CityBeat Blogs - Media Criticism http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-99.html <![CDATA[How The Enquirer Got Today’s Anti-Streetcar Story]]> Most Cincinnatians don’t view The Cincinnati Enquirer as a beacon of journalistic innovation, but today’s homepage headline pointing out that streetcar construction is costing the city an average of $50,000 a day was a reminder of how interested our Sole Surviving Daily is in drumming up negativity about the project.

Hundreds of streetcar supporters packed the Mercantile Library last night outlining the several different ways they plan to campaign to save the project — including various forms of litigation The Enquirer typically enjoys playing up as potentially costly to taxpayers — a story similar in concept to the anti-streetcar protests The Enquirer gave attention to leading up to the election.  

The Enquirer’s cursory wrap-up of the event was removed from the cincinnati.com homepage this morning, and it's currently not even listed on the site's News page even though it was published more recently than several stories that are. Left behind on the homepage is a real joke of analysis: the fact that the $1.5 million monthly construction cost divided by 30 days in a month amounts to $50,000 per day, assuming workers put in the same amount of time every day in a month and the city gets billed that way, which it doesn’t. 

The $1.5 million figure has been known for weeks, but $50,000 per day sounds dramatic enough that concerned taxpayers everywhere can repeat it to other ill-informed people at the water cooler. If these math whizzes wanted to really piss people off they would have broken it all the way down to $34.70 per minute, 24 hours a day. Man, fuck that streetcar!

At least the story’s third paragraph offered a piece of recent news: Halting construction will still cost the city $500,000 per month because it will be on the hook for workers who can’t be transferred and costs of rental equipment that will just sit there. (For Enquirer-esque context: It will still cost $16,667 per day or $11.57 a minute to temporarily halt the project.)

Also, the note in the headline (“Streetcar, which Cranley plans to cancel, still costing $50K a day”) reminding everyone that Cranley plans to cancel the project that is currently costing money seems unnecessary considering THE ONLY THING ANYONE HAS HEARD ABOUT SINCE THE ELECTION IS THAT CRANLEY PLANS TO STOP THE STREETCAR. It does nicely nudge readers toward the interactive forum they can click on and publicly lament how people who don’t pay taxes have too much control over our city.

(Additional professional advice: Consider changing the subhed from, “It'll be costly to stop, and costly to go on, but work continues until Cranley and new council officially stop it” to something that doesn’t sound like you have no idea what the fuck is going on.)

For context, the following are the streetcar stories currently presented on the website homepages of local media that have more talent/integrity than The Enquirer:

WVXU: Streetcar supporters will remain active to keep project going

WCPO: Federal official: Cincinnati will forfeit $40M in grants if streetcar project is canceled

WLWT: Standing-room-only crowd attends Cincinnati streetcar meeting

Cincinnati Business Courier: Feds: If you kill the streetcar, we want our money back

CityBeat: Streetcar supporters pack Mercantile Library, Fountain Square

CityBeat: Streetcar cancellation would cost Cincinnati federal funds

CONSERVATIVE MEDIA BONUS: 700WLW even has a relevant piece of streetcar news, although you have to scroll past a video of Russian kids wrestling a bear and an article suggesting that Obamacare is the president’s Katrina (whatever that means): Feds: Use money for streetcar or pay it back.

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<![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[Curmudgeon Notes 09.04.2013]]>  • I was at UPI in London during the 1963 March on Washington. I read about it in London dailies and the Paris Herald-Tribune. Since then, all kinds of “marches” on Washington have cheapened the brand. So has the obsessive replaying of snippets from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as if it were the event. I’m grateful to news media that went further in recalling the magnitude of the 1963 march and roles played by organizers and other speakers. This was part of the 1960s that I missed. 

• Court rulings allow the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s heir to own and control his “I Have a Dream” speech to the 1963 march. Anyone wanting to use more than a few words must pay. My first reaction was “WTF? It was a public event in a public place and a public speech to the public. That can be ‘owned’? Yup. 

• Stenographic reporting of the so-called debate over whether to bomb Syria back into the Stone Age helps build acceptance for a new war. Similarly, assertions that Assad’s forces gassed civilians are repeatedly reported as evidence or proof. 

As of this writing, reporters have quoted no top Obama administration official willing to offer evidence or proof. Instead, as evidence, we have unverified videos online and interpretations of what the images show. Reporters don’t tell us who provided death figures or who provided information that White House is using the claim Sarin gas was used. 

• Meanwhile, the constitutional expectation that only Congress can declare war has suffered the same fate as the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable seizures and searches; dying if not dead. 

Germany and Japan attacked us. Congress responded for the most recent time: 1942. Russia’s surrogate attacked our dictator across the 38th Parallel in 1950 and triggered the still-unresolved Korean police action. LBJ was conned or knowingly lied about reported 1964 attacks on American warships in the Tonkin Gulf and moved us into the undeclared Vietnam War. Luckily, Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in1990 and started Gulf War I. The CIA’s totally mistaken 2002 “slam dunk” assurance about Weapons of Mass Destruction was used by Bush to justify undeclared Gulf War II. After 9/11, Afghans sheltered Osama bin Laden before our allies in Pakistan sheltered him and that was used to justify our unfinished and undeclared war against the Taliban in both countries although the Taliban never attacked us. Let’s not even get into the invasion of Panama or Grenada or fiasco in Somalia. All that’s missing in this latest rush to bash a hornets nest is a repeat of the New York Times sycophantic reporting that Saddam Hussein had and would use weapons of mass destruction. 

• If you want a weapon of mass destruction, how about the AK-47, the totemic Soviet assault rifle that is ubiquitous on every continent or the simple machete/panga with which millions have been and are being murdered and/or mutilated. No chemical, biological or nuclear weapon has killed so many people. 

• When will some national reporter ask, “What’s surgical about a surgical strike?” Nothing unless we’re comparing it to carpet bombing a la Germany, Japan, Laos or Vietnam. 

Other than assassinating Assad with a drone-launched guided missile — good enough for Americans in Yemen —  any attack on Syria will create  “collateral” damage. They used to be called innocent victims, sort of like French civilians killed by Allies’ D-Day bombing. 

“Surgical strike” is a debasement of the language. I’m surprised that surgeons — whose marketing mavens constantly promote ever-smaller and more precise bodily invasions — don’t ask the Pentagon to abandon the phrase, “surgical strike.” 

However, it’s no mystery why news media are willing, even eager to echo this desensitizing insider language. It recalls “RPG,” “IED,” “smart bombs,” “boots on the ground” and similar military language embraced by civilian reporters for their civilian audiences. Except those buzz words weren’t for civilian audiences; it was how reporters assured military sources that journalists were savvy and sympathetic listeners. 

“Surgical strikes” serves us as badly as reporting unsupported assertions and assumptions as fact. Accurately reported bullshit is still bullshit. 

• Accurate reporting requires context. Why is gassing hundreds of Syrian civilians in Damascus worse than shooting and killing as many or more civilians about in and around Cairo? Why is the killing and wounding of thousands in Cairo worse than endlessly raping, wounding, mutilating and killing millions of civilians in the horribly misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo? 

• Our selective condemnation of poison gas recalls the 11th-century papal ban of the cross bow; peasant crossbowmen could kill armored knights from an unmanly and impersonal distance. That also was bad for the social order. Welsh bowmen faced no such opprobrium although their arrows killed far more mounted knights.

Jump ahead almost a millennium. There is debate on what is a chemical weapon and not all gasses — think tear gas — are poisonous. Poison gas was used infrequently but without sanction during the past 100 years. 

Germans and the British gassed each other during World War I. Communists were accused of using poison gas during Russian Civil War. Italians gassed native troops in Ethiopia in the 1930s in years when colonial powers were suspected/accused of gassing rebellious native troops. Japanese gassed Chinese during early World War II. Egyptians gassed Yemeni forces in the 1960s but Americans denied using toxic/blister gasses in Vietnam and Laos. Iraq deployed lethal gas against its own people and Iranian forces in the insane Iraq-Iran 1980s war. Politicians and UN officials fulminate against gassing civilians but they only remind us how selective agony and journalism can be. 

• No less authority than President Obama relegated the comparative to the dustbin of grammar. His speech at the Lincoln Memorial last week praised King and other civil rights activists, saying “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair.” True, but I’ll bet King would have said, “freer and fairer.” 

• Everyone’s lauding David Frost’s evocative interviews with disgraced Richard Nixon after he resigned the presidency. He died after a heart attack on Saturday.

My memory of Frost is different: TW3, the original That Was the Week that Was on BBC TV. It was as irreverent as posh Brits from Oxbridge could be and Frost was a central figure in its creation in 1962 and weekly broadcasts until it was cancelled to avoid criticism as the 1964 general election neared. Two skits stand out in my memory, in part because my Saturday night duties at UPI included watching and filing a story on anything newsworthy that TW3 did/said. 

The first showed an otherwise empty set with seemingly naked Millicent Martin, then young and drop-dead lovely, astride and leaning over the back of a curvy, modern Arne Jacobsen chair. It was the same pose call girl Christine Keeler used when photographed during the scandal over her affair with government minister John Profumo. You can see the original Keeler image at www.vam.ac.uk. Martin resembled Keeler just as Tina Fey looked like Sarah Palin. Martin looked straight at the camera and said something like, “John told me I was sitting on a fortune.” That was it. Perfect lampoon but there was no way to use that skit on UPI’s wire.

The second memorable skit followed the apparent TW3 and BBC late night sign-off. A De Gaulle look alike, right down the uniform and kepi on his head, addressed the Brits contemptuously over some strategic or diplomatic blunder. Then the broadcast ended. That skit was newsworthy. BBC said its switchboard operators — remember, this was the early 1960s — were overwhelmed. Seemed the perfect jab at the Establishment by its children fooled a lot of Brits; they thought BBC really had broadcast a De Gaulle speech.  

• On a celebratory note, authorities dropped charges against Tim Funk, religion reporter for the Charlotte Observer, who   arrested while he interviewed “Moral Monday” demonstrators at the Statehouse in Raleigh, NC.  He was charged with second-degree trespass and failure to disperse. 

Tim’s a Northern Kentuckian and among the ablest of decades of my undergraduate students. After the local prosecutor came to his senses, Tim told the AP, “It was clear to everyone there that I was a news reporter just doing my job interviewing Charlotte-area clergy about how they felt about being arrested. The reporter’s job is to be the eyes and ears of the public who can’t be present at important public events like this protest. That’s all I was doing.”  

When his June 10 arrest was reported, at least one respondent noted that Tim was among the first detained, stopping him from seeing how police handled demonstrators. 

His editor, Rick Thames, told AP, “This is clearly the right result, and we congratulate the district attorney for making the right decision. Tim Funk was working as a journalist inside the most obvious public building in our state. The videotape of Tim’s arrest demonstrates clearly that his only purpose in being there was to provide our readers a vivid firsthand account. He was clearly not obstructing the police. It’s hard to understand why he was arrested in the first place.”

• Cincinnati taxpayers need to know more about competing — and inescapably costly — plans to overcome years of city council shortchanging the city pension fund. The news isn’t good. As the Enquirer’s James Pilcher put it Sunday, “if every man,woman and child living in the city of Cincinnati contributed $2,000 apiece, it still wouldn’t be enough to fill the plan’s current $870 million gap.”

There’s a timeline with his explanatory story that screams for elaboration: What, if any, roles did mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley play in council decisions to deepen the pension debt?

And I howled at the quote from state auditor Dave Yost: “ . . . the city is in a fork in the road . . . And I’m concerned Cincinnati is not doing enough to avoid going down that fork in the road.” 

Don’t try this at home. Sort of like standing with a foot on each side of a barbed wire fence. Reminds me of a friend who’d look right, point left and say, “Go this way.” 

Maybe with Yost’s sense of direction, Cincinnati should consider the road not taken. 


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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[Curmudgeon Notes 5.15.2013]]> Some Cincinnati IRS employees violated IRS rules and maybe the law by harassing scores of Tea Party and similar conservative groups seeking vital nonprofit status.  

As an example of IRS intrusiveness, the Enquirer reports that the Liberty Township Tea Party received a questionnaire demanding information the IRS is not allowed to seek. “The letter was signed by a local IRS official, who did not return calls seeking comment,” the paper initially reported. Who? Name names. If the IRS employee signed and sent an official government document, there’s no reason to grant anonymity. 

Later in its initial full page A-section story, the Enquirer quotes Ohio IRS spokeswoman Jennifer Jenkins saying, “Mistakes were made.” By whom? Again, names, please. Americans increasingly favor the passive voice, “mistakes were made” but no one made them. If the paper pressed for names of mistake-makers, it’s not evident. And who was fired? Anyone? 

The Associated Press — whose reporter broke this scandal story — says the Cincinnati mess is at least two years old. This isn’t new. We’ve seen IRS harassment of activists before and probably will again. Each time, it’s a scandal. Or should be. 

Any loss of residual confidence in IRS nonpartisanship is a helluva lot more serious than the muddle surrounding the killing of four Americans in Benghazi or the murder of three spectators at the Boston marathon. 

I’m sure it’s coincidence that the Cincinnati IRS harassment preceded the 2012 election. And I’m sure those employees were motivated only by zeal to protect the purity of the 501(c)(4) status from improper or illegal political activity. But I’m also sure that any agnostic or atheist Republicans are looking at this Cincinnati-born national IRS scandal as proof that “there is a God.” Now, to keep that wrath boiling with hearings until 2014 elections. 

The Associated Press says it’s the target of a sweeping Justice Department search for the news service’s confidential sources.  Monday, AP reported the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors . . . in what the news cooperative's top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.

“The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of calls.

“In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”

Maybe it’s time to call in the Plumbers. 

I’m no fan of public radio’s Ira Glass. His whiney voice sends me to WLW 700 AM radio for something more insanely macho. Now, he’s shoveling natural soil enrichment in recorded promos for public radio fund raising. I heard them on WVXU-FM’s just-ended fund drive. His point: We should all be happy because everyone who listens to public radio helps support public radio. Not true. Never will be. At WVXU, fewer than 10 percent of us donate to its support. That means Ira Glass’s everyone are mostly parasites, listening but not paying. (Our family is a sustaining member of WVXU and WGUC . . .  )  

How do our local news media track Macy’s commitment to ethical sourcing of its house-brand clothing from Asian countries where factory fires, collapses, etc., are just a cost of doing business? Contracts go where labor is cheapest. People work or go hungry. It’s only going to get worse when huge numbers of youngsters mature. Macy’s said the right things after hundreds died after a Bangladesh factory crumbled, but now it’s up to reporters to stay on the story. 

I glad Macy’s says it will continue to buy products made in Bangladesh. Pleasing writers of anguished Letters to the Editor and leaving Bangladesh in a virtuous huff doesn’t employ or feed anyone. I’ve been in and out of developing countries for half a century. Lots of cheap unskilled or semi-skilled labor feeds more families than one machine (that breaks and rusts unrepaired). Whether it’s subsistence farming, breaking stones with hammers for roadbeds, pedaling a rickshaw or laborers carrying building materials up ladders in baskets on their heads, it’s work that feeds. We can feel guilty, but walking away helps no one...else. 

BBC accuses the Plain Dealer of racist news judgment over stories about kidnapped young women freed recently after a decade of imprisonment and abuse. BBC based its provocative judgment on its count of stories about two of the three young women, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. “In Cleveland, the newspaper stories were mainly about the white girl,” BBC News Magazine reporter Tara McKelvey wrote. “In the 10 years Berry was missing, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper published 36 articles about her, according to a search of electronic news archive Lexis-Nexis. During the nine-year period that DeJesus, who is Hispanic, was missing, the newspaper published 19 articles about her case.” 

This is typical of American news media where MWW (Missing White Woman) gets more coverage than black or Hispanic girls and women, according to academics McKelvey quoted. 

But Chris Quinn, the Plain Dealer’s assistant managing editor/metro, rejects McKelvey’s accusation. He says it’s not only wrong but “based on an analysis so simplistic we would have thought it beneath an organization such as yours.” Quinn said his “much more thorough review” shows the reverse of the BBC tally. “The number of stories about DeJesus actually is greater than the number mentioning Berry, contrary what you assert. Your analysis did not include all variations of the DeJesus first name, a rather glaring lapse.”

Quinn continued, “Because of the racial aspect your network chose to focus on, we also included in our review stories about Shakira Johnson, a black child who went missing around the same time as Amanda and Gina. The hunt for Shakira was as big a community effort as the hunt for the other missing girls.” Here’s his tally: 

Stories mentioning Shakira Johnson and not Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry: 145
Stories mentioning only Gina DeJesus (or Georgina DeJesus): 24
Stories mentioning only Amanda Berry: 17
Stories mentioning Berry and DeJesus together: 8
Stories mentioning Berry, DeJesus and Johnson: 6
Stories mentioning DeJesus and Johnson together: 2

And Quinn closed, “The suggestion that this newspaper has used race as any kind of filter in its story choices is offensive in the extreme. We’re shocked that such a poorly reported story could be posted by a network with your reputation.”

You can thank Time magazine and writer Steven Brill for prying comparative hospital costs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Enquirer carried a sample for local hospitals. 

According to Poynter.com, the journalism website, Brian Cook at the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tells Brill the move “comes in part” because of Brill’s article from March about health-care costs. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also offering $87 million to the states to create what she calls “health-care-data-pricing centers.” 

Poynter continues, saying the centers will make pricing transparency more local and user friendly than the giant data file. Brill says the report “should become a tip sheet for reporters in every American city and town, who can now ask hospitals to explain their pricing...If your medical insurance requires you pay a percentage of a procedure’s cost, that’s very useful information.”

When are reporters going to call their bluff when speakers wax lyrical about the joys of good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns? Instead of spreading these fantasies, interview people who train others in the defensive use of  handguns. Or talk to police and military firearms instructors and combat veterans on how difficult it can be to overcome the normal resistance to shooting another person.

Look at news stories that describe how many rounds officers fired in armed confrontations; adrenalin does nothing to steady the gun hand or restrain how many times an officer pulls the trigger. And these are the best we have. 

I’ve used handguns for more than 50 years. I passed the official Ohio 12-hour concealed/carry course for a CityBeat cover story. If anyone thinks that training prepared them to provide armed response in schools, movie theaters, malls, etc.,  they’re suffering a potentially deadly delusion. It’s time reporters began to add that context to the debate of guns in our society. 

College campuses are perfect for training student reporters. These schools typically are rich with conflicts of interest, executives with edifice complexes, misspent millions, and bureaucrats eager to escape blame or avoid offending alumni. The Columbus Dispatch reported this example last week about suburban Otterbein University, a United Methodist four-year school.  

It said Otterbein agreed to stop requiring students involved in sexual-assault cases to sign confidentiality agreements because student newspaper journalists discovered it was violating federal law. After initially denying it, the Dispatch reported, an Otterbein official told reporters for the student newspaper that he didn’t realize Otterbein had had victims, as well as others, sign a nondisclosure clause. 

“We just followed the bread crumbs,” Chelsea Coleman, a 21-year-old journalism and public relations major who wrote the Tan & Cardinal story with another student, told the Dispatch

One need not agree with Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman to appreciate his recent criticism of how news media handle stories involving expertise. In his New York Times op-ed column, Krugman singles out the Washington Post but he could have included many if not most news media. 

Citing a controversial study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the Post warned that Americans are “dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.” Krugman pounced. “Notice the phrasing: ‘economists,’ not ‘some economists,’ let alone ‘some economists, vigorously disputed by other economists with equally good credentials,’ which was the reality.” 

Reporters can be too eager to substitute formulaic brevity for accuracy: doctors say, psychologists say, weight loss experts say, police say, reporters say, etc. My advice: beware of any news story that identifies someone as an “expert” without a clear explanation of their expertise. 

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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[Mayor Shrinking Staff Budget Despite Raises]]> Even though some members of Mayor Mark Mallory's staff are getting double-digit raises, the mayor's budget is actually being downsized to rely on less staff members, ultimately shrinking the mayor's office budget by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1.

Some of Mallory's staff obtained raises because they will be taking up the former duties of Ryan Adcock, who left earlier in the month to help lead a task force on infant mortality and will not be replaced.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported the raises earlier today, but the story at first did not mention that the budgetary moves will ultimately save the city money. The "Enquirer exclusive" includes a "tell them what you think" section in which citizens can email the mayor's office and copy Enquirer editors. The story was later updated to include the overall savings, though The Enquirer posted a separate blog titled, "Mallory getting an earful on raises," which was a collection of angry emails to the mayor based on the original version of the story.

CityBeat acquired a memo written by Mallory that outlines the rest of the plan, which will produce savings: "I will not replace Ryan Adcock on my staff. Instead, I have divided his responsibilities among my remaining staff. In addition, I will not hire the two part-time staffers that I had considered hiring. The additional work in the office will be supplemented by unpaid interns.

"In addition, I have enacted internal savings in order to return $20,000 from my FY 2013 office budget to be used for the FY 2014 city budget. Finally, in preparation of the Mayor’s Office Budget for FY 2014, I am reducing my office budget by $33,000 for the remaining 5 months of my term."

Mallory spokesperson Jason Barron says the mayor will also not be replacing staff that leaves from this point forward, which could produce more savings down the line.

As of 6:30 p.m., The Enquirer's homepage still prominently displayed the story out of context, suggesting that the raises will add to the city's $35 million deficit.


Shawn Butler, the mayor's director of community affairs, was given an 11-percent raise; Barron, the mayor's director of public affairs, was given a 16-percent raise; and Arlen Herrell, the mayor's director of international affairs, was given a 20-percent raise. Adcock also obtained a 20-percent raise briefly before leaving, which Barron described to CityBeat as a budgetary technicality.

Since Mallory is term-limited, Barron says the savings will only apply to Mallory's remaining five months. The mayor who replaces Mallory in December will decide whether to keep or rework Mallory's policies.

Last year, Barron was paid $66,144 in regular pay, Butler was paid $71,349, Herrell was paid $59,961 and Adcock was paid $66,049, according to the city's payroll records. But Barron explained that those numbers were higher because last year happened to have an extra payday. Under normal circumstances, Barron is paid $62,740 a year, Butler is paid $67,760, Adcock was paid $62,740 and Herrell is paid $62,031.
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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 4.17.2013]]> • Tuesday’s Enquirer abandoned its traditional timidity and published bloody color images of victims of Boston Marathon bombings. Good. I’m sure also there were images too ghastly for the breakfast table, but the shift is welcome. The inside image of an elderly runner knocked down by the blast and framed by Boston cops running toward the explosion was another good decision. He collapsed as the blast surge hit him in the midst of other runners. We saw that on TV/online. It was one of the earliest viral images. NPR said the 78-year-old man stood and walked to the finish line, saying he hadn’t run 26 miles to quit.

HuffingtonPost.com quickly repeated this potential calumny: “Investigators have a suspect — a Saudi Arabian national — in the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, The (New York) Post has learned. Law enforcement sources said the 20-year-old suspect was under guard at an undisclosed Boston hospital.”

About the same time, Massachusetts and Boston officials were telling journalists they had no suspects.

I recall how authorities initially sought someone who looked like an Arab after the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995. How do I know? It was all over the news media. As the current FBI website puts it,  “Coming on the heels of the (first) World Trade Center bombing in New York two years earlier, the media and many Americans immediately assumed that the attack was the handiwork of Middle Eastern terrorists.” 

Two white non-Arab Americans were convicted of the bombing. The only “Arab” link was murderer Timothy McVeigh’s military service in the first Iraq invasion, Desert Storm, where he won a Bronze Star. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists continued to weave elaborate links between the Oklahoma City bombers and Arabs.  

Everyone with a microphone seems to be telling us the investigation of the Boston bombings will be complex and unhurried. Many recall how long it took to abandon suspicion of security guard Richard Jewell as the Atlanta Olympics bomber. It took two years to identify Eric Rudolph as the bomber and another five to arrest him. False leads will abound and forensic evidence will be sought, collected and analyzed. Some will be helpful, some will be misleading. With so many journalists present, initial coverage largely was self-correcting. The rumor of seven more bombs or a bomb at the JFK library was quickly spiked. The story that local officials blew up a third bomb lasted a little longer. That was half-correct: They blew up a package/backpack but it was not a bomb. There were only two bombs as of this writing. 

Everyone with a microphone seems to be saying the Boston bombing investigation will be complex and unhurried. Many recall how long it took to abandon suspicion of security guard Richard Jewell as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber. False leads will abound and forensic evidence will be sought, collected and analyzed. Some will be helpful, some will be misleading. 

• If bombers hoped to create terror, the Boston Marathon was a smart choice: there would be lots of images from cell phones and the news media. It fits my theory of 9/11: the initial 2001 attack on the World Trade Center tower was timed to assure the news media would get full coverage of the jetliner flying into the second tower. 

• Moving on from bloodshed, Rachel Richardson’s Enquirer story about dogs in the workplace was a smart story, especially part about socialization being vital to a dog fitting in.  

And she pushed my nostalgia button. My first job out of college was night editing a daily paper in Italy. I bought a Belgian Shepherd (Groenendael) pup and named him Loki for the Norse trickster. His mother was a part-wolf/mountain shepherd's companion and father was an Italian ex-Army K9. With long, silky black coat, a plume of a tail, alert eyes and ears, Loki was an unbeatable chick magnet.  

His socialization comprised strolling Rome, riding and waiting in my car, joining me in bars and restaurants, and lying under my desk at the Rome Daily American at night when I was the only journalist. I didn't know the breed is famous/infamous for one-person loyalty and instinct to protect: person, possessions, etc.

Loki didn’t approve of anyone approaching my desk when I was in the back shop where type was set, pages were composed and the press run. Anyone else would bring him to his feet, ears back, shoulder blades up, teeth bared . . . but silent. Even as a pup, he could be menacing. “Lupo siberiano,” or Siberian wolf, was the Roman nickname for the breed. 

Night messengers who brought engraved zinc plates — photos for every edition in that ancient era of hot type and flatbed press — quickly learned to avoid the newsroom and come directly into the back shop. Loki was a force to be accommodated. 

Away from the office, he’d curl up on my Sunbeam Alpine’s passenger seat and bite anyone who was silly enough to reach into the car in hopes of a quick theft.

He rarely let go before I returned and that could create Roman opera buffa. Loki’s victim typically threatened to call police about my vicious dog and — without telling Loki to let go — I offered to help by shouting for police. We never did call for police. When released, the would-be thief unfailingly walked away, cursing me for enticing him with an open sports car into what he hoped was a crime of opportunity. 

When I worked days, Loki stayed home nearby. His socialization didn’t accommodate the chaos of a small, crowded newsroom with strangers coming and going. 

Again, thanks for the reminder: fun, smart and god help us, mindful of Enquirer watchdog obligations.

• As anticipated here, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is following other Newhouse dailies by reducing home deliveries to three days a week: Sunday and two days to be named later. The PD says it will print seven days a week for street sales. It also plans to fire about a third of its newsroom staff.  It’s a sad demise of what long was Ohio’s best daily. 

• The Enquirer business section headline was “Survey: Downtown seen as more positive.” That’s also what the story said, based on what Downtown Cincinnati Inc. told the paper. The accompanying photo showed people playing in Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. People feeling positive downtown just weren’t photogenic. 

• Read Gina Kolata’s April 7 New York Times story on a new understanding of the role of red meat in heart trouble. It’s among the best story telling in a long time. It’s a complicated subject but she draws us in with researchers sitting down to sizzling sirloin breakfast “for the sake of science.” It gets even better as she explains that the science involves  “a little-studied chemical that is burped out by bacteria . . . “ Talk about imagery. Send photos.  

• NPR is killing its Monday-Thursday afternoon call-in show, Talk of the Nation, and we’ll all be poorer for it. Talk of the Nation involves civil, lengthy discussion of timely topics. NPR is working with Boston’s WBUR to create a program for Talk’s 2-4 p.m. time slot. NPR says member stations wanted a program more like Morning Edition and All Things Considered in the afternoon and evening. Too bad. Expect lots of canned (and cheaply produced) interviews that seem to be the promise of the new show. 

• Journalists should refuse to name sources to whom they’ve promised confidentiality. The corollary, of course, is to ask first whether we’re willing to serve time for contempt of court if we reject a judge's demands that we break our word and name our source(s). In that sense, we probably don’t think it will happen to us and almost mindlessly promise confidentiality to encourage sources to talk to us. 

So when there is a court confrontation, the refusenik journalist typically is cast as the hero and the judge as a mindless apparatchik and/or tool of the prosecutor. That’s too simple. Reporters are free to ask their sources to release them from their promise of confidentiality. Judges should compel testimony only when prosecutors have used every other way to identify reporters’ sources and silence could pervert justice. Judges are on the hot seat as much as reporters. 

The latest unresolved contest involves Jana Winter who quoted unnamed law enforcement personnel when she reported that Aurora, Colo., gunman James Holmes sent an incriminating notebook to his psychiatrist before massacring moviegoers. FoxNews.com’s Winter said the notebook was filled with violent notes and drawings. Now that the apparently accurate information is out, I don’t see how the sources’ identities matter to a fair trial if there ever is one. 

Rather, I like what Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, told the New York Times: “If you required reporters to disclose their sources every time there was a minor leak in a high profile criminal case, the jails would be filled in America with journalists.”

• London’s Daily Mail reports the auction of a log book kept by the RAF navigator whose “bouncing bomb” breached a vital German dam during World War II. The raid was portrayed in the film, The Dambusters. The Daily Mail’s story was spoiled only by a photo of the unique bomb being dropped by a twin-engine plane; Dambusters flew four-engine Lancaster heavy bombers. 

• Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is loathed to degrees that W and Obama cannot imagine. Her death last week sparked national demonstrations of joy even as the government and palace hoped that her almost-state funeral in London could be protected from demonstrators. Haters danced in the street, daubed “Rust in Hell” about the Iron Lady, and sang “Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead.” That forced BBC to decide whether to play that song from the Wizard of Oz movie on BBC radio shows dedicated to hit songs or on news programs about Thatcher’s life and death. The song reportedly became No. 1 on iTunes before the funeral and it was headed for the top of the pop charts, pushed by Thatcher haters. At last report, BBC’s director general said only a 5-second snippet would be allowed on the main radio channel. New to his job, he pissed off everyone. 

• Patrice Lumumba was the Congo’s first prime minister after Belgium granted independence to the huge, potentially wealthy and criminally unprepared colony. He was murdered not long before I began working on the Congo border in Northern Rhodesia. He already was a martyr-hero of the Left when I studied African anthropology in London.

Lumumba’s abduction, torture and murder were popularly assumed to be a CIA operation, working with Belgians, rebels in copper-rich Katanga province, and others who coveted the Congo’s mineral wealth and mines.

Now, a curious news story in London’s Telegraph says Britain’s worldwide Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) engineered Lumumba’s death. More curious is the weight it gives to a second-hand source. It quotes Lord Lea of Crondall quoting Baroness (Daphne) Park of Monmouth, who was the senior MI6 officer in the Congo then, as saying  she "organised it.” 

Lord Lea told the Telegraph, "It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park – we were colleagues from opposite sides of the Lords – a few months before she died in March 2010. She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba's abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. 'We did,' she replied, 'I organised it.'"

The Telegraph said Lord Lea claimed Baroness Park reasonably was concerned that Lumumba might be a communist siding with Soviet Russia. After all, African and Asian independence leaders like Lumumba, South Africa’s Mandela and others often found their most active Cold War support mainly in Moscow and the wider Communist movement. 

Initially blaming the CIA wasn’t irrational. By Lumumba’s death in 1961, the CIA had engineered the overthrow of elected governments in Iran and Guatemala and botched the Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Cuba’s Fidel Castro. 

Belgium apologized in 2002 for failing to prevent Lumumba’s death. In 2006, the Telegraph said, “documents showed the CIA had plotted to assassinate him but the plot was abandoned.”

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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[New 'Enquirer' Tabloid Out Today]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having nursed a new daily to life years ago, I still can recall the pleasure of holding that first edition. I hope Enquirer journalists know that feeling today.
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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 3.6.2013]]> The satirical website, The Onion, added kiddie porn to the Academy Awards. It tweeted about the 9-year-old Oscar nominee for Best Actress: “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 1.23.2013]]>

Enquirer reporter Sharon Coolidge’s use of open records law documented Cincinnati’s lax enforcement of lead paint removal orders. She told CityBeat that her coverage included positive impacts in addition to those above in my main column:

The day after her story was published, Mayor Mark Mallory ordered health officials to explain why they hadn't forced problem landlords to clean up their properties. 

Three public hearings led to a comprehensive city plan to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010. The plan lowers the medical threshold at which health officials can intervene, thus catching lead poisoning in its earliest stages. 

City Council gave the health department more than $1 million to finance reforms. Poor families are getting kits to detect whether their homes are contaminated.

In one of his first acts as new governor, Ted Strickland allowed cities to sue lead-paint producers; Cincinnati is suing Sherwin-Williams.

State lawmakers are considering a new law, named after a family featured in the Enquirer story, to provide $20,000 grants for lead removal.

A more recent public benefit from open records laws involved the Enquirer suit to obtain secret streetcar vendors’ bids.  Attorney Jack Greiner, who handles First Amendment issues for the paper, said that Cincinnati's ordinance requires bids be available for public review. Faced with resistance, the Enquirer went to court. Hamilton County appellate judges agreed with the paper, rejecting company arguments that records were exempt from public records law as "trade secrets." 

Unless you’re living under a Rock of Cliches, you’ve read or heard that flu is sweeping the nation. Every sneeze, every cough, every chill and shiver warns us that the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse is tethering his pale horse at our curb. The catch is that despite breathless news media offerings, little unusual is happening except for an early, aggressive onset of the perennial scourge. Thousands die every year from flu, most of them elderly. It would be news if we didn’t. Annual death estimates — hampered by incomplete reporting and similar health problems — range from 3,000 to 49,000.  

An Enquirer Sunday Forum carried Michael Kinsley’s column about Hillary Clinton’s extensive foreign travel as secretary of state. Kinsley doubts the value of much of her travel but in today’s world, “The less important the trip, the more prestige you gain by taking it.” Having time and money to waste proves you have time and money to waste . . . even if you’re on the taxpayers’  clock and paycheck. Maybe that explains an otherwise inexplicable Enquirer revelation that Steve Chabot is a foreign policy expert, citing his extensive foreign travel at taxpayer expense.

Enquirer reporter Dan Horn produced two nay-saying front page stories. Both were welcome surprises from Cincinnati’s “get on the team” daily. One questioned the argument that right-to-work laws provide an economic boost in states like Indiana, Michigan, or, potentially, Ohio. That anti-union policy was a staple topic in my 1950s high school debating days. Economic analysis, like divining why crime rates change, is more complicated than whether union membership is optional or required in a “union shop.” Too many union/right-to-work debates — fueled by no-compromise advocates putting re-election before public benefit — ignore complexity. 

A second invocation of skepticism by the Enquirer’s Dan Horn raised serious doubts about feel-good gun buy-back programs. I’ll go this far on guns: each firearm bought back and destroyed (not bought back and sold to dealers for resale) is a gun that won’t kill someone. Cincinnati Police destroy buy-back weapons not needed for investigations. Buy-back, however, won’t change life on Cincinnati streets where scores of young men kill each other each year. Anyone who wants a firearm can get one faster than you can say, “Your money or your life.” Similar doubts about Cincinnati’s gun buy-back program made Page 1 of the New York Times.  

Fox 19’s Dave Culbreth came up with a smart take on the controversial idea of arming teachers and school administrators. He interviewed Target World assistant manager Amy Hanlon who demonstrated how a woman could carry a concealed handgun. As Culbreth noted, there was nothing special about her clothing: slacks, blouse, overshirt.  By the end of the interview, she’d removed nine concealed semi-automatics or revolvers, including one tucked under her bra in a holster that also was displayed on a counter-top mannequin bust. 

WCPO-TV plans an online local news challenge to the Enquirer’s  Cincinnati.com, according to Business Courier’s Jon Newberry. It’s a pioneering effort by Cincinnati-based E. W. Scripps that could go national, Newberry suggested. Whether additional reporters, producers, editors, etc., will come from the Business Courier and other established news media was not clear. Scripps — a Cincinnati-based national print and broadcast company—  published the Cincinnati Post until it closed the barely-sustaining joint operating agreement with the Enquirer ended in 2007. 

Blogger Peter Heimlich tipped me to Channel 19 anchor Ben Swann’s web gig called Full Disclosure. Swann says there are enough witnesses to challenge official police narratives of single shooters at three recent massacres: the Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh temple; Aurora, Colo., Batman movie premiere, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, ConnSalon.com challenged Swann about his apparent validation of those counter-narratives and he replied in part, “The bottom line for me is the issue of asking questions. As you will notice, I don’t call these operations ‘false flag’ as many people do … (his ellipses) But as a journalist, that is not my job. Rather, my job is to be a critical thinker.” And he added, “most of our media fail to question stories . . .  a journalist’s job is not to have the answers, it is to ask the questions and search for truth.” 

There’s a pathetic undercurrent in the Enquirer’s Monday Page 1 profile of Henry Heimlich’s efforts to regain American Red Cross support for his eponymous “maneuver.” The physician claims there is no research to support the Red Cross’s decision to return to back slaps rather than Heimlich abdominal thrusts as first response to choking. Other than Heimlich’s self-serving claims, there is no research proving his maneuver works as well or better than back slaps. Assertions are not evidence. Moreover, the Red Cross adopted Heimlich’s maneuver years ago without the research Heimlich is calling for now. Heimlich has anecdotal evidence of lives saved but that’s not research. Wisely, reporter Cliff Radel quoted skeptics and critics of the maneuver. That kind of even-handedness usually escapes admiring Enquirer stories about Heimlich. And if the paper ever corrected a Memorial Day feature on water safety, I missed it. The Enquirer drew national ridicule with its illustration on how to use Heimlich’s maneuver to revive a standing near-drowning victim. 

It’s spitting into the wind to ask sports reporters to question what jocks tell them, especially when truth-telling endangers future access. In the Good Old Days, who read about fornicating, drunken and racist professional athletes? More recently, golf reporters and publications didn’t write about married Tiger Woods’ screwing around. This time, it’s Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s stories about the heart-ripping death of girlfriend Lennay Kekua from leukemia. Editors loved it. Now, it seems she was a fiction amplified by incurious and credulous reporters. It took sports blog Deadspin.com to reveal the fraud after its reporters could find no public records of her birth, life, education or death. Almost as nauseating as the saccharine original stories about her death are the faux introspection by sycophant reporters caught by the fraud. 

We’ve gone a week without a promo for Oprah’s interview with champion liar-cheater Lance Armstrong. That’s closure.  So what does Armstrong do now? Pitch performance enhancing drugs and blood transfusions on ESPN and late TV? 

Al Gore sold his troubled Current cable network to Al Jazeera, the satellite network based in Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Good. Nothing bars foreigners from owning a cable network here, unlike the law that forced Australian Rupert Murdoch to obtain U.S. citizenship after he bought Fox.

Backed by the ruling Qatari emir, Al Jazeera scandalized Americans for broadcasting tirades by Osama bin Laden and other anti-western Arab leaders.  We should have welcomed what they said in Arabic for home audiences. Too often, we  rely on sanitized remarks for non-Arabic-speaking audiences or Washington assurances it was trying to verify that speakers were who they said they were.  Al Jazeera also infuriated Arab audiences by carrying interviews with American and Israeli officials that others in the Middle East ignored or rejected. 

Most American cable companies won’t carry the newer Al Jazeera English but its website is one of my daily stops, especially when, say, AQIM kidnaps oil workers in Algeria or French Legionnaires assist Mali’s pathetic army in trying to halt and turn back Islamist rebels. 

Al Jazeera coverage of “Arab Spring” was so aggressive that embattled North African rulers correctly accused it of supporting anti-government demonstrators. So is Al Jazeera open to interference by the Qatari government? Yes. Are its biases plain to anyone who listens or reads? Yes. We don’t ignore Fox News for its biases. 

American news media employ local nationals in foreign bureaus for their contacts and language skills. That reliance failed when no one reported the 2010 anti-semitic rant by Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who now is Egypt’s president. In part, Morsi called Jews “apes and dogs” and shared the fantasy that the Palestinian Authority was “created by the Zionist and American enemies for the sole purpose of opposing the will of the Palestinian people and its interests.” 

Still nastier, he urged listeners “to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews . . .  bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.” 

A stump speech in his Nile Delta hometown, it took more than two years to reach English-language news media. The original Arabic video is on YouTube now. I encountered a translation of Morsi this month on a Forbes website that, in part, chided the New York Times for missing or killing the story. Days later, it was on Page 1 of the Times. After that, the Obama administration an official “tut-tut.” 

Maybe they’ll blame one of those ominous Canadian Cold Air Masses (meteorological, not theological) for the brain freeze that disabled news judgment at the Toronto Star. Flippant columns about rape aren’t funny. Jimromenesko.com posted these first two paragraphs of Rosie DiManno’s column about testimony during the sexual abuse trial of a local physician: 

“She lost a womb but gained a penis.

“The former was being removed surgically — full hysterectomy — while the latter was forcibly shoved into her slack mouth..."

Headlines are an art that always risks a step too far in an attempt to cure the copy editor boredom and draw readers to a story. This one, from philly.com, achieves both in what has become a national story about a popular and well-connected parish pastor: “Catholic priest/meth dealer liked sex in the rectory.” You know you’d read more. 

Finally, this from Shannyn Moore, who blogs on HuffPost as “Just a Girl from Homer, Alaska.” It appeared first in the Anchorage Daily News and makes her points without venturing beyond the pale into bad taste: “I'm not advocating for no guns. I like mine and am not about to give them up. But in this country, my uterus is more regulated than my guns. Birth control and reproductive health services are harder to get than bullets. What is that about? Guns don't kill people vaginas do?”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some people really suck at political slogans.

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

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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 12.26.2012]]> How a small weekly responds to an unimaginable disaster and scores a world scoop is a lesson in the best of journalism. Poynter online’s Julie Moos described what happened after Newtown Bee associate editor Shannon Hicks heard the initial call over her police scanner. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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<![CDATA[Curmudgeon Notes 12.12.2012]]> As much as I usually enjoy Krista Ramsey’s controlled, empathetic reporting and writing, I don’t understand why Enquirer editors wasted her talent and their limited space on their serial about a bank-robbing granny. Who cares? If I learned anything, it was from the front page dedicated to the start of the serial. It was pure, screaming tabloid and perfect practice for the day the Enquirer shrinks its page size again. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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