Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One Question for Condoleezza Rice

As the New York Times reports, former national security advisor and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice will certainly be able to utilize her diplomatic skills in her position as a member of the college football playoff selection committee.

Rice is also the former provost, the chief academic officer,  of Stanford University.

If by chance in addition to all the cheerleaders who will wait to report the committee's selections an actual reporter shows up, here's a question for Ms. Rice.

"When you were provost of Stanford University, would you have approved a course that causes brain damage?"

The silence of America's provosts on a college sport that causes brain damage is not the fault of academia.  It's clearly understandable why we see one athletic scandal after another across America's campuses.   One doesn't expect a university to have standards, but the press should. Reporters across the country  should be asking university presidents and provosts to explain how a sport that causes brain damage is consistent with a university's mission.   

If a university's mission is to be a cost-free training ground for the NFL, then America's universities are doing a superb job.  If a university's mission is education, then how do you explain the silence of America's university presidents and provosts with what medical science has shown happens to the human brain when it's repeatedly exposed to football?

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

League of Denial Part II

If we had sports reporters and not pom pom wavers, in addition to reviews and critiques of the program, we would have seen a range of great follow up stories following Frontline's "League of Denial: the NFL's Concussion Crisis."   We would have seen interviews with college presidents, athletic directors, high school principals, college and high school football coaches, and parenting organizations.   There would have been interviews with members of boards of university trustees.

Instead, we see League of Denial Part II - college football.

In "League of Denial fails to tell the whole story on concussions," Mike Florio makes a superb point when he says the program failed to hold the NFL Players Association accountable on a problem he says was "hiding in plain sight."   Why was the problem able to hide in plain sight?   Because we don't have sports reporters, just pom pom wavers.

What's been happening with concussions and football is reminiscent of the steroid era in baseball. Baseball writers came to game after game watching the neck sizes and biceps bulge and ignored the story in front of their faces.   Had we had baseball reporters and not cheerleaders, there never would have been a steroid era in baseball.

But concussions are far more serious than steroids.   In examining an 18-year-old brain, Dr. Ann McKee describes what she expected. That brain says McKee, "is supposed to be pristine.   It's supposed to be perfect."   But the brain of the 18-year-old who had died after suffering his fourth concussion isn't perfect; it is already showing damage.  

With information like that, the follow up stories and the questions to be asked of athletic directors, the NCAA, college presidents and boards of trustees and high school principals are easy and obvious, unless you're a pom pom waver and not a reporter.   Here is an education story, a sports story, a health and safety story, a legal story, a medical story, a parenting story and we see our news organizations failing to ask the questions that need to be asked.

When journalism fails, bad things happen - this time, it's to the brains of our children.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

You Can't Blame Public Officials for the Failure of Reporters

Al Jazeera makes an absolutely superb point.   It's the responsibility of journalists to hold public officials accountable.  As Al Jazeera correctly reports, the coverage of the government's shutdown fails that test.

Do your own test.   Go to the website of your local TV station.  What video interview do you find of your member of Congress where the reporter is asking intelligent and probing questions about the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare).   Does the reporter ask the member of Congress to explain why healthcare in this country is so poor compared to other nations?   The World Health Organization ranks the United States 38th.   That's right, 38th.   We are number 1 in cost.   In fact, the United States is the only industrialized nation where tens of thousands of families go bankrupt every year from medical bills.   Why is that happening?   Have your local reporters asked your members of Congress?

If the answer is no, write to the general managers of your local television stations and ask one question:  why should your license to broadcast be renewed?

Do another test.   Do a Google or Yahoo search for football concussions.   You'll find millions of results.

But among those results, you will not find an interview with a university president where he/she is asked a basic fundamental question:   if the mission of the university is education, why do you support a sport that causes brain damage?   And as tuition and student debt keep going up, how do you justify charging fees to the academic students to pay for a sport that causes brain damage?   There are a handful of schools where athletics make money.   But at most universities, the athletic department is a multimillion dollar budget hole universities plug by charging fees to the academic students.   At Kent State University where I teach, if a student takes a 3-credit journalism course from me, the student pays $24/credit hour ($72) to the athletic department.   If the student is living in Cincinnati and takes a 3-credit online course and never sets foot on campus, the student still pays the same $24/credit hour fee to the athletic department.  

This is the important point:  it's totally unfair to blame university presidents for failing to address the issue when reporters don't ask the question.   Where are the reporters?   How do you explain that with all the coverage there has been on the dangers of football concussions, we don't have reporters asking university presidents about the potential cost of concussion-related litigation?  

This is an obvious story for sports reporters, education reporters, health reporters, economic reporters, even entertainment reporters (football is entertainment, it's just entertainment that causes brain damage).

So where are the interviews?   Why do we have so many cheerleaders and pom pom wavers and so few reporters?   There are reporters working for Frontline.   Be sure to watch its special this Tuesday evening, League of Denial.   When it comes to the risk and permanent brain damage caused by football concussions, it appears most of America's news organizations are taking the same approach the NFL did - denying reality.

Here are two video clips from two highly knowledgeable attorneys worth a listen.  Watch and listen and ask once again:  why aren't reporters in local markets across the country questioning university presidents about the issue of football concussions?  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Time Magazine Ignores Foreign Policy History

In its article Behind the Charm Offensive (the online headline is Behind Iran's Charm Offensive), Time seems to forget the offensive facts of American foreign policy and Iran.   In the magazine, there's a helpful center column bit of artwork with pictures of U.S. and Iranian leaders with dates and reminders of what has happened over the years.  Time begins what it calls the "history of hostility - and chances missed" in 1979.  

As Time's Michael Crowley reports, "The Shah flees, Ayatullah Khomeini calls the U.S. 'the Great Satan,' and Americans are taken hostage."

What is omitted in Time's history of hostility is its beginning.   During the Eisenhower administration, Iran's Prime Minister Mohammad Massadegh wanted to nationalize the oil fields and share the wealth with the Iranian people.   The United States did not want that.  The CIA orchestrated a coup, overthrew Massadegh and installed a U.S. puppet dictator, the Shah.   The Shah's secret police force, Savak captured, imprisoned, tortured and killed any political enemies.   Approval of torture by this country didn't start with Bush and Cheney.   Our foreign policy approved of torture decades earlier in Iran.   And anyone with any knowledge of American foreign policy will tell you the Iranian uprising and revolution of 1979 came as a direct result of American foreign policy.

So why is such a crucial bit of information omitted from the Time article?   Every family in Iran knows America was responsible for overthrowing its leadership in 1953.  Every family knows the ruthless brutality of the Shah's rule.   Even the CIA now admits it orchestrated the coup.    What does Michael Crowley report of the Eisenhower years?   He writes about the "Atoms for Peace Project," that supplied the Shah with nuclear technology.   Yes, the U.S. overthrows the government, installs a ruthless dictator, then gives the ruthless dictator nuclear technology.   Time and Michael Crowley totally ignore the CIA coup.  Crowley totally ignores Savak and the brutality of the Shah.

It is impossible to put U.S. - Iranian relations in proper context when omitting the key historical event. Given Iran's history with the U.S., it's understandable that Supreme Leader Khamenei is hostile to the West.   How would you feel about a country that overthrew the leadership in your country and installed a ruthless dictator?

Perhaps its all the budget cuts at Time that have eliminated editors who believe in putting American foreign policy into proper historical context.    Let's hope it's just poor reporting, not intentional bias. Either way, the reader loses.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.