Tag Archives: media

Time of My Life, Part 28: Probing a judge’s temperament

I had been on the job for about a year in 1978 when I got an assignment that got my juices flowing. I worked as a general assignment reporter for the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier.

Then my editor handed me a task. He had heard reports about a Clackamas County district judge that he thought needed attention.

The judge, Robert Mulvey, had been accused by lawyers who appeared in his court of lacking proper “judicial temperament,” which means that he was overly harsh on lawyers, witnesses, jurors and anyone he happened to encounter in the courthouse.

This would be my first investigative assignment for the newspaper. I began talking to defense counsel, prosecutors, courthouse staffers, sheriff’s deputies, fellow elected officials. They all said essentially the same thing: Judge Mulvey was a tough customer.

Indeed, I later found out that lawyers had filed complaints with the Oregon judicial conduct commission, which was empowered to hand down assorted forms of discipline or punishment to judges or lawyers about whom it received complaints.

I was able to talk to some of the legal eagles who had filed complaints against Mulvey.

I compiled a lot of evidence that the concerns that came across my editor’s desk had merit.

Then came the tough part: I had to speak to Judge Mulvey himself to get his side of the story. Fairness required me to do so. I did.

It was fascinating to me then — and it is now as I look back more than 40 years later — that Mulvey was so willing to talk about the accusations that his legal peers had leveled against him. He was a complete gentleman. He answered my questions directly. I don’t recall him denying any of the allegations that others had provided. He did explain himself fully.

I put the story together. It was a highly critical account of the way the judge adjudicated legal matters in the courtroom. It provided a stern look at his conduct and how poorly he treated those who stood and sat before him.

Judge Mulvey took it like a man.

Then came the clincher. Not long after the story saw print, Robert Mulvey died. Then the editor who assigned me to write the temperament story said I needed to call the judge’s wife to get a comment or two about her newly departed husband for a “news obituary” we published about the judge’s death.

My gut churned. I was nervous beyond belief. I called her. Told her my name and why I wanted to talk to her.

Mrs. Mulvey could not possibly have been nicer or more generous with her time.

It was, all in all, an amazing conclusion to an equally amazing task I had performed.

Time of My Life, Part 26: They kept me humble

I operated under a number of principles during more than 30 years in daily print journalism. I always sought to be fair; accuracy was critical.

I also never took myself more seriously than I took my craft.

The readers of the newspapers where I worked all served as great equalizers. I started my newspaper reporting career full time in 1977 at the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier; I gravitated in 1984 to the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas; and then in 1995 I moved on to the Amarillo Globe-News.

All along the way I contended with readers who shared a common quality. They generally lived in the communities we covered. Thus, they had skin in the game; they had vested interests in their cities and towns.

So if I wrote something with which they disagreed and they took the time to call me to discuss their disagreements I tended to take them seriously.

I tried to learn something about the communities where I worked. Readers often were great teachers. They would scold me. They would chide me. They mostly were respectful when they disagreed with whatever I wrote, how I reported a story or offered an opinion on an issue the newspaper had covered on its news pages.

I always sought to return the respect when they called.

To be sure, not everyone fit that description. More than few of them over all those years were visibly, viscerally angry when they called to complain. I tried to maintain a civil tongue when responding to them. I’ll be candid, though, in admitting that at times my temper flared.

I usually didn’t mind someone challenging the facts I would present in a news story, or in an editorial, or in a column. I did mind individuals who would challenge my motives, or ascribe nefarious intent where none existed.

And every once in a great while I would a reader challenge my patriotism and even my religious faith. That’s where I drew the line.

However, over the span of time I pursued the craft I loved from the moment I began studying it in college I sought to maintain a level of perspective. I took my job seriously. I always sought to remember that all human beings are flawed.

It kept me humble.

Trump escalates shameful war against media

Donald J. Trump’s shameful war against the media is proceeding  unabated.

He calls The New York Times the “true enemy of the people.”

Why? Because the Times is doing its job. It is reporting the news regarding the Trump administration. It is seeking to chronicle what the president knew about possible “collusion” with Russian government agents in 2016.

Throughout all the Twitter tirades that Trump has launched against the media, he never seeks to refute specific elements of the reporting that’s been published. He simply denigrates the work of professional journalists with epithets like “loser,” “fake news,” and of course, “enemy of the people.”

He told us he would be an “unconventional president.” That is one campaign pledge he has kept. He is unconventional in the extreme.

Trump has declared war against the media. No president in modern history — with the exception, perhaps, of Richard Nixon — has been so wrong about the media’s role as watchdog and their responsibility to hold government officials accountable.

Donald Trump keeps shaming himself and his high office.

Disgraceful.

Worry about journalism future is intensifying

I hereby admit to being in a state of denial for many years about the fate of print journalism as I have known it and practiced it.

We all have watched daily newspapers downsize to the point of virtual disappearance. They have gone from daily distribution to twice- or thrice-weekly distribution. We’ve witnessed layoffs; indeed, I watched colleagues and friends get their pink slips and leave a craft that gave them untold satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

All of this involved organizations that paid me to do what I did for so very long. In Beaumont and Amarillo, to cite two examples. I didn’t accept what was happening before my eyes, that the fates of two proud journalistic organizations might be in serious jeopardy.

I now have to throw off that denial and acknowledge what others have said for far longer than I have been willing to acknowledge: those community institutions might not be around past the foreseeable future.

The pending death of the Hereford Brand in Deaf Smith County, Texas, is just another example of what is occurring. A Texas Panhandle community no longer is going to have a way to read about its story. The Brand is folding up, going away. Gone forever!

So what happens to other such newspapers that used to serve that community as well? I have the Amarillo Globe-News in mind. The Globe-News, where I worked for nearly 18 years as opinion page editor, used to cover Deaf Smith County like a blanket. That is no longer the case. The Globe-News has been retrenching, pulling back for years.

Its former corporate owners, Augusta, Ga.-based Morris Communications, oversaw much of that retrenchment. Then the company sold the G-N to GateHouse Media, which also purchased the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal from Morris. GateHouse now appears to be finishing what Morris started. It is melding two news and opinion organizations into one.

What does that mean for Amarillo? Or for Lubbock? Or for the West Texas region that both papers serve? If I knew the answer I would still be a working stiff. I’m not. I am on the sidelines now watching from some distance with an increasing sense of dread of what the future holds for journalism as I once knew it.

I have plenty of friends, acquaintances and former professional “sources” who tell me they fear for the worst for Amarillo and the Panhandle. They tell me they believe the Globe-News’s days are “numbered.” I would dismiss those fears as overheated fearmongering.

Today, I am not nearly as serene about it. I am officially frightened for the future of journalism. The Internet Age has inflicted serious wounds on a proud craft. I fear they are mortal wounds.

I hope I am wrong, although my hope is unable to match my fear.

And then there’s this: A teenager is found alive!

Not all the news is ever totally depressing. Even with the media focusing on the government shutdown and the agony of furloughed federal employees and the debate over The Wall, we can find something to cheer . . . loudly!

Jayme Closs has returned home. The 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her home in Wisconsin was found after she placed a 9-1-1 call to say she had been abducted. Indeed, she was taken from her home in October.

Police have arrested a 21-year-old man and will charge him with kidnapping and the brutal murder of Jayme’s parents.

Girl was a target

I watched the coverage of police reporting her recovery. Barron County (Wis.) Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald could barely contain his joy at finding Jayme alive — and as well as one could expect the girl to be after being missing for three months.

He kept using the term “awesome,” and apologized for being unable to find another word to describe his joy and pride in the work that was done to find the girl.

I found it fascinating, too, that he sread the thanks around the room. He offered gratitude to the FBI agents who were lined up behind him, to the various local investigators who he said worked 24/7 to find Jayme. They didn’t just come to work and go home, he said. They were at it constantly, according to the sheriff.

He called it a “team effort,” and then he pointed to the media representatives gathered in front of them and said they, too, were “part of the team” that helped police recover Jayme Closs.

Imagine that. The media did their job and received an expression of thanks from law enforcement for their persistent chronicling the drama to the community that today is breathing a heavy sigh of relief and gratitude.

A nation is relieved as well, even as a shaken little girl recovers from her loss.

Time of My Life, Part 7: Chasing the cops

When you’re a young reporter, you occasionally find yourself responding in ways to certain circumstances that surprise you as you grow older.

One day after work in 1978, my wife and I were driving home to southeast Portland from Oregon City, Ore., where I worked as a reporter for the long-departed Enterprise-Courier. We were riding in a borrowed car, a big Ford Galaxy sedan my editor loaned to me while my car was being repaired.

We were heading north on Interstate 205 when suddenly a Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department cruiser sped by with lights flashing and a siren blaring; then a second one zoomed past us; then, believe it, a third cruiser roared by with lights and siren going.

I thought, “Holy crap! Something is going on!” I floored my editor’s Galaxy. The front end of the big ol’ beast rose up and we quickly got up to a speed of about, oh, 85 mph.

My wife plunged into the back seat and began pulling out my camera, notebook and pen.

We got right behind the third sheriff’s cruiser in the line of cars responding to something; we had no clue where we were going or what we would see. As the cars roared through traffic, with us right behind them, we were able to keep pace with the officers as they raced to whatever it was to which they were responding.

We exited the freeway at Damascus, and headed down the highway eastward. Then we got to our destination.

We saw a car overturned on the highway, wheels up. Paramedics were tending to a young man who was lying on the shoulder of the road. I managed to snap several pictures of the scene, took some notes from the police, fire and medical personnel on the scene, then got the details the next morning from the sheriff’s office. The young man recovered from his injury.

I want to share this story here to remind you that young reporters occasionally do things that might appear foolish — such as chasing police cars at high speeds through traffic!

When they do, they often produce stories worth chronicling to the communities they serve.

I have to say that the chase gave my wife and me a serious rush.

Actually, Mr. POTUS, it’s all ‘legal’

Donald J. Trump continues to fly off the rails with his ongoing assault on the media.

Here is what he posted this morning on Twitter: A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can’t be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?

If you can past the mangled syntax of this tweet, I’ll provide a simple explanation of why the president — as usual — is dead wrong.

Mr. President, it’s all “legal.” It’s protected by the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment says the government cannot interfere with what a “free press” reports. It says media freedom shall not be “abridged.”

How in the world do the courts rule on the accuracy of media reports? There is no defamation here. There is no slander. No libel.

I get that the president is uncomfortable with the tone of much of the media coverage.

One more time — but most certainly not the final time: It goes with the territory, Mr. President. The media are on duty to do precisely what they are doing at this moment. They are seeking to hold you and your administration accountable for your actions, your rhetoric and the myriad promises you make.

Media have become part of the story? Sad

Jim Acosta is now a household name.

He is known to many Americans who by all rights shouldn’t really know — or really give a hoot — about someone who is just doing his job.

Acosta is chief White House correspondent for CNN, the cable news outlet that has been demonized by the president of the United States. Donald Trump has singled Acosta out as a “rude, terrible person” who conveys “fake news” for a network that should be “ashamed” to employ him.

This is not supposed to happen. Journalists get paid to report the news, not to become part of the news. It’s a trend that has been developing and evolving for some time, even pre-dating Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

Trump, though, has elevated this phenomenon to a level that many of us don’t understand or even recognize.

The White House has yanked Acosta’s press pass because he allegedly put his hands on a young intern who tried to grab a microphone from him Wednesday during a combative presidential news conference. I watched the incident as it happened; I didn’t see Acosta do anything of the sort.

Acosta isn’t the only reporter to be singled out by the president. April Ryan, a veteran political reporter, got roughed up by Trump on Wednesday. So did PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

There have been others. CNN’s Jake Tapper has felt the wrath of the president, who routinely blasts “failing” media outlets that publish or broadcast news reports the president deems to be “too negative.” Reporters for other broadcast and cable networks have been tagged as openly hostile. He calls them false, fake, a hoax.

Who’s to blame for this ridiculous turn of events? I lay this at the president’s feet. He has chosen to declare open rhetorical warfare on the media, the constitutionally protected profession he has labeled the “enemy of the American people.”

The president’s continuing hostility against the media only feeds the beast, if you will. He can end this idiotic feud simply by accepting that the media are going to report the news without regard to whether their reporting is favorable or unfavorable.

The media shouldn’t be part of the story.

Reporters, furthermore, shouldn’t become household names.

Way more than ‘bomb stuff,’ Mr. POTUS

Donald Trump has this way of denigrating everyone and seemingly every matter of importance.

The terrorizing of Democratic political figures with pipe bombs is pretty damn critical … don’t you think? I do.

Yet the president put a Twitter message out this morning that referred to it as “bomb stuff” while lamenting the possible drag this crisis might have on the future of Republican politicians competing in the midterm election.

Wow! Amazing, if you ask me.

What’s more, I was glad to hear FBI Director Christopher Wray snuff out the idiotic notion being tossed around by right-wing politicians and media that the pipe bombs were a hoax, that the crisis was the product of a shadow liberal/progressive conspiracy to make Republicans look bad.

Wray said in no uncertain terms that is not the case. The bombs were real. The suspect they arrested today in Florida is known to be a Donald Trump supporter. Whoever sought to terrorize the Democratic pols, including two former presidents and CNN intended to terrorize them — if not harm them outright if the devices ever exploded.

This is a serious degradation of the political discourse. It is far worse than mere “bomb stuff.” The president should know better than to say such a thing … but he doesn’t.

Editorial boards need not reflect the community

A friend of mine challenged a blog item I posted earlier today that called attention to the Dallas Morning News’s endorsement of Beto O’Rourke in this year’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.

My friend noted that “of course DMN” would back the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Dallas County voted Democratic in 2016, as well as in 2012 and 2008. The paper, my friend noted, was going with the community flow.

I felt compelled to remind him that newspaper editorial boards — at least in my experience — do not necessarily strive to reflect the community’s leaning.

The example I gave him involved my nearly 11 years in Jefferson County, the largest county of the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Texas.

I worked for the Beaumont Enterprise, serving as editorial page editor. On my watch, the Enterprise endorsed Republican presidential candidates in three elections: 1984, 1988 and 1992, even though Jefferson County voters endorsed by significant majorities the Democratic candidates for president in all three elections. I told my friend the following: So … newspapers do not always reflect the communities’ political leaning. They adhere to their own philosophy or — more to the point — to their ownership’s philosophy.

So it was in 1984 particularly, when the publisher told us point blank that we were going to recommend President Reagan’s re-election. There would be no discussion. A different publisher told us the same thing in 1988 and 1992: We were going to endorse George H.W. Bush for election in ’88 and for re-election in ’92.

That’s how it works. The newspaper and its corporate ownership march to their own cadence, not necessarily the drumbeat of the community it serves. I went to Amarillo in January 1995 and learned the same thing, although the Texas Panhandle is even more solidly Republican than the Golden Triangle was solidly Democratic in the 1980s and early 1990s.

What’s more, Morris Communications, which owned the Amarillo Globe-News until 2017, is far more wedded to conservatives and Republicans than the Hearst Corporation, which still owns the Beaumont Enterprise.

It is true that Dallas County has tilted Democratic in recent election cycles. It also is true that the Dallas Morning News has endorsed plenty of conservative candidates and stood behind plenty of conservative issues over many years.

The Morning News is not a doctrinaire publication. Although I do not know what transpired when the paper’s editorial board deliberated over whom to endorse in this year’s Senate contest, I know that the published record reflects an editorial board that is far from rigid in its political outlook.

Believe me, I know a rigid media organization when I see one. I’ve worked for them.