National Security Trumps the Right to Know, Sometimes Even the Opportunity to Ask

The recent gas explosion that destroyed a neighborhood in San Bruno, California offers another example of police and local authorities using the drape of “national security” to push the media back from the scene, to refuse to answer questions, and to deny access to maps and other documents that would give knowledge and comfort to residents, rate payers and tax payers.

Before the dawn of the morning following he explosion I was ordered back from an intersection more than a mile from the fire by a sergeant of the Pacifica (California) police acting as part of a mutual aid response. Why couldn’t we remain where we were parked – and had been parked for some 12 hours? “National Security” was his response as if by declaring those 2 words it precluded any further discussion or need for explanation. One could surmise if we refused to move the skies would be filled with black helicopters and the streets with black SUVs as federal law enforcement would leap from these vehicles as if clowns packed into too small a car in a circus ring.

“National Security” is all one needs to say now in defense of any argument or inquiry. Why can’t the utility PG&E release maps of outs gas lines? “National Security.” I suppose they are worried that terrorists with backhoes will soon be digging up streets to cause unimaginable destruction.

I suppose if I trusted those making the assertion, that in fact there was a real threat I’d be more willing to comply with their instruction. It just so often seems to ring like a hollow excuse. It becomes a wild card for which there is no argument; it trumps all other discussion.

But we have been too-often toyed with before. We are told we can’t make pictures at an airport or along a public waterfront where joggers run and mothers stroll with baby carriages because it might give advantage to our enemies. How about the damage this Draconian approach might cause to a free and open society? Is this truly for our safety or is it window dressing in the absence of a better, more effective plan? It reminds me of the months following 9/11 when the California Highway Patrol assigned a patrol cruiser parked at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge as a final bulwark of security against a cascading truck aimed at the bridge towers. I so often saw the officer in that car asleep in his seat that I wondered how much real security was being provided as opposed to what might otherwise seem to be window dressing.

It is frightening to witness the erosion of media protection. It seems to be a step in the wrong direction to limit access, to thwart entry, and to restrict the free flow of information. If there is a real threat, then there is no argument. If there is no reason except for the desire of authorities to conduct their work free from the eyes of the media and the public, then this must be fought.

Cartoon satire – skewered in multimedia

Two recently produced cartoons Donald Duck Discovers Glenn Beck: A Remix and Mickey Mouse Discovers the Government Cartoon Conspiracy Against Glenn Beck are making the rounds in social media poking fun at the politics of the right.
Depending on one’s political bent these can be funny or offensive. What’s more interesting is the use of multimedia – cartoon art, file cartoon footage and audio tape to create new content.

What’s not surprising is the absence of tolerance from those who are trigger happy to judge that these are political hack jobs with their bias run amok. One staunch conservative summarized the first as, “Glenn Beck’s political views have the left driven to distraction. His enourmous (sic) success has them tearing their hair out.” Then he suggested that the second would be better if the target was a democrat, “Barney Frank is far better suited as a target for this type of satire…his voice alone is cartoonish, his history of bizarre behavior just ads to his suitability.”

I am enjoying is the resurgence of the cartoon, today as multimedia. I think Thomas Nast must be smiling.

Good News? Good Grief. Get a Grip!

I have just about had my fill of complaints about contemporary news coverage… what “the media” isn’t covering, should cover, how it slants and skews politics, and its multitude of sins – real and imagined – by everyone who wants to be critical – and none of whom is willing to do much more than complain bitterly, loudly, and usually without specifics to back up their argument or assertion.

“If you want good news look in the sports pages!” That’s an old saw uttered by news men and women defending their craft against an audience whose justification for not reading, listening or watching coverage of the events of their era is their claim that news is so depressing.

Depressing?  Tough.  Sorry… but tough.  I’d say – honest.  I’d say realistic. 
I’d suggest news is the first draft of history; that these are troubling times, news should portray the times we live in and not a Varnish or Pollyanna view like a rotogravure. 
News is based on the currency that you need to know, understand and ingest significant events, thoughtful evaluations and interpretations in opinion columns, and have a contextual, deep understanding of news makers in a complex world in order to make intelligent decisions and navigate the shoals of life.

News isn’t supposed to be happy, or filled with feel-good-isms.   News isn’t an alternative for a list of firsts compiled by Guinness Book of Records on the bar.  It isn’t about bromides or pontificating  politicians; it shouldn’t be point-counterpoint reduced to platitudes and silliness as if an argument over the Bickerson’s breakfast table.

These are serious times demanding serious and sober coverage that reflects the spectrum of argument and focusing on decision points. News should be presented in many voices and through a prism reflecting and refracting the many points of light representing all angles, sharp points and all colors.

Witness the emergence and growth of good news.  It is pervasive.  On television news shows happy stories which were once relegated to the close of the program and were called kickers, aimed at leaving the audience with a smile on their face, now vie for more prominent placement in the middle of nightly shows.  The producers have been urged by consultants to fill the programs with features and enterprises that are not so serious, that will not be so depressing that audiences will change the dial in order to find more entertaining fare elsewhere.

There is a parody of good news for a version of The New York Times. There is even an amusing video showing audience reaction. Alternative news sites featuring only good news can be found at the Good News Network as well as Good News Daily.

Is this attributable to the growth of McPress? The USATodays and other entertainment shows which seem to hold such audience sway? Is it about the loss of editors as Gene Weingarten recently wrote in the Washington Press and I commented about here?

People will tell surveys that they long for serious news and would read or watch that if it was available. I think that’s how they want to be heard by the pollster but is not reflected in their reality. The graduate students I teach barely scratch the surface of the new papers they see, sites they scan, or programs they tune to. I recently asked a large group of professional communicators who work for a public consortium in California how many papers they read — 3 hands went up. How many read more than a single news site – 2 more hands. The CEO later confided that the lack of news knowledge and savvy among the organization was more than a little troubling.

Is this the result of years of neglect for issues such as civics, or history?  Is finding news via search a balm for actually reading more thoroughly – is what we think we need to know sufficient for what we really ought to know?

News isn’t supposed to be easy.  It can, should and does celebrate accomplishment and personal bests.  But it must also include the dark underside of the world we live in – for only when that is exposed can there be any real hope for change.  For those who find it sufficient not to read or watch, or to seek out saccharin sites with only good things they are living like ostriches.

Who’d want a career like this?

CNBC is reporting on those jobs expected to experience the greatest decline in the next 10 years.
Tops on the list:
“Reporters and Correspondents

Employed in U.S.: 61,600
Change expected in next decade: -8%
Average salary: $34,850

Consolidation and convergence are the top reasons the news industry is shrinking. News outlets are increasingly sharing each other’s content, which means they need fewer reporters and correspondents.

The news business gets hit particularly hard during economic downturns as most revenue comes from advertising, and companies spend less on advertising during a slump. Improving technology is one bright light, which could drive some employment in online or mobile divisions.

Competition is expected to be intense for jobs at large and national newspapers, broadcast stations and magazines. The best opportunities are expected to be with smaller, local news outlets as well as for online news organizations, as technology generates demand for online reporters or mobile news units. Writers who can handle scientific or technical subjects will have an advantage.”

This is enough to make one very sad…and the salaries too. Who’d want a profession that’s guaranteed to enable enrollment in food stamps?

This was once an honorable and valued profession. What happened?