CityBeat Blogs - Ethics http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-133.html <![CDATA[Gannett Weekly Loses Appeal in Defamation Suit]]>

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."

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff ]]> Ohio energy provider FirstEnergy, who last June won a bid to provide Cincinnati with “100 percent green” aggregated energy, was fined $43.3 million yesterday by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for grossly overcharging its customers for renewable energy credits, or RECs. The issue dealt with FirstEnergy’s overcharging of customers across Northern Ohio from 2009-2011, so new FirstEnergy customers in Cincinnati are unaffected.

A Cincinnati spine doctor, Abubakar Atiq Durrani, accused of performing millions of dollars worth of unnecessary surgery on unsuspecting patients was indicted yesterday for five counts of health-care fraud and five counts of making false health-care claims.

Staff members of the Cleveland Scene yesterday snatched up the Twitter handle @PlainDealer after the Cleveland daily accidentally forgot to claim/reclaim it along with @ThePlainDealer. The Scene earned a delivered case of Great Lakes’ Oktoberfest and a six-pack of PBR in ransom.

Hamilton Country fares worse than Ohio overall when it comes to the economic well-being, health, education and safety of our children, according to a report released Aug. 7 by the Children's Defense Fund and Annie E. Casey Foundation. Although median income is higher in Hamilton County than the statewide median, our rates are worse in child povery, fourth-grade reading and math proficiency, felony convictions and the amount of babies with low birth weights, an early sign of bad health.

If you don't have anything nice to say about living in North Korea, you will get stuck working in a coal mine. Last week popular stand-up comedian Lee Choon Hong was sentenced to an indefinite period of hard labor in a COAL MINE after she told a bad joke that "satirized" aspects of North Korean society. She was apparently yanked off statge in the middle of her performance and sent straight to the mine without the chance to say goodbye to her family.

This week in news: The historic building that houses the Emery Theatre is threatened by controversy between the owners of the building, the two organizations that run it and the nonprofit group The Requiem Project, who was billed in 2008 to program the theatre and raise money for the its renovation.

Last week the Requiem Project sued the University of Cincinnati, which owns the building, Emery Center Corporation and Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP), for violating a "letter of intent" and attempting to forcefully evict Requiem from the building, although its leaders, Tara Gordon and Tina Manchise, say they've never been told why they've been "backed into a corner."

A public housing project in Paris is the subject of an experimental heating project through which the warmth generated by human bodies milling around a nearby Metro station will be used to heat the building.

This intern for NextMovie.com fucking cited every single line of Mean Girls by heart in less than 30 minutes.

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<![CDATA[FirstEnergy Penalized $43.3 Million for Overcharging Customers ]]>

On Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio unanimously ruled that Akron, Ohio-based energy supplier FirstEnergy Corp. must credit its Ohio customers $43.3 million for overcharging for renewable energy credits (RECs) from 2009-2011 that it purchased from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.

RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy credits that represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sourced from an eligible renewable energy resource. First Energy Solutions is an energy generator and supplier, while First Energy Corp. is an electricity distributor, which means that it sources its electricity from elsewhere, which requires them to issue bids seeking the most competitively priced energy from a supplier such as First Energy Solutions.

According to the First Energy Corp. website, First Energy Solutions is the competitive subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. Both suppliers are based in Akron. An audit conducted by Exeter Associates Inc. revealed that FirstEnergy Corp. paid 15 times more than any other company in the country to purchase the RECs from FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Corp. passed that overcharge onto consumers. 

In a copy of the order issued yesterday by the PUC obtained by CityBeat, it states that, "The Companies contend that, given the nascent market, lack of market information available to the Companies, and uncertainty regarding future supply and prices, the Companies' decisions to purchase in-state RECs were reasonable and prudent."

In summary, FirstEnergy contends that because it was scrambling to find a way to meet the state's Clean Energy Law requirements, it had to buy these RECs no matter the cost, and that there are no legal specifications within the Clean Energy Law that requires RECs be purchased or sold at market price; and that the costs issued to them, and subsequently, customers, weren't unreasonable.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel, however, says that there were cheaper alternatives available and that FirstEnergy should have checked with the PUC prior to paying 15 times more for RECs than any other country had in the past. If they'd rejected the exorbitant bids, says OCC, and instead consulted with PUC and OCC, they could have come up with a solution to prevent from charging customers excessively high rates.

In June 2012, FirstEnergy Solutions was the winning bidder in Cincinnati's energy aggregation program, which is supposed to allow us to receive lower "aggregate" rates for buying in bulk. At the time, FirstEnergy touted the merits of its "100 percent green" energy supply, sourced from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources. The bid was expected to save homeowners around $133 annually.

What enabled FirstEnergy to provide the "clean" energy was its use of a system with non-tangible renewable energy credit (RECs) that each represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sources from a renewable energy resource.

Purchasing the credits from its subsidiary allows FirstEnergy Corp. to meet the state's renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2025 all Ohio utility companies provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources.

Because the lawsuit issued by the PUC examines only the amount paid for RECs during compliance periods between 2009 and 2011, Cincinnati customers who switched to FirstEnergy Solutions last June should not be affected, although the FirstEnergy arms' ambiguous behavior, says Dan Sawmiller, a Sierra Club member who manages Ohio's Beyond Coal campaign, is a likely indicator that the company may be engaging in other unethical practices related to consumer transparency. 

The company has not been devoid of controversy in the past. In March, CityBeat reported on state environmental groups' concerns with the movement to lower requirements for defining renewable energy and energy efficiency; FirstEnergy was part of the bloc working to weaken Ohio's Clean Energy Law in hopes of keeping corporation costs low. FirstEnergy was also chastised by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2009 for distributing and charging customers for energy-efficient light bulbs without receiving customers' authorization.

Sawmiller commended the PUC for fining First Energy, although he suggests the fine is likely modest for the actual damages. He still expresses concern about the need for corporate separation between the two FirstEnergy arms. "
The commission left much to be desired in terms of transparency, leaving customers in the dark about what types of renewables are being provided, where are they coming from and at what cost," says Sawmiller in Sierra Club's press release.

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 6.26.2013 ]]> I hope Nelson Mandela is alive and healing when you read this. He’s an old man with a persistent and probably lethal lung problem born from decades in prison. 

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. 

Tuesday’s 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.

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 6.12.2013 ]]> The Enquirer’s MasonBuzz.com wasn’t honest with readers about the source of its story promoting “National Heimlich Maneuver Day.” It was posted by a reporter but carried the byline of Melinda Zemper. She’s not a reporter and she wasn’t identified as a “contributor.” Zemper is public relations professional whose clients include Heimlich interests. She was helpful when I sought out Phil Heimlich for a story recently. That’s her job. So is providing copy ready for publication. With so few reporters and editors, news media are evermore open to such PR material as “news.” Traditional journalism ethics requires that we be told the writer’s underlying interest in the story if it’s not by a reporter or contributor. MasonBuzz.com failed that test.  

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.” 

Obama’s 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.”

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<![CDATA[Trial Begins for Pregnant Teacher Fired by Archdiocese ]]>

The Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati has been mired in quite a bit of trouble over the past several years for its morally outdated (and unjust) policies, and now one of the allegations has reached the courts. Today marked the second day of juror hearings in a schoolteacher's lawsuit against the Archdiocese and the two schools from which she was fired for violating her civil rights.

In 2010, schoolteacher Christa Dias, a single, non-ministerial employee at both Holy Family and St. Lawrence Schools, parochial schools owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, became pregnant via artificial insemination. At five and a half months pregnant, she asked her employers for something millions of U.S. women ask for every year: maternity leave.

She got more than she bargained for, though, when her employers fired her, assuming Dias had engaged in premarital sex (one of the many "moral" no-nos in the Catholic Church — for women, at least). She was informed that she was let go because she'd violated a moral clause in the Catholic doctrine that she'd agreed to adhere to when she signed her employment contract, which, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, makes it okay to discriminate when the discrimination falls under something called "ministerial exception" —  a pesky and vague part of civil labor laws exempting religious policies from some basic rules for equality in the workplace.

Ergo: Women who are fired by the Catholic Church for getting pregnant face unfair discrimination because men aren't held to the same standard. Obviously, it's impossible to detect whether or not single male employees are engaging in premarital sex (but they probably are). The basis of Dias' lawsuit is that that little gender caveat is an inherent for of discrimination against women because women and men aren't held to the same moral standards.

Although her employers originally told her she was fired for premarital sex, they later retracted that assertion and said that the use of artificial insemination was immoral, also a violation of the Catholic doctrine.

According to the AP, Dias today told jurors she didn't realize that artificial insemination was a violation of church doctrine or that having the procedure could get her fired. The archdiocese's attorney, Steve Goodin, says that Dias was not discriminated against because she signed a contract that clearly commanded she abide by the Catholic doctrine.

CityBeat reported on a similar case of discrimination by the Catholic Church earlier this year ("Unforgiven Offenses," issue of Jan. 9, 2013), which detailed a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio by former schoolteacher Kathleen Quinlan, who was also fired from her non-ministerial position at Ascension Catholic School in Kettering, Ohio, in December 2011 after she approached her principal, told him about her pregnancy and offered to work behind-the-scenes until she gave birth. 

Again, her employers and the Archdiocese used the "morality clause" to defend their position.

And then there was Johnathan Zeng ("Gays, Even Christians, Need Not Apply," issue of June 13, 2012), who was offered a job as a music teacher at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (CHCA) Armleder School after two weeks of discussions; Zeng even put on a teacher demonstration in front of a third grade class. When a board representative asked him point-blank if he was gay, Zeng told the truth: yes, he was gay. All of a sudden, Zeng was out of the running, even though he was already pinpointed as the most qualified applicant.

The outcome of Dias' case could set a major precedent for courts ruling on ministerial exception in the future. Last year, the Supreme Court ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, courts sided with the church in a fired teacher's discrimination lawsuit, ruling that because she had some religious duties as a teacher, federal discrimination laws didn't apply.

Some local Catholics, at least, are firing back against the archdiocese's archaic policies; recently, Debra Meyers was ordained as Cincinnati's first female Catholic priest by the Association of Roman Woman Catholic Priests, despite opposition from local Catholic leaders and the Vatican. Read our interview with her here.

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 5.1.2013]]> In a disturbing decision, public radio’s Radiolab (WVXU-FM 8 p.m. Sundays) gave Cincinnatian Phil Heimlich critical control over its March 5 program on Phil’s dad, Henry Heimlich. 

Phil arranged the interview with the aging physician, for whom the Heimlich Maneuver is named. However, producer Pat Walters had to promise to exclude the voice of Phil’s estranged younger brother, Peter, from any subsequent broadcast.  

Peter is a scathing critic of their father’s therapeutic claims for the Maneuver and more recent medical experiments. 

Phil told Curmudgeon that he feared Walters would ask their father about the troubled family relationships. “Like any son, I’m somewhat protective of him,” Phil said. “He’s 93 . . . We don’t let just anybody come up and interview him.” 

Peter told Curmudgeon that he was unaware of this bargain when he cooperated with Walters for the Radiolab story.

I have no trouble with Phil’s setting conditions for arranging the interview. My beef is with Radiolab. It could have refused. Similarly, I’m not going into Heimlich’s therapeutic theories and claims; I’m writing about Radiolab’s handling of the story. 

I’m troubled by Radiolab’s willingness to silence an important critic and a source of its information in exchange for access to the elder Heimlich. Further, if Walters failed to tell Peter about his deal with Phil, that’s unethical, especially since Walters told Peter, “I want you to speak for yourself.”  

Peter elaborated in a recent email to Curmudgeon: “I was first approached by Radiolab last August when they asked to interview me for broadcast. I wasn't informed that, five months earlier, they'd cut the censorship deal, so they obtained my interview under false pretenses. Further, in the following months, Radiolab producer Pat Walters took up hours of my time, encouraging me to provide him with information and documents. I only learned about the censorship deal a couple weeks ago, when the program disclosed it on their website. If I'd known that Radiolab was this underhanded, I wouldn't have given them a minute of my time -- and I'd encourage other sources to keep their distance.”

Over the years, Peter has dealt with lots of reporters. I asked, "Have you encountered this kind of deal before?" 

Peter responded, “I've never heard of a deal like this . . . and how many other Radiolab stories have included deals like this?”

Radiolab’s website includes a link to the 25-minute program, including the interview with Heimlich. Radiolab’s website text says:

“In the 1970s, choking became national news: thousands were choking to death, leading to more accidental deaths than guns. Nobody knew what to do. Until a man named Henry Heimlich came along with a big idea. Since then, thousands and thousands — maybe even millions — have been rescued by the Heimlich maneuver. Yet the story of the man who invented it may not have such a happy ending.

“Producer Pat Walters wouldn't be here without the Heimlich maneuver — it saved his life when he was just 11 years old. And one day he started wondering - who was Heimlich, anyway? And how did he come up with his choking remedy? Pat had always kinda assumed Heimlich died in the mid-1800s. Not so. The man is very much alive: he's 93 years old, and calls Cincinnati, Ohio, home.”

Given the conflict of interest, letting choking survivor Walters do the interview was a mistake. Here are the guts of Radiolab’s online Producer’s Note: 

“We made some minor changes to this story that do not alter the substance.

“(W)e removed the audio of Peter Heimlich, Henry Heimlich’s son, from the version now on the site. When we approached Henry’s other son Phil to arrange an interview with his father, one of Phil’s conditions was that we not air audio of Peter. We thought he’d waived that provision in a subsequent conversation but he contends he did not. So we are honoring the original request.”

The version available online begins with a light-hearted exchange among Radiolab personalities in their WNYC studio of New York Public Radio. The conversation between Walters and Henry Heimlich at Heimlich’s home maintains that chummy tone. 

Then Walters shifts to controversies over Heimlich’s Maneuver to resuscitate drowning victims and other medical theories. Walters also interviews experts who disagree with Heimlich. When Walters lets Heimlich speak for himself, the physician accuses critics of jealousy and self-interest.  

Walters lets the American Red Cross explain why it (quietly) abandoned decades of support for the Maneuver as the first response to choking and returned common backslaps.

“Nonsense,” Heimlich responded. 

The Red Cross also abandoned Heimlich’s name for its maneuver. Now, it’s “abdominal thrusts.” Heimlich says abdominal thrusts are not the same as his Maneuver and he’s offended by the whole affair. 

Peter —  who provided emails from which I worked — continues to press Radiolab on its decision to erase his voice from its broadcast. Its latest response refers him to the program’s original online statements.

Stunning, avoidable reporting mistakes followed the Boston Marathon bombing. They began when the New York Post said a Saudi man was hospitalized, under guard and might be a bomber. Days later, as the hunt ended, CNN said the  captured younger suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was driven away by police. CNN said Tsarnaev was not wounded or his wounds were so slight that no ambulance was required. Wrong. He left in an ambulance; his wounds were so serious that it was unclear when he would speak to interrogators or appear in court.

Was there a gun battle after a Watertown resident saw the wounded man in his boat and called police?  Some media say no gun was found or the 19-year-old didn’t shoot. 

Speaking of mistakes, Businessinsider.com described another blunder when reporters didn’t name sources or verify leaks. “According to a source at CNN, the network was the first to report that a suspect had been identified. Anchor John King sent in a  report around 1 p.m. that a source ‘briefed’ on the investigation had told King a positive identification had been made. CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist approved that report, according to the source.

“According to the source, who was reviewing internal email logs, Fran Townsend was the first at the network to say that an arrest had been made. ‘As I think everyone knows, we really fucked up. No way around it,’ the source said.

“The source said that the network's email network went quiet for a 15-minute period shortly after the retraction — ‘so people [were] either being more cautious or getting yelled at.’

“Townsend's report came around the same time as other outlets, including the Associated Press and the Boston Globe, also reported an arrest, so it is not clear whether CNN was the first to make the mistake . . . Wednesday's false arrest reports also drew a scathing rebuke from the FBI, which urged the press ‘to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting’."

This is shabby journalism. CNN went with a report attributed to someone who had been briefed by someone who knew something. No names. No identifiable links to investigation. Simply assertions. We could have waited until CNN verified or debunked the report but editors fear that hesitation can drive viewers to other, less scrupulous sources. At least Businessinsider.com appeared accurate in its use of its unnamed CNN sources. 

Social media — better called anti-social media in the aftermath of the marathon bombings - spread so much misinformation and falsely accused so many young men that the FBI had to release images of its suspects: the Tsarnaev brothers. It was the only way to protect wrongly accused men from vigilante justice, even though the suspects might be following the chase on their cellphones. 

London’s Daily Mail reported some inadvertent humor among the errors:  

Boston’s Fox 4 scrolled across the bottom of the screen that the suspect sought in Watertown was “19-year-old Zooey Deschanel.” Alerted to her new and unwanted celebrity, Uproxx.com said, the 33-year-old star of the Fox sitcom, New Girl, tweeted, “Whoa! Epic closed captioning FAIL!” 

Gawker.com said NBC anchor Brian Williams cut to New England Cable News for an update on the Watertown chase and listeners heard an unnamed reporter, “Oh, you’re not listening? Well, I don’t know shit.”  

It’s no surprise that Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post was unmatched for sheer bloodymindedness. Here’s the HuffingtonPost.com summary: 

The Post said 12 people had died, when only three had; it said a Saudi man was a “suspect” in “custody” when he wasn't; and it splashed pictures of two young “BAG MEN” on its front page even though it did not know whether they were suspects. They were innocent. One was 17 years old; he told the Associated Press that he was “scared to go outside.” And that doesn’t include Post doctoring the photo of an injured spectator to hide her leg wound. 

Rather than apologize, Murdoch blamed others outside the Post.  

Murdoch’s Post wasn’t alone in falsely accusing men of being bombers. The LA Times said “Reddit is apologizing for its role in fueling the social media witch hunts for the Boston bombings suspects. The social news website . . . became a place for amateur sleuths to gather and share their conspiracy theories and other ideas on who may have committed the crimes. The online witch hunts ended up dragging in several innocent people, including Sunil Tripathi, a 22-year-old Brown University student who went missing last month (and has since been found dead). 

“After viewing the FBI's photos of the suspects Thursday, Redditors became convinced that Tripathi was one of the bombers, with countless posts gleefully pointing out the physical similarities between Tripathi and Suspect No. 2, who ended up being 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The growing wave of suspicion surrounding Tripathi led his family to release a statement the next day saying they knew ‘unequivocally’ that their son was not involved.

“On Monday, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin posted a lengthy apology on the site, saying the crisis ‘showed the best and worst of Reddit's potential.’ He said the company, as well as several Reddit users and moderators, had apologized privately to Tripathi's family and wanted ‘to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure. We all need to look at what happened and make sure that in the future we do everything we can to help and not hinder crisis situations,’ the post said. ‘Some of the activity on Reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties. The Reddit staff and the millions of people on Reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened’."

Reddit said it does not allow personal information on the site in order to protect innocent people from being incorrectly identified and "disrupting or ruining their lives," according to the LA Times. "We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt. We were wrong," Reddit’s Martin continued. "The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive Internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different."

The LA Times added valuable context to what followed the bombings: they “were the first major terrorist attack on American soil in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. But the watershed moment for social media quickly spiraled out of control as legions of Web sleuths cast suspicion on the innocent, shared bad tips and heightened the sense of panic and paranoia.” The LA Times added that Boston police asked “overeager” Twitter users to limit what they posted because that overly detailed tweets could compromise officers' position and safety.

Detroit Free Press editors published a detailed online illustration of how to make a pressure cooker bomb, like that reportedly used by the Boston bombers. When their brain fart passed, they took down the instructions and images. Of course, now, anyone can turn to Jimromenesko.com screen shot of the Detroit Free Press illustration . . . 

Newcomers to the Tri-State puzzle over the lifelong identification with high/prep school. When a Cincinnatian was involved in the emergency surgical response to the Boston Marathon bombings, the Enquirer noted he went to St. X. Only later did Our Sole Surviving Daily tell us he was graduated from UC’s medical school before going off to Boston for his surgical residency.  


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<![CDATA[David "Bones" Hebert Wrongful Death Lawsuit Expanded]]> 
Today marks the two-year anniversary of the death of David “Bones” Hebert, the gangly, inked vagabond, crafty burrito-maker, Punk rocker and rascal whose life ended abruptly one night in Northside, when Cincinnati Police Sergeant Andrew Mitchell fired two rounds into Bones’ thin frame.

Bones, who was described by his army of acquaintances as peaceful and thoughtful, left behind a legacy that sparked his friends to form Friends of Bones, a collective formed in response to his fatal police shooting, whose goal is “to support those directly involved in the case, to raise awareness about police violence in our community, and to bring about policy change in police procedures, training, and equipment, while encouraging responsible city leadership.”

That spurred the estate of David Paul Hebert to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Sergeant Mitchell on April 18, 2012, a year after the shooting. According to a press release from Paul Carmack, executor of the Hebert estate, the lawsuit today has been expanded to include the city of Cincinnati alleging Monell Claims (referring to municipal officials unconstitutionally or incorrectly dealing with a police misconduct claim) as well as Cincinnati Police officers Lawrence Johnson, Brian Kneller and Nicolino Stavale, for contributing to an atmosphere of danger. (See the expanded lawsuit in its entirety here.)

Bones was walking his dog, Shady, with a female friend around 3 a.m. the night of his death. Minutes before, a new acquaintance of Bones, Jason Weller, called 911 to report a man described as Bones to have recently stolen a pirate sword from his apartment, leaving Weller bloodied and alone. Although several of his friends admit he was inclined toward rowdy and wreckless behavior when he was intoxicated, but not violent.

Shortly after police stopped Bones and took his official statement, the police report alleges, “Mr. Hebert pulled a 13-inch switchblade knife with a six-inch blade from his pocket, raised his arm, and made a swiping motion with the knife at one of the officers. Sergeant Andrew Mitchell, who was serving as cover officer, drew his firearm as Mr. Hebert turned and stepped toward another officer. Sergeant Mitchell discharged two rounds from his Department-issued firearm, striking Mr. Hebert in left shoulder and left upper chest with both rounds.”

Bones was pronounced dead at the scene, and a toxicology report showed he had a blood alcohol level of .33 and traces of psychedelic mushrooms and marijuana. The investigations following his death — all of which exonerated Mitchell and the Police Department from any fault — brought to light a slew of inconsistencies, including conflicting statements from the officers involved, details about where Bones' knife was ultimately found and discrepancies in Weller's story, all of which form a basis for the current lawsuit. Videos retrieved from a Officer Dawson's cruiser cam also show that officers stood by idly, failing to offer any sort of assistance of resuscitation to Bones, seen here (at the 0:04 second mark, it appears Officer Mitchell kicks Bones' arm to check for consciousness).



Officer Mitchell in 2008 was involved in another police misconduct allegation after the "Bauer Tasing," when he tased an oblivious teenager from his moving police car without any warning or communication. Christopher Bauer, the teen walking home with his hands in his pockets and listening to his iPod, fell forward onto his face, suffering substantial injury.

In the past, Friends of Bones have held fundraisers and community events (often music-oriented, for Bones) to raise awareness about the case and garner support.

A city spokesperson directed CityBeat's inquiry about the expanded lawsuit to the city's law department, which as of Thursday afternoon had not returned a voicemail. This story will be updated if the city provides a response.According to court documents, the case will go before a jury Nov. 11.
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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 3.20.2013 ]]> Amanda VanBenschoten’s reporting on both sides of the river has won her the new position of Northern Kentucky news columnist at the Enquirer. We’ve been friends since she was an undergrad in my ethics class. I had the pleasure of holding up a copy of the NKU’s paper, The Northerner, and showing our class her first page 1 byline. She was editor of NKU’s paper, The Northerner, and worked for a Northern Kentucky weekly where she regularly broke stories ahead of daily reporters. I warned the then-editor of the Kentucky Enquirer to follow Amanda’s work because, “she’ll eat your lunch.” Soon after, that wise editor hired Amanda. I’m looking forward to Amanda finding her own voice after years of quoting others. 

Scott Aiken died this month. We’ve been colleagues and friends for more than four decades. My wife and I moved to Cincinnati in 1967 and subscribed to the Enquirer. I called Scott to compliment the analyses of foreign events for which he’d been hired on the Enquirer editorial page. After swapping tales about our work overseas and people we knew there, he offered to introduce me to Bob Harrod, the local editor, who hired me for weekend reporting. It was the perfect antidote to grad school. That began 30-plus years at the Enquirer for me. Scott and I stayed in touch after he left daily journalism for corporate public relations. Our friendship survived my reporting of accusations of illegal wiretapping by Cincinnati Bell; Scott was head of the telephone company’s public relations. Our last lunch shared stories of his and Anne’s visit to Rome. Sheila McLaughlin’s obit on March 9 covers his career admirably, including Scott’s accidental matchmaking for a young reporter/colleague. 

•  Urbi et orbi. Accusations of omission and commission by Pope Francis when he was a priest and Jesuit leader during Argentina’s murderous “Dirty War” demonstrate how religious leaders risk charges of collaboration when a dictatorship falls. Recent examples taint the Russian Orthodox Church and South Africa’s Dutch Reform Church. But it’s a rare priest who rises to the modern papacy without the historians, news media and others questioning their careers. Pius XII is accused of being too close to Nazi Germany as diplomat Cardinal Pacelli before World War II. John XXIII was the subject of debate whether, as a chaplain sergeant in World War I, he gave Italian troops the order to leave their trenches, “go over the top” and attack. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Ratzinger was drafted into the Hitler Youth near the end of World War II, something everyone learned when he became Benedict XVI. 

The 200-plus complaints about papal coverage moved NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos to admit he, too, was “pope-ed out.” One listener wondered if NPR stood for National Papal Radio? Schumacher-Matos blogged that “NPR aired 69 stories since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation Feb. 11 and Pope Francis was selected as his successor Wednesday. That averages out to about two radio magazine or call-in segments per day, not including the steady drumbeat of shorter items delivered by hourly newscasts that are not transcribed. Most of the complaints have concerned the 47 stories that aired in the four weeks between the day after Benedict announced his resignation and the morning before Francis was announced — a period during which there was less major news about the subject and more ‘horse-race’ speculation about who might be selected.” 

Of course, there was a Cincinnati connection to the papal election: Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a contributing writer to Article 25, Cincinnati’s street paper dedicated to human rights, was detained by Italian police for demonstrating at the Vatican for women’s ordination. The French news agency, AFP, missed her connection to Article 25, identifying her only as “an excommunicated female priest” from Lexington, Ky., and a member of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. It was unclear whether Sevre-Duszynska was arrested or removed as a distraction when cardinals assembled to elect a new pope. AFP did not respond to CityBeat questions about her detention. She was dressed in liturgical robes and carrying a banner, “Women Priests are Here.” AFP quoted Sevre-Duszynska as saying, "As the cardinals meet for their conclave to elect the new pope, women are being ordained around the world! There are already 150 female priests in the world. The people are ready for change."

Much as I would have loved to be back in Rome covering the election of the pope, there was an even better assignment that kicked my envy into overdrive. The Economist sent a reporter on 112-day road trip through and around Africa. I once hoped to travel the mythic Cairo Road from Capetown to Cairo. Not going to happen. The Economist’s reporter did that and more. He found more cause for cautious optimism than is reflected in typical stories of rebellion, massacre, poverty, disease and stolen elections. 

Why did Cincinnati Business Courier take down its online story about Henry Heimlich’s attempts to save his reputation and that of his Heimlich Maneuver? Granted, it wasn’t flattering, but it didn’t go beyond what Curmudgeon has reported.  Reporter James Ritchie forwarded my request for an explanation and editor Rob Daumeyer responded, “Thanks for asking, but we don't have anything to add for you.”

I like the tabloid Enquirer. I worked on daily and weekly tabloids overseas; it’s a familiar format. Whether readers enjoy turning pages to find stories promoted on section covers is uncertain; with logos, ads and visuals, there’s little else.  Inside, long stories jump from page to page to accommodate reduced page size. I hope Enquirer editors recognize the power of the back page in each section and treat it as prime news space.  And I’m looking forward to reporters and editors learning to produce sharp, short stories suited to tabloids; it still reads like the old Enquirer

Curmudgeon Notes on Feb. 20 shouldn’t take credit for Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster over Obama’s assassination by drone. However, the Kentucky Republican echoed Curmudgeon’s anxieties whether Obama will use drones to kill Americans in our country.  To his credit, Paul’s almost 13-hour standup routine forced an answer from prevaricating Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder’s letter repeated and answered Paul’s question: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no.” Perfectly clear? No. Who defines combat? Deadly confrontations with feds at Ruby Ridge, Wounded Knee, or David Koresh’s Branch Davidian Ranch near Waco, TX?  

Enquirer’s Cliff Peale is probing the costs of post-secondary education and how many recent debt-burdened college grads can’t find full-time employment requiring their costly degrees. Coincidentally, Cincinnati Business Courier reports how local vacancies for skilled workers threaten the region’s economy. Is the conventional wisdom — everyone must earn a BA or more — undermining our economic security? Maybe Peale can probe high school curricula and counseling to see if capable students are being steered away from well-paid blue collar careers and into crippling debt for degrees of dubious value. Maybe it’s time to interview welders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, etc., to find out what their ROI (Return on Investment) is. 

It’s an old problem: courtiers mistaking their privilege of emptying the king’s chamber pots for royal power. Poynter.org reports this example from the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service:

Dana Rosenzweig, a staffer for Vice President Joe Biden, ordered Capital News Service student reporter Jeremy Barr to delete photos he took at an event in Rockville, Md., when Biden announced an anti-domestic violence initiative

Barr quoted Rosenzweig, saying, “I need to see your camera right now.” She called Barr’s presence in the non-press area an “unfair advantage” over the other members of the media (whatever that meant). Rosenzweig watched him delete the photos, Barr said, and then she looked at Barr’s iPhone to make sure no photos were saved there. 

“I assumed that I’d violated a protocol,” Barr told Capital News Service. “I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was following proper procedures.”

J-school Dean Lucy Dalglish complained in a letter, saying, “Rockville is not a third-world country where police-state style media censorship is expected.” Biden press secretary Kendra Barkoff responded with an apology to Dalglish and Barr. 

My comment: Dalglish is a lawyer. Before taking the dean’s job she was executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It’s ironic that her student reporter didn’t know there is no “protocol” or “proper procedures” that required him to give up his images. He should have held on to his images and phone and told Rosenzweig to fuck off.  

Intimidating a student reporter (above) wasn’t a first for Biden’s staff, jimromenesko.com added. “After the vice president made a remark during the presidential campaign that Republicans would put voters ‘back in chains,’ Politico’s Jonathan Martin reported the veep’s staff ‘tried to edit media pool reports for any potential landmines that could be seized on by Republicans and even hovered at close range to eavesdrop on journalists’ conversations with attendees at Biden rallies’.”

Republicans evince an unnatural fascination with our dead ambassador at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Often, in their frenzy of blame, Obama critics mistakenly call the torched facility the “Embassy.” Ignorance now appears to be nonpartisan. Maybe repetition has warped liberal minds.  For instance, in her blog on the thedailybeast.com, Caitlin Dickson repeated the error. In Libya, our embassy is in Tripoli, the capital.  

Jimromenesko.com says media worldwide were suckered by a satirical column on the Internet about Nobel-winning economist, professor, columnist and blogger Paul Krugman declaring bankruptcy. 

The Boston Globe’s boston.com wasn’t immune. Under the headline, “Paul Krugman Files Chapter 13 Bankruptcy,” someone using the nom de plume “Prudent Investor” wrote that “Paul Krugman, the king of Keynesianism and a strong supporter of the delusion that you can print your way out of debt, faces depression at his very own doors.  According to this report in Austria’s Format online mag, Krugman owes $7.35 million while assets to his name came in at a very meager $33,000. This will allow the economist and New York Times blogger to get a feel of how the majority of Americans feel about their dreadful lives . . . “

Romenesko says Globe editor Brian McGrory told Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, “The (Krugman) story arrived deep within our site from a third party vendor who partners on some finance and market pages on our site. We never knew it was there till we heard about it from outside.” The paper, McGrory says, did “urgent work to get it the hell down” from boston.com. McGrory adds, “The idea that we’d have a partner on our site is actually news to me” and the Globe plans to “address our relationship with that vendor.”

My comment: the editor of New England’s dominant daily has a “third party vendor” who provides content for business  pages and the editor doesn’t know what that content is? 

Paul Krugman, who isn’t bankrupt (above), responded tongue in cheek on his New York Times blog, The Conscience of a Liberal. “OK, I’m an evil person — and my scheming has paid off. On Friday I started hearing from friends about a fake story making the rounds about my allegedly filing for personal bankruptcy; I even got asked about the story by a reporter from Russian television, who was very embarrassed when I told him it was fake. But I decided not to post anything about it; instead, I wanted to wait and see which right-wing media outlets would fall for the hoax. And Breitbart.com came through! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go give a lavishly paid speech to Friends of Hamas.”

Weekly Standard senior writer Matt Labash’s March 18 column suggests he’d be a great guy to meet in a bar. Here’s a sample: “ . . . there are enough headline-hunting researchers making enough questionable discoveries (about health) that the four shakiest words in the English language have come to be, ‘a new study shows’.” And here’s another:  “I am a professional journalist. It’s my job to pretend to know things that I don’t.” 

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 2.20.2013]]>  • 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. 


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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 2.06.2013 ]]> 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.


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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 1.09.2013 ]]> 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.

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 11.28.2012 ]]> 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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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 11.14.2012]]> •    Monday’s Enquirer carries a sanitized obit for Larry Beaupre, the fine, aggressive Enquirer editor whose career was destroyed by a trusted reporter during the Chiquita scandal.    

Larry’s genius was motivating his staff to take chances and go the extra step. No one wanted to admit not making the last phone call to check something in a story. We made those calls.

As part of that, Larry brought the “woodshed” to the Enquirer newsroom on Elm Street. It was the perfect walk to his corner office overlooking the Ohio and Licking Rivers. There, Larry would privately discuss some failing or pratfall in that morning’s paper.

My favorite Larry story — there is no way I’ll call him Beaupre — is Lucasville. I was involved in coverage of that prison riot and occupation from its start on Easter, 1993. Larry was part of Pulitzer-winning coverage of the bloody Attica prison revolt in New York. He gave us everything we asked for at Lucasville. In the middle of that deadly mess — 24/7 for 11 days in Scioto County red clay mud outside the prison on what became press row — he drove down to deliver Sunday papers and thank his bleary staff. That’s leadership.

“I will never forget the Sunday morning when Beaupre showed up,” then-reporter Howard Wilkinson recalled for an earlier column. “He asked me what we needed. ‘Cash, and lots of it,’ I said, explaining that we had to buy food and clothing for the crew, most of whom came unprepared for 11 days in the mud. Larry pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and start counting out a wad of $50s . . . gave me $500 on the spot, which I ended up spending at Big Bear and the Subway in Lucasville. ‘There’s more where that came from,’ Beaupre said.”

Larry didn’t meddle when things went right. There always were questions about why we didn’t have some Lucasville story that someone else did. Larry always accepted “we checked it out and it’s not true.” We got it right and he honored that.    

A year later, he made sure we knew that a routine Lucasville anniversary story wasn’t acceptable. Kristen DelGuzzi and I spent weeks on race, religion and crowding in prisons around the country and Lucasville. The ordinary was not acceptable to Larry or his editors.

Not long ago, I sent Howard Wilkinson’s comment to Larry, along with that column anticipating the 20th anniversary of Lucasville in 2013. Larry responded warmly, saying it’s nice to be remembered for something beyond Chiquita.

However, it’s the nature of our trade that we’re remembered for our biggest screwups. Ask Dan Rather. So it is with Larry: the year-long investigative effort and special 18-page section describing what reporters Mike Gallagher and Cam McWhirter learned about Chiquita operations here and abroad. Typically, Larry gave two trusted reporters all of the resources they needed. He and Gallagher had worked together before Larry brought him to Cincinnati. Gallagher’s decision to eavesdrop on Chiquita voice mails doomed the project and cost Larry his career.

They gave us a dark view of Chiquita operations, especially in Central America. The project blew up in our faces and Larry was the scapegoat even though the stories had gone all of the way up the corporate chain and back again.

Readers noted that despite the three page 1 apologies and curious renunciation of the stories that followed revelation of Gallagher’s dishonest reporting methods, the Enquirer did not retract the facts.

Larry and the Enquirer had challenged the most powerful man in Cincinnati, Carl Lindner. Gallagher’s dishonesty gave Lindner his opening and Lindner crippled the paper for years. As part of the deal with Lindner and Chiquita, the paper paid $14 million.

More devastating was the condition that Larry had to go. He did. McWhirter was moved to a top reporting job at the Gannett paper in Detroit. David Wells was removed as local editor — the one job he always wanted at the Enquirer - but stayed to become opinion page editor.

Gallagher — who lied to everyone about how he got those voice mails and included his lies in the published stories — was fired. He stayed around to plead guilty to tapping Chiquita voice mail system and stayed out of prison by naming his Chiquita-related sources.

The Enquirer lost the passion and editing talents of Larry and David Wells and Cam McWhirter’s reporting skills. Other colleagues began leaving; the Enquirer was tainted goods. Job applications from similarly talented journalists dried up, I’m told, for years. I’m not sure the Enquirer ever recovered.

•    Larry (above) and his family moved to Mt. Lookout from West Chester when he came from New York.  No matter what landscapers planted in his garden overlooking Ault Park, deer ate them. Then there were the raccoons. Larry came to my desk in distress, wondering what he could do. I suggested a nonlethal Havahart trap. Let the critter loose in another park. Larry tried it. Bait would be gone, the trapdoors closed and no ‘coon. One night he stayed up to see what was going on. The critter went in, ate the bait, and when the doors dropped, other raccoons tipped over the trap. Doors opened and “prisoner” walked free. I think he gave up; Midwestern deer and raccoons were more than his New York smarts could conquer.

•    If you missed it, go back to last Tuesday’s Enquirer opinion page and read mediator Bob Rack’s essay on civility in public life. It’s broader than elections and is more practical than the typical admonishment to behave.

•    Thursday’s Enquirer started a page 1 watch on the Pride of the Tristate, naysaying obstructionists Mitch and John. I hope Enquirer reporters tell us what Mitch and John and their House and Senate colleagues do in the name of “bipartisanship.” Skip their words. Watch what they do.  

•    “Gravitas” apparently is so 2010. The new word favored by many politics writers is “meme.” A wise editor once told me to avoid foreign words unless they’re so common that even an editor would know them. Meme — from the Greek — fails.

•    Quotationspage.com attributes this famous aphorism to department store merchant John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” I wonder if that’s true about campaign ads. Billionaire right-winger Sheldon Abelson helped poison the well but the New York Times says only his candidates drank; they all lost. I haven’t seen a similar analysis of libertarian Koch brothers spending but it reportedly was far greater than even Abelson’s. Democrats countered by raising and spending zillions. The only difference was the far greater number of Democratic donors needed to reach the magic totals. Great for TV stations but brain damaging for the rest of us.
   
•    There is no “financial cliff.” We’re not going to go over it on Jan. 1. An end to Bush tax cuts won’t pitch us in a recession on Jan. 2.  Sequestration won’t suck zillions out of the economy in one day. Yes, there is a downward economic slope if Congress and Obama don’t sort out the tax/deficit mess. So, why do journalists continue to parrot bipartisan “over the cliff” rhetoric when the facts they report make it clear that no such precipice exists?
 
•    My nomination for a “Useless” award is the New York Times telephone people who are supposed to help with home delivery problems. Twice last week, the Times wasn’t there in the morning and replacement papers weren’t delivered that day or the next. That included Wednesday’s paper with the election results. More aggravating was the blue-wrapped Times on my neighbor’s drive, giving lie to the Times’ “problem resolution” staff’s explanation that there were problems at the printing plant. Times’ operators  and clueless supervisors were in Iowa: dim bulbs who sounded like they read from an all-purposes script.

•    I finally used the New York Times website to email their vp/circulation. A reply came quickly, promising to contact the Enquirer whose carriers deliver the Times. A prompt call from Enquirer circulation on Elm Street promised replacement papers and a personal delivery. Didn’t happen. Still hasn’t, a week later. A perfect union of ignorance and interstate bullshit.

•    Last week’s CityBeat cover story was the annual Project Censored; the most underreported major stories in the major news media. The list misses my No. 1 most underreported story of the year: third-party candidates for the presidency and their platforms.

About the only time the major news media noted Third Party existence was to wonder if a third party might get enough votes to deny victory to a Democrat or Republican in any state(s). Affecting a state’s vote totals would be bad for democracy, those news media anxieties imply.

So I’d offer two suggestions to my 24/7 news media colleagues. First, voting one’s principles is not bad for democracy and it has the potential for great news stories. Second, third party platforms suggest ingredients in whatever becomes conventional wisdom in 2016 or 2020.

That’s what third parties do; hopeful but realistic, they do the thinking that seems to escape mainstream Democrats and Republicans. If you doubt me, look at what came out of the Progressive era 100 years ago and what might come out of Tea Party initiative and energy.

•    Are news media short of photos of Petraeus in civvies? He’s no longer a general. Most images I saw after his surprise resignation had him in uniform. Also, the developing story of how his affair was discovered is fascinating. The FBI stumbled on Petraeus when it was investigating a complaint of online harassment against Paula Broadwell, the adoring graduate student who became author of the new Petraeus biography and his lover. The complaint came from another woman, a frightened friend of the Petraeus family. Agents looking at Broadwell’s emails found  classified information and romantic emails between Petraeus and Broadwell. Tacky as this is, it fell to Jay Leno to sum it up: Guys, Leno said, if the head of the CIA can’t keep an affair  secret, don’t you try it because if you do, “You’re screwed.”

•    BBC’s sex scandal — knighted entertainer Jimmy Savile and others at BBC abused hundreds of girls for years — continues to spread. So far, it hasn’t touched the BBC World Service which Americans get on WVXU/WMUB and other FM stations.

Last week, however, it cost BBC’s new top exec his job. He quit after one of his reporters suggested during a TV interview that he should “go” and a former Cabinet minister responsible for BBC said  Winnie the Pooh would have been a more effective curb on careless, defamatory reporting.

The latest mess involves BBC’s top domestic current affairs/investigative TV program, Newsnight and the broader issue of child abuse by prominent and powerful figures in British public life.

BBC’s Newsnight broadcast Steve Messham’s claim that a top Conservative politician was among men who molested him in a state children’s home during the 1980s. Newsnight didn’t name the Tory but others did on social media: Lord Alistair McAlpine. He came forward last week and denied wrongdoing.

When Messham saw a photo of McAlpine after the broadcast, Messham recanted and apologized. His abuser wasn’t McAlpine. No one showed Messham a photo of McAlpine before broadcasting his accusation. BBC last week apologized “unreservedly.” That phrase usually means a libel suit is anticipated.

Meanwhile, BBC officials canceled Newsnight investigations. Newsnight already is under investigation for killing an program that would have outed Savile as a serial abuser. Savile is dead but three colleagues have been arrested so far.

•    Thedailybeast.com excerpts from Into the Fire, a book by Dakota Meyer, the Kentuckian who won the Medal of Honor in Afghanistan. It’s a toy chest of news tips for reporters. Here’s part of the excerpt:

When I got home in December, I felt like I had landed on the moon. Kentucky is pretty much what you think: cheerful bluegrass music like Bill Monroe, rolling countryside, good moonshine, great bourbon and pretty girls. Greenery, lakes, the creeks and rolling hills, forests, birds, other critters and all the farms. There’s that genuine friendliness that comes with small towns and close-knit families. You don’t want to act like an asshole because it will get back to your grandmother by supper.


“Something like: ‘Well, Dakota, I hear you had some words today with that neighbor of Ellen’s sister’s boy.’

“Dad, of course, was happy to see me, as were my grandparents, so that was a good feeling. Dad didn’t give me a hard time about Ganjigal, and neither did my leatherneck Grandpa. We just didn’t talk much about it. It was great seeing my family and friends, but they had their own lives. Everyone around me was excited about football, Christmas, and other normal things; I was looking at the clapboard houses and the cars and thinking, man — so flimsy. They wouldn’t give cover worth shit in a firefight.

“It was an exposed feeling. And where were my machine guns? I found my old pistol and kept it around like a rabbit’s foot, but I missed my 240s and my .50-cals something awful. It seems weird, I’m sure, but I really just wasn’t buying it that there wasn’t some enemy about to come over the green hills, and I felt so unprepared—I wouldn’t be any good to protect anybody.

“I was set to soon go off to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, for PTSD therapy . .  . “

•    Next year, we’ll commemorate the botched Bay of Pigs invasion. It wasn’t the last time we underestimated the resilience of a far weaker “enemy.” JFK reportedly told the Times that he would have aborted the invasion if the Times had had the cajones to publish what it knew about preparations in Florida and Central America. However, during the two weeks before the invasion, the Times published stories about the preparations.

•    Next year, we’ll also commemorate JFK’s murder. I watched demonstrators at our London Grosvenor Square Embassy vilify the U.S. for its role in the Cuban missile crisis. The night of JFK’s death, crowds were back . . . to sign a book of condolences.

•    A federal judge ordered the FBI to pay journalist Seth Rosenfeld $479,459 for court costs and lawyers’ fees. He sued the FBI after it ignored his appropriate requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Poynter.com says Rosenfeld will donate the money to the First Amendment Project Project in Oakland, Calif. It handled his case pro bono for 20 years. That’s chump change to the bureau and it costs individual agents nothing for blowing him off. Meanwhile, news organizations say broad resistance to FOIA requests has worsened throughout the federal government under Obama.

•    Newsweek is going digital-only next year, in keeping with boss Tina Brown’s changing reading habits. She says she doesn’t even look at newsstands any longer; everything she wants is on her Kindle. Of course, she’ll fire people. Newsweek always was No. 2 to Time Magazine which continues its print edition. I’ve ignored giveaway offers from both magazines for years. It isn’t print, it’s their content. My choice? The Economist’s weekly U.S. print edition.

•    ABC said his family was unaware of film director Tony Scott’s brain cancer when he jumped off a bridge in August and died. Now, ABC admits its original unverified and uncorroborated story was wrong. There was no brain cancer. It only took two months to admit and correct the error.

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 10.31.2012]]> •    After weeks of dreary campaign coverage and soul-destroying political ads, here’s a day brightener. Jian Ghomeshi’s long-format interview radio show, Q, scored a rare interview with J. K. Rowling. She was in New York promoting her first adult-audience book, The Casual Vacancy.

    Among other things, Ghomeshi asked why she courts news media criticism by giving so few interviews. “Well, I just don’t think I have that much to say.” And why do the news media make so much of her reluctance? “That’s because the media is very interested in the media,” she said.

    I laughed so hard I had to sit down in our northern Ontario cabin. Q is a morning program and evening repeat on Canada’s CBC Radio. Q is heard here at 9 p.m. weekdays on WVXU.

•    Further proof that life as we know it revolves around Cincinnati: the Oct. 29 New Yorker’s essay on the fraud of voting fraud begins with Hamilton County. We’re the perfect example of GOP supporters trying to intimidate voters. A key point made by reporter Jane Mayer’s sources: photo IDs might deter someone impersonating a genuine voter but you don’t corrupt an election that way. You need massive — if subtle — manipulation of the vote count.

•    So, is anyone confident your vote will be counted accurately? We don’t get a receipt showing how our votes were tallied. Any retailer can give us a receipt showing what we’ve paid by charge or debit card. So where are the reporters asking Boards of Elections why it can’t give us a receipt and editorials demanding this accountability? Receipts won’t prevent corrupt officials, employees or hackers from going into voting-counting computers after we vote, but it might deter some.

•    Hamilton County Board of Elections assures the Enquirer that its voting machines are secure. No computer-based anything is secure. Computers are more or less vulnerable to external hacking and surreptitious insider reprogramming. Worrying about GOP ties to voting machine companies doesn’t make me a conspiracy crank. It matters because of Romney’s links to the current equipment provider. In 2004, the then-provider of our voting machines was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president (Bush) next year.” That was Walden W. O'Dell’s promise. He was chief executive of Canton-based Diebold Inc., which made voting machines Ohio used in 2004. W carried Ohio that year.

•    GOP efforts to restrict voting is second only to the Republican commitment to ending a woman’s access to abortion. It’s not new. In all of this year’s reporting about Republican voter suppression — photo IDs, phony “official” mailings misdirecting voters of color, etc. — didn’t find references to William Rehnquist before he was Chief Justice of the U.S.

    Google is rich with Rehnquist’s dark history as a GOP operative. This came from a files.nyu.edu post about John Dean’s book, The Rehnquist Choice. The folks at New York University said “Dean was a member of Nixon's cabinet, was Nixon's counsel in the Watergate affair and played a prominent role in selecting Rehnquist as a Supreme Court nominee. He writes that Rehnquist was part of roving ‘squads’ of Republican lawyers who went from precinct to precinct, confronting and harassing black and Latino voters.” Here’s what Dean wrote on pages 272-273 of The Rehnquist Choice:

    “Collectively, these witnesses described 'squads,' or teams, that moved quickly from precinct to precinct to disqualify voters, confronting black and Hispanic voters standing in line at the polls by asking them questions about their qualifications, or holding up a small card with a passage from the U.S. Constitution and demanding that the voter read it aloud; also photographing people standing in line to vote."

    "All told, the Democrats produced fourteen people who swore they had witnessed Rehnquist challenging voters. In rebuttal, the Republicans produced eight witnesses who claimed they had not seen or heard of Rehnquist challenging voters — but none of them could testify that they were actually with Rehnquist during any entire election day, nor did their testimony cover all the elections involved in the charges . . . The evidence is clear and convincing that Rehnquist was not truthful about his activities in challenging voters."

•    Most Americans tell pollsters they rely on TV for their news. Next Tuesday, these viewers will take their rich opinions and impoverished facts into the voting booth. This recalls Mr. Whig, the  fictional alter ego of a great Enquirer editorial page editor, Thom Gephardt, who frequently muttered, “I fear for the Republic.”

•    Much as I have followed campaign coverage, I have little or no idea of what Obama and Romney will do to create jobs, ease immigration problems, provide and pay medical professionals to care for millions to be covered by Obamacare, wean us from deadly coal, cope with problems associated with fracking for oil and natural gas, make the wind blow and sun shine, reduce or slow global warming, bring Palestinians and Israelis closer to a peaceful two-state resolution, deal with the Taliban when it returns to power, etc. Despite what I hear from any liberals/progressives, Obama hasn’t disappointed me; I wrote nothing on that blank slate in 2008. It sufficed that he wasn’t McCain. In his way, Romney increasingly recalls Nixon in 1972 with his “secret plan” to end the Vietnam war. He had no plan. That was the secret. Deja vu all over again.

•    Mark Curnutte’s Sunday Enquirer post-mortem on the lethal street culture of revenge among some young black Cincinnatians is as current as perps who became victims soon after he interviewed them and Amanda Davidson took their photos.

•    CNN.com “unpublishes” reporter Elizabeth Landau’s story linking women’s hormones to political choices. CNN says the story wasn’t edited adequately. The study by a Texas academic concludes that ovulation makes women feel sexier.  Ovulating single women are likelier to vote for Obama (liberal) and ovulating married women or women in other committed relationships are likelier to vote for Romney (conservative.) I wonder if CNN pulled the story because some subjects are beyond inquiry, like women’s abilities for math and science or racial/ethnic differences in various pursuits. Then there is the whole fantasy about “unpublishing” an online post. You can get to the original story — replaced by an editor’s note on CNN.com — at poynter.com or dailykos.com.

•    The Seattle Times seeks to restore readers’ trust after it published free ads for the Republican candidate for governor and for supporters of a state gay marriage referendum. The ads make the paper part of each group’s propaganda machine. There is no other way to say it. Good luck to reporters who have to cover those campaigns. Maybe someone should create the “Almost Darwin Awards” for news media bent on self-destruction. You don’t know Darwin Awards? Look it up. The awards are as funny as Seattle Times’ claims to virtue are cringe-worthy.

    After the paper’s ethical pratfall and a newsroom rebellion, the Seattle Times turned its fact-checkers loose on those free partisan ads and gave the ads a rating of “half true.” (T)wo ads that were checked contained two true claims, one mostly true, one half true and two that were false, the paper and Poynter.com said.

•    Newsroom rebellions rarely go public like that by Seattle Times journalists (above). Years ago, then-owners of the Minneapolis Tribune and Star supported relocation of the Viking/Twins stadium from the ‘burbs to downtown. Here’s what the New York Times said in its obit of the publisher, John Cowles Jr.:

    “Opponents, including staff members at The Minneapolis Tribune, thought it was a clear conflict of interest for the owner of a newspaper to take a public position on an important local issue it was covering . . . (S)taff members placed an ad in their own paper disassociating themselves from the company’s involvement.”

•    Fifty years ago, we almost had a nuclear war over missiles in Cuba and en route on Soviet freighters. Regardless of where U.S. ships turned back the freighters, it was the real thing, no Gulf of Tonkin or Weapons of Mass Destruction fraud. I was at UPI in London and the Brits were very, very frightened; in a nuclear war, both sides’ missiles could be overhead and Soviets would attack Britain’s RAF and Royal Navy nuclear strike forces. I went to the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square. The crowd was hostile. Least threatening were those carrying or wearing what is now known as the “peace symbol.” Then it was the much more potent and timely totem of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

•    Half a century later, that British CND symbol is a meaningless design for feathered earrings and leather-thong necklaces. But turn the symbol upside down so that the “wings” tilt up. You have the Brits’ Vulcan “V-bomber.” It was the heart of their Cold War airborne nuclear deterrent during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vulcan bases would have been targets in any nuclear exchange.

•    Only a coverup is juicier than the original scandal, especially in broadcasting. BBC is tearing itself apart over the sex scandal. Arrests have begun: Convicted pedophile and BBC TV entertainer Gary Glitter is the first. Hundreds claim a leading children’s program presenter and colleagues molested hundreds of girls at BBC studios, children's hospitals and other locations. The focus of the probe, Jimmy Savile, is dead. His victims — including women at BBC — offer explicit tales of his harassment and abuse. BBC execs are accusing each other of lying or misleading parliament; Scotland Yard is beginning to ask why police didn’t act sooner on repeated reports and complaints about Savile and other abusers at BBC.

•    AP says New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. last week reiterated his support for the Times’ new CEO, Mark Thompson. Thompson, who was BBC’s director general until last month, has been under scrutiny over the BBC’s decision to cancel its major investigative program about Savile sexually abusing youngsters. AP says Sulzberger told Times staff that he was satisfied that Thompson had no role in canceling the explosive program. As with all scandals and coverups, we will learn what BBC and Scotland Yard knew and when they knew it. Lovely.

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<![CDATA[Ohio Could See Ethics Overhaul]]>

The Ohio State Senate’s top Republican wants to beef up ethics laws for state lawmakers.

Senate President Tom Niehaus tells The Columbus Dispatch that he plans on rolling out a new ethics bill within a few weeks. He didn’t offer specifics on what it would cover, but said disclosure and transparency would be the main themes.

Ohio’s ethics laws governing the relationship between public officials and lobbyists haven’t seen significant updates in more than 17 years. Niehaus told the newspaper he wants to see lawmakers vote on it before his legislative career ends this year.

The last major overhaul of Ohio ethics laws came in 1994, when the legislature banned public officials from receiving money to appear at dinners and receptions and required disclosure of all gifts costing more than $25.

The law also banned gifts costing more than $75, but oftentimes lobbyists will split up more expensive gifts among a number of lobbyists.

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 10.17.2012]]> • Look at the rare collection of Enquirer photos at the National Underground Freedom Center.  They’ve been reprinted and for many, reprinted copies of original pages are nearby.

The show is part of the much larger Fotofocus at many venues. Unfortunately, the Enquirer chose the Freedom Center which charges $12 admission; many Fotofocus displays are in admission-free venues such as the YWCA or UC’s Gallery on Sycamore.

I think the oldest photo is from 1948, a one-legged veteran leading a parade to commemorate the end of WWI 30 years earlier. Many are by photographers with whom I worked and whose images I displayed large on local pages during weekends when I edited. Some are recent, by photographers I admire but know only from their images in the paper. 

To its credit, the Enquirer exhibit includes unpublished photos of which the photographers are justly proud. First among them is Gary Landers’ image of a homicide victim illuminated by an officer’s flashlight behind Landers’ home.

Missing are two images that remind me of what photojournalism is about. One is Gerry Wolters’ stunning — and in its time, controversial Pulitzer contender — of a dead African-American lying in a pool of his blood on the Avondale street where he’d been shot by a bailbondsman. Standing over him is the dead man’s young son. Some readers said our photo would ruin the child’s life. No, I told callers, if anything would it was his father’s killing. 

The other missing photo was one that wasn’t published by the paper: Glenn Hartong’s firefighter carrying a toddler from a burning house. I’m told that editors flinched because they didn’t know if the child survived. So what? That faux humanity illustrates Enquirer execs’ fear of readers tossing their cookies into the Cheerios. Such touchy-feely screening sanitizes what can be a nasty, brutish and short life and lifestyle in our region. Life Magazine published Hartong’s photo across two pages and someone posted it in the Enquirer newsroom coffee alley. It doesn’t get better than that.

In the Good Old Days, before self-inflicted sensitivity, the Enquirer had a unapologetic double standard for violent images. If the victim were local, the photo might be spiked to avoid upsetting readers. An example was the half-excavated body of a recognizable young construction worker suffocated in a trench cave-in.  Distant victims — executions, genocide or bodies in floods/earthquakes — were likelier to be displayed.

And even before the Good Old Days, Ed Reinke’s iconic photo of a line of shrouded bodies from the 1977 Beverly Hills supper club fire gave a sense of magnitude to the disaster that our best reporting couldn’t. It’s the first photo in the exhibit, preceded by a warning that some images could be troubling. They should be. I don’t know if Reinke’s photo would be used today.

• Ohio’s Sherrod Brown is among the Democratic senators targeted by out-of-state billionaire GOP donors. He’s an unapologetic liberal and the Progressive monthly made Brown’s re-election battle its latest cover story. A point I’d missed elsewhere is the unusual state FOP endorsement for a Democrat but Brown stood with officers against Republican legislation stripping them of most of their bargaining rights.

The Progressive story includes a Mason-area jeweler whose health insurer refused to pay for an advanced cancer treatment. Husband and wife say Reps. Jean Schmidt and John Boehner brushed off their pleas to intervene with the insurer. A Brown staffer — who said she didn’t care what party the Republican couple belongs to — spent the weekend successfully persuading the insurer to cover the potentially life-saving $100,000 procedure.

More recently, reporters on Diane Rehm’s public radio show estimated SuperPACs are spending $20 million to defeat Brown and suggested it might not suffice. As a DailyBeast.com columnist notes, polls show Republican Josh Mandel probably won’t even carry his home Jewish community in Cleveland.

• That same Progressive names 26 billionaires and their known donations to Republican and other rightwing causes in this election year. No Cincinnati-area men or women made the list but it’s reasonable to infer that some of the men listed donated secretly to Super PACs opposing Ohio’s Sherrod Brown’s re-election (see above).

• As one of that dying breed — an Enquirer subscriber who prefers print —  my morning paper is missing a lot. Customer service provided a free online copy and promised to deliver the missing paper paper the next day. Next day? Another customer service rep said only replacement Sunday Enquirers are delivered the same day. Message? Don’t stiff advertisers.

• The ad on the top half of the back page of the Oct. 11 Enquirer Local section invited everyone to a Romney-Ryan “victory event” on Oct. 13 at Lebanon’s Golden Lamb. The bold, black ad headline on the bottom half of the page was “The #1 dishwasher is also a best value.”

• Want to know more about Sarah Jones, the former Ben-Gal and school teacher who admitted to sex with a 17-year-old student? Among others, London’s Daily Mail has enough to satisfy anyone who doesn’t need to see a sex tape.

• Don’t piss off Turks. That’s a lesson lots of people have learned to their pain over the generations. No one will be surprised if Turkish forces invade Syria to end Syrian shelling of Turkish civilians.  Turkish troops have gone into Iraq to deal with threatening rebellious Turkish Kurds seeking sanctuary there.  Turkey is a NATO member and NATO says it will defend Turkey if required. A couple English-language websites can complement the snippets about this aspect of Syria’s civil war: aljazeera.com from the Gulf and hurriyetdailynews.com from Turkey. 

The New York Times stepped back from the slippery slope of allowing subjects of news stories to say what news is fit to print. It allowed some sources to review and possibly change their quotes before reporters used them. In July, Times reporter Jeremy Peters blew the whistle on the Times and other major news media. The alternative to quote approval often was the threat of no interview. Initially, the Times defended the practice. No longer. Jimromenesko.com reported the change.

Times executive editor Jill Abramson told Romenesko that  quote approval “puts so much control over the content of journalism in the wrong place . . . We need a tighter policy.”

Romenesko quoted a recent Times memorandum that said “demands for after-the-fact quote approval by sources and their press aides have gone too far . . . The practice risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources. In its most extreme form, it invites meddling by press aides and others that goes far beyond the traditional negotiations between reporter and source over the terms of an interview . . . So starting now, we want to draw a clear line on this. Citing Times policy, reporters should say no if a source demands, as a condition of an interview, that quotes be submitted afterward to the source or a press aide to review, approve or edit.”

Good. Here’s my question: What happens when a beat reporter can’t get an important interview after citing Times policy? Access is everything. Few people who want media attention will turn away the Times, but editors can get weird when reporters can’t get a desired interview. 

• Daily papers own and are members of the Associated Press. In their rush to be first, AP reporters used social media to get out the news and scooped member papers whose editors hadn’t seen the stories yet. That went over badly in today’s breathlessly competitive world. AP promises it won’t use social media until after breaking news is sent to members and non-member subscribers.
• It’s time for the news media to abandon “reverse discrimination” when the purported victim is white and English-speaking. It’s an issue again because the U.S. Supreme Court is reconsidering university racial admission criteria. A young woman claims the University of Texas rejected her because she is white. 

Discrimination is discrimination; someone is favored and someone is rejected. I won’t anticipate the court’s decision but the ethical issue is whether the community’s or the individual’s compelling interests are paramount when discrimination becomes policy and practice. Moreover, demographic trends could make “reverse discrimination” obvious nonsense if Anglos become a minority among newly-hyphenated and darker-skinned Americans and immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia.

 • We’ve seen three debates, two presidential, one veepish. The third was Tuesday or last night if you’re reading this on Wednesday. I missed it; I was fishing in Canada. Other journalists will tell you what you heard really means. I’ll catch up when I get home. At least the Biden-Ryan contest was lively and the moderator asked smart, sharp questions and kept the politicians under control.

• The vice president and challenger had disturbingly weird expressions when they listened. Biden’s smile recalled a colleague’s remark after waterskiing with me: “I saw Ben smile and he wasn’t baring his teeth.” Worse, Biden’s expression could appear to be a smirk.  Ryan’s intensity reminded me of a predator wondering about its next meal. Neither appearance had anything to do with the substance of the debate but it’s how we tend to judge people we don’t know. My question: Is this really how we choose the man one heartbeat away from leadership of The Free World (whatever the hell that means)?

• Viewers — and these performances are TV events — worry me. Too many tell reporters and pollsters that their votes can be influenced by how the candidates came across in the debates. The president and vice president do not belong to debating societies. This isn’t Britain’s House of Commons.  The ability to “win” a televised encounter has little or nothing to do with the job for which the men are contesting. Winners won’t debate until and unless they seek office again.

• News media would be in doldrums if there weren’t stories to write before and after each debate. They burn space and time when little else is happening - if you discount the economy, pestilence, war, famine, etc.

• Stories I didn’t read beyond the headlines. One’s from HuffingtonPost.com:
"Lindsay Lohan Reveals Her Pick For President"
The other is from the Thedailybeast.com:
"LINDSAY LOHAN PICKS MITT! & OTHER TOXIC ENDORSEMENTS"

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 9.19.2012 ]]> •  Enquirer prices are going up in a smart way.  The paper is embracing a computerized system which charges frequent users for its digital content. The more individuals read, the more they’ll be charged. Full access will mean just that and be available to home delivery and digital subscribers.


However, the Enquirer will still limit unpaid access to its archives. That’s a cheapening disservice to readers who want to know more than one day’s or one week’s reporting.


Infrequent/occasional readers still will be able to read up to 20 articles a month online content without paying. With new ways to get the news — smart phones, tablets, etc. — the Enquirer is adapting. As publisher Margaret Buchanan said in a note to readers and email, it’s better than following some other dailies by cutting print editions to three-a-week and charging for digital.


For more than a decade, online versions of print content and unique online content have been free but that’s not a sustainable business policy. It’s also been trendy to ask why dailies gave away online what they charged for in print. One response involved the technological problems involved in charging for digital content. That apparently is largely resolved here and elsewhere but it’s taken years. Another response was that of papers including the New York Times: free online content except for “premium” offerings such as op-ed columnists. That failed. It irritated more people than it recruited. Meanwhile, we became accustomed to the journalistic equivalent of a free lunch.


I say “we” because I quit reading any number of favorite publications when they threw up pay walls that did not include an occasional freebie. At the head of the pack were the Wall Street Journal and British dailies owned by Rupert Murdock. That included the London Times and Sunday Times. The cost was too great for what I largely could find elsewhere. I still turn to London’s Financial Times which allows me a few reads a month.
What publishers are learning to their glee is that readers are willing to pay for much of that now that they can get it on mobile devices. Surveys indicate that we have an insatiable appetite for news so long as we can get it anytime, any place we want it. That’s good news for all of us. Sustainable commercial news media remain vital to our form of self-government if only because they are everywhere and no other form of news media can do what they do.





 •  Maybe some of that new Enquirer income (above) will allow editor Carolyn Washburn to restore some traditional assignments that fell victim to years of staff purges. If anyone needed further proof that firing or retiring specialty beat reporters exacts a toll on credibility comes in a recent Enquirer Healthy Living section. The paper turned the entire cover page over to public relations people promoting their institutions in the guise of news. At least the Enquirer doesn’t pretend its reporters wrote those stories; UC Health and OSU got the bylines. With newsroom staff reductions, it’s open season on readers for public relations people. They increasingly operate without the scrutiny and possible intervention of a savvy reporter.



•  There is nothing wrong with what UC Health and OSU public relations people do when they offer free content to the Enquirer. That’s their job; promote the best possible image for their institutions consistent with the facts. The problem is at the paper. This goes beyond the traditional back-scratching where reporters rewrite news releases. That makes it the paper’s product and gives reporters a chance to ask questions.  A lot of what dailies — whether the Enquirer or Wall Street Journal — publish begins with press releases.


This symbiotic relationship can go too far. An Enquirer journalist once took a junket, came home and put his byline on the story prepared by the sponsor of the junket. When this ethical/professional travesty was noted, there was, to the paper’s shame, little or no condemnation. As one colleague put it, he thought it was uncommonly well written.


Another time, an Enquirer journalist put her name on a news release and ran it as a story, then had the chutzpah to accept an award for that “reporting” from the group that sent her the original press release.



•  The planned Enquirer switch to smaller, tabloid-like pages has been postponed until 2013; it was to start this Fall. The paper blames problems with the new format and new presses at the Columbus Dispatch which is to print both dailies. Meanwhile, Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn continues to tell us that small is beautiful. Or will be.



•  Channel 12 made the right decision in terms of audience numbers when they switched from the men’s final in the U.S. Open to an hour of Bengals chatter and then the game. However, viewers got an awful football game and missed what proved to be a riveting tennis match.




•  It’s never too early for Harvard undergrads to learn the importance of fitting into the Establishment. Reporters of the daily Harvard Crimson, the cradle of untold New York Timesmen over the decades, have agreed to clear quotes with Harvard officials before publishing their stories.


Jimromenesko.com reported this ethical blindness, saying, “Sometimes nothing is changed. But often, the quotations come back revised, to make the wording more erudite, the phrasing more direct, or the message more pointed. Sometimes the quotations are rejected outright or are rewritten to mean just the opposite of what the administrator said in the recorded interview.”


Romenesko also quoted Crimson President (editor) Ben Samuels’ memo to his staff. It said, in part,  “(W)e’ve seen an increase over the past several years in sources, especially Harvard administrators, who insist on reviewing their quotes prior to publication. When those administrators read their quotes, even quotes that Crimson reporters have recorded, they frequently ask that these quotes be modified.

“

Some of Harvard’s highest officials — including the president of the University, the provost, and the deans of the College and of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — have agreed to interviews with The Crimson only on the condition that their quotes not be printed without their approval. As a result, their quotes have become less candid, less telling and less meaningful to our coverage . . . To increase our striving for frank and informative quotations, we add a new policy now. Effective immediately, no writer may agree to an interview on the terms that quotes cannot be published without the source’s approval without express permission of the Managing Editor or the (editor) President.”



• CNN International (CNNi) is too close to repressive governments with which it has business deals, London’s Guardian says. “CNNi has aggressively pursued a business strategy of extensive, multifaceted financial arrangements between the network and several of the most repressive regimes around the world which the network purports to cover,” the liberal British paper says. “These arrangements extend far beyond standard sponsorship agreements for advertising of the type most major media outlets feature. CNNi produces . . . programs in an arrangement it describes as ‘in association with’ the government of a country, and offers regimes the ability to pay for specific programs about their country.” The Guardian says these programs are then featured as part of CNNi's so-called "Eye on" series ("Eye on Georgia", "Eye on the Philippines", "Eye on Poland"), or "Marketplace Middle East", all of which is designed to tout the positive economic, social and political features of that country.



The Guardian says “the disclosure for such arrangements is often barely visible . . . To the average viewer unaware of these government sponsorships, it appears to be standard ‘reporting’ from the network.” The paper says that in some “Eye on” programs, no such disclaimer is provided. CNN's "sponsorship policy" says "'[P]arts of CNN's coverage beyond the daily news are produced as special reports, which attract sponsors who pay to associate their products or services with the editorial content,' but claims that 'at no stage do the sponsors have a say in which stories CNN covers.'"



• Joe Biden’s acceptance speech at the Democrats’ convention reminded me that “enormity” is a poor choice for something big enough to brag about. If the speaker means huge, he/she should stick to that 5 cent word and skip the 50 cent malaprop. Enormity describes something awful or outrageous, not just big or important, as in, the enormity of a famine or genocide. While they’re at it, speech writers should drop  “fraction” from texts they hand dimmer bosses and clients. A fraction is anything less than the whole: 99/100 of something is a large fraction. It’s not a synonym for small.



• Sometimes, NPR reporters have me talking back and it’s not because it’s a “driveway moment,” when I won’t leave the car until the story is over. It’s usually because they’ve blown a story, not matter how balanced or detailed the broadcast. Repeated stories about the Chicago public school teachers’ strike left me wondering: 26,000 teachers for 350,000 students. I know that’s not really 13+ students per teacher in each classroom but the numbers still cry for explanation that in its he said/she said reporting, NPR failed to provide.



• Here’s another approach to saving local journalism: invite the local daily and public radio station to campus and integrate them with journalism school. The New York Times devoted a major business story to this innovation by Mercer University in Macon, Ga. The story mentioned another innovation, this one in Ohio: TheNewsOutlet initiated by the daily Youngstown Vindicator and Youngstown State University. Now, it includes Kent State and Akron universities. Journalism students work as interns, providing news stories to any organization. That made news when ProPublica, the nonpartisan investigative website, joined forces with TheNewsOutlet. Youngstown State  journalism students initially will work on investigative stories guided by ProPublica editors. ProPublica also is an open source news organization.



•  I’m willing to risk my perfect record at predicting Pulitzers: Tracey Shelton’s stunning photo of four Syrian rebels silhouetted by the flash of a tank shell that killed three of them in Aleppo. How Shelton escaped is unclear. She is close enough for the men to be individually recognizable. Her images are at GlobalPost.com: men sweeping a street, grabbing their weapons at the sight of an advancing Syrian Army tank, the explosion, the lone survivor running toward her through the smoke, and his lucky minor arm wound. My previous prediction: that the Pulitzer committee would change its rules to allow digital entries and honor the New Orleans Times-Picayune for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina that inundated its presses.



•  Poynter Online reports further proof of the nation’s partisan divide: “In August, 31 percent of Democrats polled by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press reported hearing ‘mostly bad news’ about the economy. In September, only 15 percent characterized economic news as bad. Sixty percent of Republicans and 36 percent of independents polled said economic news was mostly bad. The poll’s authors found the gap striking: Differences in perceptions of economic news emerged after Barack Obama took office. But they never have been as great as they are today.”



•  I was delighted to read and hear reporters challenge Romney’s falsification of the events in Cairo before the deadly riot in Benghazi. Romney berated Cairo embassy staff for its attempt to defuse rising Egyptian anger over the online short ridiculing and defaming Muhammed. The embassy issued a statement sympathizing with Muslim anger over the video. Romney damned the embassy staff and statement, saying it was the worst kind of appeasement after rioting in Cairo and Benghazi.  He had to know the statement preceded either riot.



•  American news media were of two minds when offered a graphic photo of a shirtless Chris Stevens after the ambassador was killed in Libya. Some media used it in their primary news reports. Others didn’t use it on air or in print but offered it online to readers. I would have used it. He was not bloody or disfigured, he was not being dragged through the streets or otherwise abused. He was a murder victim, one of four Americans killed in the consulate that day, and we can handle these images and the clarity they bring to events. Our news media showed no such squeamishness when provided photos of bloody Qaddafi.



•  Being a Royal Grandmother probably has always been tough, but Queen Elizabeth is having another annus terriblus: Prince Harry cavorts naked with tarts in Las Vegas and the seemingly perfect Kate is photographed topless on a vacation. Maybe the royals’ police protectors need remedial ed: cell phone cameras are everywhere and nothing goes unnoticed, especially if a royal prince is displaying his Crown Jewels, and paparazzi were sured to track William and Kate and to take off her bikini top on an outside balcony was unwittingly naive. Someone has to explain the facts of public life to these folks. They can’t depend on foreign news media being as deferential as those in the British Isles. Harry’s immodesty was published in Britain largely because it was universally available and seen online. Kate’s slip got plenty of online attention, too. British papers, of course, had to write about the future queen’s nipples without showing them. If there is an invasion of privacy suit in France where the photos were published, the photos will have to be introduced as evidence . . . and there we go again.
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<![CDATA[Investigation: Secret Ohio Group Supporting Mandel]]>

An investigation by nonprofit journalism group ProPublica has uncovered the identity of one of the secret super PACs funding advertisements attacking U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and promoting his challenger, Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel.

The group is the Government Integrity Fund and is headed by Columbus lobbyist Tom Norris. Norris’ lobbying firm Cap Square Solutions employs former Mandel aide Joe Ritter.

Ritter declined to comment to ProPublica about his role with Norris’ lobbying firm or whether he is involved with the Government Integrity Fund.

The race between Brown and Mandel is considered vital to Republicans who want to take control of the Senate and Democrats who want to hold on to their majority. It has turned into Ohio’s — and the nation’s — most expensive race.

The Associated Press reported in August that outside groups — like the Government Integrity Fund — have spent $15 million supporting Mandel, while similar groups have spent $3 million for Brown.

It’s unknown where the money is coming from because federal regulations and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United case allow the groups to spend unlimited amounts of cash on political ads without disclosing their donors.

Such groups are classified as non-profit “social welfare” groups, which don’t have to release donor information or register with the Federal Election Commission. They’re supposed to be “primarily” engaged in promoting social welfare.

Super PACs aren’t supposed to coordinate with campaigns, but it is common for them to hire politicians’ former aides.

According to ProPublica, Ritter was first hired by Mandel as an aide when the candidate was in the Ohio Legislature. He was then the field director for Mandel’s state treasurer campaign and then became a constituent and executive agency liaison when Mandel won that race. He left the treasurer’s office after six months to work for Norris’ lobbying firm.

Ritter was part of an ethics complaint filed after a Dayton Daily News investigation into Mandel’s practice of hiring former campaign workers for state jobs. Ritter has contested the charges.

Norris' ties to the Government Integrity Fund was discovered by ProPublica through documents filed with Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT. The Federal Communication Commission requires TV stations to keep detailed records about political advertisers.

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<![CDATA[Activist Group: Investigate Miners' Appearance at Romney Rally]]> The activist branch of a liberal telecommunications company has filed a petition asking the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate allegations that Murray Energy forced miners in Beallsville, Ohio to attend a rally for Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney.

CREDO Action Campaign Manager Josh Nelson told CityBeat that the group emailed the petition with 4,021 signatures to the Department of Labor Wednesday morning.

The petition reads: "Requiring employees to attend a Mitt Romney political rally without pay is totally unacceptable. I urge you to conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether Murray Energy violated any federal laws on August 14th, and to hold it fully accountable if it did."

Romney appeared at the event to attack what he called President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.” He was flanked on stage by hundreds of miners with soot-stained faces.

Dozens of those miners told WWVA-AM West Virginia talk show host David Blomquist that they were pulled from the mine before their shift was over and not paid for the full day of work. The miners, who Blomquist did not identify, said they were told that attendance at the rally was mandatory.

Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore told Blomquist on his radio show that managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.” 

He said that people who did not show up to the event, which organizers say drew 1,500 miners and family members, were not penalized for their absence.

“Forcing Ohio workers to participate in a political rally is unacceptable, so we're joining our friends at SEIU in calling on the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct an investigation to determine whether or not any federal laws were broken,” Nelson wrote in an email to CREDO Action’s Ohio activists on Sept. 1.

A spokeswoman for the Labor Department was not immediately able to confirm whether the department had received the petition or planned to launch an investigation.

This post will be updated with comment from the Labor Department when it becomes available.

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