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Three veteran journalists depart PD

photo by Terry Ganey

by Terry Ganey

There was a poignant departure ceremony earlier this week on the fifth floor of the building at 900 N. Tucker Blvd, the headquarters of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Newsroom colleagues shared stories about three veteran reporters – Tim O’Neil, Jim Gallagher and Tim Bryant – who were among six journalists taking advantage of a recent buyout offer. Together these three have accumulated some 89 years of experience just at the Post-Dispatch.

The event was similar to others taking place since 2005, as financial pressures have forced owner Lee Enterprises to trim staff. This loss seemed especially painful after all the cuts that had taken place. These three had spent all of their time in the journalistic trenches, and it would be hard to find anyone more conscientious, humble and hardworking.

“This is a great group who have been serving the people of St. Louis for many years,” said one editor. “It has been a privilege to work with them.” In an era when the man occupying the White House rages against journalists being “enemies of the American people,” consider the careers of O’Neil, Gallagher and Bryant.

Columnist Joe Holleman said he had learned much from O’Neil during the years they had worked together. “His word is iron,” Holleman said. “Every word of an O’Neil story works for a living.” Holleman recounted an anecdote about how, after a former mayor of St. Louis claimed another city official had earned a Purple Heart, O’Neil uncovered the records to show the claim was a fraud.

O’Neil gave up a piece of his body collecting the news. Last Nov. 9, while covering a hearing in St. Louis County, Robert E. Jones, the lawyer for Sunset Hills, slammed a door to a conference room after O’Neil had opened it to make an inquiry. Jones slammed the door to keep O’Neil out, slicing off part of the journalist’s finger. A lawsuit is pending.

Business Editor Roland Klose recounted how Gallagher could take a complicated subject and make it understandable for readers. And he related how readily Gallagher would accept an assignment, no matter what the topic. “Do you have something for me?” was Gallagher’s greeting to his editor, Klose said. The headline over Gallagher’s last business column for the newspaper fittingly read: “A geezer’s guide to Social Security.”

Discussing Bryant, Klose said he could extract stories about development from the walled-off world of real estate. He said Bryant was once locked out of a meeting of developers, but he was still able to unearth what had transpired in the meeting by making telephone calls and resorting to old fashioned “shoe leather.”

The buyout offer was made to journalists 55 and older with 10 years of experience. Also departing the paper in the buyout were veteran City Editor Pat Gauen, reporter Steve Giegerich and sportswriter Dan O’Neill.

Gilbert Bailon, editor-in-chief, said there was no getting around the fact shrinking resources will have an impact at the newspaper. But he said the staff remained committed to covering news important to the people of St. Louis.

In an era of “fake news” and declining circulation, the Post-Dispatch has published a house ad that seeks subscribers. It reads: “TRUTH…FREEDOM OF THE PRESS…Delivering stories that uncover truths and fight for progress. Help us protect that liberty.”

 

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1A strives to find its own voice

by Pat Louise

Sixteen days before President Donald Trump opened his administration with his Inauguration speech that declared ‘From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first,” NPR’s newest radio show and podcast focused on the topic.’

Since Jan. 2 host Joshua Johnson leads discussion on 1A that mostly centers on daily topics with a connection to the First Amendment, which inspired the name of the show.

Now airing 9 to 11 a.m. on the radio, Johnson and 1A replaced the 37-year running Diane Rehm Show. The show airs from WAMU on the American University campus in Washington, D.C.

For those listening to radio via podcasts on their own timetable, the 1A version provides a show between 35 and 50 minutes. Depending on the length of the show, 1A offers one or two podcasts a day culled from the radio show. This review looks at the podcast.

1A started strong. On the Jan. 4 podcast titled “Is the Era of American Humanitarian Intervention Over?” the 47-minute show featured five guests. Before the discussion, the show opened with a montage of quotes and music from such notables as Martin Luther King Jr., Bart Simpson, Bruce Springsteen, Richard Nixon and Jimi Hendrix.

Rather than a round-table discussion with panelists taking an extreme view one way or the other, the show allowed the first two guests to explore the topic solo for seven to nine minutes each.

Up first was Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democrat who served two tours of duty in the Middle East. Gabbard made a strong case that Trump’s directive of America First made sense economically by redirecting U.S. resources to solving problems at home instead.

Giving a different viewpoint was St. Louis, Mo. schoolteacher Elvir Ahmetovic, a Bosnian who came to the United States in 2002 as a refugee. He spoke about the need for the United States to act as rescuers for families such as his.

The other three panelists, including Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kinzer, rounded out the show with a thoughtful and balanced outline of how Trump’s new direction could both benefit and hurt on a national and global level. At the end, listener comments praised the show for its give-and-take of both sides of the issue.

1A’s rating on iTunes for that show puts it at the sixth most popular podcast for Jan. 4, a fast jump from two days before when it debuted at No. 25.

Two days later 1A reached No. 3 with the first of its weekly Friday News Roundups, broken into one podcast for domestic news of the week and the other for international.

But since then, 1A has steadily dropped in listeners to No. 77 on Feb. 5 and falling to 95th the following week, to bump back up to 92nd to start the week of Feb. 12. Rankings are based on the number of downloads requested of the top 200 podcasts available through iTunes.

On iTunes, 1A ranked behind Sleep With Me, (59th), a podcast of boring stories to help people fall asleep; Car Talk, (67th), which is all reruns at least 10 years old, and Guys We F****D, (87th), which bills itself at the Anti-slut Shaming podcast.

Which is all a shame in itself, as 1A has some good offerings. Its Friday roundup usually brings it up a few rungs on the daily iTunes chart with a great blend of news and behind-the-scenes looks from journalists and others involved on the topics.

In the Jan. 13 domestic roundup, done one week before Trump took office, CBS News Chief White House correspondent Major Garrett made an astute observation about how journalists should cover the new president. He said journalists need to distinguish between what Trump says that is interesting and what he says that is important.

Since noon Friday, Jan. 20, that statement might well sum up the challenges facing the press corp these days.

Along with trying to drill down on important topics, 1A ventures into some topics of its own design. One show, the Politics of Laughing, looked at political-based humor with a trio of comedians. Another, Revisiting James Baldwin, examined why the author’s work is once again popular.

The show also tapped into the music industry with a couple of music-themed shows. In Do The Grammys Matter. Yes (asked and answered in the title as many listeners pointed out, eliminating the need to listen) the panelists of two NPR music journalists and Simon Vozick-Levinson from MTV, explain the relevance of the awards.

The Feb. 13 show Going Country: The Surprising Success Of Country Music, the podcast called itself a boot-scootin’ 1A. That show drew 67 comments on the 1A website around the question of what one country song would you choose to introduce someone to country music.

Whether venturing off the map of politics to boot scoot through the country music scene helps 1A keep and bring in listeners is unclear. With so much news hovering around the First Amendment and politics, these topics provide a respite – but a respite listener may well find too light to follow.

The single biggest factor for low ratings given by listeners on various review sites is that the 1A podcast does not provide the full two hours from the radio show.

Many listeners point out that Rehm’s full two hours was available as a podcast. Reviewers said they would prefer the full context of discussion rather than chunks of it.

Listeners give the second-most critical comments to Johnson’s style as a host. While some love his laid-back approach to let guests speak their minds, others say he lets too many statements go unchallenged. Other criticisms question whether the show can accept viewpoints not strictly in the liberal line of thinking and whether the choice of panelists shape a preordained thinking on a topic.

One of the biggest criticisms came from a Feb. 7 podcast, Sanford Now, taking an early five-year look back at Sanford, Fla., where Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighbor. Along with Matthew Peddie, assistant news director at WMFE in Orlando, the other panelist was Paul Butler, Georgetown University Law Center professor, former federal prosecutor and author of the forthcoming book “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.”

Listeners said Butler’s well-known viewpoint (he has spoken out about a number of incidents when a young black man has been shot, including Ferguson) brought nothing new to the discussion. Instead, the suggestion was to have included someone in authority from the Sanford community to explain changes over the five years.

The other podcast from the Feb. 7 1A radio show was Rest In Power: How Trayvon Martin Transformed A Nation. His parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, co-authors of the book Rest In Power, were the only panelists and discussed their lives since their son was shot Feb. 26, 2012. They talked about their book, their son and a foundation set up in his name.

Most of that fell by the wayside. The 355 comments on the 1A website degenerated into name-calling and charges of racism among commenters.

It might be that in striving to give everyone an equal platform to exercise their First Amendment rights, 1A has overlooked finding its own voice in the discussion. While NPR certainly will not give Johnson the 37 years Rehm had to do so, the show’s hits outweigh its misses and should be granted time to grow and improve.

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Greitens plays hide-and-seek with press

by Terry Ganey

Lock on Greitens press office door (photo by Terry Ganey)

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — There’s a game of hide and seek underway in Missouri’s state capital.

The new governor, Republican Eric Greitens, is doing the hiding. The state capital press corps is doing the seeking.

So far, Greitens is winning.

A former Navy SEAL with no experience in government and no penchant for answering questions, Greitens has yet to hold a full-blown news conference since he was sworn into office Jan. 9. Sometimes when pursuing reporters have posed questions, he has ducked into an elevator. During an appearance calling out the National Guard for an ice storm, Greitens deflected questions that sought information about other issues.

Following the recent signing of a “right to work” bill, perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in modern memory, Greitens bolted out the back door of his office rather than field questions about it. When Greitens held a joint appearance with other state officials to discuss a troubling issue at a foster home, reporters were put on advance notice: “Questions unrelated to this situation will not be answered at this press conference.”

“It’s like covering a brick wall,” said Phill Brooks, a veteran state capital reporter who works for KMOX radio in St. Louis. “You can’t ask questions of this governor. You’re shut off if you try to ask questions. Many of the announcements of state government are getting done through Facebook. I feel like we’re covering the executive branch of state government with a brick wall in the way.”

Kurt Erickson, the statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has resorted to filing Open Records requests to extract routine information out of the Greitens administration. Erickson posted on Twitter recently that “no longer can a reporter freely enter Eric Greitens’ press office to talk with his spokesman.” The posting was accompanied by a photo of a lock on the door to room 218 in the state capital.

For years capital reporters have entered that door where a receptionist could field a request to see the governor’s press aid. In Greitens’ case, that’s Parker Briden.

In response to Erickson’s post, Briden tweeted, “That’s not the ‘press office,’ it’s a full suite of offices. Go through the main entrance and they’ll buzz me.”

The “main entrance” Briden referenced is the reception room where everyone wanting to see the governor or his staff shows up to seek an audience. A reporter for the Gateway Journalism Review went to the reception room recently and requested to see Briden.

The receptionist buzzed him on a telephone, and when there was no answer, the receptionist suggested sending Briden an email. The GJR reporter emailed Briden asking for an interview for information about press access to the governor. There was no response. State capital reporters say they have a hard time getting Briden to respond to written and telephone inquiries.

As public officials reach out to constituents through their own means of communication such as social media, the journalistic organizations supplying straight news to the public have been shunted aside. The Republicans controlling the General Assembly have moved the press offices to a roost in the Capitol building. The Senate has limited journalists’ access by ousting reporters from a table on the floor of the chamber and moving them to a nosebleed section of the public gallery.

If reporters had a chance to question Greitens, they’d ask him about the millions of dollars in undisclosed campaign contributions he received, about the unidentified donors to his inauguration parties, and about his tax returns that he never made public. They’d also ask him about policy decisions to cut state funds for the elderly, disabled and higher education.

Greitens’ behavior has not gone unnoticed. For example, Bill Miller Sr., the veteran editor at the Washington Missourian, recently wrote in an editorial: “Gov. Eric Greitens has gotten off to a terrible start in setting an example to lawmakers, and to all Missourians, in regard to transparency. Why is he hiding the donors who have been backing him? There is no question that he apparently believes it will harm his political career.”

Miller went on to say Greitens apparently has his eyes on the White House. Which brings up the question: Can Greitens play hide and seek for four years?

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CBS’s Major Garrett to speak at GJR Celebration

Thursday, March 23, 2017 will be the Sixth Annual First Amendment Celebration in support of The Gateway Journalism Review (GJR) successor of the St. Louis Journalism Review (SJR).  The speaker will be Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent for CBS. Garrett also covered Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. Garrett graduated from the University of Missouri in 1984 with degrees in journalism and political science.

The GJR celebration will be held at the Edward Jones HQ, Manchester and Ballas Roads from 6 pm to 9:30 pm. Invitations will be mailed to past attendees and supporters of GJR. Tickets for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are $100.  Payment can be mailed to GJR/SJR, 8380 Olive Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63132.  Contributions will strengthen the ability of GJR to continue excellent coverage of local, regional and national issues important to journalism and our democracy.

For information contact Dan Sullivan at  <39djsullivan@gmail.com> or 314-313-0858.

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Soeteber Remembered

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 2, 2002 - Ellen Soeteber, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. PHOTO BY JERRY NAUNHEIM JR.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 2, 2002 – Ellen Soeteber, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
PHOTO BY JERRY NAUNHEIM JR.

Newspapering was still a man’s world in the 1980s so I didn’t know what to make of my first female boss.

But a few things became obvious. She knew as much as I knew about how the city-that-works really works … and a lot more about the internal workings of the Chicago Tribune.

I was the younger by a few months, yet she had more energy, especially when making assignments. Her ideas could seem prosaic to a mid-career reporter, but she knew what had front page potential if aggressively and creatively pursued.

Most of all I remember her mastery of detail. Her election night staffing memoranda ran page after page, advising dozens of reporters and photographers where they needed to be, and by what exact minute they had to file so as to clear the copy desk in time to make our “final” edition.

Doping stories with her – the process by which reporters tell editors what they’ve got and editors tell reporters what they still need – was a game of 20 questions. But if you had the goods, she’d sell it hard at the 5 o’clock meeting where section editors offer their best stories for Page 1.

Ellen Soeteber had the goods. She moved up Tribune ranks as Metro editor, associate managing editor and deputy of the editorial page. The company sent her to South Florida to help run its newspaper there, yet none of us were surprised when later she was hired away as editor-in-chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was a homecoming of sorts, Ellen having graduated from East St. Louis High … a fact that gave her “street cred” in our city room … and one that helps explain her lifelong support of minority as well as female journalists.

Ellen Soeteber died last June on the same day as the passing of former Tribune editor and publisher Jack Fuller, one of her mentors. She would have appreciated the irony … and, were she running the news desk, would have risen to the challenge from an editor’s perspective. Run the obits the same day, giving bigger play to Fuller? Nah. Best to hold the Soeteber RIP for a day and give both the measured play they deserve. She was canny that way.

How canny? Back in ’83 she walked up to my desk and asked if I’d go to an old-time saloon near Comiskey Park – Schaller’s Pump to be exact – for a color piece on what locals thought of the White Sox finally making the playoffs. I groaned and eye-rolled … but agreed. Whereupon she asked if I’d also go to Baltimore that weekend for a feature on their stadium’s neighborhood. Had I turned her down on Schallers, another reporter would have enjoyed those expense account crab cakes and playoff tickets.

Then there were all those Saturday mornings, 7 a.m. shift, chasing stories for the Sunday final. Often the big whoop was arrival around 9 a.m. of a stack of the Chicago Sun-Times “bulldog” Sunday edition. Almost always the competition bannered a Page 1 screamer about some investigation or revelation the Trib didn’t have. So Ellen always bought coffee for the copy kid who distributed those papers, and in return he or she agreed to delay delivering a copy to the office of Sunday Editor Bill Jones. She used those precious minutes to evaluate the competition’s story and outline a strategy to either “knock-down” or “recover” the S-T bombshell. I don’t think Jones, another fine editor who died too soon, ever caught on.

In such ways were trails blazed for women in the newsroom. Yet she paid a price, as all pioneers do. There were those damnable cigarettes and other nervous ticks. Of course there were. She asked herself to be twice-as-good and, more often than not, she pulled it off. Not long after Ellen moved on, one of her mentees, Anne Marie Lipinski, became the Tribune’s first female editor-in-chief.

Newspapering has its problems, sure, but thanks to Ellen and her professional sisters, it is no longer a man’s world … and much the better for it.

 

Author’s note:  Following 27 years at the Trib, John McCarron now teachers, consults and writes on urban affairs.

 

Postscript:  A number of Ellen’s colleagues and friends from the Trib, Sun-Sentinal and Post-Dispatch are making gifts in her memory to the Alfred Friendly Foundation, which brings aspiring third-world journalists to the U.S. to see how we do it here. Ellen was a board member and brought lots of Friendly fellows into the newsrooms she led. You can donate online at http://presspartners.org/support/individual-gifts/ or send a check to: Alfred Friendly Press Partners; 310C Reynolds Journalism Institute, Columbia, MO  65211.

Questions?   Email jackie.combs.nelson@gmail.com

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The Bill of Rights puts on a business suit

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When America celebrated the 200th birthday of the Bill of Rights in 1991, no one foresaw the powerful forces that would remake it over the next quarter century.

  • The communications revolution and rise of Facebook-Twitter-Google democracy
  • The loss of privacy to unforeseen technology
  • 11, 2001, and the growth of the national security state
  • Citizens United and the flood of big money into elections
  • The Wild West of a virtual public forum flooded with news, fake news and hate speech
  • The nation’s fascination with guns and expansion of Second Amendment rights
  • The evolving decency that ended the execution of juvenile killers

By 1991, the First Amendment had developed into a powerful shield against government abuse of outsiders, leftists, anarchists, communists, labor unions, Jehovah’s Witnesses, atheists and non-Christians.

“The Bill of Rights is a born rebel,” wrote Frank I. Cobb, a 20th century news reporter. “It reeks with sedition. In every clause it shakes its fist in the face of constituted authority… It is the one guarantee of human freedom to the American people.”

But in the past 25 years the Bill of Rights has put on a business suit. Today it increasingly protects the wealthy, corporations, conservatives, fundamentalist Christians, property owners and other moneyed interests.

“The court has put much more energy into expanding the free speech rights of politically or economically powerful speakers, while largely disdaining the First Amendment concerns of politically and economically disempowered speakers” says Gregory P. Magarian, law professor at Washington University and former Supreme Court Clerk.

In 1991, liberals worried the conservative Supreme Court would cut back on civil liberties. In 2016 many liberals fear the Supreme Court has granted too many new rights.

Liberals often find themselves calling for less-expansive rights:

  • Fewer free speech rights for corporations and rich people to influence elections.
  • More restrictions on campus speech in the form of trigger warnings and rules against  “micro-aggressions.”
  • Less religious freedom for conservative Christians to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple or to fill a prescription for the morning-after pill.
  • Fewer rights for gun owners.
  • Fewer free speech rights for workers who don’t want to pay union dues.
  • Fewer property rights to block environmental regulations of beachfronts and wetlands to preserve endangered species.

By contrast, many conservatives worry that liberals’ restrictions on freedoms can leave elections in control of the big media corporations, can enforce political correctness on campus and in society, can force God-fearing pharmacists, bakers and florists to compromise deeply held religious beliefs, can take away guns from law-abiding citizens and subject property owners to extreme environmental regulations.

And then there is President-elect Donald Trump, a force of his own, who ran a campaign opposed to political correctness but who now complains about speech he finds incorrect — from burning the flag to investigative journalism and an actor’s critical speech from the stage production Hamilton. Playhouses are supposed to be “safe” spaces, Trump says, but campus rules intended to make minorities feel safe are political correctness. Trump advocates laws criminalizing flag-burning and making it easier to win libel awards from media, even though those laws would be unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment.

What follows are some of the most important changes that have occurred in the Bill of Rights in the quarter century between its 200th anniversary in 1991 and its 225th this Dec. 15.

 

Communications revolution — what press?

 

In 1991 there was no Internet, no Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no smart phone, no Fox News, no Huffington Post, no Breitbart and no WikiLeaks. Rush Limbaugh was just starting right-wing radio rants. There were no likes or tweets or citizen journalists. The golden age of legacy journalism sailed obliviously on, like the Titanic toward an unseen iceberg. The notion that millions of tweets could overwhelm the narratives of professional journalists was unimaginable. So was the idea that a president could get elected partly on the strength of 140 character messages insulting opponents and private Americans. Or that “publisher” Julian Assange would become the purveyor of documents hacked from the Democratic Party by Russian spies. Or that thousands of “chatbots” — online robots with artificial intelligence — would post fake news across the Internet in the days before the 2016 election.

 

Watergate forgotten

 

At the same time the communications revolution have transformed speech in the public space, unlimited election spending by corporations, labor unions and the wealthy have transformed political campaigns. Watergate’s lesson of “follow the money” is a distant memory. Thanks to Citizens United, corporations have a First Amendment right to spend as much money as they want on the election of a candidate and the voters don’t get to know who gave millions until after the election. Campaign spending for the two major presidential candidates exceeded $2 billion this year, more than four times that of 1992 when candidates still relied on the now defunct post-Watergate public financing system.

 

 

National security state

 

1991 was a decade before 9/11. No one imagined terrorists bringing down the World Trade towers and attacking the Pentagon. There was no Patriot Act. No prison at Guantanamo to circumvent due process. No drones to kill enemy combatants on foreign soil. The United States was a proud adherent of the Geneva Convention and its bans on torture. Waterboarding was something other nations did. Roundups of men from the Middle East seemed like a bad dream from another era, like the discredited roundups of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

But in the scary time after 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft rounded up young Middle Eastern men, triggering a legal case only now playing out before the Supreme Court where the men say they were targeted for their religion. Today’s America is frightened too. The incoming Trump administration talks about banning refugees, deporting immigrants and reinstating torture.

 

Surveillance state

 

The thought that the National Security Agency could collect metadata on all Americans’ telephone calls was preposterous in 1991. The Global Positioning System was for the military, not consumers. A person’s location was not constantly tracked by a cell phone in the pocket. Consumers’ purchases were not constantly tracked by their online searches. And street corners weren’t under 24-hour surveillance from ubiquitous security cameras.

Only science fiction had thought of technology such as today’s Stingray system for picking up phone conversations from outside a building. No one needed a right to be forgotten. But as the sweep of the modern surveillance state began to sink in, the Supreme Court pushed back, ruling the government needed a warrant before putting a GPS device on a suspect’s car or searching a person’s cell phone.

 

Disappearing right of privacy

 

The right of privacy – a right found in parts of the Bill of Rights and in the constitutional protection of “liberty” – was under assault as the Bill of Rights turned 200. It is under assault again at 225. The Supreme Court of 25 years ago was about to hear a case threatening to read the abortion right out of the Constitution. But the court held to precedent. Not only did it reaffirm Roe v. Wade, but it later expanded that right of individual liberty to encompass same- sex marriage – an expansion almost no one would have predicted in 1991 when not a single state permitted same-sex marriage.

But the right of privacy continues to have shallow roots in the Constitution. Many conservatives say these are unenumerated rights that do not deserve constitutional protection. Replacing the late Antonin Scalia and any one of the three oldest justices with two more Scalias could end the constitutional protections for abortion and same-sex marriage.

 

 

Political correctness: equality vs. freedom

 

The tensions between freedom and equality – two great values of the U.S. Constitution and democracy – have intensified. In 1991 political and religious conservatives were realizing the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom and free expression could protect them against what they saw as an overbearing political correctness embodied in college speech regulations. Today, liberals and conservatives alike worry that trigger warnings, safe spaces and identity politics can stand in the way of a university’s core liberal purpose of challenging a student’s unexamined assumptions.

Last year, Melissa Click, then a communications professor at the University of Missouri, tried to block a student journalist from taking a photo of black protesters who, she said, needed safe space. Click’s attempt to impose a kind of political correctness on the photographer ran into another form of political correctness from the Missouri Legislature, which demanded her job and got it.

Nationwide, blackface and redface Halloween costumes led to an uproar at Yale, Mexican-American costumes to an apology at Louisville and the University of Oklahoma kicked out a student singing a KKK lynching song on a university bus.

 

More state support for religion

 

Since 1991, the Supreme Court has banned public school sponsored graduation prayers, prayers at the Friday night football game and the Ten Commandments on courtroom walls or courtroom monuments. But in a break from the past, the court approved state-funded vouchers for parochial school children. And, in a current Missouri case, the court may allow the state to pay for rubber playground materials for Trinity Lutheran pre-school in Columbia, despite a state constitutional provision that sets up a stricter separation between church and state than the First Amendment. The Supreme Court also opened the way for prayers by local pastors before city council meetings and state and national monuments with religious texts or symbols, such as a six-foot monument of the Ten Commandments on Texas Capitol grounds and the Mojave Memorial Cross built on public land to honor veterans.

 

Religious freedom

 

Anyone taking the time-machine from 1991 straight to 2016 would have trouble figuring out what had happened to religious liberty. Scalia cut back constitutional protection for religious liberty in the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith decision, where Native Americans sought protection for their use of peyote in a sacramental ritual. Scalia said the state could enforce generally applicable state laws – such as those penalizing those using peyote – even if those penalized were exercising their religious freedom. With largely Democratic support, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to overturn Smith and restore a higher level of protection for religious liberty. Now conservative legislators are passing state versions of that law to enable florists and bakers to avoid serving same-sex couples based on religious belief. The Supreme Court also used the federal RFRA to recognize the religious freedom of a corporation, Hobby Lobby, to object to contraception requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

 

Big data

 

“Big data” – the computer analysis of huge data bases – didn’t exist in 1991, but now the Supreme Court protects it. In a 2011 Vermont case, the court ruled the state could not prohibit pharmaceutical companies from obtaining data on doctors’ prescription writing practices. The companies wanted the data to market their more expensive, brand-name drugs to doctors. Vermont had tried to block the release of this prescription information to protect the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship and to keep down health-care costs. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that the First Amendment keeps the state from singling out “disfavored speech by disfavored speakers” – the disfavored speech being the marketing of brand-name drugs and the disfavored speakers the pharmaceutical companies. Mark Sableman, a media lawyer at Thompson Coburn in St. Louis, says protecting big data is important to modern journalism that often is based on computer-assisted reporting that analyzes huge government databases.

 

Fascination with guns

 

In 1991, Missouri, Illinois and most Midwest states had laws against carrying concealed guns. A few years later Congress banned the manufacture of assault rifles. Now tables have turned. The federal assault rifle ban has lapsed and not a single state bans concealed guns. Faced with an insatiable appetite for guns, all states have either passed laws ending regulation of guns – such as Missouri – or adopted “must issue” laws, such as Illinois, that institutionalize concealed carry. Stand-your-ground and Castle doctrines provide legal protection for using a gun to defend oneself or property. Meanwhile, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court turned its back on precedent and for the first time recognized an individual right to own a gun to protect the home. The decision left plenty of room to regulate assault rifles and concealed guns, but pro-gun majorities in many legislatures, such as Missouri, claim gun laws take away Second Amendment rights. Although the claim is inaccurate, the gun lobby uses it effectively.

 

Ending juvenile death penalty

 

By 1991, most states had passed a new generation of death penalty laws, responding to a 1970s decision that found traditional laws arbitrary and capricious. Twenty-two juveniles were executed between 1985 and 2003. Only Iran executed more young people. Christopher Simmons awaited execution in Missouri for murdering Shirley Crook by tying her to a chair and throwing her into the Meramec River. But in the Simmons case the Missouri Supreme Court led the movement to end execution of murderers 17 and younger. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, finding that the nation’s and world’s evolving standards of decency no longer permitted executing teens because their brains still were developing. Capital punishment for juveniles was therefore deemed cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Life imprisonment without parole also violated this standard of decency.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, the Innocence Project, run by former Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess, uncovered more than a dozen cases of wrongful convictions in murder cases. Gov. George Ryan ended executions. Nationally, the number of executions, which had increased to almost 100 a year by the end of the 20th century, has dropped almost every year; 28 people were executed in 2015 and 18 this year through mid-November.

 

What’s liberal and what’s conservative?

 

Taken together, the changes over the past 25 years have mostly broadened and strengthened the Bill of Rights and at the same time protected new conservative causes.

The Earl Warren court of the 50s and 60s protected communists, civil rights protesters, the Ku Klux Klan, a young man wearing a “Fuck the draft” jacket in a courthouse. It protected the media from President Nixon’s attempt to stop the presses printing the Pentagon Papers. And New York Times v. Sullivan protected the northern media from the attempts of southern politicians to bankrupt them for aggressive reporting of the Civil Rights Movement.

During the Rehnquist court the speech of outsiders continued to flourish with protection of flag-burning, Margaret Gilleo’s anti-war sign in the window of her Ladue home and the ribald parody that Hustler magazine printed of the Rev. Jerry Falwell having sex “for the first time” with his mother in an outhouse. But there were signs of change in rulings protecting religious majorities and rejecting hate crime laws.

In the Roberts era, the winners in First Amendment cases have more often been established interests. People who used to be insiders are sometimes on the outs with liberal political majorities – corporations making political expenditures, pharmaceutical firms seeking to use big data for marketing efforts, corporations such as Hobby Lobby objecting on religious grounds to Obamacare rules on contraceptives. Labor unions, already threatened by expansion of right to work laws, now are on the brink of losing the power to charge union dues to workers who say union activities violate their free speech rights.

Whereas the great free speech decisions of the 60s and 70s were sparked by the court’s liberal justices, its conservative justices now are often more likely to support First Amendment claims – such as Citizens United, where the five justices in the majority were the most conservative five.

One factor in the change was the growth of conservative legal advocacy. The Federalist Society, Pacific Legal Foundation, Liberty Counsel and Center for Individual Rights all took a page from the successes of the ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Ralph Nader. The ACLU, LDF, and Nader’s groups had won victories for blacks, consumers and students who didn’t want to be forced to pray in school. The new conservative legal groups began winning for white students who felt disadvantaged by affirmative action, Christian students who wanted to meet in campus buildings and property owners fighting environmental regulations that interfered with their property.

Roger Goldman, a professor at Saint Louis University Law School, wonders whether today’s conservative justices would have supported the free speech decisions of half a century ago. “I’m wondering if Roberts and the conservatives would have joined the liberals in the old First Amendment cases involving communists, loyalty oaths, obscenity, etc.,” he wrote in an email. “In other words, (I’m wondering whether) the new conservatives disagree with the old conservatives of the 40s thru the 90s.”

Professor Joel Goldstein, also at Saint Louis University, raises the opposite question. Justice Louis Brandeis was one of the great architects of First Amendment law in the 1920s, but Goldstein says Brandeis might have dissented from a decision giving First Amendment protection to the Rev. Fred Phelps who picketed the Catholic funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, killed in action in Iraq.

Phelps’ Westboro Church says God is punishing the United States for homosexuality. The signs the church members carried read: “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “God Hates Fags,” “You’re Going to Hell” and “God Hates You.”

Roberts likened his decision to free-speech precedents of the past, including the flag-burning decision, the New York Times v. Sullivan libel decision and Cohen v. California permitting a war protester to wear into a courthouse a jacket with the words “Fuck the Draft.”

In New York Times v. Sullivan, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote the First Amendment required enough breathing space to allow news organizations to make mistakes about public officials. Chief Justice Roberts said that Westboro protesters were addressing issues of public concern and needed breathing space as well.

Just as the court had once upheld a parody of the Rev. Falwell’s “first time”with his mother in an outhouse, Roberts said that the Westboro protesters hyperbole was protected.

But Goldstein doubts Brandeis would have gone along. “Brandeis wrote one of the most powerful justifications of free speech…,” Goldstein said, “yet also believed in a right to privacy… Although I am always skeptical of claims regarding how someone who has been dead for nearly 70 years would have reacted to contemporary circumstances, it’s hard for me to believe Brandeis would have thought a funeral was a constitutionally protected venue for speech attacking the decedent.

“…If we as a society recognize a right to privacy that goes beyond spatial confines, I would think that a funeral would rank at or near the top of experiences where the claims would be strongest. Surely someone who is grieving the loss of and burying a loved one in engaged in one of the most poignant of life’s experiences….”

Alito v Lessig

Today the calls for constitutional amendments or constitutional conventions are as likely to come from liberals as conservatives.

Some liberal groups would like to see constitutional amendments that protect positive rights, such as the right to an education, health care and housing. The current Bill of Rights protects negative rights – blocking government abuses of the people.

Some conservative groups would like amendments to ban burning the American flag, redefine citizenship, require a balanced budget and protect victims of crime.

One amendment that has gotten quite a bit of attention is advanced by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig and liberal groups for overturning Citizens United by enabling Congress to regulate political spending and contributions. Forty senators have signed on to the amendment.

Justice Samuel Alito, one of the leading conservatives on the court, made it clear in a speech to the conservative Federalist Society after Trump’s election, that he and other conservatives oppose that amendment and others that would undo the conservative handiwork of the past 25 years that expanded the First and Second amendments.

“More than 40 senators have proposed an amendment to the First Amendment, which in itself is an important development,” Alito said. “And what would that amendment do? It would have the effect of granting greater free speech rights to an elite group, those who control the media, than to everybody else.”

Alito also worried that a more liberal court could overturn the 2008 Heller decision recognizing an individual’s right to own a gun. He called that opinion “perhaps Justice Scalia’s most important majority opinion.”

Alito mocked the University of California’s suggestion that the term “melting pot” was a micro-aggression offending minorities. He questioned campus speech codes as inconsistent with a famous line from Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion in 1943 holding that students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t have to salute the flag because of their belief it was a graven image.

Jackson wrote then, “If there his a fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.”

Alito added, “On college campuses, both public and private, a new orthodoxy rules. Suppose a student were to test Justice Jackson’s proposition today by wearing an article of attire supporting a political candidate who was unpopular among students and professors by proclaiming that the United States is a great and a good country and by expressing certain traditional religious beliefs.

“How would that go over?”

In the passionate pleadings of both left and right there is a common thread: Something is wrong with our democracy, whether you call it the Facebook Democracy, the Post-Fact Democracy, the Digital Democracy, the Virtual Democracy, the Surveillance State or the Politically Correct Democracy. The great task of the 21st century is adapting democracy to the rapid expansion of freedoms, the flood of information and disinformation and the new gadgets of communication that are just as likely to invade privacy as to connect us to the rest of the world.

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The press’s identity crisis

The press is losing its power, its credibility and its way.

As the Bill of Rights turns 225, the one business it protects, the press, is suffering an identity crisis.

Who is a journalist? Is Julian Assange a publisher? By democratizing news does the Internet serve democracy or confuse it? By serving as a world wide communications system does the web draw us together or fracture us into warring factions? Should Facebook and other online social media take down false news or hate speech or alt-right advocacy or incitement against police?

Why didn’t voters heed the investigations and fact-checks of Donald Trump? Does adherence to journalistic neutrality obscure the truth in false equivalencies? Is Trump, with his morning tweets, playing the press by setting the news agenda? Should the press publish WikiLeaks’ stolen emails, even if it is effectively serving as an arm of Russian intelligence? How can professional journalists regain trust and distinguish their work from the fake news exploding on the Internet?

 

A 25 year fade

 

In 1991, on the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, the press was at the height of its power and influence although people’s confidence was low.

Now, 25 years later, the power and influence of the mainstream media have waned and the people’s trust has fallen even more precipitously. Just after Watergate, 72 percent of Americans had confidence in the press, according to Gallup. The number dropped to 55 percent in 1991. Now it’s 32 percent with only 26 percent of those under 50 saying they have confidence.

A majority of the youngest citizens, Millennials and Gen Xers, report getting most of their news about politics and government from Facebook, which isn’t a news organization.

The mainstream media have themselves to blame in part for the lost credibility. Jason Blair invented stories at The New York Times. Judith Miller reported for the Times on weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. Leading news organizations all but convicted the nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee of espionage and Steven Hatfill of sending anthrax to Capitol Hill. Neither accusation was true.

Meanwhile the legacy media were sidetracked by the biggest revolution in communications technology since Guttenberg’s movable press half a millennium ago. Science put magical devices in everyone’s pocket that permitted instantaneous communication.

The list of new communications devices, institutions and communication terms is mind-numbing – citizen journalist, smartphone, GPS, social media, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope, livestream, tweet, aggregate, link, likes, impressions, shares, comments, friends, followers, page views, click bait, fake news, big data, Drudge, Breitbart, alt-right, Huffington Post, Fox, MSNBC, chatbots, WikiLeaks, Google Earth, Google Street View, virtual reality, photoshop, face recognition software.

As news media platforms explode, the press is having a nervous breakdown that echoes through the public space and challenges democratic processes. The word – press – is itself an anachronism as printing presses close across the country.

The number of reporters in newsrooms has declined by 20,000 in the past decade. That is a decline of about 40 percent, from 54,000 to 33,000. With each buyout and layoff, news organizations lose the muscle to serve as watchdogs.

More than 120 daily newspapers have closed since 2004 and print advertising is falling off a cliff. It was down 8 percent last year nationally, according to a Pew study, with print advertising at The New York Times down double digits.

 

Existential crisis

 

But the crisis runs deeper than closed newspapers and empty newsroom desks.

Christiana Amanpour, the CNN foreign correspondent, said a month after the presidential election that journalists face an existential crisis. She said:

“We have to accept that we’ve had our lunch handed to us by the very same social media that we’ve so slavishly been devoted to.

“The winning candidate (Trump) did a savvy end run around us and used it to go straight to the people. Combined with the most incredible development ever–the tsunami of fake news sites–aka lies–that somehow people could not, would not, recognize, fact check, or disregard.

“…Facebook needs to step up…I feel that we face an existential crisis, a threat to the very relevance and usefulness of our profession…”

“In the same way, politics has been driven into poisonous partisan and paralyzing corners…that same dynamic has infected powerful segments of the American media…Journalism itself has become weaponized. We have to stop it.”

A decade ago, Cass Sunstein, a First Amendment expert, foresaw potential dangers ahead. “As a result of the Internet, we live increasingly in an era of enclaves and niches—much of it voluntary, much of it produced by those who think they know, and often do know, what we’re likely to like,” Sunstein said in 2007. “If people are sorted into enclaves and niches, what will happen to their views? What are the eventual effects on democracy?”

 

Powerful democratizing force

 

Is Amanpour right or is this handwringing by overwrought liberal reporters who wouldn’t see a crisis if Hillary Clinton had won?

In many ways the Internet and social media are miracles of science and engineering. They are powerful democratizing forces that allow outsiders to go over the heads of media elites and get their story out to the country and world.

The outsiders might be the Black Lives Matter protesters alerting the nation and the world to police abuse of African-American men. Or they might be conspiracy theorists who think 911 was a U.S. orchestrated intelligence operation or that the massacre of first graders at Sandy Hook was a fictional Hollywood production designed to take away people’s guns.

Trump used Twitter in very much the same way as Black Lives Matter, getting information to the masses by bypassing or hijacking traditional media.

It may be that the problem with 2016 election coverage was less the Internet and more the habitual failings of the mainstream press.

Thomas Patterson, in a report for the Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, put his finger on the high level of negativity in the press coverage of both Trump and Clinton. The report showed that only about 10 percent of the presidential election coverage involved policy; about 60 percent focused on the horse race or controversies.

Patterson said, “an incessant stream of criticism has a corrosive effect. It needlessly erodes trust in political leaders and institutions and undermines confidence in government and policy.”

 

Fake news

 

The 2016 presidential election campaign featured an unprecedented amount of fake news online. Both liberals and conservatives were guilty, although Buzzfeed found that hyper-conservative sites had a higher percentage of false or mostly false stories than hyper-liberal ones.

Buzzfeed also found that the entirely false news stories from fake news sites got more attention on Facebook than the top real stories.

“In the final three months of the US presidential campaign,” it concluded, “the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others,”

Among the fake stories getting the most traction were those claiming the pope endorsed Trump, Clinton sold weapons to ISIS and that an FBI agent investigating Clinton’s emails had been found dead. One of the fake stories about Trump claimed the “surgeon general of the US warned that drinking every time Trump lied during the first presidential debate could result in acute alcohol poisoning.”

 

Pizzagate

 

The gunfire at the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington,D.C. on Dec. 4, 2016 illustrates how fake Internet news, entangled with politics, can have dangerous consequences. The Washington Post retraced the origins of the false story:

In late October and November, more than one million tweets contained the twitter handle “pizzagate.” It referred to an Internet conspiracy that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child sex ring operating out of the basement of a popular Washington, D.C. pizza place called Comet ping pong. (The restaurant had ping pong tables but no basement.)

Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist and Trump supporter, jumped into the controversy with a YouTube video stating Hillary Clinton was “involved in a child sex ring” and had “personally murdered, chopped up and raped” children. The video was viewed 427,000 times.

The Friday before the election, the owner of Comet pizza got streams of comments on his Instagram calling him a pedophile. An online conversation on 4Chan and Reddit claimed a child sex operation was being run out of the restaurant with children held in the basement. Nearby shops also began getting threats.

The hashtag #pizzagate was retweeted hundreds or thousands of times each day from places like the Czech Republic, Vietnam and Cyprus. Bots – programs designed to promote tweets – composed many of the retweets.

On Nov. 16, Jack Posobiec, former Naval Reserve intelligence officer involved in a pro-Trump organization, went to Comet to investigate. He walked into a back room where a child’s birthday party was underway and started to livestream it to a worldwide audience on the Periscope app. He didn’t have the family’s permission and the restaurant forced him to leave.

He explained: “People have lost faith with government and the mainstream media being any real authority…If I can do something with Periscope and show what I’m seeing with my own two eyes, that’s helpful.”

On Sunday, Dec. 4, Edgar Maddison Welch decided to self-investigate. He walked into the restaurant with an assault rifle and handgun looking for the children and tunnels. After about 45 minutes, firing the gun but finding nothing, he surrendered.

The Post concluded that Pizzagate was “possible only because science has produced the most powerful tools ever invented to find and disseminate information.”

 

The First Amendment

 

The classic liberal response to false and hateful speech is more speech. As Justice Louis Brandeis put it in 1927, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Critics have called upon Facebook to exercise greater editorial control, now that it has become the world’s most influential publisher. And there are indications that it is moving that direction. Facebook has appointed a task force to look into the fake news and Google will bar fake news sites from its AdSense advertising program, cutting off revenue.

But Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker doesn’t think Facebook is up to the task. ‘It’s a sign of our anti-government times that the solution proposed most often is that Facebook should regulate it. Think about what that means: one relatively new private company, which isn’t in journalism, has become the dominant provider of journalism to the public, and the only way people can think of to address what they see as a terrifying crisis in politics and public life is to ask the company’s billionaire C.E.O. to fix it.’

Lemann has different idea: “If people really think that something should be done about the fake-news problem, they should be thinking about government as the institution to do it.”

That, however, runs smack into the First Amendment. The Supreme Court provides the Internet the same high level of protection as a newspaper. Any government action to sort out and punish fake or misleading news would most likely be unconstitutional.

On one thing Lemann is right. This problem of fake news is not new. Joseph Pulitzer saw the danger more than a century ago when he issued this warning about a world without well-educated journalists:

“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together,” Pulitzer wrote. “An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”

Arthur Miller, the playwright, put it more colloquially. “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.”

Twenty-five years from now, when the Bill of Rights celebrates its 250th birthday, there probably won’t be daily papers delivered on people’s lawns. But the electronic and digital media that remain need to find a way to help the nation talk to itself again.

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Remembering Judge Rick

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Richard B. Teitelman was a friend of equal justice, a friend of the Bill of Rights and a friend of the journalism review. He was a friend of mine and many others his life touched. This issue celebrating the 225th the Bill of Rights is dedicated to Judge Rick who died last month.

If you have a mental image of a judge in your mind, forget it. Judge Teitelman was nothing like any other judge.

Michael Wolff, the outgoing dean of the Saint Louis University Law School and a former colleague of Teitelman’s on the court, described his friend this way in a column for the Post-Dispatch:

“Most mornings before a Missouri Supreme Court session was to begin, Judge Richard B. “Rick” Teitelman, a large disheveled man with big thick glasses and a smile to match, would appear in the courtroom and go around shaking hands making everyone feel welcome. Unusual for a supreme court judge, but it was perfectly in character for one of the most remarkable men I have ever known.”

If Teitelman knew that the wife or parents of one of the lawyers arguing a case was in the courtroom, he’d make special effort to say nice things about the argument, said Wolff.

Teitelman was the first Jewish judge on the Missouri Supreme Court and the first who was legally blind.

After graduating from Washington University Law School in 1973, Teitelman had to get a reader to take the bar. After passing he couldn’t get a job because of his blindness so he hung up his shingle outside his one-room apartment. Sometimes he took a bus to work.

His representation of farm workers during the grape boycott got the attention of Legal Services where he went to work. By 1980 he was executive director. There he inaugurated the Justice For All ball to raise money for legal services.

One reason Teitelman worked the room was to supplement his eyesight and figure out who was present. But Teitelman was genuinely interested in people.

A friend of his, emeritus professor Roger Goldman at Saint Louis University Law School, remembers a funny story. “He never missed an opportunity to talk to someone,” Goldman recalled.  “Once I was walking on the SLU campus and I spotted Rick in conversation.  When I got closer he was talking to the Billiken Buddha like sculpture!  When I told him, he let out a big laugh and asked how I was doing.”

Teitelman dedicated his life to serious causes but he did not take himself too seriously.

Attorney David Camp clerked for Teitelman a decade ago. That job included driving him to Jefferson City for oral arguments. One day Teitelman asked him to start at 5 a.m. so they could stop by a little store in north St. Louis to pick up an order of sardines. The sardines were in a styrofoam container with a flimsy plastic lid. Teitelman told Camp is was “the good stuff. It’ll be my emergency stash.”

On Thursday after a week of oral arguments, the sardines were still there. “We load up my car and take off,” Camp recalls.  “There, on my dash, he has placed the styrofoam container of 3-day-old unrefrigerated sardines.  He always wanted me to drive as fast as possible.  I would say ‘Rick, you’re blind, how can you even tell?’  He would say ‘I can hear cars that pass us, let’s go!’

“So, I’m weaving in and out, trying to pick up the pace, and Rick is pleased.  He decides it’s time to eat, and opens the sardines container.  Rick said ‘these are better with age’ and grinned at me.  Just then, a truck cut me off and I hit the brakes, causing the sardines, and the sardine oil, to slosh just enough to escape the meager confines of the styrofoam container.”

After a weekend of trying to clean his car, Camp sold it. The next Monday Camp picked him up in another car. Teitelman was pleased. The new seat was more comfortable.

Teitelman often told the story on himself. “He said he liked the story because it showed how tenacious he was in finishing something, and in not being wasteful, and that his clerks were good at problem-solving.”

Another time Camp ran into Teitelman outside a suburban movie theater. Teitelman loved movies, watching from the front row. Camp asked if the judge would like to see a movie with him. Teitelman said he couldn’t. The theater had kicked him out thinking he was a vagrant because he had fallen asleep.

“Rick never did pull out his badge or explain his stature in such situations,” Camp recalled in an email.  “I think he was Chief Justice at the time.  He proposed that we go for a bite to eat instead – he always knew of a place.  We did, and after our meal, he looked at me with a serious expression, leaning over so as not to be overheard: ‘we should go back to the theater now and try to get in, they just had a shift change!’”

At times, when clerks were having trouble finding precedent to back up an argument, Teitelman would tell them the story of a man he had represented as a young lawyer. The man had been arrested for shoplifting one can of dog food.

“The man had been caught in the act.” recalled Camp.  “What was the defense?  Well, that it was dog food, and that was to be his dinner.  The man had used all his food stamps to feed his family, and gone to the grocery store to look for a dented dog food can, for his meal.  He had a can opener in his pocket, and hoped to eat it before returning home to avoid the shame.  He thought the store couldn’t sell the dented cans, and it wouldn’t do them harm.  Upon hearing the full story, the prosecutor decided to drop the case.

“The lesson: always look at the whole story, the context, and how people are affected by the law.  Rick believed the law must be formed to protect fundamental values of human decency and dignity.”

Teitelman reflected those values in important court decisions.

– The evolving standard of decency protected by the Eighth Amendment meant that juvenile murderers should not be executed, the Missouri Supreme Court decided. That decision paved the way for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling ending juvenile executions.

– The right to a jury trial, protected in the Missouri Constitution, meant that the legislature couldn’t cap awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.

– Manifest injustice was the reason to overturn the murder conviction of death row inmate Joseph Amrine. Amrine had been convicted in a fair trial of killing another inmate but all of the witness later recanted. The state argued the execution should go forward because the trial was fair. Teitelman wrote, “It is difficult to imagine a more manifestly unjust and unconstitutional result than permitting the execution of an innocent person.”

– The long history of civil rights progress – first desegregating schools, then striking down laws against interracial marriage and then outlawing sex discrimination – justified survivor benefits to the same-sex partner of Missouri Highway Patrolman Corporal Dennis Engelhard, killed in the line of duty.

“With the benefit of hindsight, the various decisions extending the guarantee of equal protection to racial minorities and women, though intensely controversial at the time, now seem obvious to a vast majority of Americans,” wrote Teitleman. “Now that (they)…. are woven firmly into the fabric of constitutional law, this question remains: Why did it take so long?”

Teitelman wrote that passage in a dissent in 2013 because the majority of the court was not ready to take on Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage. He was far-sighted. The U.S. Supreme recognized two years later that it had taken too long.

 

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New-wave J-school curriculum

Pulling from some of the most interesting journalism classes offered in programs in the Midwest, these courses would make for a wonderful year for any college journalism student. These are actual course descriptions in the college catalogues.

Will Write for Food (and Wine): Focuses on food and wine writing in current U.S. culture. Come ready to create mouthwatering narrative and actively seek publishing your finished work. An emphasis will be placed on class participation and written critiques of peer-reviewed articles in class. University of Missouri

Digital Games, Sims and Apps: Storytelling, Play and Commerce: Introduction to academic study of video games, computer simulations/mobile game applications. Digital games as technology, mass communication industry, cultural form/set of design practices. University of Minnesota

            Sex in the Media: Explores the role and portrayal of sex and sexuality in media and examines in detail the potential social and psychological effects of exposure to sexual content in the media. Indiana University

The Googlization of America: Led by Google, technology companies are taking a more central role in the American media landscape every day. In this course, students learn how Google and its competitors are continuing to change journalism, the media business and U.S. culture. Northwestern University             

Sports and Electronic Media: Examines the practical, social, and economic relationships between two major areas of U.S. popular culture — the electronic media and sports. Combines aspects of announcing, production, sales and marketing, history, and policy. Ball State University

Arab Spring in Context: Media, Religion, and Geopolitics: Protest movements that started in Tunisia in 2011 and swept across North Africa and the Middle East transforming Arab and Islamic societies in radically different ways; function of social media, satellite television, communication technology; influence of religious leaders and groups on some protest outcomes; impact of wealth and geopolitics on social fabric of Islamic societies within and outside Arab countries. University of Iowa

Mass Communication and Political Behavior: Interrelationships of news media, political campaigning and the electorate. Considers the impact of media coverage and persuasive appeals on image and issue voting, political participation and socialization. University of Wisconsin

Outdoor/Nature Journalism: This course has a three-fold purpose: to acquaint new journalists and writers with the best works of those who have found inspiration for their prose from the outdoors; to familiarize student writers with journalism about nature sites in the Missouri and Midwest region; to encourage developing outdoor/nature writers to experiment with expository and advocacy journalism. Webster University

Critical Analysis of Media: Commercial mass media and alternative press in a global context; the ways media reinforce or challenge dominant or non-dominant paradigms. Class, gender, race, disability. Media investigation skills basic to democracy. St. Cloud University

Mass Media and the American Family: The impact of the mass media on family communication patterns, familial value structures, development of children, and orientation to news media. Examination of news, advertising, and entertainment content from educational, cultural and economic perspectives. Emphasis on empirical social science research which examines relationships between media and families. Marquette University

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21st century j-schools: a personal look

If some high school student asked my advice about choosing a college journalism program, I of course would suggest the obvious criteria.

Classes offered. Majors available. Out-of-the-classroom opportunities to engage in journalism. Reputation. State of its technology.

After writing a story about the Class of 2020 for this issue of Gateway Journalism Review, I now would give them a question to ask their potential schools: What is your response when asked to discuss your school for a media magazine?

If the answers fall anywhere close to what I received in trying to do the story, my advice would be to move along and don’t look back.

We’re too busy. The semester just started. I can’t get anyone interested in talking to you. Not interested. We don’t have any information about the freshman class yet.

And the nominee for my favorite: No one in our department has 15 minutes to talk or answer questions on email about our program.

But maybe I am being too harsh. At least those people responded, however negative. Of the 23 inquiries made that turned me down, 10 did so by ignoring the request altogether. I hope these places do not preach what they practice. But instead, they are so busy and caught up in teaching today’s journalists that they cannot look up from their lecture lecterns to talk about themselves.

Actually, I don’t hope it, because I know it’s not true. What might be closer to the truth is that journalism schools have joined the ongoing parade of ignoring the media because they are afraid we won’t tell the story exactly the way they want. But keep doing that and here’s what the story might be in 20 years: Those schools will no longer exist.

40, 30, even 20 years ago, journalism students learned the same standards of the trade: writing, reporting, editing. Not much variation there; where you went to college served more as a door-opener after graduation than learning secrets not taught elsewhere. Students at Missouri and Northwestern and Columbia and Newhouse and Stanford learned the five W’s the same as did students at colleges with much smaller departments.

Now, as journalism continues to find new ways to tell a story, the five W’s and how have been reclassified. They’re now called the foundation upon which sexier and more cutting-edge journalism is taught.

Some schools are building impressive structures on those foundations. They have successfully blended the classic with what is trending. To be a student at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism facing the dilemma of whether to write for the award-winning Columbia Missourian or join the convergence Global Journalist show to cover world news and challenges to freedom of the press.

Or to be taking classes at Indiana University’s Media School, in Franklin Hall, built in 1907. But thanks to its $21 million renovation over the past two years, the upgraded facility gives students tools that rank with those of any professional newsroom.

Journalism schools now serve as the farm team for the professional ranks. No longer will fresh-out-of-college journalists have the time, or an employer willing to spend that time, to train them over a few years. Hit the ground running or don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Successful journalism programs will teach students to jump right in, and also to have the skills and confidence to lead the way for the next four decades. The past 30 years already have shown that those who wouldn’t/couldn’t embrace the Internet and its ways to tell a story did not survive.

The same can be said about journalism schools. Because if you won’t tell your story, who will?

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J-schools in transition

In her freshman year of high school in Lake Forest, Il., Sarah Verschoor signed up for a journalism class simply because it fit into her schedule.

She liked it enough to take all the journalism classes offered in the next four years and joined her high school newspaper, rising to editor-in-chief in her senior year. She led the paper’s move from a broadsheet to a news magazine.

Despite her initial love of journalism, after her junior year, her college choice and career path remained uncertain. That summer Verschoor attended the High School Journalism Institute at Indiana University, run by IU for the past 70 years. “Everything came together,” said Verschoor, who began her freshman year at Indiana this fall as an honors student in the Media School. “I am so passionate about wanting to be a journalist.”

This fall the journalism Class of 2020 began the four-year college march to graduation. When those students graduate, they will join the generation of media professionals whose work-life span carries into the last half of this century. These freshmen, said people involved in educating them, demand that journalism schools prepare them for a career in a profession that redefines itself at a rapid, non-stop pace. Even top-tier journalism schools, such as IU and the University of Missouri, have had to evolve to better prepare students for the unknown future of the profession.

Lynda Kraxberger, associate dean for undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri, said Missouri’s School of Journalism continues to teach the enduring values and principles of the profession. “What has been done here since 1908 when newspaper and advertising were offered for the first time remains,” Kraxberger said. “But what we also focus on now is teaching students how to learn all throughout their professional careers.’’

It’s a learning strategy that has been given a name — the Missouri Method. Students have a choice of six different newsrooms from traditional print with the award-winning Columbia Missourian to the Global Journalist, a convergence show that looks at worldwide issues and challenges to a free press.

Of Missouri’s approximately 25,000 undergraduate students, some 1,850 are in the School of Journalism. The freshman class numbers from 350 to 400 students.

Students at all levels work with professionals, many of whom are Missouri alumni. That mixture of hands-on with people in the profession helps students understand what will be expected of them, said Suzette Heiman, professor of strategic communication and director of planning and communications.

“Students develop critical thinking and writing skills, learn how to do research,” Heiman said. “These skills are needed in all careers. They are the floor of the foundation to do anything. The coaching the students receive from faculty and alumni mimics what they will get in the real world.”

To strengthen that connection from students to professional newsrooms, faculty chairs meet routinely with alumni to evaluate student portfolios. “It’s an ongoing conversation,” Kraxberger said, “on making sure students are as prepared as possible.”

Students also compete to pit their ideas against those from students at other colleges. One group created a computer application for journalists using the Apple Watch called Recordly. Students traveled to Apple’s headquarters and gave a presentation on how the app would allow journalists to record and then download the transcript to their computers. The university has provided seed money to help bring the app to market.

Working with the Hearst Company, another group developed software called Nearbuy, to help people identify real estate available in a community. And another group participated in a contest sponsored by Meredith in Des Moines to come up with a new, never done magazine.

Missouri students looked into online gaming, a growing hobby among people their age. According to Kraxberger, they realized all of the magazines on the topic were geared toward young men, missing the market for young women. “Fangirl” was pitched to Meredith’s top level people, who bought the prototype on the spot. “Some schools are known for one program,” Kraxberger stated. “We’re good at everything.”

Students this semester are working to create a policy on the use of drones in journalism. Missouri has six drones that students can use for various types of coverage.

“This is what we mean when we say they are taught to learn,” Kraxberger said. “They can put their hands on new technology and figure out the best use with the enduring themes of journalism.”

What is new at IU includes the concept of the Media School itself. In July 2014 IU merged its 100-year-old journalism program with other communication schools at the college and created the Media School. Of IU’s approximately 37,000 undergraduates, some 700 are in the Media School, with the freshman class comprising about 250 students.

Anne Kibbler, director of communications and media relations for the school, said the change puts everything under one roof so students have greater flexibility with their curriculum choices. “It’s a reflection of what’s happening in the industry,” she continued. “The media industry is merging platforms and technologies and so did we.”

IU changed more than the name on the outside of the building, changing what happens inside as well. “We can no longer train students to write for print only,” Kibbler said. “They need to do that as well as take video and photos.”

The Media School breaks down walls for students that had existed between the three former communication schools. “Before, students were limited to the number of classes they could take in another school,” Kibbler stated. “Now there is flexibility enough that each student is building their own degree.”

Regardless of what specialization a student chooses, everyone receives training in the fundamentals, Kibbler said. She continued, “Reporting, writing, editing, ethics and media law remain part of the training. That was one of the questions alumni had when we approached them with the Media School plan. They did not want those fundamentals watered down.”

All students are required to take a grammar test, something that was not done before, Kibbler said.

Alumni, and IU students who began their course work before the Media School’s first classes in 2015-16, say they regret they cannot take part in the new approach, Kibbler said. She contended, “For the Class of 2020, technology they are using today will be different in five years. We can’t teach them how to use that technology because we don’t know what will be out there. We can teach them to adapt to a continually changing environment and to rely on the fundamental skills as a constant. To bridge that need for old-school and new-school teaching, the Media School will hire more faculty members.”

As of mid-September IU advertised for six open positions. “We’re looking for more people who can broaden our current offerings,” Kibbler said. “A few years ago, for example, we would have advertised for a photojournalism professor. Now we’re looking for people who can go beyond that, someone who is a strong writer who can take photos and shoot video.”

Smaller universities also have switched their approaches. Associate Professor Gary Ford, chair of the Department of Communications and Journalism at Webster University in St. Louis, said the department has “evolved through the years to remain relevant in a world where delivery of news and information is rapidly changing.”

Webster admits some 3,000 students to its home campus, with about 475 students of all majors entering as the Class of 2020. Enrollment figures for those choosing the Department of Communications and Journalism were not available.

Webster also does what the programs at Missouri and Indiana are doing. “Our program emphasizes the underlying skill of basic storytelling using good writing and editing techniques,” Ford said. “We then provide training and experience on various delivery platforms.  In addition to traditional print and electronic media, we also emphasize multimedia and social media delivery platforms.”

Broadening the definition of storytelling, Ford said, is not an option for schools that want to continue to succeed. “Journalism programs today must adapt to changing needs of the industry to better prepare students for jobs in a new information age.”

Student journalism organizations outside of colleges and universities also adapt to what students want. College Media Association – formerly College Media Advisers – runs conventions in the spring and fall that attract hundreds of college student media members and advisers.

CMA President Kelley Callaway, director of student media at Rice University, said the options offered for students at the conventions include more digital and mobile media techniques. “We have them use their own phones to shoot video on site,” Callaway said. “It’s not the traditional print-only anymore. With convergence you do a little bit of everything. Gone are the days when you did the police beat and nothing else.”

Some new additions to conference topics include entertainment media and a film festival of student-made productions. Sessions about blogging also attract students.

Another topic student media want to discuss is diversity in newsrooms and television stations. “It’s a hot topic,” Callaway said.

At conventions, CMA has reduced, but not eliminated, the number of tracks offered for print-only topics. “Sessions on yearbook are now at 12, where 10 years ago we had 20,” she said. “We replace those with how to use your smartphone to edit video.” Keynote speakers who talk about their careers, dwindled in popularity in the last few years, Callaway said. “We’ve shifted to panel discussions of topical journalism,” she continued, describing how students reacted to a fall 2015 keynote talk in Houston that included a man wrongly incarcerated and the journalist whose work help free him.

“The line to meet them after was ridiculously long,” Callaway said. “The reviews from the students said we want more like this. The millennium generation wants to impact and change the world through journalism.” Heiman said that is what she hears repeatedly when she meets with prospective students and their parents. “By and large journalism today attracts students passionate about doing journalism. They have a sense of calling and want to serve people, however that story form takes.”

Heiman and Kraxberger told today’s journalism students come to college much like Verschoor, already with bylines earned and journalism classes taken. “They’ve already done well at this in high school and have high standards for themselves,” Heiman said.

Verschoor covers the IU Office of Multicultural Affairs as a campus beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She said she loves what she is doing, despite the reaction received from people when she described her chosen college major.

“It frustrates me, that tone of voice when they would say, oh, really, you’re interested in that?” Verschoor asked. “There will always be a place to tell those stories in any form, even if not always in print. I want to tell those stories that matter and relay them back to people to make a difference.”

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Rick Teitelman – a friend of justice

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Richard B. Teitelman died in his sleep this week. He was 69.

Rick was a friend of the Journalism Review, a friend of mine and, most important, a friend of equal justice.

When Rick graduated from Washington University Law School he couldn’t find a job.  There wasn’t much of a market for a legally blind lawyer, even if he was smart enough to have gotten a perfect 800 on his SATs in high school.  Rick started his own law office, taking a bus to appointments.

In the mid-1970s he went to work for Legal Services and rose to lead the program in St. Louis.  I got to know Rick around that time. I was writing for the Post-Dispatch about Ronald Reagan’s attempt to kill  the Legal Services program.  Rick was a great source of news and never failed to write a typed note when he thought a story was well-done – a nice reward for reporters used to nastygrams.  Teitelman also liked to take reporters to a downtown deli where he dined on delicacies like liver and onions.

On the editorial page of the Post-Dispatch we called for Teitelman’s appointment to the Missouri Supreme Court.  Gov. Bob Holden agreed and appointed Teitelman in 2002.  He became the first Jewish and legally blind member of the court.  In 2004 he withstood a campaign to block his retention for being too liberal.  Our editorial condemned the right-wing “smear campaign.”

Every time we planned a fundraiser for the Journalism Review, Teitelman was there lending his support. A month ago, Teitelman attended a lunch with friends of Saint Louis University law school where I presented a GJR project on Ferguson.  Teitelman spoke candidly about what lawyers and judges could do to bring about reforms.  That passion for equal justice still burned.

Judge Richard Teitelman, liberal lion of Missouri Supreme Court, dies at 69

Here is the Supreme Court’s obituary:

 

         SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI MOURNS LOSS OF ITS COLLEAGUE,

                        JUDGE RICHARD B. TEITELMAN




JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It is with great sadness that the Supreme Court of

Missouri acknowledges the passing of its beloved colleague, Judge Richard 

Teitelman, athis home today in St. Louis. Judge Teitelman began his service 

on the state’s high court in March 2002 and served as its chief

justice from July 2011 through June 2013. He was 69. In honor of Judge

Teitelman, the Court cancelled oral arguments scheduled for today.



“Judge Teitelman had immense compassion for others,” Chief Justice

Breckenridge said. “He dedicated himself, both personally and

professionally, to ensuring that every person receives justice in our

courts. He was always aware that each of his decisions impacted and changed

the lives of real people, and he worked tirelessly to ensure that each

decision was fair and just. He delighted in talking to both lawyers and the

lay community about the law, and delighted in the success of his fellow

lawyers and judges.”




Breckenridge continued, “Judge Teitelman’s love of justice and the law was

paralleled only by his love of people. He provided support and

encouragement to his friends in the things that mattered most to them. And

he considered almost everyone he met a friend. He had a remarkable ability

to retain and recall information about people and events, and to find

connections with each of them. His seemingly boundless energy, enthusiasm,

and empathy strengthened and gave hope to those around him in thoughtful

and meaningful ways. Judge Teitelman will be missed tremendously.”




Teitelman was born September 25, 1947, in Philadelphia. He received his

bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1969 from the University of

Pennsylvania and his law degree in 1973 from the Washington University

School of Law in St. Louis. He ran his own solo law practice until joining

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri in St. Louis in 1975, working his way up

through that organization’s leadership and serving almost two decades as

its executive director and general counsel. He served as a judge of the

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, from January 1998 through

February 2002.




Teitelman was Missouri’s first Jewish and first legally blind judge. At his

formal swearing-in ceremony at the Supreme Court, Teitelman paraphrased

Helen Keller in telling the crowd, “For a committed life, one has to have

fidelity to a noble purpose, and for me, that purpose has been the fight

for justice.”  But he added, “This installation is not about me. It is

about the people I have worked with and the people I have served.”




Supreme Court Clerk Bill L. Thompson said, “Although legally blind, Judge

Teitelman’s vision of compassion, generosity, and encouragement of others

was perfect.”




Teitelman had a long commitment to public service and bar activities. He

was a member of numerous local bar associations throughout the state and,

for the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, served as chair of its

young lawyers section, chair of its trial section, secretary, vice

president and president and also served as president of its bar foundation.

At The Missouri Bar, Teitelman served as chair of the disabled, minority

and diversity law committee of the young lawyers’ section, chair of the

delivery of legal services committee, and member of both the board of

governors and its executive committee. He was elected vice president and

president-elect, the position he held at the time he was appointed to the

Supreme Court. At the national level, Teitelman was very active with the

American Bar Association. He was a past chair of its standing commission on

mental and physical disability law, a member of its standing committee on

pro bono and public service, a judicial division member of the standing

committee on minorities in the judiciary, and was a lifetime sustaining

fellow of the American Bar Foundation. He also participated in a number of

civic and charitable activities, both in St. Louis as well as at the state

and national levels. He also was a member of the Supreme Court of Missouri

Historical Society.




In addition, Teitelman was honored with numerous awards throughout his

career, including The Missouri Bar’s President’s Award, Spurgeon Smithson

Award and Purcell Award for Professionalism; awards from the Bar

Association of Metropolitan St. Louis and Mound City Bar Association; and

awards from the National Conference of Metropolitan Courts, the American

Jewish Congress, the American Council for the Blind and the St. Louis

Society for the Blind.




A memorial service for Judge Teitelman is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday,

December 1 at Graham Memorial Chapel on the Washington University campus in

St. Louis. Arrangements are under the direction of Berger Memorial Chapel,

9430 Olive Boulevard, St. Louis.
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The top censored stories of 2015-2016

The Journalism Review’s presentation of the top censored stories of 2015-2016 extends the tradition originated by Professor Carl Jensen and his Sonoma State University students in 1976. That tradition now includes faculty and students from campuses across North America.

During this year’s cycle, Project Censored reviewed 235 validated independent news stories representing the collective efforts of 221 college students and 33 professors from 18 college and university campuses.

How do the organizers know that the top stories brought forward each year are not only relevant and significant, but also trustworthy? The answer is that each candidate news story undergoes rigorous review, which takes place in multiple stages.

Candidate stories are initially identified by Project Censored professors and students, or are nominated by members of the general public. Together, faculty and students vet each candidate story in terms of its importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and corporate news coverage.

Once Project Censored receives the nomination, a second round of judgment is conducted, using the same criteria and updating the review to include any subsequent, competing corporate coverage.

In early spring, the faculty and students at all affiliate campuses, and the panel of judges cast votes to winnow the candidate stories from several hundred to 25. Once the top 25 list has been determined, Project Censored student interns begin another intensive review of each story using LexisNexis and ProQuest databases.

The finalists are then sent to a panel of judges, who vote to rank them in numerical order. (This writer is one of the judges.) These experts include media studies professors, professional journalists, and a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

 

(1) U.S. Military forces deployed in 70 percent of world’s nations

If you throw a dart at a world map and do not hit water, Nick Turse reported for TomDispatch, the odds are that US Special Operations Forces “have been there sometime in 2015.” According to a spokesperson for Special Operations Command (SOCOM), in 2015 Special Operations Forces (SOF) deployed in 147 of the world’s 195 recognized nations, an increase of eighty percent since 2010. “The global growth of SOF missions has been breathtaking,” Turse wrote.

As SOCOM commander General Joseph Votel told the audience of the Aspen Security Forum in July 2015, more SOF troops are deployed to more locations and are conducting more operations than at the height of the Afghan and Iraq wars. In Turse’s words.

 

(2) Crisis in evidence-based medicine

In April 2015, the Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton, wrote, “Something has gone fundamentally wrong with one of our greatest human creations.” Describing the upshot of a UK symposium held that month on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research, Horton summarized the “case against science”: “Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness…. The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming.”

In 2009, Marcia Angell, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, made comparable claims in an article for the New York Review of Books: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.

 

(3) Rising carbon dioxide levels threaten to permanently disrupt vital ocean bascteria

Imagine a car heading toward a cliff’s edge with its gas pedal stuck to the floor. That, Robert Perkins wrote, is a metaphor for “what climate change will do to the key group of ocean bacteria known as Trichodesmium,” according to a study published in the September 2015 issue of Nature Communications by researchers at the University of Southern California and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Trichodesmium is found in nutrient-poor parts of the ocean, where it converts nitrogen gas into material that can be used by other forms of life. From algae to whales, all life needs nitrogen to grow. Reporting for the Guardian, Emma Howard quoted Eric Webb, one of the study’s researchers, who explained how the process of “nitrogen fixation” makes Trichodesmium “the fertilising agent of the open ocean.”

 

(4) Search engine algorithms and electronic votiong machines could swing 2016 election

From search engine algorithms to electronic voting machines, technology provides opportunities for manipulation of voters and their votes in ways that could profoundly affect the results of the 2016 election. In the US, the 2012 presidential election was won by a margin of just 3.9 percent; and, historically, half of US presidential elections have been won by margins under 7.6 percent. These narrow but consequential victory margins underscore the importance of understanding how secret, proprietary technologies—whether they are newly developing or increasingly outdated—potentially swing election results.

Mark Frary, in Index on Censorship, describes the latest research by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology on what they call the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME). Their research focuses on the powerful role played by the secret algorithms (including Google’s PageRank and Facebook’s EdgeRank) that determine the contents of our Internet search results and social media news feeds.

 

(5) Corporate exploitation of global refugee crisis masked at humanitarianism

According to a June 2015 United Nations report, sixty million people worldwide are now refugees due to conflict in their home nations. The UN report indicated that during 2014 one out of every 122 people was a refugee, internally displaced, or an asylum seeker; and over half of these refugees were children.

Although the extent of the global refugee crisis has been covered in the corporate media (including, for example, the New York Times and the Washington Post), the exploitation of refugees has been less well covered. In February 2016, Sarah Lazare published an article on AlterNet that warned of the World Bank’s private enterprise solution to the Syrian displacement crisis. “Under the guise of humanitarian aid,” Lazare wrote, “the World Bank is enticing Western companies to launch ‘new investments’ in Jordan in order to profit from the labor of stranded Syrian refugees. In a country where migrant workers have faced forced servitude, torture and wage theft, there is reason to be concerned that this capital-intensive ‘solution’ to the mounting crisis of displacement will establish sweatshops that specifically target war refugees for hyper-exploitation.”

 

(6) Over 1.5 million American families live on two dollars per person per day

According to Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, sociologists and authors of the book $2.00 per Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, in 2011 more than 1.5 million US families—including three million children—lived on as little as two dollars per person per day in any given month. Edin and Shaefer determined this figure on the basis of data from the US Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), income data from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), additional data on family homelessness, and their own fieldwork in four study sites.

Corporate coverage of Edin and Shaefer’s sociological study of extreme poverty has been limited. In early 2012, USA Today published a straightforward report on a previous version of their findings, which indicated 1.46 million families lived on less than two dollars per person per day.

 

(7) No end in sight for Fukushima disaster

Five years after the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, Dahr Jamail reported that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) officials in charge of the plant continue to release large quantities of radioactive waste water into the Pacific Ocean. Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, called Fukushima “the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of humankind.” As Jamail reported, experts such as Gundersen continue warning officials and the public that this problem is not going away. As Gundersen told Jamail, “With Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and now with Fukushima, you can pinpoint the exact day and time they started…but they never end.” Another expert quoted in Jamail’s Truthout article, M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, explained, “March 2011 was just the beginning of the disaster, which is still unfolding.”

 

(8) Syria’s war spurred by contest for gas delivery in Europe, not Muslim sectarianism

At least four years into the crisis in Syria, “most people have no idea how this war even got started,” Mnar Muhawesh reported for MintPress News in September 2015.

In 2011–12, after Syrian president Bashar al-Assad refused to cooperate with Turkey’s proposal to create a natural gas pipeline between Qatar and Turkey through Syria, Turkey and its allies became “the major architects of Syria’s ‘civil war.’” The proposed pipeline would have bypassed Russia to reach European markets currently dominated by Russian gas giant Gazprom. As a result, Muhawesh wrote, “The Middle East is being torn to shreds by manipulative plans to gain oil and gas access by pitting people against one another based on religion. The ensuing chaos provides ample cover to install a new regime that’s more amenable to opening up oil pipelines and ensuring favorable routes for the highest bidders.”

Although there is plenty of coverage in US corporate media about the violence in Syria and the refugee crisis that is sweeping Europe and reaching North America, this coverage has failed to address the economic interests, including control of potentially lucrative gas pipelines,

 

(9) Big pharma political lobbying not limited to presidential campaigns

Pharmaceutical companies have been among the biggest political spenders for years, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. As Mike Ludwig of Truthout reported, based on CRP data, large pharmaceutical companies made over $51 million in campaign donations during the 2012 presidential election, nearly $32 million in the 2014 elections, and, as of September 2015, they had already put $10 million into the 2016 election. During the 2014 elections, Pfizer led drug companies with $1.5 million in federal campaign donations, followed by Amgen ($1.3 million) and McKesson ($1.1 million).

Although these are large sums of money, campaign donations by large pharmaceutical companies pale in comparison to how much they spent on lobbying politicians and influencing policies outside of elections. As Ludwig reported, according to data gathered on the 2014 election, the industry spent seven dollars on lobbying for every dollar spent on the election. The $229 million spent by drug companies and their lobbying groups that year was down from a peak of $273 million in 2009, the year that Congress debated the Affordable Care Act.

 

(10) CISA: The internet surveillance act no one is discussing

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) into law as part of a 2,000 page omnibus spending bill. As drafted, CISA was intended to “improve cybersecurity in the United States through enhanced sharing of information about cybersecurity threats, and for other purposes.” The act authorized the creation of a system for corporate informants to provide customers’ data to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which, in turn, would share this information with other federal agencies, including the Departments of Commerce, Defense (which includes the NSA), Energy, Justice (which includes the FBI), the Treasury (which oversees the IRS), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

As Sam Thielman of the Guardian reported, civil liberties experts had been “dismayed” when Congress used the omnibus spending bill to advance some of the legislation’s “most invasive” components. Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Congress for using the spending bill “to pursue their extremist agendas.” “Sneaking damaging and discriminatory riders into a must-pass bill usurps the democratic process,” he told the Guardian. Lauren Weinstein, who cofounded People For Internet Responsibility, also spoke critically of the legislation: “There is not a culture of security and privacy established in the government yet. You have to have that before you even consider sharing the amounts of data [CISA] would cover.” Evan Greer of Fight for the Future called CISA “a disingenuous attempt to quietly expand the US government’s surveillance programs.”

 

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U.S. election: the view from China

Chinese mainstream media have been busy analyzing America’s misleading poll results in the aftermath of last week’s U.S. elections. Media here have attributed Donald Trump’s success to white-collar workers’ support from both males and females, and his proactive use of social media, even though Hillary Clinton was endorsed by many American mainstream news organizations.

Some reports here have included analyses and predictions of Trump’s policies, including the U.S. stance on global trade, geopolitics and partnership with American allies. As for Sino-U.S. relations, it is believed that it would be unlikely for Trump to impose a high tax rate on Chinese imports, as he claimed during the campaign, according to Xinhua, China’s national news agency. On the other hand, Xinhua has indicated economic collaboration might go even further given Trump’s background as a businessman.

Other coverage about Trump seems anecdotal. The Beijing Youth Daily, the capital’s metropolitan newspaper, ran a story about Trump registering his last name and its Chinese translations as trademarks in 2006 when he was a businessman. However, “Trump” had been registered by a Chinese whose name is Dong. Trump appealed but in vain. According to reports here, Trump has 78 effectively registered trademarks in China relating to his name and businesses in insurance, finance and education.

In Chinese social media Weibo and Wechat, China’s versions of Twitter and Facebook, Internet users seem to be fascinated by Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. She is portrayed as a supermodel, successful businesswoman and mom with three children, who is going to be the next America’s First Daughter. Social media here report she is endowed with wealth and beauty, though she still works diligently to get a diploma from a prestigious university, and that she rose to the current position in her father’s company while also managing her own business. She is acclaimed by Chinese social media users as a role model for modern women — a success on both professional and familial levels.

 

Author’s note:  Dr. Fu is assistant professor at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics. She earned her Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University’s College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

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Election day post-mortem: use a lottery

After every presidential election, journalists, academics and political operatives gather for various campaign post-mortems and autopsies. Brows furrow. What went right? What went wrong?

After much cluck-clucking and tut-tutting, everyone agrees media people must do things differently next time. Fewer polls, better polls, more issue coverage, less on the horserace, listen to voters, etc.

Then we all go out and sin again in four years.

After the polling and handicapping debacle of 2016, perhaps things really will change in 2020. But probably not.  Journalism’s performance in 2016 was often driven by bottom-line considerations: more click bait, more hits, more eyeballs, more buzz, tweets and edge — all to deal with improving bottom lines of media companies.

Nothing’s going to change that, especially when many news organizations are struggling to survive and have shareholders to please.

But if the journalism community doesn’t agree to some changes, Donald Trump’s success is going to embolden other celebrities. They will say outrageous things and journalists will dutifully – and profitably – report it all. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with celebrity candidates. The nominating system just shouldn’t be rigged — to borrow a phrase — in their favor.

Donald Trump is very much a product of the decision by parties and news organizations to use polls to decide which candidates got onto pre-primary debate stages and where they stood. Other credible candidates, including several national political leaders, were pushed to the fringes, or to the “kids table.”

So here is a simple suggestion to add to the list of things that ought to change in four years: Don’t use polls to decide the placement of candidates in primary debates. Use a lottery.

Polls are limited instruments as we’ve just seen. Using them to decide which candidates get into a debate and which candidates are relegated to the kids table is guaranteed to give celebrity candidates center stage and greater attention. That limits what’s heard from less well-known but perhaps more substantive candidates.

Given how far off the mark polls were on election night, why should polls be the arbiters of who gets a good position on stage and who doesn’t? (Remember how some candidates were sidelined in early debates by microscopic changes in polls? Some of the polling screw-ups on election night weren’t microscopic.)

Other metrics can be used to determine who gets considered for inclusion in the lottery. Has the candidate qualified for federal matching funds? Are they on the ballot in 50 states? Or are they on the ballot in at least enough to give them a majority of delegates to a nominating convention — or 270 electoral votes?

Instead of just one “main event” and a “kids table” debate, there would be randomly chosen groupings. Celebrity candidates will still stand out but they won’t get an unfair advantage and others would have a better chance to be heard by voters.

If something like that is not done, we can look for a Kim Kardashian to be center stage in the 2020 Democratic primary debates.

 

Author’s note:  David Yepsen is former director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Prior to that he was a political writer and columnist for the Des Moines Register.

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Chinese media criticize American democracy

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The New York Times posts a cartoon of China enjoying the boxing battle among U.S. presidential candidates with popcorn, and says, “The Chinese Communist Party uses every presidential election to excoriate American democracy for its failings.”

(http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/17/opinion/heng-on-china-and-the-us-election.html )

This is the typical tone U.S. media employ when talking about China’s attitude on any negative news in the U.S. However, an editorial in the state-run Xinhua News Agency seems to prove such an analogy. This editorial compares the three presidential debates to a boxing contest: “The three debates are more intense than real boxing match: Boxers would shake hands or hug their opponents after fierce battle; but the two presidential candidates refused to shake hands in the final debate. One of them even asked for ‘a dope test’ before debate.” The editorial concludes, “the presidential election is nothing but entertainment, which again implies ‘the failure of the American political system.’”

Xinhua News Agency set up a page of special reports on the U.S. presidential election and published several editorials after the final debate. In another editorial titled “The final debate sets a new records for the U.S. election, and slaps the American style of democracy,” the author quotes several Twitter users who criticize both Clinton and Trump, and says these voters reveal the dilemma the U.S. faces now, claimed to be the “largest democratic country in the world.” “This leads to a question: Is the election, of which the Americans are so proud of, not so serious? Audiences are getting more confused and helpless, the democracy that the U.S. is proud of has been tarnished.” (http://news.xinhuanet.com/world/2016-10/21/c_1119763141.htm)

The editorial continues, saying the meaning of the election is to help solve severe problems of a country’s development, and that the long and complex campaign and competition between candidates should be the chance to expose the political defect and address racial and social issues. However, the campaign and debate policy Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton employ does not solve problems. Instead, the candidates attack one another’s past mistakes and manage to destroy each other’s public image.

The editorial lists the U.S. media’s reaction to Trump’s statement of only accepting the election results if he wins, and says, “Finally, even Trump began to question the election result. This slaps on the face of American political system based on their claimed democracy, and casts doubt on the effect of American-style democracy.”

The editorial concludes, “The U.S. has considered itself as the role-model of Western democracy. Now it is time for introspection.” (http://news.xinhuanet.com/world/2016-10/21/c_135769827.htm)

Similar arguments appear in other Chinese media. People’s Daily, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, says the American political system is not welcomed by the U.S. public, and thus faces a crisis of legitimacy.

Even though these editorials criticize the U.S. democracy harshly as the New York Times points out, most news reporting of media in China on the election and debates is fact based or based on news from Western countries. Chinese media generally show no preference for either candidate.

However, one exception is an article on Sohu, a commercial media website.

This article, “The ugly battle of the U.S. election, China is more concerned if this candidate wins,” says the Chinese public has treated Trump as mere entertainment from the very beginning, but that there are more people starting to like him. While the Chinese public does not know Trump very well, there is an unfavorable impression of Hillary Clinton due to her tough past policies against Beijing. From the Chinese perspective, if she becomes the president, the U.S. foreign policy against China would be worse than that of Trump.

Attacking the American political system directly is not always the theme of China’s news reports on the U.S. election. An article of Xinhua News Agency compares the election to the TV drama House of Cards, which is very popular in China. Xinhua argues that the election is very similar to the TV drama plot.

The New York Times published an interview with You Tian Long, a Chinese doctoral student majoring in justice studies at Arizona State University at an earlier time to reject such association. You said in that interview that American politics is so complicated for Chinese people to understand that they use the TV drama as a “shortcut” to learn.

One can only speculate: Either the reporter and editor of Xinhua News Agency did not read the New York Times article, or they are taking a shortcut to appeal to the political knowledge of the Chinese readers.

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Travis-sham-mockery of the presidential debates

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As I watched the three presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, one word continually came to mind: travis-sham-mockery.

I know what you’re are thinking – Travis-sham-mockery is not a word. Technically you’re correct. It is, after all, not recognized by Merriam-Webster, Cambridge Dictionary, or even the game of Scrabble. And despite this refusal by the lords of the English lexicon to give it their stamp of approval, this only tells half the story.

The history behind this delightful idiom is revealed through a simple Google search. Its etymology is actually tied to the history of the presidential debates, albeit in a less than traditional way.  The term can be traced back to Miller Lite’s “President of Beers” commercial – a parody on the 2004 presidential debates.

In the commercial, Miller Lite debates Budweiser over which company really is the “King of Beers.” Naturally, Budweiser is represented by a Clydesdale Horse while Miller Lite is represented by comedian Bob Odenkirk. During Odenkirk’s opening speech, he is interrupted several times by the moderating panel until he frustratingly spits out, “It’s a travesty and a sham and a mockery. It’s a travis-sham-mockery!”

Assuming we can even call the verbal sparring between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the debates a true “debate,” then I think “travis-sham-mockery” is the perfect metaphor for what we watched.

It’s a travesty

It’s a travesty when presidential debates are more entertaining than educational. While many in the media pointed the finger at Donald Trump for the obnoxious tone set during the debates, I contend the format of the debates themselves also is responsible for the spectacle the world just witnessed.

Part of the problem rests with the moderators. Having them fire questions at the candidates makes it more of a media interview than an actual presidential debate. When compared with collegiate policy debate rounds, there are no moderators asking questions, but only a policy resolution which one side must affirm and the other negate. Questions can only be asked during cross-examination which the debaters conduct themselves.

Although credit needs to be given to the moderators for attempting the impossible task of keeping Trump in line, it also must be noted they overstepped their boundaries at times. From a debate perspective, moderators should never argue with a candidate regarding an answer. They are neither judge nor arbitrator of the debate. Instead, their primary role is to ensure the debate runs smoothly.

Even if moderators disagree with the answer given or think the response does not answer the question posed, they still need to remain neutral at all times. Anything less can jeopardize the impartiality of the debate. It is up to the other candidate to point out the flaws in their opponent’s answer or when their opponent attempts to skirt a question – not the role of moderators.

It’s a sham

Another problem with the debates are the short time-limits imposed on each speech. Two-minute speeches do not allow for any significant analysis of policy, but rather encourage “headline” debating, emotional appeals and claims without warrants. Candidates are often asked to explain complex and controversial issues in a short amount of time, and the end result is almost always a dumbing down of their answer.

Of course Trump might be the exception. Trump’s entire campaign was run on unwarranted claims. During the debates, he actually benefitted from the short time-limits of each question. It allowed him to once again make grand claims without evidence, relentlessly attack Clinton and talk in circles instead of answering the questions poised to him.

Longer speeches help separate wheat from the chaff. Give Clinton 10 minutes to explain her tax plan in its entirety and you would get a fairly detailed and thorough explanation of its inner-workings, its feasibility and its potential advantages. Give Trump the same 10 minutes and you have a potential disaster waiting to happen.

To put this in perspective, each of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates lasted three hours. Each speaker also had significantly more time to develop his position with the first speaker getting a one-hour opening address and the second speaker getting one hour and a half to reply.

Can you imagine Donald Trump with an hour long opening address? Neither could I. The better question would be: How many times could Trump hang himself in an hour-long address?

It’s a mockery

Calling the presidential “debates” debates is a mockery of forensics. It belittles every high school and collegiate debate coach, many of whom have spent their lives advancing the craft. It tells the world the United States is more interested in live theatre than in meaningful dialogue. This point is driven home by Trump when he holds a press conference minutes before the second debate to introduce four women – three alleged victims of former President Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions and the fourth, a victim in a rape case that Hillary defended years previously.

These are not the actions of either a debater or a president to be. These are the actions of a desperate candidate willing to do whatever is necessary to win, even if it means turning the presidential debates into reality-television to do so. Should anyone really be surprised with these Apprentice-like tactics? Trump simply wagged the dog.

And therein, lies the problem. If a candidate can make a mockery out of the debates, then isn’t it time to change the format of the debates? Intelligence Square U.S., an organization that holds public debates, has petitioned to change the current format to the more traditional Oxford format – Two sides, one topic, with minimal moderation. In doing so, they say it would lead to overall better debates that would help to clarify the similarities and differences between candidates.

“This format would quickly reveal how well the candidates think on their feet, how deeply they know their subject, how well they understand the trade-offs, and how persuasive they are without the teleprompters” write Robert Rosenkranz and John Donvan.

After watching the travis-sham-mockery known as the 2016 presidential debates, it is clear that the world needs to start debating the quality and future direction of presidential debates. Let’s hope these public debates go better than did the actual presidential debates.

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Killing the messenger

When a general overseeing a battle in ancient Persia was approached by a scout reporting that the conflict was going badly, the commander, in a fit of rage, killed the person who had delivered the bad news.

Or at least that’s the story that’s been passed down for centuries and in recent decades has resurfaced as “to kill the messenger” morality tale. Such scenarios especially seem to take place in American politics every four years where at some point at least one presidential candidate blames the news media – the messenger – for his or her poor performance and low polling number in the run-up to the November election.

And Republican candidate Donald Trump’s omnipresent diatribes against journalists are no exception. What does appear unusual this time around, however, is both the vehemence and frequency of his “the media are biased” utterances. He says this on a near daily basis, he snarls when he says “media” during debates, his surrogates repeat the charge and his minions mimic these accusations.

Thus the question arises: How should journalists respond when a political candidate is, shall we say, not your average political candidate?

There is no question Trump is not your ordinary political personality. A billionaire, a television personality, a real-estate tycoon, a person who shoots from the lip at every opportunity. So what’s a journalist going to do? How does a political reporter fairly cover such a character?

There have been at least three elections in recent history where journalists were faced with similar challenges. While none of these modern-day scenarios featured candidates identical to Trump, they all provide examples of how political reporters and the media covered such unusual candidates.

David Duke

In 1991, New Orleans Times-Picayune editor, Jim Amoss, had a dilemma. Running for the Louisiana governor’s race was former Gov. Edwin Edwards, an individual considered by many to have been at the very least borderline corrupt and somewhat sleazy. Running against Edwards was former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.   Amoss said at that time it was “a far trickier ethical morass covering a former Klan leader whose newfound rhetoric disguised his longstanding beliefs, whose following among one’s readers is sincere and massive, whose election would mean social and economic disaster, but whose opponent is a scoundrel.”

Not only did the Times-Picayune run a number of editorials denouncing Duke, but news coverage was directed by African-American city editor, Keith Woods, who unleashed some 40 people to put together massive reporting on the election and on Duke.

Such reporting provided case-study fodder for journalism ethics books, including Jay Black, Bob Steele and Ralph Barney’s Doing Ethic in Journalism, where Woods was quoted as saying he “did not have people trying to uncover new truths about Edwards…. And for a lot of people there was no distinction between the editorials and news coverage…. It wasn’t a blurring of lines. It was an erasing of the lines.”

While the New Orleans newspaper did not print mindless allegations, reported both candidates’ comments and did not avoid negative reporting on both candidates, the paper’s agenda was clear – to uncover everything it could about a racist candidate whose election could be harmful to the state. And since readers already knew much about Edwards, who had been in the news for years, the newspaper had an obligation to make up lost ground and tell voters about a candidate about whom they knew little.

As Amoss subsequently said, the Duke story was “all-consuming” and “to a certain extent, the ethical dilemmas were solved by the momentum of the story itself. Duke was the story for the media, the readers, and the voters. You either voted for Duke or you didn’t vote for Duke. To a great degree, that exonerates news organizations. They are tracking what the story has become. The focus already was on Duke. It was incumbent upon the newspaper to explore that phenomenon.”

And Black, Steele and Barney ask: Was the paper fair in its journalist mission and its reporting? How do you define “fairness” in a story like this?”

Jesse Ventura

Former professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura was running in 1998 for governor in Minnesota against two well-known politicians, Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III and St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. Humphrey’s running mate, Roger Moe, chastised the media, saying, “I really think you folks (broadcast and print journalists) let him (Ventura) off the hook. You let him get free ride, the press did, and nobody knows anything about him. He wasn’t pinned down on any of his issues – not like Norm Coleman and Skip Humphrey were. So I think he’s been treated with kid gloves….”

As the Silha Center Bulletin reported in 1999, “Before Mr. Ventura surged in the polls a few weeks before the election, the broadcast and print media viewed him as it would an amusing sideshow at the State Fair. Once he reached 20 percent in the polls, however, and he was seen as a ‘viable’ candidate, he received similar coverage to that given to the two major party candidates, even though he was still depicted in some stories to be little more than a political freak with no real chance of winning the election. By covering him in the run-up to the election as they did Mr. Humphrey and Mr. Coleman, the Twin Cities media gave Mr. Ventura’s candidacy a huge boost.” Thus, by not covering Ventura more extensively the Minnesota media were unfair to the other two candidates.

Without serious media coverage, residents of this progressive state that had spawned Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale seemed to go politically brain-dead and voted for a man whose major claim was faking athleticism in the wrestling ring and wearing a pink boa.

After Ventura’s election, journalists through that Midwestern state began covering him more extensively, though such after-win coverage seemed a bit like learning to drive after one has crashed.

Arnold Schwarzenegger   

In 2003 California journalists faced Minnesota déjà vu with body builder and Hollywood action figure Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his recall challenge to Gov. Gray Davis, whose views and policies were well known, journalists could have concentrated most of their ink and air time as he was a political unknown.

Instead of covering the Hollywood star like a blanket, California voters were shortchanged, and Minnesota’s one-act Ventura production gained a second act, with Schwarzenegger getting top billing by media default.

Voters in the Golden State “knew” Schwarzenegger, having for years gone to bed with his flickering image on their television sets. And journalists did little to inform the electorate of plans for the state or policies he hoped to enact – assuming he had any.

According to a Minnesota Star-Tribune opinion piece, “His only political experience (was) marrying into the Kennedy clan, and Democratic osmosis doe not make sense for a Republican film star and former bodybuilder.”

Donald Trump

This is not to equate Trump’s verbal histrionics with Duke’s racist past, even though this year Louisiana’s former KKK leader has endorsed the New York billionaire for president. Rather, based on the media’s past experience with Duke and celebrities Ventura and Schwarzenegger, it seems a shame the media this time around didn’t examine the non-traditional presidential hopeful more carefully in the run-up to Nov. 8.

But given the outcome of the Ventura and Schwarzenegger contests, that should come as little surprise. Both “entertaining” candidates won their respective races where they seldom if ever were seriously questioned by a star-struck media that all but rolled over and played dead. So have the media been biased this year against Trump, as Trump and his followers have charged? Hardly. Rather, he usually has been treated with kid gloves, much as was the cases in Minnesota and California.

Strenuous, serious, unrelenting coverage of Trump was particularly needed this year as so much had been reported about Hillary Clinton for some 30 years. The electorate knew of her policies, enacted legislation, foreign policy initiatives, plans for the economy – the works. Voters had no such book on Trump.

Political journalists thus should have spent most of their time since his nomination this year:

  • Doggedly questioning him on his views on education, taxes, federal budget, health care, diversity, energy, environment and related issues, and not accepting simplistic answers.
  • Creating investigative teams of top reporters to discover more of his past, to interview his current and former associates and to put together truly comprehensive profiles of the candidate.
  • Barraging him with tough questions.
  • Writing extensively about him on tweets, blogs, editorial and op-ed pages.
  • Treating him as a candidate, not as a billionaire curiosity.

That means by Election Day, voters should have known one presidential candidate as well as they do the other. That means this year the media should have spent much more time than they did covering Trump in a substantive manner, to reduce voters’ knowledge gap between him and the well-known, extensively covered Clinton. That means treating voters fairly.