Friday, June 29, 2012

Rush to Report Is Not Always Wisest Decision

Every American news enterprise was most likely primed and on its toes for yesterday’s landmark Supreme Court’s decision on federal health care. It was perhaps SCOTUS’ (Supreme Court of the United States) most anticipated finding since it ruled on the Bush-Gore 2000 election.
Yet, there was a parallel story that almost got lost in the frenzy of reporting and reaction to the Court’s 5-4 decision that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Two of the three 24/7 cable news networks jumped the gun with “breaking news” headlines that the nine justices rejected the law.
Soon after the 193-page decision was released, and journalists streamed out of the Supreme Court building to deliver the news, CNN and Fox News, in their eagerness to be the first to inform waiting audiences, incorrectly reported that the healthcare mandate had been struck down.
Not since the inaccurate Chicago Tribune front page headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman,” in the 1948 presidential election, has a news organization been so humiliated.
CNN’s on-screen scroll read, “Supreme Court finds measure unconstitutional.”
Fox News simultaneously ran an all-caps scroll, “Supreme Court finds health care mandate unconstitutional.”
With the White House figuratively holding its breath for news coming out of the Court, reports indicated they were momentarily jarred by the flawed premature reports.
A few delighted Republicans and Tea Party members reportedly hastily tweeted the incorrect news.
It was soon discovered, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, giving him a crucial election-year success and preserving most of a law that expands insurance to millions of people and transforms an industry that comprises 18 percent of the nation’s economy.
CNN, which recently received its lowest ratings in 21 years, subsequently apologized, admitting, “…it regrets it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate.”
Fox, however, was less contrite in acknowledging it failed to read past the first page. “We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the Commerce clause, we reported it…Fox reported the facts, as they came in.”
That’s like impulsively reporting one team was on its way to victory after it scored nine runs in the first inning, but later adding that the other team scored two runs in each of the last five innings to win, 10-9.
The Court’s lengthy ruling made the urge to report from a single page a major journalistic faux pas. It also spotlighted the quandary that journalism has increasingly faced in the last twenty years. As the need for instantaneous and 24/7 news has mushroomed, an assorted blend of outlets established news organizations, blogs, new media and tweeters are involved in the competitive environment. Yet, the failure of Fast Food News, as some information sources are derisively referred, to accurately report, fact-check and confirm complex stories, before rushing to report a story, has diminished the profession’s integrity, quality and respect.
What is often labeled “breaking news” is not always the case. Routinely, there’s nothing new or special to report. It’s not the fault of the media when news isn’t forthcoming, but in order to keep a story fresh and viewers glued to their sets, 24/7 news groups commonly resort to fresh, albeit trivial, tidbits to update a story.
For instance: As words scrawl across the screen the on-air news anchor reports, “The heat wave has started to abate as local temperatures dropped from 99 to 98 degrees.”
A fact of little consequence.
The GOP said Friday it will vote to repeal the health care law in Congress on July 11th.
Though every news organization will want to report that breaking news, too, let’s hope they are more concerned with getting it right than reporting it first and blowing it again.
As we celebrate America’s 236th birthday on Wednesday, when you turn to the Internet, television, radio or your daily newspaper for news, be grateful for freedom of the press. And, despite infrequent mistakes, don’t condemn a profession that doggedly pursues its mission to uphold a cornerstone of our democracy.
On the other hand, with the sanction that gives the media virtually unrestricted authorization to spread the news comes enormous responsibility and accountability.
While journalism may be the first rough draft of history, credible, reliable journalists regardless of the medium scrambling to satisfy the impatience of supervisors, as well as news-junkie audiences, must never tolerate flagrant errors in the headlong rush to report and circulate breaking news.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Voters Cannot Elect Bigoted Barron to Congress (June 22, 2012)

Some voters could care less — and others may be unaware — that there’s a primary election Tuesday for the seat being vacated by retiring 15-term Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns.
To begin with, early summer is more suited for end of public school year activities, graduations and the start of vacations than an election.
Nevertheless, this primary, which is expected to produce an inconsequential voter turnout, has pundits and politicians anxiously awaiting the outcome, mostly because of the two candidates running for the Democratic nomination in the newly-created 8th Congressional District that cuts a swath across Brooklyn from Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant to East New York and Canarsie and from Mill Basin and Bergen Beach to Brighton Beach and Coney Island. It even stretches east into Howard Beach and Ozone Park in Queens.
State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and City Councilman Charles Barron are facing off to succeed Towns. It would, without a doubt, be a huge mistake, if Barron was the victor.
I’m registered in the neighboring 9th District, so I won’t be able to choose between Jeffries and Barron. Nonetheless, I come to figuratively bury Barron, not to praise him.
Barron still spews prejudice that was expected when he was in the Black Panthers, a revolutionary group that preached armed resistance to societal oppression of African Americans. But narrow-minded, hateful rhetoric has no place in our society, even less in divisive politics.
When he announced his candidacy for Borough President five summers ago, Barron pledged “unapologetically” to do whatever he could solely for Brooklyn’s black population. When he apparently realized he might need votes in other communities, Barron patronizingly added he would “be there for white and Asian communities as well.”
In the last few weeks, Barron has received key endorsements from Towns, who, just six years ago, referred to Barron as “a bomb-thrower” when he ran against him, and District Council 37, the city’s largest public-employee union. In its June 7th endorsement, the Amsterdam News, the nation’s leading black newspaper, noted, “Barron embodies the soul of the community…It has not always been a smooth ride; (he) can be both arrogant and stubborn, but those qualities are what has made him the successful freedom fighter he is.”
However, Barron was chastised by the city’s three dailies. In a June 15th editorial, the liberal New York Times called him “an embarrassing ideologue,” while three days later the right-wing New York Post said he was “a shameless racial demagogue.” In its Sunday editorial, the Daily News said, “Democrats…must awaken to the threat posed by Barron, a councilman who has made a career of the racial taunt.”
While Barron appears to have mellowed in recent campaign stops, it’s just a ploy to attract voters, not because his extremely biased attitudes have changed. With boundaries altered from what they were during Towns’ tenure, the new 8th District has a significantly whiter population (22.4%), though it retains a large black majority (53%). Nevertheless, with Barron's penchant for arrogance, if he is elected, he’d likely become the most maverick legislator Congress has seen in ages.
On the other hand, even if Barron’s attitude was less weighted against whites, which is highly unlikely based on his history of inflammatory rhetoric, he would still not be a viable choice because of his antagonism towards Israel as a “terrorist state” and remarks that referred to Libyan dictator Muammar Khadafy as his personal hero.
His record paints him as a divisive firebrand who would not work towards helping to heal the nation’s problems, but rather to exacerbate them. If he is elected, he would then have a national audience to voice his hateful rants.
But, as Barron tries to appear relevant and worthy of serving in Congress, his record demonstrates that he has been insufficiently outspoken on critical issues that affect his constituents.
He grandstands whenever someone appears to have been unjustly wronged in his community, but he doesn’t vigorously campaign to get guns off the streets in his high-crime council district. Nor do I recall his outrage about cracking down on rampant drug use. He also seems too passive about trying to reduce black-on-black crime and pays insufficient attention to the gang violence that keeps public housing residents in a constant state of fear.
For years, Barron has had only a single agenda and a narrow-minded view. A decade ago, he said he wanted “to go up to the closest white person and slap him, just for my mental health.” He also reportedly threatened to storm the Treasury Department if the federal government failed to pay reparations to blacks for slavery and discrimination.
It’s one thing to espouse an agenda and promote a cause, but it’s out of place when you’re running for a public office in a district with a diverse constituency.
Here’s a man who, on occasion, said he will never recite or stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. The Daily Beast recently reported that Barron was at his Bed-Stuy campaign headquarters when a middle-aged man confronted him and said that he heard Barron is against the Constitution. The candidate replied, “I’m the biggest patriot there is.”
Barron has the right not to recite the Pledge, the Star Spangled Banner or America the Beautiful, but to still maintain he is a patriot seems hypocritical.
Earlier this month, former Mayor Ed Koch joined several local elected representatives, including Assembly members Steven Cymbrowitz and Helene Weinstein and City Council members David Greenfield and Mike Nelson, at a Manhattan press conference to denounce Barron's anti-Israel statements. The Jewish state is a vital Middle East U.S. ally but that obviously doesn’t matter to Barron, who, a few years ago, compared what was happening to Palestinians in Gaza to “a concentration camp.”
With a portion of a district that has a considerable Jewish population, including Soviet immigrants with relatives in Israel, Barron should not expect much support next Tuesday, especially considering the recent rightward trend of voters in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.
Barron may have toned down his racist rhetoric in recent campaign stops in a blatant attempt to garner votes, but only the most politically na├»ve would fall for that strategy. For decades he has been a voice of hatred and it’s highly suspect that he has changed. Plus, his passionate anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements, including his reference to Israel as a terrorist state and his claim that the Holocaust never occurred, will never be forgotten or forgiven by many voters.
Despite this nation’s dishonorable past of electing bigots to Congress, anyone whose history includes apparent revulsion for anyone but African-Americans should not hold public office.
The Baron of Bias does not deserve to be elected because for Charles Barron to serve in Congress would be an awful mistake that neither Brooklyn nor the nation can afford.