A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge has denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser's request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages.
In an article published in the Advertiser on May 27, 2010 titled "Cop's suspension called best move for city," the paper implicated Miami Township police officer James Young, who years before had been mired in legal trouble for accusations of sexual assault that were eventually disproven, in its article discussing another sex scandal in the area.
According to court documents, in 1997, Young was initially fired from his job after a woman named Marcie Phillips accused Young of forcing her to perform oral sex on him while Young was on duty. An internal investigation revealed that the two had actually been engaged in a relationship prior and that Young had spent time at Phillips' house while on duty. The allegations, however, were entangled in questions about Phillips' character and concern that she could have been lying about the rape because the relationship between the two had recently ended on rocky terms.
When DNA testing on semen found on a rug in the woman's home proved that the DNA didn't match Young's, he was exonerated and reinstated to his position.
The Advertiser article explained that Young had been terminated for sexual harassment, immoral behavior, gross misconduct and neglect in the line of duty and also stated that "Young had sex with a woman while on the job," which formed the basis for Young's defamation suit.
The 2010 article dealt with similar accusations lodged against Milford Police Officer Russell Kenney, who pleaded guilty to charges that he'd been having sex with Milford Mayor Amy Brewer while he was on duty on multiple occasions.
Kenney was suspended from his position for 15 days, but was later reinstated even though Milford's police chief planned to recommend his termination to avoid having to use an arbitrator to dissect the case.
Although the article is attributed to writer Kellie Giest, the lawsuit revealed that the paper's editor at the time, Theresa Herron, inserted the section of the article that went to trial. According to court documents, Herron added the paragraphs about Young to Giest's story because she felt the article needed more context about why the city wanted to avoid arbitration.
According to court documents from the suit Young filed against the Gannett Satellite Information Network, Gannett responded the to initial complaint by acknowledging that the statement was a defamation of character, but that the statement was made without actual malice on the part of Herron. There is a high legal threshold for plaintiffs to establish a defamation claim, which require the plaintiff to prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt; for public officials, the threshold is even higher because they most prove that the offender acted with actual malice — in this case, knowing the claim about Young was false and printing it anyway — to win a lawsuit.
In its appeal, Gannett argued that Young, as a police officer, did not meet the threshold of a public official required to successfully establish a defamation claim and that Herron's inclusions were based on rational interpretations of documents on the case — even though Young denied having sex with plaintiff Marcie Phillips, he admitted the two had kissed and the arbitrator's report documented one instance in which Young was at Phillips' house while on duty.
In the court's opinion denying Gannett's appeal, Judge John Rogers writes that Herron admitted she had read the arbitrator's report from Young's case, which provided no evidence that Young and Phillips ever actually had sex at all.
"There was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Herron was well aware that the statement she added to the article was probably false," it reads. "Herron was also reckless in failing to conduct any investigation beyond the records of the original case. She did not seek out Young for comment, nor did she talk to anyone involved in his case."
As an example of IRS intrusiveness, the Enquirer reports that the Liberty Township Tea Party received a questionnaire demanding information the IRS is not allowed to seek. “The letter was signed by a local IRS official, who did not return calls seeking comment,” the paper initially reported. Who? Name names. If the IRS employee signed and sent an official government document, there’s no reason to grant anonymity.
Later in its initial full page A-section story, the Enquirer quotes Ohio IRS spokeswoman Jennifer Jenkins saying, “Mistakes were made.” By whom? Again, names, please. Americans increasingly favor the passive voice, “mistakes were made” but no one made them. If the paper pressed for names of mistake-makers, it’s not evident. And who was fired? Anyone?
The Associated Press — whose reporter broke this scandal story — says the Cincinnati mess is at least two years old. This isn’t new. We’ve seen IRS harassment of activists before and probably will again. Each time, it’s a scandal. Or should be.
Any loss of residual confidence in IRS nonpartisanship is a helluva lot more serious than the muddle surrounding the killing of four Americans in Benghazi or the murder of three spectators at the Boston marathon.
I’m sure it’s coincidence that the Cincinnati IRS harassment preceded the 2012 election. And I’m sure those employees were motivated only by zeal to protect the purity of the 501(c)(4) status from improper or illegal political activity. But I’m also sure that any agnostic or atheist Republicans are looking at this Cincinnati-born national IRS scandal as proof that “there is a God.” Now, to keep that wrath boiling with hearings until 2014 elections.
• The Associated Press says it’s the target of a sweeping Justice Department search for the news service’s confidential sources. Monday, AP reported the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors . . . in what the news cooperative's top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.
“The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of calls.
“In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”
Maybe it’s time to call in the Plumbers.
• I’m no fan of public radio’s Ira Glass. His whiney voice sends me to WLW 700 AM radio for something more insanely macho. Now, he’s shoveling natural soil enrichment in recorded promos for public radio fund raising. I heard them on WVXU-FM’s just-ended fund drive. His point: We should all be happy because everyone who listens to public radio helps support public radio. Not true. Never will be. At WVXU, fewer than 10 percent of us donate to its support. That means Ira Glass’s everyone are mostly parasites, listening but not paying. (Our family is a sustaining member of WVXU and WGUC . . . )
• How do our local news media track Macy’s commitment to ethical sourcing of its house-brand clothing from Asian countries where factory fires, collapses, etc., are just a cost of doing business? Contracts go where labor is cheapest. People work or go hungry. It’s only going to get worse when huge numbers of youngsters mature. Macy’s said the right things after hundreds died after a Bangladesh factory crumbled, but now it’s up to reporters to stay on the story.
• I glad Macy’s says it will continue to buy products made in Bangladesh. Pleasing writers of anguished Letters to the Editor and leaving Bangladesh in a virtuous huff doesn’t employ or feed anyone. I’ve been in and out of developing countries for half a century. Lots of cheap unskilled or semi-skilled labor feeds more families than one machine (that breaks and rusts unrepaired). Whether it’s subsistence farming, breaking stones with hammers for roadbeds, pedaling a rickshaw or laborers carrying building materials up ladders in baskets on their heads, it’s work that feeds. We can feel guilty, but walking away helps no one...else.
• BBC accuses the Plain Dealer of racist news judgment over stories about kidnapped young women freed recently after a decade of imprisonment and abuse. BBC based its provocative judgment on its count of stories about two of the three young women, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. “In Cleveland, the newspaper stories were mainly about the white girl,” BBC News Magazine reporter Tara McKelvey wrote. “In the 10 years Berry was missing, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper published 36 articles about her, according to a search of electronic news archive Lexis-Nexis. During the nine-year period that DeJesus, who is Hispanic, was missing, the newspaper published 19 articles about her case.”
This is typical of American news media where MWW (Missing White Woman) gets more coverage than black or Hispanic girls and women, according to academics McKelvey quoted.
But Chris Quinn, the Plain Dealer’s assistant managing editor/metro, rejects McKelvey’s accusation. He says it’s not only wrong but “based on an analysis so simplistic we would have thought it beneath an organization such as yours.” Quinn said his “much more thorough review” shows the reverse of the BBC tally. “The number of stories about DeJesus actually is greater than the number mentioning Berry, contrary what you assert. Your analysis did not include all variations of the DeJesus first name, a rather glaring lapse.”
Quinn continued, “Because of the racial aspect your network chose to focus on, we also included in our review stories about Shakira Johnson, a black child who went missing around the same time as Amanda and Gina. The hunt for Shakira was as big a community effort as the hunt for the other missing girls.” Here’s his tally:
Stories mentioning Shakira Johnson and not Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry: 145
Stories mentioning only Gina DeJesus (or Georgina DeJesus): 24
Stories mentioning only Amanda Berry: 17
Stories mentioning Berry and DeJesus together: 8
Stories mentioning Berry, DeJesus and Johnson: 6
Stories mentioning DeJesus and Johnson together: 2
And Quinn closed, “The suggestion that this newspaper has used race as any kind of filter in its story choices is offensive in the extreme. We’re shocked that such a poorly reported story could be posted by a network with your reputation.”
• You can thank Time magazine and writer Steven Brill for prying comparative hospital costs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Enquirer carried a sample for local hospitals.
According to Poynter.com, the journalism website, Brian Cook at the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tells Brill the move “comes in part” because of Brill’s article from March about health-care costs. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also offering $87 million to the states to create what she calls “health-care-data-pricing centers.”
Poynter continues, saying the centers will make pricing transparency more local and user friendly than the giant data file. Brill says the report “should become a tip sheet for reporters in every American city and town, who can now ask hospitals to explain their pricing...If your medical insurance requires you pay a percentage of a procedure’s cost, that’s very useful information.”
• When are reporters going to call their bluff when speakers wax lyrical about the joys of good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns? Instead of spreading these fantasies, interview people who train others in the defensive use of handguns. Or talk to police and military firearms instructors and combat veterans on how difficult it can be to overcome the normal resistance to shooting another person.
Look at news stories that describe how many rounds officers fired in armed confrontations; adrenalin does nothing to steady the gun hand or restrain how many times an officer pulls the trigger. And these are the best we have.
I’ve used handguns for more than 50 years. I passed the official Ohio 12-hour concealed/carry course for a CityBeat cover story. If anyone thinks that training prepared them to provide armed response in schools, movie theaters, malls, etc., they’re suffering a potentially deadly delusion. It’s time reporters began to add that context to the debate of guns in our society.
• College campuses are perfect for training student reporters. These schools typically are rich with conflicts of interest, executives with edifice complexes, misspent millions, and bureaucrats eager to escape blame or avoid offending alumni. The Columbus Dispatch reported this example last week about suburban Otterbein University, a United Methodist four-year school.
It said Otterbein agreed to stop requiring students involved in sexual-assault cases to sign confidentiality agreements because student newspaper journalists discovered it was violating federal law. After initially denying it, the Dispatch reported, an Otterbein official told reporters for the student newspaper that he didn’t realize Otterbein had had victims, as well as others, sign a nondisclosure clause.
“We just followed the bread crumbs,” Chelsea Coleman, a 21-year-old journalism and public relations major who wrote the Tan & Cardinal story with another student, told the Dispatch.
• One need not agree with Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman to appreciate his recent criticism of how news media handle stories involving expertise. In his New York Times op-ed column, Krugman singles out the Washington Post but he could have included many if not most news media.
Citing a controversial study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the Post warned that Americans are “dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.” Krugman pounced. “Notice the phrasing: ‘economists,’ not ‘some economists,’ let alone ‘some economists, vigorously disputed by other economists with equally good credentials,’ which was the reality.”
Reporters can be too eager to substitute formulaic brevity for accuracy: doctors say, psychologists say, weight loss experts say, police say, reporters say, etc. My advice: beware of any news story that identifies someone as an “expert” without a clear explanation of their expertise.
Here's how The Enquirer describes an Ohio Supreme Court decision allowing Democrats to challenge a ridiculous Republican attempt to unfairly redraw Congressional districts: “Court ruling throws 2012 elections into chaos.” Here's the same report by WLWT, minus the drama: “Ohio Supreme Court Allows Redistricting Challenge.”
CityBeat won four awards in various categories this weekend from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).
The awards were presented as part of the organization's 16th annual statewide competition for journalistic excellence. A luncheon ceremony was held Saturday in Cleveland's historic Flats district.
CityBeat competed in the category of newspapers with circulation less than 100,000, one of two categories in the awards program.
• London’s Guardian scored its first of two coups when it reported the Obama administration is collecting our cell phone records in the name of national security. The Washington Post followed with its story about spying through Internet sites such as Google. Both relied on the same source, one of thousands of private contractor employees with top security clearances.
• The Guardian’s second coup was its interview with the American who revealed that NSA cell phone tracking: Edward Snowden, 29. The Guardian called him a “former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.”
The paper said it named Snowden and published his online video statement at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, the paper said, Snowden eschewed the protection of anonymity.
"I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he told the Guardian, although he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing." That won’t be easy, he conceded. "I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me."
Still, he told the Guardian, "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in ... My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."
• Whistleblower Snowden is the civilian version of Army Private Bradley Manning, who gave military and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Both were low-level intelligence specialists with high-level security clearance. Both claim to have acted according to conscience, hoping to save rather than harm our nation. There is a difference, however, that I haven’t seen or heard in facile news media comparisons of Snowden to Manning or Daniel Ellsberg, an academic defense analyst who revealed the Pentagon Papers. Manning’s military and diplomatic cables and Ellsberg’s study of the Vietnam war were in the broadest sense histories. Snowden’s revelations involve current and future data collection and analysis.
• Mother Jones magazine/online also scored two scoops in recent days. It says the Justice Department wants to hide an 86-page opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court that says the government violated the spirit of federal surveillance laws and engaged in unconstitutional spying. Mother Jones’ bureau chief in Washington, David Corn, says the secrecy effort is a response to a Freedom of Information suit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
• In its second coup, Mother Jones says the FBI raided the Winchester, Ky., home of corporate cybersecurity consultant Deric Lostutter. As hacker KYAnonymous, he was instrumental in making the Steubenville rape case a national story. Mother Jones says Lostutter “obtained and published tweets and Instagram photos in which other team members had joked about the incident and belittled the victim. He now admits to being the man behind the mask in a video posted by another hacker on the team's fan page, RollRedRoll.com, where he threatened action against the players unless they apologized to the girl ... According to the FBI's search warrant, agents were seeking evidence related to the hacking of RollRedRoll.com ... If convicted of hacking-related crimes, Lostutter could face up to 10 years behind bars — far more than the one- and two-year sentences doled out to the Steubenville rapists.”
• Local news media embrace an uncritical “boost, don’t knock” approach to local festivals. Even so, they ignored a great photo op at the opening of Summer Fair. Hundreds of people stood in line in the Coney Island parking lot while two people — at one table — took admission money. Some people waited more than 30 minutes to get in. Parking was free, so no one knows how many potential customers took one look and drove away.
• A recent Enquirer cover story confirms what a lot of people have known for years: Go elsewhere for sophisticated cancer care. What’s news is the admission in a proposed UC major investment to bring advanced cancer care here.
• Another Enquirer cover story made my prehensile toes curl with joy. The Creation Museum is evolving to allow us to return to tree tops ... via zip lines.
• I’m still unhappy about NPR’s decision to kill Talk of the Nation carried here 2-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday. It was the nation’s best long-format public radio interview program, sort of a New Yorker of the air.
Starting July 1, WVXU plans to fill the newly vacant 2-3 p.m. gap with an expanded Cincinnati Edition using current staff as hosts. I hope it retains long-format interviews.
With its limited resources newly devoted to the expanded Monday-Thursday Cincinnati Edition, WVXU is ending Maryanne Zeleznik’s Thursday morning long-format Impact Cincinnati interview show and the staff’s Saturday and Sunday one-hour weekend Cincinnati Edition. There were good regular segments and I hope they’ll be woven into the new format.
To fill 3-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, WVXU is bringing in The Takeaway. WVXU says it’s is a co-production of WNYC Radio and Public Radio International, in collaboration with New York Times Radio and WGBH Boston. The Takeaway carries the tagline, “Welcome to the American Conversation.” We’ll see. Talk of the Nation set a very high standard.
• Sunday’s Enquirer Forum calls on Ohio to expand Medicaid despite a shortage of physicians and others to cope. In part, the paper notes, few med school grads choose primary care. Reasons aren’t that complicated. Relatively low salaries paid to primary care physicians mean docs will spend a good portion of their adult lives repaying loans that often began as undergrads and compounded while adding med school loans. Another reason is that Medicaid pays even less than Medicare for office visits and treatments. That’s helps explain why primary care docs aren’t better paid and some practices limit their Medicaid and Medicare patients.
The Enquirer should dig still deeper into related issues. Why should taxpayers provide health insurance (Medicaid or unpaid emergency care) to badly paid workers whose major employers provide little or no health care insurance? Why do we as a nation offer such niggardly support to med students that they opt for higher paid specialties which ease loan repayments? (This isn’t a personal beef. Our daughter, whose board certifications include family practice, went through medical school on a UC scholarship but many classmates graduated with life-limiting debt.)
• NPR had a long story on how jelly fish are multiplying at a rate that creates or exacerbates problems in the oceans. These prehistoric creatures survive, multiply and prosper without a spine or brain. Apt analogies encouraged.
• The cascade of information about NSA snooping has an unintended benefit. Pervasive federal intrusions no longer are “just a journalists’ thing.” Millions of Americans now know their cell phone calls and email/Internet data are being collected and analyzed by NSA computers and agents. This growing consciousness may provoke a groundswell that could provide brains and spine for Congress to correct police state legislation passed after 9/11.
• Eric Holder — still U.S. attorney general when this was written — is almost contrite about Justice Department grabbing reporters’ telephone and email records. He now says he won’t prosecute reporters just doing our jobs. Any journalist who accepts his assurance lacks the minimum skepticism required for our trade. Holder serves at the pleasure of a president whose antipathy to leaks recalls Nixon’s creation of the Plumbers.
• NKU dropout Gary Webb shared the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for San Jose Mercury’s coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Then he took on the CIA in his sometimes-overreaching 1996 Mercury series, Dark Alliance, which said crack cocaine was being sold in Los Angeles’ black ghettos to support CIA-supported contras in Nicaragua. The LA Times and others — including the NYTimes and Washington Post — were embarrassed by Webb and the nowhere San Jose paper. They went all out to discredit Webb and his findings. Webb’s errors and inadequately supported assertions gave critics their opening. Irrespective of the the national papers’ attacks inaccuracies and misdirection, they ruined Webb’s career and he committed suicide. Years later, even former critics acknowledged the generally substantiated core of Webb’s series: CIA ignored Contra cocaine smuggling and its spread of crack in U.S. inner cities. A movie is being made about Webb and the CIA series, Kill the Messenger.
• NPR’s Morning Edition described in broad detail an NSA data center going up outside Salt Lake City. Computers are so large and hot that they will need 1.5 million gallons of cooling water daily. I wish NPR told me where that water was coming from and where it would go after being used to cool the computers.
• With friends like this ... Aljazeera.com reports that Syrian rebels executed a 15-year-old Aleppo coffee vendor in front of his family because the killers thought a common Syrian retort was blasphemy. The youth apparently refused someone coffee on credit, saying, “Even if Mohammad comes down, I will not give it as a debt.”
meeting at Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate near Palm Springs, Calif.,
pricked my nostalgia. In the early 1940s, my father, an Army physician,
was stationed in Palm Springs. A visionary local developer offered Dad
some land. As our family legend goes, that friend assured my father that
“after the war,” Palm Springs would boom. Headed for combat in Europe
and uncertain what might follow, Dad said thanks, but no thanks. Oh,
well. If Dad had taken his friend’s offer, last week’s Obama-Xi meeting
could have been on a Kaufman desert hideaway, “10,000 Lakes.”
Newspapers all around the state — including The Cincinnati Enquirer, which labelled its article an “Enquirer Exclusive” (both The Toledo Blade and Columbus Dispatch ran a story with the same angle as The Enquirer)
— are really excited about a new poll that found Sen. Sherrod Brown
leads Josh Mandel in the U.S. senatorial race for Ohio’s seat by 7
percent. But the poll only confirms what aggregate polling has been
saying for a while now.
Contrary to the claims of Mitt Romney’s campaign, President Barack Obama does care about the work requirements in welfare-to-work reform. In fact, Obama is disapproving of Ohio’s program, which his administration says has not enforced work requirements stringently enough. However, most of the blame is going to former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, not Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.
The University of Cincinnati received a $3.7 million grant to increase the participation of women in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. The grant comes from the National Science Foundation, a federal entity that funds science. The grant could help current problems with science research. One recent study found scientists prefer to hire male students over female students, pay male students more and spend more time mentoring men over women.
Local homeless groups managed to get a hold of a $600,000 grant to aid homeless military veterans. The grant will provide financial assistance and job training for the currently homeless and vets at risk of becoming homeless.
The Cincinnati Enquirer is raising subscription costs by 43 percent — from $210 a year to $300 a year.
City Council will host a special session today to get public feedback and work on the new deal meant to prevent further streetcar delays. The meeting will be at 10:30 a.m. at City Council Chambers, City Hall room 300, 801 Plum St.
Ohio is a swing state, which means we get a lot of political ads during the campaign season. Are you tired of them? Well, politicians don’t seem to care. In 2008, both parties ran a combined total of 42,827 ads between April and September. In the same time period this year, the parties have run 114,840.
Citizens for Common Sense was formed to support Issue 4 on the November ballot, which changes City Council terms from two to four years. The initiative would let political candidates worry more about policy and less about campaigning, but some critics say it would make it more difficult to hold council members accountable.Research shows random promotions may be better for business. The study verifies the Peter Principle, which says many people are eventually promoted to positions beyond their competence.
• Court rulings allow the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s heir to own and control his “I Have a Dream” speech to the 1963 march. Anyone wanting to use more than a few words must pay. My first reaction was “WTF? It was a public event in a public place and a public speech to the public. That can be ‘owned’? Yup.
• Stenographic reporting of the so-called debate over whether to bomb Syria back into the Stone Age helps build acceptance for a new war. Similarly, assertions that Assad’s forces gassed civilians are repeatedly reported as evidence or proof.
As of this writing, reporters have quoted no top Obama administration official willing to offer evidence or proof. Instead, as evidence, we have unverified videos online and interpretations of what the images show. Reporters don’t tell us who provided death figures or who provided information that White House is using the claim Sarin gas was used.
• Meanwhile, the constitutional expectation that only Congress can declare war has suffered the same fate as the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable seizures and searches; dying if not dead.
Germany and Japan attacked us. Congress responded for the most recent time: 1942. Russia’s surrogate attacked our dictator across the 38th Parallel in 1950 and triggered the still-unresolved Korean police action. LBJ was conned or knowingly lied about reported 1964 attacks on American warships in the Tonkin Gulf and moved us into the undeclared Vietnam War. Luckily, Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in1990 and started Gulf War I. The CIA’s totally mistaken 2002 “slam dunk” assurance about Weapons of Mass Destruction was used by Bush to justify undeclared Gulf War II. After 9/11, Afghans sheltered Osama bin Laden before our allies in Pakistan sheltered him and that was used to justify our unfinished and undeclared war against the Taliban in both countries although the Taliban never attacked us. Let’s not even get into the invasion of Panama or Grenada or fiasco in Somalia. All that’s missing in this latest rush to bash a hornets nest is a repeat of the New York Times sycophantic reporting that Saddam Hussein had and would use weapons of mass destruction.
• If you want a weapon of mass destruction, how about the AK-47, the totemic Soviet assault rifle that is ubiquitous on every continent or the simple machete/panga with which millions have been and are being murdered and/or mutilated. No chemical, biological or nuclear weapon has killed so many people.
• When will some national reporter ask, “What’s surgical about a surgical strike?” Nothing unless we’re comparing it to carpet bombing a la Germany, Japan, Laos or Vietnam.
Other than assassinating Assad with a drone-launched guided missile — good enough for Americans in Yemen — any attack on Syria will create “collateral” damage. They used to be called innocent victims, sort of like French civilians killed by Allies’ D-Day bombing.
“Surgical strike” is a debasement of the language. I’m surprised that surgeons — whose marketing mavens constantly promote ever-smaller and more precise bodily invasions — don’t ask the Pentagon to abandon the phrase, “surgical strike.”
However, it’s no mystery why news media are willing, even eager to echo this desensitizing insider language. It recalls “RPG,” “IED,” “smart bombs,” “boots on the ground” and similar military language embraced by civilian reporters for their civilian audiences. Except those buzz words weren’t for civilian audiences; it was how reporters assured military sources that journalists were savvy and sympathetic listeners.
“Surgical strikes” serves us as badly as reporting unsupported assertions and assumptions as fact. Accurately reported bullshit is still bullshit.
• Accurate reporting requires context. Why is gassing hundreds of Syrian civilians in Damascus worse than shooting and killing as many or more civilians about in and around Cairo? Why is the killing and wounding of thousands in Cairo worse than endlessly raping, wounding, mutilating and killing millions of civilians in the horribly misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo?
• Our selective condemnation of poison gas recalls the 11th-century papal ban of the cross bow; peasant crossbowmen could kill armored knights from an unmanly and impersonal distance. That also was bad for the social order. Welsh bowmen faced no such opprobrium although their arrows killed far more mounted knights.
Jump ahead almost a millennium. There is debate on what is a chemical weapon and not all gasses — think tear gas — are poisonous. Poison gas was used infrequently but without sanction during the past 100 years.
Germans and the British gassed each other during World War I. Communists were accused of using poison gas during Russian Civil War. Italians gassed native troops in Ethiopia in the 1930s in years when colonial powers were suspected/accused of gassing rebellious native troops. Japanese gassed Chinese during early World War II. Egyptians gassed Yemeni forces in the 1960s but Americans denied using toxic/blister gasses in Vietnam and Laos. Iraq deployed lethal gas against its own people and Iranian forces in the insane Iraq-Iran 1980s war. Politicians and UN officials fulminate against gassing civilians but they only remind us how selective agony and journalism can be.
• No less authority than President Obama relegated the comparative to the dustbin of grammar. His speech at the Lincoln Memorial last week praised King and other civil rights activists, saying “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair.” True, but I’ll bet King would have said, “freer and fairer.”
• Everyone’s lauding David Frost’s evocative interviews with disgraced Richard Nixon after he resigned the presidency. He died after a heart attack on Saturday.
My memory of Frost is different: TW3, the original That Was the Week that Was on BBC TV. It was as irreverent as posh Brits from Oxbridge could be and Frost was a central figure in its creation in 1962 and weekly broadcasts until it was cancelled to avoid criticism as the 1964 general election neared. Two skits stand out in my memory, in part because my Saturday night duties at UPI included watching and filing a story on anything newsworthy that TW3 did/said.
The first showed an otherwise empty set with seemingly naked Millicent Martin, then young and drop-dead lovely, astride and leaning over the back of a curvy, modern Arne Jacobsen chair. It was the same pose call girl Christine Keeler used when photographed during the scandal over her affair with government minister John Profumo. You can see the original Keeler image at www.vam.ac.uk. Martin resembled Keeler just as Tina Fey looked like Sarah Palin. Martin looked straight at the camera and said something like, “John told me I was sitting on a fortune.” That was it. Perfect lampoon but there was no way to use that skit on UPI’s wire.
The second memorable skit followed the apparent TW3 and BBC late night sign-off. A De Gaulle look alike, right down the uniform and kepi on his head, addressed the Brits contemptuously over some strategic or diplomatic blunder. Then the broadcast ended. That skit was newsworthy. BBC said its switchboard operators — remember, this was the early 1960s — were overwhelmed. Seemed the perfect jab at the Establishment by its children fooled a lot of Brits; they thought BBC really had broadcast a De Gaulle speech.
• On a celebratory note, authorities dropped charges against Tim Funk, religion reporter for the Charlotte Observer, who arrested while he interviewed “Moral Monday” demonstrators at the Statehouse in Raleigh, NC. He was charged with second-degree trespass and failure to disperse.
Tim’s a Northern Kentuckian and among the ablest of decades of my undergraduate students. After the local prosecutor came to his senses, Tim told the AP, “It was clear to everyone there that I was a news reporter just doing my job interviewing Charlotte-area clergy about how they felt about being arrested. The reporter’s job is to be the eyes and ears of the public who can’t be present at important public events like this protest. That’s all I was doing.”
When his June 10 arrest was reported, at least one respondent noted that Tim was among the first detained, stopping him from seeing how police handled demonstrators.
His editor, Rick Thames, told AP, “This is clearly the right result, and we congratulate the district attorney for making the right decision. Tim Funk was working as a journalist inside the most obvious public building in our state. The videotape of Tim’s arrest demonstrates clearly that his only purpose in being there was to provide our readers a vivid firsthand account. He was clearly not obstructing the police. It’s hard to understand why he was arrested in the first place.”
• Cincinnati taxpayers need to know more about competing — and inescapably costly — plans to overcome years of city council shortchanging the city pension fund. The news isn’t good. As the Enquirer’s James Pilcher put it Sunday, “if every man,woman and child living in the city of Cincinnati contributed $2,000 apiece, it still wouldn’t be enough to fill the plan’s current $870 million gap.”
There’s a timeline with his explanatory story that screams for elaboration: What, if any, roles did mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley play in council decisions to deepen the pension debt?
And I howled at the quote from state auditor Dave Yost: “ . . . the city is in a fork in the road . . . And I’m concerned Cincinnati is not doing enough to avoid going down that fork in the road.”
Don’t try this at home. Sort of like standing with a foot on each side of a barbed wire fence. Reminds me of a friend who’d look right, point left and say, “Go this way.”
Maybe with Yost’s sense of direction, Cincinnati should consider the road not taken.
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.”
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?
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’.”
His colleagues in the ANC are preparing the country for his death and the news media are full of calls for prayer, admonitions against futile hopes for recovery, and assurances that Mandela is getting the best care possible without making him miserable and sicker.
If he's died since I wrote this on Tuesday, he lived a life of dignity and service. By example, he led South Africans of all races and ethnicities into a post-apartheid era with good will and high, if unreal, hopes that someday, the wrongs of apartheid might be erased.
For more than 50 years, I’ve followed his career with an interest that few others provoked. My active appreciation began during graduate school in London where I prepared for a career in Africa. Mandela, Sisulu and others were heroes of the anti-apartheid movement. Their efforts to end violent, toxic white minority rule in South Africa was companion to the growing momentum for independence in Europe’s African colonies, protectorates and overseas provinces.
“Winds of change” was shorthand for all of this but no one expected it to blow away the racism and segregation of South African apartheid.
That so-called “separate development” of South Africa’s various racial groups was even, then, anything but development. If anyone doubts it, look at the generations impoverished by separate education and training and how this burdens the aspirations of today’s black majority.
By the time I reached Southern Africa in late 1963, Mandela and others were on trial, accused of sabotage and conspiracy. Blacks, whites and Indians, they were leaders of the armed wing of the African National Congress. In plain words, they were revolutionaries. In mid-1964, all were convicted and most were sentenced to life in prison. They could have been executed. Mandela already was in prison, convicted of illegally leaving (and re-entering) the country.
Our weekly Zambia News and then daily Zambia Times — hundreds of miles to the north — were able to report with freedom unknown in South Africa. We benefited from the freest journalism in Southern Africa, including Southern Rhodesia, Southwest Africa, and Portuguese Mozambique and Angola.
When Mandela dies, it’s going to be fascinating to see what obits and commentaries focus on: terrorist, lawyer, prisoner, statesman, president and like Cincinnatus, a leader who walked away from power.
• Tim Funk, one of the best student journalists I was lucky enough to teach, was arrested recently for not moving swiftly enough to please cops in North Carolina.
The Charlotte Observer’s religion reporter, Tim was covering a local demonstration by local clergy at the state legislature in Raleigh.
Tim is saying nothing, under orders from his bosses, until after his mid-July court appearance. However, his paper said authorities claimed Tim, “who covered the statehouse in the 1980s, failed to move away from a crowd of about 60 that was demonstrating and peacefully surrendering to arrest.” He “was handcuffed and taken along with the arrested protesters to the Wake County magistrate’s office to be arraigned on misdemeanor charges of trespassing and failure to disperse.
“Jeff Weaver, police chief for the General Assembly Police in Raleigh who oversaw the arrests, told The Associated Press that Funk did not heed a warning from officers to disperse before the arrests began.” The paper said Tim was released late that same night.
“We believe there was no reason to detain him,” said Cheryl Carpenter, Observer managing editor. “He wasn’t there to do anything but report the story, to talk to Charlotte clergy. He was doing his job in a public place.”
One online reader commented that it probably was no accident that Tim was among the first arrested; that assured he could not report how police dealt with demonstrating clergy. Readers also noted how zealous police tested federal constitutional guarantees with their orders to disperse: freedom to assemble and petition government and freedom of the press.
• A 2012 survey of almost 900 American TV journalists found roughly 20 percent showing signs of burnout and uncertainty whether they will remain in the industry.
Scott Reinardy, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, said TV news staffs increased by 4 percent, revenue was up, and stations were producing more content than ever before, often as much as 5 1/2 hours more per day. “I wanted to see how all of that played into burnout,” Reinardy said.
The KU press office reported his study. He said that questions about exhaustion, cynicism and professional efficacy found that respondents who reported higher levels of exhaustion also reported lower levels of organizational support, while those who reported higher levels of professional efficacy — or satisfaction in their jobs — reported higher levels of organizational support.
Reinardy reported that 81 percent of his respondents said they work differently “than a few years ago.” Many have increased social media responsibilities, are expected to produce content for multiple platforms and have more frequent deadlines.
“Many said, ‘I can’t do this much longer,’” Reinardy said. “You’re probably going to see the TV business get younger, a little more inexperienced and, as a result, there will be a loss of institutional knowledge, which doesn’t bode well for community journalism at any level.”
• I’m waiting for conservative pundits to wonder aloud how Republicans can tell us to trust the National Security Agency while assuring us, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." I guess it’s the same mental gymnastics that reporters find when legislators kill money for family planning and do all they can to assure that low-income women can’t get abortions.
• A good sex scandal ages well even if protagonists don’t.
In the early 1960s, party girl Christine Keeler almost brought down the British government. She shared beds of British Secretary of State for War John Profumo and a Soviet spy, naval office Yevgeny Ivanov.
At the time, there were public assurances all around that her activities were sexual, not Cold War espionage; pillow talk was erotic, not nuclear.
Now, the London Daily Mail says Keeler’s new book includes her admission that she helped her friend, society osteopath Stephen Ward uncover secrets about missile movements in the West that were later passed to the Soviets.
“However I dress it up, I was a spy and I am not proud of it. The truth is that I betrayed my country.”
The Sunday Mirror also quotes Keeler as saying, “The Establishment was far more interested in painting it as a sex scandal and chose to ignore claims of a widespread spying network. Far better that the Establishment be caught with its pants down than involved in stealing secrets. That was the thinking.”
Osteopath Ward, who introduced young women to rich and powerful men, often at country houses, committed suicide as he became the scapegoat in the scandal.
I was at UPI in London at the time. Keeler is right. There was a political/aristocratic Establishment and its first concern was its own survival. For months, we treaded lightly as we reported seemingly unrelated events without connecting them in fear of ferocious, costly libel laws.
But the unreported stories we heard and traded proved to be less salacious than the facts as they came out. Profumo probably would have escaped with modest embarrassment had he not been caught lying to the House of Parliament about the affair. That breach of the Establishment’s expectations of a Gentleman, and not widely held suspicions of Soviet espionage, brought him down.
Morning Edition on NPR included the kind of remark that fuels
conservative conviction that public network is a coven of Lefties. The
host was asking a foreign reporter about the different responses of
Turkish and Brazilian leaders to ongoing street protests. After the
reporter offered the political context for the seemingly accommodating
reaction of the Brazilian president, the host suggested that the Turkish
prime minister hadn’t responded to young protesters there. First, the
host was wrong. He responded. Second, it was obvious that the Turk’s
response wasn’t acceptable to the NPR host because it was hardline
rather than accommodating.