About Wanderings

Each week I will post my current syndicated newspaper column that focuses upon social issues, the media, pop culture and whatever might be interesting that week. During the week, I'll also post comments (a few words to a few paragraphs) about issues in the news. These are informal postings. Check out http://www.facebook.com/walterbrasch And, please go to http://www.greeleyandstone.com/ to learn about my latest book.



Sunday, February 7, 2016

Marching Bands and High School PE



by Walter Brasch

      The Millard Public Schools in Omaha, Neb., will not allow its students to substitute marching band for its requirement that students take three semesters of physical education.
      The proposal would save about $75,000 a year, according to the administration. But, the administration also said if the proposal was implemented it would negate the district’s emphasis on wellness and promoting physical fitness.
      There are two issues here.
      First, as almost everyone who ever was a member of a marching band knows, it’s physically challenging. Every member must not only march, sometimes at a rapid pace, but also read music, do maneuvers and play an instrument at the same time.
      Some parades are a mile; the Rose Parade is 5.5 miles. Students train not just to march, but to march the entire distance.
      For majorettes, it means marching, throwing and catching batons, a feat not many can do if they are not physically fit.
      Waiving PE credit is reasonable.
      But, the second issue is physical fitness.
      Many school districts, dating back many decades, required physical education every semester. Exceptions were made for athletes.
      The reason for PE dates to the ancient Romans—Mens sana in sano corpora—a sound mind in a sound body. Until the past few years, junior high and high school students took PE classes every day for all semesters. For many, it meant frustration at not being able to climb ropes and accepting being hit and possibly injured by participating in dodge ball; it could also mean embarrassment and towel snaps in the locker room if the teachers weren’t paying attention.
      However, for a nation fixated upon iPads, smart phones, and video games, requiring PE makes sense. The classes also helped acquaint students with recreational sports—bowling, volleyball, swimming, and other activities they could enjoy long after high school.
      Requiring only three semesters seems to be a compromise between requiring PE every semester and not requiring it at all. Schools should require students to take PE, possibly every semester, just as they require students to take English, math, and history classes.
      However, requiring physical education classes in college may not make sense for students who are now adults. These classes—some colleges require three or four classes as part of graduation requirements—may sometimes be nothing more than a place to put varsity coaches who are better at blowing a whistle than delivering academic content in a classroom.
      But, give the high school students in marching band a break—they already are physically fit and contributing every bit as much as varsity athletes who get waivers from taking PE.
      [Walter Brasch was in his high school marching band and orchestra and was also a tennis player before beginning a career as a journalist and college professor. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit, available through greeleyandstone.com, amazon.com, and local bookstores.]




Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Large Problem for Circuses



By Walter Brasch

      By May, there will be no more elephants in the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus.
      The circus management had originally said it would cease using elephants by 2018, but revised its estimate by two years. Management said the cost to retire the elephants to the Ringling Brothers Center for Animal Conservation in Florida is less than it had first anticipated. The 13 Asian elephants on tour will join 30 others at the 200 acre facility, which has a $2.5 million annual budget.
      “Our family’s commitment to save the majestic Asian elephants will continue through our breeding program, research and conservation efforts at the Center,” said Alana Feld, executive vice-president of Feld Entertainment.
      P.T. Barnum first used an elephant in his circus in 1882, having purchased Jumbo from a London zoo. Since then, most circuses have toured with performing elephants, most of them Asian females because of the difficulty to train male elephants after they reach maturity. (Almost no circuses use the larger African elephants.)
Why Ringling Bros. is removing its elephants from the touring company is because of increasing public pressure and charges of animal cruelty, much of it leveled by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal rights groups.
      “We were very pleased that the elephants with Ringling Bros. will no longer suffer a miserable life on the road where they spend a great deal of time in boxcars and perform grueling circus tricks under the threat of punishment,” says Nicole Paquette, HSUS vice-president for wildlife protection. The circus, says Paquette, “had been one of the biggest defenders of this kind of archaic animal abuse, and the imminent end of its traveling elephant acts signaled that even one of the most tough-minded and hardened animal-use companies now recognized that the world is changing and it had to adapt.” 
       Thirty-one countries either restrict or ban animal performances in traveling circuses, citing cruelty in training the animals, according to Animal Defenders International.  For elephants in circuses in the United States, it means confinement in cages, chains on one of their legs to restrict their movement when not performing, and the use of bullhooks, which resemble fireplace pokers, to prod the elephants to follow directions.
Executives of circuses and entertainment companies that provide the animals to the entertainment industry, fairs, and carnivals, claim the use of bullhooks is humane. The HSUS disagrees.
      “There is no way to humanely use a bullhook,” says Paquette. “The hook is used to apply varying degrees of pressure to sensitive spots on an elephant’s body, causing the elephant to move away from the source of pain, often causing puncture wounds and lacerations,” she says, pointing out, “When the hooked end is held, the handle is used as a club, inflicting substantial pain when the elephant is struck in areas where little tissue separates skin and bone. Even when not in use, the bullhook is a constant reminder of the painful punishment that can be delivered at any time.”
      Even the presence of elephants at zoos, where handlers seldom use bullhooks, has been controversial because of limited room for the animals. The Detroit zoo was the first to eliminate the elephants; other zoos have followed, some because of space restrictions, some because of the cost to feed and maintain the largest land mammals.
      In the wild, elephants, an endangered species, face even more danger. Several companies, many of them based in the United States, sponsor hunting packages.  For $35,000–$60,000, guides lead trophy-hunting Americans and others to herds. The companies claim they are saving the elephants because there are too many for the grasslands, and that the people can then cut up and eat all parts of the animal. Other hunters poach in restricted areas, solely to get the 10-15 pound ivory tusks, which can bring $1,000–$2,000 a pound in the black market. Botswana and Kenya have banned big game hunting, but other countries have allowed limited hunting because of the income from fees and related costs of two- and three week hunts that help the local economy. There were about 10 million elephants on two continents in 1900, according to the World Wildlife Fund; today, there are about 400,000. About 40,000 are Asian elephants, about 160,000 fewer than in 2000.
      The decision by Ringling Brothers to retire its elephant acts isn’t just a victory for the Humane Society and animal activists, it’s a victory for the humane treatment of all animals. For those who want to see elephants, there are several sanctuaries where elephants are protected in near-wildlife environments.
Ringling Bros. and all circuses need to now retire the rest of their animal acts.
      Every other circus—big or little—every fair and carnival—big or little—needs to eliminate wild animals performing tricks or serving as rides for those who pay a few dollars to go around in circles. Circus animals are not needed as an attraction. Cirque du Soleil, for example, presents an exciting show to millions every year, and doesn’t use animals.
      Let other circuses and fairs follow that example, and let us hope that more countries ban trophy hunters from the slaughter of big game animals.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, and author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Healthand the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit. The book is available at amazon.com]




Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sarah Palin’s Quixotic Quest for Relevance



By Walter Brasch

      She’s back and tightly holding Donald Trump’s coattails.
      That’s right, Sarah Palin, having again found the media spotlight, is casting her shadow across the more thoughtful conservatives.
      This past week she declared her undying love and support of Trump’s attempt to seize the presidency from the more experienced and knowledgeable candidates in the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties, and is blathering her way throughout Iowa, New Hampshire, and several early primary states to stir up Trump’s far-right base.
      At a media circus press conference this past week in Ames, Iowa, Palin gave the far-right wing goose bumps of excitement with her opening declaration, “Looking around at all of you, you hard working Iowa families, you farm families and teachers and teamsters and cops and cooks, you rock and rollers and holy rollers!”  And then she asked the crowd, “Are you ready for the leader to make America great again?” Her question echoed that of Trump, and brought a flushed frenzy to the target audience. The question also had undertones of stating that the United States was not great, was not the world leader in numerous areas and, to the far-right’s belief, not a world leader in waging war, something the Republicans have become adept at and known for.
      Palin’s 20-minute endorsement, filled with a “you betcha” here and a “Hallelujah!” there, rambled on, attacking President Obama, who isn’t running, while avoiding anything about those who are climbing in the polls and about to catch the man who, until he declared his candidacy for president, liked being known as The Donald.
      Palin’s endorsement may have been because she was looking to cement an irrational possibility to be a part of a Trump administration. Several months earlier, she had declared, to the amusement of anyone who ever studied science and energy, “I think a lot about the Department of Energy, because energy is my baby, oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the earth for mankind’s use, instead of relying on unfriendly foreign nations for us to import their resource.”  Why she wanted to run the Department of Energy was clear—she wanted to be the one to ride it into extinction.
      But the Tea Party darling may have endorsed Trump not because of any ideological similarities, as both proclaimed, but because she needs media exposure. Sen. John McCain and some delusional advisors had plucked Palin out of Alaskan obscurity to be the Republicans’ vice-presidential candidate in 2008. On a full-time campaign, she had become a part-time governor. After the McCain-Palin combination failed to land many blows on the Obama-Biden ticket, and was soundly defeated, Palin decided that Alaska wasn’t big enough for her. She resigned the governorship half-way through her first term, wrote a best-selling book that only the extreme right-wing thought was well-written, began commanding $100,000 for speaking fees, and was courted by, and signed by, Fox News as a commentator.
      However, even Fox News, which has corralled most of the conservative loons to be commentators, tired of having to deal with Palin’s errors, outrageous observations, and falling ratings. Palin’s and Fox’s PR machines claimed the divorce was amicable. 
With her popularity fading, her speaking engagements slowing down, and media coverage of her family’s problems rising, Palin needed a platform to restore her reality show road show. That media glow lays in the endorsement of the narcissistic and bombastic billionaire front runner whose three marriages and four bankruptcies haven’t reduced his appeal to the Republicans’ family values base.
      It’s important that Palin get off the stage so that the conservatives who actually know what they’re talking about can command some of the media attention that has been focused upon Trumpian rhetoric and not substance.




Sunday, January 17, 2016

Major Catastrophe: Major Media Problem




by Walter Brasch

    On Oct. 23, Southern California Gas technicians discovered a leak of methane from a failed casing on one of the pipes in its Alisa Canyon storage facility, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
    The company estimates it will be the end of March until it can plug that leak from the pipe that is about 9,000 feet deep.
  About 77,000 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that can widen the ozone hole in the atmosphere, have already gone into the air.
    Residents in the area have complained of nausea, dizziness, headaches and nosebleeds from the sulfur-like odor that is put into natural gas to identify it. 
    Residents of about 3,000 households have been relocated. Hundreds are now living in hotel rooms, and will be there for at least two more months.
    The L.A. Unified School District closed two schools until March 2016.
    The Federal Aviation Administration banned flights under 2,000 feet from going within a half-mile of the leak.
    Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for the area.
    It is the worst methane leak in U.S. history, amounting to about 15 percent of all hourly greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
    A reminder:  The leak began almost three months ago.
This past week, the major TV networks reported it.
    Those of us who are in the anti-fracking movement have known about this leak almost from the day it first occurred. Many of us have written about it.
    There is one critical question. Why have the mainstream national media not reported this catastrophe much earlier?
    Here are two possible answers. First, the media have laid off thousands of reporters, especially those who cover the environment, in an attempt to raise corporate profits.
    And, second, they are too busy channeling what Donald Trump says to devote much time to domestic issues, especially ones that directly affect Americans.
[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist with 40 years experience in newspapers, magazines, and as a multimedia writer-producer. He is also the author of 20 books, the latest one is Fracking Pennsylvania.]



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Blathering in Front of TV Cameras




By Walter Brasch

      Several TV networks covered the Rose Parade. ABC, NBC, RFD, the Hallmark network, and Univision had frequent interruptions to unleash commercials on us. The Home and Garden network ran the two hour parade uninterrupted—except for endless on-air self-promotion about HGTV and its programs.
      The networks had commentators who chatted with each other and seemed to spend more time enjoying being on air than in reporting the parade.
      They aren’t unusual.
      TV news—including parade coverage—has become more of a personality-based medium than a news medium. The Happy News TV anchors chat with each other. A few seconds here. A few seconds there.
      “With Tonight’s weather forecast is Susan Brown” has been replaced by: “Hey, Suze, so what’s up with the weather?” To which the forecaster responds, “Well, Jimbo, looks like you’ll be driving to work tomorrow in a bit of snow.” Jimbo, of course, responds with some inane happy talk about wishing he had an SUV, and then Suze mentions she likes the snow because she enjoys skiing. Then, she discusses the weather forecast, which is usually accurate for what happened 10 years ago but often is partially or completely wrong about the week-long projections.
      At the end of every segment filed by a field reporter, the anchor says something profound like, “Thanks Megan, for that very interesting and informative report about the supermarket opening.”
      TV management long ago brought in high-priced news consultants who think that the babbling patter between the field reporters and talking heads makes them more likeable—more human. Gives us insight into their personalities.
The news consultants—and the news directors—and the TV personalities are wrong.
      We don’t care about what they ate for dinner, their predication of who will win the bowl game, or how tough they had it driving to the studio. TV news should not be a modified Facebook posting. Just give us the news, weather, and sports. More important, please try to give us at least as much news as sports—and, perhaps, as much in-depth information about government as you do about weather. Frankly, we don’t care that much about what the temperatures were 10 years ago, what caused a thermal inversion, or how you’ll be cheering for your alma mater in the Sand Dust Bowl. We do need to know why there is a budget impasse and how it affects each of us.
      And, please, when hosting parades, give us facts about the floats and bands, and some behind-the-scenes news—and let us hear and see the parade, and not your ceaseless blathering.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Violating the Constitution is Not a Public Right





by Walter Brasch

      For at least 17 years, the officials of Monroeville, Pa., a 30,000 population Pittsburgh suburb, have recited the Lord’s Prayer before every council meeting.
      This violates the First Amendment. And it’s not even a gray area. Finally, the ACLU sent the council a letter, threatening to file a lawsuit.
      The response by Bruce Dice, the city solicitor, was that the council will try its best to abide by the Constitution, and will make changes. Dice, who has been solicitor since 1998, says government “should not be sponsoring prayer or direct residents about religion.”
      At its Jan. 12 meeting, the Council will consider an ordinance to have different members of the clergy, representing different religions, deliver prayers at each meeting. The decision of who will lead the council and residents in prayer will be on a “first come, first served” basis, says Dice. There are 25 Christian churches—21 Protestant, two Roman Catholic, two Serbian Catholic—and two synagogues in Monroeville. Thus, it is entirely possible that 12 Protestant ministers will be the “first come, first served” clergy to lead prayer services. The proposed ordinance does not address religious diversity, but is specific there will be a prayer at the beginning of every meeting, thus continuing to fuse government and religion.
      When the ACLU sent its letter to the Council, many residents stood firm in their beliefs about Christianity and prayer at council meetings.
      One resident claimed he was offended not by the Christian prayer, but by the ACLU. A minister claimed, “We’re all tired of losing rights.”
      No one is losing any rights. The right to violate the Constitution does not exist.
      One council member said he wouldn’t be quiet and would continue the practice, much to the applause of many residents, few of whom read or understand the Constitution.
      Mayor Greg Erosenko, who led the prayers, added his voice. Using the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, he said, “It’s very sad that we have come to this, taking what happened in California. Not just Monroeville, but I think our whole country needs a lot of prayer.” He said he was a devout Christian, and that the nation was founded on the Christian faith.
      He’s also wrong. The Founding Fathers were specific in stating that the nation was not founded on the Christian faith, that people have a right to their own beliefs, and that there must be a separation of church and state. Many of the Founding Fathers—including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, Common Sense, was one of the most important works of journalism that led the charge to independence—were deists, not Christians.
      The Monroeville Council recognizes reality. A continued violation would have resulted in a federal lawsuit. It would cost the taxpayers a lot of money—and they would lose.
      If the seven-member Council supports the proposed ordinance of having a rotation of prayers and religions, the issue is back into a gray area of separation of church and state, but it does reduce the dominance of a municipal government supporting one religion.
      The only major question is why did it take a threat from the ACLU for the solicitor and Council to make the change to abide by the First Amendment to the Constitution?
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist who is also professor emeritus of mass communications from Bloomsburg University, where he taught First Amendment issues, as well as public affairs reporting, feature writing, and media editing and production courses. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]



  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Again Wins the Annual War




by Walter Brasch

      The mythical War on Christmas is over and once again Christmas won.
      The war was created out of fairy dust, and then neatly wrapped up and delivered to religious right-wing extremists by pretend-generals Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and a cast of dozens who have seized the public airways.
 One of the battalion commanders is Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado. He introduced a resolution, which 35 other Republicans co-signed, that defends the holiday. That resolution calls for the House of Representatives to recognize “the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas,” to “strongly [disapprove] of attempts to ban references to Christmas; [and] expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.”
      There are only two major problems with that bill.
      First, it’s hard not to find Christmas. The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ends with a Santa Claus float to signal the beginning of Christmas season, even though Christmas sales begin about Halloween. Businesses make their greatest profits between Thanksgiving and Christmas by turning everything red and green. Homes and businesses throughout the country have Christmas lights, wreaths, and decorated Christmas trees. Several Christmas trees are even in the White House. Unlimited Christmas music fills the air and on radio. The media are overloaded by Christmas advertising and news. Every major TV network has a plethora of re-run Christmas shows, from the animated “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to four-star films “Miracle on 34th Street,” “White Christmas,” and It’s a Wonderful Life.”
      There is no war. But the ignorant extremists believe if someone says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” that is an attack on Christmas. A few million Americans, led by the jingoistic “take-no-prisoners” right-wing media, defend the holiday by shouting, “Merry Christmas” at everyone from a homeless veteran to strangers at airports to store clerks to business executives; it’s a battle cry that rivals the Rebel Call of the 1860s. Jesus would first be appalled, and then laugh himself into tears at the hate shown by these sanctimonious self-indulgent holier-than-thou misguided souls.
      Second, the First Amendment guarantees Americans not only the right to worship whoever and whatever they wish, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, atheism, or deism, the prevalent religion of many of the most notable Founding Fathers. Because of the First Amendment, you see hundreds of thousands of churches conducting services without government intervention. The First Amendment also guarantees the separation of church and state and prohibits the establishment of a state religion. That’s why you don’t see manger scenes in front of court houses and hear Christmas prayers at city council meetings. But you do see city workers putting festive lights and decorations on street lamps.
      Nevertheless, in ignorance of what the Constitution dictates, the extreme evangelical right-wing, which doesn’t seem to respect any religion other than their own, load their canons of deceit every December to attack the ACLU for leading the War on Christmas. But, the ACLU—and numerous other national organizations—not only protect the First Amendment’s dictate against the establishment of a national religion, they also vigorously defend, often in court, the right of all citizens, including the extremists, not only to worship their own religions but also to proclaim “Merry Christmas” to whomever they wish.
      The resolution that Rep. Lamborn introduced is itself unconstitutional. Rep. Lamborn—who took a mandatory law course while an undergraduate journalism major—and then many more in law school—should have known his proposed resolution is an infringement upon what the Founding Fathers wanted and believed. But, he is just playing to his audience—and not the Constitution.
      His resolution, introduced two weeks ago, is buried in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. But, it will probably resurface 11 months from now. The conservative media and their followers regift this nonsense every December.
      [Dr. Brasch, a Jew and an ACLU chapter officer who specializes in defending and protecting the First Amendment, celebrates all holidays, including Christmas, and respects all religions as well as those individuals who choose not to believe in any religion. He is the author of 20 books; the most recent one is Fracking Pennsylvania.]



Saturday, December 12, 2015

Today’s Media: Often Pandering to Bias and Ignorance




by Walter Brasch

      The Texas board of education didn’t find anything wrong with a world geography textbook that said slaves from Africa were workers, but that immigrants from northern Europe were indentured servants.
      This is the same school board that five years ago demanded that textbooks emphasize that slavery was only a side issue to the cause of the civil war, and that Republican achievements be emphasized in political science and civics textbooks.
      For good measure, the officials also wanted a “fair and balanced” look at evolution versus intelligent design or creationism, and that global warming is only a theory, overlooking substantial and significant scientific evidence.
      Because Texas adopts textbooks for the entire state, and there is minimal local choice, publishers tend to publish what Texas wants. The geography book had a 100,000 sale in Texas alone. However, McGraw-Hill, under a firestorm of protest from educators and parents, is modifying the text—African slaves will no longer be “workers” but slaves in the next printing.
      Publishers in America, trying to reap the widest possible financial benefit by not offending anyone, especially school boards, often force authors to overlook significant historical and social trends. For more than a century, books which targeted buyers in the North consistently overlooked or minimized Southern views about the Civil War; other books, which targeted a Southern readership, discussed the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States.
      Almost all media overlooked significant issues about slavery, the genocide against Native Americans, the real reasons for the Mexican-American War, the seizure of personal property and subsequent incarceration of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, the reasons why the United States went to war in Vietnam, the first Gulf War and, more recent, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
      Textbook publishers, choosing profits over truth, often glossed over, or completely ignored until years or decades later, the major social movements, including the civil rights, anti-war and peace movements of the 1960s and the emerging environmental movement of the 1970s. It was the underground and alternative press that presented the truth that the establishment press under-reported or refused to acknowledge, timidly accepting the “official sources.”
      Textbook publishers aren’t the only problem. The news media have ignored or downplayed mass protests against the wars, whether Vietnam or Iraq. They have ignored or downplayed mass protests against fracking. And, during this election year, all media have decided which candidates should get the most news coverage. There are several excellent Republican presidential candidates, but the media like the pompous and boisterous Donald Trump; he gives a good show. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton gets the most coverage of the three major candidates. Analysis of network air time by the Tyndall Reports shows that ABC-TV’s “World News Tonight” during the past year gave Donald Trump 81 minutes of air; it gave Sen. Bernie Sanders less than a minute, although Sanders is drawing even larger crowds than Trump. It’s no different with CBS and NBC television coverage. Total broadcast network time for Trump, according to Tyndall’s data, is 234 minutes; for Sanders, it’s about 10 minutes. The problem, of course, is editorializing by omission.
      At one time, the media led the nation in unveiling social injustice and other major problems. Although they had their defects and biases, the nation’s media understood they were the system that helped assure a free and unencumbered forum for debate about major issues. More important, they also understood that their role wasn’t to perpetuate fraud and lies, but to seek out and present the truth. Seemingly in conflict—present all views vs. present the facts and the truth—the media also understood that newsprint and airtime should not be wasted upon being a megaphone for ignorance.
      Now, their role is to follow, while pandering to the entertainment value of social and political issues and giving cursory glances at the news value. It’s not what the Founding Fathers believed and, certainly, not what they wanted. But it is, in the 21st century, the media’s vain attempt to restore profits.
      [Dr. Brasch has been a journalist more than four decades, reporting and editing on newspapers, magazines, and television. He is also professor emeritus of mass communications from Bloomsburg University.]



Friday, December 11, 2015

Blustery Donald Trump vs. The Quiet Christian



by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

      Before a cheering and whooping crowd in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Donald Trump, spewing the blustery rhetoric of a demagogue, declared that the United States should ban all Muslims from entering the country.
      He claimed to have Muslim friends who supported his position. He claimed that Muslims want “to change your religion.” He claimed that a poll, one created by an anti-Muslim extremist, showed that one-fourth of American Muslims believe violence against Americans is justified.
      With absolutely no proof to support his accusations, and significant evidence to dispute it, for more than six years he and those who follow his hate have claimed President Obama was born in a foreign country and is a Muslim. Apparently, Trump is incapable of reading and understanding the Constitution, especially the part that says there shall be no religious tests for the office of the presidency.
      The blue-eyed, dyed-blonde-haired Aryan, who professes to be a Christian, also wants to create a wall along the country’s southern border to keep out illegal immigrants. He has yet to explain where the money will come from to build the wall and to protect it, and refuses to acknowledge that such a wall is impractical, and the Obama administration has already added money and agents for border protection. He wants to deport every one of the 11 million undocumented workers already in the United States, most of whom work in low-paying jobs, are trying to assimilate into the American melting pot culture, and have never had even a parking ticket. But, the billionaire bigot can’t provide specifics how to deport them.
      His speech on an aircraft carrier museum was one day after President Obama, trying to reassure the people of the nation’s commitment against domestic terrorism after the San Bernardino murders, asked the nation to remember “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes—and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country.”
      Trump’s demand to block Muslims from entering the U.S. was rejected by the other Republican presidential candidates, all of whom had pledged to support him if he was the party’s nominee. His beliefs were also rejected by all of the Democratic candidates, and by sensible people throughout the world. However, about two-thirds of all persons who are likely to vote in the Republican primaries also believe in a ban on immigration of Muslims, according to the latest Bloomberg Politics Poll. Fear merges with religious bigotry and white supremacy to give Trump a significant advantage.
      Trump’s demand for a ban on Muslims, if ever carried through, is unconstitutional. And, yet, he is the leading Republican presidential contender. He appeals to the segment of America that believes its own problems are caused by others and who are ruled by fear not reason. In a paranoid belief that the government is their enemy, and using one part of the Constitution to justify their gun mentality while denying much of the rest of it, they have loaded their houses and cars with guns, preparing to defend their fears against a Muslim invasion or an attack by the 101st Airborne Division. The right wing extremists and Trump’s probable voters have willingly allowed themselves to be encrusted by whatever hateful rhetoric is blown past them.
      In every one of his speeches, Trump gets ovations for his rhetoric, and for his condemnation of the mass media, while using the media to get his message to the people of the extreme right wing.
      On the same day that Donald Trump was blustering and flinging lies and half-truths, the mass media reported that Jimmy Carter was now cancer-free.
      Carter is the antithesis of Trump. He is quiet, humble, and works to serve humanity not himself.
      He graduated in the top 10 percent of his class at the Naval Academy, one of the most rigorous colleges in the country, and became a lieutenant in the nuclear submarine service. The man in charge of the nuclear Navy was Adm. Hyman Rickover, one of the most brilliant and demanding officers the military ever had, and one who inspired and set the example for the young officer.
      But, Jimmy Carter didn’t stay in the Navy, even with a future that would probably have put at least one star on his collar. After his father died, he left the Navy to help his family run a peanut farm in rural Georgia, and was successful as a state legislator and governor.
      On his second day in office as president, he pardoned all draft evaders of the Vietnam War. Drawing upon his own experience and culture, he created the departments of Energy and Education. But his greatest role was to try to reduce conflict around the world. His leadership led to the SALT II nuclear arms reduction treaty and to the Camp David Accords, which brought together Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize; Carter would receive one in 2002 for his continued work of quiet diplomacy.
      The foundation of the Carter Center is to help humanity. Carter or one of his volunteers or staff have monitored elections throughout the world, assisted in developing agriculture, and reducing or eradicating disease.
      Jimmy Carter, who once lived in public housing, is an excellent carpenter, who is active in Habitat for Humanity, where he helps build homes for the impoverished, working out of the glare of the media spotlight.
      Unlike the leading presidential candidates who feel some kind of a need to publicly boast they are Christians and to “outChristian” one another while saying very unChrist-like statements, Jimmy Carter quietly goes about living his faith. For 35 years, he has taught Sunday School, relishing the role of a volunteer teacher.
      He is the author of 23 books, most of them focused upon improving humanity throughout the world, several that explore human rights and religion.        
      Donald Trump can bluster all he wants. He can distort the truth, rant and rally his minions to standing ovations. But, he will never be as effective, or as important, as the 91-year-old man from Plains, Ga., who quietly goes about a life dedicated to helping others.
      [Rosemary Brasch is a retired secretary, Red Cross family services disaster specialist, and university instructor of labor studies. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and professor emeritus of mass communications. He is also the author of 20 books; the latest one is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Downsizing the News Staff; Downsizing Quality and Credibility



by Walter Brasch

(Part 2 of 2)
           
      For more than a decade, advertising, circulation, and news quality in both print and electronic media have been in a downward spiral. That spiral has twin intertwining roots.
      The first root is the rise of social media. The complacent and stodgy print media were slow to catch onto the concept and rise of social media and its influence upon a generation that conducts its life by a fusion of smart phones to ears. When owners figured out they needed to have a digital presence, they first gave away content in a desperate bid to keep readers, and then began to charge for it to those who didn’t have subscriptions.
      Like their TV cousins—CNN, FoxNews, and MSNBC—newspapers became 24/7 operations, with reporters now expected not only to find the stories, do the research, report, and write stories for one edition a day, but also to rewrite and update their stories for the newspaper’s website. It wasn’t long until editors had print reporters take small portable cameras and their cell phones into the field to also transmit visual stories to the newspaper’s copy desk. The result is a diminished quality as reporters now have more work to do in a time frame that keeps increasing, but are working with the same salaries and benefits.
      The second root is the Great Recession, which began about December 2007 during the last year of the Bush–Cheney administration when the bubble manipulated by financial institutions, with minimal governmental oversight, finally burst. The recession ended about June 2009, six months into the Obama administration.
      For years, media owners had been wallowing in 10–30 percent annual profits, near the top of all industries, didn’t put their income into improving their properties and their news operations, but took the money and increased shareholder returns, thus keeping their own jobs.
      With the Great Recession, business cut back on advertising. This led to fewer news pages and then to narrower page sizes as publishers began to cut expenses. The Great Recession also led to readers with less disposable income cancelling their subscriptions. The business model for newspapers is that higher circulation means higher rates for advertising; conversely, lower circulation means publishers charge less per column inch for advertising, leading to less profit. In most newspapers, advertising accounts for about 70–80 percent of revenue.
      When profits continued to shrink, owners and their financial staff and analysts, few of whom ever had to chase a story, cut back staff, froze salaries and benefits.
      Cutting back staff means that whoever is left not only has to transmit video from the field and rewrite stories for the paper’s website, they are now forced to increase their own productivity to cover stories that the laid-off reporters once covered, and not cover certain stories that should have been covered. Over time, this has led to a decrease in the quality of both reporting and writing, and a decrease in investigative and in-depth reporting, which takes both time and resources.
      At one time, newspapers had proofreaders, whose job was to make sure news stories had no spelling and grammar errors. But, to increase profits, publishers eliminated proofreaders, giving their work to the copy desk. Copyeditors check reporters’ stories for accuracy, often asking reporters to fill holes in their stories or to verify certain facts. Copyeditors also tighten stories, moving sentences and paragraphs to improve readability, flow, and to assure that the most important information isn’t buried somewhere in the middle of the story. Copyeditors also delete unnecessary verbiage and news source quotes that don’t add anything to the story. They write the headlines, format reporters’ copy and place it onto the page. Copyeditors, along with city editors and managing editors, also decide what stories should get larger headlines and what pages they should go onto to give readers a roadmap of importance.
      As publishers began laying off copyeditors, the finesse of the copydesk has been replaced by “Shovel Editing”—take a shovel and throw what you have onto the page.
      With fewer staff, owners decided that filling what is left of the diminishing news hole, caused by less advertising, is more economical if they use syndicated material—perhaps a feature from several states away now dumped onto a local page but with no local angle, packaged entertainment news that spills the salacious news about some celebrity’s forthcoming divorce, or more press releases, which are barely edited or verified because copyeditors are already overworked. Some newspapers have filled their pages with bloated stories about misdemeanors, largely handed to them by police departments and by larger photos of car crashes and check-passing ceremonies that take up space that once would have been used for news stories.
      As newspapers began their descent, circulation decreased—partially because other online sources became more prevalent, largely because newspaper content had become soft. Many local newspapers, under the direction of editors willing to stand up for journalistic credibility, have maintained an excellent news operation. But overall, during the past decade, Americans turned to a comedy cable channel, tuned in Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for 44 minutes of truth four times a week, and tuned out ink on newsprint.
      The economy has rebounded; unemployment is down to 5 percent. The average wage for a newly-minted liberal arts graduate is about $41,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. For a new reporter, it’s about $10,000–$15,000 a year lower, according to a study from the University of Georgia. More important, some of the better graduates of journalism programs are planning for careers in PR, advertising, and other non-news fields.
      Profits should be rising for newspaper groups. But, owners still give no or just minimal raises to their editorial staff, and they haven’t replaced the jobs lost during the past decade.
      The soul of a newspaper is its newsroom, something many owners say but never believe. While downsizing the news rooms, owners’ actions have caused a further downsizing in media credibility and have directly led to a downward spiral in the viability of both print and broadcast media.
      The solution to stopping the decline is to restore jobs to the newsroom, hire the best reporter–writers and editors, ones who have a broad knowledge of culture and society, pay them decent wages, give them better benefits, give them time to develop, report, and then write in-depth stories. While doing this, owners need to disregard financial experts who throw useless verbiage and skewed statistics that focus solely upon the “bottom line” and how to “maximize profits. They need to stop hiring $500 an hour media consultants, more adept at massaging statistics than in reporting social issues, who claim readers want shorter news stories, shorter columns, flashy graphics, and prefer crime and entertainment stories.
      When a solid news product re-emerges, the readers will return. When the circulation increases, so will the advertisers and the revenue.

     [In a four-decade career in journalism, Dr. Brasch has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, multi-media writer-producer, television writer, and professor of mass communications. He is the author of 20 books, most of which fuse history and contemporary social issues; his most recent book is Fracking Pennsylvania. He is also the recipient of more than 200 journalism awards for excellence, including multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, National Federation of Press Women, Press Club of Southern California, AP, and the Pennsylvania Press Club.]