by Ben L. Kaufman
Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond
• Giovanna Chirri, the veteran Vaticanista who understood
the pope’s Latin, broke the news that he’d just announced his
resignation. She works for the Italian news agency, ANSA. Her skill
recalled Ernest Sackler at Rome’s UPI bureau when I was a
photojournalist stringer during John XXIII’s papacy. Ernest truly
understood Vatican Latin well enough to turn it into flowing English;
colleagues spoke of him with awe.
• I’m grateful to the Enquirer for running a story on Sen.
Rand Paul’s response to the State of the Union Message. It wasn’t on
NPR or any other network that I could find. His Washington office did
not respond to my question of whether the Kentucky Republican offered his
remarks to any broadcasters/cable networks.
• Tens of millions of Americans will become eligible for
subsidized medical care under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Who’s going
to treat them? I haven’t seen that in the news. And while reporters are
working out that story, ask how the required additional primary care
physicians will pay off college and medical school debts on the salaries
that will be paid to their specialties.
• And once journalists dig into the supply of physicians
to handle Medicaid expansion, I hope they’ll ask who’s going to staff
quality preschool education for every American child. Obama can be
aspirational, but we’re not talking about minimum wage diaper changers.
Early learning centers require trained pre-school educators. And while
they’re at it, reporters should ask where these new early childhood
educators will train and who’s going pick up the tab. After all, they’ll
never repay college loans on day care wages.
• Maybe I missed it in the admiring coverage of our
government killing American Islamists abroad with drone rocket attacks: What prevents Obama from killing Americans in this country with drone
strikes? None of the news stories or commentaries I’ve read or heard
addressed that point.
There would be no shortage of targets. Wouldn’t the
sheriff have loved a drone-launched missile to kill Christopher Dorner,
the rogue ex-LAPD cop? That might have spared the deputy whom Dorner
killed during the flaming finale in the San Bernardino mountains. And
what prevents our increasingly militarized police from using their own
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
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
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
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
“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
• 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.