Category Archives: journalism

Why advocacy ‘journalism’ has done nothing but hurt

Like most expressways to the netherworld, the road to populist political hell began with the best of intentions. Everyone is expected to take part in the electoral process, so everyone feels they have a right to know what’s going on. They do. Unfortunately, politics is by nature a complicated beast. There’s a lot of legal Latin involved and the nuances frequently go over the heads of even the politicians and analysts who studied politics for years, so it was no surprise that Joe Schmo in Regular Americaville missed about half of it. The demand for politics explained simply for ‘the common man’ (hate that phrase) was high.

Enter the radio talk show. At first, the political analysts used proper legal terminology and the listener was expected to keep up. If they couldn’t…too bad, go get a copy of de Tocquville you illiterate idiot. See? Perceived bias. Inferred even if not implied, it seemed political commentary favored the ‘intellectual elite.’ Clearly, a response was needed. A commentator able to interpret the goings-on in our system so that everyone felt involved in the political process. And so advocacy journalism was born, although it was not given that moniker initially. Radio hosts with politics explained simply so that everyone could understand.

Unfortunately, because breaking politics down into simple language requires interpretation, perceptions and opinions were conveyed with those interpretations. The bias became more pronounced, and it had a very one side of the aisle feel. Clearly, a response was needed.

And so with each iteration, we have gotten further and further away from reasoned political commentary. The loudest voices get the biggest share, and the way to keep it is by lionizing ‘the other side.’ All the while not even noticing that ‘the other side’ is just more of us, people we see on the street every day, in the office, at home. Us & them, ad infinitum. No longer people, just two dimensional representations of ‘everything that’s wrong with this country.’

Thus, we arrive at a place in which a coworker can passionately and unequivocally state his intense hatred of a man he has never met and has held office for (at the time of the pronouncement) less than a year.

How do we pull back? I don’t know, but pull back we must while there is still a feeling by most that we are all us, while the fringe that perceives a ‘them’ is still a minority. But it is a growing minority, and we need to take heed and correct the situation soon.

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Sarah Palin & Fox News: Who didn’t see this coming?

In a move that should shock absolutely no one, Fox News has signed Sarah Palin as an ‘occasional commentator.’ Palin joins former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former White House aide Karl Rove, giving Fox the trifecta for malicious fearmongering and blatant misinformation.

Any previous laughable attempt to call the network ‘fair and balanced’ pretty much meets its death with this deal. Asking Sarah Palin to provide creditable political commentary is like asking Slobodan Milosevic for an objective opinion on Albanian citizenship.

The Sad, Strange Case of Akmal Shaikh

In about 6 hours, a man is going to be put to death in China. His name is Akmal Shaikh. He’s not a hero. He wasn’t jailed for civil unrest or condemned for speaking out against China’s humanitarian transgressions. He is, quite simply, a British national whose mind has betrayed him and led him through a fantasy life as people are sometimes led through a fun house hall of mirrors.

Shaikh left his wife and children for a life on the streets in Poland trying to become alternately an airline magnate and a pop star. He criss crossed the country, sometimes staying in homeless shelters writing hundreds of emails to Tony Blair, Paul McCartney and George W Bush. In his madness, he met a man named ‘Carlos’ who promised to help him become famous. At some point in 2007, while convinced he was on his way to meet music executives, he boarded a plane with a suitcase carrying £250,000.00 worth of heroin from Tajikistan into China. This was seized by customs officials. Shaikh insisted he knew nothing of the drugs, that his friend, due on the next plane, would help explain everything. The friend never showed.

Though mental illness is usually taken into account for severe crimes, the Chinese government takes a very dim view toward drug trafficking. Shaikh was sentenced to death. The British Foreign Office was not even informed of his sentencing until late in 2008, and Shaikh himself was not told of his sentence until 24 hours prior to the scheduled execution.

And so the tale of this very ill man will come to an abrupt end far from his children and family in a little less than six hours. His family, ill from anxiety from the coming execution, can do nothing. Appeals have been put through at the highest level. All that can be done is to wait.

My own governor as recently as 5 years ago denied clemency to a mentally ill inmate for a crime far more heinous (IMO) than drug trafficking. Where do we draw the line? Shaikh, for his deluded fantasies, seems a harmless character. My support for the death penalty waivers when faced with such cases.

AAARRRGH!! Socialism! Fascism! Socio-Fascism, Fascio-Socialism! AAAAARGH!

I should state for the record that I do remember the 70’s fairly well, and the 80’s even more clearly than that. I remember sitting at my desk, watching the government approved short film on how to hide under our desks covering our heads in case of a nuclear attack from the Communists. Russia. Russia was evil. Russians were bloodthirsty people who lived in a corrupt country that was always cold and whose children were forced to become either ballerinas or gymnasts or soldiers (if they were boys). We had to be careful of the Commies! They would kill us all if they got the chance, just like in Red Dawn where the only thing that saved us was a teenaged Patrick Swayze and a few friends with guns up in the mountains. Yeah. Growing up in the midst of the cold war was a blast, let me tell you.

Eventually, the ‘evil empire’ fell (the other one, not ours) and all was peace and Perestroika and glurgey songs by The Scorpions. Which was great, ‘cuz I was 19 and seriously into stadium rock. Unfortunately for those in the political world…people stopped hating the Russians and started looking at our own policies. The whole guns for cash/Iran-Contra thingie. America went through a period where we tried hanging the sign ‘next Evil Empire’ on various countries…China, Iran, Iraq, …but our hearts weren’t in it.

I am so pleased to announce that is finally over. Our long period of life without a national bogeyman is over! We now have SOCIALISM! Right here in River Ci… er, downtown Dallas! The socialists are coming! The socialists are coming! And they’re bringing their icky government healthcare with ’em! Because in Canada, you’re required by law to wait 18 months to see a doctor for a broken leg, and even then the doctor just tells you to walk it off and rub some dirt on it. And in France, the government will dictate to you who your doctor is, even if you’re a man and they send you to a gynecologist, even if you just need an eye exam and they send you to a proctologist. And in Belgium, something something, baseless lies and pointless fearmongering and SOCIALISM! SOCIALISM! AND FASCISM, TOO! BOTH AT ONCE! FASCO-SOCIALISM! SOCIO-FASCISM! Where’s Obama’s birth certificate, and why does he want to steal my guns from me?

Am I the only one here who gets the feeling that these people who cry ‘fascism!’ ‘socialism!’ in tortured tones of great fear aren’t even really sure what either term means? All they know is, it’s bad and they don’t like Obama and they heard some politician or Glenn Beck  or someone on Faux News call him a socialist so that must be where we’re going because they wouldn’t lie and THEY LOVE OUR COUNTRY!

*sigh*…..

No. We are not moving toward socialism. Or fascism. Quite the opposite, in fact, moving AWAY from that one. Want to know what we really have? I’ll tell you. What we have is a Republican minority. And when the Republicans are in the minority, the only way they know how to get back in power is by scaring the living daylights out of people. It’s a proven game plan, so why bother actually helping the current administration come up with anything workable? Why try to be for something when you can be against everything? “If we were in charge this wouldn’t be happening!” Well, no, but we wouldn’t have any money at all and we’d be in the middle of a huge depression.

Stop worrying, folks. We’re not socialists. All we’ve done is taken a turn toward the middle of the road. Right now we’re so far right than anything left of Genghis Khan looks dangerously leftist. The socialists are not going to come take our wages while we sleep in our beds. All will be well. And maybe we’ll be able to climb out of the cellar of the worst neonatal and new mother death rates in the industrialized world. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Sarah Palin to Resign

I must admit, I’m stunned. Without any true reasoning behind the move, Sarah Palin announced today that she will be resigning as governor of the state of Alaska in a few weeks and hand the reins of state government over to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell on July 25th.

Speculation is sure to be rampant; all Mrs. Palin would say is that she feels she can “affect change from outside government.” I’m sure we’ll hear what that means after July 25th.

Personal thoughts? There is no way this woman would have been able to finish out her first term without another major scandal and any hopes she may have once had to become POTUS were dashed by finding out just what the job entailed. She has given us an entertaining year…with likely more to come…but any presidential hopes she may have been harboring are pure fantasy. This woman cannot lead.

Why Ignoring Iran Was A GOOD Thing.

I’ve been gone for a month or so, and while there’s all kinds of fun and interesting happenings behind that, I’ll leave it for another post. Let’s jump in.

As you are all aware, Republican congresscritters and pundits have been having a virtual orgiastic hate fest over President Obama’s refusal to take a hardline stance on Iran, thus embroiling us in yet another middle east mess. Lindsay Graham just about out-sanctimonied himself on national television insisting that the president “lead the free world, not follow it.” He was echoed by … well, by most of the echo chamber. Sen. McCain, Sen. Grassley and of course…the ‘leader’ of the Republican party: Rush Limbaugh. This whole Iran election issue has been one long orgasmic episode for Rush, who just can’t wait to get us into another war we can’t afford with exhausted troops who should have been discharged two tours ago. Even David Gregory took time out from his full time occupation of driving Meet the Press into the ground to ask his round table snooze fest why it is imperative that we make the Iranian elections all about us.

Let me very quickly remind people of a few things. November, 2004. Remember that? Big election, lots of accusations of voter fraud, administration’s refusal to recount, foreign heads of state tut-tutting and criticizing. Some guy with the last name Bush ended up keeping the presidency. Do we all remember that? Yes? Do we all remember how we reacted to the criticism that our elections may have been tampered with? Let me remind you of that as well. It essentially came down to “This is America, we do things our way, you don’t have any say in how we run our country so you can all just STFU.” Interestingly… that sentiment came from those who are now crying the loudest for us to do something about Iran. Funny old world, huh?

I’m pleased to say that despite heavy pressure to once again support a regime change to a leader that most Americans know nothing whatever about other than his name, the President resisted and kept his comments directed toward support of the rights of the Iranian voters. Why was that a good thing? I’m so glad you asked. Because despite the ridiculous hand waving and rhetorical wank fest, there was a very real reason to not get involved.

And it has just reared its ugly head. That’s right.Iran is now implying the U.S. (CIA specifically) may have had something to do with the death of Neda Agha Soltan. That because she was in a quiet area without protesters and with all kinds of cameras on her, it was a publicity stunt by the Americans to foment revolution and make it look like the Iranian government would mercilessly gun down its own citizens in the streets.

Think on this a minute, kids. What would have happened had we actually gone on record and made a formal accusation against the Iranian administration? What do you think? The citizens would have every cause to believe that we may have done that horrible thing. I tell you now: we are well out of it. If Iran is going to revolt or fail or reinvest in itself…it will do so on its own. We do not need to help.

Do I think the Ayatollah needs overthrowing and Iran needs to get itself out from under its fundamentalist religious regime? Certainly. But they do not need the United States telling them how to do it. Or they aren’t doing it, we are. Support? Certainly. Cheer them on? You bet. But if we blunder into that region once again insisting that everyone do it our way, we lose the opportunity to truly allow democracy to happen. Hard as it is to sit and watch, it’s time we learn that this is not about us. Not in any way, shape or form. Yes, I know. We like to think everything is about us. It isn’t. The Iranian citizenry is doing just fine without us. Let us not give them a reason to think that what they’re doing is wrong. Let us not give Ahmadinejad the excuse to try to unify his country behind the slogan “Death to the Americans” again. Let us allow the Iranian people the same right to fight for their own freedom that we take for granted.

Joe Scarborough’s Domestic Terrorist Glass House

 

Joe Scarborough, for those of you who do not know, is the anchor of MSNBC’s morning television show “Morning Joe.” He is a former US Congressman, having represented the 1st district of the state of Florida in the House of Representatives, a fact he makes sure to insert into his program at least once a day (usually along the lines of “well, y’know, ‘Mika [MSNBC’s answer to Alan Colmes], when I was in office back in 1998, here’s how we did it…”).

Mr. Scarborough has gone a long way to furthering the concept that not only are Barack Obama and William Ayers any more than casual acquaintances who served together on a committee, but that William Ayers is STILL a terrorist (even though he performed one act, has paid his debt to society, and now tries to right that wrong by serving his community) and that Obama’s campaign “started in his living room.” And implying that Barack Obama, by that association, must be okay with terrorists. Mr. Scarborough, of all people, should know precisely why such misrepresentations are damaging to a career, and why members of the press should be called on those misrepresentations.

Just for fun, let’s use actual events from Mr. Scarborough’s life using the same spin he placed on the relationship between Sen. Obama and William Ayers.  Unlike Joe, I’ll actually follow up the sensationalism with facts and try to show why objectivity is necessary in reporting. Ready? Here we go:

I’ve recently received information that Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” has ties to domestic terrorists and religious extremists. Apparently, Mr. Scarborough helped Michael Griffin, a man who shot and killed a doctor at his clinic in full view of many innocent patients, to obtain an expensive attorney, then shielded Mr. Griffin’s family and downplayed the issue to the press. Of course, we don’t have all the details, so we probably shouldn’t be discussing this in depth, but doesn’t it speak to Mr. Scarborough’s character that he’s willing to protect a homicidal maniac who believes God told him to shoot doctors? Mr. Griffin is unrepentant about his crime.

While we’re on the subject of Mr. Scarborough’s character; what does it say that he left office just a few short months after being elected? That he essentially abandoned his constituency, pursued a divorce, divested himself of all the responsible positions he held, and then, amidst rumors of infidelity, one of his interns was found dead in his office?

28 year old Lori Klausutis, an intern in the congressman’s Florida office was found dead of a massive blow to the head by visitors to the congressman’s deserted office. Apparently, she’d been dead for some time, and Mr. Scarborough himself was in Washington at the time she was found.

Isn’t that salacious? Are you sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the next juicy detail? Let’s compare that tell-all, celeb gossip style story to the actual facts.

Mr. Scarborough was a young civil law attorney when he was approached by Mr. Griffin’s family. He was unable to represent Michael Griffin, who was charged with (and eventually convicted of) shooting and killing a physician who performed abortions. The story can be found here (scroll down for story). Mr. Scarborough had a reputation for pro-life causes, and helped the family find an attorney for Michael and spoke with the press on their behalf pro bono (Most lawyers are required to do a certain number of pro bono hours).

Mr. Scarborough was elected to four terms in the House of Representatives. However, some months after his third re-election, he divorced his wife and retired from his seat, saying he wanted to spend more time with his children. The timing was considered dubious, as a clerk in his Florida Office, Lori Klausutis, 28, was found dead, and there had been rumors of infidelity. The matter was not considered sufficiently resolved by many, as there were questions about the head trauma Lori suffered which was (according to the coroner) caused by a coronary event, ending in her accidental death. Mr. Scarborough’s attitude toward the incident when speaking of it on Don Imus’ radio program sparked further internet furor.

There you have it. Two stories. The first (were it about any Democrat you’d care to name) would have Mr. Scarborough and any Republican howling for blood. The second was at least an attempt at objective reporting; something far too many at Fox News and Mr. Scarborough himself scoff off as “liberal media.”

Here’s what Mr. Scarborough, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and their slavish followers just don’t get: a story reported without bias (or with as little as possible) is necessary in journalism. The entire premise is to report the FACTS and allow people to make up their own minds. But for some reason, people want to be led. Joe Scarborough and reporters like him with their constant stream of innuendo and misinformation have killed journalistic integrity. Journalism is not about opinion. It’s about reporting the facts of the day’s events. And if Mr. Scarborough expects to consistently report his biased views as facts, perhaps he should be reminded of just what the press can do with a little skewed information.