Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just Wondering?...Orlando Sentinel Sets the Record Straight

Yesterday, I wrote about Scott Powers, the Orlando Sentinel reporter who was locked in a closet during a fundraiser that Vice President Joe Biden attended in central Florida.  I wondered if the reporter would have left the closet incident out of the initial story if aides to former Vice President Dick Cheney had locked him in the closet.

The Sentinel responded with information I didn't know, and now it is my obligation, as it should be for anyone who posts anything publicly, to set the record straight.

The Orlando Sentinel certainly did not play favorites in this event.  In fact, the newspaper had pictures of the closet posted on its website before the event was over.  Evidently, the reporter was able to use his cell phone device to take a picture of the closet and transmit it to his editor.  The reporter also was featured on ABC's "Good Morning America," which did a story on the embarrassing incident.

One thing I have always believed during my career as a journalist and as a professional communicator is that when you have new information, you don't hide it; you report it and correct the record, or, at least, update it.  I did not have all the information I have now when I posted my blog yesterday on the Florida scenario.  Now that I do, I have reported it, and I would like to thank the wonderful people at the Orlando Sentinel for responding in  a very professional manner and enabling me to update the story.

In my opinion, a journalist’s first obligation is to go where the facts lead you, no matter where they lead, and if you can’t do that for whatever reason, you should ask to be taken off the story, so another reporter can pick up the pieces and move on.  If I may be so bold to add my own definition of journalism, I believe journalism should really be a never-ending search for the truth, and I mean never-ending because we will always find with new information that can change what we once believed to be the truth.

I’m not suggesting that journalists and bloggers cannot draw conclusions before they have scoured the universe for every last piece of information on a subject.  That would lead to an unreasonable intellectual paralysis.  But they should be open to exploring every avenue of information.  If one becomes an advocate or participant for any point of view—liberal, conservative or otherwise—that person is more likely to become intellectually invested in a certain outcome and tend to ignore or marginalize any evidence that counters his or her advocacy position.

I admit to having a certain point of view.  However, I am obligated to you, the reader, to never let that point of view keep me from writing what I know to be correct.  As a blogger, I should adhere to the same axiom that I expect journalists to follow, and so I have.  If I were to find out more information in the future on this incident, I will post another story on it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Can You Imagine if Dick Cheney's Staff Locked a Reporter in a Closet?

I often said that hypocrisy and bias in the media is old news, but can you imagine the firestorm that would have erupted if the staff of former Vice President Dick Cheney locked a reporter in a closet during a fundraiser?  Well, that's what happened to an Orlando Sentinel reporter last weekend, except it wasn't Dick Cheney's staff; it was Vice President Joseph Biden's staff.

The incident was covered by most media outlets, but not extensively.  Therefore, in case you missed it, reporter Scott Powers was the pool reporter covering a fundraiser in Florida for Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.  Vice President Biden was the main speaker at the fundraiser, and his staff decided to lock Powers in a closet for roughly an hour and fifteen minutes.

Now, most of the media reported the situation after reporters found out about it, but they didn't find out from Powers.  In the report he filed on the fundraiser, Powers made no mention that he was locked in a closet by Biden's staff for most of the event.  For the record, Biden's staff has apologized profusely for what happened, and so did the homeowner where the fundraiser took place.

It doesn't surprise me at all that most of the media has downplayed this scenario.  As I have often written in my posts, liberal bias in the media is old news.  What troubles me is that Powers didn't report what happened to him in his story, or at least do a humorous side bar story on the incident.  I am a former managing editor, and I would be quite angry if I had to hear about what happened to one of my reporters from another media source.

Unlike most people in the news media, I can't read minds and hearts, so I am not going to speculate on whether or not Powers is a supporter of Democratic politics and didn't want to embarrass Biden.  Nevertheless, I would like to hear from Powers if he would have written his account of the fundraiser the same way if he was locked in a closet by an aide to Dick Cheney?  Just wondering.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Didn't Whoopi and Joy Walk Out on Donald Trump?

I've never watch "The View" television show before last week.  It's just not the kind of television show that would interest me.  Nevertheless, Donald Trump decided to appear on the show, and since he is considering running for President, I decided to tune in.

Much to my surprise, Trump took on the so-called "birther" issue and he asked why doesn't Barack Obama produce his original birth certificate and put the question of whether or not he was born in the United States to rest?  What surprised me even more was that Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar didn't walk off the show as they did when Bill O'Reilly appeared a while back.

When O'Reilly, the controversial Fox News host, appeared on "The View,"  he stated an indisputable fact that all the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, 2001 were Muslims. O'Reilly didn't say that all Muslims were terrorists; he just said the ones that attacked us on that infamous day were all Muslims.  It didn't matter because Whoopi and Joy became so enraged they walked off the show.

Now, a short time later, Trump comes on the show and says something that equally enrages Goldberg and Behar, but they don't walk off the show.  I wonder why not?  O'Reilly stated a fact.  Trump engaged in speculation.  I can't read minds, but I suspect that Goldberg and Behar might have been looking for an excuse to embarrass O'Reilly and, in turn, Fox news.

I'm not suggesting that the women should have walked out on Trump because he did raise some interesting questions.  One was why doesn't Obama just produce his birth certificate?  The other was why is the President spending so much in legal fees to keep his birth and school records sealed?

Before the show with Trump, I was becoming annoyed by the whole birther controversy.  I figured Obama was born in Hawaii, so let's get onto issues that are really important and not waste anymore media time on the birther distraction.  Now, I have researched some of the stories regarding the amount of money Obama has spent on hiding his records, and I wonder why?  I still think he was born in the United States, but the fact that he seems to be spending so much to hide his records is beginning to make me wonder.

This whole situation regarding Obama's place of birth underscores what is wrong with a media that is so dominated by advocates and not journalists.  A journalist would have no problem asking the President why he is spending so much money to avoid the issue.  The advocates in the media, who have expended so much of their professional credibility supporting Obama, won't ever ask such a question.  Yet, the public deserves the answer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What's The Point of Having Political Party Strategists on News Shows?

I was watching a Fox News Show yesterday hosted by Megyn Kelly, and, once again, she had a Democratic Party strategist and a Republican Party strategist debating one of the issues of the day, the Libyan war or excursion or whatever the Obama Administration chooses to call it on any given day. 

As I was listening to the discussion, I wondered what's the point of having these two political party strategists on the show?  I got from the news segment exactly what I expected to get and nothing more, certainly nothing news worthy.  The Republican strategist condemned President Obama and could find nothing positive about his stance in Libya.  The Democratic strategist defended the President and could find nothing wrong with what Obama is doing.  Of course, the Democratic strategist brought up the presidency of George W. Bush and denounced the way the former President conducted his foreign policy.  I guess the Democratic Party thinks Bush bashing is still a good strategy even though he has been out of office for more than two years now.

Does anyone really believe that having Democratic and Republican strategists talking past each other in opposing filibusters does anything to inform the public?   It may involve balance, but little more.  Am I the only one who is tired of seeing the same ideological talking heads talk past each other every day on the so-called news networks?  What do you really expect to get from Paul Begala or Newt Gingrich, but the same repetition of their talking points?  Can’t news stations find more experts who don’t have a political stake in the discussion?  When you finish watching these news programs, don’t you often think that you can’t really believe much of anything you just heard?

Most journalists and communicators with whom I have had contact are hard-working people who I have grown to like very much, but even they have heard me denounce what passes for journalism today. Every day, I see questions that are not being asked and facts not being pursued. Information is routinely ignored that would provide for better, more complete reporting.  In fact, I am not above suggesting that as communications professionals, what most of the journalists and spin doctors have done is to cloud the truth so much that it is almost impossible to understand what the facts are, let alone even come close to approximating the truth.

In recent years, poll after poll after poll indicates that the American public no longer trusts most American institutions, whether they be social, political, private, corporate or religious.  In fact, it appears that most Americans are beginning to mistrust almost everything they hear from the media or the spin doctors that represent our once most cherished institutions.  Why do you think that most people don’t vote anymore?  Why do you think that most people don’t watch the network news?  It is my premise that they have already decided that they can’t trust anyone, from the President to the local archbishop. 

The public trust in just about everything is at an all-time low.  It seems as though those polls are shouting out to our country’s leadership, “Will anyone tell us the truth?”  Unfortunately, it appears that our leaders in the media and most other professions and vocations aren’t listening.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor's Death Demonstrates the Folly of Media Celebrity Worship

Film legend Elizabeth Taylor died at the age of 79, and I feel sympathy for her family and friends as I would for anyone who has lost a loved-one.  However, the news media coverage reminds me of everything that bothers me about the celebrity worship in our modern day media.

I have nothing against Taylor;  I didn't know her at all except from what I saw in the media and read in newspapers and magazines.  Since I know how distorted the media can be, I don't believe I ever came close to knowing the real person. 

To those who loved her, she may have been the most wonderful person who ever lived.  To movie fans, she obviously was a star bigger than life, and to movie critics, she seemed to be very talented.  Nevertheless, she didn't discover the polio vaccine; she didn't engineer a peace accord between two waring countries; nor did she invent a technological device that changes the way we live.  She was a movie star, nothing more to most people and nothing less.

None of that matters to a news media that seems intent on celebrating the lives of people in a way that is inversely proportional to their worth to society.  When great doctors and researchers who have made life-saving discoveries die, the media gives a brief mention, but doesn't spend hours interviewing friends and families about their substantial impact on the quality of all of our lives.  However, when a media-created celebrity dies, we are all expected to be in mourning and are subjected to hours and hours of media retrospectives on that person's life (remember Michael Jackson's death?).

It is ironic that two of the major celebrities that have died in recent years, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, played major roles in one of the silliest television programs my wife and I ever watched.  In the mid-90s, Diane Sawyer hosted a special on ABC to basically convince the public that Michael Jackson was a far more normal person than we were led to believe.  During the special, Elizabeth Taylor was interviewed at length, supposedly to be the major character reference for the pop star.

When the show ended, I related to my wife that it is just like the celebrity worshiping media to insult our intelligence.  Just think about it.  Diane Sawyer used a woman who was married eight times to seven different men (Richard Burton twice) and had been in and out of several addiction clinics to convince the American public that Michael Jackson was normal.

As I said earlier in this post, I have nothing against Elizabeth Taylor.  I hope she rests in peace and her family and friends have warm memories to last a lifetime, but, by her own admission, she was hardly the epitome of emotional or behavioral stability.  Yet she was the person Diane Sawyer picked in an attempt to convince the rest of us that Michael Jackson was just a normal person like you and me.  What world do these media people live in?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mainstream Media Does Nothing To Examine Hypocrisy of Durbin and Biden on Libyan Attack

In  October 2002, Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin voted against the resolution authorizing George Bush to send troops into battle against Saddam Hussein and Iraq.  He subsequently would accuse Bush of falsely leading the United States into an unnecessary war.

On March 22, 2011, Durbin praised President Barack Obama for sending U.S. fighter jets into battle against Moammar Gadhafi even though Obama did not seek or get support from Congress to do so.  Durbin referred to Gadhafi as a madman who was a threat to his own people.  Well, excuse me Senator Durbin, wasn't Hussein a madman who used chemical weapons on his own people?

Isn't it amazing how politicians will condemn Presidents of the other party for sending our troops into battle, but will praise Presidents of their own party for basically doing the same thing.  Hypocrisy in politics is old business, but why hasn't anyone in our so-called objective news media ask Durbin why he is supporting military action under a principle he opposed during the Bush administration?

I am also awaiting the next time Vice President Joseph Biden goes before the Washington media. In 2007, Biden was being interviewed by Chris Matthews on MSNBC and said "launching an attack without Congressional approval is an impeachable offense."  Biden was referring to the possibility that George Bush would attack Iran without Congressional approval.  He vehemently said that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without Congressional approval, he would immediately move to begin impeachment proceedings against the then President.

Do you think any of those Washington media reporters will ask Biden if he is going to resign because Obama did not seek Congressional approval for the Libyan attack?  Will Katie Couric, Brian Williams or Diane Sawyer mention what Biden said in 2007 on their nightly news reports?  Don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

United States Hasn't Had a Legal War Since WWII

The Middle East is disintegrating right before our eyes, and now, President Obama has authorized air strikes over Libya to bring down Moammar Gadhafi, or not?

Believe it or not, there are several liberal Democrats calling for Obama's impeachment because he did not go to Congress to get Constitutional authorization for the attack.

Surprise, Surprise.  None of our presidents since World War II have sought an official Congressional Declaration of War before sending our troops into harm's way.  It is my belief, and the belief of many who truly believe in the Constitution, that all of our wars since World War II have been illegal.  Nevertheless, the news media in this country does little to address the Constitutional argument, and the United States Supreme Court has seemingly done as much as possible to avoid the argument.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution clearly states that "Congress shall have power to declare war."  Did Obama get a declaration of war to send fighter jets to Libya? No.  Did George W. Bush get a declaration of war to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan?  No.  Bush did get a Congressional resolution authorizing force, if necessary, to remove Saddam Hussein, but that is not a Constitutional declaration of war.  What's the point of having a Constitution if no President since World War II wishes to follow it?

Karl Rove, the former advisor to President George W. Bush, was on Fox News on Monday, March 21, claiming that President Bush didn't even need the Congressional resolution to begin hostilities in Iraq.  He cited Article 2, Section 2, of the Constitution that states "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several states, when called into the service of the United States."  According to Rove, Article 2, Section 2, gives any President unilateral decision-making powers to send our troops into battle. What?  How does he read that into the Constitution?

I have always believed that we do our armed forces a tremendous disservice by sending them into battle without a full Congressional Declaration of War.  We should not ever send our troops into war without the full support of the American people as we did in Vietnam and Iraq.

As for the term "exit strategy" that our modern news media uses in reporting wars, I have never heard a more ridiculous way to describe ending a war.  Can you imagine a reporter daring to ask General Dwight Eisenhower what is our exit strategy in World War II? 

If all out victory isn't the goal, then the United States should not go to war at all.  Doing everything possible to win a war also means never saddling our troops with rules of engagement that would appease The New York Times editorial board. 

The old term that "War is Hell" is true to anyone who has fought in one.  Our politicians and media shouldn't try to sanitize the issues involved in engaging in military battle, and we better be sure we are going to battle for a damned good reason if we are going to sacrifice our soldiers' lives.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Fr. Pfleger Saga Continues in Chicago

He is a white male priest in his early 60s with sandy blond hair and steel blue eyes, which make him look much younger than his age.  Upon first glance, Fr. Michael Pfleger is the last person you would expect to be leading a largely black Catholic parish on the southwest side of Chicago, but he has turned his advocacy for the poor into  a national phenomena that has caught the attention of news media across the country.

To his supporters, he is a tireless voice for the disadvantaged.  To his detractors, he is a shameless self-promoter who is more interested in getting his face on television that doing anything else.  To me, he is largely the creation of a compliant Chicago media, which has done everything in its power to create this white inner city folk hero. 

In Chicago, he is a regular media figure because there seems to be always some kind of controversy surrounding the politically active priest.  This time, the controversy involves whether or not Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, will be able to convince Fr. Pfleger to leave Saint Sabina Parish, where he has been pastor for just about 30 years, and take a leadership position at Leo High School.  Leo is a long-standing Catholic high school located in the same neighborhood as Saint Sabina.  It has had enrollment problems in recent decades, and its alumni association is doing what it can to keep the school open in what is an economically depressed inner city community.

In working for the Archdiocese of Chicago as Director of Media Relations for almost nine years, I came to know a lot about the priest and believe him to be a sincere social activist.  I actually sat across a conference table or two from the infamous cleric.  After a short time talking to him, you have no doubt that he genuinely believes in his causes, but the problem I have had about his activism doesn’t really involve him, it involves the Chicago media, which, in my opinion, has invested a substantial amount of its collective credibility in creating Fr. Michael Louis Pfleger, as champion of the downtrodden black man.  They created him; they cheer lead for him; and they have done just about anything to defend him even if it involves not reporting everything they know about him.

I am not suggesting that there is something inherently wrong with some in the media creating  Fr. Pfleger as some heroic figure, but a problem can arise when you expend so much of your credibility in that creation that it affects you ability to report fairly and accurately on controversial subjects involving the person.  I know from professional involvement in the coverage of Fr. Michael Pfleger that this has happened. It reflects a problem when so-called journalists become advocates instead of reporters.  How can you be a watchdog if you have become somewhat of a lapdog for anyone?  From my experience, it appears that many in the Chicago media have become lapdogs for Fr. Pfleger.

An example of this advocacy for Fr. Pfleger took place in 2002. On Monday, February 11, the Chicago Sun-Times had a front page story that basically reported that Cardinal George told Pfleger he was no longer going to be the pastor of Saint Sabina, citing the pastor term limit policy of the Archdiocese of Chicago.  That afternoon and evening, every radio and television station in Chicago followed suit and reported extensively on what reporters believed was a sudden turn of events.

Fr. Pfleger had been pastor at Saint Sabina since 1981, and anyone who didn’t understand the policies and procedures of the Archdiocese of Chicago would probably think that the Cardinal should leave him there.  After all, he was well loved by the parishioners, and the vocal ones all said they would probably leave the parish if Fr. Pfleger was removed as pastor.

On Tuesday, February 12, the Chicago Sun-Times ran another front page story on the subject, declaring that Cardinal George had given Fr. Pfleger a reprieve.  According to Fr. Pfleger, he had a meeting with Cardinal George at the Cardinal’s residence, which he did, and the Cardinal told him that he would not give Fr. Pfleger a new term as pastor, but he would allow him to stay at Saint Sabina indefinitely, so that he could finish the projects that he had started at the parish. 

The problem with the February 11 and 12 stories is that Fr. Pfleger gave the media the impression that these decisions by Cardinal George had just been made.  The truth is that Fr. Pfleger knew the previous November that Cardinal George didn't believe the term-limit policy would allow him to give the pastor another term, and that Fr. Pfleger could stay pastor to finish his current projects.

The intense media focus moved the Archdiocese of Chicago to hold a news conference on the subject on Ash Wednesday, February 13, immediately after Cardinal George distributed ashes during the noon Mass at the famous Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.  The news conference took place in the small side chapel of the Cathedral, and the print and electronic media filled the chapel to capacity.

Cardinal George began by describing the term limits for pastors. He noted that Pfleger was very supportive of the term limits when he was a young priest.  He also had to point out to the assembled reporters that the term limits are periodically voted on by the Prysbyteral Council, which is the representative body of the priests in Chicago.

Cardinal George was not acting out of some executive fiat, he was just following a policy that had existed since long before he became Archbishop of Chicago.  By the way, the priests have repeatedly approved renewal of the policy since then.

A very interesting thing happened that evening after the news conference was completed.  Two reporters called me at home at separate times.  One was a newspaper reporter while the other one was a television reporter.  Both had suspected that Fr. Pfleger manufactured the entire media scenario on his departure from Saint Sabina and his sudden reprieve, and both were correct.  They pointedly asked me when Fr. Pfleger first knew that Cardinal George was not intending to grant him another term.  I told both of them that Cardinal George met with Fr. Pfleger in November 2001 and informed him that Archdiocesan policy prohibited him from granting Fr. Pfleger any additional terms as pastor.  Both reporters asked me during our separate conversations when Fr. Pfleger knew that he could stay as long as he needed to finish the projects that he had started at the parish.  I told both that Fr. Pfleger knew he would be staying there for an indefinite period in November of 2001.  Both asked me if I was sure, and I told both that shortly after Cardinal George met with Fr. Pfleger in November 2001, Cardinal George told me about his meeting with the pastor, so I was prepared for media calls should Fr. Pfleger go to the media back then.

Neither one of the reporters ever went public with what I told them.  Months later, I had a conversation with the print reporter about another subject, and I asked why the reporter had not gone public with what I disclosed about the timing of the Pfleger controversy.  That reporter acknowledged that if the truth about the timing was reported, Pfleger would probably deny access to that reporter in the future, and that would put the reporter in a bad position with the newspaper's editor.

I have not revealed the reporters' names because both are very good reporters who I admire, and I don't wish to embarrass them.  Nevertheless, this scenario demonstrates how even the best of reporters can be compromised by a major news maker, especially if they have invested so much of their credibility in helping to create the news maker.

Since then, Fr. Pfleger’s final term has obviously been extended indefinitely.  When I was still working in the Archdiocese, I can remember Cardinal George saying that the media will give him hell when the final day of his pastorate at Saint Sabina occurs, so maybe the Cardinal has decided it is just not worth the grief until now.  I know from my experience in Chicago that Cardinal George has done everything he could to make any transition for Fr. Pfleger as easy as possible because, despite some false media caricatures, he really is sensitive to the activist priest and his supporters.

The problem with news makers, such as Fr. Pfleger, manipulating reporters is nothing new, but it has become worse in recent years. The news makers for whom I have worked often do the same thing. When reporters go along with such manipulation by refusing to report the truth for fear of losing access, they compromise their credibility.

As far as I am concerned, the news makers that cut off access to reporters who don’t report everything the way they want are just as guilty as the reporters, themselves, of creating an atmosphere where truth loses out.  I’ve worked for a few news makers who do nothing but complain about how reporters get it all wrong, but then they won’t take the time to engage in any attempt to correct the record because of fear of not having everything precisely reported their way. I think that is a coward’s way out.  If you are truly a leader, you should have no problem standing in front of a group of critics or television cameras and explain why you made any tough decision.  Those who can’t do that should never become leaders in the first place.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Traditional News Media Thrashes Conservative Activists O'Keefe for Using Same Methods It Has Used for Decades

 Washington Post Columnists Michael Gerson in his most recent column took a shot at the ethics of conservative activist James O'Keefe.  As you may recall, O'Keefe's undercover videos about the bias at National Public Radio (NPR) led to the resignation of its chief executive officer, Vivian Schiller.

Gerson condemns O'Keefe saying that "O'Keefe did not merely leave a false impression, he manufactured an elaborate lie"  The misrepresentation Gerson refers to involves O'Keefe posing as a representative of a Muslim group ready to donate $5million to NPR in exchange for favorable coverage to the religion.

Intentionally slanting news coverage, which O'Keefe's video certainly indicates is being done at NPR, is corruption of the journalistic process.  Uncovering such corruption should be applauded by the journalistic community.  Instead, Gerson and others in the traditional media have subjected O'Keefe to ridicule and scorn.

What a different news media world we live in now as compared to the late 1970s when  the media celebrated a very similar investigative reporting venture conducted by the Chicago Sun-Times. It was in August of 1977 that a couple of reporters from the Sun-Times and an investigator from the Better Government Association of Chicago opened ”The Mirage,” a fictitious bar on the near north side of Chicago. 

For a few months, the team of bar employees recorded bribe taking from Chicago city inspectors who overlooked the obvious code violations that bar had.  There were hidden cameras and elaborate measures taken to document significant corruption by Chicago city employees entrusted with ensuring that bars and restaurants serving the public meet minimum safety and sanitary standards.

The result of this undercover investigation was a 25-part series that ran in the Chicago Sun-Times beginning in January 1978.  While a few critics pondered the question of entrapment, the overwhelmingly reaction of both print and electronic media was admiration for an inventive undercover journalistic venture that disclosed real and pervasive corruption.  Time magazine in a January 1978 issue  recounted how “For just $10, the fire inspector was willing to ignore the exposed electrical wiring.  For $50, the plumbing inspector ‘fixed’ the leaky pipes, and for $100, the ventilation inspector overlooked $2,000 worth of necessary duct work.”  The CBS television magazine “60 Minutes” did a segment lauding the investigative work of the newspaper and the Better Government Association.

In August 2006, the Society of Professional Journalist held a retrospective about the methodologies used by the Sun-Time in “The Mirage” expose.  The examination did question the validity of journalists engaging in any investigative venture that amounts to running a sting operation.  Nevertheless, Zay Smith, the reporter who served as the fictitious bartender at “The Mirage,” was quoted in a news release distributed by the Society, saying,  “There were many surprises along the way, but the project’s  main duty was to prove if what we suspected was true.  Mayor Richard J. Daley would always say to reporters who asked him about corruption in the city, ‘Where’s your proof?’  The Mirage investigation offered an answer to his question.”

Although Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley was dead by the time the Sun-Times began its investigation, the Democratic machine of Chicago, as it was known, was viewed very negatively by media in Chicago and across the nation, so it was not surprising that The Mirage investigation was positively received by most media.  Zay Smith was a competing editor of mine when I was managing editor in the mid 1970s of the Palos Regional in southwest suburban Chicago, and I knew of him professionally.  I suspect he would bristle at a comparison between the Sun-Times investigation and one conducted by the young conservative activist. 

Although O'Keefe might not have the academic or professional credentials of the Sun-Times staff, his methodology was very much the same.  In both cases, a fictitious scenario was concocted to expose the corrupt behavior of corrupt people.  In both cases, the investigators went into the investigation expecting to expose unsavory behavior that they already suspected.  In his quote, Zay Smith admitted that he suspected corruption from city inspectors and set out to prove it.  Mr. Gerson, how is that materially any different than what the conservative activist suspected about NPR and then would prove?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Media Advocates Still Looking for Panacea

When writing about the earthquake in Japan, I wrote: "There really are no guarantees in life, but the news media actually believes there should be, and that is the premise from which they report every major aberration of nature. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and tornadoes will inflict damage and pain on the areas they strike, and freak snow storms will bring even the best prepared  municipality  to a standstill for at least a short period of time.  It is pure BS to suggest otherwise." 

Little did I realize that after I posted that blog, it would only take a couple of day for one of the nation's leading liberal columnists, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, to prove my point. He starts out one of his recent columns by saying that "Nuclear power was beginning to look like a panacea.....Now, it looks more like a bargain with the devil."  Later on in the column, Robinson admits that "there is no such thing as a fail-safe system," and he concludes his column by writing, "Unlikely failures can combine to bring any nuclear-fission reactor to the brink of disaster.  It can happen here."

Eugene Robinson is an intelligent, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, but for the life of me, I can't understand how any intelligent person can reach his mid-50s, where Robinson is, and still thinks that there is such a thing as a panacea.  Robinson is not the only one.  There are plenty of advocates in the media who think that life should come with guarantees of happiness and safety.  Haven't they noticed that over the course of their lifetimes there have been natural gas and oil explosions that have killed many and injured even more.

Admittedly, nuclear power is a bit different in its potential for destruction and loss of human life.  However, every new discovery in my lifetime has usually had a possible negative side effects that had to be weighed against the benefits.  From what I've seen, the benefits of nuclear power still easily outweigh the risks, which I acknowledge can be substantial.

I admit that people of my generation have witnessed extraordinary advances in technology, making some things possible that we never thought could happen when we were younger.  Despite all the great discoveries that have taken place over the past 60 year, I still don’t believe that any human entity – governmental, corporate, private, or religious – has the capability of compensating for every aberration of nature and human behavior and every mechanical failure.  Maybe, someday we will have that capability.  It’s not likely to happen in my lifetime, but given what we have seen take place in recent decades, I’m willing to acknowledge that it is possible. Unfortunately, at this time, I think it is still idiotic to even operate under a premise that any human entity can even come close to guaranteeing that nothing will ever go wrong in life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Maher Shows How Expected Liberal Media Bias Still Gets Tiresome

Just a few days after most of the mainstream media pilloried New York Republican Congressman Peter King for holding hearings about the potential of Muslim extremism within the boarders of the United States, most reporters, especially liberal ones, completely ignored a well-known television talk show host's savage condemnation of the Koran and the Muslim religion.

On his weekly HBO television show comedian and talk show host Bill Maher told Minnesota Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison that the threat potentially from radicalized Muslims is a unique and greater threat than any threat from the far right.  He also said that the threat emanates from "a hate-filled holy book called the Koran." Ellison, a converted Muslim who cried when testifying before King's committee in Congress had a tepid response but did not appear outraged. 

Like most news junkies who are not liberal, I thought that if any conservative politician, radio host or television personality said what Maher said, the mainstream media would go ballistic.  Now I know that Maher is not comparable to Congressman King in having an impact on Muslims in the United States.  However, many news personalities at the major networks treat Maher like he is some great sage of the western world. 

Liberal hypocrisy in the media is really old news. Nevertheless, it gets tiresome when the hypocrisy is so stark as it is in this situation with Maher.  Juan Williams was fired by National Public Radio just for saying that he sometimes feels uncomfortable when he sees a Muslim on the same flight he is taking.

To be fair, Maher is noted for hating all religions.  He is also very condescending and arrogant to anyone who doesn't share his point of view on politics, religion and society.  More importantly, I really don't care what he thinks about Muslims or anything else.  For some reason that I really can't fathom, the media does. 

Have you ever seen the way Larry King would treat Maher on his now defunct CNN program?  King would react as if Maher was descending from the holy mountain to impart his great wisdom on the rest of us mere mortals.

There are plenty of people, like me, in the country who have just as much alphabet soup (college degrees) after their name and maybe more than Bill Maher does.  There also are plenty of people, like me, who have an IQ just as high if not higher than Bill Maher.  We are not stupid, knuckle dragging Neanderthals who are racist, sexist, homophobic or religious bigots.  We just don't see the world the way Bill Maher does.

I doubt that Bill Maher will ever understand that smart people can disagree with him.  Like his buddies in the liberal media, he is too busy looking down on the rest of us from his phony perch of intellectual superiority.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hope Japanese News Media Has Perspective on Earthquake

As of this morning, there are officially 1,900 dead because of the massive earthquake that hit Japan last Friday, and it is feared that the final body count could be over 10,000.

When confronted by incredible tragic situations like this, you want perspective and proportion from the news media.  I hope the Japanese media has that outlook because I know the American news media does not when such a massive natural disaster strikes our nation.

According to our modern day American news media, nothing should ever go wrong, and if it does, the news media will declare a villain or villains and verbally beat the issue to death.  There are really no guarantees in life,  but the news media actually believes there should be, and that is the premise from which they report every major aberration of nature.

Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and tornadoes will inflict damage and pain on the areas they strike, and freak snow storms will bring even the best prepared  municipality  to a standstill for at least a short period of time.  It is pure BS to suggest otherwise. 

It is inherently absurd to even operate under a premise that any human entity can guarantee that nothing will go wrong in life again, and if something does go wrong, government can be prepared to bring life back to normal immediately.  

Nevertheless, our country has a news media that for decades now has pretended that it is possible to do so.  If a freak snow storm hits, the streets should be in pristine condition by the next day.  If an area gets savaged by one of the largest hurricanes of all time, everyone should be cared for within 48 hours.  If remedies are not immediately available to bring everything back to normal in record time, the news media will target the public official or officials it doesn't like for blame.

Fueled by political communications advocates and activists who literally hated President George W. Bush, much of the news media blamed the Bush Administration for virtually everything that went wrong in the aftermath of one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit land in the United States, Hurricane Katrina.  It didn’t matter that there were other layers of government involved in this natural disaster, including the Democratic governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, and the Democratic mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin.

I’m not suggesting that either Blanco or Nagin should be slammed for what they did or did not do to avert the disaster.  On the contrary, I believe all government officials at all levels did what they could do with the information they had at the time.  

On the Saturday before the hurricane hit, Louisiana Gov. Blanco asked President Bush to declare a federal state of emergency for the state, and he did.  On the Sunday before the hurricane struck, New Orleans’ Mayor Nagin declared that there be a mandatory evacuation of the city and also declared a state of emergency for his citizens.  I can remember the numerous times I saw the news conferences of Nagin during which he repeated that this was not a false alarm and implored citizens to evacuate the city.

You would never know that by reading, listening or watching the media coverage that occurred after the hurricane hit New Orleans that ultimately less than 2,000 were officially declared dead in Louisiana and Mississippi as a direct result of the hurricane.  Other estimates add  2,500 or so that may have perished as an indirect result of the massive storm.

It didn't matter what the facts were. The news media in the United States told all of us that we better have 10,000 to 20,000 body bags for all the fatalities and declared that government at all levels, but especially at the national level, was not sufficiently prepared.
How does any human entity possibly prepare for every scenario that can result from such massive tragic events, such as Hurricane Katrina or the unprecedented earthquake and subsequent Tsunamis that have hit Japan?  I' m just hoping that the Japanese new media isn't following the lead of the American media and wasting its time to target public officials for condemnation.  There is no way to fully prepare for such vast devastation, and it will take an enormous amount of time to get back to normal no matter how many resources are committed to the recovery.

Someday in the future that big earthquake that has been predicted for decades may hit the California coast.  No matter how well prepared governments at all levels are for that big quake, there is likely to be untold damage, and the death toll may be counted in the millions, not thousands. And should such a disaster strike, it won't be the fault of a Democratic Administration or Republican Administration.  It may very well be the San Andreas Fault. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

All Protests, Including Wisconsin Protests, Are Orchestrated

One of the most dishonest ways the mainstream media operates is in the way it covers demonstrations. 

If the reporters like the issue a group is demonstrating against, such as is happening in the Wisconsin public union protests, then they describe the protest as a grassroots movement spawned by a groundswell of anger over a perceived injustice.  If the news media is not in favor of the issue involved in a demonstration, such as with the Tea Party movement, then reporters refer to the demonstrations as phony, orchestrated events designed to unfairly embarrass someone the media likes.

As a reporter and then as a communications professional, I knew that every demonstration I ever witnessed was orchestrated by some group or coalition of groups.  The planning of such events became even more orchestrated with the advent of the mini-cam, and the strategies and methodologies employed by demonstrators became almost predictable to those of us who had a professional interest in being either a part of or witness to these protests.  Of course, whenever someone would questions the motives and methods of demonstrators, the advocacy group or groups involved would denounce the questioning as a way of averting attention away from the real issues.

Nevertheless, I always thought that the methods behind such media stunts, as I call them, deserved at least some attention, if not just as much attention as the issues involved. It seems strange to me that the very news media that celebrated the civil rights and counter-culture demonstrations of the 60s and 70s, and now heralds the demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin, has been intent on ridiculing and even discrediting the citizen outrage that spilled out in the various town hall meetings and demonstrations that took place during 2009 and 2010 by the Tea Party groups. 

I recall the civil rights demonstrations and marches that I watched on television when I was in grammar schools and high school.  Most black people in the south, where these demonstrations took place, were too afraid to protest.  Therefore, the Southern Christian Leadership Council, under the direction of Martin Luther King, Jr., orchestrated and planned bus and car caravans with people from all parts of the country to descend on Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia, so that the marches and demonstrations could be held.  At that time, no one in the media condemned the orchestrations of such events, and no one dared to say that such planning made the cause of civil rights less just.  Do you remember the Hollywood celebrities that marched along side King during many of these demonstrations?  They weren’t from the towns in which they were demonstrating, but did that make the cause of civil rights any less noble?

Even though much of the coverage by a large segment of the media is negative toward the Tea Party demonstrators, I was hoping that the media was about to usher in a new era in which all the motivations, strategies and methodologies of every advocacy group would now undergo scrutiny.  I agree with many who say that the liberal advocates in the media may have unfairly characterized the demonstrators as right-wing kooks and bigots, but I was still happy to finally see the media begin focusing on what is behind much of what I believe are made-for-media events.

Alas, the Wisconsin demonstrations are taking place, and most of the mainstream media is back to celebrating the demonstrators. Why aren't the reporters examining the motives and methodologies  of the Wisconsin demonstrators?  Shouldn't these factors be explored just as much as the other issues involved?

Believe me when I say that reporters know the drill. Most of them have seen many times the typical theatrical media stunts that advocacy groups utilize, but they seldom tell the public that part of the story.  I would love to see just once a reporter admit in a news story or during a news broadcast that virtually every media person under the sun received a news release announcing the protest before it began. Why aren’t the dubious and sometimes even dishonest practices of the advocacy and activist groups in Wisconsin just as news worthy as any dubious action of a government official or corporate head?

Once again, I contend that if we really had journalists instead of advocates in the news media, the public would become just as aware of the questionable tactics of activists and advocates as they are of crooked government officials and wayward corporation executives.  When searching for the truth, you shouldn’t pick sides, and if you do, you shouldn’t call yourself a journalist.  I want to know who is behind all demonstrations, not just the Tea Party events.  In my opinion, knowing such information does not detract from the issues, it provides a more accurate and complete picture of those involved, offering a greater understanding of the issues.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why Are Taxpayers Funding any Media Enterprise?

A conservative activist ran a video sting to demonstrate that National Public Radio (NPR) is a biased organization, titled toward liberal orthodoxy.  Wow!!!! What a surprise. 

James O'Keefe has struck again.  This time he engineered a phony meeting with an NPR executive, pretending to represent a Muslim group wishing to make a huge donations to the public radio network.  The video showed just how politically biased the NPR executive is, and the embarrassing tape has ultimately led to the resignation of Vivian Schiller, NPR's chief executive officer.

The reaction in media outlets is rather predictable.  Those print and electronic media organizations that lean liberal are denouncing the sting operation while conservative media outlets are saying "we told you so."  The real issue here, which has not been examined in most news media reports, is why are taxpayers funding any media enterprise?

The parent company of NPR and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was created in 1968. The development of PBS and  NPR followed a few years later.  The rationale for public broadcasting was to provide a diversity of programming at a time when there weren't that many privately-owned broadcasting networks.  For instance, in 1970, there were only three privately-owned television networks and a small number of independent TV stations in major cities.

More than 40 years later, technology has changed the broadcasting landscape significantly.  Due to the proliferation of cable and satellite television as well as satellite radio, there are multitude of choices for any viewer or listener.  One can find all the liberally biased shows you want at MSNBC, or you can tune into the Fox News Channel to get a more conservative point of view. 

There is nothing wrong with any television or radio station having a specific point of view as long as it is privately owned as both Fox and MSNBC are.  There is, in my opinion, a big problem with taxpayer money going to a television or radio outlet that propagates a particular viewpoint.  There really is no reason for taxpayer money to fund any media enterprise, whether it be liberal, conservative, or anything in between. This is especially valid now that we have local, state and federal deficits exceeding record levels.

There is even a broader concept involved in this controversy that is presently not being explored by anyone in the media.  How many taxpayer funded programs are there that once seemed like a good idea but no longer deserve government funding as technological advances and social and economic dynamics have changed over time?  We already know of two:  NPR and PBS.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Liberal Media Advocates Still Won't Accept Muslim Threat

New York Republican Congressman Peter King, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, is about to begin hearings to determine the extent of Islamic radicalization within the United States.

Predictably, liberal advocates in the media are denouncing the hearings and comparing King's hearings to the McCarthy witch hunts of suspected Communist infiltrators in the 1950s.  They also fear that the hearings will spark additional Islamophobia and lead to individual citizens committing violence against Muslims even though there has been little evidence of violence against Muslims since September 11, 2001, with the exception of one or two shootings.  That is hardly a trend and does not indicate any national epidemic of Islamophobia.

The problem with having so many advocates in the news media and so few journalists is that the advocates ignore or downplay factual information that doesn't fit their ideological template.  Richard Cohen, a liberal columnist of the Washington Post, decries the hearings and actually says that the country has more to fear from the Catholic Church.  He points out that there should be hearings about the Catholic Church because some of its priests have sexually abused more than 100,000 children since 1950.  The figure he used, by the way, came from the Catholic Church itself, which is doing a fair job of trying to police the priests sexual abuse scandal.

Cohen's analogy is so ridiculous that it defies logic.  To compare the individual criminal acts of Catholic priests to a world-wide campaign by some fanatic Muslims to destroy as many infidels as possible is absurd. 

I worked in a senior communications capacity with the Catholic Church for 12 years, and I know that many Church leaders covered up crimes in the past.  This the Church has acknowledged many times and has paid a heavy price for the cover ups in the form of bad publicity, decreased contributions and lawsuit settlements totalling in the millions.

The Catholic Church has certainly made mistakes, but I am not aware of any coordinated campaign among priests to abuse children.  However, there is ample evidence of a coordinated effort by Islamic fundamentalists to wreak havoc on any country that supports Israel and opposes the imposition of Muslim law. Is Cohen not aware of the Islamic terrorists camps throughout the Middle East where they teach young Muslim children how to become suicide bombers?  Does he not know that these camps teach children to hate Jews and despise Western Civilization for not embracing Islamic law?  Does he not care that these camps are trying to infiltrate western democracies from within to bring them down?

Ever since the attacks on 9/11/2001, there have been many advocates in the media who have tried to make a moral equivalency between the stated objectives of a global Muslim jihad and the occasional action of a lone Christian fanatic, such as the bombing of an abortion clinic or the killing of an abortion doctor. Unless these liberal advocates can point out one Christian camp in the Western world where they are teaching young Christian children to blow themselves up in order to kill non-believers, there is nothing remotely resembling a moral equivalency.  The analogies of people like Richard Cohen are so pathetically inept that they are an insult to anyone with an intellect.

The late Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel, was once quoted as saying that "we will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us."  In today's world, you can say there will always be a threat to the United States from Muslim terrorists until the Islamic extremists learn to love their children more than they hate Americans.  That is the reality we face no matter how much the liberal advocates in the media choose to ignore it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lawyers and Media Defy Logic in Tucson Shooting Case

As a journalist and communications professional, I have always believed that reporters and lawyers should follow the facts.  As a reporter, I covered enough trials  to know that most judges will not allow anything other than factual information to be admitted into evidence.

Nonetheless, when I got my morning Arizona Republic, I noticed a story about the defense attorneys for Jared Loughner requesting a postponement of the trial date for the accused murder until 2013 at the earliest.  That would be two years after the alleged crimes were committed.

To refresh every one's memory, Loughner on January 8 allegedly killed six people,  including U.S. District Judge Larry Burns, and critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a shooting spree in Tucson, AZ.  He was tackled by some bystanders before he could inflict anymore damage on the others who were in attendance at a special event held by Rep. Giffords that day.

I count many members of the media and legal professions as good friends, but I have often expressed my frustration to them about the lack of logic and common sense displayed by both professions.  The Loughner case in Arizona is a good example of this.

Everybody attending the event knows Jared Loughner was responsible for the shootings.  He was seen there committing the crime by dozens of people and was tackled with the gun in his hand.  The only thing left to determine is how his state of mind might affect the penalty phase of his trial.  Why do we have to wait two years for a simple court-ordered psychological profile of this guy to be released in a trial?  Why hasn't a judge already ordered one?  Why aren't reporters asking these questions?

I covered trials as a reporter and once was a juror.  Instead of being forums for determining the truth, trials often become nothing more than debate tournaments between opposing legal counsels.  As for reporters covering trials, they seem to spend too much time highlighting the spectacle of the trial instead of getting to the facts.

Because of our legal system, I can't call Loughner a murderer, but the facts and common sense tell me there is no doubt that he is responsible for the killing of six people and the wounding of an additional 13.  There is an old legal axiom that justice delayed is justice denied, so let's not force the families of the victims to wait an additional two years to have our legal system declare what everyone already knows happened on that tragic day in January.

I remember the first time I started questioning the rationality of our legal system and the media.  Shortly after the Kennedy assassination, famous Texas defense attorney Melvin Belli decided to represent Jack Ruby, who shot and killed accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.  As many may recall, the shooting was televised live across the country on the Sunday after the assassination in 1963.  In one of his first public comments on his client, Belli declared that Ruby could not get a fair trial because everyone saw him do it. 

Belli's statement stands today as the most absurd statement I have ever heard in my life, and I don't remember any reporter challenging him at that time. Since then, it seems that defying common sense has become a staple of both the legal and media professions.

Monday, March 7, 2011

60 Minutes Restores Some Faith in Mainstream Media

On Sunday, March 6, I tuned into 60 Minutes, the legendary CBS News Magazine, and saw a segment reported by Scott Pelley that began like this: "Unemployment improved a bit last month but it is still nearly nine percent and the trouble is job creation is so slow, it will be years before we get back the seven and a half million jobs lost in the Great Recession. American families have been falling out of the middle class in record numbers. The combination of lost jobs and millions of foreclosures means a lot of folks are homeless and hungry for the first time in their lives.

"One of the consequences of the recession that you don't hear a lot about is the record number of children descending into poverty."

For a moment, I thought I had taken a trip back in time to one of the Republican administrations.  It seemed that no matter how good the economy was by comparison during the Reagan, George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush administration, 60 Minutes would always do an occasional segment on how people are suffering despite the rosy picture the President's economic advisers were painting at that time.

This time we have a Democratic President that many in the mainstream media, including those  at CBS News, have been promoting long before he was elected.  Yet 60 Minutes had the integrity to report a segment informing its viewers what most unemployed people already know: the recently announced unemployment rate of 8.9 percent is almost meaningless considering how the economy continues to struggle and how job growth continues to be meager given the number of people still looking for work.

Thank you 60 Minutes for pointing out that we have families struggling economically just as much under a Democratic administration as we have had under Republican administrations.  I remember saying to friends and family members in 2008 that the winner of the Presidential election might end up being the loser.  No matter who got elected, we were and still are in the worst economic climate of my lifetime, and we are likely to stagnate for awhile before things really start to get better.

Since most people are not well educated in economics, they don't understand that politicians of both parties often do more harm than good when they try to artificially tinker with the economy to get it moving again.  They might be better off to just let the economy cycle through its normal periods of growth and retraction.  Many of the moves our government officials make in attempt to strengthen the economy often lengthen the painful economic periods.

Nevertheless, I'd like to thank CBS News for pointing out that it doesn't matter who is in the White House during such difficult times.  Many people are facing economic adversity, and it doesn't appear that it will get better anytime soon.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Playing the Race Card Presidential Style

Kenneth Walsh, veteran White House correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, has just come out with the new book entitled Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House.  In this book, he attributes to President Barack Obama a statement about how race has been a big factor motivating his critics, especially those who have formed the Tea Party movement.

It's nothing new for anyone in politics or the media to use racism, or play the race card as it is often called, to discredit anyone who opposes their point of view.  The reporters and pundits at MSNBC, which I refer to as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, have been doing this ever since Barack Obama was elected President.  Unfortunately, it is very sad to see the President, himself, charging those who criticize his policies with having racial motivations for their opposition.

The problem with Barack Obama playing the race card is that it doesn't pass the logic test.  If so many are opposed to him in large measure because he is black, how did he get elected President in the first place.  More than just winning the election in 2008, Obama posted the largest majority for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson did in 1964.  That means he won a greater majority of votes than Jimmy Carter did in 1976 or Bill Clinton in  either of his two election victories in 1992 and 1996.  Sure seems like racism to me.

To believe Obama and his supporters when they cry racism, you have to totally suspend rational thinking.  For this to be true, a large portion of the 53 percent of the voters who cast their votes for Obama in 2008 didn't really know he was black.  You would have to accept the preposterous notion that these people woke up one day and said, "My God, I didn't realize I voted for a black man," and now I must oppose everything he does solely because of his race.

I admit that I didn't vote for Obama, but I was born and raised in Chicago and came to know people who knew of him.  I was told he is a nice guy and a great family man.  I know that his wife is a very intelligent and accomplished woman, and neither of them should have to use race to win an argument.

Besides trying to discredit those who oppose Obama's policies, those who use racism as a tactic alienate otherwise good and decent people who simply disagree.  Playing the race card also is designed to unfairly end debate on an issue and often does because no one wants to be labeled a bigot. 

Barack Obama is too intelligent to use such a tactic.  He should be able to stand on the merits of his policies and accomplishments.  He should be better than that.  I once thought he was.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Supreme Court Decision Painful But Necessary

If you truly believe in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, than yesterday's (March 2, 2011) ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a hateful group of people who protests military funerals is painful but necessary in a free society.

In an 8-1 decision, the Court threw out an $11 million verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church, a Topeka, Kansas, organization that protests military funerals across the country under the premise that the United States is too tolerant of sin, and soldiers are killed as punishment for this tolerance.  The Westboro group is particularly vicious about society tolerating the gay culture, and it's members are often seen at these funerals holding signs proclaiming that "God Hates Fags."

Westboro was sued by the Synder family of Maryland after the group protested the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Synder, who was killed in Iraq.  In a jury decision, the family was originally awarded damages for emotional distress, but the Supreme Court ruling has overturned that jury decision.

As despicable as the Westboro group is, and I have seen them in person, the first amendment protects virtually all speech in the public arena no matter how abhorrent and unpopular it may be.  It may be of small comfort to the Synder family that those who agree with the decision find the Westboro Church as unsavory as they do, but there is a greater precedent here.  If we allow the courts to ban any unpopular political expression, what will happen when someone believes something that any of you or I say to be unacceptable speech and sues one of us.  It would be at that time that we would be happy the court ruled in favor of the Westboro group.

Like most Americans, I have nothing but sympathy for the Synder family or any family that has to endure the unwarranted intrusion of the Westboro Church into a solemn period of mourning for a lost family member who dies in service to our country.  However, there is still a very effective way to combat these hateful Westboro people.  When I lived in Lemont, Illinois, there was a funeral for a soldier in one of the community churches.  The Westboro group came to picket, but hardly anyone attending the service saw them because a wonderful group of biker veterans surrounded the church and held up American flags so that the soldier's family and other mourners would not notice the hideous demonstrators.  In fact, the whole community rallied around the family to almost totally drown out any effect of the Westboro group.

I still firmly believe in God, and I hope that God builds a special place in hell for anyone who inflicts pain on others in his name.  If that were true, then I don't think anyone from the Westboro Church should be joyfully anticipating the hereafter.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How the Media Is Protecting Martin Sheen

While the media is doing its best to exploit the self-destructive train wreak otherwise known as Charlie Sheen, reporters, especially those in the liberal media, are demonstrating a case of selective amnesia about how cruel Charlie Sheen's father, Martin, was in his comments about former President George W. Bush's admission of his drinking problems as a young man.

In the 2000 Presidential election, Martin Sheen favored Al Gore.  There is no surprise there as most of the Hollywood elite favored a continuation of the Clinton administration and, for the most part, despised Republicans.  Sheen, a former substance abuser himself, took a nasty shot at Bush when he was addressing a group at a California treatment center during the campaign.  He referred to the soon-to-be President as a "white knuckle drunk" who was in denial about it.  Sheen claimed that Bush could not have stopped drinking on his own, and that he needed to be in some kind of recovering program.

Martin Sheen has every right to support and oppose any political candidate he wishes.  Nevertheless, it's sad to see what I hear is otherwise a very decent man make virulent comments about someone he really doesn't know personally just because he disagrees with him politically.

Fast forward 11 years, and now we hear Martin's son, Charlie, bashing alcohol and substance abuse programs, claiming he doesn't need them, and he is somehow so superhuman that he can abuse anything and still excel in his acting profession.  While I don't watch every news show or read every newspaper that exists, I haven't seen one reference to the irony of Charlie Sheen's present meltdown and his fathers former cruel statements about the so-called false recovery of George Bush from his own self-admitted drinking problems.

During my career, I have often said to my fellow communicators and reporters alike that we have too many advocates and very few true journalists in the news media.  This situation with the Sheen family provides another example about how advocates in the media give those who agree with their point of view a pass on a scenario that exposes obvious hypocrisy on the part of Martin Sheen.

I feel bad for Mr. Sheen and his entire family.  It must be very difficult for them to watch Charlie come unglued on the national stage and jeopardize what was a very successful acting career. Martin Sheen has asked for privacy and courtesy from the public while he and his family cope with a self-destructive family member.  It's too bad Mr. Sheen couldn't display the same compassion and understanding for George W. Bush that he now expects from everyone else.