Thursday, April 30, 2009

Souter to step down? (UPDATES)

Media reports late tonight (10:00 EDT) suggest Supreme Court Justice David Souter will step down at the end of the court's term.

This NPR report is one of many that will be disseminated over the next few hours.

Additional details to be posted throughout the evening and into tomorrow.

1st UPDATE: 10:20 p.m. EDT: "Twittersphere" in overdrive; save for the NPR report, I see no other news organization reporting the story.

2nd UPDATE: 10:25 p.m. EDT: NBC appears, repeat appears, to be the second news agency to confirm the Souter retirement.

3rd UPDATE: Politico, which doesn't appear to have independently verified the Souter story, is running a blurb from columnist Ben Smith, who offers a preliminary view of what the president might be thinking as he seeks to replace Souter: There's some basically vacuous, but plausible, conventional wisdom saying that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a likely pick. I'd suspect, though, that Obama will be tempted to pick one of the prominent legal minds whom he knows personally, and whose philosophy he likes, given his own engagement with legal theory.

4th UPDATE: If this were a discussion in a journalism classroom, it would at some point turn to "owning a story." And this is NPR's (and Nina Totenberg's?) story.

5th UPDATE: 10:40 p.m. EDT: Yes, NPR has the story...but late this afternoon the Associated Press was accurately reading the tea leaves.

6th UPDATE: 10:50 p.m. EDT: Here's your strongest evidence that NPR owns this story: cites it and MSNBC as sources for its "breaking news" alert about Souter. In other words, Politico still has NOT independently verified the information.

7th UPDATE: 10:53 EDT: CNN now has its confirmation (only one source, mind you): From CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears

WASHINGTON (CNN) – A source close to Supreme Court Justice David Souter has confirmed to CNN he plans to retire from the court after the term recesses in late June. A court spokesperson said tonight the justice would have no comment on the report.

8th UPDATE: Souter's written decisions, delivered during his term on the Supreme Court.

9th UPDATE: 11:15 p.m. EDT: A "tweet" from me: Day 99: Specter. Day 100: Self-explanatory. Day 101: Souter. Wonder why RIGHT NOW the Republican Party is in disarray and Obama owns media cycles?

Allow readers to approve stories?

A form of citizen journalism? Nope. In this case, a whole host of ethical problems follow. If it's true.

And it appears it is.

Ms. California and the media

Ms. California sure has a problem -- she openly espouses an opinion that the mainstream media feel compelled to question (but can't really offer a good reason as to why).

By now you are certainly aware that Carrie Prejean hacked off an openly gay blogger by suggesting during the Miss USA pageant that she preferred the definition of marriage as involving a man and a woman. More specifically, she said: "We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."

Somehow her comment has been turned into the latest example of the culture wars. (And let's be honest, if the media were not dealing with the H1N1 crisis, this story involving Ms. California would be getting much more play in the media and the blogosphere.)

The co-director of the Ms. California pageant expressed his frustration with Prejean, saying she had injected politics into the pageant. Now, I'm just wondering -- if Ms. Prejean had said she supported all forms of marriage -- regardless of who was involved -- would he have criticized her? (Moreover, didn't Perez Hilton, whom I understand posed the question, inject politics into the pageant by asking the question in the first place?)

Indicating she has no plans to back down (how dare she!), Ms. Prejean, who already refused to apologize a few days ago, says she will continue to campaign for traditional marriage. The advertisement in which she's going to appear leaves little doubt that Prejean is, to borrow a cliche, putting her money where her mouth is.

In what I think is not a not-so subtle attempt to discredit Prejean, California pageant officials acknowledged that she had undergone breast augmentation surgery six weeks before the Miss USA pageant. I ask again, if Ms. Prejean had suggested that all forms of marriage were acceptable, would her personal appearance have become an issue? Hmmm.

Set aside for a moment whether there's a smear campaign against her, the larger issue here is this: what exactly is the story here?

Ms. Prejean has an opinion that she's entitled to have. The public is allowed to agree or disagree with her. Turning her into the latest exhibit in the media circus is absolutely ridiculous. And while you're thinking about that, find out what the media are attempting to do by making this non-story a story.

Whoa, wait a minute! (2 UPDATES)

CNN announced that it was turning to the Office of Health and Human Services for a press conference about H1N1. What I'm watching ON THE CNN AIR (technically air, it is after all cable) is a WEBCAST!

This offers multiple ethical concerns, as I see it. The "host" (I don't know her name) is undoubtedly a HHS employee. The "guests" are the Secretary for HHS (Katherine Sebelius) and the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (Janet Napolitano). There are NO legitimate journalists posing questions.

There is a realistic likelihood that the "questions" were prepared in advance and that the "guests" had time to prepare their answers. Certainly there will be none of the tough questions consistent with mainstream media.

Why would CNN broadcast this "news conference," which it clearly is not? And why is it also continuing to call the flu outbreak "swine flu?"

Tell me CNN's standards haven't stooped this low.

UPDATE: Just wondering: Has anyone found a story comparing H1N1's spread to recent winters, when flu season is at its peak? Context for this bug would be good.

2nd UPDATE: 10:15 p.m. EDT: Slippery Rock University, located about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, says it will hold a separate graduation ceremony for almost two dozen students who recently returned from Mexico.

I've struggled to see the justification made by various groups regarding how to react to the H1N1 flu bug, but I think this is a wise decision. The students remain in the period of incubation, and therefore a possibility for them to have the flu and to easily pass it on to others is apparent. Note, please, that nothing is being taken from this group (except perhaps the chance to graduate with all members of their class), and no irrational behavior is being displayed by the university administration.

More signs of trouble for the GOP

Far fewer people consider themselves Republican today than just six years ago.

Granted, as the highlighted report from The Hill notes, they are not automatically flocking to the Democratic Party; nevertheless, the erosion of support is telling because it is occurring in all parts of the country.

I excerpt two sentences from the story to illustrate this point: Republican identification has sunk by more than five points in all four regions of the country. Just one in five voters in the Northeast call themselves Republican, the party's worst region, while 25 percent of Southerners say they are Republican, the region where the GOP performs best.

Meanwhile, more than 31 percent of voters in each region say they are Democrats.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not a registered Independent who believes that both parties have lost touch with the "typical" American. Saying that, I maintain that the decline of the GOP is not something to celebrate. America deserves, in my opinion, more than two strong, viable political parties. Today, in reality, it has one.

From the outside looking in... (UPDATED periodically) appears that Mexico is about to go into shutdown mode. The government has ordered all non-essential businesses to close for 5 days, in an effort to slow the spread of the H1N1 (so-called swine flu). Yes, the World Health Organization continues to preach calm, but there is an undercurrent of commentary within the media and in the blogosphere that suggests the situation is deteriorating.

Spain is the latest location to document the flu; as many as 6 cases are feared.

There are (ridiculous, in my opinion) calls for shutting down the U.S./Mexico border, in an effort to prevent the flu from becoming more prominent in the U.S. An informative article from TIME magazine tells us why such a move would be ineffective.

One always should be concerned when the word "may" is associated with any story, but there are flu cases being studied in Columbus, Ohio that could turn out to be H1N1.

I'll continue to update throughout the day.

1st UPDATE: 10:30 a.m. EDT: Health officials in Nebraska confirm the first H1N1 cases in that state.

REACTION: No surprise. The news should be seen as the drip-drip of the spreading of the flu to other places, but there remains a critical need to be rational. Consider this "tweet" from ABC's Jake Tapper: American Airlines spox: ""To suggest that people not fly at this stage of things is a broad brush stroke bordering on fear mongering."

The critical question is who spawns this fear mongering. If it is the government or the media, then both are being irresponsible. Comments such as these from Vice President Biden don't help. Granted, he's offering an opinion, but he also runs the risk of stoking unnecessary fear.

2nd UPDATE: 11:15 a.m. EDT: Don't forget as this story progresses that what this flu is called is not a trivial matter. This editorial from Poynter reminds us that labels carry both overt and covert (words used very carefully in this context) meaning.

The most appropriate title is H1N1. It didn't come from a pig, eliminating the "swine flu" label. It most certainly shouldn't be called the "Mexican flu."

3rd UPDATE: 1:00 p.m. EDT: Call it "clarifying" or "backtracking." Either way, here's a statement from Vice President Biden's office regarding his (unfortunate) comments from this morning about not traveling to Mexico.

4th UPDATE: Just wondering: If mainstream media are trying to convince us "there is no need to panic about H1N1," then why are they practically non-stop on the story? The more (conflicting) information they put out there, the more fear is going to develop.

Mind you, I'm NOT suggesting the story not be covered, but I am concerned that inaccurate terms -- or stories that lack sufficient context -- ensure that the media are not doing their jobs. I welcome your comments.

5th UPDATE: 2:50 p.m. EDT: An Indiana University professor suggests computer models point to the potential for 1,000 cases of H1N1 in the U.S. within three weeks.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who asked the questions?

There were 13 total questions asked at tonight's presidential press conference. Ten of the questions were asked by men; 3 were women.

Eleven of the reporters were Caucasian. One was Hispanic. One was African-American.

Does anyone have any thoughts on these demographics?

Alhambra, California

That Los Angeles suburb might not mean anything to you, but I called it home for almost 20 years. And now I read that a USC (my alma mater) journalism professor is turning it into a journalism experiment.

The following is taken from Poynter's Rick Edmonds:

Alhambra, Calif.: The Little Town That News Forgot
Posted by Rick Edmonds at 10:55 AM on Apr. 24, 2009
For much of the 20th century, Alhambra, Calif., was a little Los Angeles suburb with a lot going for it. There was that romantic name, evoking Washington Irving stories and the fabulous Moorish fortress in Granada, Spain. There was an eclectic roster of famous Americans who grow up there -- Cheryl Tiegs, Kenny Loggins and Dorothy Rodham (Hillary Clinton's mother). Norman Rockwell married an Alhambra girl and is said to have drawn inspiration for his small-town vignettes from its Main Street.

Alhambra present, population 87,000, hangs on as a working-class town of small bungalows bordering on chic South Pasadena and pricey San Marino. But a couple of things have disappeared along the way, among them newspaper coverage. That has led Michael Parks, recently retired dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism, to christen Alhambra "the town that news forgot."

Parks, picking a couple of projects as he shifts back to academics at USC, has set out to create a news Web site for the community. He gave a talk on the undertaking at a future-of-news conference we both attended at the Massachusetts School of Law in March, and I checked for an update by phone this week.

Alhambra's white-bread past has given way to an exotic ethnic mix -- 45 percent Chinese and other Asians, 35 percent Latino, 14 percent white and a tiny cadre of African-Americans. It is a mix of people, Parks said, who literally may not speak to each other given language barriers. A first test of civic involvement by USC colleagues, he added, found that except for voting, Alhambra was off-the-charts low.

In the course of the 40-year demographic transition, newspaper coverage dwindled, then disappeared. The Alhambra Post Advocate, a Copley daily at which Nixon communications director Herb Klein got his start as a copy boy, is long-gone -- though it lingers on in a fabulous YouTube home video of a 60's-era staff Christmas party.

The Los Angeles Times, which covered Alhambra and a host of smaller communities as recently as when Parks was editor in the late 1990s and first years of this century, has cut all those bureaus as its news staff has been halved. MediaNews' Pasadena Star-News does not venture in Alhambra's direction. Ethnic media are present, but that doesn't knit the community together.

Parks is aware that a hyperlocal launch is nothing unique, but he has specific ideas to make this one distinctive. "We will be building more carefully," he said, "involving the community in a more participatory way. We are spending a lot of time trying to determine what they want to know -- say, about schools ... so I hope we end up with some new definitions of news."

Though Parks is a veteran newspaper man, with decades as a Pulitzer-winning foreign correspondent, he thinks most news sites look too much like a newspaper. He plans to get something less conventional from USC techies and Web designers.

In fact, the entire project has an academic flavor, drawing heavily, at least in the planning and development stage, on the work of journalism grad students and MBA candidates. The project is supported by a multi-year grant from the Annenberg Foundation, which like many foundations is focused more on the end result of community-building than journalism per se.

Right now the launch is just in the "mid-planning phase," Parks said. Among his initial findings is an interest among Chinese businesses in adding Latino clientele, and vice versa. A full plan and start-up are not expected for at least another year. Basic questions remain, such as how to finesse the language problem and whether to reverse-publish into print.

Taking on Alhambra's news needs might seem an odd choice for Parks, who could easily write essays on trends in foreign coverage and the like. But it is quite deliberate. "The challenge for J-schools now is, can they reinvent things," he said. "We tend to be way too retrospective -- even identifying best practices is a form of that. What I want to do now is to try something prospective."

An Internet petition challenging Notre Dame to... (2 UPDATES) reconsider its commencement-address invitation and honorary degree to President Obama.

This petition was forwarded to my mother-in-law, who then passed it on to my wife and me. Neither my wife, I, nor any of our family attended Notre Dame (though my 10-year-old is already salivating at the prospects), so I'll be curious to learn from whom she received it.

Here is the petition:

Dear Member,

Several weeks ago we alerted you to the shocking news that the University of Notre Dame will welcome, and honor, President Barack Obama at its commencement exercises next month. The controversy surrounding this invitation continues to swirl, as it should.

This morning Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon announced that she would decline the prestigious Laetare Medal that was to be awarded to her at the commencement. In her letter to Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, Ambassador Glendon wrote about her decision:

“A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.”

Bravo Ambassador Glendon!

We are also proud to report that the petition effort initiated by the Cardinal Newman Society now includes over 334,000 signatures! The numbers are growing, but we still need your help in urging your friends and family to sign the petition. Have you signed the petition? Will you send this message to your family and friends?

Sign the petition at

You may also recall that in our original message we recommended against a hasty and ill-conceived protest on campus. At the time, we had reservations about the practical difficulties of staging a protest, along with important concerns about how to responsibly register our opposition to the news. has sought to be a different kind of voice. We will never compromise our moral principles, or our faithfulness to the Church. But we also will do our best to think critically about how to respond to the issues of the day – particularly issues that involve our family – the family of the Catholic Church. Our purpose has never been to figuratively “kill” the opposition. Our goal is to convert them. Especially our fellow Catholics!

Notre Dame is not Planned Parenthood. There are many good things occurring on campus among the students and faculty that are very encouraging. This is precisely why the decision to honor President Obama is so shocking. Notre Dame is not a “lost cause,” but is a prestigious school, with a rich Catholic heritage, whose leadership made an extremely poor decision that requires those who care about Notre Dame, and the cause of life, to respond.

With this in mind, we are happy to endorse the plans of an on-campus coalition of student groups who, together with the support their Bishop, are planning an on-campus rally on commencement day May 17 to affirm the authentic Catholic identity of Notre Dame and the importance of protecting every human life.

Details on this event will be released soon by the student groups at

Finally, I also wanted to alert you to another effort by Notre Dame alumni urging donors to withhold future contributions to Notre Dame until a new President committed to the teachings of the Church is named. The organizers of this effort at seek to be charitable, but also firm, in their insistence that a change in leadership is needed at Notre Dame.

This morning the group announced that they have personally verified that $8.2 million in donations have been withheld in just one week because of their efforts!
As always, thank you for your continued prayers and support. Your personal notes, suggestions, and of course, contributions are humbling.

Brian Burch, President

On top of this, I read an editorial written by Bishop David Zubik, the bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese, in last weekend's Pittsburgh Catholic. There, he chastised Notre Dame for its decision regarding the president.

This story has not percolated higher on the media agenda because of the many other issues that they cover on a daily basis. However, I suspect that as the college graduation cycle kicks into gear that there will be attention called to Mr. Obama. (Going from memory he also is scheduled to address the graduates of two other schools, but I confess I'm not 100% confident in that claim.)

I don't expect the leadership of Notre Dame to rescind the invitation, and I wouldn't expect the president to voluntarily step aside. That sets up a potential distraction on graduation day that the Notre Dame Class of 2009 doesn't deserve.

UPDATE: Please see the comments section of this post, and my thanks to the person who cleared up an error in my original post and provided some additional information.

2nd UPDATE: 7:00 p.m. EDT: A second comment to this story that you should consider reading.

I'm pleased (if that's an appropriate term to use) that this story is engendering the interest it is. Whether you believe Notre Dame should invite the president OR believe that the mission of the university is abandoning its moral stature by bringing Mr. Obama to campus, this is a topic that should be discussed.

Has the flu reached Pittsburgh? (UPDATE)

We don't know yet, but even if the most current sample under investigation comes back negative, it seems only a matter of time before it does reach this area.

UPDATE: One local television station "tweets" that it has received word about the case mentioned above, and it will have a report at 5:00. But one other television station already has reported the answer: No.

Thanks, WDUQ!

One of your loyal listeners "Facebooked" me to let me know a comment from my blog made it into one of your news reports early this morning.

Thanks for reading :-). (And, yes, I'll keep listening!)

Let's expect... (URGENT UPDATE)

...more flu cases to be reported in the next few days (the latest count at 12:45 p.m. EDT is 91 confirmed cases in the U.S.), more deaths to result from them, increased calls from responsible health and medical agencies to be cautious, and questions about when all of this will end.

Almost all of those questions cannot be easily answered. In fact, it's doubtful this will end any time soon. It is reasonable to expect, various medical professionals have suggested, that the effects of this flu could be felt well into the fall and winter (when the next flu season hits).

The challenge for Americans is to be cautious and prepared. That means making sure you know the symptoms associated with the flu and seek proper medical care if you believe you have caught it. Crying wolf, so to speak, will do you no good; in fact, it will serve to heighten unnecessary fears.

And, yes, unfortunately the so-called swine flu could in fact become a pandemic in the coming days. But you cannot know what that MIGHT mean for you if you are not taking time to educate yourself.

UPDATE: The World Health Organization late today raised the pandemic alert level to 5, one below the highest level possible. This decision urges all nations to take a full range of proactive and preparatory actions to combat the potential rapid spread of the flu.

Keeping the big picture in mind (UPDATE)

There are an estimated 36,000 deaths related to flu each year in the United States. Put another way, that's about 100 people per day.

The Texas boy whose death has been attributed to the flu outbreak in Mexico is the first U.S. fatality attributed to that strain.

I fear that many media will use that death as an indicator that a pandemic is somehow inevitable. It's not, and responsible agencies such as the World Health Organization ought to be making that decision.

UPDATE: And when one reads of the flu being a "raging health menace," one should be reminded that overblown theatrics are not needed right now.

Now this is petty (UPDATE)

From Romenesko's blog:

Two days after she was laid off from the Chicago Tribune, reporter Melissa Isaacson won the press club's Best Feature Story award. "By the time she made her way up front to accept her plaque it had disappeared," writes Michael Miner. "That's because [Tribune managing editor Jane] Hirt had hopped up from the Tribune table next to the dais to claim it for the Tribune. Isaacson tells Miner: "My friends asked me later if I got to bask in any of the applause, but there was no basking. I had to go find my award."

UPDATE: Also from Romenesko. Hirt says, "I do regret the awkward moment at the Lisagors. I didn't see Missy in the crowd, and I wanted to pick up the plaque to make sure she got it. When she arrived at the stage at the same time I did, I handed her the plaque. I wasn't planning on keeping it for the Tribune."

Arlen -- how could you!

Perhaps the better answer is -- what took you so long?

Most national media -- such as the Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times -- are concentrating on how Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to switch parties improves President Obama's chances for legislative success.

The Washington Post also asks if Specter's departure (defection?) from the GOP is the last shot the party will take. In other words, the last 2-1/2 years have not been good to the Republican Party. The lack of success in the last two national elections and the strong popularity still enjoyed by the president have Republicans fighting to find a leader, a voice and a valid opposing message to the Democrats.

It is interesting to compare the national media stories to those from Pennsylvania, where Specter's decision is, of course, more relevant. Specter's expected foe in the GOP primary (now his general election opponent?) Pat Toomey told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Specter's switch proves he'll put his political fortunes ahead of anything else. In a separate story, the paper also notes that the demise of the GOP in the Keystone State is eerily similar to its problems elsewhere, and under such conditions Specter's move seems logical.

In Pittsburgh, where the GOP's prospects are even dimmer, the message from Republicans was that of Specter as Benedict Arnold. The conservative-leaning Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was openly hostile, suggesting in an editorial that "Republicans told Arlen Specter to go to hell. And by all accounts, that's where he's going -- to an expected filibuster-proof Senate that, thanks to one of the most unprincipled men ever to serve in that august body, now will have carte blanche to further its dangerously socialist agenda."

Specter was one of the few moderate Republican voices in the Senate and one of the few Republicans from the northeast. His departure provides ample ammunition for the left to argue that the GOP is out of touch with America, and for the right to argue that it has rid itself of a pretend Republican.

Flu -- Wednesday (UPDATE URGENT)

It's the inability for researchers and other health officials to determine just how severe this so-called swine flu outbreak will be that makes it difficult to assess where we are with this crisis. Though it has not yet been labeled a global pandemic, it also is not hard to see why the prospects are good.

The first death in the U.S. associated with the flu has been announced -- a 23-month-old Texas boy has died. Speaking of children, there is a poignant story in today's Washington Post, in which a young Mexican boy who lives in the village where the flu was first detected seeks to understand the scramble that has become his life in the past month.

Meanwhile, in what can only be described as irrational fear, prices for pork and other pig products are down as much as 9%. Why people fail to grasp that they CANNOT get this flu strain from eating pork products baffles me.

UPDATE: The young boy who died in Texas was NOT an American citizen; instead, he was brought to the U.S. from Mexico on Monday in order to be treated for the flu.


Today -- as if you didn't know already -- marks the symbolic 100th day of the Obama presidency. (As an aside, brrr...I can still remember how cold Washington was on that January afternoon, but I also can vividly remember the excitement on the faces of so many people.)

There will be many media stories (and more than a few blog postings!) about the Obama administration today, as pundits -- both real and imagined -- offer their commentary on what it has achieved to date.

As always, I encourage you to read through a variety of perspectives; unfortunately, in this fractured political universe in which we live, too many people read only that information that is consistent with their political beliefs and attitudes. That is a mistake.

Typically I would offer a link or two to such stories, but I'm not doing that in this posting. Instead I'm challenging you to go out and find a diverse set of perspectives.

I would encourage you to watch the president's news conference tonight. No, I don't expect a monumental amount of information to come out of it, but I do expect there to be poignant questions and analysis.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A comment I made on another blog

It disappoints me to see what is happening to the Republican Party. No, I’m not a member of the party and don’t want to be. I thought Sen. Specter spoke for many people when he suggested today that the party had been taken over by the right wing, which appears determined to stand on principle instead of attempting to govern. I’m drawing a conclusion that President Obama will be to his party what Ronald Reagan was to his — the man who broadened the base of his party while the opposition stumbled along on (many) outdated policies.

590 radio jobs going away

Clear Channel announced today it is cutting almost 600 jobs, the second time this year it has announced a large layoff.

Considering the terrible effect Clear Channel has had on the radio industry, its decision to slash jobs is even more galling. How many of you remember the "we'll maximize efficiency" and other simplistic arguments that radio behemoth made to a pliant FCC.

Uh, it's time to start worrying (7 updates -- LA deaths updated)

FOX News is reporting that there might be 2 deaths in Los Angeles County (the Los Angeles Times has additional details) relating to swine flu, and health officials in New York believe that hundreds of New York City school children have been sickened.

The issue of the incubation cycle of this flu helps to explain why this has happened. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in his state.

The New York Times also reports that seven countries have confirmed cases.

UPDATE: This "tweet" from a reporter in Mexico City --
Back from visiting a couple of hospitals here in Mexico City. Honestly? They're pretty quiet. No pandemic panic or anything like that. Initial reaction -- worst there MIGHT be over, but worst might just beginning elsewhere.

2nd UPDATE: Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano reaffirms that the border between the U.S. and Mexico will NOT be closed; this remains a smart choice -- this flu is not a Mexico-only problem, and essentially a quarantine of the country would do no good.

3rd UPDATE: I've been (periodically) following the stock ticker that appears on CNN. If memory serves me correctly, the DJIA was up approximately 40 points when Sec. Napolitano began her press conference around 3:25 p.m. EDT; now, 10 minutes later, it is down about 4 points. Fear?

4th UPDATE: Sec. Napolitano acknowledges that many states are dealing with swine flu but cannot confirm the two cases mentioned early. On the other hand, she added that it was "very likely" we'll see a worsening situation, including death, from this flu as it expands.

5th UPDATE: Seven new swine flu cases reported in Canada; all considered not serious.

6th UPDATE: WHO chief on CNN: "Hard to predict what will happen over the next 2 weeks" but if we see human to human contact, then a pandemic is possible. He added that the world is not fully prepared for such a circumstance.

7th UPDATE: News late tonight (EDT) that the two deaths in Los Angeles are almost certainly NOT result of swine flu.

Arlen Specter to switch parties (2 updates)

Here's your political bombshell for the day -- Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter is switching parties.

The long time moderate Republican is now a Democrat. His statement (which appeared on PoliticsPA and is copied here from Ben Smith's blog) --

I have been a Republican since 1966. I have been working extremely hard for the Party, for its candidates and for the ideals of a Republican Party whose tent is big enough to welcome diverse points of view. While I have been comfortable being a Republican, my Party has not defined who I am. I have taken each issue one at a time and have exercised independent judgment to do what I thought was best for Pennsylvania and the nation.

Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

When I supported the stimulus package, I knew that it would not be popular with the Republican Party. But, I saw the stimulus as necessary to lessen the risk of a far more serious recession than we are now experiencing.

Since then, I have traveled the State, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.

I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary.

I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.

I deeply regret that I will be disappointing many friends and supporters. I can understand their disappointment. I am also disappointed that so many in the Party I have worked for for more than four decades do not want me to be their candidate. It is very painful on both sides. I thank specially Senators McConnell and Cornyn for their forbearance.

I am not making this decision because there are no important and interesting opportunities outside the Senate. I take on this complicated run for re-election because I am deeply concerned about the future of our country and I believe I have a significant contribution to make on many of the key issues of the day, especially medical research. NIH funding has saved or lengthened thousands of lives, including mine, and much more needs to be done. And my seniority is very important to continue to bring important projects vital to Pennsylvania’s economy.

I am taking this action now because there are fewer than thirteen months to the 2010 Pennsylvania Primary and there is much to be done in preparation for that election. Upon request, I will return campaign contributions contributed during this cycle.

While each member of the Senate caucuses with his Party, what each of us hopes to accomplish is distinct from his party affiliation. The American people do not care which Party solves the problems confronting our nation. And no Senator, no matter how loyal he is to his Party, should or would put party loyalty above his duty to the state and nation.

My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.

Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy’s statement that sometimes Party asks too much. When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America.

Specter's move is blatantly political; his chances for success in Pennsylvania in 2010 were becoming more dim by the day. Put more bluntly, his political survival was at stake. A hard-core conservative, Pat Toomey, almost certainly would have grabbed the party's nomination; Mr. Toomey's chances for success in the general election were seen as spotty at best in a hypothetical contest against little known Democrats. Now imagine Toomey against Specter in the general election -- Pennsylvania once again becomes the center of the political universe, in 2010.

But don't take the "blatantly political" comment as a commendation for what he has done. In fact, just the opposite (recognizing that I fall in the middle of the political spectrum). Consider that Joe Lieberman saw his shine in the Democratic Party fading; his move to Independent status allowed him to extend his political career AND to be seen as above the political fray in his state and throughout the country. Sure, some Democrats wanted to vilify him, but he clearly was not welcomed or comfortable with the direction his party was heading.

One could say that Specter has done the same thing.

Vermont Democratic senator Pat Leahy, interviewed by CNN, says that Specter certainly agonized over this decision. Meanwhile, FOX News is reporting that Sen. John McCain said "I regret it" when he learned of the decision.

The Republican Party's demise in the northeast has been magnified by Sen. Specter's decision to abandon that party. Minus Specter, there are perhaps two Republicans of note in this part of the country.

I've maintained in numerous posts that a shell of a party is not a good thing -- the challenge for the Republican Party is to rebuild its support in the northeast. It won't happen overnight, and if the party continues to tilt to the right then that effort will be all the more difficult.

An angle to the swine flu coverage we shouldn't forget

Consider the amount of television coverage associated with the swine flu from Mexico. And as you do, ask yourself how many of the anchors and reporters you see and hear from are based in Mexico or Mexico City.

The answer to that question will be "zero" or (if you are lucky) "one."

What does that mean? These journalists don't know the culture as well as they should. They don't have access to the complete range of sources that can help them tell this story. They likely don't speak Spanish. These and other factors mean they are forced to chase the story instead of being able to quickly grasp who to call, how the society is actually reacting, and what the leadership is doing to get the answers to the public.

This brand of journalism would not be necessary if corporate owners opted not to slash international news coverage because of the expense associated with it.

Flu -- today

As expected -- but again something that shouldn't be overblown -- the swine flu has been confirmed in other parts of the world. Two cases in the United Kingdom lead to a total of 90 confirmations around the world. More than half of them are in the United States, and considering the proximity of Mexico and the U.S. that should come as no surprise.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has reminded people all over the world to be vigilant, and one of its representatives said that even though the flu bug can no longer be contained, "a pandemic is not inevitable." Governments are responding - rationally - to the WHO's warnings. At least one opinion writer notes that the public should show equal confidence in the WHO.

The media coverage has ranged from responsible to unnecessary, and this pattern will continue. In this 24-hour news cycle, the need to "feed the beast" (to shamelessly borrow from Linda Ellerbee's documentary) means that television professionals will not (or cannot?) always be as responsible as we'd like them to be.

Jailed journalist

Reza Saberi - convicted last week in an Iranian court of various charges, including spying - remains on a hunger strike.

Despite a recent call for a fair hearing when Ms. Saberi appeals her conviction, there are no public signs in Iran that anything is being done for or to her.

Ms. Saberi has become a cause celebre for the international journalism community, and with good reason.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The first 15 minutes of Anderson Cooper's program tonight

Various "tweets" from me:

10:01 p.m. EDT: Nothing has changed -- CNN still calling swine flu "breaking news". But AC says he won't go overboard in his program.

10:04: AC's opening story is solid; no effort to pander to ratings. Yet.

10:05: AC: Just used the word "catastrophe" to describe swine flu. Dr. Gupta: "chaos" on display in Mexico. So much for not going overboard.

10:06: Gupta says he told Mexican police he was a doctor, and they allowed him into a hospital. Ethical?

10:07: Gupta: It's "unlikely" viewers in the U.S. will ever get the swine flu. That cuts off at the knees those ridiculous pandering to fear.

10:12: CNN's Erica Hill: People seem calm throughout the U.S. as they talk about the swine flu outbreak.

Initial impression: It's hard to continue carrying the "breaking news" banner when two of your reporters acknowledge the minuscule chance of catching the flu in the U.S. and the overall calm evident in the public.

Of course, the absence of a widespread outbreak in the U.S. does not mean that there aren't problems. The number of dead in Mexico and the number of cases happening in other countries requires journalism standards to be maintained. But I question if any of this deserves the "breaking news" moniker.

The flu -- tonight (UPDATED)

Looks like the drip-drip of reports about the flu outbreak that has spread from Mexico continues.

More than 40 cases have been reported in five U.S. states, and the Associated Press is adding that New Jersey state officials might be ready to identify five additional cases, stemming from people who traveled from Mexico or California.

In New Zealand, more than 50 new cases are feared.

Meanwhile, Congress could begin holding hearings in the next few days, as it examines the U.S. response to the flu outbreak. (My reaction -- I didn't know what the government was doing deserved to be questioned; there seems to be little concern about the response to date.)

The media spotlight is now set firmly on this story, so you can expect rapid updates from national and international news agencies on this topic. On one hand, this is good -- it keeps the public on alert and ensures that journalists are being responsible. However, I continue to dread the over-the-top pandering to fear on this topic.

UPDATE: South Korean officials are reporting a (likely) case of swine flu in their country. The woman returned to South Korea from Mexico just yesterday.

A "political" statement?

Hard to find another reason for FOX (not FOX News) deciding to not air the president's Wednesday night prime-time press conference.

It's not as if FOX is a ratings dynamo on Wednesday night.

Stupid moment

CNN's Rick Sanchez program: "OK, can we panic now?"

Irresponsible? No matter how much Sanchez tries to talk calmly, the egregious comment cannot be ignored.

Media are spinning the flu story to an extreme

I feared this -- the media today are offering headline after headline, tease after tease suggesting that the flu outbreak in Mexico is spreading globally and few groups seem prepared to deal with it.


According to various media reports, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has been grilled today by reporters surrounding President Obama's trip to Mexico and when the U.S. government became aware of the flu outbreak. (Common sense should rule here -- does anyone really think any U.S. medical professional would have allowed the president to go to Mexico if information about the flu were available?)

In addition, there are a variety of stories noting airlines and airports are struggling with how to handle customers who could be feverish or have the flu.

Feeding the (unnecessary) panic are new reports that international and domestic stock markets are in sell mode.

Nightline is preparing its program tonight to cover the swine flu issue (and I'm expecting a serious discussion without the breathless commentary that other programs offer). At the same time, Anderson Cooper will report tonight from Mexico City.

Getting squeezed in the middle (UPDATED)

That's the problem facing CNN today -- FOX continues to gain traction with conservative viewers, while MSNBC is siphoning off the liberal audience. What can or should CNN do about this?

Though I don't have the numbers in front of me to validate this point, I do believe that CNN's prime-time ratings began to sink when it tossed Aaron Brown -- a credible television journalist -- to the street in favor of Anderson Cooper.

Mind you, I'm not criticizing Cooper, though I cannot bring myself to watch his program. Brown brought a strong presence to the evening news, and as best he could delivered it with substance overshadowing style. A presence such as that can lead to stronger ratings in the earlier hours, as well.

UPDATED: In a somewhat related story, the Washington Times accurately notes that the Obama administration continues to have success going around the traditional elite media and getting its message out through other sources. This is a legitimate challenge to mainstream media, which (literally and figuratively) cannot afford to lose their power as the "first" places to which people turn in times of information need.

20 more flu cases are expected... (UPDATED, see Texas Monthly comment) New York City.

Again, there will be a tendency to make overreact to this kind of news and to presume that the swine flu outbreak is out of control. It is not. Any media report suggesting that is irresponsible. The latest report from the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms 73 cases across the globe.

The U.S. government is acting with recognizable caution, and this includes telling Americans to be careful should they travel to Mexico. It is likely a "don't travel to Mexico" recommendation will follow any similar announcement from an international health agency, such as the WHO. (Unfortunately some people, lacking appropriate medical degrees, already have determined that Americans should be gravely concerned. And if the point of this blog comment from Texas Monthly was supposed to be humorous, then I missed it.)

The International Association for Media and Communication Research also urged caution today, though it indicated that its planned July convention (which I'm scheduled to attend) in Mexico City is still on.

Flu reports

As predicted, the number of stories pertaining to the flu outbreak in Mexico has increased today.

The latest (as of 10:00 a.m. EDT) is that at least 100 deaths in Mexico have been linked to the flu bug, and despite the increase in identified cases in the U.S., President Obama suggested (correctly, in my opinion) that fears of a widespread outbreak remain to this point unfounded. However, there are expected to bemore cases reported in the coming days. In addition, the World bank released almost $200 million to assist Mexico in funding it various programs to combat the flu.

TIME magazine offers an important "5 things you should know" story.

On the secondary level of importance, the Washington Post notes that the growing fears of a pandemic could overshadow the symbolic day 100 of the Obama presidency. However, an angle that deserves more play is the fact that the U.S. still lacks a Secretary for Health and Human Services, and as a result key positions in HHS remain unfilled.

Also not to be forgotten is the devastating effect the flu could have on travel to Mexico. Already reeling from the plethora of stories about drug wars, now tourism officials need to tamp down fears that Mexico is flu ravaged.

21,000 or 23,000 reports in a breaking news banner this morning that General Motors will shutter the Pontiac brand and cut 23,000 jobs. reports in a breaking news banner this morning that General Motors will shut down the Pontiac brand and cut 21,000 jobs.

Hmmmm, at least one of those news agencies has it wrong.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What happens to the students?

The story coming out of Athens, GA. is horrible -- a University of Georgia professor is a suspect in the fatal shootings of his wife and two other people. The shootings happened Saturday near the Athens campus.

Dr. George M. Zinkhan III has not been seen since the shootings, though university officials are comfortable with the idea of classes continuing as scheduled on Monday. (Here's the time line of events, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

As a college educator, I believe it is important that one angle to this story not be overlooked -- what happens to Zinkhan's students?

The initial article highlighted above indicates that Zinkhan teaches one undergraduate and one graduate class this term. Let's presume there are 25 students in those two classes. They are not the only students affected by Zinkhan's disappearance (regardless of whether he's involved in the shootings).

Depending on the requirements for a Georgia faculty member, Zinkhan could have a number of undergraduate students he advises regarding class selection, internships and the other relevant issues that undergraduate students deal with.

On top of this, Zinkhan almost certainly was the chair for various thesis and dissertation committees. He could very well have been a member of additional such committees.

In short, it's possible that as many as 60 University of Georgia students are left with many important questions connected to what happened on Saturday. Considering how late they are in the academic year, Zinkhan's actions are especially difficult to understand for these men and women.

No, their concerns are not the most important to this point -- finding Zinkhan and giving him the opportunity to explain what he knows about Saturday's events is. Nevertheless, let's not ignore that many students are placed in a terrible situation because of the (suspected) actions of a man in whom they placed their trust.

The flu, local news and you

Just a thought -- May sweeps are underway in the TV business. The potential for you to say "all swine (flu), all the time" is very much there.

I have nothing against a local news operation preparing a series of legitimate reports about the flu outbreak in Mexico and extending that conversation to encompass valid local angles. In fact, such stories would be excellent examples of doing relevant local journalism. But I fear that pandering to ratings will lead to empty phrases that attempt to alarm an audience without actually telling them anything of importance.

Perhaps most troubling in this scenario: such desperate ratings grabbers ignore that large segments of the population remain uninformed about this strain of flu, its short- and long-term effects, and the real risk an American has of catching it.

Swine flu timeline, to date (UPDATED)

Worth glancing at this. Note how various health and governmental agencies really picked up on the concern just a few days ago.

That statement is not critical of what has been done to this point; it simply acknowledges that as more information has become available, more has been done.

Photo from CNN's Ed Henry, who landed in Mexico City late this afternoon (EDT). I'd be wearing a mask, if I had to be in Mexico right now. As you know, I am scheduled to be there in three months for an international conference.

UPDATE: British travelers returning late today from Mexico were checked out on an airport runway before being allowed to gather their belongings and make their way to their homes. Two Brits (who were not on the plane) were hospitalized earlier today.

Another British newspaper also reported today that during his recent trip to Mexico, President Obama shook hands with a man who died 24 hours later from the flu.

Public health emergency

Increased signs today that the swine flu outbreak is getting worse -- the government today declared a public health emergency. No, this does not mean that an epidemic is imminent, but it does suggest that fears of it spreading rapidly are growing.

The same New York Times report highlighted below notes: Officials said they had confirmed eight cases in New York, seven in California, two in Kansas, two in Texas and one in Ohio, and that the cases looked to be similar to the deadly strain of swine flu that has killed more than 80 people in Mexico and infected 1,300 more. (The Ohio case, reported today, comes from Elyria, which is in the northeast portion of the state.)

One person on Twitter adds: [I'm] (i)n downtown Mexico City. Lots of people with masks on, but lots without. But sales are severely down because many people staying home. An Associated Press report suggests that most of Mexico City's public-gathering places are largely empty, as people respond to the government warnings to not gather in crowds.

The World Health Organization, for now, is holding off raising the flu alert level from 3 to 4 (this would be akin to raising the terror level), but that decision could come within 48 hours. From here, you can access an informative PDF that outlines critical questions and answers associated with the swine flu.

You also ought to consider accessing the Mexican government's Ministry of Health Web site, for additional information.

For now, one's own judgment is still the guiding rule of thumb about visiting Mexico.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Something unusual in Las Vegas

Yes, I know there are many things that can be described as unusual in Las Vegas (and I make it a rule to avoid all of them when I'm here!!).

However, the Saskatchewan RoughRiders team bus sitting outside a nearby hotel caught my attention. (Yes, I know...Moretti is a little different sometimes!) My boys and I are closet Canadian Football League fans, and two seasons ago we rooted the RoughRiders on to victory in the Grey Cup game.

Someday, my wife, the boys and I will take in a CFL game. For now, the bus will do.

Worries about a flu pandemic (UPDATED)

An ominous lead to a Chicago Tribune story about the flu outbreak in Mexico:

'Swine flu has world on alert : In Mexico, schools closed Friday for 6.1 million students across the capital and its suburbs as officials sought to contain the spread of a swine flu outbreak that may have infected hundreds of people and killed as many as 60. In the U.S., authorities said they had found one new case in San Diego, which brings the total number of American cases to eight.' AP: 'It's touched off worries of a pandemic. ... It might already be too late to contain the outbreak, a prominent U.S. pandemic flu expert said late Friday.'

The New York Times offers more concern:

Because of the situation, the World Health Organization planned to consider raising the world pandemic flu alert to 4 from 3. Such a high level of alert — meaning that sustained human-to-human transmission of a new virus has been detected — has not been reached in recent years, even with the H5N1 avian flu circulating in Asia and Egypt, and would “really raise the hackles of everyone around the world,” said Dr. Robert G. Webster, a flu virus expert at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

TIME magazine notes that the Centers for Disease Control is preparing a vaccine, should the outbreak becomes worse.

One piece of good news, if "good" can be used in connection with this story, is that the CDC is not advising people to cancel planned trips to Mexico. Interestingly, this summer the International Association for Media and Communication Research is holding its international convention in Mexico City. I checked the IAMCR and the convention Web sites, and there is no warning about or information relating to the flu outbreak.

UPDATE: Late this afternoon, new flu cases were reported in Kansas. There also is a likelihood that a New York City high school could be the site of eight new cases (though there is no certainty that strain is connected to the Mexico strain). Finally, a British Airways crew member arrived home Saturday with flu-like symptoms; that person had been in Mexico City.

This collective information will raise fears of a pandemic, but caution is still the appropriate term, according to health officials. Because this news story began to break on a Friday, the heavy news cycle that would be consistent with such a story will not yet be felt. However, it is impossible to ignore that this is the national story of the day, and it has local relevance no matter the market in which you live.


The 2009 Broadcast Education Association national convention is rapidly winding down, and it was a great couple of days! As you know, I served as convention program chair this year and the assistance I had from many, many people made my job far easier than it deserved to be.

The BEA office, led by executive director Heather Birks, was its usual dynamite group. The BEA Board of Directors (of which I'm now a member!!) offered wise counsel and strong support. The 17 interest divisions that make up this association provided excellent ideas and communicated my needs to its members.

I'm heading home later today (the most satisfying five words whenever I'm away), and I leave with a firm belief that the 2009 convention was a huge success because of the excellent group of people I had working with me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Flu pandemic?

Two words that ought to frighten anyone, and there are concerns that the flu outbreak in Mexico could lead to one. The effects will be felt on a variety of fronts, including the economic side.

The Mexican government has reacted quickly, shutting down schools, museums and similar institutions, in hopes of preventing further spreading of the flu bug.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that the strain of flu in Mexico matches the one that has affected eight people in the U.S.; this leads to legitimate concerns that the bug is spreading quickly. The latest count indicates that almost 60 people in Mexico and the U.S. are believed to have died. All of the U.S. victims have recovered.

Freedom of the a religious-affiliated institution


Cedarville Student Journalists Protest PR Oversight

The student editors at Cedarville University have decided not to publish their newspaper because of new rules requiring prior oversight and review by the institution's public relations office. Christianity Today broke the story Thursday, publishing a statement by the student editors saying in part: "Review by the public relations department undermines our ability to think critically and engage culture. We grieve the loss of free expression and healthy discourse once found in your newspaper, traits that ought to characterize all vibrant institutions of higher learning." An e-mail from Carl A. Ruby, vice president for student life, said, "We acknowledge that finding the right balance of freedom of expression is difficult, especially in the context of a community of believers who voluntarily give up some of our freedoms for the sake of our shared mission." Cederville, a Baptist university, is already facing criticism that it does not tolerate theological dissent.

Another Catholic college commencement controversy

This time it's happening in New Orleans, where the Archbishop says he won't attend Xavier University's graduation if the school moves ahead with an honorary degree for Donna Brazile.

Brazile is a Democratic strategist. But, as this article notes, she also is Catholic and a native of Louisiana.

Yes, because I'm Catholic I find this conversation about the need to be inclusive but also maintaining a commitment to an institution's values. I don't think there is a uniform answer to which side is correct, but it is something that needs to be more completely addressed.

An hour with Obama...priceless?

Actually, you can put a dollar amount on it -- $9-10 million.

That's how much the television networks are expected to lose in advertising dollars when the president holds his prime-time news conference next week.

Of course, the economy will be one of the central issues the president will discuss; and in an editorial in today's Financial Times, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner offers a likely preview of some of the items the president will discuss.

The president almost certainly will reaffirm his opposition to an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration and torture. Just yesterday, Mr. Obama told his fellow Democrats that such a commission could derail his political agenda. offers an analysis that you should consider reading -- and its three-word question is worth a million: Does torture work?

A good-looking and well-informed group

My thanks to (beginning in the upper left)...

...Brad Weaver (Westminster College), Marty Gonzalez (San Francisco State University, Vicki Sama (Humboldt State University), Lee Williams (Rogers State University) and Fredric Kendrick (Howard University) for their great ideas and comments.

They served as panelists for a Broadcast Education Association convention session that I moderated that asked if licensing or certifying journalists would improve -- or is now necessary for -- broadcast journalism.

Yesterday, I posted some thoughts from that session.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Uh, wait a minute

This "tweet" from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough:
I pity the Left. They're trying mightily to act self-righteous while ignoring the blood on their leaders' hands. A hard rain's a gonna fall.

The left is trying to act self-righteous? There is blood on President Obama's hands? Look, I'm no apologist for the left (or the right), but these are the kinds of comments that indicate the right is more than happy to use anger as responsible political rhetoric.

Mr. Scarborough should know better. But then again so should Shepard Smith, whose language in discussing the U.S. and torture ought to place him on the unemployment line.

Ethics and...

That title might appear incomplete; if it is, then I'm happy. "Ethics and..." represents the 2009 BEA convention program spotlight, and I'm thrilled by how the 17 interest divisions have accepted it and offered panel discussions or research papers pertaining to ethics.

As this year's convention program chair, it is my responsibility to put together the entire convention, ensure that a division's interests are met and to guarantee that there is a coherence to the program. I was voted into this role some 14 months ago and from day one I had a goal of seeing that ethics it relates to everything we do as broadcast educators and communicators became part of the convention theme.

I've received many compliments today, day one of the 2009 convention; but I believe that those words of appreciation need to be extended to the 17 division leaders and the members of those divisions. They gave me an excellent body of material with which to work.

How does (should?) ethics affect what we do as educators? I could offer you a list of reasons, but instead I challenge you to answer this -- in what areas of teaching is ethics not applicable? I think when you consider it in those terms you realize that in choosing assignments, grading papers, evaluating students, examining research and in any other area of an educator's life, ethics matters.

Attention, BEA senior scholars

The Broadcast Education Association is making a concerted effort to bring senior scholars back into the fold. That means if you've not been to BEA in too long, please make efforts to come back in 2010. And if you think BEA is no longer the organization for you, we want to convince you to some back.

My message to the division's 17 sets of members is to encourage invited paper sessions, an invited "podium" session, or another other means of ensuring that our senior scholars recognize that we still want and need them in BEA.

You'll be hearing much more about this in the months to come.

Standing down

Kudos to the Wisconsin-Whitewater head football coach for recognizing that he overreacted when he suggested neither he nor his players would cooperate further with the student newspaper for writing a negative story about members of his team.

Should journalists be licensed or certified...

...and would such a process improve broadcast journalism?

A provocative question, and one that was tackled this morning during day one of the 2009 Broadcast Education Association convention. I moderated the session, in which five current or former journalists -- all of whom are teaching broadcast education at various schools -- discussed the topic.

The licensing idea was (justifiably) taken off the table becauuse it would require the government to be involved in the process. That was a potential can of worms that none of us wanted to have opened. On the other hand, certification seemed to have at least some traction, though it would be incorrect for me to suggest the panelists unanimously bought into that idea.

The argument against certification can be broken down into a few manageable statements: who or what would be responsible for it? The market already ensures that certification isn't needed. An emphasis on media literacy would assist in the public in becoming even more critical consumers than it already is. Free speech, expression and the press in some form would be violated.

The argument for also can be broken down into a couple of manageable statements: Certification of other professions (i.e. the medical and legal communities) gives those who have it a credibility and ability to practice what they do. Are bloggers journalists? (If not, then why are standards being applied to them?)

There should be more to say about this process, and at least two of the panelists argued that if the professional and education communities do not hold this conversation now -- and come to a concrete resolution -- than at some point the government will step in and make it happen.

Indeed, more needs to be said about this, and I intend to ensure that the issue remains in the collective mindset of my education colleagues.

Yes, but no

U.S. News columnist Bonnie Erbe hits on some relevant points about the Internet and how it poses real challenges to (what I'll call) traditional journalism.

However, I'd add that the traditional media also are being undermined by corporate owners who feel more addicted to profits and stock reports instead of good journalism. I'd also add that the digital age, in general, has changed how journalism is done. Journalists have more resources available to them, and this allows them to offer a diverse array of reports that couldn't be done just 20 years ago.

In the end, if the journalism industry is not strong enough in its fundamentals -- investigating the truth, being objective, seeking multiple angles to complex stories, offer solid analysis, engaging the community, etc. -- than the blogosphere cannot be blamed if journalism suffers a deadly fate.

Sure, bloggers who are hired to endorse a political, business or other opinion ought not be considered journalists. But are these people really going to tear down more than 200 years of a free press? The journalism industry has to be able to withstand this. If it can't, then it wasn't strong enough to begin with.

"You're too hard"

A student's lament about one of my classes? Nope, not this time. Instead that's the public's perception about FOX News' coverage of the president. That result and others are part of a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press study.

(I wonder what Shepard Smith thinks about this?)

Now what?

The Washington Post (and these excerpts are taken from Martin Kady II's daily blog) are under growing pressure to decide what to do about investigating former Bush administration officials for torture:

From Perry Bacon and Dan Balz in today's Washington Post: 'The legacy of George W. Bush continued to dog President Obama and his administration yesterday, as Congress divided over creating a panel to investigate the harsh interrogation techniques employed under Bush's authorization and the White House tried to contain the controversy over the president's decision to release Justice Department memos justifying and outlining those procedures. ... the latest decision has stirred controversy on the right and the left. Obama has drawn sharp criticism from former vice president Richard B. Cheney, former CIA directors and Republican elected officials for releasing the memos. Those critics see softness in the commander in chief. He faces equally strong reaction from the left, where there is a desire to punish Bush administration officials for their actions and to conduct a more thorough investigation of what happened.'

The Associated Press adds:
The AP's Pamela Hess sees Senate leaders less aggressive on a special panel or truth commission, despite the agitation on the left in the House: 'Senate Democratic leaders don't appear inclined to appoint an independent panel to investigate the Bush administration's interrogation program before the Senate Intelligence Committee completes its own probe near the end of the year. The panel is investigating the legal underpinnings for the interrogation program as well as the value of the information it gathered. Republicans oppose the creation of a bipartisan commission for what they view as a backward-looking effort to vilify former President George W. Bush.'

Among the growing number of voices arguing for a full investigation is Politico's Roger Simon.

The critical question -- and one that no investigation might be fully able to answer -- is whether the use of torture prevented further attacks against the U.S. The New York Times highlights this dilemma in this story.

The Wall Street Journal argues that any decision to move forward with an investigation will doom the president's chances of ever having a bipartisan spirit in Washington. While this is a poignant argument, it is clear that the absence of goodwill already exists, and it likely wasn't going to be part of any legacy of the 111th Congress.

So, to answer my own question: now what? I maintain that the country needs to more fully understand what was done in the name of national security during the Bush administration. However, I'm not a proponent of making someone a scapegoat for the policies endorsed by the president; no sacrificial lamb (a Bush underling) should be paraded in front of the country and made to be the fall guy for any policy.

What was Shepard Smith thinking?

There is no way to defend FOX News' Shepard Smith's lack of composure and absence of professionalism as he drops the "F" bomb during his program.

How FOX's executives and he respond to this -- and what sanctions are agreed to -- will tell the public quite a bit about the image the cable network wishes to give off. The comments cannot be defended. The lack of professionalism cannot be endorsed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More gains for the Democrats in 2010?

An influential Republican senator says he fears that the momentum built up by Democrats in the 2006 and 2008 elections will continue in 2010. In fact, Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas, thinks that the Democrats almost certainly will reach the 60-seat threshold that will enable debate to be cut off on some issues.

It's not hard to see why. As an example, the Republicans have voiced outrage at various initiatives or actions undertaken by the president, and that anger has had almost no effect on the voters. If there is such a thing as a Democratic version of the "Teflon Reagan," then at least to this point Obama is showing it. Moreover, the Republicans -- absent a strong "new" voice -- are being sharply criticized by the Democrats for allowing "old" voices to shape their agenda.

There appears to be little Republicans can do to stop a Congressional committee being formed to will investigate the Bush administration's policies relating to torture. And however much the Democrats don't want this to turn into a "pointing the finger of blame" game, that's what will happen. Yes, an independent commission might be better suited for this task, but the larger point is still not to be missed -- any prosecution of any Bush official would be a victory for Democrats.

Putting all these issues together makes it clear why the GOP is in trouble -- the Democrats have a popular leader who is advancing an international message suggesting that the U.S. is conducting business far differently than it did from 2001 through early 2009; the Republicans appear as disoriented as the Democrats were in the aftermath of the 1994 midterm elections; the GOP also is an angry as the Democrats were after the 2000 election; and the voters are giving the president the time and support he needs to enact the changes he believes are necessary.

He might have overreacted

That's the conclusion drawn by a police official in El Paso after watching one of his officers engage in an exchange with a local television reporter.

Sure, my colleagues in the professional world are going to use this example in various settings, but I hope there is a point to it. If the point is to how to keep your cool under pressure, then that is fine. But if it is used in some backhanded attempt to criticize overzealous police officers then I suggest caution be taken.

Everytime I come to Las Vegas... (2 UPDATES -- see link that confirms decreased attendance at NAB, and info at bottom of post)

...I'm amazed at the signs of continual growth. One example: As I look out my hotel room window at 3:00 in the morning (yup, typical first night away from home -- can't sleep even though I'm exhausted) I see lights that extend as far as my tired eyes can see, and there are construction projects seemingly everywhere.

I grew up in Los Angeles, and I understand the attraction of the West. Certainly that brings people to Las Vegas. Obviously there are other reasons. But I wonder for how long this city can sustain this growth.

Las Vegas was one of the cities hit hard by the housing bubble; and if the attendance at the convention for which I'm here is any sign, then the 2009 convention numbers are going to slide. The latest news reports suggest unemployment is not slowing down. At the same time, there appears to be plenty of vacant office space. Funding cuts to the state's public universities (including nearby UNLV) will erode faculty confidence.

No, what is happening here is not staying here (in a feeble play off the advertising slogan for the city's gaming, casino and other [ahem] adult opportunities); other cities -- especially in the West and the South -- are dealing with the same combination of issues.

I don't know if Las Vegas is capable of sustaining its growth. I also wonder if it has the resources. (Owing to the 20 years I spent in southern California, I know that water issues are never far from the surface almost everywhere in this part of the country.) And does it have the infrastructure? Traffic in this city seems to always be a nightmare.

This city does have a charm about it. Perhaps I'm biased because of the years I spent in Los Angeles, but there is an excitement about the western part of the U.S. that I've not found in the other places I've been fortunate to call home. When you get past the garish nature of the Las Vegas Strip, you find signs of "normal" life. When I stepped off the airplane yesterday I was eager to once again see this city, which I've come to like after many visits.

But I don't live here (and wouldn't want to), and so I wonder if this oasis in the desert can remain one of America's booming cities.

UPDATE: A new report today confirms that Las Vegas (and to a greater extent Nevada) is not enjoying good economic times. This state is one of the top four nationally in foreclosures.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hello from Las Vegas

I arrived in "Lost Wages" around noon (PDT) and was reacquainted with really warm temperatures. It supposed to reach 95 here today, and my cab driver (I think he took me the long way to get to the hotel but I'll let it slide) tells me it might be a touch hotter each day this week.

I'm here for the annual Broadcast Education Association national convention, which gets underway tomorrow. The BEA convention coincides with the more nationally recognized National Association of Broadcasters convention (and the Radio Television News Director's Association also meets at this time).

The convention is of special interest to me this year; I served as the convention program chair this year, and the program looks great. (Who me? Biased?) It appears that the economic upheaval of the past few months didn't won't greatly affect convention attendance, though I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that the numbers should be lower this year.

I also was elected to the BEA Board of Directors earlier this year. Tonight's board meeting not only requires that I report on the convention but also begins my 2-year commitment as a Board member.

It ought to be an exciting few days out here, but I don't think I'll be heading home with a suntan. Nope, it might be 95 outside, but I'm spending most of the daylight hours inside.

Implosion video

This time it's one close to home, or in this case my wife's home. Watch as the old Pomeroy-Mason bridge goes down in a heap.

Why Obama did it

This must have been an interesting meeting -- President Obama went to the CIA yesterday to explain why he allowed the "CIA torture" memos released.

I maintain that releasing the documents was correct; the doubts that close to a (if not an actual) majority of the population had about this difficult era in U.S. history required of full airing of what was known. I equate it to Eastern Europe coming clean about the Stasi, the KGB and the repressive regimes of the Cold War period.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not arguing that the Bush administration was repressive. But I am arguing that our democracy is strong enough to allow for our country to gain a better understanding of what was done.

And on an equally interesting note, check out who would like access to some of the CIA records from this period. It bothers me that Mr. Cheney -- once a fierce advocate of keeping these documents classified is now contending that the information he wants is of no threat to national security.

Setting aside whether he is correct, it does smack of a double standard. My initial reaction is that if the material the former vice president wants is indeed of no value to national security, then he ought to have it. But it sure would be nice if he explained his about face on the issue.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Greasing the skids? (UPDATE)

Remember my suggestion from last week, when I suggested that an Iranian court would convict an Iranian-American on espionage charges? I added that after some political bluster that the woman would be released.

After reading this, I'm convinced I've got this one nailed.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, the Iranian president again today demonstrated what a "sensible" and "practical" (insert sarcastic laugh track here) individual he can be. He blasted Israel, saying it was created as a "pretext of Jewish suffering" dating to World War II.

Another day, another Sarah Palin story

This time it centers around whether she considered an abortion...and how at least one newspaper chose to cover her remarks.

I reiterate something I mentioned the other day -- if Palin has earned media coverage for (almost) everything she does, then at what point do the other likely 2012 Republican presidential candidates also appear in the national news media on an (almost) daily basis?

If you want to become irrelevant, don't change

That's the not-so-subtle message delivered by one of my colleagues, Hofstra's Bob Papper, to the local television news industry.

Bob delivered his remarks over the weekend, as the 2009 RTNDA convention began in Las Vegas. He also provided some startling numbers to highlight how the local news industry has changed in the past 12 months.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I can't make this up

Back-to-back "tweets'

#JoeNBC Dana Milbank asks: Why is the Left so angry?

#morettiphd (yup, that's me) Just me, or are hard-core conservatives on the blogosphere more angry now then at any point in the Bush yrs? They've not taken defeat well.

Now this is one upset team official

From the Associated Press:
The Nationals revamped their struggling bullpen after Sunday's loss to the Florida Marlins, dropping three relievers in a major in-season shuffle.

Nationals relievers are 0-5 with a 6.48 ERA in 41 2-3 innings this year.

"The incompetence of the bullpen was drawn to a head today," said assistant general manager Mike Rizzo, after their third consecutive bullpen collapse in a 7-4 loss to Florida.

Incompetence? Now that is blunt. Hard to argue, the Nationals are 1-10 this year.

What a great day (unless you were a Pirate player)

The heavy rains never came in (only a few minor sprinkles during the game but nothing to worry about), and my Scouts rocked as the Color Guard.

The Pirates got hammered 11-1. My sons did run the bases after the game, too.

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All told a fun day for the family.

A request

Rain, rain, stay away, my Cub Scout Pack is the Color Guard, today. If you are at PNC Park today, take pictures of my Scouts and me while we are on the field presenting the colors. Then forward to me, please :-)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Journalism and journalism education move forward

An important story for any of us involved in (or who care about) the future of journalism.

One of the big-ticket items for universities as a whole is buried somewhat in the aforementioned story: Arizona State University, the centerpiece of this report, "has taken steps to shutter four dozen academic programs this year." In the current economic environment, no program can consider itself the proverbial sacred cow; it is now necessary (however sad it is to say it) for an academic unit to demonstrate its vitality in ways it hasn't had to do in the past.

For journalism programs, this need to prove themselves comes at a time when the journalism industry also is in upheaval. It seems counter-intuitive to argue that a program is viable without it being able to say clearly what and how it ought to be teaching.

Of course, the fundamentals matter, but a plausible argument can be made that "what is fundamental" is unclear. Sure, students need to write; in the past, that was easy -- there was a print-style and a broadcast-style. Now? A blending challenges us. Writing is perhaps the most fundamental of the fundamentals, and if the approach to teaching it has become murky then what does that say for the other fundamentals (i.e. ethics)?

Technology challenges us. The digital phenomenon has been discussed in multiple ways inside and outside this blog; and I think we can agree that it has changed how messages are delivered, and it has made it easier for everyone to communicate. How we teach technology (while not sacrificing the fundamentals) tells much about what our priorities are as a program. For example, do you abandon "dark room" photography because of the demand for digital photos?

Economics certainly cannot be ignored. In the "old days" (say, the 1980s) the idea of incorporating economics into a communications course would have been considered sacrilege; "we don't dare do that here," was a common cry. In fact, a journalist had it ingrained that the sales side of the house never interfered with the content side of the house. Now? Go ahead and make that argument, and get yourself laughed at. However, once you are done being laughed at, ask this question: "So, if all of you are so convinced we should do it, tell me how?"

These challenges excite me, and they assist every day in keeping me interested in being the best possible teacher I can be. No, none of us always teaches "it" (whatever it is on a given day) perfectly, but if we are doing our best we have a real sense of accomplishment. But we cannot rest on our laurels.