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New York Times’ decision to publish bigoted cartoon was a failure on several levels

caricature-of-steve3 2The New York yesterday apologized for publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon last week. I insert the offensive cartoon below.

Despite the publication’s apology, the question remains how this editorial misstep occurred? Who failed to see how repugnant this would be to many readers?

Diversity in American society should increase our awareness and sensitivity to persons and issues that may not be immediately apparent to individuals whose history lacks exposure to different realities.

Homogeneous societies usually have limited experience with alternative religions, racial and ethnic groups and the culture and experiences of those persons.  The hope of diversity is that we all should expand our understanding of these alternate truths and considers them when debating the important issues we all face.

The goal of American newsrooms to recruit more women, persons of color, different religions, sexual orientation and of national origin is to think broadly about stories, persons and issues previously ignored.

The fact that the New York Times or any news organization could have published this repugnant cartoon demonstrates blatantly how flawed the editorial process remains.

If newsrooms are sufficiently diverse, why don’t we hear editors and reporters asking what reactions will arise from this cartoon, photograph, story or commentary?

Are these diverse voices in news media still excluded from editorial meetings?  Are they intimidated by their counterparts who see them as token representatives only?  Has the news publication truly opened its doors and mentality to different views and suggestions?

If diversity were working as intended, this never would have happened.  This was failure that was avoidable.

BIGOTED CARTOON

 

Rethinking journalism practices

caricature-of-steve3 2When I began my career as a broadcast journalist I followed the standard practices of the time both universal for all news organizations and some specific to broadcast.

Now I’m having second thoughts

Universal standards

 The trinity of fairness, accuracy and balance (FAB) still is a useful discipline for journalists. It demands vigilance in how editors and reporters approach a story, collect information, portray newsmakers and disseminate the final report.

Changing practices

I see little value in interviewing prosecuting attorneys and defense lawyers about the guilt or innocence of individuals on trial. Prosecutors will always claim that the person accused committed the crime. Likewise, the defense will assert that its client did not.

Interviewing spokespersons for each side of a trial remains a good practice for no other reason than to record the occasion when a surprising statement is made. But so rarely do those persons deviate from predictable pronouncements that to use the hackneyed replies is a waste of time. Interview yes, but don’t publish trite answers.

Television reporters always appear on screen either at the beginning of their stories (live shot) or midway through the report (standup bridge). The only reason for this is to demonstrate to viewers that the news organization had one of its journalists at the scene of the event. But too often the location is at a time and place where nothing is happening.

An equally bad practice is the reporter’s obligatory greeting to the news anchor when in fact the journalist is supposed to be telling us the story. It makes us feel as if we’re eves dropping instead of being the intended recipient of the story. This technique should be scrapped.

The insistence of asking interviewees to look at the reporter instead of the camera is a questionable technique. With the increasing use of Skype and Facetime, the interviewees look directly at the screen at us. It’s time for TV photographers to ask newsmakers to do the same thing in taped stories.

Quite simply the business of journalism has changed and effective storytelling devices have evolved. The FAB standard has proved to be an effective tool. But other practices should be filed in a cabinet reserved for quaint but anachronistic implements.

When is it acceptable for journalists to claim racism?

caricature-of-steve3 2The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook long has been the reference of choice in America’s newsrooms regarding recommended use of language in media stories.

Does the latest edition (2019) actually say it’s all right for news organizations to call someone or some incident racist?

Doris Truong, writing for the Poynter Institute apparently believes so.

I disagree on several points;

First, there is nothing in Ms. Truong’s commentary that illustrates exactly that the new AP Stylebook says it’s all right to label some action as racist. The specific citation should have been inserted in the commentary—otherwise I can only infer that this is Truong’s inference or shall I say wish?

It’s never acceptable for any journalist to use the term racist or racism unless the reporter is quoting someone else.

Second, I am also suspicious of journalists and pundits who sprinkle their stories and commentaries with contemporary jargon and buzzwords.

Journalists should not be “framing” their stories. They should be publishing facts and observations without adjectives. “Framing” implies putting a spin on an event in order to make it conform to the writer’s hopes or advocacy.

Furthermore, Mrs. Truong’s reference to hyphenated-Americans as microagressions (another buzzword) implies she has embraced the identify politics meme. I’m a White-German-English-American but never use either that racial and ethnic truth. It’s irrelevant to me as simply an American.

I go so far as to say that any reference to anyone as the first of his or her racial, ethnic, religious, class or gender to achieve some notable achievement is also irrelevant. If the person so noted wants to mention it as a source of pride or example, then journalists should report it. Otherwise, I would ignore it.

Reference to identity allows our audience to interpret facts erroneously. Is a so-called “openly gay” politician going to promote a “gay agenda?” That is a fair inference by readers, listeners, viewers if journalists continually mention that the sexual orientation of the politician or candidate.   And what, in fact, is a “gay agenda?” I could list some ideas here but I suspect the person is interested only in the same issues that every other American is concerned about. So sexual orientation again is irrelevant.

Despite Ms. Truong’s well-intended efforts, her commentary reads more like the work of an activist that a reporter seeking an accurate, balanced, unvarnished description of persons, places and events.

DISCLOSURE: I have yet to read the latest AP Stylebook because I’m retired and have no need for it professionally.  However, I welcome the views of those who have perused it and are willing to share their opinions.

A detour around the Electoral College

caricature-of-steve3 2Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren yesterday said she wants to scrap the Electoral College.

That’s not going to happen because we would have to amend the U.S. Constitution—a nearly impossible task.  Instead some folks are campaigning for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC).

NPVIC is an interesting concept. It may even be a good idea. After all, as proposed it would assure that the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes would be elected.

Yes, Electoral College would remain intact. But the NPV promises that states would award their electoral votes to the candidate with the most popular votes.

That’s appealing—especially to those—who were angered that Al Gore lost the presidency to George W. Bush despite having more popular votes that Bush. Likewise, the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the presidency to Donald Trump although Clinton also had more popular votes that Trump.

But I’m still not clear how everyone’s voted is protected if the majority of Iowa voters—for example—cast ballots for Candidate A but the state’s Electoral College votes all go to Candidate B because B had more popular votes nationally. Aren’t Iowa voters, in fact, denied true representation in the Electoral College?

I may favor this idea but someone has to explain the math to me. And how exactly this truely protects everyone’s vote.

Is there a constitutional protection for stupidity?

caricature-of-steve3 2Nevada lawmakers may not have asked that question when proposing a measure to allow law enforcement authorities to use technology that would detect whether persons are using their cellphone while driving.

But the question seems relevant.

The objections are inevitable and they are always the same—this is a violation of privacy.  Those are the same fools who oppose traffic cams that capture photos of vehicles crossing an intersection against a red light.

Opponents of traffic cams and the Nevada proposal against cellphone abuse while driving simply have no good reason for opposing such technology. Their sole objection is that they don’t want to be caught breaking the law.

Well, that’s too bad. If you’re a lawbreaker, you should pay the consequences.

The Constitution is a brilliant document that assures rights and blessings for Americans.  But protection for stupidity is not one of them.

To Nevada lawmakers—and others considering similar measures elsewhere—I say, “Pass the law!”

It seemed like a Fab idea at first

 

 

 

 

 

“Good morning, Beverly,” I greet our waitress cheerfully.

“Yes, howdy,” joins John equally enthusiastically.

Beverly stares at us unknowingly. “Margaret, would you card these two guys who just came in. I don’t recognize them!”

“Wait, it’s us,” replies John.

“That should be ‘It’s we’…the verb to be requires the nominative case,” I correct.

I’m on your case all right,” retorts Beverly. “Margaret, and where is that sign I asked you post yesterday. The one that says, ‘No littering, loitering or lingering permitted. Management reserves the right to kick you to the curb.’”

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry,” I apologize.

“Me, too,” adds John. “Whatever it was?

You’ve been absent that’s what,” snaps Beverly. “What’s up with you dudes, anyway?”

“I’ve been checking entries in my high school year book,” John opens the book as he lays it on the table.

“OMG, don’t tell me you’re running for office again!” Beverly moans.

“Yep,” I note. “And you better bring us two pots of your daily special. This could be painful.”

“Margaret, bring both the Cauvery Peak and the Monsooned Malabar,” urges Beverly.

“Thanks,” worries John. “I feel a bit marooned this morning looking at my yearbook.”

“It’s monsooned, John. It’s….oh, never mind,” I surrender.

“Open it up, man,” Beverly instructs as she joins us after pouring each of us a cup of the daily special. “Let’s see how you screwed up in high school.”

Fabian Forte “Tiger” playing on jukebox.

“Uh…no…I don’t think you really want to do that,” I caution.

(YEARBOOK) “Dear, Fabian! Between Mr. Jones, your Bermuda shorts and your wonderful singing, we’ve had quite a year!

 “Fabian! You were called Fabian in high school!” Beverly gasps.

“You mean like that Laverne & Shirley show with Fabian!” shrieks Margaret.

“Good grief, girl! Get a grip!” orders Beverly.

“I categorically deny that…that…I ever wore Bermuda shorts in high school!” John stammers.

“Fabian…uh…John, that could be trouble for your presidential campaign,” I warn.

“And I never, ever sang” John protests.

(YEARBOOK) “Dear, John (or is it Fabian?) I imagine you can sing better than he. Well, we’re finally done with that dull Spanish class. What a drag it’s been!”

“See, I took Spanish in high school. That should help with the Latino vote!”

“Yeah, I’m sure they will be real happy that you thought it was dull!” Beverly cautions.

“You were Fabian? “Margaret asks faintly and passes out.

“Hey, I never said Spanish was dull! Someone else wrote that!”

“But at least the phrase ‘..better than he.’ was grammatically correct,” I stress.

“Oh, yeah, right! Like proper grammar is going to trump angry Latinos,” asserts Beverly.

(YEARBOOK) “You’re just one swell guy. However, as the old saying goes—“Flattery will get you nowhere.”—I guess I’m beating my head against a brick wall! I’ll never get you—woe is me!”

 “See, see, there!” John gestures triumphantly. “I can get the women’s vote!”

“Oh, Fabian!” Margaret whispers unconsciously.

“Not the #MeToo movement, Fa-bi-en!” Beverly snarls sarcastically. They’ll interpret that entry as toying with and objectifying females!” Beverly stands up and takes the coffee pots back to the counter.

“Wait! read this one,” John begs.

“Too late, your presidential campaign is toast!” Beverly shouts.

“Speaking of toast, do you have any of those cinnamon rolls left,” I query.

“I’ll vote for you, Fabian,” sighs Margaret.

“I think you’re the only one,” concedes John shaking his head.

“Don’t be sad, Fab,” Beverly laughs as she plugs a quarter into the jukebox. “This will always be our song.”

Jukebox plays Fabian “About this thing called love”

 

 

 

 

 

Is this cross too much to bear?

caricature-of-steve3 2The Supreme Court entertained oral arguments February 27, 2019 in the case of American Legion v. American Humanist Association.

This is the latest in a periodic series of legal challenges to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In this iteration, the specific question is whether the 93-year-old Bladensburg Peace Cross at the Bladensburg, MD World War One memorial violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against government-established religion.

It’s clear to this observer that the Blandenburg Peace Cross does not violate the Establishment Clause. The structure is not an overt government promotion of Christianity at the expense of other religious faiths that all Americans can freely observe.

One could interpret the cross as honoring those WWI fallen soldiers who believed in God and Jesus Christ.  But such an inference does not bar recognition of American Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, Hindus or even atheists and agnostics who may also have given their lives.

Would opponents of the cross be equally intense if there were a Jewish Star of David or Menorah and Islamic Crescent also standing at the memorial? Or would this ameliorate only arguments from those who argue for universal pious parity?

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has an opportunity to clarify the so-called “Lemon” standard for determining Establishment Clause violations. Lemon v. Kurtzman revolved around a Rhode Island law that approved salary increases for teachers at non-public schools because most instructors earned less that public school teachers. At issue was whether the state law—that benefited primarily Catholic parochial school instructors—violated the First Amendment’s separation of church and state mandate.

The Supreme Court ruled that Rhode Island’s law created excessive “entanglement between government and religion.” 

At last week’s SCOTUS oral arguments on American Legion v. American Humanist Association, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch expressed displeasure with the Lemon standard as the prevailing test for Establishment Clause rulings.

Several observers predict the Supreme Court will decide there is no infringement of the Establishment Claus—Bladensburg Peace Cross will remain standing.

That would be the correct ruling. One based on the original intent of the Founding Fathers and a refreshing endorsement of common sense.