Category Archives: Media

OK, now THIS is gun ignorance

Pay attention: a "shotgun" is a GUN that fires SHOT...

Pay attention: a “shotgun” is a GUN that fires SHOT…

This was in The Washington Post this morning:

On an icy Monday morning in February 2004, Jon Romano was hunched in a bathroom stall on the third floor of his high school outside of Albany, N.Y., tapping out a text message to his few friends.

“I’m in school with shot gun,” he wrote, the New York Times would later report. “Get out.”

Clad in a long black leather coat, the 16-year-old then washed his hands, picked up a brand-new Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, and stepped into a hallway at Columbia High School. He fired two blasts before Assistant Principal John Sawchuk tackled the 6-foot-2, 230-pound teenager. As the two struggled, a third shot ripped from the gun, hitting the legs of a special-education teacher named Michael Bennett. Although bullets came close enough to graze a student’s baseball cap, no one else was hit. There were no fatalities….

Whoa! Where did “bullets” come from? I can save you the trouble — nowhere in the story is there a mention of any weapon that fires them. He just had a shotgun.

Some of my gun-hip friends like to complain about gun-control advocates not knowing the difference between a “clip” and a “magazine.” But when they get that pedantic, they lose me. My whole life, I’ve heard magazines — particularly the little ones used with semiautomatic pistols — referred to as “clips.” And what do most people call the thing you use with an AK-47? I don’t recall hearing it referred to as a “banana magazine.” So you should give people some wiggle-room on that one. “Clip” may usually be wrong, but it’s not that embarrassingly wrong. So lighten up, Francis.

Kyle Swenson

Kyle Swenson

But this? This seems to be willful ignorance. It’s painful. It’s the ultimate. It shows a complete lack of a clue as to what a shotgun is (hint for those who actually don’t know: It’s a gun that fires shot, in most, but not all, circumstances). I had to look up the reporter who wrote that, Kyle Swenson. His bio says that before joining the Post just last year, “he covered South Florida for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.”

South Florida must have gotten a lot more peaceful since the “Miami Vice” days, for someone to cover it without learning anything about firearms.

And where was his editor?

It was great to see Valerie and the gang at USC tonight

DXKqNm8XkAEKh2R

Valerie Bauerlein was back in town this evening, which became the occasion for the biggest gathering of former denizens of The State I’ve attended since we lost Lee Bandy.

Valerie, now of The Wall Street Journal, was here to deliver the Baldwin Lecture at the J-school at USC.

Her topic was “Retail Meltdown: How Online Shopping is Changing our Communities.” She did a  great job, as she does with everything she undertakes. To give you a sense of the lecture, here’s part of a Q&A with her from the USC website:

Last year I went to Elmira, New York, and Wausau, Wisconsin, to report on the ripple effects of the collapse of retail. What I saw there is not so different than what is happening at shopping centers in Columbia and in lots of other places.

Elmira used to make everything from typewriters to TV tubes. As manufacturing went away, the mall out by the interstate became a bigger and bigger driver of the local economy, drawing people from miles away and employing hundreds of people. The local governments became dependent on sales tax to offset property tax and other revenue as manufacturing declined. So when the mall started to fail, people lost their jobs and became more dependent on public aid. And the city had become so reliant on sales tax to make its budget, it had to make deep cuts, even in its police force. There are lots of communities like this, who are dealing with the death of a big mall or outlet center that has been an anchor for the economy.

Wausau, on the other hand, is a prosperous place, by some measures the most middle-class community in America. The mall is failing there, too, in spite of being the only one in a 70-mile radius. In Wausau, the city didn’t need sales tax to make its budget and the local governments could absorb the decline in property taxes from the mall and other shopping centers. The big worry there was the death of what had been a community gathering place, and how to get new life into a building that was in the center of town. The other issue was how to support small shops in the downtown, so the people would want to live and work there.

So there are fiscal and civic ripple effects to our communities from the collapse in retail that are fascinating and often overlooked….

I was a bit late for her talk, but she let me know that I was quoted in her introduction, delivered by Tom Reichert, the new dean of the College of Information and Communications. He used this from a 2009 post on this blog:

She’s one of the nicest, most pleasant, kindest, most considerate people I ever worked with, to the extent that you wonder how she ended up in the trade. Not that news people are universally unpleasant or anything; it’s just that she was SO nice. And very good at her job, to boot.

Yep, that sounds like something I’d say about Valerie — and mean it. Here’s how nice Valerie is — she gave a plug to my recent blog post related to her topic (the one on deserted malls).

Afterward, we went to Hunter-Gatherer for a pint. Which is where the picture above is from. That’s Valerie with the big smile in the foreground at right. You can also see Sammy Fretwell, Megan Sexton, Bob Gillespie, Paul Osmundson, Carolyn Click, Grant Jackson and various other present and former denizens of The State — plus such fellow travelers as ex-dean Charles Bierbauer, media lawyer Jay Bender, former Sanford press secretary Joel Sawyer and other friends.

It was good to see all the folks again…

See, society HAS made progress, lest you despair

My wife’s cousin posted this on Facebook moments ago, and it cracked me up.

Dig these hepcats delivering the message, “It’s not how long you make it, it’s how you make it long!” And no, I’m not trying to switch the subject back to pornography. They really said that. On TV. And yeah, in a way, it kind of was pornography.

Yes, boys and girls, before 1972, there were cigarette ads on TV. And while all TV advertising tended to be pretty insipid, almost nothing else exceeded cigarette ads on that score.

Can’t you just see Don Draper thinking this one up between naps on the couch in his office?

What’s a TV commercial, you ask? You know, those irritating things that come on when you watch a sporting event on TV. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to see them. At least, that’s the only time I see them, which means I don’t see them much. (I’ve watched a little of the Winter Olympics, but I can’t bring myself to stick with it past maybe one commercial break. Then it’s back to “Britannia” or “Detectorists” or old episodes of “The West Wing” on Netflix or Prime.)

Worse, back in the day they were often a whole minute long, even though this one is closer to the modern length. Thank merciful heaven.

I look back at this, and take heart: Yes, some things about our society and culture have gotten better in my lifetime…

winston

The ‘Jihadist Beatles?’

jihadi beatles

 

Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC
Didn’t get to bed last night
Stayed up putting Semtex in my BVDs
Man I had a dreadful flight!

I’m back in the I.S.I.L.
You prob’ly won’t live to tell, boy
Back in the I.S.I.L.!

Sorry. I suppose that’s in poor taste. But I didn’t start it. It’s the British press that’s calling these four terrorists “the Beatles:”

Exhausted and strikingly different in appearance from the other captives, the two new prisoners were believed by Kurdish militia leaders to be among Islamic State’s cadre of foreign fighters.

But it was not until mid-January, around one week after their capture in eastern Syria, that the Kurds – and their CIA colleagues at the interrogation centre where they were holding the prisoners – knew exactly who they had: Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, Britain’s two most wanted terror suspects. They had finally been caught – and they were ready to talk.

Kotey and Elsheikh are the final two of an infamous quartet of Britons who acted as jailers, torturers and executioners of foreign aid workers and journalists for more than two years from mid-2013. They were dubbed “the Beatles” by their victims, in reference to their British accents – though they were from London, rather than Merseyside…

I used to have pleasant, light-hearted associations with the Fab Four. Now this…

It seems the chief wasn’t talking about Meg at all…

OK, here’s a surprise twist:

Whoa. So… the chief wasn’t talking about her at all?

I reached out to the mayor, and she said she was just about to call me, because she had just found out that the chief wasn’t talking about Meg, and that she — the mayor — had jumped to the wrong conclusion when she reached out to me before.

“I looked at it too quickly,” she admits. Having learned that, she wanted to let me know.

So, I guess, never mind. And I hereby apologize to readers for having posted something that wasn’t true.

And to Meg, too. Fortunately, she’s in a (mostly) forgiving mood:

Meg Kinnard

Meg Kinnard

Cayce chief’s Facebook post

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m not going to take this down for now, because if I did, the post correcting it would make no sense. But for the record: The chief wasn’t talking about Meg Kinnard at all. Mayor Elise Partin thought he was, and reached out to me to tell me about it, which led to this erroneous report….

Earlier today, I got a Facebook message from Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, asking the following: “Brad, have you seen the FB post by our chief? I just saw your post about the reporter. Wanted to make sure you had both sides.”

I had not seen it, and at first I had some trouble finding it. But the mayor, on her way into a council meeting, called me back and told me where to find it — on the city’s public safety Facebook page (I had looked on hers, and the city’s, and the public safety chief’s personal page).

Here’s his essay, which I urge you to go read in its entirety. Here are the sections that caused the mayor to reach out to me:

These types of incidents are very dangerous and must be controlled quickly and effectively. The goal is to “Control the Chaos” by stabilizing the scene and caring for the victims. In order to do this, certain procedures and rules must be put into place. This includes procedures for the media to be able to have access to the information they need for their stories….

Cayce Chief Byron Snellgrove

Cayce police chief Byron Snellgrove

Again I feel that this incident ran very smoothly with so many entities involved and cooperating with each other. There are, however, a couple of tweets going out by a reporter about one of my staff making them leave the shelter and school district property. Let me make this very clear. The story is true! They were asked to leave because they were not abiding by the procedures that were put in place and were clearly explained to them and all the other media personnel that were at that location. By not staying within the boundaries that were outlined by my staff they were obstructing the flow of the operations at the shelter. They even attempted to get on a bus and do interviews with victims as they were leaving the shelter which slowed the process of the victims and their families getting where they needed to go. We received complaints on them from District 2 staff, victim’s families and even the bus driver of the bus that they attempted to gain access to. The procedures were made clear to them and they did not follow those procedures and when asked to stop they became aggressive with a school district official. They were, therefore, asked to leave.

I stated before that incidents like these are handled by “Controlling the Chaos”. Any disruption to this “Controlled Chaos” jeopardizes the operation and the care that the victims receive. I feel that cooperation between all agencies and emergency personnel in South Carolina is better than it has ever been and the way this accident was handled is proof of that. I feel the same way about our cooperation with the media. I respect the job they do and the fact that the media must sometimes be aggressive in getting the information they need for their story, however, ambush reporting and working outside of the boundaries and procedures that are put in place for an incident of this magnitude is simply unacceptable. So yes, they were asked to leave and I take full responsibility for the actions of my staff and, in this case, completely agree with them.

It may seem to some that the media outlets and Public Safety Agencies are often at odds with each other when it comes to information flow, however, it has been my experience that this is not the case and difficulties like these are rare. I would actually like to thank the media for the great coverage that they gave this major incident and for the needed information access that they provided to the public….

So there you have it. Frankly, I don’t think of this (or many things) in terms of “both sides.” There are lots of “sides,” multiple perspectives, on any event. I certainly didn’t see my earlier post featuring Meg’s video as one-sided, even though it was from her POV. I thought a fair-minded person could look at that video and feels sorry for Mr. Hinton trying to do his job while being chewed out by an angry reporter, just as much as a person who’s been there and done that (which I have, which of course colors my perspective) could identify with Meg’s frustration in trying to do her job. I think both of those things were true.

And I value the POV of the chief as well, and appreciate his presentation of his difference with Meg’s version within the context of an appreciation that the media folks there had a hard job to do, too.

Photo from Meg Kinnard's Twitter page.

Photo from Meg Kinnard’s Twitter page.

Meg Kinnard’s confrontation while covering train wreck

One of Meg's photos from the scene.

One of Meg’s photos from the scene.

Yesterday morning I was sleeping late. I was awakened by an editor at The New York Post, telling me there had been a train wreck a few miles from me and asking whether I would cover it for them. (They’ve had my name and number on file ever since I covered the infamous Mark Sanford presser for them in 2009.)

Meg Kinnard

Meg Kinnard

I declined. There was a time, about 40 years ago, when I’d have been excited to run out in the rain and cover such a thing. But not yesterday. If they’d had a good political story to chase, maybe. But I left this one to the large crowd of reporters that I was sure was already out there.

One of them was Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press. This video she posted on Twitter reminds me of the thousand little hassles reporters run into in the course of doing their jobs:

This partial clip sort of makes it hard to tell what was really happening. The argument started before she started shooting. Obviously, Meg was a bit upset already by that point. Some will probably watch this and think she’s the aggressor and feel sorry for the school employee, who is clearly out of his depth. Especially the kind of people who despise White House press for getting aggressive when they get their rare shot at getting an answer.

I remember how stuff like this felt. You’re trying to do a job under tough circumstances, and somebody erects a barrier “because he can.” It’s pretty infuriating. You’re like Really? Like this wasn’t already difficult enough for all concerned? Kind of made me glad I left this story to Meg, et al. They seem to have done a fine job without me.

I just have one little complaint, Meg: Turn the phone sideways!

See that? I’m not the only one who confuses the blonde Catherines who ran DHEC

That's Catherine Templeton, not Catherine Heigel.

That’s Catherine Templeton, not Catherine Heigel.

I’m so glad I’m not the only one.

And then there's THIS one.

And then there’s THIS one.

Because if it were just me confusing the two young blonde women with the same given name who ran DHEC back-to-back, I’m sure I’d be accused of sexism or ageism blondeism or just being an all-around idiot. I’d be immediately ordered to show my papers and ‘check my privilege.’

But I’m not alone!

Today, The State ran a picture of Catherine Templeton and said it was Catherine Heigel.

That’s OK, folks. Perfectly understandable.

And let’s not even get into the fact that there’s a third one, Katherine Heigl, who is way more famous than either of these….

The actual Catherine Heigel.

The actual Catherine Heigel.

How many Nikki Haleys ARE there?

multiple nikki

Aaarrrggghhh!

I’m reacting to this:

Not everyone was a fan of the Grammy Awards segment where celebrities read passages of the controversial best seller “Fire and Fury.”

One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration and took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

No, it wasn’t President Donald Trump.

It was his Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Shortly after the segment, which included an appearance by Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Haley shared her disdain with the segment on social media

Their?” To voice their displeasure?

Yeah, got it — you were trying to avoid a gender-specific pronoun to generate brief suspense as to who it was. But since you assumed that readers would assume it was Trump, you sort of called extra attention to the question of gender with that jarring “their.” You might as well have added parenthetically, “It’s not a he!”

You could just as easily have written, “One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration and took to Twitter to voice displeasure,” period. Or better yet, to fix another problem, “One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration who took to Twitter to voice displeasure.”

See how easy that was — and how much better than creating a universe in which there are multiple Nikki Haleys?

SOME numbers are interesting, and significant

sigdig-1monday

We have a lot of arguments here based on the fact that some of y’all are numbers people and I’m a word guy.

But sometimes I appreciate numbers, too.

I don’t like them when they don’t mean much. For instance, back when I was still at the paper, there was a period in which the newsroom would post a “By the numbers” graphic with some stories. The numbers were usually not very pertinent to understanding the story. It was obvious that some senior editor (I suspect a managing editor who was at the paper in those days, but I don’t know because our interactions with the newsroom were minimal) had decreed that there would be at least one such feature a day, whether the story lent itself to that treatment or not.

But fivethirtyeight has a feature called “Significant Digits,” or “SigDig,” which identify stories with numbers that mean something. A sampling from today’s installment:

4 congressmen

Rep. Patrick Meehan, Republican of Pennsylvania, will likely face an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Meehan reportedly used taxpayer money to settle a complaint by an aide that he made repeated romantic overtures towards her, and grew hostile when she did not reciprocate. Meehan was, until these accusations came out, on the House Ethics Committee that’s investigated the sexual misconduct cases of at least four male members. [The New York TimesThe Boston Globe]


86 patients

China is testing cutting-edge gene therapy technology on human beings, with at least 86 Chinese patients having had their genes edited so far. China’s regulations on experimenting with humans are considerably more lax than many other countries’. [The Wall Street Journal]


1,062 Twitter accounts

Twitter has discovered another 1,062 accounts linked to a Russian agency that tried to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and will email 677,775 users who followed the accounts, or retweeted or liked one of their tweets. [Bloomberg]…

And so forth. That’s more like it! Every one of those numbers is a grabber, encouraging us to read further.

I mean, really: 86 Chinese people have had their genes “edited”? How many does it take before they can assemble a Chinese version of the X Men?

Remembering a better time, just 10 years ago

That's me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 -- taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: "Is This Good for the COMPANY?"

That’s me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 — taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: “Is This Good for the COMPANY?”

I retweeted this today…

I passed it on not because it was particularly profound or unique or even one of our former president’s better Tweets, but because it reminded me of a better time for our country.

As it happens, I met Barack Obama 10 years ago, on MLK Day.

That was such a better time for our country.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

A week before, we had endorsed John McCain in the SC Republican Primary, and he had won. We knew, when Barack Obama came in, that we liked him for the Democratic Primary in a few days. But this interview, at 8 a.m. on that holiday, cinched it. We were all very impressed. And since Hillary Clinton declined even to come in for an endorsement interview (I would learn why sometime later) and Joe Biden had dropped out much earlier, that was pretty much it.

We endorsed Obama, and he won the primary a few days later.

As a result, I’ve never felt better about a presidential election than I did about that one — my last in newspaper journalism, although I didn’t know it at the time.

From the time McCain and Obama won their respective nominations, I referred to it as the win-win election. Whichever one won, I felt good about our countries future.

We endorsed McCain in the fall — I’d wanted him to be president since long before I’d heard of Barack Obama, and I was concerned about the Democrat’s lack of experience. But it was OK by me when the latter won. It was the win-win election.

Fast-forward eight years, and we find the Democrat we rejected then running against the worst candidate ever to capture a major-party nomination in our nation’s history — and as if that weren’t bad enough, the worst man won. And we are reminded of that daily, as he goes from outrage to outrage.

So it’s good, if only for a day, to look back and remember a time, not so long ago, when all our prospects seemed good.

Samuelson will tell you the truths you don’t want to hear

Robert J. Samuelson — whom I don’t read as often as I should because of his tendency to write about money and other things one can measure with numbers — is not a guy to read at all if you want him to tell you things you want to hear.

Robert J. Samuelson

Robert J. Samuelson

Well, let me amend that: I think the things he has to say are fine, when I can cut through the numbers and read him. But based on voting patterns I’ve seen in recent years, he’s likely to give a lot of other folks apoplexy.

For instance… not satisfied merely to slice and dice the Republicans’ contemptible tax “reform” plan last month, he strode right past the nonsense to speak a home truth: “Americans aren’t taxed enough.

He didn’t mean it in absolute terms, of course. There is no perfect amount of taxation, and saying “this isn’t enough taxation” in a vacuum would be as idiotic as say, also in a vacuum, that “Americans are taxed too much.” And Samuelson is not an idiot.

No, he means that as long as America means to spend X amount — and there has been no credible effort to reduce the lion’s share of spending — it must have the common sense and maturity to pay X amount in taxes. And it’s been a very long time since we’ve done that.

As he put it:

The truth is that we can’t afford any tax reduction. We need higher, not lower, taxes. What we should be debating is the nature of new taxes (my choice: a carbon tax), how quickly (or slowly) they should be introduced and how much prudent spending cuts could shrink the magnitude of tax increases.

To put this slightly differently: Americans are under-taxed. We are under-taxed not in some principled and philosophical sense that there is an ideal level of taxation that we haven’t yet reached. We are under-taxed in a pragmatic and expedient way. For half a century, we haven’t covered our spending with revenue from taxes…

We resist the discipline of balancing the budget, which is inherently unpopular. It’s what Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute calls “take-away politics.” Some programs would be cut; some taxes would be raised. Americans like big government. They just don’t like paying for it….

But if you think that’ll make some people mad, consider his column today. But first, someone bring the smelling salts for Bud and Doug. The headline is, “Why we must raise defense spending.” An excerpt:

Politically, the vaunted military-industrial complex has been no match for the welfare state’s personal handouts. There has been a historic transformation. In the 1950s and 1960s, defense spending often accounted for half of the federal budget and equaled 8 to 10 percent of gross domestic product (the economy). In 2016, defense spending was 3 percent of GDP and 15 percent of the federal budget, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, welfare programs — called “human resources” by the OMB — accounted for 15 percent of GDP and 73 percent of federal spending….

The result is this:

Here is the assessment of Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense specialist at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute:

“The United States now fields a military that could not meet even the requirements of a benign Clinton-era world. The services have watched their relative overmatch and capacity decline in almost every domain of warfare . . . for nearly two decades. As rival nation-states have accelerated their force development, the Department of Defense has stalled out, creating a dangerous window of relative military advantage for potential foes. . . . While the United States continues to field the best military personnel in the world, policy makers have asked them to do too much with too little for too long.”…

So, to summarize, we’re not taxing enough for the spending we’re doing, and we’re not spending enough to adequately perform what was originally the government’s chief responsibility.

And before I get the cliche response — citing numbers showing how much more we spend than other nations is pretty pointless. We emerged from 1945 as the chief guarantor of a security order designed to stave off World War III. And the only nations that have shown any interest in taking that mantle of dominant military power off our hands have been the very last big countries a believer in liberal democracy would want to see do so.

Samuelson may write too much about numbers, but I have to hand it to him: He goes right where the number lead him, regardless of whose ox gets gored, on both the left and the right…

‘Fake news’ proliferates (even — gasp! — here on this blog!)

Douglas

There’s “fake news,” and then there’s fake news. I’ve seen a number of widely different varieties in recent days.

First, a digression: I’ve always had mixed feelings about the value of competition.

Yeah, I suppose it keeps you on your toes, makes you try harder and reach new heights, etc. But in the news business, I’ve always worried about it, because the pressure to get it first can cause you to go with something too soon, and get it wrong.

I worried about that even back when there were only two news cycles in each day — a.m. and p.m. You had all those hours to work on something and get it right before you had to go to press, or, in case of broadcast, go on the air. But knowing that if you didn’t go with it today you had to wait another 24 hours created its own kind of pressure to go with what you had.

The best way to avoid letting that pressure get you into trouble was the old nostrum, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Better to leave a hole in a story, an unanswered question, than give an answer you weren’t completely sure about.

Now, with the Web and social media, there is no “cycle.” Deadline is always right now, and if you delay a minute, you take the risk of getting beat by 59 seconds.

And that produces screw-ups like CBS reporting that Tom Petty was dead early on Monday afternoon, when he didn’t actually die until 8:30 that evening — and it wasn’t officially released until midnight.

(This was particularly problematic for old media that still follow cycles. The State had a piece in Tuesday morning’s paper all about how CBS had messed up by reporting that Petty was dead when he wasn’t — and not a word about the fact that Petty actually was dead. That’s because his death was announced after press time, but hours before readers would have the chance to read the story. Very confusing.)

As “fake news” goes, that was of the honest-mistake variety. We saw an example of the more malevolent kind within that same 24-hour period. It’s the sort that arises from the modern phenomenon of everybody being a publisher — meaning that there are no rules, and no fussy editors saying “When in doubt, leave it out.” And everyone believes what they want to believe, however unlikely, according to their political prejudices.

I’m talking about the way right-wing trolls eagerly identified an innocent man as the Las Vegas shooter, simply because he was someone who fit a narrative that was appealing to them, and he had apparently been married to a woman with the same name as the actual shooter’s girlfriend:

Geary Danley was not the gunman in Las Vegas who killed at least 50 people late Sunday. But for hours on the far-right Internet, would-be sleuths scoured Danley’s Facebook likes, family photographs and marital history to try to “prove” that he was.

Danley, according to an archived version of a Facebook page bearing that name, might have been married to a Marilou Danley. Police were looking for a woman by that name in the hours after the shooting, but later saidthey did not think she was involved. To name someone as a mass murderer based on that evidence would be irresponsible and dangerous. But that’s exactly what a portion of the far-right Internet did overnight.

The briefest look at the viral threads and tweets falsely naming Geary Danley as the attacker makes it easy to guess why a bunch of right-wing trolls latched on to him: His Facebook profile indicated that he might be a liberal….

But even that, as filled with bad faith and malevolence as it was, seems less deliberate than another kind of shameless spreading of “fake news” that is all around us these days, feeding systematically on reader gullibility.

A couple of weeks back, I was watching TV and my wife was in the room looking at her iPad when she told me that The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, was killed doing a stunt on a movie set. (I’m thinking she saw this on a Facebook ad.) I said something like “Wow, I wonder why they let him do something so dangerous.” Then I made an observation about Vic Morrow and the way he died, and forgot about it.

Then, at some point the next day, it occurred to me that I’d seen nothing about the star’s death in any of the papers I had read on my iPad that morning. So I went looking, and saw that it was a hoax.

Then, this week, the same hoax started showing up in the Google Ads right here on my own blog. Click here for the screenshot.

Oh, and have you read about the passing of Michael Douglas? I have, many times. To make the weirdness even richer, when I looked up “Michael Douglas death hoax,” I found a site that fed me… you guessed it… an ad with the misspelled news of “The Rock’s” alleged death (see above).

By the way, you want to be careful Googling Michael Douglas — you might get true stories that tell you way more than you want to know.

Where does this leave us? In a situation in which we could use some old-school, skeptical editors standing between you and the lies. But that’s not going to happen. The technology exists, and it can’t be put back in the tube. Anybody can instantly publish anything for the whole planet to see, without any professional standards being involved whatsoever.

So what we need is more intelligent, skeptical readers. But let’s not hold our breath for that new species to evolve. As last year’s election showed us, and every day since confirms, there are a thousand suckers born every minute…

By the time I read this story in The State telling me reports of Petty's death were false, he was actually dead.

By the time I read this story in The State telling me the report of Petty’s death was erroneous, he was actually dead.

 

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode 4: ‘Resolve’

I’m a day behind here, but I want to have a post about each episode, so I’m posting this a day late, after I’ve already seen Episode 5. But here goes…

First, if there was an episode, of all those thus far, that was going to turn me into the Vietnam war protester that Bud would like me to be, it was this one. From start to finish, practically every point made, every interview, every video clip, added up to a powerful message that whether we should have been in Vietnam or not, what we were doing was not working. The Johnson administration was fooling itself as well as the American people, and each escalation added to the sense of desperation that the episode conveyed. These points were made again and again, eloquently.

A person watching that episode would naturally wonder, why did we continue to fight? Why didn’t the American people demand that we withdraw immediately? And my answer, as I expressed earlier in a comment, is that the concentrated way that these arguments are presented in the episode was NOT the way life was experienced at the time. First, if you were a stateside civilian, little of your average day was spent thinking about the war. And when it was, the antiwar message was a much smaller chunk of what we were taking in about the war — and no, that was NOT because the POTUS was a big, fat liar.

Most of the journalism we saw was NOT by David Halberstam or Morley Safer. We did not have the experience that this series affords of hearing at length from young men who went over enthusiastic about the mission and became disillusioned. (So far, every single young man we learn of in

I was just a kid at the time, which makes me unreliable, but I have no memory at all of the Fulbright hearings, much less of the calm, articulate, intellectual arguments of George F. Kennan and other witnesses arguing against our involvement.

In fact, if you were alive at the time, most of what you saw of the growing antiwar movement was people chanting such things as “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” I know that such “arguments” are persuasive to many people, but they turn me right off. Such approaches aim to engage the emotion and shut down rational faculties, and I’ve always held them in contempt.

Anyway, I was impressed by what Kennan had to say, because of who he was — or who the series told me he was. My ears perked up immediately when I heard that he was sort of the father of Cold War strategy of containment. I had heard his name, and I was familiar with the strategy, and I was eager to hear more.

As y’all know, I have frequently written here about Vietnam as an application of that policy of containment. So hearing that Kennan said Vietnam was a wrong-headed misapplication of the strategy really made an impression on me.

Bud thinks I should “just admit the hippies and draft dodgers were right,” which ain’t gonna happen. Nor is Muhammad Ali or Dr. Spock going to knock me over. Nor John Kerry. In fact, definitely not John Kerry. But if a guy like Kennan says something, I’m thinking as I watch this, I’m paying attention.

The next morning, seeking to know more, I googled Kennan. Wikipedia’s not the same as reading a serious book about him, and I stand ready to be corrected by someone with deeper knowledge, but it’s what I had time for so far. And I read this:

Soon after his concepts had become U.S. policy, Kennan began to criticize the foreign policies that he had seemingly helped begin. Subsequently, prior to the end of 1948, Kennan became confident that positive dialogue could commence with the Soviet government. His proposals were discounted by the Truman administration and Kennan’s influence was marginalized, particularly after Dean Acheson was appointed Secretary of State in 1949. Soon thereafter, U.S. Cold War strategy assumed a more assertive and militaristic quality, causing Kennan to lament about what he believed was an abrogation of his previous assessments….

In other words, Kennan wasn’t exactly what the series suggested. He had disowned the way the U.S. government applied his containment idea to the entire Cold War, starting LONG before we got involved in Vietnam.

Which puts his testimony in a very different light from what I heard Wednesday night. It’s not like he was a guy wedded to the overall strategy who had a specific problem with Vietnam; he was a guy who disowned the whole policy.

The way it was presented on the show was that here was Mr. Containment himself, and he was against our involvement in Vietnam. But apparently, that description was off.

Maybe that was acknowledged at some point when I got up to get a glass of water or something. But if it wasn’t, the omission bothers me. It’s one of the few flaws I’ve spotted in the series thus far, though, which testifies to the excellence we’ve come to associate with Burns and Novak.

One other small thing that speaks to something huge…

The episode told of how in the last year of his life, Martin Luther King struggled with whether he should take a stand against the war. And as we know, he eventually decided to do so.

I deeply respect his prayerful process of discernment, and was as always impressed by the rolling power of his eloquence in the speech the program showed a clip from.

But something jumped out at me. Like so many other opponents of our involvement, he called upon our leaders to “end the war.”

Well, y’all know how I tend to react to that phrase. It is spoken by so many good, decent, kind, caring people who just want all the bloodshed to stop. It was spoken during that war, and later with regard to Iraq, and to this day about Afghanistan.

But it was not in our power to “end the war.” It was only in our power to get out of the way and let it proceed without us. This is not some small linguistic quibble. The difference between ending a war and pulling out to let the other combatants fight it out is a big as between night and day.

As we would see in 1975…

Kennan

My mind and heart are focused on Dominica tonight

205325_5day_cone_no_line_and_wind

This morning, I knew that Hurricane Maria was headed toward Dominica, the tiny Caribbean island where my daughter lives in sight of the sea.

But I was reading that it was a Category 1, and I knew that my daughter would be with the other Peace Corps personnel in a hotel in the city of Roseau — a place U.S. officials considered safe.

I’d heard that by the time the storm reached Puerto Rico it might be a Category 4, and I took that to mean AFTER Dominica. And I had exchanged Facebook messages with my daughter, and she seemed unworried. This was the third time this month the Peace Corps people had gathered at that hotel ahead of a storm, and to her, it seems to have become something of a routine.

So I was shocked when I got come and learned that it was bearing down on Dominica as a Category 4.

And I realized my mistake: American news is tailored to American audiences. And too few Americans are familiar with the Caribbean, beyond a vague notion that Puerto Rico is there. So when that report said it would be a Category 4 when it reached Puerto Rico, it was assuming I didn’t care about Dominica.

But I do. A lot.

Now, American news media have caught on to the existence of the island, and are reporting such things as ”

“‘Extremely dangerous’ Hurricane Maria heading for Dominica, Puerto Rico”

It’s supposed to hit at about 9 p.m. We’re trying to stay in touch with my daughter, but how long will they have wi-fi? If they lose that, and phone service, we’ll just have to wait. Like this is the 19th century or something.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind and in my heart tonight. Prayers will be appreciated.

A Dominica scene.

A Dominica scene.

Nikki Haley on the cover of TIME

59b14d153e9e8.image

Are you ready for this, folks?

This morning, Phillip said:

evidently there are rumors that we may be getting a Madam (Haley) Secretary soon…

To which I could only react by saying, it’s astounding how far a person can get just with poise and social graces. But let’s give Nikki some credit for having some assets: What’s even more amazing than that is how far someone can now get without those things — as proof of that, we have her boss.

Nikki looks good, very good, standing next to the administration that she serves in. It doesn’t mean she’s ready to be secretary of state by any stretch of the imagination. Then again, I’m not convinced that Rex Tillerson was, either. While he may know a good bit more about the world than our ex-governor, he does lack those social skills — and astonishing self-confidence — that our Nikki possesses in abundance. And while I’d like to see some actual foreign policy credentials, at least those qualities are assets in diplomacy.

Now, to digress…

Did you see that list of women? Could they not come up with a more, um, current list? The headline is WOMEN WHO ARE CHANGING THE WORLD — “are,” not “were,” or “did decades ago.”

And yet we have… Barbara Walters, who made a splash back in what, the ’70s? Aretha Franklin, who is certainly awesome, but had her heyday even earlier? Hillary Clinton — the splash that didn’t happen. And I’m a Madeleine Albright fan, but what has she done since the ’90s?

Perhaps the magazine will tell us. But given the shallowness of the few things I’ve read in TIME in the last 20 years, I don’t have my hopes up.

What about — I don’t know — Angela Merkel? Or Theresa May, despite her recent troubles? Or somebody current.

At least Nikki is busily storming the foreign policy establishment right now. But that’s not, apparently, TIME‘s reason for putting her on the list. Instead, they’re still celebrating her for being “First Indian-American woman to be elected governor.” Really — it happened in 2010, and they’ve just caught on to it! At least Newsweek did it when it was news. In fact, they kind of jumped the gun on it.

I mean, come on! I haven’t exactly been a cheerleader (except on her greatest moment, getting the flag down), but the woman’s done more that that! Show some respect — if not to her, then to us as readers!

I dunno. There are magazines out there that are more engaged and relevant than they’ve ever been. I’d put The New Yorker in that category. But TIME, the first magazine I ever subscribed to (when I was in high school), seems to have given up on offering us anything worth our time.

You want to read something that matters about Nikki Haley? Go to that Foreign Policy piece Phillip brought up, where you’ll read:

Haley’s high profile on pressing international issues, including Iran and North Korea, raised fresh questions about the influence and political future of the secretary of state. Tillerson has been strangely absent from the public spotlight, even amid mounting tensions with North Korea, and Haley has stepped in to fill the void….

… instead of news from 2010.

How much Harvey coverage is enough?

IMG_1309

OK, people are going to start throwing brickbats at me for being mean and uncaring, an apathetic monster.

But I’m not. In fact, I have relatives I saw just the other day down at the beach who have thus far been unable to return to their homes in Lake Charles. I get the human cost. I care.

I’m just asking, how much coverage of Hurricane Harvey do we need? And my tentative answer is, “Maybe a little less than we’re getting.” Or maybe the same amount, played a little bit differently. Or maybe I’m wrong. It’s just a gut thing, based on my experience the last few days.

I ask this as a guy who has spent most of his life as a newspaper editor, figuring out how best to deploy finite resources — people, space, time. You can’t cover everything, so what will you cover, and to what extent? And how will you present it?

I was part of the team at The State that was a runner-up for the Pulitzer in 1989 for our coverage of Hugo (we’d have won it, too, if San Francisco hadn’t had an earthquake in the middle of the World Series). I’m proud of that wall-to-wall coverage that went on for days, weeks, while our state struggled to recover.

But as someone who is sitting outside the affected area, looking at national media outlets, I have to think the coverage, and/or the play, may be a tad excessive.

You may recall — if you’ve read anything other than Harvey coverage — that a lot of people accused Trump of burying the pardon of Joe Arpaio by doing it as the storm bore down on the Texas coast. But here’s the thing about that: News organizations can still cover such a political development, and play it prominently — if they choose to.

The last couple of days, I’ve started wondering about news organizations’ willingness to do so.

In the past day, North Korea fired a missile over Japan. Meanwhile, it was learned that a guy who worked for Trump reached out to a high Russian official for help in building a Trump tower in Moscow at the height of last year’s election.

You will say, But that’s just petty politics, and we need to take a break from that stuff when there’s something that affects real people happening — such as a big storm.

Well, yes and no. Assertions such as that always bring me back to the First Amendment. The reason the press has that special protection in the Constitution is so that it can make you aware of things you need to know in order to be an informed, empowered voter.

The kinds of decisions that you, as a citizen, are called on to make with regard to Harvey, are limited. You can volunteer to go help, if you see a way you can do so and make a real contribution. You can give money, or donate food or clothing, or give blood, if those things are identified as needs. You can tell your congressman you want him to vote to fully fund FEMA.

And I think that coverage that a) communicates the situation fully, and b) clearly shows how you can help is all to the good. Give us that coverage, and plenty of it.

But cover the other stuff, too. And, yes, that is definitely happening, or I wouldn’t know about those things. But I get the impression that these other important stories are getting pushed to the margins.

Look at the home pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times, above and below. Those screenshots contain nothing but headlines about Harvey. If you scrolled down on both of those pages, for at least another half a screen, it would be all Harvey.

And to me, that seems a bit… off. What’s wrong with letting people know, in their first glance at your news offerings, that there are other important things happening as well — such as the aforementioned missile over Japan? Harvey could still get the biggest headlines, and the most of them. But give us some balance, some perspective.

It’s a big planet, and most of it is not affected by Harvey. There’s a lot of other stuff going on. Don’t hold back from telling us anything we need to know about Harvey. But tell us the other stuff as well, and don’t bury it.

IMG_1311

Cindi gets the Wilson-Quinn memo issue just right

Cindi got it exactly right in this column:

Here’s an excerpt from the column:

So Mr. Wilson was not asking for advice from a target of the investigation, which would have been a resign or be removed from office sort of infraction. And worse.Wilson cropped

What he was doing — what no prosecutor should do — was consulting his political adviser about a criminal case. Mr. Wilson points out that he was not asking how to prosecute a case. He says his concern was to get through the exchange with “a cordial relationship” with Mr. Pascoe intact; and indeed, Mr. Quinn suggested removing some snark and making the letter more diplomatic. (In the end, Mr. Wilson called Mr. Pascoe rather than sending a letter.)

But the underlying topic was still a criminal matter.

Pretend that Mr. Wilson’s consultant had been named John Smith or Jane Jones or anything other than Richard Quinn. Pretend that his political consultant had never met Richard Quinn or Rick Quinn or Jim Merrill. Pretend that Alan Wilson was the only South Carolinian his political consultant had ever heard of. It still would have been inappropriate for Mr. Wilson to consult him. It simply is not acceptable for a prosecutor to seek political advice about anything involving his job as a prosecutor….

The point here is that the memo was sent at a time when there was little or no reason to suspect that Quinn would at some time be a central figure in the investigation. So all that stuff from the Democrats about how Wilson should resign or be fired is off-base.

But it is improper for a prosecutor to seek political advice on how he’s dealing with a criminal investigation. The fact that all elected AGs most likely do it is no excuse.

So, if and when Wilson faces re-election to his post, and voters are tallying the pros and cons as to whether to vote for him, this should go in the “con” column. And that’s about it.

How far have we come in 70 years? Maybe not so far…

cadet

When I saw the above story, and especially the picture with it, I had to smile.

Look at that young woman! She has worked hard, and achieved a milestone toward a lifelong goal. She deserves the joy I see in her face. God bless her. I’d like to meet her and shake her hand, and thank her for her service, and her drive to excel in that service. For the rest of the day, I’d probably feel much better about Life, the Universe and Everything — and especially the human race, which as we know can be disappointing at times.

But when I read stories like this, this tiny, cynical voice tries to ruin it by saying something like “Another ‘first’ story. It’s 2017, and ‘first’ stories still get big play in The New York Times.”

Don’t blame me. On this point, I was warped early on. In high school, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And a lot of things about that book have stuck with me. Here’s one of them…

X tells this colorful sort of comic-opera story about himself that is much like the one Arlo Guthrie tells in “Alice’s Restaurant,” about how he got his draft notice, and upon arrival at the intake station went into an elaborate, over-the-top act to get a psychiatrist to rule him unfit for service.

This was 1943. X acts as crazy as he can while standing in line with the other draftees during the physical, and marvels at how long it takes them to pull him out of the queue. But eventually they do, and when he gets to the shrink’s office, he describes this scene:

firsts

Ignore the “not bad to look at” part. This was 1943, and even 20 years later when the book was written, we guys got to say stuff like that without being condemned for it.

Malcolm X in 1964

Malcolm X in 1964

No, my point is what X is saying about “first” stories. Reading this at 17, and rereading it today, I get the strong impression he held such stories in contempt. Part of this arises from the attitudes he would embrace through the Nation of Islam (views he would just be in the process of turning away from as the book was being written). He apparently held all involved in contempt — the white man for so grudgingly allowing black people such small achievements, and black folks for being so thrilled at such crumbs from the white man’s table.

I have never been a bitter cynic in the league of Malcolm X, and hope to God I never will be. I’m pleased for people who accomplish anything that improves their lives and inspires other people. But that anecdote has stuck with me over the years. And every time I see a story like this one today, that memory looms up.

About the time X was working with Alex Haley on that book, the white press joined the “Negro press” in celebrating such firsts. Which in and of itself was a fine thing, a form of progress, of the nation forming a consensus around its highest ideals.

But here it is 2017, and we’re still reading these stories? Almost a decade after the election of our “first black president,” this is still news?

To go back to where I started: I liked reading this story. I like reading about the achievement of a fellow human being named Simone Askew. This world needs more like her! But that part of me that was influenced by that book when I was younger (and far less accomplished) than she is makes me wonder whether it doesn’t take something away from her personal achievement to couch it in terms that Malcolm X scoffed at in 1943…

A simple, human appeal for civility

This morning, I saw a Tweet that said the following:

And my curiosity was piqued. What sort of a piece would have a headline like that? I was guessing it was a Dear Abby-type advice column. I HOPED it wasn’t a let-it-all-hang-out piece by an identified person talking about his or her family. That is, I hoped those pictures in the illustration weren’t of the actual people involved.

I didn’t think they were, but I was curious enough to click and find out.

What I found was something that puzzled me. It had the anonymous person writing in, but not the answer from the “Abby” figure. No advice at all. Just the personal problem set out, followed by comments.

But the thing I liked was the editor’s note that lay between the problem and the comments. It went like this:

When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments that appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed.

It was a standard “Don’t respond just to be a jerk” appeal, but I liked the way it tried to reach, oh-so-optimistically, the humanity in the responder, however dormant it might be.

you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help…

If only people could always keep that in mind. Too many of us have trouble with that. I’ve written about this before, but I will again: Nonjournalists think of reporters as cynical jerks who no more consider the humanity of their subjects than they would the hopes and dreams of an ant under a magnifying glass.

But that’s actually not the case. Their editors might be that way, if they don’t get out of the office much. And copy editors are the most dismissive cynics to be found in a newsroom. To them, newsmakers are abstractions, distant figures even farther from them than the ant under the glass. Copy editors who work on morning newspapers can be, in my experience, the worst, because they don’t meet many people, period. Their hours don’t allow for it, and their reality becomes what they read on a screen, and the company of the other cynics that sit around them, the more extroverted of them making sarcastic cracks about the people in the news — and about the stupid reporters who apparently have never consulted a stylebook.

Reporters, by contrast, know their subjects — even the worst among them — as people. They see the newsmakers whole, as living, breathing creatures. They may be tough on them, but they know they’re being tough on fellow humans. Reporters have to be able to do that in order to connect with sources and do their jobs.

There are a lot of readers out there who are like those copy editors. The people they read about aren’t real to them.

So while it may or may not work, I appreciate that approach to asking commenters to be civil. The first step is remembering that the people they’re responding to are people…

5325