirer discovered a foreign policy “expert” living silently among us for years. That’s their word: “expert.” He was outed on Monday’s page 1 in a lavishly illustrated story about his taxpayer-paid travels. It’s U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot. Face it, travel doesn’t make anyone an expert. If it did, Rick Steves should be our next Secretary of State. 

Here we go again. Our Enquirer carrier is supposed to deliver the Enquirer seven days a week and the New York Times Monday-Saturday. Last Wednesday, the Enquirer arrived but the Times didn’t. Times call center people in Iowa promised a replacement paper by 2 p.m. We’re still waiting. 

Thursday, there was no Times for the second day and, instead of a replacement Wednesday paper, the Enquirer carrier tossed a copy of the Wall Street Journal

I can’t invent this stuff. The WSJ is the only serious challenger facing the Times as a national daily.

Times people in Iowa promised a replacement Thursday paper. I’ve called so many times I can recite their script with them, including faux sincerity when apologizing for missed papers. 

I also sent another note to the circulation VP at the Times, using the email address on the paper’s website. (I couldn’t find any such person or email in the online list of Enquirer contacts. No surprise.) 

The Times circulation VP couldn’t happy about paying to deliver the WSJ. An aide called, saying he’d do all he could by phone. Not much. Actually, nothing. 

Friday, finally, the Enquirer carrier got it right: Enquirer and Times. That can’t last. The lapses are not new. 

Questions are being raised about foreign research involving UC and Henry Heimlich. UC News Record reporter Benjamin Goldschmidt said, “The study tested whether or not a modified version of the Heimlich Maneuver could stop an acute asthma attack or treat asthma symptoms without contemporary treatment. The subjects’ parents gave consent and the results reported no adverse effects, according to the study. The 67 children who participated were between the ages of six and 16.”

Goldschmidt said Heimlich’s son, Peter, is pressing the inquiry at UC and elsewhere. The younger Heimlich said that “Since at least 1996, based on dubious evidence, my father has claimed that the Heimlich Maneuver can stop asthma attacks, but asthma experts have expressed strong doubts . . . For example, in 2005, Loren Greenway, administrative director of respiratory and pulmonary medicine for Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City, told a reporter that using the Heimlich maneuver in an acute asthmatic condition … could actually kill somebody.”

Peter Heimlich said he targeted UC because Charles Pierce, adjunct professor of psychiatry at UC, was involved with applying for loans for the study in Barbados, an Atlantic nation between Haiti and Venezuela. He cited email correspondence in the Winkler Center’s Heimlich Archives at UC. 

The News Record quoted UC spokesman Greg Hand, who said the majority of Pierce’s work is done at Children’s Hospital, not with UC.   

Previously, Peter Heimlich raised questions about his father’s foreign experiments on malariotherapy, which seeks to prove that infecting people with malaria creates HIV-killing fevers. 

If you missed it, find last week’s page 1 New York Post photo of a man about to be killed by a subway train. 

Freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi said it is one of dozens he shot using his flash unsuccessfully to alert the driver about an emergency. A furor followed the Post’s decision to print his photo.

Photographers frequently are faulted for not intervening in violent or deadly situations. So let me offer a couple comments.

First, Abbasi had no duty to try to lift Ki-Suck Han to safety.  He says he wasn’t close enough, the train was coming, he was unsure whether he could lift the man. Others, closer, did not try to help. 

Whether photographers should set aside their cameras and get involved is a recurrent question. My answer is this: The greater the risk, the smaller the obligation to help. That’s how we get images of wounded and dying soldiers, people trapped in or rescued from bombed buildings, prisoners being shot, stabbed, torture, etc. 

That’s what photographers do. They show us what’s happening and in many situations, photographers would have been casualties if they’d try to intervene. 

An older colleague at the Minneapolis Star said a woman who survived the collapse of a downtown hotel complained that he photographed her instead of helping. My colleague sent her an autographed copy of the photo, inscribed, I recall, “Deadlines are deadlines, lady.” 

Second, the Post wasn’t wrong to publish the photo. I’m on the side of showing what happens when things go very, very wrong. War is ugly. So are traffic accidents, trench cave-ins and shootings here. Sanitizing does no service to readers/viewers who need to know what happened in a newsworthy event. Is the photo disturbing? Yes. But not so much as Ki-Suck Han’s death at the hands of a stranger who pushed him on to the tracks. 

Photographers often spend their lives known for one news photo: Marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi, a young woman screaming over the body of a student at Kent State, a starving Sudanese child watched by a nearby vulture, a South Vietnamese officer executing a Viet Cong suspect with one shot to the head. Some images win famous prizes. Some photographers build careers on their moments. At least one, Kevin Carter, bedeviled by what he’d seen among Sudanese famine victims, killed himself. Abbasi will not easily shake the image of his image of that subway death. 

The Dec. 8 Economist online has a cautious update on the declining newspaper industry, including Gannett, owner of the Enquirer. Included is a look at the ways pay walls like that at the Enquirer are succeeding where online content long was free. At some papers, online income finally is seriously compensating for income from lost print ad revenue.  But the Economist warns “Most important, a paper’s content has to be worth paying for, which is bad news for (unnamed) papers that have cost-cut themselves into journalistic wraiths.” 

I love a journalistic hoax. A top Chinese daily, People’s Daily, reported that “The Onion has named North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive for the year 2012.” 

Obviously unaware that the Onion is an American satirical website, Chinese editors copied it verbatim: “With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman's dream come true. Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper's editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.”

Radio pranks are nothing new. Years ago, when WNOP “Radio Free Newport” broadcast from an Ohio River barge, it would play recordings of prank telephone calls. One was to a railroad asking if the caller could use its engine roundhouse to play a huge Bobby Breen U.S. Steel record. Another asked a department store lingerie clerk about an Erin go Bragh, and I think, a Freudian slip. A supermarket customer insisted he properly assembled his “chicken parts kit” but it would only fly backwards. What should he do? The “Green Hornet” called a garage, supposedly servicing his Black Beauty car to ask when his Filipino houseboy Kato could pick it up. Finally, there was the soldier who called a McDonald’s with a detailed order for an entire Army reserve or national guard unit. The laughs, of course, came as recipients of the calls struggled to make sense of the queries until they realized they’d been had. 

Sometimes, however, a clever media hoax goes sadly wrong. That’s apparently what happened last week when Australian radio DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian fooled nurses at London’s King Edward VII Hospital into thinking they were the Queen and Prince Charles. They wanted to know how Kate was handling her severe morning sickness. 

In an early morning telephone call, Greig, impersonating the Queen, said: “Oh, hello there. Could I please speak to Kate please, my granddaughter?”

Thinking she was speaking to the Queen, immigrant nurse Jacintha Saldanha, on switchboard duty, replied; “Oh yes, just hold on ma’am.”

She put the call through to the nurse in the Duchess’ room. That nurse, so far unnamed, also thought she was speaking to the Queen and provided details about Kate’s health. 

The Sydney station, 2Day, heavily promoted its prank and broadcast it repeatedly. It became an international sensation; even the real Prince Charles was reported to have thought it funny.

Nurse Saldanha was found dead Friday, three days later. London police said they are not treating her death as suspicious. That means suicide or natural causes. British news media assumed suicide, suggesting Saldanha couldn’t deal with humiliation after 2Day’s recording of her embarrassing error went viral. The London Telegraph said “the two presenters who made the call will be questioned by Australian police following a request by Scotland Yard, which will gather evidence for an inquest.”

Elizabeth P. McIntosh was a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter writing for women in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. Editors killed her story, saying her graphic description of civilian victims would be too upsetting. Last week, the Washington Post published the uncut story with McIntosh’s recollections. It’s vivid, fine reporting, the kind of writing we seldom see today.   

An inexplicable failure of journalism honesty landed NBC in court. George Zimmerman, who admits he shot and killed unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, sued the network. He says NBC editing of his original 911 call defamed him and caused intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

NBC played the its reporter’s edited tape three times. On it, Zimmerman says, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. He looks black.”

But on the unedited tape, Zimmerman says, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” 

Then the 911 dispatcher says, “OK and this guy — is he white, black or Hispanic.” 

Only then, in response, Zimmerman said, “He looks black.” 

Neither the dispatcher’s question nor Zimmerman’s answer was racist. If a police officer was to be dispatched, it was important what the potential suspect, Trayvon Martin, looked like. 

Here’s a story I haven’t seen as we edge up to the fiscal cliff: how many billions are spent on fully employed people whose wages are so low that employers transfer their costs to the rest of us? Medicaid, food stamps, etc. aren’t limited to the unemployed or aged. And while they’re at it, reporters can tell us how much a full-time worker must earn to equal all of their taxpayer-supported benefits. 

And now, a birther alert. Ted Cruz, newly elected Hispanic and perfectly conservative senator from Texas, says his Canadian birth doesn’t disqualify him from a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. He told Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker, “The Constitution requires that one be a natural-born citizen and my mother was a U.S. citizen when I was born.” He could have added that Americans captured Canada 200 years ago in the War of 1812, assuring Donald Trump of Cruz’s eligibility. And hey! Americans then defeated Santa Ana at the Alamo.

 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 11.28.2012
 
 
enquirer

Curmudgeon Notes 11.28.2012

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

It was a double scoop when HUC Prof. Ben Zion Wacholder and doctoral student Martin G. Abegg Jr. released their bootleg translations of previously unpublished Dead Sea scrolls. 

Their highly accurate texts were created without seeing the scrolls and they shattered secrecy created by a cabal of scholars who for decades restricted other researchers’ and translators’ access to the ancient documents.

Steve Rosen’s recent Page 1 story in the Enquirer got that right. The other scoop was my 1991 Enquirer story reporting Wacholder and Abegg’s triumph. Our photo showed visually impaired Wacholder looking at a dramatically enlarged image on a Mac.  

Their ordeal had its origin in a promise by then-HUC president Nelson Glueck in 1969. He agreed to house 1000-plus photographic images of the scrolls lest something happen to the originals. He also agreed with scholars controlling access to the scrolls that no one else would see the HUC negatives while the original scrolls existed.

That included Wacholder. To his frustration, HUC honored that promise even after Glueck’s death and despite the growing international controversy over restricted scholarly access to many of the original scrolls.  

Today’s Biblical Archaeology Society website, biblicalarchaeology.org, recalled how Wacholder and Abegg got lucky in 1989. Chief editor of the scrolls John Strugnell sent a copy of a secret concordance of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Wacholder. It “consisted of photocopies of index cards on which every word in the unpublished scrolls was listed, including its location and the few words surrounding it.” It was their Rosetta Stone.

Wacholder and Abegg programmed the Mac to apply their knowledge of ancient literature to the data in the concordance. "I'm sick and tired of all this waiting," he told me at the time. 

In 1991, the society’s Biblical Archaeology Review published the reconstructions, breaking the more-than-40-year-old monopoly on the scrolls.

And when jealous scholars challenged the accuracy of the reconstructions, Wacholder was dismissive. "I'll match my knowing of the . . . texts - even blind — any of them.

Wacholder died last year. Abegg became professor and co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in British Columbia. 

I’ve described my fear that the Cleveland Plain Dealer — long Ohio’s best daily — will follow other Advance Publications into print obscurity.  PD journalists also heard the clatter of bean counters and created the Save The Plain Dealer campaign. Earlier this year, Advance — another name for Newhouse family publications — the New Orleans Times-Picayune as a traditional daily. It fired lots of journalists and now is printed three days a week to accommodate heavy advertising. Surviving journalists also work online every day. With that innovation, Newhouse made New Orleans America’s largest city without a daily paper. Smaller Advance dailies suffered the same fate. Poynter.com quoted an email from PD science writer John Mangels earlier this month:

The multi­media campaign will begin Sunday with a half­-page ad in The Plain Dealer, to be followed by bus and billboard ads throughout the city. TV and radio ads will appear soon. There will be mass mailings and e­ mailings to elected officials, political and business leaders and other people of influence. We’ll have a Facebook page with an abundance of content, a petition on Change.org, and a Twitter feed. We’re also working to organize community forums where we’ll discuss the future of journalism in Northeast Ohio, and the potential impact of the loss of the daily paper and much of its experienced news­gathering staff.”

Later, reached by phone, Mangels told Poynter that PD  management hasn’t said anything about Advance’s plans. “The only detail that we’ve been told by our bosses here is that major changes are coming, layoffs in some number are coming,” Mangels said. 

Have you noticed how GOP aspirants for the 2016 presidential nomination are using long-reviled mainstream news media (MSM) to distance themselves from Romney and his disdain for retirees, veterans, Hispanics, African Americans, and young adults? I love the GOP’s irony deficit. They’ve spent decades teaching True Believers that the MSM is an evil, liberal cabal, not to be trusted. Now, these same Republican 40-somethings want voters to believe what the mainstream news media tell them about their aspirations and sagacity. They’re also fleeing Romney’s transparent hypocrisy and its blowback; benefits to Democratic constituencies are meant to buy votes but benefits for GOP constituencies never, ever should be understood as a way to woo financial support or votes.  

Here’s an angle I haven’t encountered in post-election coverage: an almost inevitable GOP win in 2016. Not only is a second elected term unusual for modern Democratic presidents, but a third term for either party is rare. Since FDR in 1940, only popular Republican Ronald Reagan was succeeded by a Republican, George H. W. Bush. I’m not alone if my reading to liberal columnists is a fair indicator of grudging agreement. They want Obama to push through agendas they’ve advocated for the past four years and to find the cajones to fight for his nominations when they go before the Senate led by Kentucky Pride Mitch McConnell. 

Propaganda-laden cable news and TV/radio talk shows can lull angry, fearful partisans and voters into believing what facts refute. And I mean refute not rebut. Anything out of sync with those GOP media was rejected as MSM bias. Whether it was a Pavlovian response, delusional thinking or magical realism, the result was Republican candidates, consultants, strategists, voters and Fox News were stunned when state after state went for Obama. Carl Rove went into a spin of denial on Fox News as election returns came in; he believed what Fox News had been telling him for months: Romney in a walk.  What was that cliche, something about drinking the Kool-aid?

This from Eric Alterman in his What Liberal Media? column in The Nation: “They watched Fox News, read The Wall Street Journal, clicked on Drudge and the Daily Caller, and listened to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Karl Rove, Dick Morris and Peggy Noonan promise them that their Kenyan/Muslim/socialist/terrorist nightmare was nearly over. One election was all that stood between them and a country without capital gains taxes, pollution regulation, healthcare mandates, gay marriage and abortions for rape victims.”

Alterman continued: “The less wonderful irony involves the supporting role the mainstream media played in this un-reality show. Post-truth politics reached a new pinnacle this year as major MSM machers admitted to a lack of concern with the veracity of the news their institutions reported. ‘It’s not our job to litigate [the facts] in the paper,’ New York Times national editor Sam Sifton told the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, regarding phony Republican ‘voter fraud’ allegations. ‘We need to state what each side says.’ ‘The truth? C’mon, this is a political convention’ was the headline over a column by Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post ‘fact-checker.’ Yes, you read that right.”

How bad was it? Alterman quoted Steve Benen, a blogger and Rachel Maddow Show producer. He “counted fully 917 false statements made by Mitt Romney during 2012. Just about the truest words to come out of the campaign were those of the Romney pollster who explained, ‘We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.’ But not only did many members of the MSM give Romney a pass on his serial lying; they actually endorsed his candidacy on the assumption that we need not take seriously any of those statements the candidate had felt compelled to make in order to win the nomination of his party.”

In the expanding universe of online calumny, few American public officials or public figures strike back big time in part because of broad First Amendment protections available to defamers.  British libel law  makes it much easier for the victim to win. The latest target of false online vilification is Lord Alistair McAlpine. BBC implicated but didn’t name him in its spreading child abuse scandal. However, so little was left to the imagination that in Britain’s media/politics hothouse that McAlpine was named in myriad tweets. 

BBC quickly admitted error and paid him almost $300,000 to salve his bruised feelings. ITV — Britain’s Independent Television — followed BBC with apology and more than $200,000 for inadvertently accusing McAlpine of abusing children.

McAlpine is offering to accept a tweeted apology and modest payment from most of the tweeters. He’s less forgiving of  20 members of Parliament, journalists and other public officials and figures. They probably face costly libel actions in a country where it’s almost impossible for a defendant to win. 

Assume every microphone in front of you is “on.”  You don’t warm up with “There once was a man from Nantucket . . . “ on the assumption that mic is dead. Myriad public figures have ignored that Law of the Jungle to their pain. The latest is Jonathan Sacks, Orthodox chief rabbi of Great Britain, who delivers a “Thought for the Day” regularly on BBC radio’s  Today program. 

Here’s the Telegraph report and another statement from the overworked BBC apology machine. After Sacks finished and apparently assumed his mic was turned off, host Evan Davis asked, “Jonathan, before you go, you know, any thoughts on what’s going on over in Israel and Gaza at the moment?”

Lord Sacks sighed, before replying: “I think it has got to do with Iran, actually.”

Cohost Sarah Montague realized Sacks did not seem to know his remarks were being broadcast and she could be heard to whisper: “We, we’re live.”

Lord Sacks adopted a more formal broadcasting manner and suggested the crisis demanded “a continued prayer for peace, not only in Gaza but for the whole region. No-one gains from violence. Not the Palestinians, not the Israelis. This is an issue here where we must all pray for peace and work for it.” 

Later, BBC apologized for catching Sacks off-guard. A spokesman said: “The Chief Rabbi hadn’t realized he was still on-air and as soon as this became apparent, we interjected. (Host) Evan likes to be spontaneous with guests but he accepts that in this case it was inappropriate and he has apologized to Lord Sacks. The BBC would reiterate that apology.”

So far, I haven’t found a news angle beyond prurience in the Petraeus resignation. Yes, there could have been a national security issue, but once then-spymaster Petraeus went public about his extramarital affair, he couldn’t be blackmailed.  We’ll never know how well the CIA would have run under Petraeus, but turning it further into an almost unaccountable paramilitary force with its fleet of deadly drones killing Americans abroad and others would not have been in the national interest. We need a good spy agency. Killing people you’re trying to subvert and convert is a lousy game plan. 

Admiring and available women are no stranger to powerful public and corporate leaders. Generals are no exception. Neither are social climbers hoping to use them.  All that’s missing from the Petraeus soap opera is for some just-married junior officer to claim his general exercised droit du seigneur. 

We can wonder what their frequently mentioned Lebanese origins have to do with the Tampa twins’ roles in the Petraeus soap opera, or whether Paula’s arms are fitter and better displayed than Michele’s. After that, let’s get to the fun stuff: the ease with which law enforcement obtains our emails.  

And a belated Thanksgiving note. Somehow, I found a turkey on the Copperbelt in Central Africa where I was editing the new daily Zambia Times. I did my best to explain how to roast it with stuffing to the cook in the house I was caring for. He served it that evening with obvious pride. It was brown, roasted over open coal on a spit he’d tended for hours. The stuffing was special beyond my dreams: the sonofabitch had used the kosher salami I’d hoarded for months for stuffing. I thanked and praised him through clenched teeth and dug in. It was memorable. And awful.

 
 

 

 

 
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