Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why We Have Trump

We have Trump for the same reason we had the war in Iraq:  journalism failed.

With Iraq, there was no imminent threat.   The "if we knew then what we know now" excuse is totally hollow.   We knew then there was no threat.   But the Bush Administration couldn't make the argument to Congress or to the American people that it wanted to use American military power to redraw the political map of the Middle East.   The Bush Administration knew that wouldn't work.   So it had to come up with a story to sell the war.  

As Bill Moyers points out in definitive detail in "Buying the War:  How Big Media Failed Us," the only thing that allowed the Bush Administration to sell the war was a compliant press.   By definition, a compliant press is a press failing to do its job.

The only thing that allowed Donald Trump to sell his candidacy was a press that failed to do its job.  
Instead of asking specific questions about specific issues, it played human microphone stand for Donald.   Day after day we listened to "did you hear what Donald Trump said?"   And day after day, reporters asked other candidates not about issues but instead asked, "what do you think of what Donald Trump said?"

The American viewer heard more comments about climate change by watching the Academy Awards than from watching a reporter moderated Republican presidential debate.
My apology for using the word reporter in that sentence.   An actual reporter, a journalist, would ask specific questions.   An actual journalist would hold a candidate accountable.  
A compliant press doesn't do that. 

Now we have the result.   

When journalism fails, bad things happen.   


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

60 Minutes Shocker That Shouldn't Be

Everyone who knows how Congress works was not surprised in the least by the 60 Minutes report "Dialing for Dollars."  Members spend hours every single day not working for constituents but instead focusing on their primary objective:  to raise money.   As 60 Minutes reported, the Congressional daily calendar is scheduled around fund raising.   There aren't committee meetings during the lunch hour.   That's prime telemarketing time.   Members don't complain publicly even though each and every single one of them should.   

Voters back in the district are shocked for one primary reason:  local reporters don't do their jobs.   
In every single television market, the member should have been held accountable by local TV reporters.   They're not.   

The question is simple:  why should TV stations licensed by the FCC be allowed to have their licenses renewed when their news operations don't even hold their members of Congress accountable?   Call the general manager of your local TV station and ask him/her to explain on tonight's news why the station should not have its license revoked for such a total dereliction of basic reporting.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Saturday, March 19, 2016


Finally, the Republican Party is upset with getting a candidate of its own creation.  Party Leaders now want to take action to stop Trump.   Most likely, it's too late for this election but not for the next.   With action, we can stop future Trumps from harming the country.

One solution for the future, Party Leaders should suggest to voters that journalism, not propaganda is essential in a democracy.   Guess what?   Facts matter.  

If Party Leaders are actually concerned about the country, they should get some of their super wealthy supporters to pay for a public education campaign like the ones we've done for using your seat belt and the dangers of driving and texting.   This would be a public education campaign to educate the public about journalism.  Top Republicans should privately and publicly tell Roger Ailes that Fox should do something it's never done:  journalism, not propaganda, not political talking points for the party. 

The country has lots of problems.   But every problem is not caused by President Obama.

Journalism requires verification.   What are the facts?  What is the evidence?   If journalists had done their jobs, there would not have been an Iraq war.   There was no imminent threat and the intelligence community knew that, and it was being confirmed daily by the UN weapons inspectors.  

If Fox News had done journalism instead of propaganda, there would be no Donald Trump about to get the nomination of the party.   And if voters would start demanding the same thing journalists should - facts - they will never support a candidate like Trump.   In addition, there will be no disagreement on global warming and the dire need to take action regarding climate change.   In that way, science is like journalism, facts matter.

We're now paying a national price for a party and a cable "news" network that have ignored facts.   
Ultimately, science will win.   There's no doubt of that.   Can journalism make a come back? Let's hope so or this country will be one of the shortest living world powers in earth's history.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Friday, March 18, 2016


How can members of Congress get away with not talking to reporters?   Simple.  Reporters don't talk to them, at least not the ones who matter.

As Tip O'Neill pointed out years ago, all politics is local.

What happens at the local level, where the member's voters live?   Nothing.  Local TV news operations question them about NOTHING. Local TV news operations don't question them about climate change or student debt or international trade or military expenditures or even the magnificent wall Donald Trump wants to build.  

Students in my computer-assisted reporting class contacted every single member of the Ohio Congressional delegation to get the member's position on climate change.  They also requested a 5-minute videoskype interview with either the member or the member's press aide to discuss the member's position on climate change.  

Click right here and watch what the students discovered.  

What's germane here is the second part of the students' assignment.  The student journalists also had to call the local commercial television stations to find out if their news departments had questioned their members of Congress about climate change.
Navy Veteran Christopher Freeman Calls Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson's Office Trying to Get the Congressman's Position on Climate Change.   Congressman Johnson Would Not Provide It.
Student reporters discovered not a single commercial TV newsroom in Ohio had questioned its members about climate change.

Local news no longer holds members of Congress accountable.   So when politicians get called from national reporters, they can ignore them.   Your members of Congress can refuse to comment because all politics is local.  And local TV news reporters aren't holding them accountable.

The question is why?   If a local TV station wants to improve ratings, one way to do that is to hold their members of Congress accountable, not ignore them.

Perhaps I'm wrong; maybe my student journalists missed something (I doubt it).  If so, I apologize and ask you to send the URL from the TV station where the Senator is being questioned about climate change or about whether the Senate should hold hearings and vote on the current Supreme Court nominee or about any other issue of importance.  

One great thing about technology is it saves money.   The local TV reporter in Cincinnati or Columbus or Toledo or Cleveland or Youngstown or Dayton doesn't have to fly to D.C. to do a video interview.   That can be done via videoSkype for no cost.    Right now, the only cost we have is the incredible cost to democracy because local reporters aren't holding members of Congress accountable.   Had reporters done their job, Donald Trump wouldn't even be a consideration for the nomination of president.   But then, if reporters had done their job, there never would have been a war in Iraq either.  There was no imminent threat, and we knew that.  At least reporters from the McClatchy group got that on right.   

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

How Trump/Romney Tax Returns Can Help the Country

How unfortunate during the last election, Romney did NOT provide his tax returns.   If he actually cares about the country, he could still make them available.   So should Donald Trump because both the Trump and Romney returns will most likely show precisely the same thing:

1.   Everything was done legally.

2.  Our tax system is set up to benefit the super rich.    

You'd expect nothing else in an oligarchy.   Please Mr. Romney, if you wish to help the country you don't have to wait on Donald Trump's tax returns.   Show us yours.   Do something that actually benefits what little is left of our democracy.  Show us how broken the system is.   Show us your tax returns. 

Will he be the next head of the oligarchy?


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ken Stabler - One More Sad Story.

Excellent piece by the New York Times on Ken Stabler.   Where was the New York Times a decade ago?   Just as it did for the Iraq war, the New York Times played cheerleader. Instead of questioning and reporting on a serious issue, the Times just played cheerleader for a sport that causes brain damage.  

As the story says, "he (Ken Stabler) was robbed of the last 15 years of his life."

So why oh why did the New York Times play cheerleader for a sport that causes brain damage?  Why did news organizations across the country play cheerleader? 

Why oh why do news organizations today totally fail to question university presidents and high school administrators about a sport that causes brain damage?

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Put Down Your Pom Poms - Pick Up Your Pens - Report!

With all the news about the risks posed to the brain from concussions and sub-concussive hits received by playing football, when do you suppose a university president or high school administrator will voice concern and take action about a sport that causes brain damage?

When will reporters start questioning their university presidents and high school administrators?

Concussion, a movie starring Will Smith is informing the public for one primary reason:  the press hasn't. With only a few exceptions, local news organizations across the country have ignored an obvious story year after year after year after year.  So has the national press.   It took PBS to do League of Denial because ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox certainly wouldn't want to hurt one of their cash cows.  Who cares if young men's brains pay the price.  Not the networks, not when there's lots of money to be made on America's game.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.  

If sports reporters actually want to be reporters instead of cheerleaders, they should put down their pom poms, pick up their pens, and go question their university presidents and school administrators about a sport that causes brain damage, a sport where concussions will continue. And as Jason Luckasevic, the attorney who filed the first concussion lawsuit against the NFL, predicts, so will the lawsuits.    Why you ask, when the athlete knows there's a risk of injury, should there be a lawsuit?  Click here and listen to Jason Luckasevic explain.   

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Examining Police Use of Force Can Be Expensive

As the Washington Post reports, the FBI is going to significantly improve its ability to track information on police shootings, calling the current system a "travesty."  But as my computer-assisted reporting class discovered, if a citizen wants to get information

about a police department's use of force, it can be cost prohibitive depending upon the state.  

Here's the response student Rachel Godin got from the city of Lansing, Michigan.   To get copies of the use-of-force reports it's only $21,350.   That's right, twenty-one thousand three hundred fifty dollars, and the city wants an initial payment of more than ten grand.    

The threat to democracy does not come from terrorists, it comes from government secrecy.

Michigan reporters should be holding their elected officials accountable and asking them why Michigan has a law that allows for such charges.  Donald Trump and the 1% can afford to go after public records in Michigan, the average citizen can't.   When access to public records is thwarted, accountability in government doesn't have much of a chance.    


Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Must-See Movie for the Christmas (College Bowl) Season

Every university president and every sports editor should go back and read Jeanne Marie Laskas' article from 2009, Game Brain.   What a great piece of work telling the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who first encountered and documented the damage football causes when he examined the brain of Pittsburgh Steeler great Iron Mike Webster.   In sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, Laskas makes you think about and begin to question a game you have loved (My grandfather was a college player and a lifelong football coach; one of my earliest Christmas presents from Grandpa Joe was a used football helmet - the leather helmet type). 

From her 2009 article:  

"Omalu did not like the education he was receiving. He felt he was learning something very ugly about America, about how an $8 billion industry could attempt to silence even the most well-intentioned scientist and in the most insidious ways."

"In the jar is Omalu’s fifteenth confirmed case of CTE—the most dramatic he’s seen."

"The NFL was already plenty pissed off. They had refused to acknowledge CTE or any of Omalu’s research or, really, Omalu himself. It seemed they wanted to simply pretend Omalu did not exist, and he was sick of it, sick of insisting that yes, Bennet Omalu is a real person who has discovered a real disease that is really damaging real people even as you sit there denying it. The public debate with the NFL was a distraction from his research. He would continue his work quietly, examining brains."

"Anybody still denying the disease is out of his mind."

Why newsrooms across the country didn't jump on this article back in 2009 and start questioning coaches, parents, and school administrators about what was now scientifically documented probably comes back to the newsroom battle between reporters and cheerleaders.   When it comes to football, until now the pom pom wavers have usually won.  A movie based on Jeanne Laskas' reporting of Omalu's work may change that.

Concussion with Will Smith should be mandatory viewing for every every reporter and for every university president.   

After viewing the university president should do the following: 

1.  Go to the mirror.

2.  Look in the mirror.

3.  Ask, "why am I, a university president, not concerned about supporting a sport that causes brain damage?"

Every sports editor should simply ask one question:   when will my sports reporters put down their pom poms and pick up their pens and do some reporting?

Imagine what the football world would look like today if sports reporters were reporters and not cheerleaders.  Every sports cheerleader should write Jeanne Marie Laskas a thank you note and say "thank you for demonstrating what a reporter is supposed to do."  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.   


Friday, October 30, 2015

10 TIPS for Moderators to Improve Political Debates

1.  Ask a direct question about a specific issue.

     Example:  Should there be mandatory prison time for corporate executives who 
     knowingly approve for sale products with potentially lethal safety defects?  Why or why

     Example:   What specific steps need to be taken to solve the student debt crisis?

2.  Ask every candidate the same question.  It might be called a debate, but it's not possible with ten candidates on stage to have a debate.   So at least get each candidate to address specific issues.  

3.  When the candidate ignores the question and talks about something totally different as John Kasich did with his first question, cut him off.  His time to answer is done.  When candidates know they can't talk when refusing to answer a question, behavior will hopefully change.  This is an easy rule for candidates to understand.   If the candidate doesn't immediately address the question asked, the candidate's mic will be cut.    Currently, candidates know they can ignore the question and make any political speech they choose.   It's not surprising that's what they do.  The loser is the voting public. 

4.  When asked a specific question about a specific issue, and the candidate talks in generalities, ask for specifics.  Ask for evidence.

5.  Do not ask the candidate about another candidate.  Do not ask the candidate about what he said about another candidate.   

6.  Ask no questions about polls.   They have nothing to do with a candidate's position on a specific issue.  

7.  Remember the two-fold goal.   It's to get the candidate's specific position on specific issues, and to hold the candidate accountable for those positions be the issue the budget or climate change or Syria or the Iran Nuclear Deal.   If the candidate has no facts and no evidence to support his or her position, that should become apparent when the moderator asks for specifics and evidence and there isn't any. 

8.  Remember, a candidate debate is NOT about you the moderator.   You're not the star. The star is the direct question requiring a specific answer.   Ask direct questions.

9.  Invite someone from the BBC's HARDtalk to come to your network to give a seminar on how to ask questions. 

10.  For levity, if any candidate mentions the liberal media, LAUGH.   We have a status quo media, and we have a highly profitable propaganda network those who don't require facts or rational thought like to watch.  Liberal media?   Nope. 


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Jeb Bush

Jeb Schlub!

Enough said.

Ah, time to update this.   Saturday Night Live got it right.   Jebra.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Two Questions for Two Stories

Watch University Presidents Tackle Football's Future and ask yourself two questions that
can both lead to excellent stories for any news organization.  

1.  Where are the reporters?

2.  In this day of record student debt, why is there no transparency on the student bill?

Parents and students should demand transparency.   At many universities the highest fee the student pays goes to fund the athletic department.   The academic students take out loans and incur debt, and then they pay to fund the athletes who go to college for free.  Most college athletic departments lose millions of dollars every year.  

Are ethics important at a university? Is it ethical to send a bill that doesn't provide line-item detail?  

Try calling your university; call the bursar's office.   Ask for a line-item breakdown of student fees. Both parents and reporters can do this.  Good luck.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

College Sports Reporting: Time to Put Down the Pom Poms

There's no other sport like college football.   It causes brain damage, poses a high risk of litigation, it's about the only area of the university where the instructors are given free cars, and it's a sport that at most universities loses millions of dollars at a time of record student debt.  In other words, it's a sport that provides any reporter serious stories to pursue and provides serious challenges for any university president. 

That's why we asked every Division I university president "what's the future of football at your university?"   The result is a project Bobby Makar, Bob Baumann and I produced with Brave New Films:   University Presidents Tackle Football's Future

What is far more distressing than the response from the presidents is what we discovered about the nation's news organizations.

In producing this project, we wanted to know what university presidents had already said about the issues surrounding college football.   We asked a first-rate researcher to find every single news article where a reporter was questioning a university president about college football.   Guess what the researcher found?


That's right, nothing.

Not a single article, not from a sports reporter, not from a medical reporter, not from an education reporter, not from a business reporter, not from a media reporter.   NOTHING!

That total lack of reporting reminds me of the ESPN-MAC contract.   This is a 13 year multimillion dollar sports production deal involving every university in the Mid-American Conference and the MAC Commissioner confirms a copy of the contract was never sent to any of the universities, each of which approved the deal.   How does a public university agree to a multimillion dollar business deal without having a copy of the contract?   How do news organizations fail to question university presidents about doing business like that?

It's time for sports reporters to put down their pom poms and pick up their pens.   It's time for news organizations to hire sports reporters, not cheerleaders.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

U of Akron: Will It Waste Money on a Lawsuit?

Why do so many university lawyers in Ohio fail to understand public records law?  

Akron Beacon Journal reporter Rick Armon made a public records request for a slideshow administration officials at the University of Akron were presenting, a slideshow that featured a football player with a jersey showing a new name for the school, Ohio Tech.

University officials now say the university's name is not going to be changed.   But Rick got something besides a visual that documented what the university had been planning.  He got another example of how universities violate public records law.

The University refused to provide three slides.    The University claims the slides, part of a presentation made to multiple audiences, are proprietary and under attorney-client privilege.
A first-year law student could explain that's not possible.  This is a presentation made by officials of a public university to staff at a public university, donors and others.   It's a public record. 

Now, what happens when the Beacon Journal files suit?   Well, the University knows it will lose the case. Will it waste money arguing a case it knows it will lose? 

What is it with university lawyers?   

A few months ago, Rick requested a copy of a contract from Kent State University.   University lawyers redacted the financial terms of the contract.  A first-year law school student could have explained to Kent's legal counsel that the financial terms of a contract with a public agency in Ohio are public record.   A few days later, Kent State did relent and provide Rick an un-redacted version of the contract, something that should have been done initially.    

Here's a suggestion for both universities.   Call Dave Marburger at BakerHostetler, the number one expert on Ohio's public records law.  (disclosure:  I've worked with Dave for years and he and I wrote a book on Ohio's public records law - Access With Attitude:  An Advocate's Guide to Freedom of Information in Ohio.)  Ask Dave to spend a day explaining Ohio's public records law to legal counsel at the University of Akron and Kent State University.  

Then both universities can start obeying the law and providing the transparency that's required under the law instead of embarrassing themselves and fighting the public's right to know. 

Great work by Rick Armon; he's doing what a journalist is supposed to do. 


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pandering Misleading Headlines

The University of Akron is a mess.  It has a $60 million budget hole.   To address that budget problem it has eliminated 213 positions including the entire staff of the Akron community's premier performing arts center, EJ Thomas Hall.  

The headline on the front page of the print version of the the Akron Beacon Journal reads:  PROENZA SPEAKS ON UA - former president defends financial record during 15-year tenure in aftermath of current budget cuts.  

That's not a headline that holds a public official accountable.   It's an excuse.  It is also rather misleading.   

A more accurate headline would be:  Proenza refuses to be interviewed; issues self-serving statement.   My, my, he defends what he did.   Surprise, surprise.   With no follow up questions, he's able to say whatever he wants unchallenged.  Another more accurate headline for the front page would be:  Beacon Journal copies and pastes Proenza's press release for the front page.

The Beacon Journal writes, "when asked to respond to questions about the university's current financial problems, UA past president Luis Proenza issued a statement..."

Interview by email is NOT an interview.

Whenever a public official refuses to be interviewed, that needs to be highlighted.  

It's understandable public officials refuse to be interviewed.   They don't want to be held accountable.   They know they can get away with it for a simple reason:  the press allows it. 

As lots of university employees get fired, it's understandable several faculty members are upset that one area that didn't get touched is football, a program that loses 8 million a year. How come?   You don't find any accountability questioning there.  As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, Scarborough said the football program is a "marketing asset that brings in students." 

Where is the follow up question?   Who is dumb enough to believe that statement?

What evidence is there the football program with the lowest Division I attendance in the country attracts students?   The follow up question is essential.   Without the follow up question there is no accountability.

At Kent State where I teach, I give a lot of student tours.   I've never had a student say "gee, I was watching a Kent State (football/basketball) game and decided I want to go to Kent State School of Journalism where I get charged $24 per credit hour to help pay for college athletics "  

Whenever university officials refuse to be interviewed, that needs to be reported prominently.   When university officials refuse to answer questions, that needs to be reported and highlighted.   And when a university president makes a statement that is totally nonsensical, i.e, the football program is a "marketing asset that brings in students," the reporter needs to ask the follow up question.

Copying and pasting a press release is not reporting.  If you're not doing accountability journalism, it's not journalism.