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Thursday, November 15, 2018

News journalism badly needs self-correction


As we consider the state of things in America today, we see important areas of American life that have weakened as the years have passed. Among them are the nuclear family, public education, higher education, and the general sense of what America is all about.

This devolution has also affected news journalism. Today, quite a few of those practitioners are persons who, rather than being committed to professional ethics, are instead folks who pay allegiance to their personal inclinations. And generally they seem to be in some of the most visible and influential news outlets in the country.

Following the dramatic dustup in the White House’s James S. Brady Press Briefing Room last week that got all the news folk talking, Al Jazeera’s Jeffrey Ballou said President Donald Trump's remarks to CNN’s Jim Acosta and others "may be free speech, but beyond the pale of respecting the constitutionally enshrined role of journalists."

That statement brought this from a long-time news journalist, Wesley Pruden, editor emeritus of The Washington Times, and a man who worked his way up from beat reporter to editor: “That was a new one to me, though I have been in this business, man and boy, for a lot of years. I never knew I was someone so grand as to be "constitutionally enshrined."

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a free press, and that might be seen as enshrinement of journalism’s role, but the Amendment does not enshrine any person or set of individuals, not even reporters.

Watching the behavior of some of the media personalities in the Brady Briefing Room of late clearly demonstrates that some reporters believe they are personally enshrined. And this fit of egomania explains how someone can cast off the restraints of professional ethics in favor of one’s own political agenda when doing the hard and important work of reporting what is really happening in the country and its government.

News journalists defend an important element in America: They are to provide true, accurate, timely and important information to the people, so that they are properly informed and able to make intelligent decisions.

“The Journalists Creed” is a statement of “the principles, values and standards of journalists throughout the world,” as described by Fourth Estate, and is displayed in the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The Creed is the product of Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism in 1914.

It reads, in part: “I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.”

The failures of news journalism have been termed “fake news” by the president. That includes which topics are presented or not, taking things out of context, exaggeration, and outright falsities.

The existence of “fake news” and the episode in the Brady Press Room last week are evidence of the waning of professionalism and the advancement of ego among the big names in news.

With television and now the Internet, the face of news journalism has changed. Network news personalities are sometimes viewed as stars, and some have egos to match their celebrity status.

Pruden weighs in on this aspect: “The real reporter is happy to answer to ‘reporter,’" he wrote, and “knows better than to try to make himself more important than he is by becoming part of the story.”

“Newspapermen never aspire to celebrity, even the cheesy celebrity accorded by television,” Pruden commented, “and are willing to abide rebuke and worse, even by a president, if that's what it takes to get the story.”

Tough questions are fair and expected from reporters in all areas of news media. What is not expected or acceptable is what happened that day.

CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta became not just part of the story, but its star, with his statement challenging Trump’s characterization of the alien caravan as an invasion. Making matters worse, he refused to cease and desist his flurry of questions as instructed by the president, who was trying to move on to other reporters.

As he kept shouting follow-ups after being dismissed by Trump, a White House intern, whose job is to get the microphone from one reporter and deliver it to the another reporter, found Acosta refusing to let her have it.

He, and others, as well, either forgot or have not learned that the White House person that is providing the information and answers to questions is in charge of the event, not the reporters. They are not above the rules of good conduct, even as they press for answers.

Freedom of the press is a critical element in our country and must not be infringed. That does not mean, however, that reporters and other news people can do anything they please without being called out for it and/or disciplined.

Continued breaches of the important duty of reporting news will bring about responses that journalists will not like. Therefore, some serious self-correction is advised, and the sooner, the better.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The economy’s strong performance has Trump enemies all flummoxed

Citing President Donald Trump’s “nativist fear” in the opening paragraph of an article in The New York Times titled “Republicans Have a Humming Economy to Tout, but Trump Rhetoric Muddies the Message,” writers Astead W. Herndon and Sydney Ember proceeded to analyze the economy of Trump’s second year.

The article does a passable job of showing the strength of the economy, and it fairly criticizes Trump’s penchant for careless or objectionable language and how it interferes with good news.

Here are some reminders of the economy’s strength:
* 250,000 jobs added in October: Hotels and restaurants added 42,000 jobs; health-care companies hired 36,000 workers; manufacturers filled 32,000 jobs; construction companies took on 32,000 workers
* Unemployment 3.7 percent
* Average Hourly Earnings have risen 3.1 percent over the last year
* Third quarter GDP +3.5 percent

However, Herndon’s and Ember’s comment, "President Trump’s blistering message of nativist fear has become the dominant theme of the campaign’s last days..." is an attention-getter.

“Nativist” clearly implies that Trump favors the interests of Americans, as if it is wrong for the leader of a country to favor that nation over others.

Adding the word “fear,” however, drives the article over the cliff. It charges Trump with being afraid of immigrants and for the country to allow people to immigrate here. That’s an interesting position for a man to hold who has an immigrant wife. It’s equally as foolish as the criticism that he is anti-Semitic, with a son-in-law who is Jewish and a daughter who married him who has adopted Judaism.

As Herndon and Ember are reporters, neither having psychology or psychiatry credentials, their analysis of the president is immediately thrown open to suspicion of reportorial bias, which, of course, is unheard of at The Times (cough, cough).

To any thinking person, the idea that we should at long last secure our borders and tighten up immigration policy to prevent gang members, murderers, drug dealers, child traffickers and other undesirables from getting into the country is a no-brainer.

Not content to go quietly into that good night like his predecessors have sensibly done, Barack Obama, the blessedly formerpresident, is making the rounds criticizing his successor.

Since Election Day 2016 when Trump was declared the winner, the economy has been doing great, and as time has passed that performance has only gotten better. But Obama claims to have started it all  “Where do you think that started?” he asked an audience.

Obama took office in January 2009, as the recession was winding down, officially ending in June. Called “The Great Recession,” the period of contraction lasted 18 months, less than half that of The Great Depression.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta called the recovery “atypical and very weak compared to other post World War II recoveries.” Obama’s policies were responsible for this.

After a recession the economy will eventually produce a weak recovery pretty much on its own, but needs help to prosper. Like a car out of gas at the top of a hill, it can roll toward the filling station on its own until it hits flat land. Then it needs help. Under Obama’s watch, he used the brake on the downhill roll, and didn’t push after that. And that is his basis for taking credit for today’s good economy.

What has transpired since Trump won the 2016 election had nothing to do with anything Obama did, because the results we see today came from doing the opposite. Remember Obama saying, “When somebody says  … that he’s going to bring all these jobs back. Well how exactly are you going to do that?” … “What magic wand do you have?”

Trump’s response: “Here, hold my coffee!”

Obama now defends the thousands of people traveling through Mexico toward the U.S. border, with the idea of busting through our border as they did in Guatemala and Mexico.

"Now the latest, they're trying to convince everybody to be afraid of a bunch of impoverished, malnourished refugees," Obama said, imitating a contestant in a stand-up comedy tryout.  “They’re telling you the existential threat to America is a bunch of poor refugees 1,000 miles away,” Obama said. “They’re even taking our brave troops away from their families for a political stunt at the border. And the men and women of our military deserve better than that.”

As poet Browning said (sort of), “How do I deceive thee? Let me count the ways.”
* Impoverished and mal-nourished? It’s no picnic, but people provide food along the way and often transportation, thanks to their financial backers.
* A serious threat? Yes. Existential? No. Obama grossly exaggerated.
* A bunch of poor refugees? Some of the 5,000–7,000 no doubt are; some, perhaps many, surely are not.
* Taking troops away from their family? Troops deploy; they are sent places, as Obama surely remembers from sending them to the border, and to Eastern Europe.

The Democrats’ desperation is palpable. They’ve resorted to threats, intimidation, exaggeration and untruths trying to save their party in today’s election, and to save the country from the good things that have occurred since that great Election Night in 2016.