Category Archives: Blogs

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.”

 

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.

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?

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.

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.

‘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.”

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.

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.