Category Archives: Media

Yes, indeed. Everyone needs an editor…

This is old — posted in 2014. But I just saw it, and I can’t help chortling:

Copy editors are a necessity in any newsroom, but sadly, the positions are slowly disappearing.

Recently, Gannett sacked a hefty amount of editors from its various titles across the nation, and the decision appears to have affected the top dogs. Gannett U.S. Community Publishing President Bob Dickey’s second quarter newsletter, released Wednesday, contained a major typo: Gannett was misspelled….

Did you see it? That’s right. Gannett did not sack a hefty amount of editors. That’s impossible. They sacked a healthy number of editors.

Of course, my enjoyment of this is tempered by the fact that I am a one-time copy editor, since laid off…

A big weekend for SC Policy Council in the WSJ

I just received an email that reminded me of something…

This past weekend, there were not one, but two opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal written by folks affiliated with the S.C. Policy Council.

The first wasn’t at all surprising, as it was written by Communications Director Barton Swaim, who is a regular contributor to the Journal, as well as to the Weekly Standard and other such publications. Barton is an erudite young man and a fine writer. His piece over the weekend put forth a modest proposal for a partial acceptance of the excessive use of the random “like” in common speech. All who love the language should read it, assuming they can get past the pay wall: “Managing the Decline of, Like, a Great Language.”

The second piece was by Policy Council President Ashley Landess, and it had this attention-grabbing headline: “The South Carolina Way of Incumbency Protection.”

You’d pretty much have to think exactly like Ashley to figure out what the piece was about based on that hed. For most people, that would be a leap. Basically, she argued against legislation making its way through our Legislature that would require groups that spend money to affect elections to disclose their donors, claiming ominously that this was some sort of plot by incumbents to silence political criticism.

Which, as I say, is something of a stretch. But a stretch you are motivated to attempt if you are the head of the Policy Council. And a message that would appeal to the editors of the Journal.

Anyway, I was reminded of both these pieces by an email from Barton this morning saying:

Did you happen to see Ashley’s op-ed in the WSJ on Saturday? If not, here it is: http://on.wsj.com/1DDDHDS

I’m hoping you vehemently disagree with it, because we’re holding a public debate on the topic of whether 501c3 groups like ours should have to disclose their donors and I’m looking for something to take the YES ABSOLUTELY position. You’re the first person I’ve asked, because you take contrary positions on just about everything!

It’s moderated by Charles Bierbauer, and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Think about it?

Barton

  1. Thanks for tweeting my eccentric little op-ed. I appreciated you calling me “our own.”

So I had to stop and actually read Ashley’s piece, and decide what I think of it…

Well, “vehemently” is a bit strong. But no, I don’t agree with her.

First, campaign finance has never been a thing I’m that passionate about (it’s about, shudder, money, which bores me, which is probably why I don’t have any). But when forced to think about it, I have tended to say “no” to spending limits, “yes” to disclosure.

The Constitution protects our right to stand up and speak out, not our right to secretly pay other people to speak for us. And a group that pushes transparency as the Policy Council does sets a bad example by wanting to be secretive. Ashley’s piece sort of rings hollow as I read it.

I’m slightly ambivalent about this. For instance, up to a point, I allow people to comment anonymously on my blog. But I restrict what they say more than I do people who are open about their identities. I don’t let them, for instance, criticize others anonymously.

So, given all that, I suppose I could be on a panel. But I’m not nearly as passionate or committed on this as Ashley.

I’ve asked for a few more details…

A Pulitzer for Charleston, more staff reductions at The State

From our media watch beat…

Doug Pardue just wrote the first line of his obituary, and I mean that in a good way. The Post and Courier just won the holy of holies among journalism prizes, the Pulitzer Public Service gold medal, for their “Till Death Do Us Part” series, which told “tales of domestic abuse survivors and of the 300 women in the Palmetto State who have been shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death by men during the past decade while legislators did little to quell the bloodshed.” Not only only did the paper address a critical, urgent issue that has long brought shame upon their state, but the series was followed by serious action in the Legislature.

The series was written by Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff. But I mention Doug in particular because I know him — he used to be in charge of investigative reporting at The State, a couple of decades back.

So way to go, Doug! And the rest of y’all, too.

As that news was spreading yesterday, my friends and colleagues at The State received another kind of news — more staff reductions are coming. The process will begin with voluntary buyouts. My sources say staffers will have the opportunity to volunteer to leave in exchange for a severance package. There’s no stated goal in terms of number of people who will lose their jobs, but there is apparently a monetary goal in mind.

What happens if the total salaries of those volunteering don’t add up to the goal? That apparently has not been stated. But we know what has happened in the past. I was laid off in one of several waves over the last few years.

I’m very sorry to hear this on a number of levels. I care not only because The State continues to be my newspaper, but because South Carolina desperately needs a vital, vibrant, dynamic capital city newspaper. Here’s hoping the reductions will be minimal.

(I learned of this when a respected colleague called me this morning. And no, that source probably isn’t one of the first ones you would guess, so there’s no point in guessing.)

It’s not THAT unusual in SC for white cops to be charged with shooting unarmed black men

post shoot

That’s kind of a two-edged headline, isn’t it? On the one hand, it suggests that it’s not that unusual for white cops to shoot unarmed black men in SC. And indeed, The State recently reported that police have shot at people more than 200 times in the past five years.

But my point was that the charges against North Charleston cop Michael Thomas Slager for shooting and killing motorist Walter Scott are not unique.

That was in my mind last night when I was sort of surprised to see the story leading the NYT. But I was in a rush, and my laptop was taking an absurd amount of time to perform the most basic operations, so I didn’t stop to look up the recent incidents that were at the back of my mind.

But this morning, when I saw the Washington Post story (which The State led with) that characterized the charge as “what seems to be an unprecedented move in South Carolina,” I thought I should take a moment to do some basic research. I was further spurred by this quote from my old friend Joe Darby, also in the Post:

“I am surprisingly and gratifyingly shocked because to the best of my memory, I cannot think of another occasion in which a law enforcement officer was actually prosecuted for something like this in South Carolina,” said the Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president of Charleston’s NAACP branch.

Warming to his subject, Joe further spread his rhetorical wings:

“My initial thought was, ‘Here we go again. This will be another time where there will be a cursory investigation. It will be the word of law enforcement versus those who are colored as vile perpetrators. People will get very mad, but at the end of the day nothing will change.’ This kind of changed the game,” Darby said of the video and Slager’s arrest.

When Joe says he cannot think of another case ” in which a law enforcement officer was actually prosecuted for something like this in South Carolina,” I believe him. But his memory is dead wrong.

Just in the last few months, there have been at least two such cases, which I found in just a few moments this morning:

  • State Trooper Sean Groubert was fired and charged with a felony, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, after his dashboard video showed him shooting Levar Edward Jones in the Columbia area. Groubert’s trial has not yet been held, but Jones  has received a nearly $300,000 settlement from the state.
  • Former Eutawville police chief Richard Combs was charged with murder in the May 2, 2011, shooting death of Bernard Bailey. A mistrial was declared in the case when the jury deadlocked in January.

Now, let’s be clear: As The State reported, no cop of any race has yet been convicted in any of those 209 shootings in the past five years.

And these three cases seem to be unusual in that there was video evidence in two  cases, and the other took place right in front of the courthouse in Eutawville. So this should certainly add fuel to the national movement to have cops wear body cameras at all times.

But it’s plain that these charges were not “unprecedented,” and that Joe Darby’s memory is lacking. And maybe the world’s press got excited over this “unprecedented” case for the wrong reasons. (Based on modern news standards, it’s still a good story, because of the video causing the authorities to reverse themselves. The horrific video itself — which you can see below — is enough for such a story to go viral. But it’s not man-bites-dog.)

Finally, I just noticed that the Post has corrected itself. Its current version of the story no longer contains the unwarranted speculation that the situation is “unprecedented.” But the story still leads the Post’s site. More to the point, thestate.com is still leading with the old, erroneous version.

Is anyone watching television anymore?

The New York Post reports that televisions ratings “see double digit declines for fifth straight month“.

Commercial ratings — the viewing “currency” that determines what advertisers pay for TV time — cratered across broadcast and cable networks, marking the fifth straight month of double-digit declines for the industry.

“It’s clear the downward spiral in TV ratings continues with no end in sight,” media analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in a research note on Friday.

Overall prime-time broadcast network ratings were off 12 percent last month compared to a year ago, while cable networks dropped 11 percent, according to his report.

Other than live sports, I really don’t watch television anymore. I have a few shows that the wife and I watch together after the children are all settled, but we don’t watch them live. 99% of the time the program is usually something streaming from either Netflix or Amazon. For movies, it’s the same thing. In fact, if it wasn’t for sports, I’d probably wouldn’t have a subscription to regular television.

Also, ever since the new year, I’ve been trying to cut down on the television watching. For me, watching television is like eating junk food – it’s fun while you’re doing it, but you feel guilty afterwards. Most of the time, I feel like I’ve wasted my time just watching tv. I mean, honestly, almost anything you do is more worthy that sitting in front of the Idiot Tube and being hypnotized by the beams of light coming out of it. I kind of think the television has something to do with the shape of this country. Watching (most) television makes you dumb, disconnected, and lazy.

It also makes it easy to just waste your entire night, and by extension all your nights. Television makes it so easy to simply do nothing. And we shouldn’t do nothing. We only have a little time on this earth, and watching television isn’t the way to spend it.

Some of the best nights I have are reading books, playing with my children and actually talking to people. Unless we’re talking about having the television on in the background when you’re doing mindless work with no one around, watching television is always an inferior choice to doing anything.

Accordingly, I’m glad that cable television is going down the tubes. Unfortunately, it’s probably due to all the other ways that we now have to distract ourselves.

All y’all already know this, but I’m encouraging everyone to try and make better choices with how we spend our time. Television is never usually the right choice.

Did Obama undermine the dignity of the office on Buzzfeed?

Obama face

And, if so, is that a bad thing?

To see what I’m talking about, you’ll have to follow the link; I couldn’t find an embed code.

I thought about posting about this over the weekend, but didn’t. My mind was brought back to it by this piece in The Wall Street Journal this morning.

Bret Stephens harrumphed as follows:

George Washington did not shake hands as president and would grip the hilt of his sword to avoid having his flesh pressed. The founding father understood that leadership in a republic demanded a careful balance between low populism and aristocratic lordliness. Personal comportment, the choice of clothes and carriage, modes of address: these things mattered. And so we have “Mr. President” as opposed to “His Highness.” Or “George.”

With Barack Obama —you won’t mind, Señor Presidente, if we call you Barry?—it’s another story. Dignity of office? How quaint. In this most self-infatuated of presidencies, the D-word is at best an accessory and more often an impediment to everything Barry has ever wanted to be: Cool. Chill. Connected.

So it was that, hours after the U.S. confirmed the murder of Kayla Jean Mueller at the hands of Islamic State, Mr. Obama filmed a short video for BuzzFeed, striking poses in a mirror, donning aviator shades, filming himself with a selfie stick and otherwise inhabiting a role that a chaster version of Miley Cyrus might have played had Hannah Montana been stuck in the White House after a sleepover with the Obama girls.

Ostensibly, the point of the video was to alert BuzzFeed’s audience to the Feb. 15 deadline for ObamaCare enrollment. If communicating with 20-somethings as if they are 11-year-olds is a way to get them to behave like grown-ups, then maybe the White House has at last found a way to make good on its make-believe enrollment numbers….

Now, you know, I’m normally not one to be out-harrumphed. I can be as stuffy as the next guy; probably more so if he’s not quite the thing. Today at the board of governors meeting at my club we had a stimulating conversation about the dress code, and while I didn’t actually join in, it’s because I was too busy holding myself back from saying “Quite right!” and “Capital!” at all the more Tory comments from others.

But I don’t know about this. While I quite take Mr. Stephens’ point that it’s absurd to communicate “with 20-somethings as if they are 11-year-olds,” I also applaud pragmatism in a leader. And if this is the way you have to communicate with them — well, one does what one must.

Thoughts?

selfie stick

And here I am as a tyro journalist, at about the same time

baby journalist

I ran across this picture during the same search that produced the one of Dylan and The Band.

Evidently, I did not take this. I don’t remember who did.

Anyway, that’s me front and center looking at the camera, with the Groucho mustache, the circa 1965 Beatles hair, the octagonal wire-rims, the distinctly big-collared 1970s sport shirt, and the white Keds. This was in the newsroom of The Helmsman, the student paper at Memphis State University, probably around the same time as the Dylan/Band picture. So somewhere in the 1973-75 range.

This was during my stint as either editorial page editor or news editor of the paper. I say this because I’m turned away from the manual typewriter and evidently pencil-editing someone else’s copy instead of writing. I’m sitting in the slot position of the copy desk, the standard U-shaped desk that an editor I worked with after graduation called “the elephant’s commode.”

Dan Henderson, our fearless leader.

Dan Henderson, our fearless leader.

But we didn’t really have a formal copy desk and slot man. There were four or five kids, of whom I was one, who were the core of the paper and made everything happen, with other contributors coming and going. Another of the inner group is in the background at far right, his finger in his near ear as he tries to hear someone on the phone. His name was Oran; I forget his last name.

I don’t know what the long-haired guy standing in the doorway of the supply closet is looking at; he seems to be just grooving on a spot in the ceiling.

Note the detritus of a paper-based publishing system. Aside from the typewriters, there’s a pencil sharpener, a tape dispenser, a stapler, and several pots of rubber cement. The rubber cement was for gluing all the pages, or takes, of a story together into one long, continuous strip of paper. The piece was sent to a commercial print shop several miles away where the paper was put together, and which we had to visit to proof and let the pages go.

The newsroom was small. Whoever shot this is standing in the middle of it.

Dan pretends to point to something on a piece of copy I'm pretending to edit. This was for the yearbook. Notice we didn't make the slightest effort to groom for the occasion.

Dan pretends to point to something on a piece of copy I’m pretending to edit. This was for the yearbook. Notice we didn’t make the slightest effort to groom for the occasion…

The closed door behind me is the Inner Sanctum of whoever was our chief editor at the time — probably the late Dan Henderson, who was later an assistant managing editor at The Commercial Appeal. Oran was to work for them later, too, in a rural bureau in West Tennessee. Those bureau people weren’t in the Guild, and were treated like dirt by the people in Memphis. One night, Oran called in his story, and the editor took it, and asked all the questions he had while editing it, and then said, “By the way, we won’t be needing your services any more.” Yeah, he was fired. He had moved out of Memphis and set up residence in some dinky town for the sake of the paper, and that’s how they let him go. Sayonara, pal.

Some would say that’s a good argument for unionizing reporters, since it was the fact that Oran was not in the Guild that let him be treated this way. For my part, I think there’s something about Guild papers (The Commercial Appeal was the only one I ever worked at) that created an unnecessarily adversarial relationship between journalists and management, so the powers that be took out their hostility on the ones they could take it out on. But that’s just my theory…

Incoherently overheated headline of the day

guardian

And the award goes to… The Guardian, for “Romney decision clears path for next stage of Bush presidential empire.”

I’m not even sure what it means, beyond communicating the vague idea that The Guardian really has a thing about the Bushes, doesn’t it?

The hed would almost make sense if you substituted “dynasty” for “empire.” But I think somewhere in the lower reaches of some copyeditor’s brain was the mostly-suppressed, unacknowledged thought that “empire” had a more sinister ring to it.

The story itself doesn’t have quite the ring that the hed does. It’s fairly matter-of-fact. I am a little puzzled that the paper is going with such a limited, second-day approach on the breaking story. Romney’s bowing-out has farther-reaching impact than elevating Bush, if it even does that.

Romney himself seemed to be urging Republicans to look beyond Bush to “the next generation.” Bush at 61 is more or less in the usual age range for a presidential contender, so the implication is that Romney is thinking of someone else, someone with a name less well-known.

I found the way Romney put that sort of interesting:

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney wrote. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

I heard in that a hint of, You REALLY oughta be going with me, a guy who is well known and has taken his message across the country, someone who isn’t just getting started… but NOOOO, everybody said “Don’t run, Mitt,” so you’re on your own now, losers.

Hey, I’m holding out for a GOP nominee with a sufficient grasp of the English language that he knows “Democrat” is a noun, and the adjective is “Democratic.” That would be something (he said wistfully)…

What Haley proposed isn’t a ‘road plan.’ It’s a tax cut plan

In the sake of clarity, The State‘s editorial Sunday about Nikki Haley’s “Let’s Make A Deal” proposal on paying for roads maybe what should have been an obvious point, although I had not yet thought of it this way:

WHEN MARK Sanford ran for governor in 2002, he proposed to increase our tax on gasoline and eliminate the state income tax. He didn’t claim it was a plan to save our roads. It was a plan to cut our taxes, plain and simple.

And that’s what Gov. Nikki Haley offered us in her State of the State address on Wednesday: a plan to cut taxes. Oh, she called it a plan to address what most businesses and lawmakers and many citizens consider our most urgent problem: our crumbling roads and bridges.

But it would cover barely a fifth of the need, and in reality it was just a warmed-over version of the Sanford plan. It should meet the same fate as the Sanford plan, which the Republican Legislature rejected, because lawmakers knew we could not afford a massive reduction in the money available to pay for schools and prisons and industrial recruitment and mental health and other basic services.

Gov. Haley did propose to spend the new gas tax revenue on roads: $3.5 billion over the next decade. But she also proposed to steal $8.5 billion from those core functions of government over that same period.

The governor says she’s making roads a priority (although really she’s making tax cuts the priority), and it’s true that we can fix a big problem in government by making it a priority. But if we aren’t careful, we create other problems, as we saw most recently with the cuts to our child-protection program that Gov. Haley now wants to reverse…

Yup. Instead of focusing on the problem under discussion, something of importance to everyone who cares about the state’s actual needs — the lack of funding for roads — the governor is really using that as a smokescreen to achieve an ideological goal that doesn’t address any actual problem.

That wasn’t fully clear to me until I saw the numbers: $3.5 billion for roads, but $8.5 billion for tax cuts…

Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

As you know, Je ne suis pas Charlie. Well, as it turns out, if Google Translate is right, Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

And not only that, but watch what you say about his Mama.

I learned all this from this Tweet from Bryan:

My initial reaction was, “Whad’ya mean, ‘start’?” But then I went to find out what he meant, and found this:

Pope Francis said Thursday there are limits to freedom of expression, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.

But, he said, there were limits.

By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said, throwing a pretend punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”…

Now, just watch people across the planet completely misconstrue what he said, claiming he’s “blaming the victim” or “excusing terrorists for murder,” when he is obviously doing no such thing. But he is saying what I’ve said before, which is this:

One’s right to free expression is a sacred thing, just like one’s right to freely practice one’s religion. The Pope said that clearly. And no sane person, least of all the Pope, believes anyone should be killed or threatened with death for expressing himself honestly.

But, there is a difference between what you have a sacred right to do and what you ought to do. And if you want to live in a civil society, in which other people have some basic modicum of respect for you, you have a moral obligation to show at least some minimal respect for others.

This is not a terribly hard thing for most experienced editors to understand, because they live in that space between what one has a right to publish and what one publishes if one has any respect at all for one’s readers.

And folks, you don’t have to be an editor or the Pope or somebody with an advanced degree in ethics to know where the lines are. That’s what the Pontiff was getting at with the mock punch. He was saying, we all know where the limits are: Insult my mother, I’ll smack you down. It’s not complicated.

I mentioned the other day that I’ve heard my good friend Samuel Tenenbaum state clearly, on many occasions, where the line is. Samuel takes a back seat to no one in defending civil liberties. But he makes no bones about the fact that you’ve crossed the line with him, and made an enemy, when you insult “my wife, my Mama or my faith.”

Does that mean Samuel would be justified in coming into your office and blowing you away for insulting Judaism? No, of course not. But he’s describing where the boundaries lie in civil society. He’s telling you what is beyond the pale, in case you missed that class in kindergarten.

Charlie Hebdo is wrong to publish childishly obscene (and not even funny, to an adult eye) cartoons that deliberately slap Muslims in the face, that insult them in the most obnoxious possible manner. Millions of those Muslims are people who mean Charlie no harm, and would never resort to violence against them. But they are deeply insulted, and now, with nonMuslims around them all saying “Je suis Charlie,” they feel more marginalized and looked-down-upon than ever. These people don’t deserve such treatment.

The fact that there are a few murderous jerks who will kill you for publishing such cartoons does not make you right for publishing them. If something is wrong, it is wrong whether people shoot you for it, or give you a big, wet kiss for it.

And that’s what the Pope was trying to say…

Oh, and by the way, he also said global climate change is real, and man-caused. That kind of got downplayed….

Je ne suis pas Charlie

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Did I get that right? If not, blame Google Translate. I know next to nothing about what Scott Evil would term “Paris talk.”

My point, in thus running against the current proper emotion, is that even though one might think I’d be the first to identify with the victims at Charlie Hebdo, I’d actually be among the last.

As Robert Ariail’s longtime editor — and one whom Robert used to flatter as being the rare sort of editor who could “think like a cartoonist” — it should really hit home for me when terrorists invade editorial offices and start shooting, with cartoonists and their editor being their specific, intended targets.

And on certain, basic, levels, it does. As someone who believes firmly in the importance of free expression in a free society, and especially on a human level. No one deserves such a fate. Those who carried out the attack must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, or killed if they cannot be captured. They and their actions are beyond the pale. But because I have been involved daily in the production of satirical cartoons, and because I’ve made the thousands of small judgments that such a task involves, I feel acutely the difference between me and those responsible for Charlie Hebdo. It’s a difference that may seem subtle to you, and many will misunderstand me. But for me, there’s a bright line.

I am not Charlie because I would not create or publish some of the things that Charlie has published.

Most specifically, I would not even once, much less regularly, intentionally mock someone else’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. If I, in a weak moment (and I most assuredly would regard it as weakness, not strength — the inability to resist a cruel joke at someone else’s expense) did so, I would feel shame. I would not pat myself on the back for being courageous. Just because there’s someone out there who will kill you for making a bad joke doesn’t excuse the joke or make it heroic. It’s still a bad joke.

A situation such as this generates a lot of emotion, with predictable reactions, so let me go ahead and address a couple of the predictable misunderstandings that will greet what I’m saying:

  1. I’m not “blaming the victim,” to use one of more irritating catchphrases of our age. The blame lies entirely with the terrorists, whose murderous actions are utterly unjustified. Nothing that Charlie Hebdo has ever published, however offensive, justifies violence. And the editors of Charlie had every right to publish what they have published. My comments deal with the many choices one makes between the boundaries of the many things we have the right to do.
  2. I’m not saying that editors should not publish certain things because of fear of attack. Far from it. What I’m saying is that editors should not publish things that they should not publish, period. The threat of violence is irrelevant, and merely clouds the issue, making it hard to see the point I’m making. I hold that however incisive and hard-hitting your commentary, one should always strive to respect those you criticize as fellow human beings. And a most fundamental way you respect other people is that you don’t mock their religion.

I realize I’m on one side of a cultural chasm here. While many Americans can identify with the aggressive secularism that is so common in Europe, I cannot. I’m more of a typical denizen of this country in that I defy the Western trend toward rejecting traditional religion. But in a sense, that’s irrelevant. I like to think that even if I were an atheist, I’d be the sort of atheist who found it unthinkable to mock others for their faith. Mocking other people’s deeply cherished beliefs, ones that are sacred to them, is just so tacky, so low, so déclassé, so nekulturny. I’d find it, as Mr. Darcy would say, insupportable.

Also, I sense that satire plays a somewhat different role in European politics than it does here. You say “satirical newspaper” — the standard description of Charlie Hebdo in news reports — and I think of The Onion. I love The Onion, even when it is at its most irreverent. But that is because I and others see it as all a big joke. It doesn’t occupy a place near the center of our political discourse. I may laugh my scrawny posterior off at a well-turned phrase in The Onion, but I don’t put the writer of that phrase in the same category as Thomas Paine, Horace Greeley, William Allen White, Walter Lippman, David Broder, Kathleen Parker or anyone else who has sincerely wrestled with the issues of the day.

A lot of younger people, we are told, get their news from “The Daily Show,” with everything filtered through a satirical strainer. And we, their elders, greatly valued the political gags of “SNL” in its heyday. Sure, there has always been a place for humor in political commentary, from Mark Twain through Robert Ariail. And I value that. Given much of the soul-crushing madness in our public life, humor is indispensable.

And when a cartoonist uses perfectly legitimate symbolism in making a satirical point, and oversensitive people — a category that includes many Muslims — object on irrelevant grounds, I defend him. I’ve been there many times. If you have a copy of Robert’s last book while at The State, take a look at the cover. It shows a varied mob chasing Robert with the proverbial torches and pitchforks, with such recognizable figures as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (two of his favorite caricatures) leading the pack. Look back a bit, and you’ll see some Muslim women in burqas among the irate mob. (Sorry, this is the biggest image of the cover I could find on short notice.)

Those women, or their real-life counterparts, actually inspired that cover, and for that matter the book. One day in 2001, some Muslim women were complaining about an Ariail cartoon that they felt disrespected them and Islam. Here’s the cartoon in question:

aria1007brad

That cartoon made fun of a new dress code for pages in the Legislature by showing them covered by burqas. This was obviously making fun of the lawmakers, not Muslim women. We shrugged off the criticism. I said something to Robert like, “You’ve just got everybody on your case lately, don’t you — flag supporters, the governor, Democrats, Republicans, traditional Muslim women…” Which inspired the cover drawing, which we then quickly decided would be a great cover for a book, which we then started to compile.

Robert experienced similar criticism after we both got canned from the paper, over the cartoon below. Though I was no longer paid to do so, I defended him quite vehemently. It’s hard to imagine a better way of stating one of the main flaws with Nikki Haley, particularly at that time — that she talks a big game on transparency, but doesn’t deliver. It was funny, pointed and entirely relevant. And its target was the governor of the state — no wait; going by the date on the post, it was a lawmaker well on her way to becoming the governor of the state.

Note the distinction here. True journalistic courage and integrity lies in willingness to skewer the powerful — the people who hold sway over our lives. It does not lie in deliberately mocking the Prophet, and thereby dumping on the sincere beliefs of a largely powerless, marginalized minority in your society, which is how I would describe Muslims in Europe.

There is a world of difference between unintentionally offending someone’s sensibilities (there is someone out there offended by every cartoon, which is unfortunate but unavoidable) with a symbol or image used to make a sharp point about the powerful, and deliberately savaging a revered religious figure just for the point of doing just that.

The problem in publishing images of the Prophet isn’t that you might offend terrorists. It’s that you will certainly spit in the faces of millions of unoffending Muslims who mean you no harm.

The Wall Street Journal posted a video today telling about some of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. At the very end, you see the murdered editor saying:

We are in a weird situation in France. Islam is the second religion in the country in terms of practitioners. And in fact, nobody knows anything about Mohammed. Nobody knows anything about this religion. It’s a religion that scares people because every time we talk about it, it’s when we talk about bomb attacks done by an extreme minority.

So… how do you get from there to deciding that the proper way to respond to that “extreme minority” is to go out of your way to mock the inoffensive, overwhelming majority of people who make up the second-largest religious group in your country? People whose faith you acknowledge that people like you know little about? (And please note the majoritarian assumption underlying his words. “Nobody knows anything about this religion” — nobody except the members of the nation’s second-largest religious group. Such ethnocentrism is weird in someone being lionized as a martyr to liberalism. He displays here the narrowness that unfortunately characterizes so many people who see themselves as the most broad-minded. Sorry to speak ill of the dead, but this is worth pointing out.)

The Washington Post is absolutely right to say, as it does in an editorial today, “Charlie Hebdo stands solidly for free expression. The West must do no less.” I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Post‘s editors on that point. But I can’t honestly say “Je suis Charlie,” because I’ve thought too carefully about such issues over the years, and I know I am not. To paraphrase something allegedly said (the quote is apparently apocryphal) by a famous Frenchman, I defend to the death the right of Charlie to publish what Charlie sees fit to publish. And I will stand in solidarity with the millions of defenders of Charlie against the forces of darkness and intimidation. But I am not Charlie.

Watch this: Some idiot — the sort who should be the subject of a cartoon — will say I’m a coward; I’m “afraid” to deliberately mock Islam. No, I just believe it’s wrong. In fact, if there were a terrorist group threatening credibly to kill me if I didn’t publish images mocking the Prophet, I still wouldn’t do it. Because I DO believe in freedom of expression just as much as the publishers of Charlie Hebdo, and adamantly insist on being guided by my own conscience in deciding what to publish.

If I were still editor of the editorial page of The State, I would today be saying much what the Post is saying. Freedom of expression, particularly political expression (including especially expressions with which I disagree, the sort that appears regularly in Charlie Hebdo) is a core principal of liberal democracy that cannot and must not be compromised. A newspaper must take a stand on that. But note that the Post, in that same editorial, is also making the point that I am making in this completely personal (not institutional) blog post, which addresses a side issue:

We have objected in the past to expressions that appear intended to gratuitously provoke or offend Muslims, particularly in European nations such as France, where a large Muslim population suffers from chronic discrimination and is the target of demagoguery by populist political parties. But such criticism does not justify censorship, much less violence.

Absolutely.

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How the CIA torture report story was reported

The above image caught my eye on Twitter this morning, and I followed The Guardian‘s link to this story.

I found it interesting that even though the headline was, “CIA torture report: how the world’s media reacted,” the story led off with how American papers played it — the NYT, the WashPost, the LAT…

If you scroll down in the story, though, you see more international fronts. I found it interesting the extent to which the Arab News played the story down. It looks like it might even be below the fold.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass all this on…

The much-anticipated Ferguson decision

photo (11)

I was thinking this morning that, while all Monday-morning papers tend to be light on news, today was a particularly slow one.

I thought that because both The New York Times and The Washington Post were leading their iPad apps with a story that hadn’t happened yet. Which, in the strict definition of What Constitutes A Lede that I was taught, is something you don’t do. News is, at the least, something that has happened. Advancer stories have their value, but they don’t lead the paper, in the normal course of things.

Anyway, I share that as a way of having a post already up and ready in case y’all would like to comment when the Ferguson grand jury does report, which I see it is expected to do at 8 p.m.

photo (12)

 

I enjoy serendipitous juxtapositions

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I enjoyed this juxtaposition of headlines on the business page of The State today. The headlines go to this story, and this story.

For a split second, I thought maybe the stories actually were related. And in a global, trend-tracking sense, I suppose they are. Except, of course, that the larger posteriors some women seek are more of the muscular variety. Doughnuts alone won’t give you that…

I love the smell of advertising in the morning. It smells like… freedom!

This is a cautionary tale for those of you who gripe about “all the ads” in your daily newspaper. When the truth is that the dramatic decline in advertising revenue over the past decade or so is what has been strangling newspapers.

It’s why Robert Ariail and I, and a bunch of others, got laid off in 2009, at the very low point of the Great Recession.

Greet those ads as friends, because those that remain are all you have to keep the news flowing your way — no matter where you get your news. The few reporters left at mid-sized dailies across the country — and at virtually every other information outlet you can think of — get paid from ad revenues. It was always thus, only in the old days there was a lot more flowing in.

No bucks, no Buck Rogers. Or perhaps I should say, no Clark Kent.

There are readers out there who labor under the delusion that they pay for their paper, so they shouldn’t be assaulted with all these ads. Well, no they don’t — pay for it, that is. Oh, they pay something, but it’s a pittance compared to what it costs to publish a newspaper. The rest comes from advertising.

And contrary to the equally deluded belief of folks who imagine that ads make the news somehow hostage to the interests of advertisers (which just proves they’ve never worked at a general-circulation newspaper in this country), advertising is also what keeps news free and independent. As we’re seeing in Russia:

An advertising ban on Russian cable and satellite TV stations could decimate regional television broadcasting from the suburbs of the capital to the far reaches of Siberia, leaving the country almost entirely dependent on state media for news and information.

The law, which will prohibit commercial advertisements on paid cable and satellite channels starting next year, is one of many measures Russian authorities have adopted in recent months to tighten control over the flow of information, reduce foreign money in Russian media and force journalists to hew closer to a pro-Kremlin line.

But the advertising ban threatens to deliver the most devastating blow to homegrown independent outlets where Russians get most of their news: television….

When newspapers and other news outlets lose their access to advertising in a place like Russia, the news becomes, once again, a wholly owned subsidiary of the government.

So enjoy the ads, folks. They’re better than the alternatives…

Happy Elephant Day, Republicans (courtesy of Thomas Nast)!

Nast elephant

I learned this from a Tweet today:

On this day in 1874, in a Thomas Nast cartoon, the Republican Party was symbolized as an elephant for the first time

You know, that’s gotta be a bitter pill for some in the GOP to swallow — their symbol was given them by a hero of the MSM.

I must remember to mention this to Robert Ariail, who has a special bond to Nast — he was judged best cartoonist in the world in 1997 by the Overseas Press Club, which gave him their prestigious Thomas Nast Award.

By the way, here’s an explanation of the Nast cartoon that ran on Nov. 7 1874.

Any of y’all vote early? Why? And how did it go?

OnPoint

A couple of things we talked about last night on Cynthia Hardy’s radio show (there I am with host, crew and fellow guests above) stuck with me.

One was all the talk about voter turnout. I joined in with the others in urging people to get out and vote — I even threw in the cliche about “If you don’t vote, don’t come crying to me about what happens after” — but I also shared my personal doubt about get-out-the-vote efforts. Basically, if you have to be reminded, cajoled, begged and prodded, I’m not at all sure I want you voting. I’d rather have elections decided by people who care enough that they would never consider not voting.

Then, I was struck by all the talk about early voting. Not “early voting” technically, but “absentee” voting — which is engaged in more and more by people who won’t actually be absent. My fellow guest Jim Felder kept urging folks to get out and vote today rather than wait until Tuesday, in case the weather is bad on actual Election Day. Various anecdotes about busloads of folks voting early were shared.

So I thought I’d ask: Did you vote early? If so, why? And how did it go? And anything else you’d like to share.

I know that Doug, at least, voted on Friday, because he texted me about it, saying it was very busy at the Parklane location. Perhaps he’d like to share some more about that.

Anyone else?

Wow. NOW Mia McLeod is attacking Carolyn Click

Here’s the latest escalation from Rep. Mia McLeod, who really seems to be going around the bend on this thing:

Okay, Ms. Click, so you write front-page fabrications about race in Richland Two on Sunday and then again on Tuesday and Wednesday of the same week? Guess The State must be hard-pressed for real news…and real journalists.

Race wasn’t an issue in Richland Two until you and your White Citizens Council (WCC) buddies made it one.Mia leopard jacket

The illusion of racial tension and animosity you guys have created continues to reveal your true colors. In fact, the same WCC spokesperson quoted in Sunday’s story, had this to add today,

“These people are playing hardball—if they get control they will drive off all the competent people…”

Funny thing is…”these people” kinda reminds me of “those people” and “you people.”

Clearly these are “your people,” Ms. Click, since you’re working overtime to help disseminate and lend credibility to their racist chatter.

Thankfully, somebody at The State had the good sense (not you, of course) to remove his racist rant from “the story” you originally posted online last night, as well as the printed version today.

More proof that “control”—not race, is the real issue. “If they get it,” means we’ve never had it. Guess that’s what scares y’all so much.

And you so desperately want the few readers you do have, to believe that I’m Amelia McKie’s biggest supporter. Guess that’s why you’ve conveniently omitted thousands of dollars in contributions and a diverse cross-section of her contributors from your “story.”

Too bad that while you’re working hard to undermine and discredit Mrs. McKie, the front-runner in this school board race, you’ve actually disclosed even more “evidence” of the collaboration between the current Administration and the WCC.

Obviously, the campaign contributions of current R2 Administrators to some of the WCC’s “chosen four” is evidence of collaboration and conflict—not to mention, impropriety. But I’m sure that’s well above your pay grade, Ms. Click, since The State must not require you to check the rules or the facts before you print your fabrications.

And for what it’s worth, I didn’t compare Debbie Hamm to Lillian McBride in my blog. I simply referenced incompetence as their common denominator.

Even my Senator chimed in to “reaffirm” his support for Debbie Hamm. But, this isn’t about her. Or is it?

Anyone who thinks she’s “building morale” in R2, is out of touch with everybody but the DO. For her loyal supporters, friendship trumps everything.

What a sobering reality check for the rest of us in Richland Two.

Let’s channel our energy and efforts towards a true commitment to excellence in education, for the benefit of all Richland Two students.

For those who are afraid of losing it, it’s clearly about control. For the rest of us, it’s truly about moving our students, communities and District forward, in a better direction.

It’s time to silence the rhetoric, the rancor and the manufactured issues of race. Next Tuesday, November 4, I’m counting on voters to do just that.

Maybe then, Ms. Click, you can focus your attention on real news, for a change.

Quote that….

Speaking as a 35-year newspaper veteran, I can tell you with authority that this is real news, and Carolyn Click is a real journalist. A good one. I’ve known her for a couple of decades, and I think this is the first time I’ve heard anyone call her professionalism into question.

And you can quote that….