Letters from our readers

Here are a selection of letters and emails we’ve received since July. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org.  

ELECTION POSTMORTEM

Here’s to the return of the journalist as malcontent”

I couldn’t agree more with your recent post-election piece on journalism. I’m no longer in journalism, but I worked for 22 years at CNN, including as deputy bureau chief in Washington. I’m also from Indiana, and even though I live in DC, I had occasion to travel back home this year for various family matters. Each time, I would hear this strongly felt discontent with Washington and the elite coastal set people perceived to be running the government, the media, and other institutions. I had no idea what I was hearing in typically conservative Indiana was widespread in the Rust Belt and ran all the way through usually democratic states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

I mentioned to a few journalists friends in DC that I thought there was something brewing in the midwest, even I didn’t think it would be strong enough to topple what the polls and the journalists told us was a consistent lead and growing strength for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. As you note, we all missed it and missed it big, and I hope the re-creation of journalism will happen just as you prescribe (and just as I feel we practiced back in the 1980s and 1990s at CNN). 

I have a lot to say about TV journalism and the over-reliance on predictable political voices, but that’s for another time. I was comforted to see my old CNN colleague and columnist Fareed Zakaria say in his most recent column, “Trump remade the political map with a huge surge of support from working-class whites, particularly in rural communities. Let me be honest, this is a world I don’t know — and many people probably don’t know very well — and that’s part of the problem. We have all managed to ignore the pain of rural America.” Maybe more journalists should be so honest and also take time to heed your insightful words.

Thanks for writing the column. You have put into words what I’ve been trying to figure out how to say.

With best regards,
John Towriss
CNN 1980-2002

 

I appreciate your post on where journalism fell down during the current election cycle, especially about the need to expand newsroom diversity.

I assume you meant something beyond race and ethnicity, possibly to include class and geography. Here are a couple of places where news organizations might start looking to find reporters who have a closer appreciation of the culture and people who voted for Donald Trump:

http://www.ruraljournalism.org/
http://irjci.blogspot.com/

Aaron Levin
Senior Staff Writer
Psychiatric News

 

This morning I glanced at the Chicago Tribune, and on page one was a map of the US so red, I almost reached for my sunglasses. Beginning with the primaries, I found The New York Times’ coverage particularly biased. The paper went after Bernie [Sanders], and throughout the primaries and the general election, Amy Chozick, who safely could be described as a Hillary surrogate rivaling Huma Abedin, wrote an unending stream of hollow, pro-Hillary articles. This was the title of Chozick’s column on November 8, the day before the election: “Hillary Clinton Feels the Love on Her Campaign’s Last Day.”

Sincerely,
Annamarie Weaver
Chicago

 

Really enjoyed and appreciated your media post-mortem. It was largely correct. However, it critiqued “the media” without specifying which organizations or what stories. It’s wrong when conservatives conflate “the media” all together for a broad brush stereotype; it’s equally wrong for liberals to do so; and I’d hate for someone as highly regarded as you to do it.

When I read your prescription—get out in the country! Talk to more voters!—I thought, That’s exactly right. In fact, NPR just spent the whole year doing it, including through big projects like “Divided States” and “The View From Here.” On one of the very last days of the campaign we found Trump-leaning people in the bluest part of North Carolina, and also interviewed voters in Wisconsin, which few people thought was in play. On Wednesday, I heard from an old political pro who said the election result did not surprise her because she’d been listening to NPR.

You understand then why I would look askance at a proposal for us to start doing what we did. In fairness, I realize that you said the media too often fail to do this, not that all did. And your proposal that we think of ourselves more as malcontents was very appealing.

Best,
Steve Inskeep
Host of NPR’s Morning Edition

 

Your criticism of reporters missing the boat on Trump is on target. I agree 100 percent. I am also appalled at how professional pollsters blew it. As we move ahead, I’m convinced researchers will produce better information on how both of these things happen, and I think we will better understand the full extent of the bubble so many of us lived in. We need to revisit this, especially as more details come to light.

Thanks,

Jeffrey Hope
Journalism Instructor
New England School of Communications
Husson University

 

Jockeying and fisticuffs en route to the greatest scoop in a generation

How dare you run such a story about the Kennedy Assassination at this time?

Your editorial staff should have their heads examined.

There is absolutely no justification for you actions.

If some unbalanced person reads your article and decides that’s the way to deal with his being unhappy with the election results, his action is on your heads.

Bill McElman
Lake In The Hills, IL

 

Journalists can regain public’s trust by reaffirming basic values

I appreciate that this story is one of the more open and honest on media bias during this election. I am a moderate Republican who has been sickened by the coverage on ALL stations and newspapers. It is an insult to the American people. I love the [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan quote: “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they aren’t entitled to their own facts.”

I am part of a large, private corporate club that is in discussions to pull advertising on certain outlets due to this bias coverage. I hope the facts and not the journalists’ opinion return to the forefront. The American people deserve it, and if needed, will demand it!

Regards,

John Moriarty

 

The Media’s Weimar Moment

I loved your recent piece. I should probably say that I found it interesting and relevant, because love is perhaps too happy a word for the content. That said, I actually find it a pretty exciting time to be involved in the media for exactly the reason you state: “Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the suppression of unabashed moral authority in the media could well create an excruciating need for it to be reborn.”

Kind regards,
Andrew Hamm
Blog Manager
www.scotusblog.com

 

When thinking about the great variety of accuracy regarding news coverage, is there some kind of accreditation process that a business has to go through in order to use the word “news” to describe its products? As far as I can tell there is no standard. If this is true, would it be conceivable to create one?

Sincerely,
Elizabeth Jensen, PhD

 

The front of today’s commentary section of the Washington Times has two commentaries, one by Suzanne Fields and the other by Monica Crowley, that ought to spark serious reflection by anyone concerned about fair press coverage in this election cycle. Both writers focus on the radically different reactions by the press to events at the recent conventions, specifically the speeches by parents who lost sons to Islamic terrorism, one in Benghazi and the other in Iraq.

As a former journalist myself, I am disappointed in the outrageous disparity in the coverage of the two speakers, and ashamed of the unbelievable cruelty of the statements made by journalists about the mother of the man killed in Benghazi.   

I hope one of your writers will put the profession in front of a clean mirror, and demand that journalists look at what they are becoming.

David Burns
Springfield, VA

 

NEWS OR PROPAGANDA?

‘The Narrative’ derails proportion, drives fear after terrorist attacks

Henry Wismayer makes many salient points in his piece on changing the way we report and react to terrorist attacks. With each new story, I find myself wondering why media outlets insist on giving “credit” to the people and organizations that claim responsibility for terrorist acts, publicize their motives, and act as unpaid distributors of their visuals and videos.

It is a slippery slope, but some form of media-wide self-censorship may be a good idea when covering terrorist acts—a template along the lines of, “We have received information on the identity of the attacker/organization, but in the interests of public safety we will not be releasing that information.”

Shutting down the free terror publicity machine, in some small but significant way, could discourage the next lone wolf or would-be bomber. It would let them know they will be denied the post-mortem glorification many of them seek, as well as send a message to all terror groups that the free media ride is over.

James R. Heckel
JRH Consulting
Sparta, NJ

 

PUBLIC V. PRIVATE

Is a police officer a ‘public official’? The Supreme Court could decide soon

As a semi-retired appellate attorney who worked for a California Court of Appeals, I thought your article about the Armstrong defamation case was excellent. Although I have not spent much time thinking about it, it seems to me that even if the Supreme Court were to take the case, the justices might not reach the broader issue of whether all police officers are implicated by these facts and circumstances. They are supposed to consider cases and controversies instead of the broader implications. Nonetheless, I appreciate your discussion of the case and the concept of defamation.

Sincerely,
Jonathan Weg

 

Assuming your article about the Supreme Court planning to hear the Armstrong v. Thompson dispute is accurate, the matter causes me some distress. As laid out, I do not see the “public official” criteria to be relevant. While Mr. Armstrong was seeking similar employment, Ms. Thompson provided a possible future employer with relevant information. Since this new position was also a government job, there is a public interest in hiring decisions being based upon accurate information. She expressed her concerns by sharing them only with the relevant parties.

As her complaint was justified, she has claim to her fears being backed by fact. Malice? Is that relevant? Had she reported accurately that an applicant was using false credentials, had a disqualifying handicap, or was otherwise not qualified for the job, would she be guilty of anything? The question is whether her contacting the prospective employer is some manner of tort, or if she was doing a public service.

Sincerely yours,
John Steinke

 

ON COVERING POLICE VIOLENCE

In light of recent events, and with clear urgency, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) at the national, state, and local level, has received unprecedented feedback from our substantial membership about the role media is playing in undermining law enforcement and subverting public safety. Complaints are largely confined to national outlets and local/regional outlets that garner a national audience.

First and foremost, the FOP recognizes the important and central role of a free press in monitoring the manner in which government exercises authority over the public. This precept has rightly guided our democracy for over 200 years, and the FOP respects and encourages the mission of the Fourth Estate in keeping the public informed and government accountable. There is a line, however, between informative and inflammatory, a line that many outlets have long since crossed. Pressure for readership, site traffic, and by extension, revenue increasingly drives headlines with no foundation in reality. Disproportionate coverage is devoted to dramatic but exceedingly rare events to the exclusion of surging crime rates in this country.

For the men and women who investigate the murders of 14,000 largely nameless Americans each year, there is a deafening silence surrounding this grim reality of life in our cities. Nearly 40 people are murdered in this nation each and every day, a fact apparently not worthy of a headline. The disparity in coverage and the lack of reality reflected in media portrayals of violence in America has become absurd (I can find no other appropriate word).

Today this disparity results in a tangible decline in public safety, a demoralized law enforcement community, and greatly contributes to a regression in dialogue between law enforcement and those communities most in need of law enforcement services. Law enforcement nationwide will never cease efforts to improve its relationship with communities of all colors and backgrounds; today, as always, we walk the fine line between serving our community allies and confronting well-armed criminals who do not self-identify. We do so with ever diminishing resources and fewer officers with each passing year.

The FOP would like to see media turn its lens to the disease rather than continue to blame law enforcement for its copious symptoms. The Fraternal Order of Police urges the Columbia Journalism Review to turn a critical eye to perverse incentive structures in media, and to examine what effect this and other troubling phenomena are having on journalism.

Regards,
Jacob Lundy
Policy Advisor
Fraternal Order of Police

 

Cop to arrested reporter: ‘I’m tired of y’all saying you’re journalists’

You asked this yo-yo if he showed any press credentials to the cops. He refused to answer. Apparently he thinks saying he’s a “journalist” often enough is sufficient to establish his legitimacy.

Wrong. I am a retired journalist with 50 years of experience at dailies, weeklies, and magazines in Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Every newspaper REQUIRED me to obtain press credentials from the state press association, before I was allowed to represent my newspaper. If Kailath did not have formal, written credentials. He deserved to be arrested and tossed into jail. Without credentials, he is just another gawker.

Glenn Troester
Loveland, CO

 

TRONCETTES?

“The LA Times may emerge from turmoil as a model of digital success. It may not.”

When I first heard of the Tribune’s new corporate name, I wrote a friend at the LA Times and asked if female reporters were going to be known as “troncettes.” I could almost hear the sigh in his reply: “Don’t rub it in.”

Stephen Seplow

 

NOT TOO SHABBY

Mooning the Pulitzer board

I enjoyed your column about Pat Oliphant. I followed his work from the early 1970s. While I could not draw, political cartooning has always been something of a passion. Thank you for your insight and your own body of work.

The year escapes me, but as young man I went to The Washington Post and asked to meet Mr. Oliphant after he left The Denver Post. It was quite easy to meet with him. (The 70s were turbulent, but people could be so accessible!) My recollection is that he was very kind. To this day, I treasure the sketches he gave me.

 

Steve Bales
Peachtree Corners, GA

 

A QUESTION OF EMPHASIS

​Has CJR reported at length on the dizzying amount of space The New York Times has increasingly given fashion “news”? I’m assuming the fashion ad revenue is huge as a result. Is it just the Times, or have other papers become similarly beholden?  I think it’s just a little gross.

Thanks for listening,
Ken Lundberg

 

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.