BREAKING NEWS: AP, Media Fumble News Story

 

by Walter Brasch

 

On the Sunday before the final presidential debate, Mitt Romney and some of his senior staffers played a flag football game with members of the Press Corps on Delray Beach, Fla.

Ashley Parker of the Associated Press, apparently mistaking fashion reporting for news, reported that Mitt Romney was “wearing black shorts, a black Adidas T-shirt and gray sneakers.” Romney’s team, composed of senior campaign staff whom Parker identified, was “clad in red T-shirts.” She didn’t report what the members of the press wore, their names, or how many were on a team, but did acknowledge she “also played, winning the coin toss for her team, but doing little else by way of yardage accrual.” Yardage accrual? If this was Newswriting 101, and she put that phrase into a news story, there wouldn’t be one college prof anywhere in the country who wouldn’t have red-marked it, and suggested she stop trying to be cute.

Romney was a starter—we don’t know which position he played—made a “brief beach appearance” and left when “the game was in full swing,” possibly not wanting to get too mussed up by having to interact with commoners. There is so much a reporter could have done with Romney’s failure to finish the game, but didn’t. Parker, however, did tell readers breathlessly awaiting the next “factoid” that Ann Romney “made a brief appearance . . . after cheerleading from the sidelines.” She was protected by the Secret Service who served as the offensive line, undeniably allowing her to take enough time to do her nails, brush her hair, put on another coat of makeup for the AP camera, and then throw a touchdown pass to tie the game at 7–7. At 14–14, the game was called because, reported Parker, “Mr. Romney’s aides needed to get to debate prep, and the reporters had stories to file.” Obviously, stories about a beach flag football game on a Sunday afternoon was critical enough breaking news to stop the game and breathlessly inform the nation.


Amidst the sand, Parker reported, “There is a long history of candidates and their staff members occasionally interacting with reporters on a social level.” She referred to a couple events during the 2008 campaign; Sen. Barack Obama played Taboo with reporters; Sen. John McCain hosted a barbeque for the media. Those facts alone should have kept any alert comedy writer, satirist, or political pundit in material for the next four years.

A beach football game between politician and press may seem innocent enough—a couple of hours of fun to break the stress of a long, and usually annoying, political campaign. But there’s far more than flags pulled from shorts.
Reporters who socialize with the power elite—and this happens far more than it doesn’t happen—often fail to do their primary job: challenge authority, as the Founding fathers so eloquently asked. It wasn’t White House reporters who broke the Watergate story that eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, it was two police reporters at the Washington Post, who took abuse heaped upon them by the White House reporters and hundreds of others, including some of their own newspaper, for going on what was called a vindictive witch hunt.  It was the media who proved they were better stenographers than reporters who dutifully chowed down whatever crumbs they were fed by the Bush–Cheney administration, and seldom questioned why the U.S. was invading Iraq. A few from the major media and many from the alternative press who did question authority were dismissed as mere gadflies. It was the sycophantic press that also didn’t question the destruction of civil liberties by the passage of the PATRIOT Act.
Against policy wonk/environmentalist Al Gore in 2000, Americans said they would rather have a beer with George W. Bush. Many of the press did have beers with candidate Bush, who once invited the media onto his ranch to watch him shoot and then barbeque pigeons for a group barbecue.

Every year in the nation’s capital is a high society event, the “Gridiron dinner.” Everyone—politicians, members of the press, and a horde of actors and singers—dress up in ball gowns and white-tie tuxedos to drink and schmooze. When it isn’t Gridiron Season, there’s all kinds of social events at all kinds of places that reporters just have to attend in order to get their stories, they simplistically justify.

Sports reporters who are too close to the teams or the sports they cover are derisively known as “homers,” not for Homer Simpson, who some of them act like, but because they favor the home team. Entertainment reporters and arts critics feel important because publicists will often go to extraordinary lengths to get them face-time with celebrities. To prove how “independent” they are, some, who have no discernible creative talent, will write snarky columns about celebrities and their works, thinking they are clever rather than the pompous self-aggrandizing jerks they really are. Many in the media—especially those in television and the print reporters who often do TV talk-show commentaries—probably should drop the pretense they’re journalists and just accept the appellations that they are celebrities.

It isn’t just reporters who cover national stories who get too close to their sources. There are now state and metropolitan gridiron dinners. At a local level, Reporters who cover the police and city council are often on a first-name basis with their sources. Even if they honestly believe they are objective, and will knock down lies and deceptions, they often don’t. They believe they need these sources to get more news, and are afraid that if they become too tough, the news, which is fed to them, will somehow dry up. They often accept “background” and “off-the-record” comments, which they never report or attribute, because somehow it makes them feel that they, unlike their readers of a lesser level, are “in the know.” And yet, every reporter will swear upon a stack of style manuals that he or she is objective and independent.

Don’t believe that? Put yourself in the position of being a reporter. You’re sitting at your desk in the bullpen of a newsroom, now decimated by layoffs. In walks a man in a three-piece suit and a woman in fashionably-acceptable skirt, blouse, blazer, and two-inch heels. They have a story to tell. Now, you may think that because they are PR people or middle-management executives for a large corporation, they are suspect to begin with, but they, like you, are college graduates; they are eloquent; they have a news release with the story laid out. Want anything else? They’re more than pleased to get it for you.

Now, the next day, while walking outside your office, a bag lady accosts you. She’s wearing little more than rags. Her hair is unkempt; her breath stinks. It’s doubtful she was ever a sorority president. “You a reporter?” she barks, knowing that if you’re wearing jeans, a nice but not expensive shirt and a tie you probably aren’t a corporate executive or big-shot politician. She wants to tell you a story—something about a corporation that did something very unethical and possibly illegal. You’re running late to your appointment with a physical trainer who has promised to keep you fit and attractive. You just want to get past this obstacle.

Who do you relate to? Those who look, act, and think more like you—or those who you probably wouldn’t have a drink with after work?

Don’t expect the media to stop having social encounters with their sources; it will never happen. But, do expect that maybe some will heed the call of the Founding Fathers and be independent of the sources they are expected to cover.

[Walter Brasch spent more than 40 years as a journalist and university professor, covering everything from local school board meetings to the White House.  He is currently a syndicated columnist and book author. He acknowledges that in his early 20s he was enamored by being at the same parties as the “power elite,” but quickly got over it, and has been fiercely independent from the power-elites, including the power-media, whether at local, state, or national levels. His current book is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

           

 

 

 

BREAKING NEWS: AP, Media Fumble News Story

 

by Walter Brasch

 

On the Sunday before the final presidential debate, Mitt Romney and some of his senior staffers played a flag football game with members of the Press Corps on Delray Beach, Fla.

Ashley Parker of the Associated Press, apparently mistaking fashion reporting for news, reported that Mitt Romney was “wearing black shorts, a black Adidas T-shirt and gray sneakers.” Romney’s team, composed of senior campaign staff whom Parker identified, was “clad in red T-shirts.” She didn’t report what the members of the press wore, their names, or how many were on a team, but did acknowledge she “also played, winning the coin toss for her team, but doing little else by way of yardage accrual.” Yardage accrual? If this was Newswriting 101, and she put that phrase into a news story, there wouldn’t be one college prof anywhere in the country who wouldn’t have red-marked it, and suggested she stop trying to be cute.

Romney was a starter—we don’t know which position he played—made a “brief beach appearance” and left when “the game was in full swing,” possibly not wanting to get too mussed up by having to interact with commoners. There is so much a reporter could have done with Romney’s failure to finish the game, but didn’t. Parker, however, did tell readers breathlessly awaiting the next “factoid” that Ann Romney “made a brief appearance . . . after cheerleading from the sidelines.” She was protected by the Secret Service who served as the offensive line, undeniably allowing her to take enough time to do her nails, brush her hair, put on another coat of makeup for the AP camera, and then throw a touchdown pass to tie the game at 7–7. At 14–14, the game was called because, reported Parker, “Mr. Romney’s aides needed to get to debate prep, and the reporters had stories to file.” Obviously, stories about a beach flag football game on a Sunday afternoon was critical enough breaking news to stop the game and breathlessly inform the nation.


Amidst the sand, Parker reported, “There is a long history of candidates and their staff members occasionally interacting with reporters on a social level.” She referred to a couple events during the 2008 campaign; Sen. Barack Obama played Taboo with reporters; Sen. John McCain hosted a barbeque for the media. Those facts alone should have kept any alert comedy writer, satirist, or political pundit in material for the next four years.

A beach football game between politician and press may seem innocent enough—a couple of hours of fun to break the stress of a long, and usually annoying, political campaign. But there’s far more than flags pulled from shorts.
Reporters who socialize with the power elite—and this happens far more than it doesn’t happen—often fail to do their primary job: challenge authority, as the Founding fathers so eloquently asked. It wasn’t White House reporters who broke the Watergate story that eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, it was two police reporters at the Washington Post, who took abuse heaped upon them by the White House reporters and hundreds of others, including some of their own newspaper, for going on what was called a vindictive witch hunt.  It was the media who proved they were better stenographers than reporters who dutifully chowed down whatever crumbs they were fed by the Bush–Cheney administration, and seldom questioned why the U.S. was invading Iraq. A few from the major media and many from the alternative press who did question authority were dismissed as mere gadflies. It was the sycophantic press that also didn’t question the destruction of civil liberties by the passage of the PATRIOT Act.
Against policy wonk/environmentalist Al Gore in 2000, Americans said they would rather have a beer with George W. Bush. Many of the press did have beers with candidate Bush, who once invited the media onto his ranch to watch him shoot and then barbeque pigeons for a group barbecue.

Every year in the nation’s capital is a high society event, the “Gridiron dinner.” Everyone—politicians, members of the press, and a horde of actors and singers—dress up in ball gowns and white-tie tuxedos to drink and schmooze. When it isn’t Gridiron Season, there’s all kinds of social events at all kinds of places that reporters just have to attend in order to get their stories, they simplistically justify.

Sports reporters who are too close to the teams or the sports they cover are derisively known as “homers,” not for Homer Simpson, who some of them act like, but because they favor the home team. Entertainment reporters and arts critics feel important because publicists will often go to extraordinary lengths to get them face-time with celebrities. To prove how “independent” they are, some, who have no discernible creative talent, will write snarky columns about celebrities and their works, thinking they are clever rather than the pompous self-aggrandizing jerks they really are. Many in the media—especially those in television and the print reporters who often do TV talk-show commentaries—probably should drop the pretense they’re journalists and just accept the appellations that they are celebrities.

It isn’t just reporters who cover national stories who get too close to their sources. There are now state and metropolitan gridiron dinners. At a local level, Reporters who cover the police and city council are often on a first-name basis with their sources. Even if they honestly believe they are objective, and will knock down lies and deceptions, they often don’t. They believe they need these sources to get more news, and are afraid that if they become too tough, the news, which is fed to them, will somehow dry up. They often accept “background” and “off-the-record” comments, which they never report or attribute, because somehow it makes them feel that they, unlike their readers of a lesser level, are “in the know.” And yet, every reporter will swear upon a stack of style manuals that he or she is objective and independent.

Don’t believe that? Put yourself in the position of being a reporter. You’re sitting at your desk in the bullpen of a newsroom, now decimated by layoffs. In walks a man in a three-piece suit and a woman in fashionably-acceptable skirt, blouse, blazer, and two-inch heels. They have a story to tell. Now, you may think that because they are PR people or middle-management executives for a large corporation, they are suspect to begin with, but they, like you, are college graduates; they are eloquent; they have a news release with the story laid out. Want anything else? They’re more than pleased to get it for you.

Now, the next day, while walking outside your office, a bag lady accosts you. She’s wearing little more than rags. Her hair is unkempt; her breath stinks. It’s doubtful she was ever a sorority president. “You a reporter?” she barks, knowing that if you’re wearing jeans, a nice but not expensive shirt and a tie you probably aren’t a corporate executive or big-shot politician. She wants to tell you a story—something about a corporation that did something very unethical and possibly illegal. You’re running late to your appointment with a physical trainer who has promised to keep you fit and attractive. You just want to get past this obstacle.

Who do you relate to? Those who look, act, and think more like you—or those who you probably wouldn’t have a drink with after work?

Don’t expect the media to stop having social encounters with their sources; it will never happen. But, do expect that maybe some will heed the call of the Founding Fathers and be independent of the sources they are expected to cover.

[Walter Brasch spent more than 40 years as a journalist and university professor, covering everything from local school board meetings to the White House.  He is currently a syndicated columnist and book author. He acknowledges that in his early 20s he was enamored by being at the same parties as the “power elite,” but quickly got over it, and has been fiercely independent from the power-elites, including the power-media, whether at local, state, or national levels. His current book is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

           

 

 

 

The Negative Influence of Reality TV on Teenage Girls

Many of us may have conversed around the water cooler about the provocative behavior that is displayed on some reality TV shows. It’s like junk food: we love it and we know it’s bad for us, but we—and our children—watch anyway. You might say that it’s a parent’s duty to steer a child in the right direction; however, with loads of technology available at our fingertips on a variety of devices, it can be next to impossible to shield a child from junk TV. Reality TV is popular entertainment that may be having an impact on teenage girls, making it seem that the impertinent verbal exchanges and sometimes violent confrontations displayed heavily on reality TV shows such as Basketball Wives and Real Housewives of Atlanta are normal and desirable forms of behavior.

A research report commissioned by The Newspaper Association of America Foundation, Fitting into Their Lives: A Survey of Three Studies About Youth Media Usage by Vivian Vahlberg, found that “young people spend about as much time consuming media everyday (7 hours and 39 minutes) as their parents spend working.” Also, “if you factor in the additional media usage consumed in multi-tasking, young people pack 10 ¾ hours’ worth of media content into every day.” Many studies over the years have documented that some of our opinions are formed by what we consume through the media. Reflecting on over 10 hours of daily media consumption, it is reasonable to wonder how teenage girl’s behavior and perception – of society and of themselves – are being influenced by the portrayals of women on TV.

Jennifer Pozner, the director of Women in Media & News in New York City and the author of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, shared her perspective on reality TV in an online interview with Anne Kingston of Maclean’s, a Canadian weekly magazine. Pozner emphasized how reality TV shows are all scripted with “Frankenbites,” which help exaggerate and distort a character’s true motives or intent. For example, she notes that formerReal Housewives of Atlanta cast member Deshawn Snow was kicked off the show after the first season because she did not fit into the producers’ desired depiction of black women. Instead of highlighting the positive aspects of Snow as a dedicated student, an advocate for women of color, and an avowed Christian, the producers instead wanted to focus on negative imagery of black women.

The internet has become another host to negative depictions, through the posting of videos showing violent real-life confrontations such as the recent physical altercation between two teenage age girls in Ohio over a Twitter dispute that was videotaped and posted online—with over two million viewers. While there may be at best a tenuous connection to the Ohio incident, there is little doubt that its presence online is aimed at audiences who have been conditioned through media, including reality TV, to accept as normal, even heroic, behavior we would once criticize. It’s time to take a step back and reassess our TV standards and take a serious look at the psychological and behavioral impact television, particularly reality TV, has on today’s young women and girls—and vow to do something about it.

 

 

Friendly Advice to CNN -- Change Everything

CNN just had their lowest ratings in a decade. They are in disastrous shape. When I was on MSNBC, we would beat them with a stick. Even after "pro-CNN" stories like revolutions in Egypt and Libya, Japanese nuclear meltdowns and the killing of Osama bin Laden (CNN does much better when major news or international stories break out), we still beat them. Now they're doing so poorly I might even catch them on Current.

We started at almost nothing on Current, but we have been steadily improving our numbers. Why are we getting traction? Because people want an alternative -- the real news. So, I should just stay quiet and let CNN drive off that cliff. By the way, when I catch Erin Burnett -- which is not that far off because I'm beginning to see her in the distance in the demos -- everyone will know it. Who knows, that might be the event that precipitates CNN re-thinking their entire model. Imagine if a network that started at nearly nothing catches CNN within a year.

But I am not going to wait until then to give them some friendly advice. I know they won't perceive it that way, but I am actually trying to help them. So here it is -- for the love of God, stop doing "he said, she said" crap that doesn't actually deliver the news to anyone. Democrats said this and Republicans said that -- who cares? What is the reality?! Your job is supposed to be to bring us facts, not what official spokespeople told you in their press releases and talking points.

The problem is that CNN doesn't have the courage to do this. They're afraid it might offend some folks if you tell the American people reality. I want to be clear; I'm not saying they should give us opinion. There's plenty of that in other parts of cable, including my show. They're never going to out-opinion me. But if Mitt Romney says his proposal balances the budget, well, why don't you crunch the numbers and tell us whether that's true or not? Of course the reality is that it creates trillions of dollars in deficits just so that the rich can have more tax cuts. But CNN would consider reporting those facts as being biased.

If the Giants play the Cowboys and beat them silly, it is not biased to report that they won. You don't have a pro-Giants bias if you report the score. I'm a progressive but I have no interest in CNN skewing issues in favor of Democrats. By all means, call them out just as aggressively. The Democratic Party takes huge amounts of cash from corporations and unions to vote a certain way. My God, CNN doesn't even cover the role of money in politics. They take politicians at their word. Are you kidding? It seems like the people who work at CNN are the last people in the country who actually trust our politicians. Congressional approval ratings were recently at 11 percent. How well do you think you're going to do on television if you're sucking up to those guys?

By the way, following along with artificially created Fox News scandals doesn't give you balance. It makes you sad and pathetic. There are plenty of real Democratic scandals without falling into the rubbish Fox talks about. How much money does Chuck Schumer take from Wall Street? What favors does he give them in return? Why do Democratic leaders keep writing legislation rigged against the Internet -- could it have something to do with the tremendous amount of cash they take from Hollywood companies? Why does President Obama get a free pass on following George Bush's civil liberties abuses like warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detentions?

In other words, do your job -- report the news. The real news, not dueling talking points and manufactured controversies. My God, where is your investigative team? What's the last story you broke? Of course, the reality is that you don't want to break stories about Washington because that might offend some people. What kind of a so-called news operation is this afraid of their own shadow? "Oh my God, what if we offended someone in power. They might not come on our shows anymore and they might call us biased." Or they might call you journalists.

Sam Donaldson was on our show a long time ago and told us a really cool story about his old boss at ABC News, Roone Arledge. He said when he was covering the Reagan White House (and later the Clinton White House, too), whenever the administration called up to complain about him, Arledge would give him a raise. How far away from that model are we now? When politicians call up to complain now, "news" executives wet themselves in fear. Stand up to them! Do journalism! Challenge government!

And you know something amazing might happen -- people might actually watch you again.

Watch The Young Turks Here and Here

 

Follow Cenk Uygur on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CenkUygur

 

 

Reality, News Perception, and Accuracy

                                                                         

By WALTER BRASCH

 

She quietly walked into the classroom from the front and stood there, just inside the door, against a wall.

I continued my lecture, unaware of her presence until my students’ eyes began focusing upon her rather than me.

“Yes?” I asked. Just “yes.” Nothing more.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” she said peacefully. I was confused. So she said it again, this time a little sharper.

“Ma’am,” I began, but she cut me off. I tried to defuse the situation, but couldn’t reason with her. She pulled a gun from her purse and shot me, then quickly left. I recovered immediately.

It took less than a minute.

The scene was an exercise in a newswriting class, unannounced but highly planned. My assignment was for the students to quickly write down everything they could about the incident. What happened. What was said. What she looked like. What she was wearing. Just the facts. Nothing more.

Everyone got some of the information right, but no one got all the facts, even the ones they were absolutely positively sure they saw or heard correctly. And, most interestingly, the “gun” the visitor used and which the students either couldn’t identify or misidentified was in reality a . . . banana; a painted black banana, but a banana nevertheless. The actual gun shot was on tape broadcast by a hidden recorder I activated.

It was a lesson in observation and truth. Witnesses often get the facts wrong, unable to distinguish events happening on top of each other. Sometimes they even want to “help” the reporter and say what they think the reporter wants to hear.

Reporters are society’s witnesses who record history by interviewing other witnesses, and they all make mistakes not because they want to but because everyone’s experiences and perceptions fog reality.

Of the infinite number of facts and observations that occur during a meeting, reporters must select a few, and then place them in whatever order they think is most important. Which few they select, which thousands they don’t select--and, more important--which facts they don’t even know exist--all make up a news story, usually written under deadline pressure. Thus, it isn’t unusual for readers to wonder how reporters could have been in the same meeting as they were since the published stories didn’t seem to reflect the reality of the meeting.

But there are some facts that are verifiable. We know that a South American country is spelled “Colombia,” not “Columbia.” We know that Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive Republican. And we know that the current World Series champions are the St. Louis Cardinals not, regrettably, the San Diego Padres.

But, for far too many in my profession, facts and the truth are subverted by a process that has become he said/she said journalism. We take notes at meetings, recording who said what. If there are conflicting statements, we try to quote all the opinions, even the dumb ones, believing we are being “fair and balanced.” If  a news source says the world is flat, we write that, and then see if we can find someone who will say that it is round—or maybe square.

When we write features and personality profiles, we tend to take what we are told, craft it into snappy paragraphs, and hope the readers don’t fall asleep. If someone shyly tells us he earned a Silver Star for heroism during the Vietnam War, we don’t demand to see the certificate—or question how a 50 year old, who was wasn’t even in his teens when the war ended, could actually have served during the Vietnam war.

At the local level, although we’re trained to be cynical, we aren’t. If a mayor or police chief tells us something, we attribute the quote, figuring we did our duty. Maybe we ask a couple of questions, but we tend not to pursue them—we have far too many stories to write and far too little time. Besides, if the facts are wrong, we believe we’re “protected,” since it’s not we who said it but someone else. Legally, of course, we’re still responsible for factual error even if someone else said it and we accurately quote that person, but we don’t worry about the technicalities.

Adequate reporters get their facts from people in authority; the great reporters know truth is probably known by the secretaries, custodians, and other workers. We just have to find the right sources, dig out the facts, and verify them.

And now comes another presidential election, and we continue to perpetuate lies by not challenging those who spout them. Rick Santorum says California’s public colleges don’t teach American history—and we write down his lie. Mitt Romney claims he never said the Massachusetts health care plan was a model for the entire country, that Barack Obama never mentioned the deficit during his state of the union or that the President is constantly apologizing for America, and we write that without challenge. Newt Gingrich, like most Republican candidates for president and Congress, wants us to believe he’s an “outsider” and a fiscal conservative, and we go along with the fiction. Barack Obama said he’d be a leader for defending Constitutional rights, yet willingly signed an extension of the PATRIOT Act, which curtails civil liberties. Pick a candidate—any candidate, any party—and we think we’re “fair” because we record what he or she said, even of it’s a lie, a half-truth, an exaggeration, a distortion, or a misconception. Perhaps American politicians have internalized the wisdom of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who said “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Quoting people isn’t journalism—it’s clerking. We’re merely taking words, transcribing them, and publishing them. Journalism demands we challenge our sources and find the truth. As one grizzled city editor said in the late 19th century, if your mother claims to be your mother, demand a birth certificate. It was good advice then; it is even better advice now.

[In a 40-year career as a journalist and professor, Dr. Brasch has won more than 200 awards for excellence in journalism in investigative reporting, feature writing, and for his weekly column. His current book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which helps explain the rise of the Occupy and anti-fracking movements. The book is available in both ebook and hardcover formats.]

 

 

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