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.