Roger Clemens’ mistrial last week recalled a similarly weird situation caused by my Enquirer story landing atop Page 1 of fellow Gannett paper, USA Today. It, too, presented jurors with evidence the judge had barred from court. And as in the Clemens trial, the question was whether that created a potential mistrial.
The latest Enquirer purge — ordered across scores of papers by owner Gannett — took good people. So did earlier rounds. Because of her speciality, one victim stands out in last month’s dismissals: Peggy O’Farrell. Management’s decision that readers don’t want or need informed, local medical news leaves me wondering if undiagnosed dementia afflicts Enquirer executives.
Racism and rants on talk shows at WLW (700 AM) are bred in the bone but morning host Doc Thompson raised the standard for anger and ignorance when he derided Goshen College’s decision to bar “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the college’s sports events. I could almost hear the spittle when he referred to Goshen’s “liberal arts” or “art professor” but what struck me most was his willful ignorance of what it means for Goshen to be a Mennonite school.
I don’t know or care whether my university has winning teams. I have a life, something that Ohio State University fans need to get. Too many lack a sense of reality over the resignation of football coach Jim Tressel. Among the remnant who read, many are bombarding student journalists at OSU’s Daily Lantern with abuse and death threats.
We’re headed into Memorial Day weekend and I hope The Enquirer resists any inclination to repeat the pratfall when the newspaper tried to give holiday water safety advice. It was a beaut: How to use the Heimlich Maneuver to resuscitate a standing victim pulled from the water. Think about it. Your “patient” is standing. How close to drowning is that?
We first saw a photo from the White House situation room with everyone looking intently at something we couldn’t see. About the same time, White House spokesmen said a live TV feed was coming from minicams atop the SEALs’ helmets. Were the president and others watching bin Laden being shot? Was Hillary’s hand-to-face gesture a response to a killing? If yes, how did we got such a phony story about his armed resistance? They would have known better.
Few encounters are more difficult for reporters than trying to interview people living, at least in part, in some alternate universe. I’ve dealt with otherwise seemingly reasonable people who hold beliefs or embrace misinformation with certainty and passion that are impervious to skeptical questions. It’s especially troubling when covering controversies involving public policy.
I was The Enquirer’s environment reporter who handled stories about the partial meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island (1979) and the nuke that never was, Cincinnati Gas & Electric’s Zimmer Nuclear Power Station (d. 1980s) in Clermont County. Reporting Three Mile Island and Zimmer was hellish but perfect practice for the mess we encountered at the federal government’s Fernald uranium processing plant in northwest Hamilton County. Sorting that out won our team a Pulitzer nomination.
South Africa today leaves me feeling like Rip Van Winkle. It’s as if I went to sleep in the mid-20th Century when this nation suffered under a violent, racist white minority government and its Apartheid policy of color-defined racial segregation. Each morning now, I wake up in the 21st Century South Africa, ruled by a freely elected multiracial government and its third black president. I won’t parachute in and play network anchor as instant expert on the “new South Africa.” Rather, I want to talk about some of the ways the issues of race arise or erupt in the news media. There is candor Americans could learn to emulate.
I’m back in Southern Africa for the first time since colonial 1965, when I was here as a journalist. In the 1960s, black rule was rare, an aspiration of increasingly restive black majorities. Most publications were aimed at white minorities. Broadcast was government owned or controlled. The papers I joined set out to be different; we supported black majority rule and aimed our papers at a multiracial audience.