An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Archive for December, 2011

The Ultimate Truth about “Fair” Reporting

There was a great quote that was said by an equally great man.  It was William Faulkner, the American writer and nobel prize laureate.  This quote really symbolizes exactly what needs to be talked about when it comes to the news.  The quote goes as follows –

Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.

Brilliant, isn’t it?  And he’s right.  The fact is that facts and the truth are usually mutually exclusive.  Centering this concept on the field of journalism, there is a great truism that journalists need to accept – objective reporting is worthless and impossible.

Addressing the second concept, it is impossible to seperate yourself from what you do.  Everything we all do comes from a subjective point of view.  If it were actually possible to seperate the needs of the self, then the problems in this country could be fixed in a day.  But it isn’t.  It really would be nice if it were possible, but there is no way that it could be.

To the first point, fact-based reporting, exclusively fact-based reporting, is nothing but a worthless joke.  Ted Koppel wrote an article in The Washington Post about how “real news” is dying thanks in part to the political commentators on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.  In his mind, there is this objective place where the news people only reported facts, and that was it.

But Faulkner was dead-on.  The truth and facts rarely have much to do with one-another.  And all the great reporters through history didn’t depend on facts to make their points.

When Edward R. Murrow was going after the McCarthy machine, challenging the government, everyone told him how he was editorializing.  Well, yeah, he was.  He was taking information in, digesting it, coming to his own conclusions, and giving them to the public.  He had the truth on his side, too.  What McCarthy was doing was wrong.  The war of words between the two of them was not only a testament to great journalism, but to a great man, fighting against all odds, and winning.  Murrow and his battle were part of what broke McCarthy, and brought sanity back to this country.

Or what about Walter Cronkite and his reports talking about how the war in Vietnam was a lost cause?  He didn’t just give facts.  He told America that there was no way that we could win this war.  The only thing we could do is to walk away, not having failed, but having done the best that we can.  Stalemate was the best that we could hope for.  It was a very unpopular thing to say, but it was truth.

While we are talking about unpopular statements, how about H.L. Mencken and his reports about what was happening in America during Prohibition?  His reporting was viciously cold and very real.  He knew from the beginning about what a farce this new law was.  He knew that the business would continue, unemcumbered by these new laws.  It was all a complete joke.  As you can imagine, this was incredibly unpopular with the pulse of the nation which, at that time, was very pro-dry.  Booze was bad, and if you printed that it wasn’t, you were not the friend of the system.

The fact is that Faulkner’s quote was appropriate.  You can’t possibly think that the facts and the truth are connected.  During the beginning of the Iraq War, the news reported a lot of facts, but it took the BBC to report that all of this stuff was bogus.  People watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report to get their politics because they don’t trust the people we have in politics now.  The independent media is growing because the average American is getting fed up with just being told “facts.”

Keith Olbermann was right when he responded to Ted Koppel’s article.  He had a very nice quote that surmizes this whole affair rather nicely.

These (great reporters listed) were not glorified stenographers.  These were not neutral men.  These were men who did in their day, what the best of journalists still try to do in this one – evaluate, analyze, un-scramble assess, put together a coherant picture or a challenging question using the facts as they can be best discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.

That’s the ultimate truth.  great reporting is done from a place of subjectivity.  With the internet, we now have a point where great reporters can get us their positions, while giving us the ability to look at the information that they got, and come to our own conclusions.

Don’t just report “facts.”  It is too easy to fail to understand that the truth and facts are so completely different.  We are a better people than that.

Peace out,

Lefty

Is there a war on Christmas?

It seems like every year, the pundits get rolling about how there is this huge war on Christmas.  Rick Perry’s latest (and hopefully last) campaign ad showed this quite well, where he talks about how we are letting “gay people serve in the military,” but apparently, little Tommy and Billy can’t celebrate Christmas.  So the question is, where did this come from?

Cracked.com made a very funny article about this pointing out that it must have happened at some store, at some point in time, when a bunch of people came together and said – “say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.”  From there, the race was on against the “War on Christmas.”  It has been a convenient talking point of comedians like Stephen Colbert to make fun of.  Fox News is a brilliant testiment to how far good marketing can go, especially when the base that you are marketing to has the intellectual capacity of a toadstool.

In a link above, the Fox News site has an entire page dedicated to how there is a war on Christmas.  Here are some titles from some of the links on that site –

School Play Turns Political in ‘Occupy North Pole

Apparently, kids are turning Christmas into politics.  Wow, that’s interesting.

 Postal Service Tells Workers to Stop Dressing as Santa

They offer not proof that that claim, by the way.  They just have a brief tidbit, a tiny blurb of talk, and that’s it.

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Pays Homage to Obama—But Not Jesus

Don’t you miss the days when the First Amendment actually meant something?  A person cannot get elected into public office in this country unless they believe in these people’s God.  Over 80% of Republicans and over 50% of Democrats say that religion is very important to them.  These numbers are telling a story – that there is no way that religion doesn’t have a very firm grasp in this country.  It’s also worth mentioning that this claim is barely anything more than a blurb too.  It is just talking.

The fact is that there is no war on Christmas.  Fox News can talk all the want about how fire fighters aren’t allowed to dress up like Santa and give gifts to the kids, but they don’t stop and check to see that they are getting the wrong facts.  It is a cycle that never stops, ever.

Meanwhile, those of us in the real world say Merry Christmas to each other, and nobody attacks us for it.  One can leave Target and hear them say Merry Christmas, and nobody gets upset.  And there has never been an instance in my lifetime where a kid go suspended for wearing a Santa hat to school.  This is just another lovely form of made-up problems that Fox News is so famous for having on their network.

There are people who make this a problem, but these people are trying to be trouble, and everybody who is aware knows it.

Merry Christmas, everybody, and have a lovely holiday season.

Peace out,

Lefty

The Truth about 24-Hour News Networks

This should be short but sweet. Here is a video telling the ultimate truth about what 24-hour networks are like.

Learn something?

Peace out,

Lefty

The Northern Light fails not only UAA, but also the field of journalism

Disclaimer: In a previous post, I have written defending this publication.  I want to be forward, because it is the right thing to do.  It was a bias that I didn’t realize that I have, and looking at this issue now, I realize just how blind I actually was

There is a problem that is systemic in a publication that the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) puts out.  It wasn’t until the most recent issue came out that the true level of how substandard this publication is came to light.  In fact, substandard does not seem fit the description, because what has been done recently is outright failure to the obligation that journalists have to report the news.

There are two articles that are going to be referenced.  The first is “Personal crisis led to Cheseto’s disappearance,” by Matt Caprioli.  The second is “A Joyful HanuKwanzaaMass to You!” by Alden Lee.

For those who don’t know, Marko Cheseto was a student from Kenya.  He was attending UAA as a cross-country runner, and was a rising star here.  He was hospitalized recently and lost both of his feet.  This event has made international headlines.  In the latest issue if the paper (December 6, 2011), it made headlines here as well.

The article opens stating that Cheseto was unhappy.  They have the power to read people’s minds now, and to open a front-page article with a subjective tone as well.  The article then goes through the psychological states of his mind, getting quotes from other students.  Students, and a report that was redacted.  Some of these quotes were quite interesting.

“Prior to leaving, he was looking around the apartment for his hat, but found an old (blank).  He took it and put it in his pocket.  Cheseto later told me that it was at this time that he decided to (blank). At UAA, he retrieved his own (blank), and put them all in his pocket,” Jaksha wrote.

Not only did that quote inform the readers of nothing, but it gives a very big clue as to what this article is truly about – nothing.  This entire article is filled with quotes just like it, with lots of “(blank)” statements.  It is nothing more than exploitative writing.  There is a reason that the administration made no official statement, and parts of the police report were redacted – because it is illegal for them to comment on personal matters, which was entirely what this article was about.  The article mentions that they approached the director of Residence Life for a comment, not mentioning that any comment about Cheseto’s personal life would have been a breach of confidentiality.  Perhaps it was another (blank) statement.

This entire article was nothing but throwing the personal life of a runner who has suffered a traumatic event and been scarred for the rest of his life into the public eye, which is not only none of the public’s business, but a mark of shame against this newspaper.

The worst part is that covering tragedy is not something The Northern Light always gets wrong.  If one looks at the February 22, 2011 issue of the paper, Megan Edge wrote a very informative piece about a tragedy that happened at the university, when William Ritekwiang committed suicide.  The story was short, just wrote the facts, and made absolutely no speculation.  It just told the public what the public should know.

Writing bias reports is nothing new for Caprioli.  There are several articles that were written that no only show bias, but it is obscene.  The use of anonymous sources is not uncommon.  In an article from the October 18, 2011 issue of the paper, one anonymous source was quoted saying –

“I don’t want to comment on the politics of it, but there’s definitely something going on.”

Speculative, offering no information about the topic, or any topic, and leading the readers.  This is not good writing.  One of the ironies is that in several of these articles, he is featured as an editor.  An editor of a newspaper is using anonymous sources?  There is a long-standing rule in journalism never to use an anonymous source unless no other option exists, and if you do, they had better offer some very important pieces of information.

After examining Caprioli’s writing in the most recent issue of the paper, let’s turn our attention to another writer, Alden Lee.  There is one article that really needs to be looked it – “A Joyful HanuKwanzaaMas to You!”  In it, he attacks the PC culture that has grown up around this country.  This is a very interesting topic to be examined, and there are several good writers who have examined it, but in what is supposed to be a humor column, there was this quote –

Because he is the greatest symbol for the materialistic consumption that drives holiday merchandise sales, there’ll still be Santa Claus.  Just now he’ll be black-skinned and lead his reindeer on with a lit menorah in hand craying, “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Donner and Blitzen, on Abraham, on Issur, on Dontrell and Shaundra!…”

Not only is that quote not funny, it is racist.  Flat-out racist.  Attacking the PC culture and how insane it gets sometimes is one thing, but to deliberately single-out black people is just wrong.  This went through not only his filter, but the editor, the managing editor, the layout editor, and several others.  Anybody along the way should have said that publishing something like this is wrong.  But nobody did.  It went out into an issue of a public newspaper.

Like Caprioli, writing biased articles is nothing new for Lee.  His history is a lot more vivid than his coworker, who is better at sounding professional than he does.

Welcome to college.  It’s a scramble to situate yourself, figure out what you’re supposed to be doing, find where you belong…for military veterans, it’s even worse.

That was the opening to an article from March 1, 2011, entitled “Student Veterans attempt to unite.”  That could be a very interesting topic, but the opening sentence clearly shows a bias on the part of the reporter.  Through the rest of the article, there is a confirmation bias about how the administration is hard on veterans.  This isn’t the only article that has taken this position.

Standing before a crowd of people and facing public humiliation, Staff Sergeant Tover was being interrogated.

That was the opening sentence from the April 5, 2011 article “Military students claim mistreatment by professors.”  It was the feature article on the front page of the paper.  This is another thing that is common for The Northern Light – having features of human interest stories instead of hard news.

Seeing titles like “Devout Food Dilemma” or “Parking services denies Nazi affiliation” is something that is very common on the front page of The Northern Light.  These are not news.  There is no way that one can argue for them being news.

Take a look at some titles that are featured in The Anchorage Daily News.  “Assembly votes to limit New Year’s fireworks,” “Alaskan among 4 killed in Washington helicopter crash,” ” Assembly overrides mayor’s veto of full-time parks jobs.”  Not only are those all actual news stories, take a look at some of the opening sentences in the article.

The Anchorage Assembly voted late Tuesday to prevent city residents from using  fireworks within 200 feet of a neighbor’s house this New Year’s Eve.

That is from the first article cited above.

The Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night overrode Mayor Dan Sullivan’s veto of some  Parks Department money in next year’s budget.

That is a quote from the last article.  It was professional, concise, clear and to the point.  See the opening statements from The Nothern Light above them?  See how they are not doing the same thing?  How they are deliberately spinning the information from their beginning to fit the narrative that they want to tell?

This is a shame.  It is a shame upon the entire Journalism and Public Communication department.  The worst part is that it is a shame upon UAA.  Copies of The Northern Light are being sent all over town.  A student who walks into Golden Donut can pick up a copy and see a “humor” writer insulting African-Americans, along with telling them the ugly details of a student’s life after he has suffered a horrific incident.

The fact that one can go around town and pick up copies of this paper means that The Northern Light not only represents itself to the college students, but also to the people of Anchorage.  The people outside of the college look to this paper to know what is happening at the college, and instead of finding out what events of consequence are happening, are finding out what Cheseto was thinking while he was the victim of a tragic disaster.

Maybe this is a symbol for what the news is becoming, but somebody needs to be held accountable.  Somebody needs to be taken to task.  This needs to be addressed, because The Northern Light seems to be being held to very little standard.  Journalism publications at UAA need to be held to a higher standard.

And in a lot of places, they are.  Take a look at a publication on KRUA, the school’s radio station.  It talked about the battle against the plan to massively cut back on bandwidth here at the college.  Their story was concise, to the point, and as objective as possible, just giving the facts.  It was an excellent testimony to two-sided reporting.

The Northern Light has failed its mandate to report on what is happening here at the college, and it makes the entire JPC department look bad.  It makes UAA look bad.  Something needs to be done.  As to what that is, who can say?

Nobody else seems to care, as apparently, The Northern Light is winning awards for it’s “excellence.”

Peace out,

Lefty

Greed and Avarice at Christmas

One of the most interesting things about the human race is our greed.  Truly, the power that avarice has over this species is almost too incredible for words.  There are videos, countless videos, showing the absolute worst parts of the human race, the greatest day which represents the power that greed has over our species, Black Friday.  Never before has a creation of man been so great at capturing what is wrong with our entire species.

All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.  -Edgar Allan Poe

For those of you who don’t remember, there was a creation on The Oprah Winfrey Show which was called “My Favorite Things.”  It was an episode that happened around Christmas each year where she gave a metric ton of stuff to her audience.  Take a look at some of the audience reactions here, and then come back and say that greed doesn’t do anything wrong to America’s culture.  The amount of screaming and crying that people were doing over this is not only pathetic, it is really tragic.

Probably the single greatest flaw in our species is the lack of ability to make sacrifices.  We are simply unable to settle for less, even when times are tough.  The biggest problem in Europe right now is that these countries are telling their people the ugly truth, that they will have to really make some ugly sacrifices, but the people are so unwilling to listen.  There are riots in the street for the belief that none of them will have to make any sacrifices.  Here in America, the rich are completely unwilling to listen to reason.  They are so hell-bent on keeping everything just the way it was, and asking them to make any kind of significant sacrifice is just completely out of the question.

At a time when unbridled greed, malignant aggression, and existence of weapons of mass destruction threatens the survival of humanity, we should seriously consider any avenue that offers some hope. -Stanislav Grof
Perhaps this is the way that it was always meant to be.  While most people choose to look at the very pretty aspect of the holidays, that they are about taking care of one’s fellow man, and how they are about coming together and enjoying the season, the fact is that greed does manifest itself in very ugly ways.This country has capitalized on the gift-giving involved with this season, and it is almost kind of tragic.  How many parents lately are having to tell their children that there isn’t going to be a Christmas for them this year?  How many of the unbelievably large amounts of people on this planet are starving to death, while the wealthiest don’t give a damn about them?!  How can people just sit down and stuff their face, knowing that somewhere out there, some person is dying from something that we have already cured, and simply don’t care enough to give them?Rick Perry can sing all he wants about how “kids can’t celebrate Christmas in schools,” but I contend that it is sick that humanity can celebrate Christmas with a straight face, when the fact is that not only has our species been consumed by greed, but it will be the end of us all.

There are som ugly choices ahead for all of civilization.  Either we are all going to have to make some huge sacrifices, and be willing to tone down the greed a little, especially the richest 1%, or we are not going to be able to stomach the net hundred years on this planet.

I’m not saying that you should hate the season, but can we all at least try and understand that we have to look out for our fellow man?  Is that asking too much?  If it is, then maybe humanity should just let greed and malice consume it, so another species can give this a shot.  Maybe they’ll do better.
Peace out,
Lefty

The End of Freedom in America

Picture this – you’re sitting down with your family for dinner, ready to enjoy.  It has been a lovely day, and now you are going to get to have this day shared with the people you love.  Suddenly, the military bursts into your home.  They throw you down on the ground, along with your family.  They put a black bag over your head, throw you into the back of a van, and take you somewhere.  It is far away, where it is hot, and almost every day, you get to be subject to all sorts of tortures.  Sounds like something that happens overseas, right?  Don’t think that it could happen in the USA, right?  Wrong!

Thanks to a new bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year of 2012, there are several stipulations that are going to allow this government to be able to take American citizens, without trial or charge, throw you into Gitmo, for the rest of your life, and it has just been discovered that there are also stipulations that will allow the people there to torture Americans who are thrown in there, without ever having been told why.

Take that in for a moment.  The horrendous tortures that films like “Taxi to the Dark Side” have shown will be able to be subjected to the American people.  This is beyond evil, it’s insanity.  But there is one comforting thing that comes from this – it ends over 20 years of conflicting opinions.

Ever since the end of the McCarthy era, there has been this idea that is kicking around – is America heading toward fascism?  Well, if you take a nice long look at this bill, yes, it completely is!  This is a good thing because it will  end the discussion.

It is also a good thing because it has shown that our government CAN actually compromise and work together.  I mean, this passed the Senate 93-7.  That’s a lot of active effort to get along, don’t you think?  When it comes to something like universal health care, our government is gridlocked, but when it comes to destroying the Fourth Amendment, that is something they will go straight and true towards.

Here’s another kicker – if you choose to fight this, after it has passed, it won’t matter!  The government can label you a “terror suspect” and throw you away for the rest of your life.  Dissent won’t matter very soon, because any groups who speak out can be thrown away, without a moment’s notice.

And of course, the Tea Party is nowhere to be heard from.  These corporate goons haven’t said a single word about this.  The fact is that there is some real common ground being found on both sides toward this.  The supposedly “progressive” Democrats and the cutthroat fascist Republicans were all on-board, full-steam ahead.

It’s a terrifying and sad day in America, ladies and gentlemen.  Very soon, there will be nobody left who will speak out, because this government will be throwing everybody who doesn’t agree with them away, forever!  No trial, no charge, no jury, no remembering.  They will just make you disappear.  I bet, when this country’s economy is dead, housing prisoners will be too hard, so they will probably just kill people.  Am I being a finalist?  Well, give it time, we’ll see.

In any case, the day is soon coming that peace may not be the only option we have for protesting.  After reading stuff like this, I want to see riots in the street.  There should be some people who are calling out the insanity, because this all hinges on the House having more sense than the Senate, and the gutless coward Obama following through, because he said he would veto this, outright.  I don’t trust anything from that little worm.

It’s a scary day, America.  What do we do?  What can we do?  What is left to be done?

Peace out,

Lefty

The battle for gay rights in Anchorage begins anew

Well, an issue that polarized a community once has come back to bear here in Anchorage, Alaska.  For those who remember the battle for Ordinance 64 back in 2009, it was the single-largest gathering of open-mindedness and bigotry that Alaska had ever seen.  It brought people out of the woodwork on both sides, and battle of words was hot.  The signs were passionate, and the feelings were raw.  Now, with the signatures turned in, it is very likely that this issue is going to be on the April city elections ballot.

The rule is in Anchorage is that it is illegal to discriminate against a person when it comes to housing, hiring, and things like that because or race, gender, religion, or marital status.  The same cannot be said, however, for sexual orientation.  A person can lose their job just because they are gay.

If this initiative should get onto the ballot, and pass, then it will add sexual orientation to this list.  Why it wasn’t already on there is a complete mystery.  Mayor Dan Sullivan, back in 2009, came out firmly against this, and vetoed the decision as he promised he would.  Now that it is coming back, his office is just as opinionless as ever.

“Mayor Sullivan believes a ballot initiative is appropriate in that it allows  all citizens to weigh in on this subject.”

That particular line was from Sarah Erkmann, Mayor Sullivan’s spokeswoman.  Yes, so, now he believes that this is an important issue that is where everybody should weigh in on, but when it comes to him making the right choice, that was just too much to ask.

Now, while the religious groups of Anchorage got a bad rap last time, due to the biggest religious figure in town, Pastor Jerry Prevo, coming out against this, it seems that this run, there are religious people supporting the intiative.  The group is called Christians for Equality.  It includes a number of churches, such as St. Mary’s Episcopal, United Methodist, Immanuel Presbyterian and Joy Lutheran.  This is a good thing to see from the religious community of Anchorage.

However, where there are people of the faith community who want to do good, there are others who are not so fairness-minded.  If we all remember back in the debate about Ordinance 64, there were plenty of people out with signs talking about how their god wanted the descriminatory policies of the city to remain just like they were.  While they held up signs talking about how the LGBT community was pushing their beliefs, it was pretty clear who was doing the pushing.

And once again, the Alaska Family Council has come out and said that they are going to be opposing this initiative.  There was a statement that was made by the head of Jim Minnery, the president of the AFC.

“It’s not clear that there is any widespread discrimination against the gay  community,” he said. “What is clearer is that this is a true threat to  religious liberties.”

That’s a very interesting argument to make.  How exactly are there threats to religious liberties?  For real, there needs to be an answer to this.  Are the gays going to tell you that you can’t worship?  This is the same kind of ridiculous logic that is used by people like Rick Perry when they need to make themselves seem more legitimate about their presidency.  The fact is that there are not threats to religious liberties, and I challenge Minnery to prove me wrong.  What possible way could the LGBT community stop you and yours from going to church and worshiping your holy figure?  This kind of accusation deserves some very careful scrutiny.

The first point, about there not being any signs of widspread discrimination, well, that is easly countered by the signs above.  Yeah, not a bit of discrimination going on there.  Who knows where it’s coming from.

But whatever one’s opinion, it’s looking like the battle is going to get pretty heated, with the AFC and One Anchorage looking to trade blows, come April, if the 13,515 signatures they got gets this initiative on the ballot.  The tragic part is that since it is so much easier to mobilize the bigoted votes instead of the progessive ones, it is very possible that the initiative will be defeated by the same ridiculous and baseless logic that people like Minnery use.

Here’s a link to the AFC email, in case you want to throw a criticism or two their way – info@alaskafamilycouncil.org

The battle is looking very likely to be on.  Which side do you stand?

Peace out,

Lefty

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