Thursday, November 1, 2007

About time: Some attention to Zebra killings

At last the series of racial slayings in San Francisco known as "the Zebra murders" is getting the media attention it deserved. No animals were harmed during the murders of at least 14 people who were killed simply because of their race. If real zebras had been the victims animal rights organizations would have made sure the story never died. The street killings in the 1970s might as well have never happened for all the attention that was paid by the press in the decades that followed. Now, big names will guarantee that the horrific racial crime gets the spotlight. Former San Francisco police Chief Earl Sanders has written a book, "The Zebra Murders," and a movie is in the works that will star Jamie Foxx.
I hope the movie is called "Resurrection," because that is what is involved here. Fairness is being raised from the dead. If ever there was a double-standard in reporting, it was this case. All the victims were white and the perps black. It's hard not to wonder what the coverage in the ensuing years would have been if the reverse were true. Another reason to regard the press as just another interest group. Read all about it in "Philip's Code: No News is Good News - to a Killer."
I doubt that today reporters and editors could get away with such ineptness. The Internet, particularly now when there are papers with "comment" postings, would catch on and bark at the watchdog - as my book forecasts. I hope postings under reviews of Sanders' book and movie point to past neglect. The Internet can help journalism by making journalists accountable
I wonder if postings are paying off on other fronts. The AP series on school sex abuse is a case in point. (See that blog entry.) I had an eerie feeling recently when Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown brought in state help to fight crime in East Palo Alto. Did he read my book, in which similar action by Gov. Pete Wilson got little attention by the media in the 1990s? Brown got good press. I hope Oakland took note - just as in "Philip's Code."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

AP Teacher sex series too much and too late

The AP finally did a series on sex abuse by teachers in public schools. A real scandal - and I don't mean the teachers. That it took this long for the world's largest gatherer and distributor of news to put the problem on its agenda is a disgrace to journalism. The handling of the teacher abuse and the Catholic priest scandal is gatekeeping journalism at its worst. Once the church scandal was news, all institutions were fair targets.
There were plenty of alarm bells. In 1998, Education Week did a fine series called "Passing the Trash" that dealt with moving teachers suspected of abuse from school to school. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did an outstanding series in 1999. There were many reporters doing their job, but, mainly, the stories weren't picked up by the national press. As soon as I retired in 2000 I did an expose about the double standard coverage for Catholic San Francisco, followed by an article for America magazine and another for New Oxford Review in 2005. "Philip's Code: No News is Good News - to a Killer" has a few pages about the contrasting coverage.
I doubt such unfairness could happen today. The mainstream media was the only game in town when the clergy scandal first hit in the 1980s with a seres in the San Jose Mercury News. Now there are lots of watchdogs watching the watchdog.
The AP series is all over the Internet, including sfgate, the San Francisco Chronicle's 'net version. My sources tell me that AP copy feeds on to sfgate automatically. As of today, however, the series hasn't been in the print Chron, and, I don't think, the Merc. Embarrassed? They should be.
And, please, will a reporter with some guts ask SNAP when it will start suing over school abuse. Does the group's alphabet not go to T, as in teacher?
Follow the money!!!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Buying the War" came cheap

I watched Bill Moyer's "Buying the War" for the second time today. My reaction was the same as it was during the first viewing: more proof of "lemming journalism," in which reporters follow the leader in a mad rush to keep up. It was great to see The New York Times take it on the chin. Moyers proved how easy it is to leash the press. I hope he reads "Philip's Code" because that is what the book is about. What other stories have the Times and other media fed into the news chain where they were accepted without question? For example, try to fathom the ramifications of limiting "choice" to one subject.
Still, I had the feeling Moyers set out not to find the truth, but to marshal enough facts to prove his point. I have, however, a question. Why didn't the eve of battle statement issued to our military dwell on WMDs? I am looking at the statement as I type. WMDs are mentioned only in the past tense. The crimes of Saddam are listed. Remember, the invasion was called Operation Iraqi Freedom, not Find Those WMDs..
Perhaps the news media's hesitation to highlight Saddam's brutal reign has to do with the pacts news organizations made with him that allowed access to some parts of Iraq in exchange for not reporting about horrors taking place in others. It's in "Embedded." I wish Moyers had included that fact.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My space debate: Talk radio birth redux

The Democratic candidates debate, in which My Space users asked questions, was a redux for me. I had the same reaction decades ago when I first heard Rush and his ilk: what guts to ask those questions. Talk radio impressed me more. It was a real breakthrough because it came when news media power was nearing absolute. UPI had one foot and more in the grave and our nation was nearing a news monopoly, where it is today when it comes to gathering and distributing news. Comment is another matter. Thank the net for that. With that nod to technology made, it was still obvious that the major news media sets the agenda, even though it is more difficult to limit it. We saw two women ask if they could be married (Can the president change that situation?). No one asked what reporters should have asked when the mayor of San Francisco married same sex couples: Does "marriage equality" mean an end to anti-polygamy laws? On Iraq: because of our military limitations (no draft because we don't believe in ourselves anymore. '01 wasn't '41) can the present situation be seen as positive for American interests?
Overall, there was a certain "look-at-me" quality about those who finally got through the screeners. At least no one asked, as that girl did of President Clinton, what kind of underwear they wore. Now that I think of it, I wonder if Hilliary wears granny pants?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

How do you spell Tet in Arabic?

Will be interesting to see how the media handles the latest outrage in Iraq, the suicide bombing of 100 people that U.S. General David Petraeus said may have been an attempt to "grab" headlines and create a "mini-Tet." The coverage of the Tet offensive in Vietnam remains one of that war's more controversial chapters. The AP gave America a history lesson in its dispatch about Saturday's death toll when it said the general referred "to the 1968 offensive that undermined public support for the Vietnam War in the United States." You bet it did. It also "undermined" support for the news media. If truth is the first casualty of war, will newspapers and network TV news be the last casualty of the Vietnam War?
Critics shouldn't be too hard on the reporters who covered the Vietnam War in the field, guys like Joe Galloway of UPI. Covering a war must be the ultimate challenge for a journalist. The editors in the safe havens of time are a different matter. They let too many unquestioned assumptions stand. Westmoreland certainly asked for it by insisting in the pre-Tet days that the war was going in favor of the allies. His intelligence was faulty. Sound familiar? Why, however, does the media allow its own intelligence to go unquestioned? Today we have heard WMDs repeated so often we forget the invasion was called "Operation Iraqi Freedom," not "Find the Damn WMDs." I find it fascinating that when it refers to the war's rationale the media never uses the words conained in the "eve of battle" statement issued to our troops prior to the invasion, which barely mentions WMDs, and then only in past tense.
I doubt the Internet would let the news media get away with what it did in 1968 when it allowed the fighting to become a major American defeat, instead of a draining of Viet Cong powers. Or that the people failed to raise up, or that the ARVN, in a real surprise, fought well. No, what was burned in our minds was the siege at the Embassy, the words of the aging Walter Cronkite who gave his imprimatur to a stalemate, and the street execution of a Communist insurgent. I doubt few people recall much about these incidents other than the pictures. If there is a lesson here, it is that print surrendered the journalistic high ground to photos. The pen was no longer a reporters best tool. Today, even less so.
Saddest of all was the reporting of the Communist massacre at Hue during Tet. Not that it wasn't reported initially. But years later the public recalls only one massacre - My Lai.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Thanks to media, Title IX was a "stealth law"

Much hoopla over the 35th anniversary of Title IX. A 35th anniversary? Usually we get hyped over a 25th or 50th. The media must be making up for lost time because it was truly a quiet lapdog when the legislation made its way through Congress. Title IX is one of the best examples of a "stealth law," something that becomes law without you knowing it. In "Faces of Feminism," Sheila Tobias notes that there was little opposition to Title IX when it was debated in Congress. Nevertheless, she writes that "Rep. Edith Green (D-Ore.) "discouraged feminists from lobbying too publicly for the bill, lest attention be drawn to its wide-reaching powers. She was right to do so."
Today those "powers" are of concern to backers of men's sports that have been dropped at some schools, but when Green put the lid on many people thought Title IX meant women could not be barred from a team. After all, the newspapers carried many stories about girls who were good enough to play on boys teams or how a girl was discriminated against when she was barred from a boys team. There were occasional stories about boys being kept off a girls volleyball team or something, but they received little coverage and cries of "boys will take over" were accepted without much comment.
Now it is taken for granted that equality of money is the main issue. However, I find it odd that "separate but equal" is never used in stories about Title IX. I wonder if Green would get away with her tactic in today's Internet world. The MSM can set the agenda, but it can no longer limit it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bee's history lesson too little, too late

A Sacramento Bee editorial came down hard on Governor Schwarzenegger for telling Spanish speakers to learn English and "turn off the Spanish language television." The Bee reminded the governor he is an immigrant and that Ellis Island Germans valued their native tongue. The history lesson, however, was given to an empty classroom. For decades, the Bee, and most large papers, have insisted on referring to non-Hispanics as "Anglos," even though a humorist once said something like "we call English the mother tongue because all our ancestors spoke Italian, Polish or Yiddish."
Is Anglo used because Hispanics insist on it? Is the Bee an easy mark for pressure groups? Allowing one group to name another is giving that group an awesome power. Think of all the years spent over terminology. Who came up with "straight?" Were men asked what they wanted to be called when women ended up with three possible titles: Ms. Mrs. Miss?
Did the Bee point to our nation's past immigrant experience during the debate over bilingual education? The Contra Costa Times ran an interesting series that told how new comers of the past learned to speak English, but that was a rare offering.
Shame on the Bee!!!! It could help bring us together by restricting Anglo to a direct quote - the way so many newspapers do with "pro life," even while giving a free ride to pro-choice.
That might be too little and too late. Newspapers, sadly, are becoming irrelvant. They had the chance to build bridges, but lost the public's trust. The "Anglo" usage was just one nail in the coffin.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Monday, May 28, 2007

New Gore Book Insult to Reason

As far as the news media goes, the new Gore book IS an Assault on Reason. It slams "right-wing" commentary, bypasses similar strategies by the left, and is silent on the failings of reporters and editors. He is right, however, to attack television as ruining the national debate. but what else is new? The "vast wasteland" knock goes back a long time.
Not a word about the virtual vanishing of United Press International, which gave AP a near monopoly on news gathering and distribution during the 1980s and 1990s. Those who talk about media concentration usually ignore this factor. Can you blame them? They probably never thought about it because it wasn't part of the news agenda, just what "Philip's Code" is about. Gore and Phil Davis apparently agree on one thing, though: The Internet can change the news landscape a great deal. No longer can reporters and editors get away with keeping facts from readers, who can now check for themselves. I doubt that today Clinton would be able to get away with his goofs about history. Bloggers would be on reporters' backs, ranting about how Dan Quayle was fired in the potato incident.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Did Al Gore Read "Philip's Code"?

Can't wait to read Al Gore's "The Assault on Reason," praised by E. J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post Writer's Group. According to Dionne, the book is about how strange public discourse becomes when "mediated through television." Gore, he said, thinks the Internet may revive the art of reasoned argument. Gore must have read "Philip's Code." The Kansas City milkman lives!!! The last chapter zeros in on just that - seeing the Internet as "the watchdog's watchdog," which lets go with a howl when it smells bias, unfairness or ignorance. Maybe all of the above.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Knoxville Slayings Not in Zebra Class

Interesting piece by AP's Duncan Mansfield outta (there's Phillip's code for you. Note two l's.) Knoxville about bloggers jumping on reverse racism in coverage of slaying of two white people. Sounds similar to the Zebra killings in San Francisco in the 1970s when black "Angels of Death" killed at least 14 whites. Media tried to rewrite history on that one. It's in "Philip's Code: No News is Good News - to a Killer." There's a big difference, however. In the Zebra killings, there was no doubt race was the motive. But you wouldn't know that if you relied on the news media for collective memories. In 1999 Stephanie Salter of the San Francisco Examiner wrote a column about a white gunman named Benjamin Smith who killed a black man and an Asian and wounded nine other non-whites before killing himself.
Smith, wrote Salter, was another in a long line of "disaffected, disturbed, hate-filled white males" who "went on a violent rampage." Salter wondered what the reaction would have been if Smith's targets had been "innocent bystanders who looked Anglo?' In San Francisco, a good bet would be very little.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Questons Are more Important than Answers

The latest Guild Reporter, the publication of the Newspaper Guild, has a review of a new book, "No Questions Asked," which deals with news coverage since 9-11. Among other things, the book by Lisa Finnegan deals with the "failure to question governmental over-reaching." (Reviews are important because few of us have the disposable time or money to buy and read all we'd like.) During preparation for the invasion, "relatively rare skeptical reporting was buried deep within the few newspapers that carried it," the piece states. What about "skeptical reporting" now? The same "lemming reporting" marches on. Doesn't anyone in the press remember that the invasion was called "Operation Iraqi Freedom," not "find those GD WMDs"? Or that the eve of battle statement issued to US troops hardly mentioned WMDs.
Was the mainstream press so lacking in reporters with military experience that they bought line about "the world's greatest military"? It was obvious that since Vietnam we could no longer put enough troops in the field to do the job. '01 wasn't '41. Has anyone the courage to ask if civil war in Iraq would be in our interest? Before 9-11, most coverage of the military centered on gays or women in the service, not readiness. "Don't ask, don't tell" is the right term. Frankly, reporters seldom aked tough questions about a lot of issues. That's why "Philip's Code" is dedicated to reporters who still regard the pen as mightier than the mouse.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Abu Ghraib a scandal all right - of reporting

Military writer Bing West, author of The Village, No True Glory and many other outstanding works, is back from Iraq with observations that include the impact of the Abu Ghraib scandal - the one about the jail, not the reporting scandal. Reporting scandal? Yes. Saddam killed thousands in the same jail, murders that went virtually unreported because news people kept quiet in order to get access elsewhere in Iraq. It's all in "Embedded." A CNN big shot stepped down soon after the book was published. Same old story: the press credits itself with exposing something - in this case the jail brutality - and then becomes a PR agency for itself. Again, fact conquers truth.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Who forgot the 'Forgotten Internees'"?

A seminar was held in San Mateo last Saturday on the 'Forgotten Internees,'" the Italians and Germans relocated or placed in camps in America during WWII, which has to be one of the saddest chapters in reporting. My book has a few pages on this. I even saved clips that said Germans and Italians weren't bothered. All a reporter had to do was go to Pittsburg, Ca., and see the museum that has exhibits concerning the hundreds of Italians moved from the East Bay town. Hey, there was a war on. Stuff happens. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be reported. This saga followed what "Philip's Code" postulates: that interest groups dictate what story will be covered, and, increasingly, reporters let those interest groups gather the facts. "The truth is the sum of the facts," said Davis. This issue is far from over. Two members of Congress have introduced a bill concerning the Japanese brought up from South America. Ignored is the fact that President Clinton gave them $5,000 and an apology. More ignored is that Germans and Italians were also rounded up in South America.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

philip's code

The Imus' coverage could have been from "Philip's Code." In the past, this guy insulted every group on earth and got away with it. I understand that on Good Friday he rhymed "resurrection" and "erection." No outrage in the public prints. Why now over a crack about a hairdo? News stories cited a group called the Black Journalists' Association. The pattern was typical: news is what the newspapers say it is. I'm outraged that reporters would belong to an advocacy group. Is there an organization of "Christian Journalists"? If so, why hasn't the AP sought reaction to the other slur? As Phil Davis would say: "It's 'lemming reporting,' not liberal bias, that makes people hate us."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Reading went well. Mostly wanted to know about the coverage of "swastika incident" mentioned in book. The reporting of the finding of the Nazi symbol in a San Francisco fire house was a perfect example of "lemming journalism"in which everyone followed the leader in lockstep. The swastika turned out to be a decade old and had "Fritz' foxhole" on it, a fact that went unmentioned in the public prints until the complaining firefighters lost their discrimination suit. Even with this, newspapers kept repeating that a "swastika was found in a San Francisco fire house." Caroline Paul refers to this in her fine book "Fighting Fire." Remember, this incident led to a federal judge saying the SFFD was "out of control." The feds eventually overseered the department's hiring practices. One firefighter who read the book called me and said the Chronicle ran a photo of the offending symbol but airbrushed out "Fritz' Foxhole." Turned out "Fritz" was a German-American firefighter and the well-crafted wooden swastika was presented as a retirement gift that was left forgotten in a locker until someone, we don't know who, found it years later.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

more code

I get my first real test today. I will speak to a book club where each member has read "Philip's Code: No News is good News - to a Killer." The book is doing well. I will go on Amazon after I sell the latest batch of 100. I know the book will sell, but it will take a good agent or a break. It is definitely headed for a niche market, say people who believe in the "liberal media," which we all know is a myth, like global warming or evolution. Bet I ruffled some lefties with that. I think the news media has (stick "have." The wire services are so powerful as to comprise a monopoly and a singular. We don't say United States are, do we? Before the Civil War we did). The news business has bigger problems than mere bias. Betrayal of a public trust tops my list. When the competition provided by UPI vanished, absolute power filled the vacuum. We know what that does. Strange that this failing dovetails with the rise of the computer. That is why my book is dedicated t o all those who still believe the "pen is mighter than the mouse."

Saturday, March 3, 2007

more code

I came into the news game in San Francisco in 1960 when there were bars with such names as "The Fourth Estate" and "The Byline" that catered to reporters and editors. Those havens and heavens are long gone, victims of change that snuffed out smoking, a subculture and a profession. I was a cub for just a month or so when I saw two reporters fight in an alley outside a bar because one called the other a "hack" for always writing that "the union demanded" and "the company offered." Never the other way around. Today journalists belong to advocacy groups, which would have been heresy when I got my first press pass.
I was never called a hack, a word I would have regarded as a compliment. To "hack" out 400 words or so under deadline pressure was the essence of reporting at a wire service, which has a deadline every minute. Somewhere a newspaper, radio or TV station needs that story - and needs it now.
I know that today many people get their news from the net, but most of them are lost when asked "where does the Internet gets its news?"

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

sample link

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.

second post

In addition to my memoir, I had been thinking of writing a novel in which a reporter is the central character. I merged both and came up with "Philip's Code," a play on words that involves Phillip's Code (note two l's), which was a shorthand used during the telegraph days that became a wire service tradition. What goes around sure comes around. The best way to explain it is to call it pioneering text messaging. The central character is Phil Davis, who has a code of honor that is rapidly vanishing, a sort of lone wolf who still insists that objectivity, fairness and balance are still possible in reporting. I guess you can say that he still regards the pen as mightier than the mouse.


"Philip's Code: No News is Good News - to a Killer" is the title of a book based on my 40 years in news reporting, a career split between United Press International and The Associated Press. It's a non-fiction novel, a description that beats me. I hoped to publish the book as a memoir but was told by an agent - who hadn't read the manuscript - that I was not famous enough. "You have to have a big name in journalism for people to be interested," he said. "Someone like Dan Rather." His remark was made before Rather retired under a cloud.