Saturday, January 31, 2009

Point Park students covering the Super Bowl, part 2

Be sure to use this link to track the various stories and interviews that two Point Park broadcast journalism students are getting in Tampa, site of Super Bowl XLIII. You'll want to click on the video icons at the center right of the page.

Senior Justin LaBar and sophomore Josh Frketic (along with instructor Jesse Colaizzi) arrived late Thursday, and they've been on the run ever since.

Of course if they make one more reference to the warm weather down there, I might have to examine ways to (ahem) "negatively adjust" any previous, current or future grades I might assign to these talented young men.

Good luck

White House lawyers say they are looking into ways to control the commercial use of President Obama's image.

Good luck. Here's the problem -- marketing then-candidate Obama was part and parcel of the campaign to get him elected. (Consider the use of the Internet and signing up for text messages as examples of this.) Now, you want to rein in what I've long called "capitalism run amok"?

As I said, good luck.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Prove how valuable you are...everyday...in writing...or else

Check out what the South Bend Tribune management is asking its employees to do...each day.

Am I the only one who thinks that this "daily memo" is a perfect opportunity to set one employee against another, to see whose working harder than the next, and to justify who stays and goes?

This might just be the worst possible newsroom in which to work.

The 14-time mom

I've been troubled by the tone and types of stories surrounding the California woman who gave birth to 8 children earlier this week.

To help you understand my concerns, consider this -- as my family and I dug out from a nasty week of winter weather, the MSM was digging out as many nasty facts as they could about this woman, her motives and her family.

Here's what is certain at this point --
1. The woman gave birth to eight children this week
2. She already has six

From those two statements you can easily see where the oh-so-moral MSM are going to take this story.

Consider these stories, which were selected for no other reason than they were easily accessible on various MSM Web sites --

*CBS News tells us that the woman and her children "live on a cul-de-sac with her parents." In other words, she's not responsible enough to have a home of her own so why is she having more children?

*The Associated Press asked how a woman with six kids was allowed to avail herself of fertility techniques usually reserved for younger woman without children. In other words, she's taking advantage of the system by having more children.

*The Los Angeles Times further sullied the family's reputation by noting in the past its had a series of financial problems In other words, her family already has proven it's not willing to play by the rules.

*CBS News (again) reports that the woman's father is Iraqi, and he plans to soon return to his native land to earn money to help support his family. In other words, no American family would do something like this.

*And then a short time ago (and I've not found this story on CNN's Web site yet), CNN's David Mattingly suggested that the woman could have "selectively removed" one or more fetus. Selectively removed? What a great euphemism for abortion, and, in other words, a choice that she obviously should have used.

Don't you just love it when the MSM decide to be the great moral and ethical pillar of our society? Tell me again, they're supposed to do this...why?

The new head of the RNC...

...is a pioneer of sorts. Never before has the party selected an African-American to its top spot.

Here is Michael Steele's biography.

If you want your DTV...you've got until June

President Obama will sign a DTV-deadline extension bill, meaning that the television industry, consumers and everyone else has until June 12 before the long-awaited transition becomes official.

I've said enough on this matter -- a delay is a bad idea. I stand by that.

Two of my students are in Tampa for the Super Bowl

Kudos to Justin LaBar and Josh Frketic. These two fantastic students hatched an idea about 10 days ago to go to the Super Bowl and cover what was happening. Their stories -- shot throughout the weekend -- will be available on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Web site.

The first story was worked on while they and journalism instructor Jesse Colaizzi were somewhere in the air.

I like blunt...I like honest

And Kentucky's Mitch McConnell has delivered a blunt and honest message to his Republican colleagues -- expand the base, or else.

That was dumb...this is "dumberer"

Okay, President Obama at this point should be wishing he never made the "don't listen to Rush Limbaugh" comment to Congressional Republicans. In my opinion, and put perhaps too bluntly, you don't want to muddy the Washington waters any more than they already are by bringing that windbag into the conversation.

But now, and proving once again that for any dumb action there can be an even more "dumberer" one...liberal groups are seeking to drive a wedge between Limbaugh and the GOP.

Give me a break. Does any sensible person really think that outside of calling attention to itself, that this group is going to accomplish anything of significance? Drive a wedge between hard-core Republicans and Limbaugh? That's funny. And with the kind of unity that the GOP is showing in the aftermath of the House vote on the stimulus bill, it's even funnier.

Political sleight-of-hand...or bipartisanship?

Roll call is reporting this morning that President Obama is considering nominating New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary. Politico.com also has a report detailing the potential nomination.

What's the big deal, you ask? Well, follow the dominoes...

1. In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken is poised to win that state's Senate seat
2. Gregg is a Republican
3. The governor of New Hampshire is a Democrat

Still confused? You can continue following my account, or you can read one from The New York Times.

My account continues with a little bit of math:
58 current Democrats + Franken = 59. Add one more and you get...a filibuster-proof majority of 60.

So, is Mr. Obama showing off his political sleight-of-hand skills? Or is he practicing the bipartisanship that he said should define Washington?

Now, before you think what President Obama wants is a fait accompli, remember that Sen. Gregg could say no. Or the pressure being put on the president by the Congressional Black Caucus to nominate a prominent African-American businessman to that post could prove too much to ignore.

Regardless, keep an eye on this story. This has all the ingredients to be interesting!!

I want my...DTV

But when the deadline will be to implement it remains a political football today. (Oh, ain't that grand!)

The White House threw its weight behind the "delay until June" team, and the Senate has voted a second time to "delay until June."

And the FCC will discuss one and only one item at its Feb. 5 meeting. Care to take a guess what that item will be?

Now news directors are getting canned

I'll admit, I never saw this one coming -- a news director has been axed, as part of cost-cutting moves. We can now safely say that no one in the news business is safe from the unemployment line.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The new guy plays basketball...the former one watches it

Check out where President Bush was last night. And come to think of it, if you had the chance, you, too, would have been interested in seeing last night's game between two of the top 5 womens' teams in college basketball.

How'd he "score" those tickets, I wonder!

Uh, Sen. McCain...that was a bad idea!

Selecting Sarah Palin as a running mate? Oh, come on, now...leave that one alone. Mrs. Palin was a good pick, if you are a conservative. She was a lukewarm pick, if you are a moderate. And she was an awful pick, if you are a liberal.

But that's not what I'm referring to.

Instead, I read that the campaign "hired" a blogger to bash the MSM for their coverage of the McCain-Palin ticket. What?

Mr. McCain, let's talk reality. The MSM loved Barack Obama, and most of them wanted Mr. Obama to win. You are a decent man, and you simply took the leadership of your party at the worst possible time. You deserved better. Come to think of it, if you had won your party's nomination in 2000, the country would have been better, no matter if you or Al Gore had won the general election.

But using an underhanded tactic to go after the media was not smart. This information gives further credibility to those people who say your campaign was terribly mismanaged and that somewhere along the line you, too, lost your purpose.

Charter 08 moves forward...slowly...in China

It won't be long before the backlash against those signing on to Charter 08 is seen, and almost instantly Western-based media will pick up on it. But for now, we see that Charter 08 is moving forward...slowly...in China.

Good-bye, Nightline?

No one at ABC is talking (a sure sign something is up) but the New York Times has the goods on a story indicating that Jimmy Kimmel (Jimmy Kimmel?!?!) will replace Nightline.

On the scale of dumbing down television, this ranks pretty high on the list.

New era, new rules

Kudos to WMAQ in Chicago for understanding that the old rules for television news are dying and that new rules need to be written -- and quickly.

Management's decision to compel its employees to be multifaceted communicators is spot on. Those who enjoy the challenge will attempt to meet it; those who don't will walk away bemoaning the "good ol' days."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bipartisan? Uh, maybe next time (UPDATED)

Yes, the House late this afternoon passed the stimulus bill supported by President Obama.

But did you notice that the vote -- 244-188 -- was almost identical to the current make-up of that body -- 255 Democrats, 178 Republicans?

This is the new bipartisan attitude at work?

UPDATE: And before you get too excited about the stimulus bill (which will pass in the Senate and then undergo some changes in committee meetings) consider this excerpt from The New York Times:
'The provisions intended to have the swiftest impact are the tax cuts, totaling $275 billion, roughly a third of the package. Republicans say the cuts are too small, some Democrats say they were ill designed in a vain effort to appease House Republicans, and some economists say both sides are right: that the plan should include more effective tax cuts and more of them, and also address specific problems like the weak housing market.

23 years ago today...

...the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

I think this will always be one of those "I remember where I was when I heard the news" event.

I was a freshman at the University of Southern California, and I was sitting outside Doheny Library when I heard the news on the radio I carried around with me. (Yes, a news junkie even then.) My reaction was one of those "no way!" expressions that teenagers so often use. It seemed impossible to believe that the shuttle wouldn't do what it was supposed to do -- carry people into space, keep those people safe as they performed various jobs, and then return everyone home.

Later that day the instructor in one of my classes (it was a communications class of some kind, and although I can't remember the title of it I do remember that Dr. Sandra Ball-Rokeach was the instructor) threw out her planned topic and we discussed the accident. We also watched live President Reagan deliver one the best addresses of his tenure -- "the face of God" speech.

"Roger, Challenger. Go with throttle up." Somehow, those words still haunt me whenever I hear them.

Feb. 17? Nope. Uh, maybe.

The House of Representatives threw into doubt today plans to delay the DTV transition deadline. Its vote now means that the potential for the original Feb. 17 deadline could go forward.

Let confusion ring!

Oh, stop the pettiness!

The Democrats are wasting precious time needed to get things done, on a radio talk show host.

The petition asking for Americans to voice their disgust with Rush Limbaugh is a waste of time.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I have little regard for Mr. Limbaugh. I think he uses his show less as a place to gain important political information and more to bully his audience into agreeing with him. But a petition...all because he indicated he hopes Barack Obama "fails" as president? Puh-leeze.

Let's turn the conversation in Washington in the direction of important issues.

The president and the Middle East

I think the president made the right decision in granting an interview early in his presidency with an Arab-language television network. That conversation with Al-Arabiya happened Monday (and I goofed in not commenting about it then.)

Sure, the administration knew that it might be risky to wade into the Middle Eastern conversation this soon, especially with the stimulus debate taking center stage, but the opportunity to reaffirm that the U.S. was prepared for a new political era in that part of the world was too important to pass up.

The Israelis, Palestinians, Iraqis, Jordanians and all others from the Middle East are eager to see evidence that the president is going to have a different approach in his dealings with them. A prominent interview develops that idea. Now we await the actions.

Land...for journalists?

There are a host of ethical considerations that we as educators can consider in this story from Iraq.

And please remember before you automatically dismiss the idea proposed in the report that you keep in mind the cultural, political, social and other differences between Iraq and the United States.

Politics...Washington style

Barack Obama has been president for 8 days, or for about 200 hours. That's how long it took for Congressional Republicans and him to determine that their relationship won't be a good one.

One Republican described the president as a "good salesman" but who's selling a "bad product."

The GOP's principal criticism is the lack of substantial tax cuts in the massive stimulus bill that will be voted on today. And there's nothing wrong with being philosophically opposed to something -- provided that the discussions are what I'll call positive in tone.

In other words, disagree all you want but be professional in the process. Here's an example of that, and it comes from Politico.com:
'His presentation was a tour de force,' New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg told Politico. The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Gregg has been an outspoken critic of the level of new spending in the administration's plan but said: 'I felt much better. ... He's clearly moving forward aggressively on all the different fronts. I was very impressed. If he puts it in the context of an integrated effort, I'd consider it.'

And as you consider what might happen today, keep in mind what at least one news organization is suggesting -- does Congress have to pass the stimulus bill...now?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Israel rolls into Gaza again

The Israelis respond to the death of one of its soldiers by again sending its military into Gaza.

At least two Palestinians have been injured, according to reports from Al-Jazeera. The attack should come as no surprise; Israel announced when it pulled out of Gaza last week that it would be aggressive in defending its territory.

It's too early to state that war has returned to Gaza, but it's critical that over the next 24 to 48 hours that significant international pressure be put on both sides to be calm and to reduce the still simmering tensions.

Sports on the chopping block...again

This time, WCBS in New York is blowing out its sports director and a second sports anchor.

Last week, I highlighted a story out of Las Vegas, where one television station has axed its evening sportscast all together.

Each time you read reports such as this I urge you to NOT be surprised. We're in very uncharted territory in local television news, and no one is safe. The fist wave of this job slashing resulted in high-priced news anchors getting the ax. While this continues, most of these cuts already have taken place. In the second wave, high-priced reporters began to be let go; this is showing no signs of letting up. Now, we're in the third wave -- sports is on the (chopping) block now.

If there is a fourth wave, I'm guessing it will be the elimination of newscasts.

A scary time, no doubt about it.

The Sarah Palin PAC

The surest sign yet that Sarah Palin is not going away. (My liberal friends will access that link and scream. My conservative friends will access that link and...well, I'm not so sure!)

Let's face it, Sarah Palin generates media attention. But more importantly, I think she connects with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. And that means money will follow. You might not like her, but you need to accept that she has as solid core of support and will generate impressive dollar amounts for conservative candidates. Or herself, for that matter, should she decide that a presidential run is in the cards.

The Senate has made a mistake

It has opted to delay the implementation of the DTV transition. The Senate's bill now needs to be reconciled with similar legislation in the House.

The drop-dead date (yeah, right) is now June 12.

Mind you, my reaction is based on the recognition that enough time has been made available to the television community. Yes, there are some economic factors that need to be considered -- the recession, job cuts, credit miseries and other monetary issues are weighing on consumers. But those concerns cannot be used as justification for delaying this important move. As further evidence to support my point, please note that Nielsen ("the ratings people") says it's ready for DTV.

Palm Beach news...from Salt Lake City

No, you need not check your eyesight. And, no, I've not gone over the edge. That awful concept of allowing news to be farmed out remains a viable (sad to say) option for some "local" newscasts.

Trying to slow the partisan train

Let's see if that theme is evident today as President Obama meets with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

A sneak preview from Politico.com offers some sobering possibilities:
A Senate Republican aide gives The Huddle an inside look this morning at what the GOP will tell Obama behind closed doors: 'They'll listen to his pitch, they'll raise their concerns and they'll offer suggestions for the bill. But what matters is whether or not he'll be able to convince his fellow Democrats to change their bill into a bipartisan approach. Remember, President Obama said 40 percent of the bill would be tax relief. But then Congressional Democrats wrote a bill that is 33 percent ... So although President Obama wants a bipartisan bill, Congressional Democrats need to get the memo. In other words, he'll need to meet with Democrats too.'

With the House scheduled to vote on the stimulus bill tomorrow, the reality is that the Democratic majority ensures that it will pass. But that misses the point -- the president would like to see some GOP support for it. But right now, that prospect appears dim.

The Washington Post reports that the stimulus bill has been reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office, and that agency has some surprising information about the bill.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's b-aa-ccc-kkkk

Partisanship is alive and well...bummer.

This didn't take long, and no one should be surprised by it. Consider that the carcass that is the current GOP membership in the 111th Congress largely has nothing to lose by being "anti" anything proposed by the Obama administration.

Its membership in the House is made up almost universally of men and women in "safe" districts; thus chastising Mr. Obama is part and parcel of a re-election plan. And in the Senate the Republicans also are largely in safe seats. Yes, the chance for an electoral defeat would be more likely here, but again consider that for these Republicans it is better to be seen as challenging the popular Obama than going along with him.

Meanwhile, did I not warn you at the end of last week that Rush Limbaugh would have a field day with the president's suggestion that Republican members of Congress stop listening to the popular talk radio host? Well, today Mr. Limbaugh suggested that the president is "frightened" of him. Frightened?

I doubt Mr. Limbaugh actually believes that, but regardless his message has been sent -- I'm not going anywhere, and I'm not backing down. The GOP would be wise to remember that I have a potent listening audience of something like 14 million (cumulative) each week. And so should the president.

Ah, politics. Such a fun business.

68,000

That figure represents the number of job cuts announced today. Am I the only one who finds this frightening?

The host of Meet the Press...

...meets the critics heads-on.

This article highlights what happens when a legitimate news organization (in this case, NBC) gets lumped together with its non-objective, biting, partisan cousin (in this case, MSNBC).

The result is that the "real" journalists are forced to defend themselves and their work. Guilt by association is a bad thing, but NBC News' reporters must be especially angry about it.

Some news from the news magazine industry...

...that doesn't involve layoffs, circulation cuts, bureau closings or the host of other bad news that has dominated the news from this industry.

Instead, how about a news magazine that is thinking progressively. (And come to think of it, this might be the first time U.S. News has had a "progressive" thought -- oh, you love my puns. Admit it!)

Here's to hoping that this idea works. It might re-charge the "doomers and gloomers" who operate in these newsrooms today.

The BBC stands firm

Despite mounting criticism at home, the BBC indicates it will not air a humanitarian documentary that it believes would call into question its coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

I reaffirm here that the BBC is taking an important stand for journalistic independence and objectivity. I believe it is making the correct decision.

I also would like to know if the documentary itself has been made available on the Web. If it has, can someone direct me to the link?

The unseen costs of war

The Washington Post points out that the fighting in Gaza might be over, but the battle lingers on in the minds of the children.

The article doesn't focus on the scars that Israeli children will suffer, but it is safe to say that the rockets that roared down into their communities also will take a toll.

All is not well at Allbritton

Job cuts in Washington and in Little Rock are just the latest examples of the economic crises in local television newsrooms. Both stations are owned by Allbritton.

As you read the two articles highlighted above, consider at the same time that the absence of these reporters not only diminishes local news coverage, it also takes the knowledge these people have built up in their communities, sources and beats.

These are the kinds of stories that journalists don't like to report, and they're also not much fun for journalism educators. Our students are justified in their concerns about whether they will have a realistic chance of getting a job. Pithy words of comfort had better not be our answer.

So, like, um...what happened to bipartisanship?

Well, that didn't take long. The music has barely stopped playing (on tape), the crowds have just returned home, the inauguration balls just wrapped up...and we can now turn out the lights on bipartisanship. So reports Politico.com's Martin Kady II:

The stimulus vote is looking less and less bipartisan, as Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports: 'Moderate Republicans are resisting the cost of President Obama's $825 billion stimulus package, a signal that even Republicans with the most to lose by bucking the popular Democratic president remain unconvinced that there is widespread public support for the spending plan. While their support is not critical for passage of the legislation in a Democratic-controlled Congress, the reticence of those most likely to cross the aisle suggests an emerging GOP political calculus that members who vote against the package won't suffer political consequences in 2010.'

I am so (not!) surprised. Those in the House who vote against it are indeed likely to not suffer consequences -- they live in a district that has little to no real political competition. In fact, being bipartisan could easily be interpreted as a sign of weakness or of caving in.

And then there is the debate about what to call this stimulus plan. One person's improvement is another person's government program. And to another person anything related to the banking industry could be seen as nationalization.

Don't you just love entrenched political interests?

President Obama could blow right past these Republicans and abandon his bipartisan approach. And at some point it will come to that. Just not now.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The future of journalism?

An interesting assessment as to whether various non-profit and large-grants agencies might be looked at by media companies as a source of future income.

Let's face it, the media industry is facing unprecedented challenges. These include the inability (to this point) to combine a viable news and profit presence on the Internet, consistent desires to put the profit motive above the public interest, a decaying newspaper industry and rapid technology changes.

In this unsettled environment, long-term and investigative projects are put on hold (or canceled), newsroom staffs are kept to a minimum and necessary international news coverage is given short shrift. Perhaps an infusion of money from other sources can adequately address at least some of these problems.

No, such dollars will not be an elixir, but they might assist news operations in again trying to be important agents of necessary public information.

Good call

Kudos to the British government for not getting involved in the BBC-Disasters Emergency Committee documentary conflict.

In the end, the BBC's independence ought not be challenged here -- what it decides should be based on news judgment, not where the political winds might be blowing at a particular time.

Radio as a form of propaganda and terror

This smacks of something from the dark days of Nazi Germany...the use of radio to spread hate. But it's happening in parts of Pakistan, and it further highlights the challenges faced by Pakistani leaders and the Obama administration in rooting out the Taliban.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A strong endorsement for objectivity?

Or complete disregard for humanity?

A provocative question that the BBC must answer, as it deals with the continuing fallout of its decision to (at this point) not show a human-rights video about Gaza.

I doubt long-time readers of this blog will be surprised to read that I think the BBC ought not air the documentary. The concerns expressed by its leadership of appearing to surrender its objectivity are legitimate ones. And they should not be abandoned in the face of public pressure (that undoubtedly is not spontaneous).

Consider this -- if the BBC airs the documentary (and as you'll see in the aforementioned link other British television networks have chosen to air it), then isn't obligated to air any similar productions made that offer a sympathetic view of Israel?

If you say no, then I ask you how objective you are.

Buggity! Buggity! Buggity, boys!

NASCAR? Nope. Today's Pack 28 Pinewood Derby for my son's Cub Scout Pack. A super event, as you can see from the pictures available on my Facebook page.

Obama sends clear messages...

...that the old way of doing business in Pakistan is no longer applicable. His decision to authorize two airstrikes suggests that his administration is more willing to challenge Pakistani leaders to be more proactive in the war on terror.

And, he wants to make it clear to the GOP that unless it plans to make Rush Limbaugh the standard-bearer for its party then it ought to stop listening to what he says.

This is a scuffle the president ought not be engaging in. Set aside what you think of Rush Limbaugh, the man has a bully pulpit and a large audience. Limbaugh can -- and you know he will -- milk this "dispute" for all its worth. In doing so, he will continue to call attention to it and perhaps draw the MSM (and the blogging community) into the conversation.

My view of President Obama's first week is that it was filled with some minor errors. No, nothing that will persist in the public's mind, but nevertheless some decisions this week appear the result of "getting your feet wet." Yet, for a political team that set itself up to be (almost) perfect and wants to call little attention to it...decisions this week suggest mistakes that could have been avoided.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A one-night stand? Or a long-term relationship?

CBS insists it will be a one-time deal, but am I the only one who thinks that if the CBS Evening News in prime-time is a ratings winner that Katie Couric won't be moved into that time slot on a more permanent basis?

Note I said Couric...I didn't say the Evening News.

Stay tuned!

The Bush administration was no fan of...

...the Freedom of Information Act. For additional details, see this blog posting from McClatchy's Michael Doyle.

I mentioned in a posting earlier this week that there were a variety of issues pursued by the Bush administration that I disagreed with. I held his adversarial relationship with the media against him perhaps more than any other domestic policy he advanced. (I emphasize domestic because the use of torture, the Iraq War and the erosion of the image of America are all international issues, as I define them.) The report highlighted above reaffirms that it is one thing for a president to have a difficult time dealing with the media (we're seeing some of that this week with the new Obama administration), but it is quite another to deliberately derail the freedoms guaranteed to the media. My interpretation is that was being done by the former president.

I told you it wouldn't take long... (UPDATED)

...for the media and the Obama administration to clash. But never did I think that the disagreements would start within 24 hours of the man taking over as president.

Let's face it, the "I want to be president, so let's be accessible to the media" Obama is gone. Now, the "I am president, and I have an agenda that often will conflict with what the media want" Obama is indeed in charge.

Pay attention to this relationship as the so-called First 100 Days continues. Obama wants and needs consistent media coverage to assist him in overcoming various obstacles. But what's he willing to give to make it happen. Day one was not as successful and smooth as it could have been.

UPDATE...Hmmm, it looks as if the relationship might need a bit more work than first thought.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Part of the inauguration ceremonies was not live!

No, I'm not some whacked-out conspiracy theorist. I'm telling you the truth -- one part of what you saw at the inauguration was in fact not live.

One person's perspective of Tuesday's inauguration lines

Below is the e-mail I sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She has called for an investigation into why many people were denied entry (or had a difficult time getting) into the inauguration on Tuesday despite having tickets.

Sen. Feinstein,

I appreciate your prompt response to the unusual circumstances surrounding the inauguration. Allow me to please share my perspective, and I welcome any additional questions that you might have.

I was a "blue ticket" person, and I arrived at that entry point around 8:00. I expected a line, and there was one. I'll guess I was perhaps 1/4 mile from the entry, and I told the person I was with that if the line moved as I expected it to that we would be inside no later than 9:00.

Unfortunately, an incredible bottleneck ensued. And it was at that point that I began to notice three critical issues --

1. There were not enough volunteers assisting "blue", "silver" and "no" tickets people. I probably told two-dozen people where the silver gates were, and while I didn't mind doing that I also realized that adequate volunteer staffing would have prevented the problem of people either slowing down unnecessarily or getting into the wrong line.

2. There appeared to not be enough security at the "blue" check in gate, and this meant that the line barely moved. Simply put, not enough people were getting past the ticket entry and toward the security screeners. Between 8:00 and 9:00, our line moved perhaps 500 feet.

3. A second line began to form from the other side of First, and this had the effect of essentially doubling the number of people trying to get in.

The people who soon enveloped me remained as calm as could be expected, but by 10:30 there were legitimate concerns that a sizable number of us were not going to get in. (I had no idea how far the line stretched behind me at this point, but it was long.) Needless to say, those concerns led to rapidly growing impatience. I was particularly worried for the older folks around me; I could see the chance (as people pushed from the back) that someone was going to fall. Around me, fortunately, no one did.

I don't know what decision was made around 10:45 or 11:00, but more people began to squeeze their way into the ticketed entry and then to the metal detectors/security screeners.

I finally got in at 11:30, but the student I was with didn't make it until 11:55. The fact that neither of us can figure out exactly how we got separated and why I made it through 25 minutes ahead of him perhaps exemplifies the confusion at that gate.

I am available to answer any additional questions you might have about my experiences at the Blue Gate. I am providing both a telephone number and e-mail address below. Please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you,
Anthony Moretti

Sarah Palin...TV pundit?

Now those of you who dislike Gov. Palin (and you know who you are!) had better hold off on laughing too hard.

If you were an over-the-air or cable television news executive, you certainly would consider Mrs. Palin in a role of host or pundit. She's a ratings winner, attractive and articulate. Her future might just be in the media.

I'm not surprised

That was my immediate reaction when I read that one Las Vegas television station is dropping sports from its late-night newscasts.

Let's face it, in the economic crunch that the industry is in today, anything considered minor is capable of being discarded. High salaries? Cut 'em. Travel? Cut it.

Sports is just another component of this. It'll be a stark reality for aspiring sportscasters, but if these men and women develop different skill sets they will still enjoy fruitful professional careers.

It's appropriate that...

...almost 38 million people watched Barack Obama being sworn in as president. That would be 38 million people watching ONLINE.

Ironically, the technological wave that Obama used to (in part) assist him in his White House run came crashing onto the shore when he walked into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Why do things appear to run more slowly in the White House? Well, it just might be the technology.

And investigating that mistake

Senator Feinstein Statement on Incidents at 56th Presidential Inaugural Ceremony

Washington, DC—U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, today issued the following statement in response to reports of incidents which prevented a large number of ticketholders from reaching their designated areas at the 56th Presidential Inaugural Ceremony:

Following is Senator Feinstein’s statement:

“I have just spoken with Mark Sullivan, Director of the Secret Service, and I have asked him to convene along with the U.S. Capitol Police, all law enforcement and other parties involved in planning for this Inaugural to conduct a prompt investigation into two serious incidents that have been reported. These reports have prompted great concern by members of the Inaugural Committee, including Senator Bob Bennett, and by Congress in general.

The specific incidents include the report that a decision was made to cut off access to Purple and Blue standing areas, which meant that a large number of ticketholders could not reach their designated areas.

I am also aware of the incident involving the 3rd Street Tunnel, where thousands of people were stuck for several hours and apparently without any law enforcement presence.

There may have also been other irregularities, but I have heard enough to know that something went wrong and we need to find out what happened. Mr. Sullivan has indicated that he will provide a full report.

I would encourage people who have direct information about these incidents to contact the Secret Service, in addition to contacting the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies at feedback@jccic.senate.gov.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Admitting a mistake

Statement from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies

Washington, DC—The 56th Inaugural Swearing-in Ceremony was the largest event in Washington, DC history. Months of planning by the staffs of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, the U.S. Capitol Police, and the United States Secret Service resulted in an extraordinarily successful and peaceful event that was enjoyed by well more than a million people.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies deeply regrets that some ticket holders to the ceremonies were not able to get to their ticketed sections, primarily in the purple and blue zones. The number of tickets issued for these sections was based on historic precedent, and calculations of the number of guests that could safely be accommodated in each area.

Many of the problems appear to have been due to the unprecedented crowds, and a huge flow of unticketed people toward the U.S. Capitol and into the 3rd Street Tunnel from the National Mall, after it had reached capacity very early that morning and was closed to additional unticketed entries.

The JCCIC, U.S. Capitol Police and our federal and local partners will thoroughly examine every aspect of our planning including ticketing, screening, pedestrian flows, gate numbers and placement, to provide a foundation of lessons learned to future inaugural planners, so that they have the information they need to prevent similar problems.

We realize how important this inauguration was to so many people and the difficulties they endured to get here, so once again we deeply apologize to those guests who were not admitted.

Let's hope the details in this story are not true

If they are, then we're left to conclude that a journalist accepted another job from a man whom she had been investigating for an alleged sexual relationship with another man. The political fallout appears to be beginning, in earnest.

Consider the variety of ethical questions such a story poses for journalism and journalism education.

One student's story from Washington

Kudos to Point Park freshman Tracy Taylor for finding "the story" from the trip she and 10 other freshmen took to Washington -- how one of those students snagged two inauguration tickets.

Katie KOs her critics

Katie Couric has taken more than her fair share of lumps since taking over as anchor of the CBS Evening News. She tells the Los Angeles Times that the positive reviews she and the news division have received in recent months are gratifying, but they cannot make up for the barrage of criticism received earlier.

I've maintained that Couric is in a no-win situation at CBS News, but it might be time to reassess that argument. It was my opinion that any success she enjoyed would be too quickly dismissed as her personality winning over the public, and any failures would be too quickly used as evidence that she was never cut out for the job.

However, perhaps she's growing into this role more confidently than many people thought. And maybe I was wrong when I suggested (more than once) that once these elections were over that she would move to CBS' morning show, which has been a chronic ratings disaster.

My reflections (PHOTOS NOW AVAILABLE)

I wrote this last evening on my way home from Washington, and I'll add the pictures later in the day.

Written at 6:00 p.m., as the ride home from Washington continues…

As I sit in this van in the dark with (I think) all 11 Point Park freshmen sleeping, I wonder what they think of their four days in Washington.

These young people took advantage of a great learning opportunity, and my sense is that each of them is heading home tonight a bit more confident and mature than they were when they arrived Saturday afternoon.

For two of these students, this trip to Washington was their first to the nation’s capital. What a magical time it was here. As you can see from this picture…



… the Capitol looked resplendent today in its bunting and in the sunshine. That image, to me, is the “take away” for the students.

But learning is more than just watching the 44th President of the United States being sworn into office. It also is about understanding the importance of preparation, thinking clearly, acting appropriately and being safe. At different times and in various locations this weekend each student got a taste of those lessons.

The inauguration tested each of us in some way. What appeared to be poor planning by either the inauguration planning committee, various police and security agencies, or a combination of both kept many people in line far longer than they should have. I, for example, was in line at 8:00, and I didn’t make it through the security check-in until 11:25. The freshman student who was with me arrived when I did, and he didn’t get through until 11:55. Were there a lot of people? Sure, And as this picture makes clear, the number of people around me was impressive…now imagine what it was like throughout the Mall.



But the number of people had nothing to do with the inadequate number of volunteers and lack of ample signage to direct people to where they needed to be. I trust that when the important post-event meetings are held that the frustration thousands of people in the “blue line” felt will be a topic of conversation. It ought to be.

One agency that was prepared was the Washington Metro. My train into Washington this morning was packed…



…but I heard no complaints about too many people, unscheduled stops, or incomplete information. The Metro was a great resource, and its people did the best possible job to get people into Washington in the morning and out of it in the afternoon. (My train ride out of town was surprisngly not stuffed full of people; no, I have no explanation.)

The students from Point Park experienced all of this and more today.

Without question, and this comes as no surprise, the man that 2-million or more people came to see delivered. At least that’s what everyone I talked to said. In his inaugural address…



…President Obama asked Americans to be confident of their future but patient in attaining some of the things they want. He reminded his audience that the United States was a proud nation, and he also told various foreign governments that the U.S. was prepared to offer a new kind of international approach.

I was distracted on at least three occasions by a couple standing to my right. I’m guessing they were in their early 50s, and the tears in their eyes were evident. The man stood directly behind his wife and had his arms wrapped around her. I could hear both of them sniffling on occasion, and they often were wiping away a tear.

There was something to today that resonated deeply and personally in both of them. I’ll never know what it was; I wasn’t about to pry. And I’m not going to play the guessing game and offer a thought as to what might have caused them to act as they did. In a sea of millions of people, seeing them reminded me of how journalists can find great stories if they look and listen.

It might come as a surprise to you but my second “take away” moment was seeing the helicopter carrying Mr. and Mrs. Bush away from the inauguration ceremony.



As I waited for the helicopter, I kept thinking back to the variety of events connected to Mr. Bush’s presidency. I’ve made it no secret on this blog that I disagreed with many of the policies his administration put forth, and yet on this day I couldn’t find in myself the anger that I had felt toward him in the past. If you’d have asked me two years ago about Jan. 20, 2009, I likely would have assisted you in starting a countdown calendar. However, on this day it was not anger I felt for Mr. Bush. Instead I felt more empty, as if I were saying to myself and perhaps him that I believed he could have done more and done better.

And I also wondered what Mrs. Bush must have been thinking. A president never really takes a day off, and that means that for the past eight years she could never enjoy time alone with her husband. That changes now, and I suspect she likes it that way.


8:00 update…

A break at a fast food restaurant and we’re back on the road. The students who took part in this trip are going to have an opportunity through a presentation to share what they learned and experienced with their fellow students. The Campus Life leaders are putting together those final details, and I see another element of growth and maturity here. Think about it, freshmen too often learn by sitting in a chair and being lectured to. But putting together their individual presentations will allow them to think critically and craft a message for an important audience – their peers.

Of course, other academic matters are of a more pressing nature. Three students cracked open books and slowly worked their way through chapters assigned by their various faculty. One of those three students has a presentation in one of her classes in the morning. And yours truly has a 9:00 class.

Ah, the fun of being home. It’s about 90 minutes away!

Media reaction to the inauguration

Yes, Tuesday was a visually stunning day, but the news media are accurately reporting that there was a strong hint of storms in the inaugural events.

Politico.com reports that President Obama challenged Americans to be patient and to expect some rough times ahead. (Of course, some of the storm clouds also are coming from the GOP...which is hinting that it will be a thorn in the president's side.)

Glenn Thrush offers a blunt assessment of what Mr. Obama faces on this day:
After a marathon Inauguration Day that ended in tie and tails, Obama and his staff trudge into the White House for a tough, unglamorous first day on the job.

The New York Times provides the same word as Politico, in describing how Mr. Obama identified the prospects for America's near-future: sober.

But there was another theme to Mr. Obama's address -- it's time to start a new era. In offering such an assessment, the president was driving home the point that the Bush administration will not linger in the White House; the past is not prologue.

The Financial Times also picked up on this theme, noting that the president called for more international cooperation and a renewed purpose for science.

And, yes, in case you are wondering, no one has a real sense of just how many people were there yesterday.

Working the aisle

A consistent conversation strand during the just-completed Presidential Inauguration Seminar offered through The Washington Center was that Barack Obama will attempt to do away with the divisive partisanship that has overtaken national politics. A story from the Financial Times offers additional insight into how he will tackle this issue.

The perils of international journalism

A story from Russia that reminds us of doing journalism (and being a rights activist) in dangerous places.

Monday, January 19, 2009

10 days in the nation's capital

I'm still taking in the many, many important things learned and experienced over the past 10 days that I've spent in Washington.

As you know I was here for the first 7 as a faculty leader for The Washington Center's Presidential Inauguration Seminar, and I very much appreciate the opportunity that the super folks there gave me to work with a great group of young people.

It was through the seminar that I had the chance to talk to a Middle East politics expert, meet dignitaries from the Egyptian and Israeli embassies and discuss with many people a variety of issues associated with the transition of American political power.

I tried to soak it in like a sponge, and more importantly I hope that the almost 700 students who were in the program did as well. A tremendous learning experience, for those who took it seriously.

Over the past 3 days I've enjoyed some down time with a group of Point Park freshmen who are in town to experience the inauguration. We've had the chance to do some sight-seeing, share a few laughs and even to get involved in a few logistical mishaps.

I come away from the past 10 days confident in the short- and long-term future of our country. I share in the enthusiasm that most people feel for President-elect Barack Obama, who assumes the Office of President of the United States tomorrow. Let's be honest, whether you like his politics is irrelevant -- he is the man who seems to possess the charisma, the intelligence and the communications skills to push America forward.

Yes, the challenges are many, and some of them might appear right now to be difficult to overcome. Working to help Obama means working to help make America a better country than it is now and to improve our image around the world.

The long-term success of our country is going to be determined in large measure by the young men and women who are in college today. It's a cliche, but it's true -- they are the leaders of tomorrow.

I vividly remember how Ronald Reagan inspired a generation of people to believe that the United States could be a great nation, and that Americans should hold their heads high and be proud of what their country stood for. It's safe to say that some of those inspired by Reagan entered the political arena because of him.

Will the young people of today be similarly influenced by Mr. Obama? Right now, the answer is "yes" but only time will tell us if that is indeed the case. There are so many unknowns associated with an Obama presidency; as Americans, we should want for him to succeed, but we also cannot know of the issues that will come up that will eventually allow us to determine how he affected today's generation.

I saw two of my students burst into tears on Election Night when the announcement was made that he would be the next President of the United States, and I admitted to myself that when I was younger no politician ever invoked that kind of reaction in me. I've tried to study Mr. Obama closely in the past two months, looking for that "it" (or those "its") that bring about the positive emotions people have of him. I don't think I've found my answer to this point.

I spent some time today looking at the crowds flooding into this marvelous city. I saw white, black and those of other ethnic backgrounds with Obama buttons attached to their clothes, Obama hats on their heads, Obama scarves around their necks, Obama pictures in their hands...and I recognized that in some ways Obama represents for many Americans their chance to feel attached to and proud of the presidency.

I commented to someone later in the day that I wondered what President and Mrs. Bush thought as they saw and heard what was taking place all around them. "You think he's asking himself why no one felt this way about him?" someone said in reply.

I nodded in agreement. And perhaps that explains the so-called "Obama Phenomena" so well. George Bush never had that, and I'm not going to dive into the possible reasons here. The simple fact is the country, with the exception of the devastating days that followed Sept. 11, 2001, never gravitated to Bush. The country is wrapping itself around President-elect Obama.

I've heard and seen it from Jan. 10, the day I got here.

Tomorrow, after the inauguration, I head home. Eleven Point Park freshmen and four Campus Life leaders will be on that bus ride back to Pittsburgh. I can't wait to share what I've learned with my students.

But most importantly I can't wait to get back to the three most important people in my life.

How I scored an inauguration ticket

Dr. Gene Alpert is the senior vice president of The Washington Center, and he oversees the academic seminars operated by TWC. One of the things he always tells his students is to be proactive with their local representatives. Staying in touch with them, especially when you are in political environments (such as academic seminars), is a great opportunity to advance your professional opportunities. Or sometimes to get a lucky break.

I'm guessing that at least a half dozen times this week, Dr. Alpert told his students to call their representatives' offices because there was always that possibility that tickets to the inauguration might come available.

Well, today, a Point Park freshman -- who was not part of The Washington Center's Presidential Inauguration Seminar -- and who was invited recently by his representative to meet him while he was here found out that Dr, Alpert's advice is spot on. Today, Steve Faber went to that office, and about an hour later he left with two inauguration tickets.



If it were possible for a young man to be floating in a cloud, then Steve would have done that. He was amazed at how the events of the day unfolded, and I had the chance to see the 'is this really happening to me?' look on his face. Wonderful stuff.

Steve and I will be among the almost 250,000 ticketed people tomorrow, and I intend to take it all in and blog about it. I won't be able to live-blog (though I'm trying to convince my better half to "report" my words on the blog). Regardless, I'll get my thoughts to this blog at some point.

Today in Washington

There was an almost party-like atmosphere in Washington today...the crowds around the National Mall swelled as the day progressed, but at no point did I think the situation was out of hand. Oh, sure, the crowds are huge, and getting around the heart of Washington takes patience.

For the Point Park freshmen who are here, today was one of sight-seeing and anticipation. Our morning began with KDKA television reporter Jon Delano interviewing some of them about being here for the inauguration.



Soon thereafter, we broke up into smaller groups and headed off to our desired stops. I chose to walk down the Mall, and I made it far closer to the Capitol than I had expected. As you can see...



...the West Capitol looks great, and the East Capitol looked good enough for my son's friend Cooper to share in the fun.



And then the fun really happened. And that's in the next post!!

There might be no better example of bipartisanship...

...than Sen. John McCain serving as an unofficial adviser to the man who beat him in the November presidential election.

I don't know McCain personally, but I've always had the sense that he's a decent man who cares deeply for this country. His allegiance to the men and women of the armed forces is rather obvious, but more importantly he seems to genuinely care that the U.S. is on the right track. Working with the man who denied you the most powerful office in the land is quite an example of that.

The $5 million concert

Did you know that the concert at the Lincoln Memorial was free to the public, but that it cost $5 million to secure the television rights? A host of legitimate questions follow from such a business arrangement, and they are posed in this Washington Post story.

Now, I'm not going to deny that I think broadcast rights for an event such as the one that took place yesterday is unacceptable.

Make that call...hold that call?

The technology issues associated with tomorrow's inauguration of Barack Obama are daunting. Why? Because of the amazing development of these technologies, everyone who owns a cellphone or other similar device can go beyond simply making a phone call -- they can text, send pictures, instant message, and more.

Let's face it, in some ways everyone who is on the Mall, the parade route, ticketed to see the inauguration, or just "wow, I want to be there" is a kind of citizen journalist. They will be sharing their story with friends; with legitimate MSM news agencies; and on their blogs. (And at least one person I know will be there trying to share what his happening with his students. Hmmm...wonder who he might be?)

Now imagine 2-million (4-million?) people all attempting to do that in a short period of time. The potential for cellphone overload, crashing, etc. are legitimate.

Call this managing information...

...or call it being proactive. You decide.

Either way, the Obama administration intends to waste no time getting started.

Journalists, social networking and ethics

This is a fascinating piece about how journalists use their social networking sites. What they say on those sites tells us a lot about how reporters attempts to be honest can carry questions about their objectivity and ethics.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Another reason why young people are pretty cool

Picture it...11 Point Park freshmen and their 4 Campus Life colleagues get stuck in DC late this afternoon because their planned mode of transportation back to the hotel was not running.

So, they make alternative arrangements (they kept their cool...even though they were c-c-c-old!) and use me as a means of helping them get food and cabs ordered.

The pizza is eventually delivered to my room, and I spend more than an hour with all of them as we watch the Steelers wrap up the AFC Championship. (I would advise not trying to squeeze 16 people into one hotel room on a regular basis -- it can get kind of crowded!!)

I really admire young people. And the time we spent tonight offered me a few good laughs and some good conversations. They shared some vignettes from the concert at the Mall, and at least two of them had video of Marine One landing at the White House.

Now, the room is quiet again. They've been fed, warmed up and are savoring the Steelers victory. Tomorrow, another day of sightseeing awaits.

Prepping for a "news emergency"

This story should surprise no one who has spent time in a newsroom, and it's an interesting one to consider if you've never had that pleasure -- where, when and how do you place your news crews on inauguration day?

The logistics of a "typical" inauguration day are complicated, but of course Jan. 20, 2009 is not going to be typical. The potential for 2 million (or more) people to descend upon Washington means that local and national news organizations are facing a potential nightmare -- not being able to get their people to where a story is happening. Imagine the nightmare of being here...and needing to get there...and not being able to do it on time. Yikes.

I've mentioned periodically on this blog that there are brief moments or the occasional days when I wish I were back in a newsroom -- and it's events such as those that will take place on Jan. 20 that lead to those emotions. (No, Point Park, don't worry -- I'm not leaving you. No chance.) The incredible adrenaline rush that will be evident on that day, the challenge to get that "it" moment, and the excitement of knowing you did the best possible job...wow, great stuff.

Slowing down the communications train

We're aware of how effectively Barack Obama and the people around him used a variety of "new media" applications to enhance their political agenda. But that's about to come to an end. An interesting excerpt from a report by Politico's Ben Smith:

'Obama staff will say 'cu l8r' 2 IM':

'David Axelrod is losing his IM. The lawyers broke the bad news to Obama aides at a briefing Friday morning convened by incoming Deputy White House Counsel Cassandra Butts: Not only are they leaving the modern world to enter a White House where some of the clunky desktop computers still run Windows 2000 but-worst of all-they'll be forced to surrender a form of communication staffers have relied on for the last two years to communicate with each other, outside allies, and the press. From Axelrod, the chief campaign strategist, down to junior staffers in the press office, Obama's campaign relied heavily on software many of them began using in high school -- AOL Instant Message and Google Chat.

'Instant messaging, though little mentioned, is -- perhaps as much as email -- deeply woven into contemporary politics and media, whose fabric is the constant, quick, gossipy transmission of spin and information. But a calculus that's perhaps one part security, one part law, and two parts politics, has long barred instant messaging from the White House. 'They just told us flat out we couldn't IM in the White House,' groused one senior staffer Friday. 'It sucks. It's really going to slow us down,' complained another, saying that lawyers had warned that, along with Instant Messaging, White House software will restrict users to a range of sites roughly 'like your average grade school.' The clunky technology is standard issue for government offices, but the bar on instant messaging is particular to the White House. Legal and security experts say it is dictated by the fear of embarrassment if IMs were to be disclosed. The Presidential Records Act requires White House documents to become public five years after a president leaves office, and most lawyers think it would apply to any instant messages discussing government business.'

DC is hopping!

Look to your left...you see people. Look to your right...you see people. Look in front of you...you see people. Don't look behind you...you don't want to get run over!

Washington is hopping this afternoon, as thousands of people descend on the city for various events associated with the inauguration of Barack Obama.

This morning a group of 11 Point Park freshmen and four members of the university's Campus Life office (plus a fearless unofficial faculty leader!) chose to visit the Newseum before heading off to the concert at the mall. (The fearless faculty leader headed back to the hotel at that point -- he had grading to do!!)

Wait, you say, Moretti was at the Newseum just yesterday. Why would he want to go back? This photo tells you why.



To the surprise of no one, I'm a news junkie; and the opportunity to visit the shrine of news history was too good to pass up. And, yes, as I mentioned last night, I brought along Cooper.

And Cooper had a good time at the Newseum. He met the Obamas...



...and saw the Newseum's First Dogs exhibit...



...and also took a group picture with the Point Park group!



My 5-year-old has been promised that his dog will make additional stops tomorrow. And on Monday, Washington ought to be even busier and more energetic than it was today. I'd better get some sleep...uh, I mean, the grading done...so that I can enjoy more of it :-)

The power of symbolism and the media

A couple of my faculty colleagues at The Washington Center's Presidential Inauguration Seminar were talking yesterday about the expectations the country has about Barack Obama, who becomes president in just two days.

We agreed that he comes into office at a time when new leadership, a new vision, and new ideas are very much needed. But he also comes into office as a symbolic new face of power. And that might be his most difficult assignment -- containing all that enthusiasm that comes with his inauguration.

It was perhaps 1981 that this country was last enthralled with its new president. And over the next eight years Ronald Reagan delivered. Sure, you might disagree with his policies; but he solidified America's image around the world, put the Cold War to an end, and, perhaps most importantly, made Americans feel proud of themselves.

Now Barack Obama has the same challenge -- harnessing the expectations of the country and making it work for him. But there is another element, and it further complicates the symbolism issue: the media.

During his presidency, Mr. Reagan never dealt with the Internet, the vitriol that is cable "news", bloggers, and various "new media" components. Consider how each of those media allow people to express messages and ideas that couldn't be expressed during the 1980s.

I think most reasonable people want Mr. Obama to succeed, regardless of their political perspective. But there will be elements working against him. It will be a bumpy ride for the country, and even Mr. Obama has acknowledged that he won't do everything correctly or that people expect. Yet, he is about to be the president, and he comes in at a time in which the symbolic power of leadership means more than it has in perhaps 30 years.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Some stats to ponder

Lies, damn lies...and statistics. You've probably heard that phrase more than once. So you can decide what you think of the following numbers, reported in the Jan. 17, 2009 edition of National Journal:

Beginning in January 2001 (when George Bush became president) through December 2008 (his final full month in office) --

1. The national debt rose from $5.8 to $10 trillion

2. The percentage of respondents who said they were "satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time fell from 56 percentage points to 10

3. The U.S. median household income fell from $50,557 to $50,233

4. The obesity rate increased from 20% to 26.3% (through 2007)

5. The violent crime rate fell from 506.5 to 466.9 (through 2007)

6. Federal spending for HIV/AIDS increased from $14.2 billion to $23.3 billion (through 2007)

This is not the full list, but certainly most of the economic data is not good.

Cooper

Meet Cooper...

...he's one of the characters in a new movie (that I'm deliberately not naming) about dogs and a hotel. Cooper was given to me by one of the students assigned to me through The Washington Center's Presidential Inauguration Seminar, and I was asked by that student, Maria Selde of St. Joseph's University, to give Cooper to my 5-year-old son.

But before I can do that (I don't leave Washington until inauguration night), I'm going to allow Cooper to share in some of the things I do over the next few days. I'm not quite sure where Cooper might show up, but I'm sure my 5-year-old (and you!) will enjoy following his travels.

The math that has a lot of people concerned

I'm no genius when it comes to math (come to think of it, I'm not a genius when it comes to anything), but there is something about this math that just doesn't sound good --

4 million people at the inauguration, and 5,000 porta-potties. Doesn't that work out to 800 people for every 1 porta-potty! Now, even if every 100 people head off to the Smithsonian or some for-profit establishment, that's still 700-to-1.

I don't like those odds.

The Newseum


The (sort-of-new) Newseum is quickly becoming one of my favorites stops in Washington. Thanks to The Washington Center, all students and faculty at its Presidential Inauguration Seminar had a chance to visit today. And kudos to former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall for understanding the power and necessity of the First Amendment.

And I was reminded of the relevance of the First Amendment today as I walked out of the Newseum. A group of protesters on the 2nd floor balcony and on the street were demonstrating the "war crimes" committed by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and the complicity of the MSM in those crimes.

Owing to my journalism roots, I was more agitated at the group for its criticisms of the media than of the Bush administration. And just in case you are wondering, no I don't believe the administration should have to face a war crimes tribunal. Come on, give me a break.

Before I left the Newseum, I walked to the 6th floor terrace view and took a photo of the Capitol. Today was cold but beautiful, and I think the Capitol looks ready to go for the inauguration.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Reflections of visits to the Egyptian and Israeli embassies

Without a doubt, the opportunity I had this week to visit the embassies of Egypt and Israel was the professional highlight of the inauguration seminar through The Washington Center.

I want to spend some time reflecting on what I saw and heard, and how I think the visits could have an impact on the 14 students assigned to me (and by extension the other students who were there).

There is no question that war is complicated, and that fostering peace is equally difficult. As I heard the representatives of Egypt and Israel outline what they believed were the causes and solutions for the Middle East's latest crisis, I found myself at various times in agreement...and in disagreement...with both men.

I told my students today that perhaps the most frustrating thing for me was that I had to agree with Mr. Rafael Harpaz, Israel's director of cultural affairs, that the MSM too often neglect the important contextual items in their stories. Yes, there can be arguments about which country is telling the truth/managing information/out-and-out lying about the past, but that misses the point -- the media need to be more cognizant of ensuring that their stories contain (or because of the Web offer links to) the context to the Middle East.

That might seem like an odd place to begin my comments, but obviously the media component to anything is going to attract my attention. It also is the area that I feel most comfortable discussing; I'm a journalism educator, not a political scientist.

Thus it is beyond my pay grade, to offer an en vogue political phrase, for me to determine when and if Israel should have attacked Hamas. That being said, I agreed with Mr. Harpaz that no country would stand for another political entity or state launching rockets into its territory. However, I also found myself siding with His Excellency Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian ambassador, who argued that Israel's response has been too severe when compared to what Hamas is doing.

Many of my students indicated they were more knowledgeable about the crisis and the Middle East in general than they were before they arrived here. That impressed me. There was no way they couldn't have gained valuable information; over the span of about 72 hours they visited two embassies and a think tank. I asked them today, if because of their experience here, they would be interested in visiting the region. A fair number of them said yes, although at least two admitted that the current war ensured they would not want to go now.

That answer concerned me, only because the war is taking place more so in Gaza than anywhere else. If the students were to study, work, intern or visit the region, Israel or Egypt would be among the places they would go. Gaza is not. I was left to wonder if I needed to do more to spotlight the geography of the area.

The political entities have successfully managed the public relations battle to this war. By that I mean cogent arguments have been made by the Arab community and Israel regarding who has acted properly, or with restraint, or in accord with international norms. I anticipate that anyone reading this post is going to be angered by that comment, and that's a good thing. I will not accept any argument that says one country/political organization is solely responsible for what has happened in Gaza.

Sure, it is easy to say "Hamas started this war by breaking the cease fire just before Christmas." True, it did, but that argument presumes that the historical friction between Hamas and Israel began that day. Hamas did break the cease fire, that cannot be argued. But why it did is complex, and the media need to make sure they provide these historical points.

Both Mr. Harpaz and Mr. Shoukry told their audiences that their countries were safe, and those statements are true (as best I can tell through the media sources I consume). I forget which of our hosts said it, but I agreed that it's as ridiculous to say that "Egypt or Israel is a deadly war zone, and there's no way I'd go there" as it would be to say that "Washington is unsafe and dangerous, and there's no way I'd go there."

Of course, here in Washington you have to be careful in certain areas and at certain times. And that's true in every large city in this country. Substitute any city in any international country and you have the same circumstance. Here again, the media bear some responsibility -- story after story about Israel, Egypt or any other Middle East state being in a chronic state of war (and where little else happens) provides the circumstance allowing for young American men and women (not to mention slightly older ones!) to refuse to go there.

At the end of the day, and to whatever degree the opinions of an American journalism educator matter at all, the Middle East will not be cured of its ill-will with an Israeli and Palestinian state existing side-by-side. But I believe there is no other solution. Reasonable leaders and nations accept that, and unreasonable ones do not. But getting to that point of hammering out the details bringing about a new Palestinian state is tough, and the events of the past three weeks do nothing but offer a setback in these efforts.

A few events for the inauguration weekend and day

Forgot to add this to an earlier post about the weekend excitement here in Washington.

Israel opens up to the media

Sort of. Be sure you closely read the headline to this story in The New York Times. If you think that the media somehow now have what they should -- free reign to cover what is taking place in Gaza, forget it.

You'll recall that yesterday my students in The Washington Center's Presidential Inauguration Seminar visited with the Embassy of Israel. At one point the cultural affairs director said that the media were barred from Gaza because there was an active military operation taking place there and that the situation was not safe for journalists.

No offense to Mr. Rafael Harpaz, but journalists have been covering wars and risking their lives while doing it for many decades. Israel need not use that as a cover for simply not wanting independent reporters covering what is taking place in Gaza.

Warming up...in frigid DC (UPDATED)

Spend more than a few minutes on a DC Metro train this week and inevitably you'll hear someone talk about "it."

"It", of course, is the inauguration of Barack Obama, and I'm sure you know "it" begins at noon on Tuesday. There are a variety of media stories today about "it." Some of them are predictable; others, perhaps not.

Obama is moving closer to completing his inaugural address, and his aids have begun to layout the parameters of his remarks. Of course, there is tremendous anticipation for his swearing in and his inaugural address, but more importantly Mr. Obama enters office with large segments the country believing that he will be a force for positive change.

The issue of what Obama can and cannot do as president, and the immense expectations being placed on him were topics in both the large- and (to a lesser extent) small-group meetings at The Washington Center's Presidential Inauguration Seminar. I asked a question of my 14 students this week that I didn't expect would rile them up -- have the media inadvertently set up Mr. Obama to fail because of what he's expected to do. In summation, the students almost universally agreed that Obama has not been set up to fail by any person or industry. Instead, they believed he'll succeed if he can convince Congress and the public that his agenda is good for the country.

Returning to the news, if you're looking to party over the next four days...well, trust me, that's not going to be a problem. And this weekend's national concert at the Lincoln Memorial (yes, I'm going to try and make it) is one of your "free" options.

Then there is the story that gives you pause -- the security effort unfortunately must take into account white supremacist and other hate groups that might be intent on disrupting the inauguration.

Meanwhile, at least one person seems intent on throwing some cold water on the party. (And finding cold water here today isn't difficult...it's a rather crisp 20 degrees, though I admit that people in other parts of the country have it worse.) Kenneth Blackwell, who wants to be the next chair of the Republican Party, decried the president-elect's stimulus package as partisan politics.

Just four days to go!

UPDATE: Uh, oh...it looks like there will be plenty of "there go the media, gushing over Obama again" stories. Mr. Obama visited the Washington Post for an interview...and media critic Howard Kurtz says that professionalism was the order of the day. The WP offers a full audio version of the interview.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Washington Center today -- long wrap

Today's program was "political" in the morning, and the Israeli embassy visit highlighted our afternoon.

Summarizing as briefly as I can:

The "political" nature of the day involved two excellent presentations, one by our scholar-in-residence Dr. Michael Genovese, and the other by Dr. Ross Baker.

Genovese suggested that the idolization of a president (and a somewhat modern phenomenon at that) runs counter to what the Framers of the Constitution would have wanted, and more importantly could be contributing to presidents overreaching their powers. Of course, the conversation soon turned to President Bush, who, Genovese said, has put strain on the historically accepted idea of limited presidential powers. Dr. Genovese noted that various courts reigned in the administration, but he lamented that neither Congress nor the public did much in this area.

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Dr. Baker outlined the reasons why the Congress has at times butted heads with presidents. He noted that the emphasis on "my district over the national consensus' (my words, not his); the traditionally partisan nature of Congress; the slow, steady legal process that Congress follows; and the need for constant Congressional compromise are some of the reasons the reasons for this tension.

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Later in the morning we met His Excellency Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. I had heard the ambassador speak on television before, but I'd never seen him in person. He is an engaging, charming speaker.

And as I now return to updating my self-described "managing information" theme, I acknowledge that the ambassador offered a strong endorsement for his country, its relations with the U.S., and the 60-year conflict with India.

The ambassador indicated that Pakistan is taking its first steps with democratic rule, and he affirmed that democracy will be the future path of his country. "When it gives its word [from here on out], it will carry out its word," Mr. Haqqani told his audience, in reference to his country and its leadership.

He asked that the U.S. be patient as Pakistan developed its democracy. He also asked that the U.S. do away with previous ideas about the country.

Mr. Haqqani said little about India, and Mumbai was mentioned only once. He noted that there is an "alleged rivalry with India that we want to put to an end." That, my friends, is stretching the truth. There is no "alleged" rivalry there, and it is serious. He later said that Mumbai was a "setback" in recent efforts to build bridges between Pakistan and India. But he didn't discuss what should be done to address Indian claims about Pakistan's involvement.

At the end of his remarks (which included many questions from students), Mr. Haqqani received a standing ovation.

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After lunch, the 14 students assigned to me and I went to the Israeli embassy. A moment of levity before I get to the heart of our conversation with the embassy's director of public affairs.

My students and I arrived before security was ready for us, so I gathered them across the street. An innocent mistake! A few minutes later, a District of Columbia policeman approached and asked if we were about to protest. My group laughed heartily as I explained who we were and what we were waiting to do.

There were perhaps 80 students from the program who visited the embassy, and by time everyone got through the security detail we were perhaps 45 minutes late in beginning the program. However, the director of public affairs, Rafael Harpaz, spent an hour with us. And he began almost immediately with his management of information, as he highlighted the on-going war in Gaza.

He addressed five relevant contextual issues that need to be understood in order to grasp what has taken place in Gaza over the past three weeks. And, sadly, Mr. Harpaz was correct when he suggested that the context often was missing from MSM reports.

If you are a serious student of the Middle East, you are aware of the December 2005 Israeli decision to leave Gaza; the June 2006 "coup" (the word used by Mr. Harpaz) by Hamas in Gaza; the November 200 Annapolis peace talks involving the Palestinian Authority and Israel; the June 2008 cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas; and the hundreds of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas in the final days of December.

Mr. Harpaz also reaffirmed the political line being heard out of Tel Aviv -- Israel is not interested in removing Hamas from power; Israel does not want a substandard cease fire agreement; and that weakening Hamas' military capability is a necessary component of this "operation" (which I, and many MSM outlets, call a "war").

Mr. Harpaz said on two occasions that Hamas only wants to talk to Israel when it came time to planning "our funeral arrangements." He also reiterated on at least three occasions that Israel had no choice but to respond to the aggressive actions taken by Hamas.

An analysis of the comments from the Egyptian ambassador and the Israeli director of public affairs will be offered tomorrow (probably night).

It's late...and I've got another full day tomorrow at The Washington Center's Presidential Inauguration Seminar.