Monday, September 17, 2018

This Blog Is Not Anonymous

It’s bad enough when the public gets it wrong, worse when journalists get it wrong, and very, very bad when journalists get it wrong and cause the public to get it wrong.
I’m talking about the recent famous “anonymous” Op Ed piece in the New York times where a “senior member” of the Trump administration confessed they were deliberately opposing some acts the President wanted to take “for the good of the country”
This Op Ed was NOT “anonymous," as many news stories reported.
There are at least 2 types of so-called “anonymous” stories—and I have dealt with both in my career.
1—is the truly and totally anonymous story that comes into the newsroom from out of nowhere. It claims certain newsworthy things have or will happen and asks us to cover them. It cites no or little evidence for the claim and gives no indication who has sent in this news tip. That is a truly anonymous story, and gives reporters a hard time.  If the claim is about something significant should we use it; but how do we go about verifying that it is, that the claim is accurate and the “source” is creditable?  In most cases these tips/claims can be tossed out on their face.  Once in a while they are worth investigating to see if there is anything  truthfully there.
2---the other type of so called “anonymous” story, and this was true in the Times cases, is where the source IS KNOWN to the reporter, but insists on remaining anonymous, which in a country with a First Amendment is their right. What to do, if you are an ethical journalist, especially if the claim is about an important public issue? You can try to talk them out of their insistence, which is what finally happened in the recent story in the Washington Post about the woman now claiming Judge Kavanaugh sexually abused her. Or you can keep investigating the source’s claim, and if you can’t convince them to “go public” wrestle mightily with whether the claim is so newsworthy and the source so creditable that you go ahead and print it, keeping the source’s name out of it, as ethics require.
It’s not an easy decision to make and we reporters have had many an argument over what is the “right” course here.  Some decide one way; the Times decided another.
Which also means, since the newsroom and the editorial board room at the Times are two very separate entities, that the newsroom now has the ethical responsibility to try to uncover who the Op Ed writer is..and if they succeed, will that story be pushed?? (That one will go all the way up to the publisher for a decision, and one that will be further complicated by rumors the Wall Street Journal or CBS has unearthed the writer and is about to report same.)  Who said Journalism was easy?
We---the collective we of the US 4th Estate—has done a bad job explaining what I see as 2 very different definitions of “anonymous” here.
May I suggest, in the future, these be differentiated as “anonymous” in case 1, and “from a source known to us but who insists on not being named” in case 2.  That will help the public decide what faith, if any, to put on the story.
I'm just sayin'...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

It's The New Fall Season

For political commercials on TV, of course.
And what do we have so far?
Disappointing attack ads from our 6th district Congressman Andy Barr. He could have started on a much higher note, but chose instead to “go negative” not as much as those semi-anonymous groups supporting him, but nevertheless...
We haven’t had polls for a while, thank heavens, after their grossly inaccurate performance in ‘16. But along comes the New York Times with a type of polling few people had heard about here, and no one trusts---not with a MOE (Margin of Error) of 9%. 4% is considered acceptable by those who know, I am told.
As usual even on my big TV set, you can’t read the tiny print at the bottom as to what group is sponsoring these ads; (wonder if Congress which makes the rules planned it this way?)  Along with making it difficult to find out much information as to who these groups are, and whether they are in touch with the candidate they back, a No No against federal law. But then, who polices these ads?  Who tries to find out if there is illegal collusion?  I think it’s the Federal Election Commission; an agency starved by Congress for funds and staff and are you beginning to see a plan here which works for both parties, of course, but against the people?
So, locally it’s been left up to the news media to probe these ads;a re they correct or misleading?  But local TV stations—which rake in plenty of money from such ads-- haven’t done this for years, and newspapers are starved for staff these days and usually don’t any more; an abdication of responsibility, but...
I was unhappy with some of my Congressman’s ads until I realized most of the really bad ones were coming from supporting groups, not Mr. Barr himself. But one ad, currently running by him, is wrong in saying Mrs. McGrath supports a single payer health care system (which she does) it calls such a system “Socialism.”  It isn’t.  Many countries around the world have such a system or its variations, and these nations run the gamut from left to right.
In fact the US is one of, if not the last, major Western nation not to have such a system, and it is worth being debated in the 6th district campaign; but on the basis of facts, not red flag (“Socialism!!!) errors.
I do hope Mr. Barr will give in—as he hasn’t in past races—and hold more than one debate. The citizens of his district are worth more than just one.
As for Mrs. McG, it’s about time she stopped running fuzzy, warm ads of bare bottomed kids, and cooking grandmas; most of us now know who she is and her military background, but where does she stand on more issues for our district than just health care, important as that is???
I'm just sayin'...

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

There's Blood On My Hands; And Yours Too

Twice in the last two weeks a Saudi Arabian air strike in Yemen has hit a school bus full of kids (killing over 30) and a school (killing a half dozen more.)
The US is supplying the Saudis with intelligence, supplies, bombs, refueling, money, training...all the things necessary to fight a war; and get it wrong.  When the first bombing happened, the Saudis claimed their target was a military one. After a world outcry, and a UN call for an “independent” investigation, the Saudis said they would conduct their own.  (see fox guarding hen house) They have been silent since the 2nd bombing a week later. 
The US also has military personnel on the ground in Yemen, to aid the Saudis, which means sooner or later, there will be American casualties in this conflict where we have taken sides. In my book, that’s war, and we are involved.  Not that the Trump administration or the Pentagon told the American people we were involved in another war. That leaked out because reporters ferreted it out, which is our job.
Not that Congress approved our being involved in another war, which is their job under the Constitution. As it was in Niger, where the American people (and most of Congress) found out about our war there only when 4 US troops died in an ambush and the Pentagon couldn’t cover it up.
As an American citizen whose elected representatives keep ignoring the Constitution’s war clause, and secretly involving us in wars (and proxy wars) all over the world, these senseless air strikes that kill innocent bystanders make me feel as it I have blood on my hands.  I hope you feel the same.
What can we do?
Well for one, there’s a 6th district Congressional race going on now. Rep. Barr and challenger McGrath should both be asked about the ignoring of the war powers clause of the Constitution, and what they will do when one of them next takes the oath to uphold, support, and defend the Constitution...
So help me God.
I'm just sayin'...

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Few News Media Notes

Many of us reacted with horror at last week’s grand jury report on Catholic priests' sexual abuse cases in Pennsylvania. Not so the state’s largest paper. The Courier-Journal had ZIP about this in its edition next day. Lexington TV stations seem to ignore the fact  that one of the bishops involved, the Harrisburg one, had moved there from Lexington. It took days to get local church reaction, and when they did, 27 & Fox carried reports listing his name as Richard Gainer, not Ronald.
More horror from the murders of a young pregnant wife and her two daughters in Colorado. The husband became a suspect but before he was charged, during his “perp walk” a reporter shouted “why did you kill your wife?” America seems to forget one of our cardinal principles is the presumption of innocence, and this is why. When I was a local TV news director had this happened, my staff would have had what one reporter called “a come to Jesus” session with me. “Did you kill your wife?” is OK; the other is not. What a difference one word makes, but that’s what journalism is all about. I was amazed that CBS used the offending report on its evening newscast---hardly "original reporting.”
My compliments to all area stations who won regional Emmy awards, but especially to Miranda Combs for her investigative report on a sleazy local auto dealer who was defrauding its customers. The state took action against him only after her reports aired.
For years newspapers have sought a “business plan” that would stave off their shrinking readership. I have one: put the main news on the front page. My fave Lexington morning rag put the conviction of Manafort, and Cohen’s guilty pleas on page 6!
I'm just sayin'...

Monday, August 13, 2018

Immigration Policy & The Wall

These two topics, to my surprise, have been raised as the first policy issues in the 6th District Congressional campaign, so let’s take a look.
A little history first:
In the modern political period our immigration policy started going wrong when LBJ’s conservative Texas Democrats, (soon to become Republicans) insisted on cheap farm labor, and when enough Americans couldn’t be found, turned their eyes from the law and insisted on opening the gates to illegal Mexican workers. Ronald Reagan’s GOP businessmen in California soon followed suit to get farm workers there, and not to be outdone, Democrats soon embraced LaRaza & Caesar Chavez; all seeking foreign workers for jobs Americans didn’t want or wouldn’t take, and the rush for more and more immigrants swelled.
Those “illegals” that were apprehended at our borders, by an understaffed Border Patrol soon jammed the immigration courts, also understaffed, and the insidious (and illegal) policy of “Catch & Release” began. Those arrested were told to go away, anywhere, don’t bother us, but come back when we seek you for a court hearing at a very unspecified date; oh, and don’t bother to check with us as to where you live.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants, from many countries, but mainly Latin America, poured into the US, found jobs, sent for and raised families, became productive citizens, and even applied for legal citizenship. But many others did not.
Presidents of both parties turned a blind eye to these law violations; so did Congress.
In good economic times, no bother. In bad times, a lot of bother. Along comes the Recession of 2007-8-9-etc and suddenly there was a lot of bother. Rule of law advocates objected; far right nationalists objected; any candidate of any party out of office in that district objected, and then along came The Donald.
His first speech, announcing his candidacy, denounced illegal Mexicans as “rapists..thugs..criminals..and I’m sure some good people”..and it went down into the Swamp from there. Elected, in part on a pledge to clean up the Swamp, our President has, properly, denounced the Catch & Release approach and, as a cornerstone of his platform, insisted on building a Border Wall (“and, folks, Mexico is gonna pay for it.”)  Mexico, as any sovereign nation would, strenuously objected to paying for any project being built in another country over which it had no control.
Congressman Andy Barr supports the ($20 Billion) Wall for security reasons. Democrat challenger Amy McGrath has called it “stupid." So far as the Wall is concerned, it is stupid, especially when we see 3 teenagers, stand on each others’ shoulders, scale the wall—even at its new height, or where it juts 50’ out into the Pacific, swim around it. Or tunnel under it, or find new ways to get through. (Or instead of paying smugglers thousands to get them into the US, pay several hundred for a plane ticket to Canada and walk across “the world’s longest, undefended border” which ICE says is becoming more and more the route of choice.)
And, BTW, the estimate of $20 Billion is the major part of the cost of our still UNdeclared war in Afghanistan—(see Notes on Due Process in last week’s blog)--money that could be used to take care of the veterans of that war, and those of Iraq, Korea, the Gulf War, etc., or maybe to improve Americans’ health or roads instead. Mexico is NOT going to pay for any American wall, and as an American taxpayer I don’t wish to either.
As to Catch & Release, the Trump administration has used this very policy itself. When federal courts insisted on an accounting of the ill-advised policy of separating families at the border, among the very early statistics Homeland Security reported to the court were a group of parents brought before immigration courts and then released into the USA without any restrictions on them and without any forwarding address given to the courts!!!    
Catch & Release Lives.  This, and the stupidity (not security) of the Border Wall is what we need to be debating, in hopes we might finally arrive at better, legal, and even humane immigration laws.
I'm just sayin'...

Monday, August 6, 2018


Due Process   noun  “ fair treatment thru the normal judicial system”
At a time when almost all state agencies are crying for funds, when schools are desperately needing more money, when thousands have been denied dental and medical care for lack of funds, the Bevin administration has extended a contract with an Indiana law firm to keep investigating the former administration of Democratic Governor Steve Beshear.
Previously Bevin allocated $500,000 for this probe;  now, a year later and with NO report so far from the firm, an extension for another $500,000 has been granted---that’s a million dollars that could have been spent on much more needy projects elsewhere.
We are indebted to the Herald-Leader’s Jack Brammer for breaking this story. It also points out Bevin’s reason for spending this was an extension of a no-bid contract on the last day of the Beshear term to a N.C. firm which has the husband of Beshear’s executive cabinet secretary as a consultant. I don’t think that act passes the smell test; but it apparently did follow state contract procedures—or due process.
Brammer’s story points out the original contract did also (though its wisdom is surely subject to argument.) The recent extension apparently passed muster of a state group by being disguised as something else.  Former Gov. Carroll, a member of that group missed objecting because the new title seems to have been cooked up to hide what it was; if so, that’s not due process.
I would argue the state needed that money elsewhere; and the Feds maintain an Office of Public Integrity, which would have investigated the Beshear extension IF Bevin had enough evidence to warrant it. Maybe he doesn’t; maybe the only way he could get this probe started was to spend vital money here. But whatinhell is that law firm doing to spend a half million in one year investigating one contract---and no report???  Miranda Combs at Channel 27 or Tom Loftus at the CJ would have had a report in jig time at far less cost if they were on the case, and I suspect even the Feds could have, too.
Meanwhile in Tennessee, it took 3 and one half years, due process was followed and 2 former UT footballer players have been ACQUITTED of aggravated rape charges stemming from an off campus party. UT suspended the 2 when the accusations were made, and it took all this time for the judicial system to find them innocent. They never played for Tennessee again. They may have their reputations made whole but the slow grinding justice system probably robbed them of any chance for a pro career.
Now then, just suppose...suppose---in 3.5 years, Harvey Weinstein is found innocent?  Or Charlie Rose, or Garrison Keillor?
Just suppose.
And that is why, slow or not, due process is an important American tradition.   Too bad non-judicial groups (yes, #MeToo and UT) don’t believe in it.
I'm just sayin'...

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Punishment Does Not Fit The Crime - Unless You Want To Burn Papa John At The Stake

So, enough already!

He confessed to using the “N” word, pressured into it he says, and what has happened to him?
Lost his positions with the firm he founded (in a broom closet) and built into 4500 stores globally (and all the jobs that went with them); had his name taken off the stadium at the school he loves—UofL, resigned from their board, --- all this in his home town of Louisville, and had been the object of universal disgust (his fair name and reputation) everywhere.
Worse, he has seen UK pile on, taking his name off a major building there, ending its financial relation with him and his foundation.
Now Papa John is well off—financially; several times a millionaire, many homes, private chopper, etcetec—all of which he earned by his hard work (and better ingredients) now lost in the blink of an eye.  Money yes, but what of one’s lost forever?
This is more than “let he without sin cast the first stone,"  but it is that, and jealousy, and much much more..including entirely too many columns of calumny in the C-J and elsewhere....but...let’s move on folks (and my colleagues in journalism)...there are more important news items, and things to be learned here.
For one, how to get a commercial name off a public stadium.  I have made no secrecy of my distaste  for Kroger Field. Before the UofL board realizes it now could rename Cardinal Stadium Commonwealth Stadium, is there any sexual or racial dirt we can get on a top Kroger executive and retain that time honored name here?
And two, the really important racial news of the past week is that the feds have reopened Emmett Till’s murder case—at last. If you don’t know the details here, please Google. The feds have pretty well known for years who killed this young black boy (as they did in the church bombing in Birmingham that killed the 4 young black girls,) but proving it was another matter. The Justice Department says “new information” caused the reopening. Let’s hope this does lead to justice in this most unfortunate case, and one far more important than one where the “N” word slipped out in a semi-private  conversation.
I'm just sayin'...