Tag Archives: Journalism

Unfiltered Information Could Be Our Undoing

Donald J. Trump has 65.2-million followers on Twitter. So, whatever idea might pop into his head, no matter how crazed, he can immediately blast it out to all 65.2-million of his minions. That, is political power. It is also frightening, because it is totally unfiltered.

Not long ago, in a time before cellphones, there were the newspapers and three major over-the-air broadcasting networks controlling most of the flow of information in America. For the most part, they had professional news organizations staffed with journalists who took their craft seriously, taking care to uphold the public trust with a standard for quality journalism, while serving as a filter for their readers, listeners and viewers, ensuring a degree of accuracy and truthfulness in what Americans read and heard. The worst thing these journalists could do, and they knew it, would be to betray the public trust and lose their credibility. And so, they took their work seriously.

Consequently, when CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite returned from Vietnam and told America that the Vietnam War had us mired in a stalemate, that the war was unwinnable and that a negotiated settlement was needed, the nation listened. Polls indicated Cronkite to be the most trusted man in America. There were calls for him to run for public office. Journalists were held in high esteem.

There were lapses of course, like “Yellow Journalism” during Hearst’s battle with Joe Pulitzer, but for the most part it worked pretty well. For the most part, America was protected by her journalistic filter. Then came cable, satellite news and the internet, and all bets were off.

And now here we are, with no filter to protect us and a highly questionable personality in the Oval Office with his finger not just on the nuclear trigger but on his massive Twitter feed as well. I’m not sure which might turn out to be more threatening to the country, or what we should do about it going forward. Clearly, what technology has given us may be more than our Democratic Constitutional Republic can handle. In a very real sense, it may be a clear and present danger.

Needed: Another Edwin Newman

Just heard a local newscaster talk about making an intersection “more safe.” Whatever happened to “safer?” Are they also going to start proclaiming things to be “more fast” instead of “faster?” Is it just me? Used to be that if the word preceding the comparative had three or more syllables, you’d drop in the “more.” Otherwise, just add the “er.” It gets complicated, which is why this stuff needs to be drummed into kids heads while they’re still in “grammar school.”

Meantime, if you aren’t sure, go ahead and drop the “more” and just add the “er.” Keep it simple when and if you can. I myself, (that would be me), tend to use too many commas. I have a word for it. I call it “over-commatization.” Picked it up in grammar school where I was taught to drop in a comma every place where a reader would stop to take a breath. Well, hey. That doesn’t always work. The English language is tough. Consequently, I assume no responsibility for you getting it wrong with the “er” thing. You were supposed to have picked this stuff up in grade school. Provided you got there before all the cuts to public education.

Public officials lower our cultural and intellectual bars every time they make another cut to education. Some inner-city schools have no heat in the winter or cooling in the summer. As a group, we are becoming stupider by the moment so that the wealthiest among us can horde their millions while paying tens of thousands to bribe college officials to get their under-educated kids into the best schools.

It’s madness, but then evolution is a difficult thing to watch.

Also bugged about people calling trucks cars and referring to caps as hats. Not long ago I watched a local reporter standing in front of a truck that had crashed into a storefront talking about the car that had smashed into the building. Then there was a ballgame the other night with the announcers talking about a “ballcap” promotion that was coming up. The ballpark, they explained, would be giving out custom baseball caps emblazoned with the insignia of local colleges and universities. A minute later, one of those same announcers was talking about the “hats” the ball players were wearing. Difficult to watch this stuff. Think maybe I’ll open a consultancy biz for tv news. Edwin Newman, where art thou? More dead now than ever before? Deader than a door nail?

Also hate it when writers fail to use personal pronouns. That one really bugs me.

A Sanitized Version Of TV News

Question for all the journos out there:  Is it okay to sanitize broadcast news?   Does this bother you,  or is it just me?

When does editing cross over into censorship?

Yesterday one of the tv news shows here in the Baltimore area sanitized not one but two stories, all in the same hour.   It was not the Sinclair station, nor was it Fox.  It was one of the “big-3” network affiliates.

First, they did the story on the apparent suicide of Kate Spade, without including the information that she apparently hanged herself with a scarf tied to a doorknob.

Then, they did the story about the Mayor of Philadelphia responding to the President disinviting the Philadelphia Eagles to a celebration at the White House, without including the Mayor’s most biting criticism of the President..   The statement from the Mayor the tv news show opted not to include was, “…our president is not a true patriot, but a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size and afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party to which no one wants to attend.”

It’s difficult for me to understand how someone commits suicide by tying a scarf to a doorknob.   So maybe it wasn’t suicide?  So maybe that should have been included in the story?  Also, the Mayor’s comments about President Trump, are kind of essential to doing a complete story on what the Mayor had to say, right?   This wasn’t some unknown man on the street interview, it was the Mayor of one of the biggest cities in America.

I knew both these stories had been “sanitized” (not just edited, but censored) because I read newspapers.   Many people do not, so they don’t have the advantage of staying properly informed.   Well, they have the advantage, but they choose not to use it, which makes the job the broadcast outlets are doing all the more critical.

Is it just me, or is something very basically wrong going on here?   Isn’t our job to find out what the hell is going on,  you know, the famous “5-W’s,” and then tell our viewers about it, warts and all?


Questions For The Journalists Among Us

-It’s being reported that the four Americans ambushed (apparently) by ISIS in Niger, had only small arms, but were up against fighters with machine guns and rocket launchers.  Where was American intelligence?  Why were American soldiers sent out to walk into a meat grinder the U.S. military should have been aware of?  It’s also reported that French jets that flew in to assist American troops were not allowed by the Government of Niger to open fire on the ISIS fighters, so they had to make low-level flights, “buzzing” the ISIS fighters in an effort to disperse them. Why? Whose side is Niger on?  Where is Trey Gowdy, now that he’s actually needed?   Trey needs to invest just a fraction of the time and money he and his Republican colleagues wasted on the non-existent Benghazi question in trying to determine why American special forces were allowed to be ambushed in Niger and then had no air support once it happened.   But that won’t happen, will it?   Because Benghazi was all about politics and determining what went wrong in Niger might embarrass the Trump White House, even though an investigation might save American lives in the future.   Come on, Trey.  You can do it.   Put country ahead of your party and personal campaign funds.    Determine the degree to which the Russians may have contributed to the Benghazi controversy in their march to disrupt our democracy.   Or what’s left of it. 

-That man who is now under arrest for allegedly killing three people at a granite store in Edgewood, Maryland and wounding three others in Edgewood and Wilmington, Delaware on the 18th, 37 year old Radee Prince, has a lengthy police record. Most troubling, is why, after spending years in prison for multiple counts of burglary (CNN reports 42 arrests including 15 felony convictions), and then being detained by police in Cecil County, Maryland, in 2015 after he was found to be a felon in possession of a firearm and having a firearm in his vehicle, the State’s Attorney in Cecil County decided not to file any charges? They let him walk?  Seriously?   Would charges being filed in 2015 have prevented the slaughter in Edgewood, in 2017?

-The Daily Beast reports that members of the Trump Campaign including Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump, Jr. and the director of Trump’s digital campaign effort, re-tweeted lies that were being produced by a Russian bot farm. It appears one of these disinformation campaigns may have swung the vote for Trump in Florida.   Really?   When will spineless Republicans in Congress stop betraying the nation and begin impeachment proceedings?  How much more can they possibly need?  When will their denial come to an end?

To Journalists: Thank You For Your Service

Watching  reporters putting themselves in harm’s way to cover Harvey and now Irma, makes me think of the 115 journalists who died doing their jobs in 2016, nine of whom died on U.S. soil.

Every police officer who dies on the job in the United States is memorialized, called a hero, and rightfully so.  Sixty four officers died in the U.S. in 2016.   Most were honored with parades and days of public mourning.   When a journalist is killed there’s no parade and generally no big public display of sympathy.

There are obvious differences between cops and reporters.  One, is that the potential for being shot and killed is a very real possibility for anyone who takes the oath to become a police officer.  That’s why they’re allowed to carry guns and go out on the streets under the color of authority.  I doubt any cub reporter expects to die out on a story.

When public officials talk about first responders, journalists are almost never mentioned.   Perhaps it’s time to afford a bit more appreciation to those legitimate journalists who bring us our news, as opposed to all the politically motivated non-stop complaining.

Every few months some police organization calls asking for money.   When was the last time a journalist called asking you to contribute to defend and protect the First Amendment or the Freedom of Information Act?

Currently, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. is underfunded and threatened by closure, even though it stands as a monument to American journalism, including its memorial to journalists who died while on the job.

Is the service of journalists any less important to the country than the service of our police?   Is it even possible to hang a price tag on the value of freedom, something that cannot survive without an unhindered press?

Careful what you take for granted.   It just might go away.

The Re-Education Of America

Americans need to be re-educated to the fact that there are still solid, objective news outlets like the New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, CBS and PBS. These are not left-wing news outlets, they are legitimate mainstream news operations that do their best to lean neither left nor right and can be depended upon for fairness and objectivity – or as Carl Bernstein calls it, “The best available version of the truth.”

Overseas, the BBC, France24 and Euronews also practice traditional journalism and can be accessed on the Internet. France24 is available on YouTube. In the US market, thankfully, CBS News appears intent upon returning to its former status at the very top of the broadcast journalism food chain.   A position it held for many years, until profits trumped public service.   

Across the country there is excellent reportage being done on a daily basis by journalists who do what they do primarily because it matters.   Wherever you live, there are broadcast and print journalists working daily to bring you not infotainment, but actual news. They are working in service to our democracy.   They should be commended for that service just as we commend our military.

It is too often forgotten that freedom is dependent upon both the sword and the quill.   It is not unreasonable to advocate re-directing some of our massive military budget over to public broadcasting and investigative reporting at the nation’s remaining great newspapers.

There was no question of the traditional news outlets veracity, until biased, right-wing outlets like FOX News came along and declared their slanted version of the news to be the only correct version available. This nonsense poisoned the minds of millions of Americans, who were attracted to a slanted, entertainment-based version of the news they wanted to hear, rather than real, objective news that made them uncomfortable because it forced them to think. And so entertainment programming disguised as news drew millions of viewers to outlets like FOX and right-wing talk radio. The country was forever changed because of it.

The time is long past to re-educate Americans that real news outlets are still available, and that there is a difference between news broadcasts and entertainment programming designed not to ferret out the truth but to come up with a formula to garner the greatest profit possible, even if that means putting a biased show on the air disguised as legitimate news or writing a headline that reflects more fiction than fact.

Its’ time for America to regain a sense of pride in its Journalism. I’m not sure how to get it done, I just know that somehow we have got to do it – because right now, a great many Americans think fake news is real and real news is fake – and that my friends, is a formula for disaster.

Dump The Surrogates, Cut The Crap

This goes beyond Kelly Ann and her “alternative facts.”

There was a time, not so very long ago, when there were  no  so-called “surrogates” espousing biased views on almost every cable network and Sunday morning news show originating in the U.S.   You know they are biased.   You know exactly what they are likely to say, so why bother?

Surrogates are a huge waste of time except for network executives who care more about  ratings than in doling out valid information to an already dazed and confused public.   A hazardous condition made worse by the  presence of surrogates.

The people who own and run the cable shows like the biased blather because it is more exciting than a collegial exchange of valid information.   Excited yammering draws more viewers and gets higher ratings than calm, measured discussion by journalists, scholars and intellectuals, doing their best to be objective in the pursuit of keeping the public informed rather than misinformed.

No so very long ago none of these surrogates would have gotten on the air.  Anywhere.   They would have been regarded for what they are, public relations (pr) people, who are being paid to promote a product.   Not so long ago we would have said, “If all you want is to promote a product, then buy some air time for your ads.”   Not so long ago, if their politician bosses wanted to make a point, they would have been forced to release an official statement or to go on camera themselves and be held accountable at a real press conference,  closed to all but the legitimate press, where they would have been obliged to answer questions from real reporters.

Not so long ago, lies were not tolerated.   If a politician told an obvious lie, he or she would be called out on it.   If they dodged the question again and again, then reporters would back one another up, demanding an answer to the question again and again, until the politician gave an answer that made sense or he or she gave up, leaving the news conference in disgust, cursing the media for being unreasonable for demanding the truth.   It was a sure-fire  way of exposing “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,”  (Thanks to Al Franken).

Mostly, the press doesn’t do that anymore.  Over the years, they have become more akin to Victorian ladies and gentlemen, far too proper and soft to take off the gloves and go after self-serving politicians and  pr-people, leaving us with a confusing toxic soup bubbling over with various ingredients, including but not limited to, pundits, journalists, politicians, surrogates, pr-people, actual experts, scholars, bloggers, Russian-influenced operatives, lobbyists, fake news promoters, aunts, uncles, and friends of friends.

Not that long ago, it would have been unthinkable to hire a former politician or government insider to fill the job of a journalist or news talk show host.   It would have been seen as knowingly poisoning the profession and risking a loss of  public trust.    Difficult to imagine?   Well, that’s the way it was.  Upholding the public trust was paramount, and if not exactly paramount, then at least having enough power to push back with vigor when the  sales department complained about a given news item hurting the ratings and maybe losing an advertiser.

Is it any wonder the public’s respect  for the press is low?    Or, pardon me, it is no longer “the press,” it is now “the media,” and far less dignified than in the 60’s, when we were viewed as watchdogs and the ultimate protectors of the public’s trust.

Not so long ago, accuracy was all important.   You were allowed to get something wrong once.   You would be yelled at, ensuring you understood the serious nature of your infraction, but that would probably be it.  Screw something up two or three times, and you were out.   Fired.   Gone.   Simply put, not worthy of the profession and its intractable need to uphold the public trust through accuracy.

Not that long ago, that’s the way it was.  What we have now, is media soup, and  the misinformation, disinformation, general confusion and lack of respect it spawns.

It will be up to the media to fix this.   Government isn’t likely to try, and if they do, it will be done in a manner that is to their advantage, making it easier for them to avoid the truth.   That is to say,  making it easier for them to lie.

The question then, is how to motivate commercial broadcasters and cable tv outlets to change their greedy ways, putting the public trust above profits.  Therein, lies the rub.

Dumping surrogates and cutting the crap would be a place to start, along with cancelling the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.   Those of us in the press aren’t supposed to be quite that chummy with politicians, advertisers and their lobbyists.  We’re supposed to be adversarial.   Enemies of alternative-facts, not grinning party-goers, accepting whatever blather the politicians and corporate hacks might hand out turning our positions as serious journalists into an evening of good-natured fun with the enemy.

They still need us a whole lot more than we need them.   Something else that’s been forgotten as infotainment and profits have overtaken hard-bitten journalism and the respect that it commands.


Where Are The Reporters?


A couple of moments that marked my former life as a broadcast journalist include a member of O.J. Simpson’s “dream team” telling me, “I love you guys individually, but I hate you collectively.”    Another happened when a former member of the Los Angeles City Council left the microphones clustered atop a lectern, walked over and proceeded to cuss me out for demanding an answer to a question he didn’t care for.  I didn’t care for being cussed out and continued to demand an answer to my question.

I recall these incidents and others with pride as badges of merit for doing my job, trying to get legitimate answers, a little honest information for the people I worked for,  the people in our viewing audience who depended upon me and others like me to find out what the hell was actually going on.

All of this would be pure braggadocio, were it not for the fact that I was far from being the only reporter who would, at times, bite down and hang on like a pit bull if I felt someone was dodging a question that deserved a real answer, rather than the circular verbal shuffle now being employed by the likes of Donald Trump.  Repeatedly.  And every time it happens I wonder what happened to American journalism?   When did hair and makeup become more important than holding public officials accountable, more important than getting it right?  When did we backslide into becoming the country of the big lie?

An incident that bears mentioning happened at the Century Plaza Hotel in the early 80’s.   It was long ago and I don’t recall who the member of Congress was that showed up at a news conference, only that he was from a state that is largely rural.   I do recall that he began delivering a “good ole boy” spiel that was full of bunk.   We listened, shaking our heads and looking at one another in disbelief until a reporter from the Los AngelesTimes could take it no longer and interrupted with anger, saying (paraphrased), “You don’t really expect us to believe any of this nonsense, do you?   Where do you think you are?   Who do you think you’re talking to?   

Reporters are accepting answers from Donald Trump that Trump himself would never accept from contestants on The Apprentice.   They sometimes talk about things without having even a basic understanding of their subject, like knowing the difference between an email account sitting on some company’s server with that same company providing securty and a private server in one’s own home, with any number of possible functions and security provided by who?   Some friend of a friend who took a computing class at the local community college?   Apparently Mrs. Clinton, has no idea.   Reporters should, if they intend to continue reporting on it.   Was Mrs. Clinton’s problem that she had a private email account or was it the fact that she had gone completely off the range with a personal  server set up in her home doing God knows what while circumventing federal oversight and securty?

Why don’t reporters follow-up anymore, demanding an answer to something Trump has dodged by issuing a non-answer, which he  does again and again – which is why the American people have literally no idea of how he actually feels about anything?   It’s frightening.   This guy actually has a shot at becoming President of the United States, and his positions on critical issues change from one day to the next.   He’s done it on assault weapons, abortion and Muslims entering the United States.   And now he will be forced to do it again on his idiotic claim that there is no drought in California, as the reservoirs are drying up and avacado orchards are being cut down to stumps.

It is, it seems, impossible to pin Trump down on any given issue, or so we’re told,  which leads one to believe he has no firm conviction about anything.  He’s cutting a deal, the biggest deal of his life, to be the most  powerful person in the world and there is far too little accountability from the press with pundits complaining that it’s so hard to nail Trump down on an issue because he’s so skilled at doing his verbal shufffle.

Come on now people, its time to do your jobs.   Mexico, will never build a wall on the border.   The United States cannot simply carpet bomb our troubles away in the Middle East or deport eleven-million undocumented people whose families are now interwoven into our national fabric.    We are not the Saudis, we do not punish women for having abortions and anyone to tells you these things is treating you like a pack of dummies.   You should be outraged.

Do some fact checking.   Do a little  journalism.  Please.  There’s so much at stake.

A passage from the movie-version of “All the President’s Men” comes to mind. Washington Post Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee, is rousted out of of bed by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who tell him there may be electronic surveillance of their work on the Watergate story,  that lives may be in danger, and that they made a mistake in their coverage of grand jury testimony,  giving ammunition to those who want to attack the paper.   Bradlee, listens to the reporters and says-

“You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Goodnight.”

Journalism matters.

The News Biz – Who Are You Gonna Believe?


I’ll tell you up front that this will be one of those “when I got into the tv news business” stories.  If that’s a problem for you, too bad.

When I got into the business of television news reporting,  which at the time was generally regarded as a legitimate form of Journalism, it was understood that anyone who knowingly manufactured information  was out on his or her ass.   The same, but to a lesser degree, went for any reporter who failed to corroborate information before putting it on the air.   You might not be fired for it, but at the very least there would be serious consequences for dragging the validity of an entire news organization into question.

Standards for the reporting of news on television and radio were taken  very seriously.   We were upholding the public trust, on both the local and national levels.  If we lost that, we lost everything.

It’s fascinating that we are now in a time when there are high-profile apologists for both Brian Williams and more recently, Sabrina Rubin Erdely of Rolling Stone.

No need to wonder why the news biz has lost its credibility.

Who are you gonna believe?