The Missing Story: Maybe the fact is – if there is a nuclear attack, there may be nothing the public can do to save itself. Maybe that’s the story no one wants to really look at.

The most alarming picture Sunday from Hawaii experiencing an incoming ballistic missile wasn’t the highway billboards or chyron crawl over a sport program on local TV, but rather the panic in the streets. People were running for their lives, hiding in bathrooms or closets, and saying “good byes” to their families. Why or where were they running, or simply – in a nuclear attack – would it have mattered?

And why isn’t that the most prominent question for Day 2 of this story?

While the cause of Sunday’s false missile alarm in Hawaii needs to be investigated, even more shocking is the fact that no one seems to have known what to do, where to go, or how to react.

And that confusion and panic is frighteningly still unaddressed in news coverage.

It is knee-jerk to point fingers and decry the accident. And goodness knows there are been countless ‘national security consultants’ who have flooded the airwaves wringing their hands offering arm chair speculation about the accident safely from Washington, a distance of 4,826 miles from Honolulu. But their emotionally delivered insight hasn’t shed any light on the larger question… in this day and age of ever-larger nuclear buttons on desktops, what is left for the rest of us to actually do?

Many in the news business will recall the hackneyed phrase oft-spoken when there is a screw up on air, “Broadcasting will stop while we assess the damage and assign the blame.”
Today we are witnessing the mea culpa, the governor taking responsibility, the President assuring us “we’re going to get involved” in the inquiry, but really. So what?

The recent wildfires in California, the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Houston and more remind us of the necessity of having an escape route from imminent danger along with packed bags of our most important papers. But in a nuclear attack… escape where? And will there be any one left to inspect our papers.

Anyone growing up in the 50’s and 60’s will remember Bert the Turtle and “Duck and Cover.” Many of us remember practicing in our classrooms hiding under desks while being shooed away from the windows. As if, now looking back on that, would it have mattered in the least? There was a day when the yellow and black nuclear fallout shelter signs adorned buildings on every block… today, I wouldn’t know where to even look for a shelter in my community.

Once again, a lot of media is focused on the ‘what happened,’ or the ‘how did it happen”? Both are important questions but fall short of the more important — so what do we do?

Absent the distraction of politics or personality in either Washington or Pyongyang, Sunday’s incident in Hawaii proves that we may have early warning detection systems… even notification protocols… but what is it the public is supposed to do to save itself?

And why isn’t that prominently included in today’s media coverage?

As an old assignment managing editor, I’m just asking…

Advertisements

Student Censorship by University of Kentucky

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.

Hail, Hail Trumpmania

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?

Getting past obvious answers – Trump on Today

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’?

Civic Journalism a la francais

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.

Political Accountability – Politicians, the Press & the Public

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.

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.

Shut Out & Shut Down but Media Refuse to Shut Up as Public Officials Behave Badly

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.