The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS

When I transferred schools in my sophomore year of high school I was the new kid on the block.  It was a pretty small block since when my classmates and I graduated three years later there were only thirty-six of us in the class.  But my high school also educated kids starting with kindergarten so many of my classmates had known each other for their entire educational experience.

In my junior year I was offered the opportunity to join the staff of our school newspaper.  Frankly, I was less interested in becoming a reporter than I was in being a member of the debate team which I captained in my senior year.  But at that time, colleges made their decisions about new entrants not only based on test scores and grades but on extracurricular activities as well and I accepted the newspaper opportunity as a way to pad my resume.

As it turned out, the editor of the paper was a student who had been at my new school since the first grade.  The two of us were academic competitors and some of my reporting assignments struck me as being far less interesting than others which we were covering in our limited, three times a year publication.  This was my introduction to the power of the blur pencil.  I found the stories that I had written were seriously edited (shortened) and were usually consigned to an obscure place on the third of our four page publication.

Perhaps this abbreviation of my journalism which, naturally, I considered brilliant was due to the enforcement of our newspaper motto, “All The News That Fits We Print”.  But I was more inclined to see this as an act of retribution on the part of our paper’s editor for our academic rivalry.  Perhaps it was a combination of the two.  And while I hadn’t thought about this for many years, the discussion of how genuinely objective the media is or isn’t today, catapulted this to mind.

Most of us are able to recognize what today is characterized as “fake news”.  This is not a new phenomenon.  When William Randolph Hearst declared, “You bring me the pictures, I’ll give you the war,” he was simply stating what at that the time was obvious.  Our newspapers as the primary source of information had the power to manipulate public sentiment.  And, apparently, it didn’t bother him for them to be manipulated in the way he chose.

Most of us can recognize “fake news”.  Recently someone forwarded an email to me suggesting that Michelle Obama’s mother was going to receive an $80,000 per year government pension for assisting in raising her two grandchildren.  And, of course, there is the now infamous story about Hillary Clinton’s “illicit” activities using a pizzeria as a front for her “criminal enterprise.”  Any responsible person would exert a little effort to determine the validity of such outrageous stories before passing them along as gospel truth.  And the truth is that most of these kinds of stories are generated and disseminated on the internet, not in the press, radio or television.

Disseminating “fake news” is perhaps the least significant way in which public opinion can be manipulated.  Most reasonable people are going to be suspicious of a story that on its face is so outrageous that it calls itself into question.  And the person who is likely to accept it without verification is unlikely to change his opinion, despite being confronted by the facts.  But there is a far more cancerous approach to “journalism” that is now rampant with our press be it print or audio/visual.

Studies show that an alarmingly large number of people get their news information not from the traditional media but from social media.  While there are purported standards to which classic journalists adhere, the internet has none.  Perhaps that is the reason that so many newspapers, in a rush to get the scoop on a story, are setting aside their prudential verification of facts.  That was certainly the case with the “disappearance” of the MLK statue from the Oval Office.  And while the story was factually disputed and the paper that reported it issued a ‘correction” the implication that President Trump had the bust removed because he is a “racist” had spread far and wide by the time the correction was printed.

But I can overlook an occasionally badly reported story – if it is accidental.  What is worse to me is the intentional suppression of real news stories which are not brought to a medium’s audience because it does not meet the “criteria” of that medium’s political philosophy.  And those non-stories are rife within our liberal press and television news shows.

Much has been made of the “historic tie-breaking vote” that Vice President Pence cast to confirm education Secretary Betsy DeVos.  This was preceded by weeks of the media’s blasting DeVos as a person with no “experience in education” and who was adamantly opposed to Common Core and who, through her belief in school choice for all students, was attempting to “dismantle the public school system.”  And then the day after her confirmation, the media covered all the protesters who prevented her visiting a DC public school.  That all was considered newsworthy.  But here’s something which slipped by these media stalwarts.

A study of DC schools, using the Common Core testing standards had some shocking results.  If Common Core is the platinum level of educational assessment, it seems that many DC students are coming away with lead in their lunchboxes.  The test was administered to tenth graders.  The results found that only 10% were likely to be “college ready” in geometry and only 25% met that criterion for English. The gaps in measured achievement between white, Hispanic and black students were vast in both subjects.

I actively searched the websites of the major papers to see how they had reported on this subject.  The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune all reported on this similarly.  That is to say, there was no coverage at all.

There should be no surprise that the media are viewed with an even lower favorability level than Congress.  In large measure, they’ve brought it on themselves.  Because when they fail to report on real news, they abdicate their roles as prestigious members of a free press.  And that’s bad news both for their readership as well as for them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE SPOKEN AND UNPUBLISHED WORD

It’s been about three weeks since I’ve had the opportunity to add a post to this blog.  I was not abducted by extraterrestrials (though sometimes I feel I’m living among them).  I have been actively adding my thoughts to the Huffington Post community in response both to stories they’ve published, in response to comments left by other readers and by responding to their critique of my comments.  This has become an exhausting effort.  The total number of these is now approaching five hundred.

In the process I’ve met some wonderful people who may not share my vision but who have the intellectual honesty to be willing to debate by using facts rather than hyperbole.  Of the 65 who are now “fans” they form a small coterie.  I suspect that many of the rest are only “fans” so that, given the opportunity, they can have the chance to leave a disparaging remark.  Fortunately, while I might have been an overly-sensitive child, my skin has thickened with the passage of time.

One of those, whose views are diametrically different than mine and with whom I have engaged in vigorous debate, was kind enough to respond to the snarky comment left by another reader, “What planet are you from? Uranus?” He advised, “Pay not attention to idiots.  I have your back.”  That comment literally caused my eyes to tear.

There are some decent people in the world – irrespective of whether we share the same political viewpoint.  But if we take the stand that we are the sole possessor or recipient of “truth” and anyone who disagrees is, by definition, “wrong” we will never reach any consensus or move toward a more prosperous future.  Sadly, that seems to be the majority view of those who comment on the Huffington Post and, in fairness, probably reflects much the same attitude one would find in an ultra-right publication as well.

One of the brief comments I left, which generated far more activity than I would have expected, pertained to the vote to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress.  The rhetoric and hyperbole flowed fast and furiously (no pun intended).  The overwhelming majority of those focused on my being “un-American;” “having no concept of the Constitution – particularly the Fifth Amendment;” or simply pointed to this event as little more than a “Republican witch hunt.”

To summarize my three sentence comment I said, “I didn’t know whether Ms. Lerner had done anything illegal or whether the IRS had engaged in illegal or political activity but that it would be in all of our best interests to get to the truth and, if there were impropriety, to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

If I had a list of statements that I had made over the years which I personally considered “controversial,” this one wouldn’t have qualified.  That was not the reaction of HP readers, twenty-two of whom “faved” my comment – and thirty-eight of whom explained that I was a blithering idiot.  But at least this comment was allowed to stand by the “editorial board” at HP.

Another comment which also generated a lot of interest did not survive the censorship process.  That comment, which follows, was in response to a story which made fun of Brit Hume and FOX News (the greatest evil since Hitler discovered the gas chamber), over the social media effort to rescue the abducted Nigerian school girls by launching a hash tag campaign.

“There’s probably no one in the “civilized world” who doesn’t hope for the safe return of the abducted Christian Nigerian girls. (By civilized world I refer to those who are not members of Boko Haram or any other fundamentalist extreme Islamic terrorist organization).

But this incident is hardly without precedent since in late February, fifty-nine male students were attacked in their Nigerian school and were either shot or burned to death by the same outfit. Where was the outrage; where were the hash tags; where was the love?

Treating symptoms doesn’t cure diseases. And until we admit the real source of these problems and stamp it out as we did with smallpox, we’re all likely candidates for infection – with or without hash tags.

The story here isn’t FOX News. It’s medieval Islamic extremists.”

I can only guess why that comment was deemed as “too outrageous for publication” but I suspect that it was either by using the words, “Islam,” “extremism,” “terrorists,” or some combination of those which caused the deletion.

I would have liked to have had the opportunity to both read and respond to the twenty-two comments that other readers took the trouble to leave.  Sadly, my comment and their responses were deleted before I had the chance to do that.  That is both a discourtesy to me – but more so to those who wanted to share their thoughts.  And it does remind me that what was true more than two hundred years ago is just as true today.

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”
― Benjamin Franklin

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

My father used the title phrase of this post so many times that I lost count of how often he said it.  If I were upset because someone had said something that was hurtful he would ask me about the individual making the statement.  Normally, it was someone from school.  The fact that I wore glasses at an early age was one area of such commentary.

He would advise me that a person who made fun of a person who needed glasses in order to see would probably also make fun of an old person who needed a cane in order to walk.  “Now, that doesn’t speak very well to the person’s sense of compassion, does it?”, he would ask.

“It’s always important when we listen to others to consider the source.”

Those words are perhaps even truer today than when I heard them as a youngster.  We have so much information thrown at us that simply sorting through it is, in and of itself, virtually a full time job.  That, of course, leaves us with little time to verify that information which is formative in helping us shape our opinions.

And when we hear the same thing, over and over not from one source but from virtually every medium reporting on a particular subject, it is easy to fall into the habit of accepting what we hear as gospel truth.  The assumption is, if everyone is saying the same thing, how could they all be wrong?  And so, in the interest of convenience, we buy the story and think no further about it.  Our opinion has been shaped by others and we have taken ownership of it.

And, of course, that is exactly the objective of advertising.  Repetition tends to breed acceptance – which is why we hear the same ads for a particular product so often.  While we subconsciously know that the purpose of advertising is to sell a product or service and may be annoyed at seeing a specific ad for the hundredth time, we do not see this as deceptive.  But when the same practice exists in our media, presenting us with the “news”, we have every right to be suspicious of the source and of its author’s motivations.

Back in the 1950’s, New York had three morning newspapers:  “The New York Post”; “The Herald Tribune”; and “The New York Times.”  “The Post” tended to contain stories that were written in a somewhat more salacious way although in dad’s opinion they had the best sports section.  “The Trib” and “The Times” approached news stories in a more in depth manner, the difference being that “The Trib” was far more conservative in its outlook.

Because my father liked to stay informed, he would purchase copies of all three, reading only “The Post’s” sports section and relying on the other two papers for news of current events.  I think that speaks well to his desire to form objective opinions.

In truth, he leaned far more closely to the interpretation of facts as they were described in “The Trib” but he wanted to hear the other side’s point of view as well.  It’s hard to defeat an opponent if you don’t understand what that opponent’s “modus vivendi” is.

There is a source on which I frequently rely because it generally does a decent job of providing information that I need – particularly as it pertains to movies and movie stars.  That source is www.nndb.com.  For example, if I am researching the cast of a particular film and only remember one of the actors who starred in it, by entering their name I can pull up that person’s biography, together with a (usually) complete listing of all the films in which he appeared.  By then going to a specific film I can bring up the entire cast and, if I wish, click on their names to access their bios as well.

Well, I’ve given credit to NNDB for the good job they do of detailing movie personalities and their artistic appearances – but when it comes to current events, I cannot offer the same commentary.  Below you will see the postings on NNDB for two people who have been in the news lately – Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman:

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon MartinAKA Trayvon Benjamin Martin

Born: 5-Feb1995
Died: 26-Feb2012
Location of death: Sanford, FL
Cause of death: Homicide
Remains: Buried, Dade Memorial Park, Miami, FL

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Victim

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Shot and killed by George Zimmerman

Shot and killed while walking home by George Zimmerman, a hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer who had been specifically instructed by 911 not to pursue Martin. The killing became politically charged with many conservatives taking the side of Zimmerman, blaming the hoodie that Martin was wearing. Fox News quietly removed the hoodie they were selling from the network’s online store. On 11 April, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder, and turned himself in. In 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted of the charge by an all-female, mostly white jury.

Father: Tracey Martin
Mother: Sybrina Fulton
Brother: Jahvaris Fulton
Sister: Michelle
Girlfriend: (age 17 at the time of Martin’s death)

High School: Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, Miami, FL

Autopsy

George Zimmerman

George ZimmermanAKA George Michael Zimmerman

Born: 5-Oct1983
Birthplace: Manassas, VA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: Hispanic
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Criminal Defendant

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Killed Trayvon Martin

Overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer. Pursued, shot, and killed Trayvon Martin on 26 February 2012 after he was instructed not to pursue Martin by a police dispatcher. After weeks of media circus, Zimmerman was charged with 2nd Degree Murder on 11 April 2012 and released on bail on the 23rd. But as the Zimmermans deliberately deceived the court by claiming to be broke while failing to disclose over $100,000 in donations via their website, his bond was revoked on June 1st, and wife Shellie charged with perjury. On July 6th, Zimmerman was again released after a much higher bond of $1M was posted.

Father: Robert Zimmerman, Sr.
Mother: Gladys Mesa
Wife: Shellie Nicole Dean (cosmetologist, m. 2007)

University: Seminole State College of Florida (expelled 2012)

Murder 26-Feb-2012 (death of Trayvon Martin, not guilty)
Manslaughter 26-Feb-2012 (not guilty)
Peruvian Ancestry Maternal

I chose to highlight several points in both of these brief biographical summaries to illustrate the serious lack of credibility that NNDB deserves for these listings.

To make their assumptive case that Zimmerman was at fault for this unfortunate event, you will notice that in both bios they refer to the 911 call and the directive that “he should not follow Martin”.  Frankly, I agree that this might never have happened if he heeded that advice.

But it does give the suggestion of plausibility to the contention that Zimmerman was “stalking” Martin, if you accept the argument that this was just a nice kid who went out to buy some candy and an iced tea (actually Skittles and a Watermelon Punch soda – two thirds of the ingredients needed to make LEAN – a new drug popular among the Hip Hop crowd).

Now when it comes to schooling, Trayvon is merely listed as a student at his high school of record.  There is no mention of the fact that he was suspended three times by school officials and, in fact, was serving one of the suspensions the night he died.  (Nor is there any mention of the fact that “burglary tools” and women’s jewelry were found in his locker.  Or that he was also found to be in possession of a “marijuana pipe” and there was residue from cannabis in his effects).

By contrast, we are left in the Zimmerman profile with an image of a man who couldn’t even cut it in a community college and was “expelled”.  My first thought was that he was a failing student – until I did a little digging.  Here is the statement from Seminole State’s officials about Mr. Zimmerman and his “expulsion”:

Due to the highly charged and high-profile controversy involving this student, Seminole State has taken the unusual but necessary step this week to withdraw Mr. Zimmerman from enrollment.   This decision is based solely on our responsibility to provide for the safety of our students on campus as well as for Mr. Zimmerman.”

And you couldn’t make a good case for racist motivation on Mr. Zimmerman’s part (with a dose of it thrown in on the part of the jury) unless you mentioned that the panel members were “mostly white”.

Last but not least, there are the photos that NNDB selected to use.  Of course, we have the perennial one of a smiling, happy, Trayvon, a young kid with the whole world in front of him; and we have the dour, grim looking George, a man who is distressed because he hasn’t found anyone offensive enough to gun down the morning that picture was taken.

Of course, I am interpreting the “facts” as I see them and that certainly has influenced the way in which I wrote this piece.  It would be less than honest if I were to say that I wasn’t trying to present a certain point of view which I hope you will, at the least, consider.  But I am honest enough and have sufficient respect for you, unlike our media, to hope that you don’t take my word or accept my spin on things as gospel truth.  Do your own research and formulate your own opinion.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been given the right to enjoy “freedom of the press” but rather, “freedom from the press”.  And we should all always remember, before we reach a conclusion, that we should, “Consider the source”.

FINGER POINTING

Mother once gave me a lecture on politeness which included the phrase, “It’s very rude to point your finger at someone.”  Apparently, those who are the copy writers for political ads and those candidates who conclude them by saying, “I’m So and So and I approve this message,” never got the same talking to from their own parents.  More’s the pity.

When people brought Barack Obama into the White House in 2008 it was on a theme of “Hope and Change”.  Things were tough.  We knew they were tough.  The newly elected President campaigned on the theme that while things were tough, he was going to fix all that.

Simply put, he didn’t.  In fact, by many metrics, those things that were tough have gotten even tougher.  The current mantra of the President’s ads is that things are actually getting better; that he has a plan which needs time to work; and that we should stick with him for another term.  It is an ad featuring a far less confrontational Obama than we have seen during the last four years.

Much of the hyperbole about why things are tough and it’s going to take longer than he thought to get everything working again, is his predecessor, President George W. Bush.  Apparently, virtually everything that has gone awry in the universe since the Big Bang is the fault of this misanthrope from Texas.  But let’s examine the facts for a moment – that is for those of you who think that facts matter.

Yesterday the Bureau of Labor Statistics provided the Unemployment Report for September.  It showed that from the previous month, the rate of unemployment went from 7.8% to 7.9%.  I have attached the link to this report for you to review.  No matter how we garner our information, I believe that it is essential for the intelligent individual to do her or his own research and make sure that the sources on which they are relying are honest and factual.  That is one of the reasons I seldom listen to the popular media for my news.

http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/lauhsthl.htm

There are two items on the report that leap off the page at me.  The first is then candidate Obama’s claim that he would bring unemployment down to a mere 5.2%.  There is only one state in which that is the case, Iowa which can boast the lowest unemployment rate in the country with only 5.2%.

I guess that there a lot of ways that you can spin this – and which all the President’s men will spin it – if they choose to acknowledge it at all.  But my take on this is that for those residents of 49 of the 50 states, Obama has failed to deliver on this specific promise.  Because I always like to hear alternative views, please feel free to leave a comment should you have a different interpretation.

The second item that appears obvious from this report is that under President Bush’s watch, 35 out of the 50 states enjoyed the lowest levels of unemployment since they started recording these statistics.  Check the list out for yourself to verify this statement.  And what was the average rate of unemployment in those states during those awful years while Bush was in charge?  The answer – 2.91%.  In other words, going from the years in which we enjoyed the lowest unemployment rates under President Bush to the current statistics under President Obama, we have seen a 271% rise in the rate of unemployment.

The President’s most recent kinder gentler ad suggests that his “plan” is working and we should just stick with him.  As does another ad that is narrated by Morgan Freeman that beings, “Every President inherits challenges..”.  Well, back to our old nemesis President Bush.

There is no question that President Bush’s policies gave rise to a substantial increase in the National Debt.  Part of that was financing wars which he deemed in our “national interest” and part of that was accompanying those with tax reductions, best known as the “Bush tax cuts”.  Every householder knows that if you reduce your income and spend more than you take in, eventually you’ll run out of money.  And we have.

Sadly, President Bush was a mere novice in delivering a message of under-earning and overspending which is why under President Obama we have seen an increase in the official National Debt of $6 Trillion, a 60% increase in a mere four years to a record $16 Trillion.  Part of that increase is certainly due to the tax cuts that were put in place in 2001/2003 and which are set to expire on December 31st of this year.

Did you notice the dates when those decreases were enacted?  They became effective eleven years ago.  Mitt Romney has argued in favor of continuing them as they currently stand on the books – at least until such the time that the economy really begins humming.  This is his plan to “benefit the rich by slashing their taxes $200,000 per year” of which he is accused in almost every Obama ad.  We have been living with this plan for over a decade – so I hardly think that Gov. Romney deserves either credit or opprobrium for thinking it up.

But there is a further point that I would like to make.  Those who have been employed during the past decade, as a result of the Bush tax cuts, received an average additional amount of take home income of about $50 per week.

The first time your paycheck reflected this increase, do you recall either saying yourself or hearing a co-worker say, “You know, I’m kind of worried.  If we keep spending more than we’re taking in, we might run into trouble six or seven years down the road.”  Or did you happily accept the increase, take your wife out for a nice dinner, buy a couple of new electronic gizmos and trade up to a newer model car?

“Give the people what they want.”  It’s an old political saying.  And Americans want and believe we’re entitled to a lot – perhaps more than we truly deserve.  It’s really a pity that when it comes to electing people who are going either to run the country or run it into the ground, we have expectations that are far lower.

And I guess that if I have to point a finger at anyone, (sorry Mom) it would be at those of us who think this is an acceptable way to run a country – or anything else.

AND NOW–THE NEWS

Once upon a time people waited impatiently at a newsstand when a big story was breaking.  Occasionally a really big story would result in a newspaper’s printing an “EXTRA” edition.  And we had radio to keep us informed, then television and now, of course, the internet.  The speed with which we are able to access news has gone from hours to minutes to microseconds.

But what are we getting?

There is an ad that I’ve seen several times that  features a man and woman speaking.  (It’s obviously not a very effective ad because I couldn’t tell you what product or service it promotes).  But the dialogue has the woman saying, “I heard that on the internet – and they couldn’t put it on the internet if it wasn’t true.”

The man asks, “Where did you hear that?”

She replies, “On the internet.”

For at least the last five years I have had my pool serviced by the same company and the same individual.  I have been so pleased with the quality of the job and the reliability of my “pool guy” that I have recommended him and his company to two other neighbors who are as pleased as I am.

For reasons of anonymity, I’m going to call him Carl.

Well, Carl usually comes to maintain the pool on Tuesdays, although occasionally he will arrive a day earlier.  Only rarely does he come later in the week – and it is usually because of an unusual situation.  Two weeks ago, Carl came on Wednesday.  As it happened, I was having my morning coffee and giving Gracie her doggie treats when I heard the gate open.

Without looking up, I heard Carl coming to the back and I said, “Well, I thought you were MIA.”  Then I saw the reason.  He had two bruises over both his eyes and had stitches in both his eyebrows.

Carl, who was moving very slowly because he had some fractured ribs told me the story – how he was the victim of a house break in the previous weekend and how he and the home invader had gotten into a fight.  He obviously was in pain – which anyone who has ever had a fractured rib knows only too well – so I told him to skip doing the pool and take it easy – but he insisted he wanted to do his job.

Naturally, I inquired about what had happened.  So he told me that the man had broken a window and climbed through it to gain entrance.  Then he had completely destroyed all the pictures and anything else that was breakable.  Carl slept through all of this.  But he got up to use the bathroom and that was when he saw the man.

The home invader was not aware that anyone was in the house, but when he saw Carl he made a rush at him.  In self-defense, Carl picked up the lid from the toilet bowl tank and used it to fend the guy off.  After a very physical scuffle, Carl made it out to the front door with his assailant trying to keep him inside the house.  A neighbor came to his assistance and he escaped the house and was taken to a local hospital for treatment.

Apparently, the assailant, one Ronald Hetzel had begun his spree inside his sister’s house which is directly behind the wall to Carl’s.  A neighbor reported hearing a lot of noise two hours earlier and called 911 to report it.  The police were dispatched and came out to investigate.  Another neighbor reported that they saw someone go over the back wall and into the yard at Carl’s house.

With five or six patrol cars in the neighborhood you would have thought that they would follow up on that and at least have checked Carl’s house to see if the man had gained entry.  That apparently didn’t happen.  But I am not trying to point fingers at the police and say they could have done a better job.  That might be the subject of another post.

The week after telling me about this assault, Carl showed up on his regular Tuesday and we talked about what had happened at length.  That was when I learned the assailant’s name and looked him up on Google.  I found three different stories covering this home invasion and assault.  One was from UPI; one from the Huffington Post’; and the third from The New York Daily News.  Here are the links to these three news sources:

http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/367300/20120726/toilet-bowl-killer-lid-guitar-ronald-hetzel.htm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/25/ronald-hetzel-guitar_n_1702045.html

http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-07-25/news/32853132_1_homeowner-police-officer-medical-care

If you read these three stories, the first one from ibtimes (courtesy of UPI.com) makes no sense at all.

The most descriptive of them is the second one from the Huffington Post – and the third from the NY Daily News looks like it simply extracted information from that article, copied and pasted it to create their own story.

But there is a common link between all three – that is who was wielding the porcelain toilet bowl cover in this skirmish – and they all got it wrong.  (But it’s wrong according to my friend Carl in the police report – which is probably the source for their misinformation).

Does this matter?  Well, with our focus on maintaining the rights of those who are accused of crimes, it does matter – because little slipups like this can cause a good defense attorney (pardon the oxymoron) to find a reason to get a case thrown out on the basis of a technicality.  Consider the following two headlines:

“American troops kill ten Taliban leaders in secret ops;”

“Taliban kill ten American political leaders in secret ops.”

The first story gets our “Ho-Hum” attention but the second means that we’re probably going to red alert.

A free and informed and investigative press is essential for a democracy to exist.  Reporters like Woodward and Bernstein spent months assembling and verifying their information which ultimately brought down the Nixon administration.  But today, perhaps because we the news reader are constantly looking for new information to keep us entertained, I believe it is fair to say that we have relaxed those standards to the point where what we see and what we get may only bear a minor resemblance to what actually happened.

It is not only up to capable journalists to probe, to question, to ask why and to get to the truth of the matter in the issues they cover.  It is up to each of us who rely on their reporting to make sure that we do so as well and that we do not simply accept what they present us as being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

If we buy into the statement that, “If it’s on the internet it must be true,” who knows what else they will be able to sell us?

A VETERAN SPEAKS OUT ON VALUES

If you haven’t read the letter that USN retired Chief Boatswain’s Mate, Harold B. Estes wrote several years ago to the CINC you have missed a sincerely committed veteran’s view of what we need to do to get our ship of state back afloat.

Mr. Estes wrote this letter in 2009 as he was approaching the age of 95.  He passed away last year on May 11th.

The attached link to snopes.com which verified the letter’s provenance and authenticity is well worth every American’s read this Memorial Day.

http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/haroldestes.asp

ON CRITICS

Scarcely a person alive hasn’t at some time been the subject of criticism.  Critics abound with the frequency that flies lite on cow pies in the dead heat of a blistering day in Yuma, Arizona.  They are our personal gadflies – sent as a scourge by a lesser deity.  But it is not to these I refer in this post.

No, the critics of whom I speak are those who have made a profession of it.  They are the ultimate arbiters (the Enlightened Ones) of what passes for good taste and have been placed on this earth to inform the rest of us (The Un-enlightened Ones) what we should read, hear, and enjoy – and conversely what we should not pick up, listen to and abhor.  It is a noble profession – and one for which there is really no professional training.  (This might be a possible career choice for those in the OWS movement as it carries with it no baggage such as student loans).

There was a memorable critic in Chicago by the name of Claudia Cassidy.  If it is true that “only the good die young”, Ms. Cassidy went on to live to be 96 years of age – but I have always disputed the validity of that aphorism.  She was indeed an influence in the development (and retardation) of art in Chicago.  Her moniker, “acidy Cassidy” would be understood by anyone who read or heard a typical reiew.

For years she worked as a critic for The Chicago Tribune, submitting freelance offerings.  But I came to know her through her regular half hour Sunday broadcast on Chicago’s classical music station, WFMT.  I can attest to her impact by saying that in order not to miss one of these broadcasts which spanned fifteen years, I attended an earlier service at church to be sure I would be home to hear this famed critic.

If I could think of a way to describe the persona that she projected, I would have to say that the words she spoke reminded me of a nasty and vitriolic Oscar Wilde, delivered through the gravelly voice of a whiskey-downing cigarette-smoking Edith Piaf.  Her delivery and her ability to turn a phrase (usually against the artist she was reviewing) were truly classic.  Listening to her was a bit like playing with a loose tooth – a combination of pleasure and pain.

Ms. Cassidy abruptly passed from the milieu of Chicago’s cultural scene.  One day she reviewed a concert which the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had given under the leadership of guest conductor Thomas Schippers.  She took apart both the Maestro’s ability to lead an orchestra, the orchestra’s performance of Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and went on to further impugn the Austrian people as a whole for having produced such a “monstrous composer” and inflicting him on the world.

Sadly, Maestro Schippers had decided that he didn’t like the rehearsals of the piece and, at the last moment, had substituted Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World” in its place.  And so ended a vainglorious career.

If there is a moral in this it can have been expressed no better than by Polonius in “Hamlet” when he said, “To thine own self be true.”  As in relationships and in art, you are your own best critic.

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