Tag Archives: media

Time of My Life, Part 44: Recalling a time of trust

There once was a time when public officials trusted the media implicitly, they believed the media could have access to information and would know how to handle what they see.

That was long before the age of social media, the Internet and politicians who would label the media as “the enemy of the people.”

My first full-time job as reporter took me in the spring of 1977 from Portland, Ore., to a suburban community about 15 miles south of my hometown. I went to work for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, first as a sports writer and then as a general assignment reporter. The E-C was an afternoon newspaper; we published it Monday through Friday.

Given that it was a “p.m.” newspaper, our deadlines required us to report for work early in the day. My work days started before the sunrise, particularly after I moved from the sports desk and started working as a reporter.

My editor assigned me the task of going to police dispatchers’ offices each morning to collect the overnight police activity. The core of our circulation area concerned the Tri-Cities region: Oregon City, West Linn and Gladstone.

I would make the rounds with all three police departments, plus the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. The dispatchers would allow me to look at the call logs and — upon request — I could look at the police officers’ reports they had filed on specific calls.

That’s right. The dispatcher would give this grimy reporter access to the cops’ reports. Some of them were amazingly graphic in nature. The reports weren’t, um, often not that well-written. I occasionally had to interpret the messages the officers intended to convey.

But these police reports often provided some amazing stories that I could report to our community. One strange incident stands out, even more than 40 years later. It involved an Oregon City Police Department report about an officer responding to a guy who got stuck in a telephone booth in the wee hours. This poor schlub had used the phone, but couldn’t jimmy the door open so he could exit. He called the cops and an officer — along with a firefighting crew — responded to pry the guy out of the booth.

I followed a simple and straightforward credo: I was able to earn the trust of the dispatchers simply by being faithful to my pledge to treat the information I received with discretion.

Indeed, I never felt like anyone’s “enemy.” Nor do today’s journalists.

In defense of NPR

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo needs yet another lesson in just how the media do their job.

They ask tough questions. They seek direct answers. They also seek to report those answers to the public they serve. You and I depend on the media for answers to our own questions about what our government — especially at its highest levels — are doing ostensibly on our behalf.

National Public Radio reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked Pompeo why he hasn’t defended former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch against criticism leveled at her by the current president of the United States, Donald John Trump.

He dodged the question, saying he has defended “everyone” in the State Department. Kelly sought a specific example of how he has defended Yovanovitch. He cut her off, summoned her to his private quarters, then lashed at her with a profanity-laced tirade, saying that NPR is part of the “unhinged” media that demonstrate a hatred for Trump.

Kelly was doing her job. She has not done a thing for which she should apologize.

Time for full disclosure: I work as a freelance blogger for a public radio station, KETR-FM, based at Texas A&M University-Commerce. 

With that out of the way, I want to tell you that NPR goes the extra mile in ensuring that it reports the news fairly and without overt bias.

A friend of mine who works in public radio explained to me once about NPR’s policy that it enforces strictly. He said that during the coverage of the health-care changes that resulted in the Affordable Care Act, NPR reporters were counseled by their editors to refrain from using the term “reform” to describe the ACA. “It isn’t a ‘reform,'” my friend told me. NPR affiliates were told us call it “overhaul.”

You see, the term “reform” implies an improvement over the status quo. Thus, to describe the ACA as a “reform” would be to endorse it as a policy in NPR’s news coverage. That’s how my friend characterizes the ethos that drives NPR’s reporting of important issues of the day.

And so, it is against that backdrop that I find Mike Pompeo’s tirade against a seasoned, well-educated, dedicated reporter such as Mary Louise Kelly to be just another ignorant tirade coming from a senior official in the Donald Trump administration.

Reprehensible.

Listen up! No politics in church!

I have sought to follow a time-honored credo, which is that I don’t discuss politics or my work while I am in church.

My response usually goes like this when someone would challenge something I wrote in the newspaper where I worked at the time: I came here to talk to God, not to you … about my work; call me in the morning, then we’ll chat.

We have relocated in the past year to a lovely community in Collin County, Texas. We have found a new church where we like to worship each Sunday. It’s a small congregation, but it fulfills our need. Everyone is welcoming, warm, hospitable and the place is full of love.

However … we have run into individuals who like to talk politics with us, or I presume just about anyone who’ll listen. It wouldn’t surprise you to learn that the congregation is a pretty conservative bunch, which is all right with me. That’s their call. I adhere to, um, a different point of view.

Thus, when one of our new friends decides to engage us in a political discussion, I am inclined to nudge them away. I change the subject. I haven’t yet offered up my longstanding retort. Hey, I don’t know them well enough yet. Perhaps over time, they’ll get the hint and I won’t need to drop the verbal hammer on ’em.

If not, I am ready to put them into what I perceive to be their place.

‘Liberal hack’ attack is now the new normal?

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally is a supreme disappointment to me, as I once said something nice about the grace she exhibited in losing an earlier race for another vacant Senate seat in Arizona.

Now the Republican seeking election to a seat to which she was appointed is turning into, shall we say, a “conservative hack.” Why? Because she called a CNN reporter a “liberal hack” who had the temerity to ask her a straightforward question devoid of any political taint or bias.

CNN Capitol Hill reporter Manu Raju asked McSally if she supported calling for additional evidence and witnesses in the upcoming impeachment trial of Donald John Trump, the current president of the United States.

“You’re a liberal hack; I’m not talking to you,” McSally snapped at Raju. Huh? That’s how it goes? A working journalist asks a question that requires at minimum a “yes” or a “no.” She chose to bite back at someone who is merely doing his job as a correspondent for a major newsgathering organization.

This is the “media is the enemy of the people” strategy employed by Donald Trump against those in the media who continue to provide critical coverage of events and statements from the president and his allies — when it is deserved!

McSally, a backbench senator who was appointed to replace former Sen. Jon Kyl, who served briefly after the death of the great Sen. John McCain. She earlier had run against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema for a seat vacated by the retirement of Jeff Flake. That race was a nail-biter, but McSally conceded with grace and class to her opponent.

Thus, I had hope she would comport herself with dignity when she got the appointment to succeed Kyl. Silly me.

McSally doubled down on her slap back at Raju, recalling that she was “a fighter pilot.” Indeed, she is U.S. Air Force Academy grad who saw combat duty in Iraq.

Her petulant display, though, bodes grimly for the state of political discourse at least where it involves this federal legislator. Perhaps she is feeling the heat of sagging poll numbers in Arizona, where she is trailing possible Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, a former shuttle astronaut.

Whatever the case, Manu Raju — seeking a simple answer to a direct question — didn’t need the high-profile slap in the face by Sen. McSally. Bad call, senator.

Time of My Life, Part 43: Walking a libel tightrope

Most newspaper editorial pages have sections set aside to allow readers of the newspaper to vent, to complain, to speak their minds either positively or negatively about issues of the day and the individuals who make that news.

They also present editors of those pages at times with vexing problems. They involve that mysterious line that separates harsh commentary from libel.

I experienced many of those episodes during my 37 years in print journalism.

Here’s how it went … most of the time.

Someone would submit a letter for publication on our page. It might be full of anger at, say, a mayor or a city council member; perhaps the target is a county commissioner or a school board member; or, maybe it’s aimed at public figure not necessarily holding a public office, someone like a prominent businessman or woman.

The letter levels accusations that I cannot substantiate. The rhetoric is harsh, man. I call the author of the letter to confirm its source. I question the assertions made in the letter.

The writer of the letter stands by his or her assertion. He or she says it’s true and he can prove it. I ask the letter writer to provide documented proof. The writer can’t deliver the goods. I tell the writer that I am afraid the letter is libelous, which means it makes statements that could bring harm to the individual being criticized.

The letter writer then says something like this: “It’s my letter. Let ’em sue me!” To which I then say, “Actually, once you turn it in to me, it becomes my letter, too. Moreover, I don’t care if they sue you. I do care that they sue me and my employer. Therefore, I cannot publish this letter. I will not publish it. Thanks and have a great day.”

I had that conversation countless times over the years. It presents a stunning example of the responsibility that newspapers editors have when they go through each day dealing with issues that present themselves, sometimes in unexpected fashion.

There were times when I was less than patient with letter writers. I regret those instances. Then again, my patience occasionally was rubbed away when letter writers presumed to know more about the nuts and bolts of my job than I did.

They were wrong. I never did apologize for telling them so.

Trump engaged in frontal assault against freedom of the press

Leave it to Chris Wallace, the host of “Fox News Sunday,” a staple of Donald Trump’s favorite news/opinion cable TV channel, to put it in perspective.

Wallace said this to a gathering at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.: “I believe President Trump is engaged in the most direct, sustained assault on freedom of the press in our history.”

Oh, brother, is he ever!

The man who played on his “experience” as a reality TV celebrity host, who once courted the media because they found him, um, entertaining is now launching a full frontal assault on the constitutional guarantee of a free press.

He routinely bullies cable, broadcast and print media representatives. He accuses them of peddling “fake news.” He curries favor with media outlets and then blasts them to smithereens when they don’t do his bidding; Wallace and the Fox News Channel serve as a prime example. Trump has labeled the media as the “enemy of the people” and has applauded right along with the know-nothing faithful who cheer his frightening rhetoric.

Presidents dating back throughout the history of the republic all have noted the adversarial relationship with the media that is built into the presidency. None of them — not until Donald Trump came along — has blathered the kind of incendiary rhetoric toward the media that this president has spewed forth.

As a former full-time print journalist, I — along with many of my former colleagues — take this kind of treatment personally. Now that I am writing for myself, I still take it personally.

Moreover, I continue to salute and honor the great work that media organizations of all stripes continue to do in reporting the goings-on regarding this presidential administration.

The good news for all of them — and the rest of us — is that Donald Trump won’t be president forever. He’ll be gone from the halls of power and will no longer be able to bully the media.

I am waiting for that moment of deliverance from this attack on our essential press freedom.

Happy Trails, Part 173: Back in the game, kind of …

This retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked has taken its share of peculiar and surprising twists and turns. They’ve all been good and have brought us joy.

This latest twist compels me to tell you that I am returning — in a manner of speaking — to where my print journalism career began 40 years ago.

I am back to reporting on community news. It’s not a full-time gig by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. It’s a free-lance affair. I get to choose the stories I want to cover for a group of community newspapers in Collin County, Texas. The publishers are giving me free rein.

I have informed them that my wife and I might not be available all the time. We plan to be on the road during RV traveling season — which is essentially every season except winter, during which time we’ll have our fifth wheel parked, winterized and in a state of hibernation.

But this new gig figures to be a great ride for as long as it lasts. I do not yet know when I’ll call a halt to it. Maybe I’ll check out of this world with my notebook and pen in hand.

I started my professional journey in late 1976 on the copy desk of the Oregon Journal, which was Portland’s evening newspaper. I gravitated in early 1977 to the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, an after suburban daily newspaper about 15 miles south of Portland. I took a job as a temporary sports writer, replacing the sports editor who was on maternity leave after the birth of her first child.

I covered high school football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, track and field.

The editor who hired me said there was a chance I could stay on if an opening occurred. It was a gamble to leave a permanent full time job for one that might end in a few months. It worked out. An opening occurred. I got hired permanently.

I got to cover police news, the courts, city councils, school boards; I wrote feature stories and I developed pictures in a dark room.

I gravitated eventually to opinion journalism, working on editorial pages in Beaumont and Amarillo in Texas. However, reporting and writing news stories is like, well, riding a bicycle. You do not forget how to do it.

My task now will be more limited. For one thing, dark rooms no longer exist in newspaper buildings; it’s all done digitally. I’ll take pictures with my I-phone and send them in via e-mail.

But I get to cover community news in Princeton, where we now live and in neighboring Farmersville, a town of about 3,200 residents just east of us.

I will have to learn a bit more about these communities as I work my around them, learning the names of the movers and shakers, gadflies and assorted soreheads.

I am grateful to my new employers for this opportunity to (more or less) get back in the game.

Am I living the dream? You bet I am.

Media performing stellar job reporting on this scandal

Donald John “Stable Genius” Trump has introduced a new mantra to describe the news media.

He calls them the “corrupt media.” It’s no longer, he says, just the “fake news media.” He says the media are corrupt and are trying to bring down the presidency.

I want to extend a word of praise for the job the media are doing in reporting on the march of the pending impeachment of Donald Trump.

The president has admitted to soliciting help from a foreign government to get him re-elected, along with finding dirt on a potential political opponent. Trump has actually acknowledged that he is seeking foreign “interference” the likes of which occurred in 2016 when Russians attacked our electoral system.

The media are reporting on all of it. They are telling the nation and the world what we all need to know about the president and the administration.

Donald Trump’s epithet toward the media ranks as just more hysteria from an individual who is sounding as if he is getting frightened at what might loom not far into the future.

The media are doing their job. They are performing magnificently.

Retirement journey takes me farther than I thought

I want to acknowledge something I realized during a recent foray across the western portion of North America.

It is that my retirement from a craft I pursued with great joy has taken me farther away from it than I could have imagined.

I worked in print journalism for nearly 37 years. My career ended in August 2012. I dabbled a bit here and there part time writing for other media outlets: public TV, commercial TV and editing a weekly newspaper. I kept my head in the game and my hand on the mechanics of the craft.

Then I entered full retirement mode.

In the old days, travels with my wife usually meant picking up newspapers in every community we would visit or pass through. I would bring home an armload of newspapers from which I might glean ideas about layout, or presentation.

This time, after spending more than a month on the road through the western United States and Canada? Nothin’. I didn’t bring home a single newspaper. Indeed, I read only one newspaper during our time on the road … and it was a freebie distributed to all the visitors of a Eugene, Ore., RV park. The newspaper was the Register-Guard of Eugene, which in the old days was considered one of the better newspapers in the Pacific Northwest. It was family owned and was considered a leader in graphic design and presentation of news and commentary.

The Baker family sold the R-G not long ago to GateHouse Media, the outfit that has purchased dozens of newspapers around the country, becoming a media titan in an age of dwindling newspaper influence and importance.

My wife and I spent several nights up the highway from Eugene in Portland, my hometown and where I first fell in love with newspapers. I never laid eyes on The Oregonian newspaper during our visit there.

Oh, the end of an era for me personally!

We visited many cities that used to boast solid newspaper tradition: Colorado Springs; Bend, Ore.; Wenatchee, Wash.; Calgary, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Grand Forks, N.D.; Topeka, Kan.; Tulsa, Okla.

I didn’t read a single word printed in newspapers distributed in those communities.

What does this mean? Hmm. I’ll have to ponder it. I still cherish my memories of toiling at newspapers in Oregon and Texas. I continue to harbor many fond memories of those years. I recall them with glee. However, I no longer am wedded to newspapers as my primary information source … or so it has become obvious, given what I have just reported about our recent journey.

Gosh, am I now dependent on “The Internet” for all my information? To some extent, yes. Although I want to rely solely on “legitimate news sources” that are spread throughout cyberspace.

There remains a glimmer of hope that I haven’t gone totally to the dark side. I do subscribe to the Dallas Morning News. I restarted my subscription upon our return home. It arrived this Sunday morning. I will consume its contents with great gusto.

RIP, Cokie Roberts

Blogger’s Note: This item was posted originally on KETR-FM’s website.

Cokie Roberts was born to do what she did.

She hailed from New Orleans, La. Her dad was a legendary congressman. Hale Boggs, though, disappeared somewhere near the North Pole in 1972 when his plane vanished; his body never was found. Hale Boggs’s wife, Lindy, succeeded him in the House of Representatives and she, too, forged a successful career in public service.

And then there was Cokie, a child of Washington who became a legendary journalist whose voice became well-known to listeners of National Public Radio and then – along with her face – to viewers of ABC News.

Cokie Roberts died this week at age 75, reportedly of complications from breast cancer, the disease that struck her many years ago.

Many of us, me included, had no idea she had relapsed. Or that she had suffered from any “complications.” I thought she was in remission.

Now she is gone. Her voice is stilled.

At the risk of sounding like some kind of chump frontrunner, I want to share a brief Cokie Roberts story that I hope distills just a bit of the type of individual she was.

I attended the 1992 Republican National presidential nomination convention in Houston. The Astrodome, where the RNC held its convention, was crawling with journalists. There were titans like Roberts and, well, not so titanic figures such as myself. I was working for the Beaumont Enterprise at the time and given that Beaumont sits only about 85 miles east of Houston, my bosses sent me down the highway to cover it.

I happened one afternoon to be waiting to enter the Astrodome when the convention staff shut the doors. As I recall it, Vice President Dan Quayle was entering the building and staff shut down entry to allow the VP free and easy access to his seat in the giant hall.

I looked to my right and there was Cokie Roberts standing next to me. She didn’t grumble. She did complain. We exchanged shrugs and we had some small-talk chat while we waited for the doors to reopen.

This is worth mentioning, I believe, because Cokie Roberts didn’t seem outwardly to think of herself as better than anyone else. She was caught in the crush of journalists and waited just as patiently as the rest of us.

Her commentary and analysis were always incisive and insightful. She knew her way around Washington, having grown up there and being exposed to the movers and shakers of public policy.

Cokie Roberts shoved her way into a world populated almost exclusively by men. She made her mark. Her voice became an important one. Her NPR listeners could depend on her insight on Monday mornings when she would offer her look at the week ahead in politics and public policy.

As NPR reported: In a 2017 interview with Kentucky Educational Television, Roberts reflected on her long career. “It is such a privilege – you have a front seat to history,” she said. “You do get used to it and you shouldn’t, because it is a very special thing to be able to be in the room … when all kinds of special things are happening.”

I am going to miss her wisdom and her honest reporting.