Author Archives: Compiled for GJR

First Amendment expert calls Post-Dispatch editorial on protests ‘irresponsible’ and imprecise

Publisher’s note:  Gregory Magarian, one of the nation’s leading First Amendment experts and a professor at Washington University Law School, criticized the Sunday Post-Dispatch editorial for irresponsibly lumping together violent and non-violent protests.  He sent this letter to the Post-Dispatch Editorial Editor Tod Robberson after the editorial criticized actions of protesters following the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley. Magarian says Robberson replied “We stand by the editorial as written.” Here is a link to the editorial and the text of Magarian’s letter. http://www.stltoday.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-making-sense-of-senseless-protest-violence/article_4933d67c-9971-53c2-a8d6-ae5bde3dd9bb.html

Mr. Robberson,

I teach constitutional law at the Washington University School of Law. I specialize in First Amendment law. Two of the topics that most concern me are the freedom of the press and rights of public protest. (Being a law professor I talk too much, so I apologize in advance for the length of this message.)

With the utmost respect, I think your editorial today (Sunday) on the protests and violence this weekend (“Making sense of senseless protest violence”) was wildly irresponsible. I agree with some parts of the editorial and disagree with others, but my sharp concern goes to one particular problem: treating nonviolent protesters and violent actors as an undifferentiated mass. That approach demonizes nonviolent protesters and contributes to a growing culture in our country of hostility to free speech. A newspaper, of all entities, should know better.

Let me get two important caveats out of the way:

First, I agree without reservation that the violence and vandalism that happened this weekend are entirely wrong. My purpose here is to defend the actions of nonviolent protesters, not to condone or excuse violence in any way. (I live a block from the mayor’s house, so I’m acutely hostile toward the people who committed violence in my own neighborhood.)

Second, I don’t mean to suggest that the bad practice I’m criticizing is unusual to the P-D. In fact, the problem is endemic to media coverage of public protest. I’m writing to you because, like most people, I have special concern for my city and its institutions.

The reality of public protests, which I’m sure you know at least as well as I do, is that a lot of different people and factions participate in a variety of different actions. Most mass protests are carefully organized, with articulated goals. At the other extreme, usually at night, different elements with their own agendas get involved. In particular, two groups with violent intent come out at night: anarchist-black bloc-antifa types, whose m.o. is to hijack protests with their own more violent methods, and knuckleheads (for want of a better term) who have no political agenda but just want to break things.

The nonviolent protesters bear no responsibility — none — for the actions of violent actors. I suspect that the majority of violent actors don’t even participate in nonviolent protests, though I can’t prove that suspicion. In any event, to blame violence on the nonviolent protesters is a very dangerous kind of guilt by association. Ah, you might respond, but the nonviolent protesters create the context in which the violent actors can do bad things. In a way that’s true, but it proves far too much. By that logic, any public protest is wrong.

Imagine if the P-D broke a major corruption story about a public official. Your reporters sourced the story well and published only those allegations and claims for which they could find a solid basis. The story creates a major buzz in the city. Other, less responsible media outlets, exploiting the public anger at the official that the P-D’s reporting has triggered, publish egregious charges against the official that those other outlets know are false. The official, in response, sues the P-D for libel. That lawsuit, of course, would be indefensible.

Your editorial today is a direct parallel.

You acknowledge that Friday’s daytime protests were “mostly peaceful.” Even in talking about those protests, though, you make no effort to distinguish the protesters who remained peaceful from the individuals who committed violent acts. You say “bricks and water bottles were hurled.” That passive voice is a cop-out. It implies that the “mostly peaceful” protest degenerated into the hurling of bricks and bottles. But we know that’s not what happened. “The protest” wasn’t a single, concerted phenomenon. The clergy and community organizers who engineered the major protest didn’t decide, at some point, to start throwing bricks. Most people on that street started peaceful and stayed peaceful. A much smaller number of people threw bricks bottles. Those are two very different groups of actors. They aren’t all simply “the protesters” engaged in “the protests.”

The problem gets worse as the editorial goes on. Here’s the passage that really bothers me:  “Some protesters have said they plan to attack symbols of commerce and inflict discomfort on the comfortable. Even if they rationalize property destruction as legitimate protest, why attack the mayor’s house?”

I tried to follow the first hyperlink in that passage, to see exactly what you were referencing, but the link is dead, so I have to work from my knowledge and assumptions. Protest organizers have indeed said they intend to “attack symbols of commerce and inflict discomfort,” if by “attack” you mean “disrupt.” That’s a core strategy of these protests and of the Black Lives Matter movement more broadly. You then accuse these disruption organizers of “rationaliz[ing] property destruction as legitimate protest.”

I’m having a hard time finding words to describe how much that bothers me. I don’t know of any disruption organizers who have rationalized violence. The organizers explicitly portray the disruption strategy as nonviolent — aggressive, for sure, but getting in someone’s way isn’t property destruction. However, even if some disruption organizer has rationalized violence, your “they” implies that all disruption organizers have done so. Then the passage’s second “attack” clearly refers to the vandalism of the mayor’s house. At that point, you’re portraying the architects of the disruption strategy and the vandals who physically attacked the mayor’s home as the same people.

Unless you have evidence of those linkages (which in that event you should publish), they fail every standard I’m aware of for responsible journalism.

Why does this matter? A few days ago, a KMOV reporter interviewed me about the recent incident in Kirkwood when a motorist plowed into some protesters ahead of the Stockley verdict. She wanted me to talk about the permissible conduct of drivers who encounter protests that block streets. The core of what I said was: If you’re a driver, you don’t get to run anybody down, even if they’re unlawfully blocking your way. The online version of the KMOV story got a lot of heated reactions from our fellow citizens who insisted that they of course have every right to run down protesters who block the road, and by God they’ll run those bastards down if they want to.

The right and the ability to protest publicly are crucial to a functioning democratic society. Unfortunately, as that little anecdote indicates, a lot of people have an irrational hatred for protesters. (Note also the spate of recent state legislative proposals to restrict public protest in various ways.) By conflating nonviolent protesters and violent actors, the P-D (and other media outlets) feeds that irrational hatred.

I respectfully urge you and the P-D’s news and editorial departments to do better. Describe protests more accurately and precisely. Emphasize the presence in and around protests of different actors with different agendas. Identify, to the extent possible, which people and groups say and do which things in the course of protests. Emphasize not just that a day’s aggregate activities were “mostly peaceful” but that most protesters that day were entirely peaceful. Report and describe nonviolent actions with as much detail as you report violent actions. Basically, do what you usually do so well — help the public understand what’s actually going on.

Thank you for hearing me out.
Greg Magarian

St. Louis Media History Foundation Hall of Fame event is Saturday

ST. LOUIS, March 15, 2017 — The St. Louis Media History Foundation, a nonprofit organization that researches and compiles artifacts and memorabilia related to the St. Louis area’s rich media history, will hold its 2017 Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremonies on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the St. Louis City Center Hotel downtown, 400 South 14th Street, near Scottrade Center.

The dinner and ceremonies will begin at 5:30 p.m. There will be a cash bar and free indoor and outdoor hotel parking for attendees.

Tickets for the dinner entrees — Grilled Salmon with a Citrus Orange Gastrique, Sautéed Chicken Picatta in a White Wine Caper Sauce, or a vegetarian Eggplant Stack — will be $55 for individuals or $550 for a table of 10.

Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite, or at the door. Discounted hotel rooms for guests also are available through the St. Louis City Center Hotel. Rooms must be reserved by March 31.

  • John Beck – Senior Vice President of Emmis Communications, who oversees all four Emmis radio stations in St. Louis: KSHE, KIHT, KPNT, and KFTK. He’s been general manager of KSHE since 1984.
  • Jim Brady – Pioneering news director at KTVI-TV. He later held the same position at KMOX Radio before becoming executive secretary of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners.
  • Dennis Clancy, Art Dwyer, Ron Edwards, John McHenry, and Tom “Pappa” Ray – Jazz/blues producers for listener-supported KDHX when the station began broadcasting in 1987.
  • Peggy Cohill – Executive producer of “The Charlie Brennan Show” on KMOX Radio, and a program producer at that station for more than 40 years.
  • Jack Dorsey — @jack is a computer programmer and internet entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, and founder and CEO of Square, a mobile payments company.
  • Bob Dotson – Emmy-winning correspondent for NBC News, where he spent 40 years, including 25 with “The Today Show.” He’s a six-time recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for news writing.
  • Mary Edwards – Senior producer of KWMU-FM/St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air” call-in program and its live broadcasts of the St. Louis Symphony. She has been with the station since 1974, and has been responsible for helping to shape KWMU’s innovative programming.
  • David Erich – Public relations executive for several St. Louis-area companies, including Pepsi and United Van Lines. He was the first ad executive for Six Flags when it opened in 1971.
  • Dan Forrestal – Longtime public relations executive with Monsanto who helped guide the company’s communications strategy as it maneuvered from a chemical company into one of the world’s leading agricultural companies. He also mentored many communications practitioners throughout his career.
  • Don Francois – Pioneering TV engineer who helped launch KACY-TV, one of the first UHF stations in St. Louis. He later helped other local stations transition from black-and-white to color broadcasts.
  • Margaret Wolf Freivogel – Award-winning St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and editor. She also was founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a non-profit digital news startup that merged with KWMU-FM/St. Louis Public Radio in 2013.
  • Roy Harris – A Post-Dispatch reporter from 1926 to 1967, Harris won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for investigating election fraud in Illinois. He also helped the newspaper win three other Pulitzer Prizes in 1937, 1941, and 1948.
  • Rick Hummel – Longtime St. Louis Cardinals beat writer for the Post-Dispatch, Hummel – nicknamed “The Commish” — is a former president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, a J.G Taylor Spink Award recipient in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
  • Sid Savan – A major figure in St. Louis advertising, Savan also was a longtime instructor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His Savan Advertising also helped many ad execs get their start.
  • Clarissa Start – Gardening columnist for the Post-Dispatch from 1938 to 1972. Her column was serialized in Ladies Home Journal. After retirement, she wrote her column for another 30 years.
  • Jack Thorwegen – Co-founder in 1985 of the Zipatoni marketing firm, known for its creative work. His Proof Agency, founded in 2014, helps craft brewers and distillers compete against larger rivals.

The St. Louis Media Hall of Fame has recognized St. Louisans who have made a major contribution, in their work here or elsewhere, to their respective media in four different fields: Radio, Print, Television, and Advertising/Public Relations.

The Foundation also maintains an exhibit at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, 3524 Russell Avenue, in South St. Louis. Admission is free. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

The Foundation accepts tax deductible contributions to develop and expand its St. Louis media history collection, its website, local archives and repositories, oral histories, and the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. For more information, visit the foundation’s Facebook page or www.stlmediahistory.com.

‘Freedom Fighter” Mike Wolff says good reporting inspires social change

Michael A. Wolff, former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and dean of Saint Louis University law school, gave these remarks upon receipt of the GJR’s Freedom Fighter award at last month’s First Amendment Celebration.

by Michael A. Wolff

I am deeply honored by this award. I am impressed by the exaggeration of its title – “freedom fighter” seems an overstatement that my father would have enjoyed and my mother would have believed.

I consider myself a recovering reporter. Here is something I never have disclosed: At one point in my life, nearly five years after graduating from law school and leaving The Minneapolis Star I sent a note to my old managing editor asking if the paper might have an opening for me as a reporter. He did not write back. How soon they forget.

I truly am humbled by receiving this award from an organization whose members have so single-mindedly devoted their lives to telling the truth to the people in our community and nation. I will risk omitting some truly great journalists who are here and honor me by their presence, so I beg your indulgence in advance to single out my friend and occasional co-conspirator Bill Freivogel, Margie Freivogel, Charles Klotzer, whose St. Louis Journalism Review I started reading more than 40 years ago and whose legacy lives on in the Gateway Journalism Review and the able writers and editors who populate it and continue to provide the criticism necessary to keep our media performing their essential role in our society.

Let’s face it – we lawyers and journalism have something in common – if it weren’t for human frailty, greed, avarice, and at times simple incompetence, we would all be out of business.

Great reporting inspires our passion for social change. My friend and SLU colleague Roger Goldman read your reporting in the Post Dispatch 40 years ago about trigger-happy Maplewood officers whose deadly shots did not disqualify one of them for future employment in another municipality. Roger has spent 40 years of his terrific career seeking to hold police accountable through certification and licensing all over the country.

Great reporting builds a sense of community, sets the stage and furthers the progress made in all the areas you have mentioned … education, racial justice, health care, criminal justice. It builds a community of those who, like you who are here, have a shared view of reality and the motivation to do something.

Great reporting can shame our leaders, although shame from time to time seems to go out of fashion.

Put aside shame, for now. These days it seems truth has gone out of fashion, and that feels even more ominous.

But it is so essential that we know basic facts, that we tell basic truths widely to get some agreement on a sensible common course. We cannot be a well functioning democratic republic without shared facts. Correct information is essential to drive out misinformation. I cannot think of a time in my lifetime when great reporting and great editing were more needed.

I thank you for being essential truth sayers. I also am grateful for the comics among us. Satire is alive and well. Unfortunately it sometimes is hard to tell what’s real news and what’s Saturday Night Live. It reminds me of the time decades ago when the satirist Tom Lehrer (younger people, you can Google him) said that satire died the day they gave Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a lawyer and judge, I sometimes have had the experience you occasionally have when someone questions your motives, your fairness, your judgment. That’s when humor comes in handy. I may be an idiot but I know this because Garrison Keillor told us: You can go your whole life and not need math or physics for a minute, but the ability to tell a joke is always handy.

I have tried to be available, preferably without attribution, to help reporters understand the current events that they are writing about – I remember the feeling of having to write about several different subjects in a single week. I always have had respect for that daunting challenge that reporters and editors have put their talents to. When I was a reporter I sometimes felt like the wreck on the side of the road, hoping that someone would stop and help. I often felt that way as a lawyer.

Also on the side of the road are those who are taking up some cause of social justice in these challenging times. We should stop and help them if we can.

It is easy for us to ignore those who are trying to advance social justice. There are just so many problems. There are many ways that various contending factions define social justice. It is easy to be overwhelmed, and the temptation to do nothing is strong, to leave them on the side of the road.

I leave you with my profound thanks, not on the side of the road, … but without a quick and satisfying answer. Perhaps this will help, a thought from one of Missouri’s most cherished treasures, Mark Twain: “Always do right,” Twain said. “This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

‘Truth did not die,’ Garrett tells GJR audience

compiled for GJR

What is new … right now … is after years of Americans wondering if journalism matters … we have a renewed fascination and curiosity about what journalism is, what it does and what are the ethical and professional obligations upon which it stands.

The audience … hasn’t been this curious, this attentive in years. What will government do? What are the checks and balances? What are the institutional levels of power? How will the elegant system of co-equal branches of government the founders bequeathed us function amid the unpredictability of a Trump presidency? The stakes feel high and real and vivid. And they are.

Time magazine asked this week if truth is dead? It asked if god was dead in 1966…. God was no deader then than he or she is now. Neither is truth. Did truth die when John Adams signed the alien and sedition act? Did it die during the 19th century when politicians large and small bought newspapers, reporters and editorials like so many trinkets? Did it die during teapot dome or when robber barons tried to turn government into a clearinghouse for greed and corruption? Did it die during the cold war, during Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-contra, Bill Clinton’s impeachment or Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction?

Truth did not die… because the search for it did not perish. Truth may have been delayed… but it was not denied. The question is not whether truth is dead … but will the search for it ever die. I say on behalf of journalism and the first amendment … never … not ever.

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.