Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Today's Word—Damn Nuisance

Latter-day iconoclasts take note

“The daily newspaper unquestionably has its use, but about eight days a week it is an insufferable damn-nuisance. A man may get himself covered with honor an inch thick and have gilt-edge glory plastered on him with a trowel, and the chances are that the newspapers will never notice him, or if they do will accord him a three-line paragraph tucked away among the ads; but let him be accused of some heinous crime, or his wife be caught philandering with some other fellow, and forthwith he is given a front-page 'spread' with headlines that would scare a cable-car.”

—William Cowper Brann (1855-1898), editor of The Iconoclast, briefly the nation’s most controversial magazine, with a national circulation of a quarter-million. An enraged reader shot and, er, “deleted” Brann on the streets of Waco, Texas, on April Fool’s Day, 1898.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Today's Word—Dr. Seuss Sez...

Political Advice for Kids
(Large & Small)

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don't mind.”
—Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) (1904-1991), writer

Friday, September 26, 2008

Today's Word—Measuring Civic Health

The Argument for Apathy:

“Wouldn’t a really healthy citizenry in a really healthy country be as unaware of the government as a healthy man is unaware of his physiology?”
—Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970), naturalist


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Today's Word—Deaf, Dumb & Blind

How Do We Know What We Think We Know?

“A democracy survives when its citizens have access to trustworthy and impartial sources of information, when it can discern lies from truth. Take this away and a democracy dies. The fusion of news and entertainment, the rise of a class of celebrity journalists on television who define reporting by their access to the famous and the powerful, the retreat by many readers into the ideological ghettos of the Internet and the ruthless drive by corporations to destroy the traditional news business are leaving us deaf, dumb and blind.”

—Chris Hedges, columnist, pundit and author, 2008
(Click here for full column.)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Javan Kienzle)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Today's Word—Listening

The Freedom of Hearing

“The Emmy is given not so much for writing as for attitude, because freedom of expression and freedom of speech aren’t really important . . . unless they’re heard. So freedom of hearing is just about as important as freedom of speaking.

“It’s hard for me to stay silent when I keep hearing that peace is only attainable through war. There’s nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action.

“So I dedicate this Emmy to all people who feel compelled to speak out, and are not afraid to speak to power, and won’t shut up and refuse to be silenced.”

—Tommy Smothers, comedian, accepting commemorative Emmy award, 2008.
(Thanks to alert WORDster Becky Tallent)
(See Steve Martin and Tommy Smothers clip.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Today's Word—We Happy People!


Ignorance Is Bliss:

“Isn’t the ignorance of Americans part of the American experience? Americans are defined as people willing to be involved in the pursuit of happiness. And ignorance is bliss. Therefore, the Founding Fathers have put us on that path: We are pursuing ignorance in order to get to that happiness.”

—Jon Stewart, host, “The Daily Show,” 2008

Pease’s Soapbox

After yesterday’s WORD on the survey documenting the American people’s ignorance of the most basic precepts of the Constitution, it appears that we are well along the Founding Fathers’ Roadmap to Bliss.

Strangely, though, the syllogism sputters as we survey the state of the nation’s happiness—as I perceive it, at least. There is much more evidence of not simply ignorance but WILLFUL ignorance abroad in the land than bliss. Unless, of course, you’re one of those Kings of Wall Street who will cash our $700,000,000,000 check to bail you out of the gawdawful financial mess the moguls and the Bush overseers have gotten us into.

See? Look at the Wall Street meltdown and the proposed blank-check “final solution”—ignorance and bliss abound!

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and the rest of the moguls might try this for inspiration in tough times:

“I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have
one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult.”

—E.B. White, writer (1899-1985)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Louise Montgomery)

—Ted Pease, working on both bliss and ignorance daily


Monday, September 22, 2008

Today's Word—Freedom of ... hunh?


CONSTITUTION DAY—The Constitution was signed Sept. 17, 1787
State of the First Amendment 2008:

“Perhaps one reason so many [Americans] are not fearful of, or would even invite, government limits on the five freedoms is that so few of us can even name them.

“The survey found again this year that just 3 percent of those questioned could name ‘petition’ as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment. Only ‘speech’ was named by a majority of respondents, 56 percent. Less than 20 percent named religion (15 percent), press (15 percent) or assembly (14 percent). . . . 4 in 10 could not name any freedom--the highest such result in the survey’s history.

“[These are] ‘inalienable’ rights for all, indeed—but in today’s United States, rights that are unknown, unnamed, or even undefended, by many.”

—Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director
The First Amendment Center, Washington, DC.
(Click here for full survey results.)

Friday, September 19, 2008


NYU Prof Angry at Student Critique

Alert WORDster Simon Owens sends this heads-up:

Hey Ted: I remember seeing your post the other week about the NYU journalism student who complained that her journalism class was still firmly planted in old media. I don't know if you heard about this, but yesterday Media Shift published a follow up article revealing that the professor of that course got angry when she read it and banned the student from blogging or twittering about the class. I thought this was something you and your readers would find interesting.

Indeed. Read on...

From PBS’s website MediaShift:

NYU Professor Stifles Blogging, Twittering by Journalism Student

After New York University journalism student Alana Taylor wrote her first embed report for MediaShift on September 5, it didn’t take long for her scathing criticism of NYU to spread around the web and stir conversations. Taylor thought that her professor, Mary Quigley, was not up to speed on social media and podcasting — even though the class she was teaching was called “Reporting Gen Y.” And Taylor felt that NYU was not offering her enough classes about new media; she cited the requirement that students bring print editions of the New York Times to class as one example of their outdated mindset.

Not surprisingly, Quigley was not happy with the story and was upset that Taylor had not sought permission to write her first-person report about the class, and told Taylor it was an invasion of privacy to other students in the class. By Taylor’s account, Quigley had a one-on-one meeting with Taylor to discuss the article, and Quigley made it clear that Taylor was not to blog, Twitter or write about the class again. That was upsetting to Taylor, who had been planning a follow-up report for MediaShift that would include Quigley’s viewpoint and interviews with faculty.

—more at URL—

What do you think?

Today's Word—Fast News

You want fries with that?

“We think people want SERIOUS, and they do, but they only want about 3 inches of serious on most things. USA Today got it wrong . . . they didn’t go far enough. I'm getting more and more convinced people want a smattering of everything but just a smattering, and you’d better tell them the nut graf quick. I call it ‘drive-through journalism’: filling and fast. And don’t forget to give them a side of fries or an apple pie along with it.”
—Dawn Dressler, executive editor, Amarillo Globe-News, 2008

Speak up! Feedback and suggestions—printable and otherwise—always welcome. After all, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “There are no false opinions.”

Pease’s Soapbox:

Columnist Erma Bombeck once observed, “In general, my children refuse to eat anything that hasn’t danced on television.” So newspaper editors like Dawn Dressler may be overly optimistic—expecting not just fries with their in-depth 3 inches of serious news, many Americans under the age of 50 have been raised on fast-news diets that sing, dance, throb and link them to YouTube while texting their Fave 5.

This is distressing not only to editors of dead-tree journalism, but to anyone concerned about an informed and engaged citizenry in a participatory democracy. Back in the early 1990s, one Midwestern editor told me he wouldn’t really want his kid to go into newspaper journalism, which he predicted would soon be “like being a cowboy on a dinosaur ranch.” Not that people using other media can’t be well informed and engaged, but the suggestion that our attention span for actual knowledge is so abbreviated that USA Today’s formula is too long, and that we lose interest after 3 inches is . . . well, most readers have already moved on from this sentence to join the 51,077,905 people who have seen Charlie bite his brother Harry’s fingah....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Today's Word—Doublespeak (Vol. 1984+)

Partisan politics:

“Say ‘conservative’ and they wag their tails. Say ‘liberal’ and they bare their fangs. More to the point, say either and all thinking ceases. . . . [P]eople hear this doublespeak and cheer. Why not? They have been taught that words mean what you need them to in a given moment. Turns out, all it requires is a limitless supply of gall and the inherent belief that people are dumber than a bag of hammers.”
—Leonard Pitts Jr., Pulitzer-winning columnist,
The Miami Herald, 2008 (See column here.)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Jerry Vonderbrink)

Speak up! Feedback and suggestions—printable and otherwise—always welcome. After all, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “There are no false opinions.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Pease’s Soapbox:

Here’s what set Mr. Pitts off: Mitt Romney said,

“We need change, all right. Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington. We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington—throw out the big-government liberals”
(Romney, Sept. 3, 2008).

If you read Pitts’ column, “set off” is the correct term. After eight years of Bush Administration rule, Romney thinks we need a more conservative hand on the national tiller. Whaa? sputters Pitts.

George Orwell envisioned a world like that in 1984:

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

Sound familiar?

As in Orwell’s world, gobbledygook starts sounding like common sense. Of course, this is a presidential election season, when up is down, black is white, wrong is right and let’s gogogogo!

When we say, “common sense,” of course, it’s as in Lewis Carroll, not Thomas Paine (although Tom did refer to “times that try men’s souls.” Which would make him a sexist).

But back to gobbledygook:

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.

The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.

The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.

Which, indeed, shall be master in this election season? Promises? Soundbites? Oratory? TV ads? Policy or deeds? Just how freakin’ gullible are we? If we hear a thing, it must be so. And how we perceive a thing is as powerful as the thing itself. Promising “Hope” creates hope. Saying “Change” makes change.

How, we must ask ourselves, do we know what we think we know about the world? or about our candidates?

For a social conservative like Mitt Romney to call on Washington to clean up its “liberal” ways after 7+ years of Bush Administration policies may sound like it makes sense....if your brain isn’t engaged. But as U.S. financial markets fall through the floor, the national debt sets breath-taking records, international adventurism has never been so high and America’s global rep has never been so low—maybe Mitt has a point. Maybe we do need more conservation in America—conserving budget, brains, and basic common sense, which all are in sadly short supply.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Today's Word—Paradiddles

Teaching Writing. And Paradiddles….

“Of course writing can be taught. This is not to say that you can teach anyone to be Faulkner. But you can’t teach anyone to be Thelonius Monk, and no one questions the value of piano lessons. You can’t teach anyone to be Andre Agassi, yet no one questions (at least from a tennis-playing perspective) the sending of 5-year-olds to tennis bootcamps in Florida to learn how to hit tennis balls for 17 hours a day.”
Joshua Henkin, blogging at The Elegant Variation.
(Thanks to alert WORDster Javan Kienzle)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Today's Word—Campus Freedom and Judicial Activism

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)
Teaching Freedom of Ideas

ASSOCIATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA spoke yesterday at Utah State University on “Freedom and the Rule of Law,” calling for less judicial activism. In an ironic twist, press coverage to the Supreme Court justice’s address at the public, land-grant university campus was limited—student journalists with cameras were evicted. See journalism professor Penny Byrne’s criticism, “Shame on USU for agreeing to Scalia’s demand to exclude cameras,” on the USU HardNewsCaf√©. Today, BTW, is the 215th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building (1793).

(Scott Sommerdorf/Salt Lake Tribune)

Freedom of Thought, American Universities, and Judicial Restraint:

1. “Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia got the rockstar treatment Monday at Utah State University, where he argued that laws on ‘homosexual sodomy’ and abortion should be set by ‘the people,’ not judges.”
—Kim Burgess, reporter, The Logan Herald Journal, 9/16/08

2. “LOGAN—In recent years, American judges have taken to ‘abstract moralizing’ at the expense of their real job, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Monday.”
—Brian Maffly, reporter, The Salt Lake Tribune (http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_10472873)

3. “I attack ideas.”
—Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, 2008

4. “The real heart of a university is freedom to express and to criticize.”
—George W. Starcher, University of North Dakota president, 1968

Speak up! Feedback and suggestions—printable and otherwise—always welcome. After all, as Oliver Wendell Holmes (who was a pretty good writer) said, “There are no false opinions.”

Pease’s Soapbox:

I was there as masses of students, faculty, staff and local civilians filled not just the ballroom at Utah State yesterday, but overflowed into two additional venues to view Megatrons. Was it the SuperBowl? Bon Jovi? Mick and the Ancient Brits? Nope. Here were flocks of 20-somethings gathering to hear pearls from U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Frankly, few of my students had ever heard of him, which is a bit of a concern. But otherwise, I was thrilled.

My beginning news writing students were there to cover their first live speech. My media literacy students were there for extra credit and because—well, how often do you get the chance in rural Utah to hear directly from one of the nine top judicial authorities in the world? We’ve been talking about how news and information in the modern world is framed for generally sheeplike audiences. Mostly, of course, we all get our “knowledge” about the world from the mass media—un-“vetted” (a term many have just learned) pundits (also a new term for them) who frame events and explain to us how to think about them. So what a great opportunity for real-world learning and first-hand framing of news events.

From the perspective of a First Amendment abolutist, though, a lifelong free-marketplace-of-ideas vendor, a university professor who believes our campuses need more freedom, not less, there were disturbing vibes. The Utah State PR office informed the press two weeks ago that Scalia would be here for a public conference on “Freedom and the Rule of Law,” with the caveat note to editors that press freedom would be restricted. “Still camera, pencil and pad coverage only.” For broadcasters, “no film or video allowed.” These strictures came from the U.S. Supreme Court PR office. A mugshot of Justice Scalia was provided.

Well, this seemed a little weird. Why would a justice of the highest court in the land of the free, whose primary role it is to interpret the U.S. Constitution, be so shy? Arguably, unconstitutionally so? Well, maybe not in the letter of the law, but certainly in its spirit.

And this is a U.S. university, after all—more than 20,000 students at a land-grant institution, whose charge is to prepare the sons and daughters of the land to be citizen-scholars.

But the place was packed. Good enough. As Justice Scalia was introduced by his presenters as the greatest mind of his age, the High Court’s greatest writer ever (!), teachable young minds swarmed into the overflow spaces. Well, I thought, no matter what happens, this is a good thing. After all, until last week, none of my journalism students could identify both U.S. senators from Utah.

But then police officers ejected a student because he was carrying a video camera for the student TV station. A faculty member wondered if he could get busted for videotaping the videoscreen in the overflow auditorium. Few in the audience had any idea that “free press” on the Utah State University campus is a conditional concept when a U.S. Supreme Court justice appears to apply his other First Amendment rights of speech and assembly.

Would it have mattered? Of course not—except to the student broadcast journalists involved, whose education on freedom in the real world has suddenly been starkly illustrated. Perhaps Justice Scalia was concerned about being caught in an embarrassing gesture, but in a public space at a public event on a public university campus where we try to teach young people how to think for themselves, this was a troubling contradiction.

About the press coverage: I don’t know what (if anything) Utah’s electronic media were able to air, considering that no video or recording devices were permitted, but the print media offered interestingly different leads on their stories. This is a good thing for me, since I’ll be talking in class today and tomorrow about how the mass media frame news events, and how media consumers should be wary.

The local newspaper—the Herald Journal—led its page one coverage with references to “homosexual sodomy” and abortion. The Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City also mentioned these topics in its lead. This is weird, because that’s not the focus I heard from Justice Scalia. His point, I thought (but what do I know?) was to decry judicial and beaucratic activism in favor of his concept of constitutional “originalism.” That was the lead on The Salt Lake Tribune’s story, too—about the “political snakepit” that the federal bench has become in reaction to overweening political appointments. (Note: See the current Supreme Court.) I suppose that “homosexual sodomy” and the rest may be one example of that kind of activism, although I might have focused on, say, judicial perspectives on individual rights and waterboarding in wartime.

But I’m no constitutional scholar and that’s just my take. Which will be my point when I meet with my news writing and media literacy students: What did you hear? What knowledge base do you bring to it? How do you think the event should be framed for people who weren’t there? How acurately do you think the press framed and presented the story?

And, by the way, what’s your take on throwing out student TV journalists?

Ted Pease

Monday, September 15, 2008

Best Video Spoof of the Week


Best political spoof of the week (at least)—Tina Fey on “Saturday Night Live” as Sarah Palin. Click here for link.

Click here for Associated Press story.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton on “Saturday Night Live” (9/13/08)

NOTE: Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin for catching my misspelling of Amy Poehler's name. My news writing students would have been fired for such a transgression; so I fired myself. More coffee is needed. With appreciation.

Today's Word—Free Expression

Shin-Kickers of the Court:

“I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. And some very good people have some very bad ideas. And if you can't separate the two, you gotta get another day job. You don’t want to be a judge. At least not a judge on a multi-member panel. . . . I can be charming and combative at the same time. What’s contradictory between the two? I love to argue. I’ve always loved to argue. And I love to point out the weaknesses of the opposing arguments. It may well be that I'm something of a shin kicker. It may well be that I’m something of a contrarian.”
—Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, see “60 Minutes” transcript 2008.

NOTE: Scalia speaks today at Utah State University on “Freedom and the Rule of Law,” noon, Taggart Student Center

Friday, September 12, 2008

Today's Word—Campaign Rhetoric

Forget the Facts, M’am; Make ’em Laugh:

“People don’t ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.”
—Robert Keith Leavitt, author & journalist

Speak up! Feedback and suggestions—printable and otherwise—always welcome. After all, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “There are no false opinions.”

Pease’s Soapbox:

This is a pretty fair (and balanced?) capsule of how political decision-making works in this country. Far from the Age of Reason, Campaign 2008 is all about Sales. And Sales means Branding and Message and Misdirection and Emotion. The Bush Administration was famously accomplished in staying On Message, and most in the press and the American Flock queued up like sheep. The results play out daily in Iraq and worldwide.

The candidates of 2008 have learned these lessons well. Rather than offer more complex and difficult policy options, which are required to make significant differences in the lives of Americans, Obama and McCain fall back not just on sound-bites, but on mini-bites: “Change!” “Hope!” “New!” “Improved!” This is straight out of Madison Avenue. It means as much as a Cialis commercial.

What “change”? Whose “change”? What does it mean? We Americans have become so accustomed to the shorthand of the Information Age that we accept the emotional promise as a down payment on the substance it implies. But the principle payment never comes. Of course we all want “change”—70 percent of us do after seven-plus years of the Bush administration. But we need to be a little smarter than Pavlov’s dogs as we digest the latest “change” promise. What does Obama mean when he rides the Change Wave? And McCain’s version of “change”—does it mean Sarah Palin and a rifle, or is there more to it? (This is an important question in assessing a 71-year-old senator who has backed the Bush administration 90 percent of the time....)

Today’s WORDster, Mr. Leavitt, suggests that an emotional pitch—promising cleaner hair and fewer zits, for example—is more palatable and accessible to Americans than facts. Facts require word—hard work—including individual assessment, critical thinking, a knowledge base that most of us are too lazy to acquire. So just promise us “change,” Mr. Wannbe President—Lord knows, it’s worked before.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Today's Word—A Moment of Silence

Compelling Narrative:

“The story of the . . . catastrophic intelligence failure that led up to the attacks is told with relish by the authors of The 9/11 Commission Report. Borrowing a technique from the intelligence services, publishers WW Norton refused to confirm or deny to
The Observer whether the report was rewritten by John Grisham or Robert Ludlum to give it some narrative muscle. They claim it was the joint work of the Commission’s Republican and Democrat members.

“But I’d like to know which veteran member of Congress wrote the opening lines: ‘Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for work.... For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey. Among the travellers were Mohammed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari, who arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine.’

Who wouldn’t read on?”

—Martin Bright, columnist, The Observer, 2004 (See complete column.)

Speak up! Feedback and suggestions—printable and otherwise—always welcome. After all, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “There are no false opinions.”

Pease’s Soapbox:

Along with the murders of JFK, MLK and RFK, “the Day Which Will Live in Infamy,” and the “giant leap for mankind,” 9/11 was one of those irrefutably defining moments in the collective American memory. We all remember where we were when we heard, unbelieving, that planes had struck the World Trade Towers. The world truly changed on that day.

On this anniversary, it’s not only worthwhile but essential to remember the event, the politics of hate that spawned it, and the national and global mindset that have resulted from it. Neither war nor terror is a new concept, but the new global political and cultural iteration that grew from 9/11 was and is new, and warps us all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Today's Word—Deep Thinking

Deep Thoughts

“If you don’t control your mind, someone else will.”
—John Allston, writer and deep thinker

Pease’s Soapbox:
And, if you've had any experience with my mind, you’ll agree that that’s not necessarily a bad thing....

But—as usual—during this crucial presidential campaign homestretch, independent critical thinking and decision-making seems in short supply, in the unwashed masses, the press and the candidates alike. Pandering, soundbites, accusations, kneejerkery, demagoguery, brainless partisanship. Don’t know how to promote more independent thought (lord knows I've tried!)—maybe Mr. Allston does—but how about we all try to pay less attention to that man behind the curtain, whoever it is for you, and try to engage our own brains.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Today's Word—Puppy Swat

NOTE: Due to a death in the family,the WORD will be away until Wednesday. But keep that wisdom flowing!

More Than a Puppy-Swatter:

“You know what people use these for? They roll them up and swat their puppies for wetting on the rug. They spread them on the floor when they’re painting the walls. They wrap fish in them, shred them up and pack their two-bit china in them when they move. Or else they pile up in the garbage until an inspector declares them a fire hazard! But this also happens to be a couple of more things! It’s got print on it that tells stories that hundreds of good men all over the world have broken their backs to get. It gives a lot of information to a lot of people who wouldn’t have known about it if we hadn’t taken the trouble to tell them. It’s the sum total of the work of a lot of guys who don’t quit. It’s a newspaper . . . and it only costs 10 cents, that’s all. But if you only read the comic section or the want ads, it’s still the best buy for your money in the world.”
William Conrad, actor, playing a crusty city editor in “30,” 1959

Today's Word—Pitbulls

Political Discourse:

“You know what’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick.”
Sarah Palin, GOP veep candidate and Alaska governor, in her speech to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last night (9/3/08)

(R.J. Matson, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2008)

(Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune, 2008)

Reax: Palin Speech Gets Rave Reviews
U.S. News & World Report (Click here.)

After two days of unrelenting negative coverage, media analysts last night and this morning almost universally lavished praise on Gov. Sarah Palin’s convention speech. Immediate reaction by the broadcast punditry was positive. On NBC, Tom Brokaw said a few moments after Palin concluded, “Tonight makes a very auspicious debut as the vice presidential candidate before this hall and a national television audience. She could not have been more winning or engaging.”

On CBS, Bob Schieffer said after the speech, “I think she passed the first test. The people in this hall absolutely loved this speech. Now we'll see how it plays with the rest of the country.” On ABC, George Stephanopoulos said, “There were a lot beautiful and effective lines in this speech.” On ABC’s Nightline, Stephanopoulos added, “She definitely gets an A. ... It was appealing and funny and warm at times. Very, very tough at times as well. And she really did have an ability to bring these things down to earth, bring it down to earth.” . . .

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer said, “She really did hit it out of the park tonight not only here but for millions of Americans watching across the country. No doubt...their first real impression of her had to be very, very positive given this speech that was obviously very carefully written but very well delivered.” Anderson Cooper added, “If anyone is wondering why she is such a popular governor in the state of Alaska, you saw the answer tonight.” . . .

Print coverage this morning is echoing the praise in front page story across the nation. The New York Times reports on its front page that Palin’s appearance “electrified a convention that has been consumed by questions of whether she was up to the job,” while the Washington Post says on its front page that Palin “may be controversial, risky and untested on the national stage. But at the convention Wednesday night,” she “proved to be an instant jolt of energy for a political party that has been worried and demoralized for much of 2008.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Today's Word—Meddlesome Politicos

Free Press?

“It will be a cold day in Death Valley before I ever allow an elected official to tell me what to put in the paper.”
—Jay Evensen, editorial page editor, The Deseret Morning News
(quoted in Paul Rolly column, Salt Lake Tribune, 8/31/08. See column here.)

Pease’s Soapbox:
The Back Story: Evensen’s comment comes as members of the Utah Legislature have launched attacks in the blogosphere on DNews political editor Bob Bernick over a story that said the Senate leadership was considering making it harder for Utah citizens to get initiatives on the state ballot.

This has been a hot issue since a citizen-sponsored initiative on last year’s ballot rejected a law passed by the Lege giving tuition tax credits to parents with kids in private schools. The Senate president and majority leader, who Bernick wrote were thinking about toughening the intiative process for citizens during a DNews editorial board meeting, denied it, and said the story got their position wrong. Then legislators started called Bernick “a liar” (among other epithets), and calling for his firing.

This is extreme, even in heavily top-down Utah, especially considering the target is the LDS Church-owned DNews, which is generally on-board with the Utah power structure.

Also unusual is that Evensen’s rebellious and First Amendment-inspired statement above comes as the kicker in a Sunday column by political columnist Paul Rolly in the competing Tribune (“Utah's Independent Voice Since 1871”). In solidarity, Rolly writes:

“Elected government officials and members of the news media often are engaged in a strange, sometimes awkward dance in which each partner tries to lead without stepping too hard on the other’s toes.

Media types view themselves as public watchdogs, with a responsibility to scrutinize government officials, the motives behind their decisions and the impacts they may have on their constituents. For their part, politicians often claim that reporters have agendas and biases of their own.

But a phenomenon that is unprecedented in my experience as a Utah journalist has emerged over the past two weeks that seems, in at least one case, to raise the stakes in the relationship between the news media and members of the Legislature. Several lawmakers have posted blogs accusing a major newspaper of lying and, in so many words, calling for a reporter's head.”

And there’s a pretty good WORD in there, too.

Agree? Disagree? Have a different bone to pick? Click on the Comment link below.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Today's Word—Both Sides Now

Fair & Balanced?

“A newspaper cannot really congratulate itself on having got all the facts impartially when it has quoted at length from two uninformed idiots on opposing sides of an issue.”
James Russell Wiggins, former editor & publisher, The Ellsworth (Maine) American, and former managing editor, The Washington Post

Pease’s Soapbox:
I met the estimable Mr. Wiggins
in the early 1980s, when I applied for a reporting job at the Ellsworth American—a “retirement hobby” for the former hard-bitten managing editor of the Washington Post. A classic journalistic curmudgeon, Wiggins let me down easy, first by ignoring my application letter and then by meeting me when I wandered into his newsroom without an appointment, and ushering me back out.

Wiggins’s perspective on journalistic “balance,” as exemplified in his quote, illustrates how the tradition of investigation, even muckraking, had devolved by the end of his career (he died at age 96 in 2000). When a network that is anything but can coopt the journalistic ideal “fair and balanced” and strip it of all meaning, then Wiggins’s definition has indeed become the standard of press responsibility. This kind of “balance,” so prevalent in the press today, equates to journalistic sloth and does little to advance citizen discussion and understanding of
issues and events.

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