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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

201610gjr_chinawatches01ac

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.

‘Redskin’ leaves impression on student editor and her school

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Gillian McGoldrick had never thought twice about her school’s sports mascot when she began her junior year in 2013 as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, the Playwickian. And she had never heard of Donna Boyle. Gillian didn’t know the 30-year resident whose father was Cherokee-Choctaw and whose son was starting Neshaminy High School. Or that Boyle had been trying for more than a year to get the school to change its sports mascot, arguing that the image and name Redskins were racial slurs, insensitive and discriminatory.

The Playwickian reporter covering a school-board meeting early that fall heard Boyle, tired of sparring with school officials, had filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The reporter asked Gillian, “Isn’t this like using the word Nigger?”

The staff did research, had lengthy discussions (none about changing the mascot), then voted 14-7 to just stop using the word in the paper. Why? As Gillian said recently, “When President Obama said what he did about the Washington Redskins, we thought why not do what other professional journalists are doing? Why not be ethical?”

“We didn’t really think the students would notice or care after a few issues,” Gillian said. “We thought it’s the right thing to do, the human thing.” An editorial in the first issue told readers, “The change is not…for the sake of political correctness itself, but for the sake of being respectful and fair to an entire race.”

“We knew students would be mad at first,” Gillian stated. “And they were. We were clearly in the minority.” But it was interesting, she added, that without consciously avoiding the word, nobody used it in their stories – that year or the next.

Gillian was editor-in-chief for two years at Neshaminy and this fall is a sophomore journalism major at Temple University. But the issue her newspaper staff raised continues to plague the suburban Philadelphia high school. As it had several years earlier, heavy-handed administrative pressure last spring brought the Redskins debate to the national stage.

Gillian knew three years ago that the newspaper’s decision would be unpopular. But she wasn’t prepared for the response of administrators and the school board. Soon after the Playwickian’s word ban was announced, Principal Robert McGee held a two-hour meeting with Gillian and adviser Tara Huber, gave them a 54-page packet about the mascot, and told students they could not remove the word Redskins from any article or ad submitted to the newspaper.

“I didn’t know anything about the law or about the Pennsylvania Code,” Gillian said. But the more she learned, the more she wondered why school officials responded the way they did. [See “Students Pay Price For Taking Ethical Stance,” a May 2014 article in Gateway Journalism Review.]

If she and her staff were disappointed that year by the lack of support from Neshaminy students, administrators and the community, they were heartened by the response to local, state and national coverage of this issue. Gillian alone received National Scholastic Press Association recognition, the Student Press Law Center’s Courage in Journalism Award, the Ethics in Journalism Award from University of Oregon, the 2015 Native American Journalists Free Press Award and the 2014 Pennsylvania ACLU’s Civil Liberties Award.

By the end of the school year, administrators were following a lengthy new publications policy that the staff said, “threatens student journalists.”  When the principal denied the staff’s request to publish, in the last issue of the year, a letter with the edited word “R——-,” editors left blank space instead of printing the letter they were told must include the word Redskin. The principal responded to this defiant act with punishment when the 2014-2015 year began, further cutting the newspaper’s annual allocation, suspending its adviser without pay for two days and removing Gillian as editor-in-chief for one month.

As opposition persisted, Gillian said, the biggest toll personally was “the time it took me away from reporting, writing and editing.” She was always under attack. “Parents and students bullied me so much that I stopped reading my Facebook page,” she recalls. “And now it’s 2016 and I’m still getting comments about this controversy.”

The school board approved another new publications policy, agreeing not to discipline a student or editor for deleting the word “Redskin” from an article or advertisement. But the principal now has 10 days to review copy prior to publication and students.

“Without a doubt, knowing that all copy goes to the principal for review inhibits students,” Gillian said, “and affects the timeliness of the newspaper content.”  Some touchy topics were addressed in 2015-16 — a story on Satanism and one on abortion/pro-choice. The administration reviewed the stories and made some edits before they were published.

The student staff each year for the past three has continued to ban the word Redskin from the Playwickian, so still faces challenges. Timothy Cho, 2015-16 editor-in-chief, said that because the newspaper’s yearly budget was cut again, the staff had to raise additional money and sell more ads. Believing their allocation to be disproportionately lower than those of other extracurricular activities, editors asked to see records of what other groups received. This request was denied.

When a majority of editors voted this spring to use “R——“ in a story about the school’s annual Mr. Redskin pageant, one of the editors appealed to the administration. The principal ordered editors to use “Redskin” when the story was posted online in May, the one month when there was no printed issue. The staff refused, citing the editorial control given them in the most recent school policy — plus the Pennsylvania School Code and the First Amendment. Administrators responded by immediately locking down the website and revoking the editors’ administrative privileges to the newspaper’s site. School officials then uploaded the article to the website — with the word “Redskin.”

As this saga drags on, there are several bittersweet footnotes:

  • Tara Huber, the journalism teacher throughout the controversy, told her principal that because of this latest censorship she was resigning as Playwickian adviser.
  • Legal counsel representing Timothy Cho sent a detailed letter in June to Neshaminy’s school officials, requesting they restore the paper’s website and control of it to the student editor.
  • Donna Boyle continues her battle to have the mascot replaced. Seventeen months after filing her complaint, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission said that Neshaminy’s use of Redskins is “racially derogatory” and creates a “hostile educational environment.” That January 2015 ruling told school officials to “cease and desist unlawfully discriminating against its students because of their race” within a “reasonable amount of time.” Since Boyle wants the mascot replaced and school officials have suggested anything but removal, a stalemate exists.       The 11-member PHRC planned a public hearing for this summer. No action has been reported.

While it’s unclear whether or not Neshaminy High School’s athletes will remain the Redskins, there is no doubt its student journalists struck a chord in the community and raised its consciousness. “Parents have discouraged some students from joining the staff,” Gillian noted, “but those who stayed or joined the staff are students who feel more strongly about continuing the ban and taking the moral position of the newspaper.”

Gillian remains confident it was worth the struggle. “It’s ignorant and blind not to acknowledge that this mascot affects the self-image of Native Americans,” she said. “It’s just not right if we fail to acknowledge what their feelings are. We can’t define the word for them, but it clearly dehumanizes them. I hope the staff keep fighting for this.”

Concerns about Pokémon Go technology

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After the release of augmented reality game Pokémon Go in July, the game became a sensational cultural phenomenon influencing diverse social sectors, including the stock market, smartphone accessories and even the real-estate market.

Developed by Niantic for Android, iOS and Apple Watch devices, Pokémon Go is a location-based smartphone game that users play with virtual creatures, called Pokémon originally from a Japanese animation series. Utilizing the smartphone’s GPS capability, the game locates Pokémons on players’ current geographical location, in which the players capture, train, and battle Pokémons. By combining a friendly and familiar entertainment content, Pokémon Go helps people easily understand the concept of augmented reality.

One day after its release in selected 20 countries, the game recorded the highest download on the app markets of both Android and iOS. Within the first week from its release, the number of Pokémon Go users outnumbered the number of daily Twitter users and outplaced other mobile games as the fastest game ever to No. 1 on the mobile revenue chart. As of July 13 it topped 15 million downloads on Google Play and Apple’s App Store, according to a USA Today report. Consequently, numerous game strategy guides, tricks and secrets have been introduced for all users at different levels, across various media and the world: “How to get unlimited Poke Coins Free”, “How to track rare Pokemons on your map” or “XP Trick for Lucky Eggs.” For instance, one blogger posted his trick, such as suspending the smartphone on a toy truck and letting the truck run to move swiftly to catch more Pokémons and items.

With the high popularity of the game, the technology industry has launched a variety of subsequent products and promoted its existing products associating to the specifications of Pokémon Go. Since Pokémon Go is a mobile game, products featuring saving the battery of devices are attracting public attention. Exemplified by Apple Watch, wearable devices operate battery-efficiently, but also provide users more opportunities to enjoy an immersive and cinematic virtual reality experience.

But there are always side effects. The media have reported recent accidents happening to players while playing the game. One Pokémon Go player crashed his car into a tree in Alabama, an Arizona couple left their two-year-old baby at home unattended to play Pokémon, and one man was rescued after he fell off ocean bluff while hunting Pokémon in California.

And the media are reporting other dangers. The number of police reports have been increasing, which robberies become rampant using Pokémon Go. Robbers hide nearby “PokéStop” – where players gather game items – and conduct armed robberies targeting the players. Not only physical attacks but also players’ device security became vulnerable. In the countries where the game has not been released, several malware apps were spread masquerading as the beta version of Pokémon Go app or other game-related content. When cyber crimes are brought to the table with Pokémon go, not only the individual user but also any connected network to the user can be infected since the game operates based on the Internet connection and utilizes the users’ account of Social Network Sites.

In addition, as the game utilizes the players’ GPS information, their privacy is an issue. Pokémon Go can access users’ current location, travel information, camera and other content in the device or cloud storage. And since players are likely to use their personal accounts and work accounts interchangeably when logging in on mobile apps, data from both accounts can be transacted, monitored and used while playing the game. Possible risks from data leakage are omnipresent.

Beginning with Pokémon Go, augmented reality apps and products will mushroom as the next big game in the technology industry. At the same time that the new technology gives more chances of new pleasure, enhanced productivity and a new way of life, it also can appear to be at least a bit of a threat to the society. For now, at the early stage of the big technology wave of the future, it is important for the media to fully acknowledge and report on such issues.

“Dewey Defeats Truman” – again

In the just-published, most recent print Gateway Journalism Review, my editor’s column opined it now was time, in the wake of the Cleveland Indians winning baseball’s 2016 World Series, for the media to stop using the name Indians and the team’s offensive Chief Wahoo logo.

In the column I said the Cleveland Indians “might best celebrate by turning over a new leaf and shedding their name and logo.” I urged the Indians’ owners to consider instead the name Cleveland Spiders, a previous 19th century name of the team.

But if the northern Ohio baseball franchise owners still decided to keep the current name and racist logo, I urged sports pages and sports reporters to no longer use the name and logo, and that the media also eliminate the professional sports team nicknames Chiefs, Braves and Redskins.

The only problem was that the low-budget Indians did not win this year’s championship, losing in the 10th inning of game seven, just as it had done to another deep-pockets team 19 years earlier. And in my eagerness to make GJR’s deadline with the strongest possible column as the magazine went to the printers in the midst of the World Series, I crossed my fingers and prematurely crowned my home-town team the winner. Clearly, I should have heeded the admonition of former New York Yankee’s catcher Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

I thus apologize to all my Chicago Cubs friends, colleagues and students for such unprofessional, inaccurate, published wishful thinking.

My only conceivable consolation is knowing that such an infamous error may have last occurred in 1948 when the Chicago Daily Tribune (now the Chicago Tribune) boldly headlined the lead story in its first (one-star) edition, “Dewey Defeats Truman.” And 1948 was the same year in which the Cleveland Indians truly won their last World Series title. Sigh…

 

RIP the Cleveland Indians and Chief Wahoo

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A new age is dawning, clearly. The Cleveland Indians have won their third Major League Baseball World Series. First time was 1920; second time 1948. (World Series losses in 1954, 1995 and 1997 now seem but bad memories.)

Time to celebrate.

And the Cleveland Indians might best celebrate by turning over a new leaf and shedding their name and logo. No team starting up in 2016 would call itself the Indians – or the Chinese or the Puerto Ricans or the Koreans or the Mexicans or the Arabs. Or Chinamen or Pakis or Degos?   Or, well, you get the picture.

Why not bring back the Cleveland Spiders – the 1889-1899 name of the Cleveland baseball team — that is not harmful to modern-day Native Americans?

The Cleveland Spiders baseball team could have a spider logo. Think of the merchandizing gold mine, bringing out in time for the April start of the 2017 season Spider caps and Spider jerseys and spider T-shirts.

No team should any more keep the Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo still gracing some of the team’s caps and jerseys. A logo picturing a toothy, red-skinned Indian with single-feathered headgear. Time to retire that stereotypical, offensive logo.

But what if Indians management decides to keep the name and logo? What should the media to do?

In past years the Portland Oregonian and Minneapolis Star-Tribune axed for a while the Indians nickname from their sports pages, along with Chiefs, Braves and Redskins. Some fans protested dropping these nicknames, but most did not. And none of these teams folded. All still thrive.

Isn’t it time for the sports media to unite and say such names – and some related logos – simply are inappropriate in the 21st century? The Society for Professional Journalists advises in its ethics code that journalists balance seeking and reporting the truth with minimizing harm.   Until or unless the Cleveland baseball franchise axes the nickname Indians, sports media could simply – and accurately – call it the Cleveland Baseball Team. Accurate, truthful and harm minimized.

Many American Indians object to a modern-day team calling itself the Indians. Shouldn’t that justify the media no longer using such a nickname? After all, in a year where a low-budget professional baseball team from Cleveland defies the odds and improbably wins it all, any thing is – and should be – possible. Even retiring the Indians name.