Observations on media: Bill O’Reilly’s excellent wartime adventures and gotcha journalism

Bill O’Reilly’s excellent wartime adventures

Oh come on now, Billy.

Bill O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly

Just admit it. You misspoke, fabricated, misled. Oh hell, you lied. You’ve claimed you reported from the Falkland Islands during the 1982 conflict between Britain and Argentina. Now you’re saying you didn’t.

“I said I covered the Falklands war, which I did,” he says, citing how he covered popular protests in Buenos Aires, about 1,200 miles from the Falklands, as a CBS News reporter.

But the fact is that in 2001 he wrote in his book, “The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America”:

“You know that I am not easily shocked. I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falkland Islands, and in chaotic situations like the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.”

And in 2013, he said in a TV interview that he’d covered a protest “…in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands.”

Politico was right on when it noted that O’Reilly would likely attempt to dismiss the reporting on his lies by David Corn and Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones by dismissing them “…as left-wing zealots bent on his destruction.”

Yep.

Gotcha Journalism 

On the other side of the coin, eporters and opinionators are jamming Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin with inane questions about things they don’t really care about, but give them a chance to be annoying.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

It reminds me of when KOIN-TV played a gotcha game with five U.S. Senate candidates from Oregon in 1995, asking each of them seven questions. Congressman Ron Wyden got all seven wrong and suffered some embarrassment as a result. But few people would probably have gotten them right. One Wyden missed, for example, asked, “What is the average cost for a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a gallon of gas, and a pair of Levi’s jeans?”

And this was critical to serving effectively as a U.S. Senator?

In Walker’s case, a television reporter in London asked him whether he believes in evolution, the Washington Post asked him whether the president is a Christian, and reporters at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington hounded him on whether he agreed with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who accused President Obama of not loving America.

Walker’s answers, and non-answers, generated media criticism of his qualifications, including an over- the-top opinion column in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank asserting that Walker had “displayed a cowardice unworthy of a man who would be president” and “…ought to disqualify him as a serious presidential contender.”

Let the campaign silly season begin.

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Obama insists “I’m OK, you’re OK” in response to global terrorism

President Obama, speaking to an audience that included unrepentant leaders from repressive countries who couldn’t care less and who regularly brutalize their people and deny them basic human rights, argued on Thursday that force of arms was not enough and called on all nations to “put an end to the cycle of hate” by expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue.

Barack_Obama_in_tank

“Oh sure, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen actively plots against us, terrorists have murdered ambassadors, Americans have been killed at Ft. Hood and during the Boston Marathon, in Syria and Iraq the terrorist group we call ISIL has slaughtered innocent civilians and murdered hostages, including Americans, and has spread its barbarism to Libya with the murder of Egyptian Christians, we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen, the Pakistan Taliban has massacred schoolchildren and their teachers, al-Shabaab has launched attacks from Somalia across East Africa, and in Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children,” Obama said. “But hey, shit happens.”

Calling the slaughter of thousands of Ukrainians by Russian-backed rebels supplied with Russian equipment “a hiccup on the pathway to peace”, Obama insisted that the cease-fire that came into effect in eastern Ukraine on Sunday was holding. “The Russians are honorable, peace-loving folks,” he said, “and I’m sure that if Putin and I got together he’d be overwhelmed by the force of my personality and insist that the rebels pull back.”

As the rebels raised their flag over Debaltseve, Ukraine and celebrated their humiliating defeat of the Ukrainian forces, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that this wouldn’t scuttle the peace deal.

Promising “swift, meaningful punishment for those who terrorize peaceful nations”, Obama called for another conference to be held at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. that would “offer more strong words in response to beheadings , immolations, child-killing, and other barbarities.”

“We’ll take an important step forward as governments, civil society groups and community leaders from more than 60 nations will gather in Washington for a global summit on countering violent extremism,” Obama said. “Our focus will be on community organizing, which I know a heck of a lot about, and empowering local communities.”

Dismissing concerns about his feckless foreign policy, Obama  said, ” Not to worry. I’m OK you’re OK.”

 

If it matters to Oregonians, it’s in (The Washington Post) Willamette Week

For those of you who don’t remember, Bob Packwood was the first.

Former Senator Bob Packwood (R-Ore)

Former Senator Bob Packwood (R-Ore)

On Nov. 22, 1992, the Washington Post reported that 10 women had accused Sen. Bob Packwood of sexual harassment. Even though one of The Oregonian’s own reporters was among the 10, and the paper had gotten tips about Packwood’s behavior, incredibly it had failed to aggressively pursue the matter. The Oregonian’s failure to break the story was mortifying for the entire paper.

Adding to the shame was a bumper sticker that began appearing around Portland:

washPoststicker

Oregonian editor, Bill Hilliard, later told the Washington Post, in a massive understatement, that his paper “should have been a little more aggressive… We were worried about ruining a man’s career.”

Neil Goldschmidt was second.

Neil Goldschmidt

Neil Goldschmidt

Nigel Jaquiss, a reporter at Willamette Week, was researching the role of former Oregon Governor, and later power player, Neil Goldschmidt, in efforts to take over Portland General Electric. He was making good progress on the story, but got hints there was more.

“It was shaping up to be a pretty good story,” Jaquiss told the American Journalism Review, “but I kept getting pushed by people… ‘There’s more you ought to be looking at… There’s a girl..'”

Jaquiss’ aggressive digging eventually revealed that Goldschmidt, when he was the married Mayor of Portland, had begun raping a neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter on a regular basis over a three-year period. Sources said Goldschmidt often took the girl to her parents’ basement, to hotels and other private spots for sex.

When Willamette week posted a summary of the story on its website, it spread like wildfire. The Oregonian had been beaten again.

Not only had The Oregonian been beaten again, this time by a local alternative weekly, but The Oregonian made things even worse. When it ran the Goldschmidt story it appeared to many readers to soft-pedal Goldschmidt’s actions as “an affair” with “a high school student”. Oregonians went ballistic.

A memo of a staff meeting at the Oregonian revealed that there was a lot of internal angst, too. The memo noted: “Steve Duin felt strongly that our coverage today was too reverential. We are dealing with a child molester. He made a very impassioned plea for doing the who knew what when story — lots of people became rich riding Goldschmidt’s coat tails — and why they kept it secret. He suggested that readers might think we’d learned nothing from Packwood and that we are hands off people in power.”

And now the Kitzhaber-Cylvia Hayes scandal.

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

Again, it was Nigel Jaquiss and Willamette Week that broke the story and followed up with bombshell after bombshell.

The Oregonian followed up with some revelations, but it was late to the party. It’s most significant role in the evolving saga was to run an editorial on Feb. 4, 2015 calling on Kitzhaber to resign, arguing, “…it should be clear by now to Kitzhaber that his credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor.”

What’s happening to The Oregonian, once the state’s dominant paper of record, now a mere shadow of its former self?

It may sound hackneyed, but great newspapers like the Oregonian were once the indispensable guardians of our freedom. Seasoned reporters have served as watchdogs to ensure good government and reinforce good citizenship. The Oregonian has been a key ingredient of  civic dialogue and discourse in the state.

David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who created the award-winning HBO series The Wire, warned at a U.S. Senate hearing on the “Future of Journalism”, that “high-end journalism is dying in America.”  Oregon can’t afford for The Oregonian to be among those at death’s door.

 

Disclosure: I worked as a reporter at The Oregonian during the 80s and 90s.

Brian Williams is gone. So what?

For all the sturm and drang about Brian Williams’ banishment from NBC Nightly News, who really cares?

Brian Williams

Brian Williams

When Walter Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News, about 28 million viewers tuned in on average.

CBS_Evening_News_with_Cronkite,_1968

Today, fewer viewers tune in to CBS, ABC and NBC all together on a typical night.

The most recent State of the News Media study from the Pew Research Center reported that an average of just 22.6 million people watched one of the three commercial broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS or NBC in 2013, only 7 percent of the country’s 316.5 million population. And NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, the most-watched program, had an average of only 8.5 million viewers.

Even recognition of nightly news anchors has fallen precipitously. Another Pew Research study reported that in 1985, 47 percent of people polled recognized the face of CBS News anchor Dan Rather. In 2013, just 27 percent recognized Brian Williams.

The age of network evening news viewers is slipping, too, according to Pew Research. While a slight majority (56%) of those 65 and older say they watch nightly network news, only 26 percent of those age 30-49 do and just18 percent of Americans under 30.

Morning news is in trouble, too, with average viewership of 13.4 million. Even the leader, ABC’s Good Morning America, averaged only 5.5 million viewers

The networks’ Sunday morning political news shows aren’t exactly barn-burners either. In the last six months of 2012, Face the Nation on CBS averaged just 2.97 million viewers, NBC’s Meet the Press 2.94 million viewers and ABC’s This Week 2.57 million viewers.

So where are Americans going for their news?

Not print newspapers. Their circulation has been dropping like a stone. And even though many of the top online news sites belong to print newspaper companies, online ad revenue is far from replacing lost print ad revenue.

“As the digital revolution continues to erode the print newspaper business, the only ones likely to survive will be those backed by the almost unlimited funds of billionaires…,” observes Accuracy in Media. The only problem is that the number of struggling newspapers far outnumbers the billionaires willing to save them.”

In other words, the present and the future are digital. So much for evening network news anchors. Sorry, Lester.

Jesse Jackson and the outrage machine: now it’s about Little League

A couple hours. That’s all it took for Jesse Jackson to publicly express outrage about Little League International’s decision to strip the U.S. Championship from Chicago’s all-black Jackie Robinson West team, and to make it a racial matter.

Jesse Jackson at a Feb. 10 press conference spoke out against the decision to strip Jackie Robinson West of its Little League national title.

Jesse Jackson at a Feb. 10 press conference spoke out against the decision to strip Jackie Robinson West of its Little League national title.

Little League International determined on Wednesday that the Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4 Administrator knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations. They did so by placing players, otherwise known as suburban ringers, on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries.

Like the ubiquitous Al Sharpton, Jackson inserted himself into the issue by calling a press conference where he told Little League International to reverse its decision and questioned whether its motivations were racial.

“Is this boundaries or race?,” Jackson asked, before threatening legal action if Little League doesn’t rescind it’s decision.

Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and social activist in Chicago, who joined Jackson at the press conference,  also raised the race issue.

“When you’re going over to voter registration and going to birth certificates and doing all this time of hunting and a witch hunt that’s been going on for the last number of months, I can’t help but wonder the question if the same thing would have been done with another team from another place, another race,” Pfleger said.

Even a player’s parent, Venisa Green, jumped on the bandwagon. “It is amazing to me that whenever African-Americans exceed the expectations that there is always going to be fault,” she said.

Meanwhile, in the true spirit of fun in kid’s sports, Channel 5 NBC Chicago reports that a suburban coach of another Little League Team who raised suspicions about the make-up of Jackie Robinson West said Wednesday that he has received death threats.

So I guess the Jackie Robinson West kids have lost more than the U.S. Championship. They’ve lost their innocence.

The deification of the Kennedys: Act II

You’d think the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, and the non-stop hagiography of the man by his admirers, would be enough. But no. Another monument to the Kennedys is going up, this one the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Given that Ted Kennedy was only one of more than 1900 Senators in U.S. history, you might expect his extended family and vast network of acolytes would have been satisfied with a Ted Kennedy Room in the adjacent $20.8 million, 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, all constructed with private funds.

But that obviously wouldn’t do. The 68,000 sq. ft. $79 million Edward M. Kennedy Institute, actually costing more than President Kennedy’s library and museum when adjusted for inflation, is expected to open to the general public on March 31, 2015. It will be a temple to Ted, complete with a full-scale replica of the current U.S. Senate Chamber, inaugurated in 1859.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate

Rendering showing a replica of the U.S. Senate chamber that will be the central feature of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate

Rendering showing a replica of the U.S. Senate chamber that will be the central feature of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate

Ted Kennedy’s shrine will also have extensive museum space for exhibits, a café, classrooms, conference facilities and a gift shop. About all it’s missing is an eternal flame.

The gift shop, presumably, will not include replicas of the 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 that Ted Kennedy drove off Dike Bridge into the channel between Chappaquiddick and Martha’s Vineyard in 1969, drowning 29-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. Nor is it likely to display a plaque noting that Kennedy left the scene and did not notify the police of the midnight incident until the following morning.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's car is pulled from the water on July 19, 1969 after going off a bridge in Chappaquiddick the night before. The body of Mary Kopechne of Washington, D.C., was found in the rear seat. Her death was attributed to drowning.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s car is pulled from the water on July 19, 1969 after going off a bridge in Chappaquiddick the night before. The body of Mary Kopechne of Washington, D.C., was found in the rear seat. Her death was attributed to drowning.

Nor is it likely the Institute will highlight tales of his drinking and raffish behavior that were part of his public persona, according to the Washington Post.

The extravagant monument to Ted Kennedy is also a monument to the ability to tap into federal money, with $38 million of its construction budget coming from the federal government. Former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Rep. Edward Markey tried to get even more appropriated to the lavish project, but failed.

That was a small victory for taxpayers, but with all the more pressing priorities in this country , the whole project should have been scuttled.