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Puppies, rainbows and wet sponges

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If you thought the blue lines in hockey were confusing (apologies to MAD Magazine), try spending time in the White House briefing room.
While most of the nation wants a health care plan much like the plan congressmen can enjoy, and while hate crimes and anti-Semitism are on the rise, reporters in the White House press briefing room are enduring a never ending epidemic of language H.L. Mencken would describe as “wet sponges,” though earlier this week we heard it in the guise of “rainbows and puppies.”
What was said? Well it turns out it wasn’t said. Maybe we didn’t understand and it doesn’t matter because there’s something new to say to us any way. Bad hombres are all about.

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Media responsibility and the new American political dynamic

Media responsibility lacking

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With the nation stunned and Donald Trump’s minions giddy as teenagers on ecstasy, it’s time to take a good hard look at the national media.
After all, the national press has a lot to answer for in how the recent presidential race was covered and the inability to see the wave of anger, fear and hatred of Washington D.C. and traditional politics that has swept the electorate and Heir Donald into the White House.
Trump has destroyed both major parties and is set to spread his demagoguery across the country via his newly won bully pulpit.
To quote Mencken, “… it is to the interest of all the rest of us to hold down his powers to an irreducible minimum and to reduce his compensation to nothing.”

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Newspapers and the Cosmic Future

20150601 181228-X3Moving forward beyond the GOP and Democratic Conventions we are forced to once again evaluate the effectiveness of our media in presenting news we can use.

As we wrote last week the short answer is we’re not doing so well. We are producing news you want rather than news you need.

The bottom feeding, bottom-line nature of our business has become so overpowering even John Oliver on Last Week Tonight mentioned it on his HBO series this week. It was part of his declaration that local newspapers are in trouble and without them we’d all be reduced to watching Wolf Blitzer bat around a ball of yarn.

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Registering politicians

Mike Pitts, a Republican – go figure – has introduced the South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law which would define what a journalist is and keep a list of those who are seen as responsible and penalize those no on the list with fines or imprisonment.

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The Ultimate Goal

 

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H.L. Mencken hit on a hidden truth when he said in essence it is hard to imagine someone is telling the truth when you know in their position you wouldn’t.
How that translates to covering government cuts both ways.
Politicians, especially after seeing the biased reporting which is seemingly all-pervasive in our country today find it hard to trust anyone in the media. As for those of us in the media, after covering seemingly endless scandals from local, state and especially in the federal government it becomes increasingly difficult to look at politicians with anything less than a jaundiced eye.
While both mindsets are flawed, the results on the public can be both similar and wildly different. Ultimately those who have the power of subpoena, taxation and sit in the seats of power – elected by the people to serve us all - can be argued to have a greater responsibility to the electorate. You have but two senators in each state. If they do wrong, then you don’t have much redress for your grievances. If you don’t like a reporter, then you can turn the channel, read a different newspaper or find the information you want – whether it be true or not – on the Internet.
Those of us who gather information, therefore, seem to be mere flotsam in the scheme of things – a fact also reflected by Mencken when he said, “For example, the problem of false news. How does so much of it get into the American newspapers, even the good ones? Is it because journalists as a class are habitual liars?...I don’t think it is. Rather it is because journalists are, in the main, extremely stupid, sentimental and credulous fellows – because nothing is easier than to fool them.”
“It is this vast and militant ignorance, this widespread and fathomless prejudice against intelligence that makes American journalism so pathetically feeble and vulgar and so generally disreputable.”
So as Lisa Abraham, an editor in Columbus Ohio who was jailed for trying to defend the First Amendment in the early 90s, said at The National Press Club Monday night, “Why is it the first place government stops to get information is from a reporter?”
Why indeed? For if journalism is so disreputable, what does it say for those in public life who attempt to prey on the reporters and ultimately use them?
I was humbled to be in the room with Lisa and eight other reporters who, like me, went to jail at some point in their career trying to either protect a confidential source or keep the government from using them as investigators. The assembled group included author Vanessa Leggett, television personality and author Judy Miller, blogger and journalist Josh Wolf who holds the record for serving time – seven and a half months. Television producer Brad Stone, Abraham, print reporter Schuyler Kropf, publisher Libby Averyt and myself made up the bulk of those who spent time detained for our actions.
We met prior to an evening symposium at The National Press Club to get to know one another. Many of us had never met. We are a small club too. Just about a dozen and a half of us are alive and one of us, Jim Taricani, has significant health issues.
I found the meeting prior to the symposium enlightening and ultimately enjoyable in finding I was part of a family I was actually unaware of joining.
The gut wrenching decision to protect a source or your notes, or your videotape is incredibly difficult. It is so easy to give in, and ultimately most do to government officials. While every day many compromise themselves to corrosive threats by the lowest elected official to the highest, many more have stood up to say they will stand by what they have done. Usually you aren’t jailed.
But government intimidation is an 800 lb. gorilla in the room. Ultimately threats, catcalls of a wild and wide variety against the reporter, their abilities, their character and their motives can level most people.
But there is a cure and the nine of us who met this week are supportive of the initial step – a National Shield Law that will protect reporters from testifying and give our sources greater cover.
It is just a first step. Public officials found to be threatening reporters with incarceration or trying other means of coercion should pay a high price for those acts. Information should be more readily available to reporters and the cost of challenging the government when it withholds information should be eliminated.
It would go a long way to cleaning up government from the lowest to the highest miscreants.
Monday I got to take part in a historical meeting of some fascinating and enjoyable people.
My sincere hope is we don’t merely become a historic footnote.

 

 

 

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