We used to play this game

Where we’d form a line and the person at the beginning would be told about an event, and then would whisper the details to the next person, and so on down the line until the last person repeated the story The only rule was, you had to try to get it right. Nonetheless, the person at the end of the line almost always got it wrong.

When I wrote yesterday’s blog about the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution being based on a fabricated story, I wan’t thinking of this game. I was thinking of something that began as a lie. That’s one thing. But when a story goes wrong after it goes through dozens of reports and sources, that’s quite another.

We keep paraphrasing the paraphrases we hear until the end result is fake news even though that wasn’t the intention. Granted, their are networks and reporters who put their own particular spin on stories so that in the end it’s hard to tell how much is opinion and how much is fact.

We all have our bully pulpets, I guess. Even major media outlets are scattering he comments of people on twitter througout their stories as though those knee-jerk opinions can really make a story more truthful and unbiased. These unfounded opinions can only muddy the waters when those cited have no dog in the hunt.

The purpose of the original game as to show how rumors distort the truth. That’s not the purpose of journalism, though too many reporters and networks think their spin is more important than the facts. Reporting is often a bridge over troubled waters–or perhaps muddy waters.

As always, checking multiple news venues is likely to help us find the truth.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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This novel is a satire about the news business.

Have you stopped beating your wife, senator?

That question is so old and so lame that it’s become a dark humor method of describing bad reporters, usually those who are full of themselves and/or have a nasty agenda.

If you answer “yes” or “no” to that question, you’re screwed. If you aren’t thinking and say, “Who told you I’m beating my wife?” then of course it looks like it’s true and you want to know who ratted you out.

大坂 なおみ

I’ve been thinking about bad reporters and bad questions ever since Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open rather than face another typical barrage of lame post-match questions or continue to be fined for refusing to talk to the press.

Osaka said those questions are often like “kicking people when they’re down.” One news story said that “Rafael Nadal himself criticized a journalist in 2019 for asking him if his form on the court had been affected by getting married.” Huh?

Even long-time stars like Serena Williams have said that these pressers, as they’re called, cause a lot of anxiety. And yet, the tennis establishment forces them on the players purportedly because those Q&A sessions help sell tickets. Perhaps, but I doubt it. After being asked why she wasn’t smiling after beating her sister Venus, Serena said, “To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here.”

A reporter once asked Coco Gauff if she was being compared to the Williams sisters because she’s black. If I were Coco, I’d simply say “no” and wait for the next stupid question.

One problem here comes from reporters, officials, and the public who think they should have been told years ago that Osaka suffers from clinical depression. It’s none of their business. If that had been on the table, she would have been asked every time she had trouble with a match whether it was depression or bad hand/eye co-ordination.

We–those who support sports stars and movie stars and others in the public eye–somehow feel that because of our support, we own them and have a right to know their every thought and their every private moment. The reporters know this, and since they do, they can keep asking “When did you stop beating your wife?” and other inane and/or trick questions.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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This novel is a satire about bad newspapers, bad reporters, and bad city officials.

‘The Reporter Who Knew Too Much,’ by Mark Shaw

Those who knew her work, including Ernest Hemingway, said that Dorothy Kilgallen was the best female reporter in the business, perhaps the best of either sex and one of the most powerful people in the country when her life suddenly ended on November 8, 1965.

She was known for her “Voice of Broadway” column that appeared in Hearst’s New York Journal American and was syndicated to newspapers across the country, she was a popular panelist on “What’s My Line” for many years, and she covered major news stories including the Sam Sheppard murder trial (“The Fugitive”) and the Kennedy Assassination. She was the only reporter allowed to interview Jack Ruby.

Many said that she broke the “glass ceiling” that allowed women reporters to take their rightful place in the press corps.

Newspapers reported her death as an accidental drug/alcohol overdose. However, the tox screen showed two drugs in her system (in addition to the prescribed Seconal for sleep) that were not prescribed and not even in the house. The M.E. report was a horrible mess, the death scene (her house) got no forensic workup, and there was no police investigation. Those who know these details and the fact she was receiving death threats believe she was murdered, most like due to her determined investigation of the Kennedy/Oswald deaths that she was apparently close to solving.

The book presents a brief biography of Kilgallen and then focuses on her investigative work, the people she came in contact with as a reporter, a list of those with motives to silence her, and the perplexing details of her final hours and who might have spiked her drink and possibly gotten into her house to arrange the crime scene. There were two glasses on the nightstand. One included the residue of a narcotic she did not take, yet neither glass nor the surrounding area was checked for fingerprints.

While the writing and organization of the book are a bit uneven, it presents useful information for those who followed Kilgallen’s career. Shaw hopes that the information he has uncovered will prompt officials to re-open the case. Sadly, the family is not co-operating.

On a personal note, I was stunned when she died and always thought there was something fishy about it and the fact that–in spite of the tox screen–no police investigation followed. I liked her work as a journalist and saw her every week on “What’s My Line” (still available on YouTube) where she asked questions the way a reporter would. Some said panelist Arlene Francis was the good cop and Kilgallen was the bad cop. Francis was a regular on the show for 25 years, Kilgallen for 15 years. 

The FBI (including director Hoover) did not like her. The mob did not like her. Her husband did not like her. That’s not an easy place to be.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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The Sacrifice

In 1959 when I was a high school student in Tallahassee, Florida and my father was the dean of the Florida State University School of journalism, the state’s board of regents (then called the board of control) decreed that FSU’s journalism school would close. The reason, which was never spelt out, was probably politics. Purportedly, the state thought it was spending too much money duplicating degrees at Florida State and the University of Florida in Gainesville.

  • Needless to say, both universities provided similar degree programs in a multitude of subjects. So, there was a duplication in many areas.
  • Of the two schools, the one at the University of Florida was weaker in terms of faculty and equipment.
  • My father was the most widely known journalism educator in the state. One wonders if he unknowingly stepped on somebody’s toes.

FSU teaches media courses under the auspices of a School of Communication. However, I think it is missing many courses that should be taken by anyone planning to be a reporter. 

The professors in the school of journalism were spun off into other departments, English among other things, or–like my father–received offers from other universities. My father had taught at many of them already as he followed his career prior to FSU. He chose to stay at FSU after the journalism school was destroyed and became a professor of English Education.

In 1959, I resented this. My father seldom spoke of the politics of higher education. While he was vocal in the press about the closing of the FSU journalism school, he never exactly told my two brothers and me why he wasn’t taking a position at another journalism school. My mother told me that he was making a sacrifice on behalf of the family because he felt we were so invested in Tallahassee (school, church, scouting, friends) that it would be unfair to us to force us to return to California or New York or Oregon where he had previously taught.

I told her that my dad’s career was more important than the hassles of moving to a new town and finding our way in new schools. She told me never to tell him that.  I didn’t.

The Scottish Clan Campbell’s motto is “forget not.” I do not forget and I often do not forgive. So the alumni association of Florida State University hasn’t made any headway getting me to join, nor have they received a dime of my money. When they ask for my reasons, I tell them and they say that was long ago and I say so what?

In 1959, I wanted a family meeting about living in Tallahassee or moving away. If we had one, I have no memory of it. It saddens me, though, this long after the fact, that I still do not agree with the sacrifice my father made for the family 62 years ago. And it angers me that FSU was too frightened of its own shadow to stand up strongly in support of its journalism school.

It was, I think, lose-lose for everyone in 1959, but there are times on long summer nights when I remember it like it happened yesterday, and think that it was all so unnecessary.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Tom Brokaw retires from NBC after 55 years with the network

Tom Brokaw is formally retiring from NBC News after an extraordinary 55 years with the network. Brokaw, 80, is best known for anchoring the “NBC Nightly News” from 1982 through 2004. He has been the network’s senior correspondent in recent years, enjoying a form of semi-retirement while contributing essays to NBC and MSNBC programs.

Source: Tom Brokaw retiring from NBC News after 55 years with the network – CNN

In many ways, Brokaw continued the traditions of traditional TV journalism established by Murrow, Cronkite, and others who by and large tried to fairly report the facts regardless of any political agenda of a network.

As he leaves, we witness the end of an era when reporters left their beliefs outside the newsroom and studio door.

–Malcolm

CNN is CNN and Fox is Fox and Never the Twain Shall Meet

If you get your news from CNN, do you ever wonder what those who get their news from Fox are smoking? If you get your news from Fox, do you ever suspect those who rely on CNN are drunk?

Since this seems to be the case, politics and culture and almost everything else come down to two universes of people who aren’t getting the same news. Some stories aren’t covered on both networks. Some stories are covered with so much bias, they appear to be different stories.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that both networks run a fair number of opinion shows that many viewers get these mixed up with real news. For example, if you watch Hannity on Fox, you are watching an opinion show and really can’t count that as an objective and impartial presentation of the news.

In many ways, I think we got more real news back in the 1960s when the networks came on every evening with 30 minutes, and later 60 minutes, of news than we’re getting now with 24/7 satellite/cable/broadcast saturation.

Unless there’s a huge story, most people seem to want to get their news quickly and get back to their lives. This means that they don’t spend time checking multiple news sources to counteract the spin applied by CNN and FOX. In fact, finding the facts takes a lot of work these days.

This “never the twain shall meet” situation impacts debates on social media as well as “real life.” It’s as though the half-informed are battling the half-informed. I have no idea how to fix this because fixing it seems to go against the flow that embraces opinions over facts.

As we see in many Facebook memes, words to the effect that, “So, Bob, you’re saying that your 15 minutes of research on Wikipedia and 15 minutes on your political party’s website are worth more than my Ph.D.?” That’s where we are.

If I might offer a suggestion, as an example of fact-checking, whenever Fox or CNN covers a big story in a U.S. town, check their facts by going to the websites of their local newspaper and TV station. You’re likely to get more facts and less spin. Not always, but often.

Malcolm

When I wrote my satire “Special Investigative Reporter,” I thought I was joking. Apparently, I was predicting where the news would end up.

CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering the build-up to the U.S. presidential inauguration

Based on the levels of violence and tactics used by both police and protesters at U.S. protests in 2020, and during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, journalists reporting from upcoming political events and protests should be aware of and consider the following risks: Firing of rubber bullets, baton rounds, and projectilesLiberal use of pepper spray and tear gas Verbal aggression and physical attacks from protesters and militia groups The potential use of live ammunition by the police and/or protesters The dangers associated with attacks on buildings, vehicles, and barricades The dangers associated with rioting, looting, and arson The use of water cannons and long-range audio devices by the police Potential vehicle ramming of crowdsArrest and detention

Source: CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering the build-up to the U.S. presidential inauguration – Committee to Protect Journalists

Years ago, I would have expected safety precautions and other warnings to reporters who were covering elections in a dangerous foreign country. But this is the United States. If you’re a journalist, the article is filled with helpful advice. I’m just sorry to see it issued for our country.

When I was in high school, I went with the band to participate in the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. Somewhere I have a photo of all of us posed on the Capitol steps. Now, that entire area is roped off, so to speak, as a red zone that few people can enter. There are national guard troops everywhere. If you’re a tourist, you probably won’t see anything. If you’re a reporter, you might see more than you can tolerate, and your life and your press freedom will be on the line.

Malcolm

My father, mother,  uncle, and I all taught journalism courses. There’s no way we could have prepared our students for this. Berry College, where I taught, really doesn’t look like the kind of environment for training prospective reporters how to be Navy Seals.

Number of journalists jailed worldwide hits record amid unrest, pandemic

News Release from Committee to Protect Journalists

New York, December 15, 2020–A record number of journalists were imprisoned because of their work in 2020, as governments clamped down on news coverage of civil unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, the Committee to Protect Journalists found in its latest annual census.

Police officers detain a photojournalist during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, on September 26, 2020

“It’s shocking and appalling that we are seeing a record number of journalists imprisoned in the midst of a global pandemic,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This wave of repression is a form of censorship that is disrupting the flow of information and fueling the infodemic. With COVID 19 raging through the world’s prison, it’s also putting the lives of journalists at risk.”

At least 274 journalists were jailed as of December 1, the most since CPJ began collecting data in the early 1990s, and the fifth consecutive year with at least 250 journalists imprisoned. China, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia were the worst jailers.

Protests and political tensions were a catalyst for many arrests. Two countries with significant increases in jailed journalists were Ethiopia, where unrest has degenerated into armed conflict, and Belarus, where journalists were detained while covering protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who claimed victory in an election widely seen as fraudulent.

While no journalists were jailed in the U.S. at the time of CPJ’s prison census, an unprecedented 110 were arrested or charged in 2020, many while covering demonstrations against police violence; at least 12 still face charges, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric throughout his term, including calling critical reports “fake news,” gave cover to authoritarians to crack down on journalists in their own countries. Globally, 34 journalists were jailed for “false news,” compared with 31 last year. CPJ recently published recommendations to the incoming Biden administration for restoring U.S. leadership on press freedom, including prioritizing the issue in foreign policy and appointing a Special Presidential Envoy for Press Freedom.

“The record number of journalists imprisoned around the world is President Trump’s press freedom legacy,” Simon said. “The incoming Biden administration must work as part of a global coalition to bring the number down.”

Amid the pandemic, authoritarian leaders tried to control the narrative by arresting journalists; they also delayed trials, restricted visitors, and disregarded the increased health risk in prison; at least two journalists died after contracting the disease in custody. CPJ documented more than 200 press freedom violations related to COVID-19 and launched the #FreeThePress campaign to call on world leaders to release all imprisoned journalists.

CPJ’s census is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2020. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at http://cpj.org. Journalists remain on CPJ’s list until the organization determines with reasonable certainty that they have been released or have died in custody. CPJ advocacy helped lead to the early release of at least 75 imprisoned journalists worldwide this year.

**

As a former journalist and college journalism instructor, I strongly support the work of CPJ in support of journalists and other newsroom personnel in fighting police actions in the course of their work. — Malcolm

Where is the real news?

One visitor at yesterday’s post said that while I liked the chaos of an uncertain past, he found the cover-ups that created that uncertainty to be unsettling. I agree with him.

The chaos that motivates me as a writer is that which occurs after the fact–even centuries after the fact–as people (experts and others) try to cut through old smoke screens to figure out what really happened.

Suffice it to say, there’s nothing good about the news today when it becomes polarized, subject to corporate or anchor-person agendas, or sanitized to conform with public opinion. When these things happen, what we’re getting is public relations information that has gone through multiple spin doctors.

When people argue with each other on social media, I can usually tell where they’re getting their real or imagined news: FOX or CNN. I want to ask, where have all the journalists gone, long time passing, gone to the big money every one, when will they ever learn?

My father was a journalist and a journalism school dean, I majored in journalism and taught it at the college level, so I’ve got to say, the kind of reportage we’re getting today from many sources is not what we taught: it’s yellow journalism creeping out of the past tricking the public into believing that public opinions are more honest (or exciting) than facts.

I went to a large journalism school (Syracuse) and when I read the bulletins and newsletters they send out to their alumni, I see a lot of good things happening. According to its website, Syracuse University’s “Newhouse School is more than just the nation’s leading communications school. It’s where passionate young minds go to discover what they can become—communicators, storytellers, leaders, innovators.” I see similar statements on other university websites.

I want to ask this: What happens to your students between their graduation days and the moment when they report to work at news sites that are skewing the news?

Does the mob stop by to see them before they report to work and promise money if they follow orders and violence if they don’t? Has social media’s focus on personal opinion dumbed down the public so they don’t know the difference between an opinion show and a news broadcast? Or, are people just too lazy to check multiple sources?

Perhaps all of the above.

I don’t think the solution to this problem is censorship by Facebook as though the opinions expressed on the site need to go through some strainer to see if they’re correct or not. That’s a misnomer. Opinions might be anything and could be strange or fact-based or agenda-based. But we have a right to say what we think.

Frankly, I think we need more people calling out major news organizations for skewing the news. I’ve even caught age-old newspapers “covering” a speech by making stuff up about what was said. If I hear the live broadcast of the speech and then see a “news report” the following day that doesn’t match the actual speech, I know the newspaper or broadcast organization is reporting an agenda rather than the facts.

I’m surprised more people don’t sound off about this. Or, perhaps–as many have told me–they read/listen to the sources they agree with. That means they’re not looking for multiple sources to find the truth.

I’ve said a lot of this before on this blog. From time to time, it seems necessary to say it again.

Malcolm

When I say I write magical realism, some people think that means I ignore the facts. I don’t. The realism has to be anchored by the truth for the magic to work.

Briefly noted: ‘We’re Still Here Ya Bastards’

Katrina Myths

Myth: Katrina was a “natural disaster.”

Fact: Katrina has been recognized as the most catastrophic failure in the history of American engineering.

Myth: The levees were “overtopped” by the intensity of the high water.

Fact: The levees collapsed in fifty-three places due to engineering design errors and “were responsible for 87 percent of the flooding, by volume.”

– Roberta Brandes Gratz

About the Book

Using the traditional journalism techniques of shoes pointing the pavement, observation, interviews, and a long-time experience with the ways cities work, Gratz explores how New Orleans–in the years following the 2005 storm– has managed to rebuild faster and stronger after Katrina than even the most optimistic of experts could have predicted.

One primary conclusion is this: local people using local plans do a better job than government agencies and large developers that don’t understand who’s doing the real work (and can’t get them financial help) and/or who often want to bulldoze what’s broken and put up generic structures that don’t fit the history and the culture of the city.

From The Publisher

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is one of the darkest chapters in American history. The storm caused unprecedented destruction, and a toxic combination of government neglect and socioeconomic inequality turned a crisis into a tragedy. But among the rubble, there is hope.

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards presents an extraordinary panoramic look at New Orleans’s revival in the years following the hurricane. Award-winning journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz shares the stories of people who returned to their homes and have taken the rebuilding of their city into their own hands. She shows how the city — from the Lower Ninth Ward to the storied French Quarter to Bayou Bienvenue — is recovering despite flawed governmental policies that promote disaster capitalism rather than the public good. While tracing positive trends, Gratz also investigates the most fiercely debated issues and challenges facing the city: a violent and corrupt prison system, the tragic closing of Charity Hospital, the future of public education, and the rise of gentrification.

By telling stories that are often ignored by the mainstream media, We’re Still Here Ya Bastards shows the strength and resilience of a community that continues to work to rebuild New Orleans and reveals what Katrina couldn’t destroy: the vibrant culture, epic history, and unwavering pride of one of the greatest cities in America.

Fix local. That should be apparent. Historic neighborhoods–and other segments of cities with unique styles–that aren’t understood or even apparent to outsiders. Yes, government funds are needed, but the government should ask what’s needed and where before it blunders into stricken areas like a bull in a China shop. And, as is obvious, don’t rebuild the levees the same foolish piecemeal and incorrectly designed way they were built the first time.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the former chairman of a local Historic Preservation Commission that oversaw repair and design projects in historic neighborhoods.