by Ben L. Kaufman 10.17.2012

Curmudgeon Notes 10.17.2012

Media musings on Cincinnati and beyond

• Look at the rare collection of Enquirer photos at the National Underground Freedom Center.  They’ve been reprinted and for many, reprinted copies of original pages are nearby. The show is part of the much larger Fotofocus at many venues. Unfortunately, the Enquirer chose the Freedom Center which charges $12 admission; many Fotofocus displays are in admission-free venues such as the YWCA or UC’s Gallery on Sycamore. I think the oldest photo is from 1948, a one-legged veteran leading a parade to commemorate the end of WWI 30 years earlier. Many are by photographers with whom I worked and whose images I displayed large on local pages during weekends when I edited. Some are recent, by photographers I admire but know only from their images in the paper.  To its credit, the Enquirer exhibit includes unpublished photos of which the photographers are justly proud. First among them is Gary Landers’ image of a homicide victim illuminated by an officer’s flashlight behind Landers’ home. Missing are two images that remind me of what photojournalism is about. One is Gerry Wolters’ stunning — and in its time, controversial Pulitzer contender — of a dead African-American lying in a pool of his blood on the Avondale street where he’d been shot by a bailbondsman. Standing over him is the dead man’s young son. Some readers said our photo would ruin the child’s life. No, I told callers, if anything would it was his father’s killing.  The other missing photo was one that wasn’t published by the paper: Glenn Hartong’s firefighter carrying a toddler from a burning house. I’m told that editors flinched because they didn’t know if the child survived. So what? That faux humanity illustrates Enquirer execs’ fear of readers tossing their cookies into the Cheerios. Such touchy-feely screening sanitizes what can be a nasty, brutish and short life and lifestyle in our region. Life Magazine published Hartong’s photo across two pages and someone posted it in the Enquirer newsroom coffee alley. It doesn’t get better than that. In the Good Old Days, before self-inflicted sensitivity, the Enquirer had a unapologetic double standard for violent images. If the victim were local, the photo might be spiked to avoid upsetting readers. An example was the half-excavated body of a recognizable young construction worker suffocated in a trench cave-in.  Distant victims — executions, genocide or bodies in floods/earthquakes — were likelier to be displayed. And even before the Good Old Days, Ed Reinke’s iconic photo of a line of shrouded bodies from the 1977 Beverly Hills supper club fire gave a sense of magnitude to the disaster that our best reporting couldn’t. It’s the first photo in the exhibit, preceded by a warning that some images could be troubling. They should be. I don’t know if Reinke’s photo would be used today. • Ohio’s Sherrod Brown is among the Democratic senators targeted by out-of-state billionaire GOP donors. He’s an unapologetic liberal and the Progressive monthly made Brown’s re-election battle its latest cover story. A point I’d missed elsewhere is the unusual state FOP endorsement for a Democrat but Brown stood with officers against Republican legislation stripping them of most of their bargaining rights. The Progressive story includes a Mason-area jeweler whose health insurer refused to pay for an advanced cancer treatment. Husband and wife say Reps. Jean Schmidt and John Boehner brushed off their pleas to intervene with the insurer. A Brown staffer — who said she didn’t care what party the Republican couple belongs to — spent the weekend successfully persuading the insurer to cover the potentially life-saving $100,000 procedure. More recently, reporters on Diane Rehm’s public radio show estimated SuperPACs are spending $20 million to defeat Brown and suggested it might not suffice. As a DailyBeast.com columnist notes, polls show Republican Josh Mandel probably won’t even carry his home Jewish community in Cleveland.• That same Progressive names 26 billionaires and their known donations to Republican and other rightwing causes in this election year. No Cincinnati-area men or women made the list but it’s reasonable to infer that some of the men listed donated secretly to Super PACs opposing Ohio’s Sherrod Brown’s re-election (see above). • As one of that dying breed — an Enquirer subscriber who prefers print —  my morning paper is missing a lot. Customer service provided a free online copy and promised to deliver the missing paper paper the next day. Next day? Another customer service rep said only replacement Sunday Enquirers are delivered the same day. Message? Don’t stiff advertisers. • The ad on the top half of the back page of the Oct. 11 Enquirer Local section invited everyone to a Romney-Ryan “victory event” on Oct. 13 at Lebanon’s Golden Lamb. The bold, black ad headline on the bottom half of the page was “The #1 dishwasher is also a best value.” • Want to know more about Sarah Jones, the former Ben-Gal and school teacher who admitted to sex with a 17-year-old student? Among others, London’s Daily Mail has enough to satisfy anyone who doesn’t need to see a sex tape. • Don’t piss off Turks. That’s a lesson lots of people have learned to their pain over the generations. No one will be surprised if Turkish forces invade Syria to end Syrian shelling of Turkish civilians.  Turkish troops have gone into Iraq to deal with threatening rebellious Turkish Kurds seeking sanctuary there.  Turkey is a NATO member and NATO says it will defend Turkey if required. A couple English-language websites can complement the snippets about this aspect of Syria’s civil war: aljazeera.com from the Gulf and hurriyetdailynews.com from Turkey.  • The New York Times stepped back from the slippery slope of allowing subjects of news stories to say what news is fit to print. It allowed some sources to review and possibly change their quotes before reporters used them. In July, Times reporter Jeremy Peters blew the whistle on the Times and other major news media. The alternative to quote approval often was the threat of no interview. Initially, the Times defended the practice. No longer. Jimromenesko.com reported the change. Times executive editor Jill Abramson told Romenesko that  quote approval “puts so much control over the content of journalism in the wrong place . . . We need a tighter policy.”Romenesko quoted a recent Times memorandum that said “demands for after-the-fact quote approval by sources and their press aides have gone too far . . . The practice risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources. In its most extreme form, it invites meddling by press aides and others that goes far beyond the traditional negotiations between reporter and source over the terms of an interview . . . So starting now, we want to draw a clear line on this. Citing Times policy, reporters should say no if a source demands, as a condition of an interview, that quotes be submitted afterward to the source or a press aide to review, approve or edit.”Good. Here’s my question: What happens when a beat reporter can’t get an important interview after citing Times policy? Access is everything. Few people who want media attention will turn away the Times, but editors can get weird when reporters can’t get a desired interview.  • Daily papers own and are members of the Associated Press. In their rush to be first, AP reporters used social media to get out the news and scooped member papers whose editors hadn’t seen the stories yet. That went over badly in today’s breathlessly competitive world. AP promises it won’t use social media until after breaking news is sent to members and non-member subscribers. • It’s time for the news media to abandon “reverse discrimination” when the purported victim is white and English-speaking. It’s an issue again because the U.S. Supreme Court is reconsidering university racial admission criteria. A young woman claims the University of Texas rejected her because she is white.  Discrimination is discrimination; someone is favored and someone is rejected. I won’t anticipate the court’s decision but the ethical issue is whether the community’s or the individual’s compelling interests are paramount when discrimination becomes policy and practice. Moreover, demographic trends could make “reverse discrimination” obvious nonsense if Anglos become a minority among newly-hyphenated and darker-skinned Americans and immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia.  • We’ve seen three debates, two presidential, one veepish. The third was Tuesday or last night if you’re reading this on Wednesday. I missed it; I was fishing in Canada. Other journalists will tell you what you heard really means. I’ll catch up when I get home. At least the Biden-Ryan contest was lively and the moderator asked smart, sharp questions and kept the politicians under control. • The vice president and challenger had disturbingly weird expressions when they listened. Biden’s smile recalled a colleague’s remark after waterskiing with me: “I saw Ben smile and he wasn’t baring his teeth.” Worse, Biden’s expression could appear to be a smirk.  Ryan’s intensity reminded me of a predator wondering about its next meal. Neither appearance had anything to do with the substance of the debate but it’s how we tend to judge people we don’t know. My question: Is this really how we choose the man one heartbeat away from leadership of The Free World (whatever the hell that means)?• Viewers — and these performances are TV events — worry me. Too many tell reporters and pollsters that their votes can be influenced by how the candidates came across in the debates. The president and vice president do not belong to debating societies. This isn’t Britain’s House of Commons.  The ability to “win” a televised encounter has little or nothing to do with the job for which the men are contesting. Winners won’t debate until and unless they seek office again. • News media would be in doldrums if there weren’t stories to write before and after each debate. They burn space and time when little else is happening - if you discount the economy, pestilence, war, famine, etc. • Stories I didn’t read beyond the headlines. One’s from HuffingtonPost.com: "Lindsay Lohan Reveals Her Pick For President"The other is from the Thedailybeast.com:"LINDSAY LOHAN PICKS MITT! & OTHER TOXIC ENDORSEMENTS"

Quote Approval? Oh No You Didn't

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Anyone who cares already knows that the contents of the “official” Congressional Record are bullshit. Members can delete things they’ve said and add things they’ve never said.  

Maureen Dowd's Plagiarism, Cincinnati's Connection to a British Scandal and Problems at NPR

2 Comments · Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I no longer regularly read the New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd. I take no delight in her Pulitzer-winning nastiness, even when I applaud her target being skewered. For sheer vitriol, she has few rivals outside cable TV. So it was with schadenfreude that I read about her passing off an entire paragraph, almost verbatim, from Talking Points Memo blogger Joshua Marshall as her own and offering an explanation that further undermines her credibility.  

Gossip, Celebrity and Politics

New York Times columnist Gail Collins offers a unique view on women having it all

0 Comments · Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Being a drinker, having black ancestry or being a secret Catholic were more likely to end a political career in the early years of this country than being a cannibal or caught with a stripper in a compromising position. Gail Collins, New York Times columnist and Cincinnati native, provided the proof of this historical anomaly March 12 at the Cincinnati Woman's Club 16th annual National Speaker's Forum.  

Debating the Media's Responsibility When Covering Suicides

1 Comment · Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Editors generally avoid news and images of local suicides, reflecting our awareness of historic religious stigma and communal sense of shame that can burden survivors. Exceptions generally involve suicides where lots of people see the act and/or body, as when someone jumps from a downtown building or hangs himself in a school gym. Taboos continue to affect our discussion of suicide as a way to end an intolerable life or unbearable physical or emotional pain. This is most intense when a young person commits suicide.  

Joe the Journalist, Palin's Whining and Other Media Developments

2 Comments · Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Joe the Plumber is reporting about the Israeli-Hamas fight for the conservative web site pjtv.com. Sarah Palin again whines that she's a victim of news media sexism, class discrimination and accusations of diva-ness while getting her facts wrong. Again. I won't even get into the resurrection of Cincinnati's Ken Blackwell as candidate for RNC chairman except to say that he and 'Sarah Oh-Twelve' would be a Democrat's dream.  

Wrapping up Loose Election Threads

0 Comments · Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By the time this issue of CityBeat is published, the long and hard-fought presidential election will finally be over. Here are a couple of items to ponder as you're either celebrating or crying in your beer.  

Enquirer Supports Less Privacy?

0 Comments · Monday, July 7, 2008
Enquirer nuttiness is making me think I'm a conservative. An editorial blandly accepts CCTV -- not Phil Burress' illiberal cult -- but 120 Closed Circuit TV cameras to police our streets.