Tag Archives: media

Blog continues to provide therapy

Readers of High Plains Blogger know that I have taken a dim view of Donald John “Braggart in Chief” Trump’s penchant for boasting.

Thus, I’m going to beg your forgiveness for a brief moment.

I want to boast a bit myself.

This blog set an annual record for page views and visitors in 2017. During the year the blog set a monthly record as well, while during month posting a best-ever daily average.

How, then, is High Plains Blogger doing as the first month of 2018 draws to a close? Pretty darn well.

There’s a chance the blog will finish the month with its second-best performance. I’ll take that as a victory.

High Plains Blogger will continue to offer its blend of commentary on public policy, current events and life experience — even after my wife, Toby the Puppy and I relocate to an undetermined place in North Texas.

I’m still wrestling with whether I should change the blog’s name. It no longer will originate from the High Plains of Texas. I am proud, though, that High Plains Blogger’s name has developed a recognizable brand.

If I change its name, you’ll be the first to know.

But writing this blog provides me with a sort of therapy. I spent an entire career stringing sentences together. Much of that time involved writing opinion pieces, whether editorials on behalf of the newspapers where I worked — in Oregon and Texas — or in columns that ran under my own name.

Thus, High Plains Blogger helps keep my head in the game.

Make no mistake, there remains plenty of issues on which to chew.

Life is just so good. As the saying goes: If I were doing any better … I’d be twins.

Listen to this ‘hero,’ Mr. President

John McCain quite likely is spittin’ into the wind.

But he is as correct as he can be. Donald J. Trump must stop attacking the media. Sen. McCain believes the president of the United States is giving political cover to repressive regimes abroad who seek to do the very same thing that Trump is doing — which is discrediting the media.

McCain writes in The Washington Post: “This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase ‘fake news’ — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens.”

Of course, Trump isn’t likely to heed words of wisdom from a man he once denigrated, calling him a Vietnam War “hero” only because “he was captured” and held as a prisoner by North Vietnam for more than five years.

Does the president get this? Does he give a damn about the damage he does when he declares the media to be the “enemy of the American people”? Does the president understand the traditional role that the media play in ensuring government accountability?

I’m pretty sure it be would “no!” on all three questions.

Which makes Sen. McCain’s plea all that more poignant.

Even if it is futile.

Frightening.

Happy Trails, Part 64

A friend of mine writes that he is fearful of watching the film “The Post.” He doesn’t want to sob out loud over what he describes as the demise of a noble craft and the state of play in the nation today.

“The Post” tells the story of the Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, which documented the deceit and deception that guided U.S. policy in fighting the Vietnam War. It stars Meryl Streep as Post publisher Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as the paper’s editor, Ben Bradlee.

I admire my friend greatly and he knows of my great personal affection and professional respect for him.

I want to differ just a bit with his analysis of the film and what it might to do to his state of mind. I want to see the film, because I want to remember the excitement I felt reporting on communities where I lived and worked; I want to remember how much satisfaction I received while chronicling the communities’ progress.

Yes, there were times when I was working as a reporter and later, as an editor, when I sweated telling the tough stories about officials’ conduct. I never felt comfortable doing it, but I usually found a way to suck it up, take a deep breath and plod ahead in pursuit of the mission.

One story stands out. It involved a young businessman in Amarillo who, shortly after leaving the City Commission, secured a grant from the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which offered taxpayer funds for start-up businesses. We perceived that the former city commissioner might have used his influence improperly to secure the grant. We decided to call him on it with an editorial that called for a change in the way the EDC vetted those grant applications.

I told the ex-commissioner that we would comment on the grant and that he might not like what we had to say. “When am I going to become just a private citizen?” he asked with more than a touch of anger in his voice. I responded, “When you stop taking public money.”

Oh, and the EDC did rework its grant application and approval process. Mission accomplished!

Yes, the media have taken a vastly different turn since those days. Newspapers, as many old-school journalists knew them, are fading faster than yesterday’s news.

However, I wouldn’t surrender a single day for the career I chose to pursue after I returned home in 1970 from my stint in the U.S. Army. It was a hell of a great ride. It was full of adventure, a bit of chaos. It exposed me to the most interesting people imaginable. It allowed me to travel to exotic places. I made many lasting friendships and I learned from many mentors along the way.

Will watching “The Post” sadden me? Not for an instant. It will make me proud to have been a small part of a grand craft.

State-run media, in the United States?

Steve Schmidt is a dedicated Republican Party political operative. He is no friend or fan of Donald Trump.

The comments attributed to Schmidt here speak to what I believe is a frightening potential trend in U.S. political-media relations.

You ought to read these comments and ponder the gravity of what this man is positing. He believes that the president and the White House are seeking to control information flow the way it is done in authoritarian countries.

The president spends a lot of time tweeting and commenting verbally about his mistrust and loathing of what he calls “fake news” outlets. Trump relies exclusively, or so it seems, on Fox News, whose team of commentators, pundits, contributors and talk show hosts seems so very pleased with the job he is doing as president.

Which suits Donald Trump just fine, thank you very much.

Schmidt, who served on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, sees an inherent danger lurking here. He believes the president’s penchant for relying exclusively on favorable reporting produces an information flow that is akin to propaganda.

He believes it weakens our democratic institutions and produces rampant “misinformation.”

Presidents traditionally have gnashed their teeth at the media’s coverage of their activities. Every one of them has had serious issues with what they deemed to be negative coverage.

Have they disparaged the media as an institution? Have they trashed major media outlets — and individual journalists — to the degree we are witnessing in this Age of Trump? No. They all recognize a fundamental tenet of our democratic system: Government needs the media to hold them accountable.

To do what Steve Schmidt suggests is occurring, indeed, is “appalling.” It’s also dangerous to the well-being of the nation we all say we love.

How does Trump justify his media hatred?

The hate/hate relationship Donald John Trump has with the media has baffled me from the beginning of his presidency.

You see, the man ought to be thanking the media for the role they played in advancing his presidential candidacy. It hasn’t worked out that way. He has become the media’s Enemy No. 1. And how? Because he fired the first shot in the war.

The media’s making of a presidential candidacy became evident from the candidate’s first day on the campaign trail. He rode down that elevator at Trump Tower in June 2015 and a “love affair” was born.

Trump made outlandish statements from Day One. The media didn’t challenge him. The media seemed reluctant to call the candidate what he was: a liar.

When he announced his plan to ban Muslims from entering the country, he said he witnessed “thousands of Muslims cheering” the collapse of the Twin Towers; he didn’t witness any such thing. He said he lost “many friends” in the Twin Towers; he didn’t lose any friends.

Did the media challenge him in real time for the lies he told? No. They generally let them ride.

Prior to his running for the first public office he ever sought — the presidency — Trump loved the media exposure as long as it promoted his business ventures. He loved the media as well. He chummed around with media moguls.

Eventually, and it took a while, the media began to wise up to how the candidate was playing them. They started, um, doing their job.

It’s been said that the media should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That’s what they do. It’s part of their charge as professionals. Trump is among the more, uh, comfortable people in public life; he kept telling us how fabulously wealthy he is. And smart, too.

It’s gone downhill ever since. His election as president has turned the one-time media lover into a media hater. He labels the media as the “enemy of the American people.” His standard retort to anything he deems negative is to call it “fake news.” Trump commits the unconscionable act of singling out individual reporters and the news organizations they represent. He lies continually and the media keep calling him out.

It truly is an amazing turn of events. The president of the United States has declared war on the very institution he needs to inform the public of whatever message he wants to deliver.

Every single one of the president’s predecessors has experienced difficulty with the media during their time in the office Trump now occupies. They all understood something that Trump ignores: The media kept them accountable for their actions.

The media are doing now what they should have been doing from the very beginning of this guy’s campaign for the presidency.

Hey, Mr. POTUS, the Constitution allows it!

I beg your pardon, Mr. President?

You, Donald J. Trump, need to acquaint yourself with the document you took an oath to defend and protect. Then again, you’ve heard that call already from many of your critics.

And yet your supporters seem to give you a pass for the ignoramus-sounding statements you keep making while you bitch about the media doing their job.

Your statement about being “disgusted” that the media can report certain things is utterly, completely and profoundly ignorant. How’s that? Well, that silly ol’ First Amendment allows a “free press” to report without any government interference, bullying or coercion.

It’s in there. Honest, Mr. President.

Loosen libel laws?

And what’s with this nutty notion of wanting to loosen libel laws, to make it easier for people on whom the media report to sue the media for damages. Most states make it difficult to prove libel for a reason. They establish truth as an absolute defense for those being sued.

The press can write “whatever it wants,” Mr. President? That’s what disgusts you? The media do a pretty good job of policing themselves already. They have “outed” many reporters over many years who have reported falsely. Do the names Jason Blair and Janet Cooke, to name just two, ring a bell with you? They were caught reporting bogus news stories and essentially booted from the profession.

I write all this, Mr. President, as someone who toiled as a journalist for nearly 37 years. I didn’t get to cover the presidency directly. I harvested my share of hard feelings, though, from public officials I’ve reported on or offered commentary regarding their activities. I’ve managed to remain humble enough over the years, never taking myself more seriously than my craft.

Many other journalists fall into the same category of individuals who seek to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

They don’t need any bullying from the president of the United States. In fact, the Constitution of the United States would appear to prohibit you from doing what you are trying to do.

So, with all due respect, Mr. President … knock it off!

Media ‘enemy’ deliver yet again in face of tragedy

Donald J. Trump is going to have to live with a profoundly unfair epithet he hurled at the national news media, which continue to perform the duty their members all signed on to do.

Which is to report the news, to tell the public about their world — the good news and the bad. The media are not, as Trump infamously declared, “the enemy of the American people.”

Let’s look for a moment at the job the media are doing in telling us about Hurricane Maria’s tragic aftermath.

The media have flown into Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They have encountered virtually impossible working conditions, starting with the total loss of electricity to power the equipment they need to report to the world about the suffering that’s occurring in those two U.S. territories.

They have told the stories of our fellow Americans having to cope with the destruction brought to them by Maria. They have in some cases put themselves in harm’s way. They have exposed themselves to the same elements that are plaguing the citizens of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.

And yet …

The president of the United States continues to chide the media — in his own mind — for failing to tell the world about the “fantastic” job the federal government is doing to deliver aid and comfort to those stricken by the storm.

Get off it, Mr. President! The media have done their job. Just as they always do their job. That the media don’t tell the story precisely to the president’s liking by reporting news that doesn’t cast him in the most positive light possible should not reflect badly on the job the media are doing.

Without the media, the rest of the nation would not know about the struggles, the misery and the heroism being exhibited daily as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands seek to regain their footing.

Keep up the great work, my former colleagues. As for the president, he needs to focus — for once — solely on his job, which is to ensure that our government rescues our fellow citizens from their suffering.

No good news in media? Whoa! Hold on here!

Every now and then I feel the need to rise the defense of my former media colleagues who get pilloried unfairly for the way they report the news.

Today provided me that opportunity. It was in a fascinating venue, to say the least.

Our Sunday school class broke into small-group discussions this morning. We had watched a video that talked about extending blessings and expressing gratitude.

Then one of our table mates asserted that “you never hear” good news in the media. Our friend indicated that the media are concerned only about bad news, about negativity, about tragedy and sadness.

“I have to respectfully disagree with you,” I said.

The context of the gentleman’s assertion was the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort and he sought to make a point that the media don’t report on all the effort being made to help the victims fight back from the misery brought to them by the killer storm.

I couldn’t restrain myself. I noted that the media have reported time and time again about the positive aspects of the storm recovery. How did the public know, for example, about the hundreds of relief volunteers lining up at storm shelters in Houston and along the Gulf Coast? The media reported it!

That’s just one example.

My wife noted correctly media consumers aren’t likely to be drawn to be positive news, but they certainly are drawn to negative coverage. It’s the nature of the proverbial beast.

I spent nearly four decades working in the media. I have challenged readers of the newspapers where I worked who have complained to me about “all the negative news” in the paper to look through any edition of the paper and count the stories that have positive spins and those with negative spins. I’ve always believed they would be surprised to learn that the paper contained many more positive stories than negative ones.

In this Internet Age, one can find links to news organizations’ home pages that guide readers to “positive news.” My wife wondered this morning, “I wonder how many readers actually open those links and read those stories.”

On a whole array of issues covering the complete landscape of reportage, the media continue to do their job with professionalism, compassion and dedication. Do all media representatives live up to that standard? No, but you can find bad actors in every single profession or craft in this country or around the world!

I would argue that the media’s focus on negative vs. positive news isn’t necessarily the issue. The question ought to be asked of the public that consumes this information.

Events give media chance to shine brightly

I never got the chance to serve on a Pulitzer Prize jury, to select winners in print journalism’s top prizes.

This year is going to produce a Pulitzer juror’s “nightmare,” if you want to call it such. The media, namely the folks who work in the print end of it, have distinguished themselves grandly while covering compelling issues of the day.

Were it not for the media, we wouldn’t know about the various crises threatening to swallow the Donald J. Trump administration whole. Many of print journalism’s top guns — at the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Washington Post — have been distinguishing themselves with top-drawer reporting that would give Pulitzer jurors fits. It’s interesting in the extreme to me that so many of the cable news outlets keep referencing stories that have been broken first by print organizations.

Then something else happened this summer.

Two killer hurricanes boiled up out of the warm water offshore and delivered death and destruction, first to the Texas Gulf Coast and then to the Caribbean and to all of Florida.

Reporters, photographers and their editors all have worked very long days and nights trying to cover the story of human misery. Newspapers from the Coastal Bend, Houston and then to the Golden Triangle have answered the call. Indeed, one of my former employers — the Beaumont Enterprise — has called at least one of its veteran former reporters out of retirement to assist in telling the community’s story as it seeks to recover from Hurricane Harvey’s savage wrath.

The story of media intrepidity is being repeated now in Florida as that state struggles to regain its footing in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s own brand of immense savagery.

There you have it: severe political tumult and potential constitutional crises and Mother Nature’s unimaginable power have combined to create circumstances that make the media answer the call to duty.

To think, as well, that the president of the United States refers to these dedicated men and women as “the enemy of the American people.” Donald Trump knows nothing about the dedication to their craft — and in many instances the heroism — they exhibit in trying to report important issues to a public that wants to know what’s happening in their world.

Good luck, Pulitzer jury, as you seek to find winners in this most eventual period in history.

To my former colleagues, I am immensely proud of you.

Media attacks = dictatorship?

I have been reluctant to equate Donald John Trump Sr.’s constant attacks on the media with the behavior of tinhorn dictators — and truly evil despots.

That is until now.

The president tore into the media again Tuesday night at that campaign rally in Phoenix, Ariz. He called them “fake” and “dishonest.”

Trump echoed much of what he has said ad nauseam ever since he launched his presidential campaign.

For seemingly forever, the media let him get away with it. They would report on his rants, letting his words speak for themselves. Trump obliged. He courted the media.

Then something happened. The media began calling the president out on the lies he kept repeating. The media started to reveal falsehoods. Trump didn’t like that. Then the attacks got really hot.

There’s a pattern developing, according to media watchdogs and political pundits. It’s disturbing in the extreme. The pattern follows a familiar course: political leaders seek to delegitimize the media, to reduce their standing among citizens. These leaders have sought to turn the people they want to lead against the media.

Hitler did it in Germany. Stalin did it in the Soviet Union. There have been assorted Third World dictators who have done the very same thing: Pol Pot in Cambodia, Idi Amin in Uganda, Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.

I cannot pretend to know what is motivating Donald J. Trump’s incessant attacks on the  media. Nor can I pretend to understand anything as it regards the president’s thinking.

I just know that presidents for as long as I’ve been alive have sought to understand the media’s role in a free society. They’ve all reached a form of bipartisan understanding. None of them has liked reading or hearing critical news stories about their presidencies.

However, as former President George W. Bush said recently, the media are “necessary to keep public officials accountable.”

And, no, the media are not — as Donald Trump has said — the “enemy of the American people.”