August 31, 2011
As reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.
A reporter with the student newspaper at the University of Kentucky was barred from a news media event with basketball players. DeWayne Peevy, an associate athletics director, told The Lexington Herald-Leader that the newspaper’s basketball writer, Aaron Smith, broke an unwritten policy barring reporters from interviewing student-athletes without first going through media relations.
Oh sure – those students journalists… student athletes can’t speak with student journalists but the rest of the media can? And there is logic in this decision? It looks like University censorship. Plain, simple and regrettable.
May 17, 2011
The NYT’s piece “Trump Bows Out, but Spotlight Barely Dims” focuses attention on the hoopla surrounding Donald Trump and Trumpmania in the media.
But the most salient question is posed by former Ronald Reagan adviser Stuart Spencer “The media made him, the media kept him, the media kept promoting him…. Speaking of the proliferation of news outlets interested in politics, Mr. Spencer, 84 and admittedly fascinated by the new landscape, lamented, “There’s no referee anymore to evaluate what are serious issues and what are serious candidates.”
So who should be the referees? Who has the stature, the clout, the reputation, the gravitas, the following, the audience loyalty and confidence, the trust?
Just posing the question – is the media a paper watchdog? A toy tiger? What role should the media play – apart from monitoring and worse, fostering the noise?
April 7, 2011
Donald Trump in his fledgling try for the White House in 2012 is offering an astounding number of bromides and platitudes, braggadocio and bombast in his wave of TV interviews from O’Reilly (FOX) to Today (NBC). From the old saw of the birther’s claim that the president lacks his US birth certificate to matters of state Mr. Trump seems well prepared to talk over any and all other questions while repeatedly repeating all his preconceived message points. He knows how to talk, and talk, and talk.
In response to a question of what the President (Obama) has done well, Trump replied “he got elected.”
In response to the lack of a national budget Trump assured listeners it was due entirely to “a lack of leadership” that wouldn’t be the case if he was sitting in the oval office.
In response to a question on foreign policy he expounded that the “United States isn’t respected” any longer by the rest of the world.
In fairness questions that were posited to how he would change this if elected but they were parried and thwarted and never answered. The ‘how” of what would be different is often the most important question — not the if or the dreams or desires for change, but rather the execution, the how. Mr. Trump offered nothing to that debate or discourse.
Taking just the question of how the rest of the world may see us… after years of financially and militarily supporting dictatorial regimes all to assure the stable supply of crude oil to fill our gas-guzzling economy, or the nature of avaricious conduct in pursuit of minerals and raw materials to satiate our economic demands at the cost of local economies and indigenous people… these are the core issues of why we’re not liked, not respected. Having the biggest stick, the greater swagger, the most shiny boots on the ground isn’t sufficient to master world respect, much less domination. Assuring audiences this would all ‘be changed’ once he gets to the White House seems insufficient and unrealistic.
The media – all of us who are in charge of the microphone – better start asking the ‘how’ as the 2012 campaign gets underway. There’s likely to be a lot of noise in the coming months – but rather than just close our ears we could decide to have greater impact by thinking about and demanding answers to the real questions. Let’s start with ‘how’?
August 2, 2010
Video of a forced eviction of an African immigrant from a makeshift tent camp near Paris is causing alarm and stirring debate among politicians in France. The video was shot on July 21 by an observer from a group called Right to Housing and has aired on CNN as well as the French cable news site France24. It clearly shows police carrying a pregnant woman using what many critics say is excessive force, but beyond that what makes it noteworthy is that the video has been screened online more than 300,000 times!
Under laws in 3 states here recording video of police in action is now illegal Use a Camera Go to Jail. It is interesting to note that state of alarm generated by these pictures in France and one cannot help but think of other US-based incidents, such as Rodney King in Los Angeles, stories that would never have come to the public’s attention had it not been for private citizens having the courage to capture video of police transgressions.
It fuels the debate over the public’s right to monitor their public servants; cameras in the hands of civic journalists has long been a global occurence whether in France or Nepal or Iran, and efforts by law enforcement and politicians here to thwart this are at odds with a free and open society.
Calbuzz.com has a very insightful piece The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying about the media holding candidates to their word, exposing contradictions, and pointing out inconsistencies. It merits thoughtful consideration and discussion.
More from me after this clip.
“Perhaps it’s just a case of wishful nostalgia, but it seems to us that before the rise of Fox News, Rovian manipulation and the abnegation by certain people of fact-based reality, there was some sort of agreed-upon truth that was adjudicated daily by the mainstream media.
A candidate couldn’t say one thing one day — like, for example, that they were opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — and another thing another day — like they basically agree with an opponent who favors a path to citizenship. They’d be afraid of being called a liar in the papers, and that would actually matter.
But in the California governor’s race it now appears that we are witnessing the Death of Truth. From a cosmic perspective, this has come about because:
- The attention span of the average citizen, never very long, has been hyper-accelerated by the rise of new media, including the Internets, where something is old before it barely new — and certainly not fully digested — and everyone is off on the next new thing. Beyond that, the rise of ideologically-sated outlets like FOX and MSNBC ensures that partisans will never again have to watch something with which they disagree.
- The lugubrious mainstream media is often strangled by self-imposed, on-the-one-hand-on-the-the-hand, false-equivalency “balance,” in part intimidated by loud, if unfounded accusations of “bias” most frequently lobbed by the right-wing. Thus the MSM at times seems unable and/or unwilling to cut through the miasma and call a lie a lie or a liar a liar. (Even Jerry Brown won’t call a spade a spade, referring instead to Meg Whitman’s “intentional, terminological inexactitude.”)
- It’s now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is — in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.
All of this feeds the corrosive cynicism that infects our politics, demonstrated most visibly in low voter turnout. Even among those who vote, healthy skepticism is often supplanted with a smart-ass, know-it-all facile sophistication that assumes all politicians are liars (they’re not) and that everyone in public life only wants to do well (we still believe there are some who want to do good).
Cynicism, of course, breeds further alienation and disgust, causing a downward spiral of disengagement from the process, leaving voting (and caring) to the true-believing wing-nuts who are certain they know the truth because they read or watch it at one of the ideologically-determined web sites or stations that conclusively confirms their prior held beliefs.”
Political news should not become the equivalent of a sports report of who is merely ahead in the polls, who is neck-and-neck with one another, or who staged a knockout blow; instead it is an ongoing obligation to report on every speech and nuance of the campaign trail. It is more than reading polls to then proclaim which way the wind is blowing. It surely demands an investment in better field reporting than to rely instead on the diatribes of pundits who spend the preponderance of their time reading about the campaign from afar, whether in Washington, Sacramento or some glass office in lieu of spending time in the crowds, at the rallies, on the charter, and in the auditoriums.
It requires a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the campaign and editorial commitment by both the reporter in the field and editor back at headquarters lest five second soundbites from either the candidate or supporter vs. opponent become satisfying or sufficient for knowledge.
And it does cost money, lots. It is expensive to stay with the candidates, to ride along on the campaign, to pay for technology whether satellite trucks, transmission facilities or simply a reporter’s per diem. There is no excuse for not making this investment; there are few news events worth more than this investment that will yield comprehensive and sustained coverage of significant races. These are the game changers of our lives.
But the fact is too often even networks, the most prominent national papers, even wires shun White House charters where the cost, first class fare plus fifty percent, is deemed too expensive. Instead reporters leap-frog ahead of the President or the candidate but miss key moments due to this financially mandated absence. On a local level there is even less of a an investment and campaigns are covered as episodic events – here a speech there a speech, here a reaction soundbite there a counter point reaction soundbite. Covering political events as if collecting box top coupons on the way to election day is not the same as doing a good job, of offering insight, perspective and shining the harsh editorial light to measure what is being said and not just to what is being spoken from the candidate’s lips or media machine.
Campaigns now go to greater and greater lengths to limit media access to the candidates. Some candidates believe they can speak only to affinity-related news outlets and scorn any who are not believed to be boosters for their cause. Campaigns spend extravagant amounts of time attacking the messengers by specific organizations and individual reporter who they believe are their enemies.
Perhaps this is all the logical outcome or expected result of the Michael Deaver inspired style to control the message, the campaign spin, the mouthpiece also known as the candidate. Perhaps this is what happens when a need for outrageous sums of money to run a campaign become the dominant force in politics. If the media is not present to protect their role – to fight for access – to not merely go along for the ride but instead challenge the campaign and make that ride to victory or defeat as bumpy as possible, for who else is in such a position to be as independent and challenging, then in the end the readers, the viewers, and the voters are at risk of being short-changed.
Calbuzz raises some questions about the quality of reporting to date. The media has not always done a good job for a host of reasons, from the fact that many, experienced old hands have lost their jobs to a lack of commitment of editorial space and dollars to do the job. And here’s the last part – readers, viewers, voters are not demanding better. Too often they seem to settle for a diet of political pabulum, brevity and volume, all the while decrying bias whether real or perceived, and no longer recognize that us-versus-them reporting, punditry, and sheer volume is not a viable substitute for insight and knowledge.
Disclaimer – Calbuzz co-founder Jerry Roberts is a friend, and I am currently teaching a directed study program producing content for the site.
Finally, whether you agree or not I ask that you do two things — send this link to others and leave a comment; create a dialogue or add to the thread so that others will appreciate what you have to offer.
Preventing access as a form of censorship is a dangerous point on the slippery slope toward despotism and government gone wrong. The latest slip and slide in this direction was written last week at the Regents of the University of California meeting in San Francisco when a journalist with a camera was barred from their public event. The Regent’s defensive argument was he didn’t have a press credential; the weakness to their argument is the press credential per se wasn’t required. Credentialed or not any one is entitled to make pictures at a public meeting under Bagley-Keene, a California law since 1967.
To make matters worse UC police instructed that no one was allowed to make pictures of them doing their job, in this case acting as gatekeepers to enforce a decision which was against the law. This is a chilling thought, one I wrote about on June 9th “Use a Camera, Go to Jail” as it seems many jurisdictions are increasingly less interested in public scrutiny of their work than ever before.
From Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle, UC Regents baring of filmmaker draws protest “State law is clear – any member of the public has a right to film and record public meetings of state bodies,” Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, wrote to UC President Mark Yudof.
Yee, who chairs the Senate’s committee on Public Records and Open Meeting Laws, asked Yudof to explain not only why filmmaker Ric Chavez was barred from taking his video camera into the meeting, but why UC policy – which makes no provision for the public’s right to film public meetings – “is in complete contradiction to state law.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of the UC system being difficult toward news coverage. A Santa Barbara based cameraman has written to me about the UC campus there requiring fees for news coverage and offering limited access. This is a public school open to the world which needs to be reminded that coverage of news stories doesn’t come at the point of a pen writing a check.
What happens when something really serious happens… will institutions first ask who’s there to cover it, what their intentions are, their motives? Perhaps they’d like to see examples of prior work? How much will be required and how far back would they like to review? Should a network include coverage of the student massacre at Kent State? How about carnage at Virginia Tech? Neither of those stories is likely to sway an administration’s decision toward openness? UC Regents would be hard pressed to review the free speech movement at Sproul Hall at UCBerkeley – ah the halcyon days of tear gas in the plaza and riot-helmeted cops in the hallways when the sound of clicking handcuffs rivaled that of chalk on blackboards.
Organizations – public institutions – nor their officials should not be allowed to use access as a guarantee against positive or negative coverage, scrutiny or assessment by the citizenry of the quality of their work and the decisions they make. It just isn’t a model which protects our right to know, the right to cover, and the rights of all of us to measure and monitor the government we pay for.
Who should decide – at an institutional level – what deserves coverage and what could be potentially embarrassing or liable? Maybe in spite of the open meeting law Regents and others can impound cameras, take away note books and recorders. Hey, why not just go into hiding entirely, star chambers and executive session.
But this is happening… more and more often. This is distressing. This is dangerous
Public places – San Francisco’s Ferry Terminal, the passenger piers at San Francisco International airport – both operated with public funds – use both real and rental-cops to move crews off property demanding that they have prior knowledge and approval from management. This is the same management which uses public funds to operate these public facilities… places where any one public with or without cameras is invited… so why not news coverage?
This decision to close ranks and circle the wagons is mirrored too at the corporate level. As an example, BP is reportedly making it most difficult to video or film their work in the gulf. Reportedly many local operations, paid for with BP funds, are off-limits to media. It seems curious that BP – already a premium member of the pillory club for the crime itself as well as the initial cover up is now making strides to become more secretive, closed, and manipulative of the media, as far as it can be based on the money it is investing to that end.
More and more often corporations are risk-adverse to speaking on camera or allowing crews in to make pictures of their operations.
We’re seeing the first draft of censorship and limits on freedom of the press. Sadly the mainstream press has become so emaciated by cuts that there is no one left standing it seems to fight the good fight. As a public we may not realize what we’re losing until we have lost it.
It worked for Al Capone… why not Tony Hayward and so many other oil executives? Remember the adage that you’re never punished for the crime but you’ll be doomed for the cover-up? The oil spill is horrific but what’s more damaging has been the response, the obfuscation, the denials, and the apparent path of half-truths.
It seems apparent there will never be enough money to pay for all the losses, the hardships, the heartache. Besides fines are merely money paid by a corporation and diddled about on a balance sheet. In an age where we mourn the absence of real responsibility, make the crime personal, not just business.
Al Capone was never convicted for crimes regarding prohibition but for tax evasion. What’s the crime committed by the oil executives? Perjury!
Follow the logic. Or perhaps better phrased, follow the money. In order to gain government leases, in order to win approval of countless drilling plans, even when testifying before Congress following the disaster on Transocean’s Deep Horizon drilling rig it seems evident the executives from BP systematically misstated the facts (lies, fibs? white lies, convenient truths?) on government forms, contracts, plans and in testimony.
And that, ladies and gentleman of the jury, is perjury.
$20 billion dollars will never be enough as a set aside for damages. BP is already claiming they have spent 10% of that on containing the spill alone. What will happen when gulf beaches become oil stained gooey sand dunes, devoid of tourists for years? Or what will happen to spring-break-centered towns like Panama City when no students return next year? Or for anyone who bought condos on a once white-sand beach who will never be able to unload those albatrosses? Imagine the devastation from the first hurricane in the gulf which inhales oil soaked sea and distributes that as rain hundreds of miles inland, not to mention the storm surge, both of which will leave an oily residue hundreds, perhaps a thousand miles from the spill?
There is simply no way to contain the damage nor provide restitution for all these ‘legitimate’ claims. How do you put a value on some of the losses, or for deaths of wildlife or fish? As for the examples like a hurricane BP will most likely argue that flood surge and rain is an act of God and nature and surely they cannot be held responsible for that! As for the more acute, local claims, one must believe they will follow Exxon’s tact of making every nickle and dime a hard-won fight for those who suffered the loss.
Which brings me back to my principal theme. In order for any real change there ought to be personal and not just business accountability. This may seem like some sort of Jonathan Swift parable but change is unlikely to stem from political posturing, Congressional displeasure and environmentalist hand wringing. For any oil or drilling executive who made their false assertions, who knew that there were not enough booms, or that the valve was not up to par, they should be held accountable for simply this: lying. They seem to have lied or misled or misrepresented inconvenient truths regularly. Senior and highly trained engineers at BP and other oil giants should have known better – they to either lied or went mute when higher-ups changed or modified their reports. They kept their jobs but at an ethical price that is now being borne by others who are quite innocent victims. Similar assertions of defense and denial echoed at war crime tribunals with only a modicum of success. Surely we would not be able to jail all of the senior vice presidents, the vice presidents, the senior engineers and on down the line, and some offer value as government witnesses, but the point is simple – let’s make those responsible pay for their perjury. While we’re at it, perhaps offer an amnesty for all the other oil companies might be considered, for perhaps 90 days, as a period when they could review and revise their plans too.
And this new truth-telling or ethical conduct might be applied to the mining industry… or transportation, or food too as there seem to be countless industries that have grown too cozy with government regulators who believed we’re paid by taxpayers to protect the public at-large.
The point is this – instead of focusing solely on monetary recover, which is important, let’s not settle for the easy solution – the money alone – but use this disaster as a water shed mark in US history when companies are put on notice that too-close-for-ethical-comfort relationships with K Street lobbyists is not an alternative to the more costly truth; and that doing business well requires ethics. That success is not judged solely on the balance sheet or an ability to recover from a whoops-moment.
We have suffered through the banking crisis, the housing meltdown, the oil spill and yet it feels as if we haven’t learned a lesson called accountability. Fiscal, moral, ethic accountability and leadership is what is sorely needed. We have suffered a hat trick of woe. Have we learned anything more than, “Wow, it sure is expensive” and “How did that happen?” Are we that naive? Are we perpetually doomed to be ostriches? If we don’t want to put the bastards in jail then let’s break out the old family recipe for mixing tar and start gathering the feathers.
The media has treated each of these events in a episodical way. The public sees them as disasters each in their own right. But I think there may be an underlying cause that transcends all three… greed, a lack of ethics and accountability. Money wont restore that – not even the most Draconian fine. Accountability is not s synonym for businesses with deep pockets but rather it should be a maxim for the behavior of a company’s leadership, its C-levels and its Board.
Brilliant? Tony Hayward and the cast of Gilligan’s Island… brilliant? Well, perhaps as the Skipper he has left a lot to be desired, but virtually everything else the BP media machine is doing is text-book perfect and likely to be studied as a model for crisis communications and disasters of tomorrow.
BP is using the media, the web, social media and is literally crafting stories right before our eyes. They have mastered the concept of producing and distributing their own media and communications. Believing in the long tail of the web BP has hired its own reporters to gather news stories under the guise of journalism. Under banner headlines “BP reporters Tom Seslar and Paula Kolmar are on the ground in the Gulf, meeting the people most immediately affected by the oil spill. Read their regular updates” are an apologia of unimaginable guile and proportion featuring heartfelt reports of clean ups and mitigating the severity of the disaster. BP knows that some of these stories will fall into mainstream media either through a lack of checks and balances or an absence of editorial scrutiny. BP knows that while they cannot rebut all the stories produced by the press the corporation can muddy the water by producing and distributing its own look-like news. Clever. Perhaps even diabolical. Effective nonetheless.
Aggregating electronic media is also used to build what masquerades as a social media-oriented site where true news is co-mingled with corporate pieces. They create and maintain a look so responsible, so balanced and fair. Why not? They cannot prevent the cascade of negativity so they might as well co-opt it to fit their presentation and advantage. And goodness let’s watch them use You Tube as one of the silos to distribute their material to the main stream.
Union Carbide and Exxon were the poster children for how to bumble and fumble corporate responses to a crisis. Johnson & Johnson, Odwalla, even fast food outlets have done a better, more comprehensive and responsive job in managing a crisis over the recent past. But BP has set a new bar in how to handle the media on the ground, when to stonewall, when to provide selective access to those it favors (most notably FOX news, perhaps based on their British Sky News affiliation AKA Rupert Murdoch?), and now creating content thanks to their own news team juggernaut.
After Katrina all the networks pledged to establish and maintain news bureaus in New Orleans in response to what was perceived to be the national anguish over the tragedy. Slowly but steadily the New York based, east coast centric news producer’s interest waned until the economic costs of sustaining gulf coverage was deemed to be too high with respect to the newsness and news value of what was produced. No network executive wanted to blink first, that is to be perceived as caring less about the minority impacted city, but inevitably the networks scaled back and withdrew their staffs. Watch for the same in the gulf… the story will move from just Louisiana on to Mississippi, Alabama and ultimately the prize jewel Florida. As the floating story sails the gulf the reports will migrate too, a nomadic news team on the prowl for the oils next landfall. Meanwhile the audience’s attention to oil soaked birds and families-with-ruined-lives will become tiresome. The birds will be featured in pieces on Nat Geo. The families will become features on anniversary occasions and special events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Cynical perhaps but predictive too. And as time passes the only ones covering the story, crafting and creating faux news will be the one organization with the most money to spend and the most reputation to change… BP.
Watch it and weep.
Politics, Partiansanship and Priorities – why doesn’t the media focus debate on what is seriously threatening the bulwarks of government and democracy?
June 21, 2010
Announcing his intention not to seek re-election to the U.S. Senate, Indiana’s Evan Bayh (D-IN) said, “After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned. For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the peoples’ business is not being done.”
What a sad admission. What a sorry state of the Congress as articulated by one of its insiders. Too much partisanship? Too politicized? Not enough of the people’s work is being done?
At first I applauded Sen. Bayh for his conviction but the more I think about this the more unsettled I become. Why not fight the prevailing wind? Too Quixotic? Unwinable? Pointless, a fight not worth fighting? How sad that seems.
Senator Bayh can do what he chooses, to fight what he believes is worth fighting, to take a stand where he believes one must draw a line, stand and fight. I am however reminded of former Congressman Robert Drinan (D-MA) who always believed that the means was every bit as important as the end, that the way legislation was crafted and implemented was as important as its end result. Congressman Drinan was also a Jesuit and that might explain his unyielding commitment and personal focus. Ultimately Pope John Paul II compelled Bob Drinan to choose between his collar and calling and his seat in Congress, and Father Drinan returned to academic and ecclesiastical positions.
I applauded Evan Bayh for taking his stand and calling attention to his frustration. But the more I think about it, I am concerned if this is the easy way out? I am struck by the thought that if people whose convictions are truly noble are being compelled to leave the Congress, aren’t we all as a nation at a loss for their departure?
The media isn’t helping… it is polarizing too. Whether to the right (FOX) or left (MSNBC) or the muddled middle (CNN), the public is not being served by dispassionate debate and articulation of the facts. There is a rah-rah quality to many presentations that neither serves democratic discourse or perpetuates sober debate in lieu of screaming and emotion. The health care debate, the public meetings, the posturing and promoting of personal agenda would seem to more the sufficient evidence to indict both politicians and much of the media.
Of course there will be calls for restructuring, just as there have been calls for campaign finance reform as if this will be the cure-all, the panacea for what ails us. I think it might be deeper than that, deeper even the the pockets of wealthy candidates who seem intent on spending personal fortunes to win their election. Deeper too than just positioning and spin. Much deeper than what can be squeezed into a 30 second attack ad or single column op-ed.
The real problem is tolerance. Until we work to reform the process, unless we all agree that the means matters, until we stop the rhetoric and bombast at the expense of listening, then there will be only greater partisanship and discord, tumult and disharmony. From sound bites and quotes, to commercial messages which banter about words like “liberal” or “conservative” with such venom as to make each totally unpalatable, we will continue to alienate audiences, to turn people off, and to polarize listeners and viewers who will believe only in what they are already convinced about, supporting sides they favor and eschew all other viewpoints.
That is the true loss we face. We should report on that.
3 states now have laws prohibiting news photography of police… actually, any photography of on-duty police. If this is the new trend, what does it say for society that it is more afraid of protecting illegal or unprofessional acts by law enforcement than protecting civil rights?
Gizmodo.com is reporting Are Cameras the New Guns that law makers across the country are writing laws that limit if not outright prohibit photography of on-duty police in order to limit or halt photographs or video appearing on social media.
Laws that restrict citizen’s rights also restrict the news media and drape a veil on the truth. How far does this extend? Will news crews be allowed to shoot benign pictures of video of traffic accidents but not when police misbehave or there are questions of abuse and misconduct? What about civilian journalists who have captured police beatings, for instance the Rodney King video in Los Angeles, the Oscar Grant shooting allegedly by BART police officer Johannes Meserhle – are they now liable for prosecution for capturing evidence of potential misconduct?
Would this ban on photography extend to riots? Would this extend to coverage of police protecting the President of the United States making a visit, campaign trip or speech?
Where does one draw the line — is it permissable to make pictures of police when they are doing good things but not when their conduct might be called into question?
What, pray tell some one explain this to me, are we afraid of? This was, still is I would hope, a country where we expect our civil rights are protected… where we expect the best and most professional conduct from law enforcement, and where we acknowledge that bad things do happen… and that there are laws to protect everyone involved.
It just doesn’t make sense to me. Would some one help me to understand by starting a rigorous debate?