Saturday, August 22, 2015

Back in the Game!!!

    I won't be posting much. I'm back in the pros, writing a twice monthly history column called "The Rear View Mirror." Cute, uh? It appears every other Monday in the San Mateo Daily Journal. I've written seven columns so far and loving it. 
   I started with a piece on the Mystery Barge that was once Redwood City's best kept secret. Actually it was the CIA's secret. Turned out the barge was part of an operation designed to recover the code books from a Soviet submarine that went down in the Pacific. The latest is on the last Indian in San Mateo County. Should be interesting considering the controversy about the canonization of Junipero Serra, the founder of the California missions.
    I try to tie the past to the present. All the publicity about the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition gave me the opportunity to write about San Mateo County's connection to the expo, which included Van's Restaurant in Belmont that was once part of the Japanese exhibit.
    The column is on line. Just go to San Mateo Daily Journal, click archives and put in "rear view mirror." BTW: the column ends with the reminder that, as it says on rear view mirrors - "objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear."
     This may very well be the last posting. Everything I predicted in "Philip's Code" has come true, mainly that America's idea of communicating is to yell the loudest.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Hits Just Keep Coming: "Spotlight," New Movie on Sex Scandal

    Remember that you heard it here first: a new movie about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is sure to get the story wrong. How can I say this when the movie isn't even in the can? Because I know the story behind the story, which is more about the church than it is about sex abuse. I was on the ground floor when this scandal broke. Actually, it was the fifth floor of the Fox Plaza building in San Francisco where the Associated Press bureau was located.
     The movie has big league names, including director Tom McCarthy and actors Stanley Tucci, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams. It's entitled "Spotlight" and focuses on the Boston Globe's alleged breaking of the sex abuse in the church. I suppose there will be comparisons to Watergate and the Washington Post but don't expect the Pope to resign.
      The movie isn't at a theater near you and it might not make it if there are some second thoughts - and there should be. For one thing, the National Catholic Reporter was pretty well exclusive on it long before the Globe and so was the San Jose Mercury News. The NCR was reporting on predator priests as early as 1983. The Mercury's Carl Cannon won honors for his 1985 story. Cannon wondered in the American Journalism Review why his stories didn't get the attention received by the later ones, asking if  "there are lessons to be learned for investigative reporters and journalism as a whole?" You bet there are lessons. For one, that the Boston Globe has more clout with the rest of the media than the Merc. Another lesson is that pack journalism rules with reporters following the leader.
      The church scandal is a prime example of Oz reporting in which you pay no attention to the man behind the curtain even though you know something is wrong. I knew something was wrong a few weeks after the AP picked up the Mercury story. An education group met in San Francisco and one of its papers had to do with sex abuse in public schools. I can't remember all the details and wished I had saved the handout given to the AP. I figured it would be as well covered as the church story. It wasn't, so I don't have any clips. Later Education Week did a series on school sex abuse in a series called "Passing the Trash," which was about offending teachers being moved from one school to another. It wasn't until 2010 that the AP got around to doing a series on sex abuse in schools. Few newspapers ran it. Ashamed? They should be.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

No Media Equality in Marriage Debate

   Those who worry that today's Supreme Court ruling effectively upholding same sex marriage will lead to polygamy or incest should calm down. Ain't no way. Phil Davis was right in "Philip's Code" when he said "the slope doesn't become slippery until the media greases it."
    His dictum holds in almost all news stories, but the coverage of  same sex marriage is the best example I can think of.  Right from the start, I wondered why arrangements other than same sex weren't on the news budget. After all, thousands of couples live in polygamous marriages, although they are illegal. And in parts of the South people reach a milestone when they become the first to marry outside their family. All kidding aside, polygamy is, and was, a huge issue. Federal troops went in to Utah which was forced to renounce the Mormon practice. Are today's journalists like everyone else in that they have short memory spans or have no regard for the past? If so, they shouldn't be
.   Some might think I am biased because I am part of today's mixed marriage, by which I mean one between a man and a woman. No. I frankly don't care who gets married as long as they are consenting adults. I do h  ave concerns about a church being forced to marry someone, but that is not what I want to write about. I want to focus on the media, because I think the media foc-us - the public - on this one. (BTW: I saw a spokes person for gays - speaking to a row of  TV cameras and microphones - say "f--- Eight" after today's ruling. Lots of class.. I don't want to get in to how "gay"  and "straight" were imposed. She was speaking, of course, in San Francisco.)
    When I said "right from the start," I meant San Francisco where it all started when Mayor Gavin Newsom married homosexuals. All a reporter had to do was ask him if he would perform a ceremony for more than two people, regardless of gender. A few days later, a national TV reporter did and Newsom answered with some flip remark about marrying a horse.  After today's ruling, Newsom thanked a lot of people. All he had to do was thank the media which limited the debate by simply using the term "marriage equality" which Newsom said several times in his "thank you" address. Recently, in a "guest perspective" column for the San Mateo Daily Journal, Assemblyman Mark Leno delivered "marriage equality" at least three times.
 The issue wasn't one of "marriage equality," which would involve everybody. It was about same sex marriage - nothing else. Are we leaving in the age of "newspeak?" Do reporters have agendas? Is this the result of  "liberal media?" I think there is much more involved. For one thing, I miss the old United Press International, the one that had reporters who asked tough questions, giving the AP fits. I sometimes think objectivity died with the old UPI, which  had a logo featuring the silhouette of a fedora topped reporter who held a notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other. Today that reporter would have all sorts of electronic gear, doing dozens of jobs instead of the main one, which is to question authority. The problem today is that mass media is the "authority." .





Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Litter on Twitter

    People who play reporter on Twitter will have to be more careful if the instant message system's performance during the Boston Marathon story is an example of journalism's future.  Two innocent men were identified erroneously as suspects in Twitter's rush to judgment, according to The Atlantic and James Temple, who writes the Dot-Commentary column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
    One of the fundamental rules of reporting - at least at the wire services - was "get it first, but first get it right." There were other standards that apply here, commandments such as "don't quote an anonymous source unless you can support it elsewhere." Basically, an anonymous source was a tip. And, of course, there was the "three source" rule, which was more broken than observed.
     The major league media didn't do all that well on this story either. Television network reporters often gave me facts without naming the source. Whatever happened to "according to...?" Some accounts I heard said three unexploded bombs were found. Later, this was jettisoned as false, but I was left to wonder where the report came from. Again, no attribution.
     In addition, the pressure cooker bombs were said to have been placed in "duffel bags." Later we were told the bombs were in backpacks. Once again there was no "according to." Reminded me of the "trench coats" the killers wore in the 1998  mass slayings at Columbine High in Colorado. The killers actually had on dusters, the long coats favored by Jesse James. I had the feeling that reporters today don't know anything about military gear, either coats or duffel bags.
     Sure, mistakes occurred in the past. As "Philip's Code" points out, stories were usually read by three people before they hit the wire and still errors could be made. The corrections that followed explained what had happened. Perhaps it is time to go back to the future.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Don't expect Jackie Speier to Grease the Slope

      Don't expect Rep. Jackie Speier, who is leading the charge against rape in the military, to lead reporters to a startling, and timely, fact: A big percentage of sexual assault victims in the armed forces are men.
     There's a line in "Philip's Code" that says "the slope is only slippery when the media greases it." We are seeing a lot of examples lately, particularly in stories about same-sex marriage, in which the term "marriage equality" frequently appears. The comments threads under such stories usually contain a few remarks about same sex marriage leading to making polygamy legal. If  "equality" is the goal wouldn't all consenting adults have the right to marry? I don't think there's a chance of  that happening because the media has had plenty of opportunities to head in that direction but it has pretty well kept quiet. Talk about "don't ask, don't tell!!!!" All a reporter had to do was ask San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom if he'd perform a marriage of more than two people.
    Speier, D-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has drawn a lot of ink with her campaign to curb sexual assault in the military, although the stories seem to have fallen off since early March when several victims testified before the Senate Armed Services sub-committee on personnel. They included Brian Lewis, a former sailor who said he was raped by  a fellow non-com in 2000. According to reporter Gary Martin of Hearst, Lewis told the panel 56 percent of the sexual assault victims in the military each year are men while 44 percent are women.  The AP buried Lewis' testimony near the end of its story, which ran nearly 20 paragraphs, and didn't note the statistic.
     The male rapes were news to a lot of people, including me. It shouldn't have been. I checked and as far back as 2003 Florida Today had a long story about such attacks. Newsweek had one in 2011. Yet Speier seemed to dance around this angle when she hitch-hiked headlines, including when she helped promote the movie "The Invisible War," which deals with the very real and troubling problem of heterosexual rape in the service. I asked her aide if the congresswoman had noted the male victims and was told "she had noted that many times." I asked for some examples. She sent me three stories, all of which buried that aspect. In two, the reporter could have been responsible. One, however, was written by Speier herself. It ran in several papers, including the New York Post. Speier opened by saying that "next year 30,000 young women will sign up to serve in our country's military. Absent from the glossy recruitment brochures is the tragic fact that one in three women in the military will be raped or sexually assaulted by a colleague or superior during her career." Later, she wrote that "women, and men, join the service with a sense of honor and duty, but not to become victims or military sexual trauma." That was the only time males were mentioned. Again, "don't ask, don't tell" is still the law - a law of journalism.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Keep an Eye on the OCR

  Anyone interested in the future of newspapers - and that should be everybody - should follow what's going on at the Orange County Register, where the management is spending more and more on solid reporting in an effort to lure readers. Apparently publisher Aaron Kushner realizes that the important part of newspaper is NEWS, not PAPER.
    According to press reports, Kushner has added about 75 reporters with more coming. Kushner, a Stanford graduate, is only 39 and no ink-stained copy room slave. He has a master's degree in organizational analysis, which is a good thing because he'll have an outsider's view of journalism.
    He told the Associated Press that his lack of industry experience means he hasn't been on the slippery slope of newspapers' near death experience.
     "So when we sit down and look at what's possible, our view of the world is different," he said. "We're a little crazy in that we really do believe that  we can grow this particular newspaper."
     The Alliance for Audited Media reports that the average daily circulation of the OCR rose 5.3 percent as of Sept. 30 from a year ago to 285,068 on weekdays and 387,547 on Sundays. The figures contrast with 0.2 percent decline for the industry as a whole.
     Before the end of March, Kushner's plans envision charging online access that is the same as for the print edition.
     "The value of the journalism isn't any less," he said. "The reporter isn't paid any less."
     I pray he succeeds and proves that, as Phil Davis would say in my book, that "life is a gamble and the reporter is the guy you trust so much you let him hold the stakes."
      I hope all this optimism isn't too much and too late. The main thing Kushner will have to do is establish public confidence in his product. Seems to me newspapers suffered reporter-assisted suicide a long time ago.
     Call it "liberal bias," "lockstep reporting," or whatever you want, newspapers became pretty much alike when AP inherited a news monopoly after UPI hit the financial iceberg.  During the last decades of the 20th Century, newspapers grew fat and were virtually the only gatherer and distributors of news.  That commanding position was outflanked by the Internet. Some saw the technological advances as a big plus for readers who could quickly hold reporters accountable with rapid fire commentary on their work. The reality turned out to be much different. The Internet has brought out the worst in some people who engage in outright lies or distortions. No need to mention - but I will - people who use phony names and monopolize comment threads with personal attacks. I guess no one is proud of their family name anyone. Didn't Shakespeare say something about stealing "my purse?" Kusher has to get back journalism's good name - if it ever had one.