Wednesday, April 17, 2013

All Torture is Local

The standards of any organization come from the top.   If Rupert wanted Newscorp to have high ethical standards, it would have had them.   It didn't and paid the price.   If Penn State wanted high ethical standards, it would have had them.  It didn't, and boys being sexually abused paid the price.

For any nation, the same is true.   Standards come from the top.

Following 911, the United States changed its national standards when it decided torture was ok.
As a 577 page independent nonpartison report found, the problem didn't stem from a rogue soldier or two but from a policy from the top that approved torture.

In his opinion piece in the Washington Post, former ambassador Thomas Pickering writes a single sentence that should make any reporter in any market see an instant story and an instant question that needs to be asked.

Pickering writes:  "By authorizing and permitting torture in response to a global terrorist threat, U.S. leaders committed a grave error that has undermined our values, principles and moral stature; eroded our global influence; and placed our soldiers, diplomats and intelligence officers in even greater jeopardy."

The instant question is for the reporter's local member of Congress and for the reporter's U.S. Senators:  do we need further investigation and more transparency in how the United States utilized torture or not?    What is the member's position on torture?

In a democracy, it's essential not to sanitize violations of international law or to cover up unacceptable behavior with semantics.   As Pickering writes,  "First and foremost, Americans need to confront the truth. Let’s stop resorting to euphemisms and call “enhanced interrogation techniques” — including but not limited to waterboarding — what they actually are: torture. Torturing detainees flies in the face of principles and practices established in the founding of our republic, and it violates U.S. law and international treaties to which we are a party. "

Does your member of Congress favor or oppose torture?   Does your member of Congress favor or oppose transparency?   

Why aren't local news organizations asking those questions of their members of Congress?  All politics is local.  It's the responsibility of the press to hold politicians accountable.   Why aren't news organizations doing that?  

As Pickering says, "Too much information about the abuse of detainees remains hidden from the American people." 

When journalism fails, bad things happen.  Torture is a bad thing. 



Sunday, April 7, 2013

ACCURATE quotes providing INACCURATE information

When Louisville guard Kevin Ware broke his leg on national television, one question most wouldn't have thought of is who pays for the medical bills?  A university official quickly pointed out to reporters that Ware and Ware's family would have no medical bills.

In a story in USA Today, the NCAA followed up.    Here's the quote from the USA Today story:

"Student-athletes must have insurance covering athletic-related injuries to practice and compete, per rules adopted by NCAA institutions – and in most cases colleges and universities provide that coverage," NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn said by email.

I expect the USA Today reporter is quoting Ms. Osburn accurately.   And if a student has no insurance and wants to buy a policy, most universities will provide a policy that can be purchased at the student's expense.   Who pays?  What Stacey Osburn says, that in MOST cases it is the university that provides coverage, is contradicted by what my student reporters have found.   Students in my computer-assisted reporting class contacted every university in the Mid-American Conference and in each case found that it is the student's insurance that provides the primary coverage.

Across the country, that's also what the National College Players Association has found.  Its president Ramogi Huma has excellent advice for both parents and any student athlete being recruited by a university to avoid running into an incredibly expensive medical bill surprise.  

In this day and age of instant online communication where every college athletic program has a website, Huma's organization has made an incredibly sensible suggestion:  put the the athletic department's medical payment policy online so student athletes and their parents know what it is.   Well click and listen to how universities responded.

Ramogi Huma asks an excellent question reporters should be asking universities to answer.   How do universities have the money to pay coaches millions of dollars and don't have money to pay for a college athlete's medical expenses?