Letters from our readers: Trump, RT, opioids, and Bob Dylan

Here’s a selection of emails and Facebook comments we’ve received in recent months. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, location, and any relevant affiliation. Letters is compiled by Glynnis Eldridge and Stacey Yu. Reader feedback has been edited for length and clarity.


Five ideas for more respectful media coverage after mass shootings

Good article. If I could add one more point—don’t use “exclusive” when covering a tragedy. It is very insensitive and offending to victims and their families.

Carl Abraham, News Director at WNEP-TV, Scranton, Pennsylvania


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The media today: Roy Moore and the media’s battle for trust

Media outlets deciding the guilt or innocence of any individual is a bad idea. Remember the Atlanta bombing? Or look up the periodic media lynchings of people who turned out to be innocent, especially during the 1950s and 1960s.

You talk about trust? How can anyone trust the media these days? Too many reporters and editors believe wholeheartedly in their assumptions. As a result, they not only don’t question their assumptions, I doubt they know they have them. Ethically shaky, to say the least.

Now, in the case of Moore, the media has become judge, jury, and executioner. It’s a dangerous place to be—for themselves and for the country.

Jan Shaw, San Jose, California


ICYMI: Bad news for Vice, Mashable and BuzzFeed


Inside the fairy tale mind of Trump

I loved Jon Allsop’s analysis of Trump’s language, but there is another way to look at it. It’s the language of a salesman who is following the sales rule of ABC—Always Be Closing. Listen when he ends sentences or claims with, “Believe me.” Or, “I can tell you this.”

How’s this example from his recent speech in Huntsville, “It’s going to happen quickly, quickly, better. Right?”

You see, he is always moving, even incrementally, to get people to agree with him. It’s a well-known sales technique. We need to pay more attention to that, as well as his insults.

George Schwarz, Owner/Publisher (Retired) of The Amarillo Independent


How a star freelancer found her way from Marfa, Texas, to The New Yorker

A chill crawled across my skin when I read the anecdote about Rachel Monroe dropping her tape recorder into a swimming pool. Not because something like that happened to me when I was a reporter at USA Today (although it did) but by Monroe’s solution: She recreated a whole slew of quotes from memory. (When it happened to me, I sheepishly asked Nicole Kidman and Will Smith to do their interviews all over again, and they kindly did.) CJR reporter Chris O’Donnell treats Monroe’s stunt as resourcefulness. Instead, it should have given O’Donnell pause. A long pause. The simple fact is that it is impossible for a normal human being to recreate quotes in an interview after the fact. You might have a sense of what the person said, but you’ll never recapture the way she expresses herself, or even the way she talks.

A simple test: Interview someone, even briefly, and record the conversation. Just ask two or three questions. Now go into another room and type up as closely what you remember the person saying from memory. Now compare your results to what’s actually on the recording.

The two will have about as much similarity as the beginning and end result of a game of Telephone.

I felt increasing chagrin as I read the rest of this hagiographic profile. My dismay was capped by the final sentence: “Will this succeed or fail on it’s [sic] own merits?” My God, are copyeditors extinct—even at the Columbia Journalism Review?

​Andy Seiler​, retired reporter for USA Today


Q&A: Mac McClelland on the stigma surrounding mental health

“How can the industry work to better address the stigma still surrounding mental illness within the journalism community?”

A correction: The stigma you have been taught is surrounding mental illness.

“Stigma,” in its proper guise, is prejudice. “Acting upon a stigma,” in its proper guise, is discrimination. Without proper address, no problem can be solved. When journalists stop promulgating “stigma” and start addressing prejudice and discrimination we will know change has taken place.

Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor


The Turnaround

I enjoyed listening to the podcast The Turnaround. I am 23 years old and figuring out what my career path through life will look like. This podcast helped me pinpoint a desire to become an interviewer. I learned a lot and am grateful for the podcast. I listen to Jesse Thorn on various other podcasts; he did a great job and it’s inspiring to observe an adult pursuing a passion rather than chasing a dollar.

Thank you for helping make this podcast happen and be available. I loved it!!

Bridget R. Burns, happy listener


A scrappy newspaper’s final cover lacks Voice

Bob Dylan “long irrelevant”?

Have you listened to any of his albums from the so-called “Never-Ending Tour” (1988–present) era, which are the best of his career?

Albums like “Oh Mercy” (1989), “Good As I Been To You” (1992), “World Gone Wrong” (1993), “Time Out Of Mind” (1997), “Love & Theft” (2001), “Modern Times” (2006), “Together Through Life” (2009), “Tempest” (2012), “Shadows In The Night” (2015), “Fallen Angels” (2016) and “Triplicate” (2017)?

Have you attended any of the almost 3,000 (three thousand!) concerts he has played since 1988 (about a hundred shows per year, all over the world)?

Bob Dylan, “long irrelevant”? Bob Dylan is firmly rooted in the present with his eyes on the future, while The Village Voice is still hanging onto long forgotten ideals of the past (putting a 1965 photo of Dylan on the cover instead of a current photo says it all, really) and that’s why it’s on the way out, while Bob Dylan still leaves the competition in the dust.

Andreas Volkert


Can the First Amendment save us?

I just wanted to compliment President Bollinger on his excellent piece “Can the First Amendment Save Us?” I have seldom read anything better regarding the First Amendment, and it is so important to publish works like this with a president like the one we have now.

Thank you for writing it!

David Burros


Propaganda or not, forcing RT to register sets a bad precedent

Do you really understand that FARA is the “law,” not just a policy of the Trump administration? If you read the law, you will find that RT without a doubt is subject to it.

FARA does not impose any editorial control on content whatsoever except for the identification of the foreign government that is putting it forth.

Expecting RT to tell the truth about who they really are is not “playing into their hands.” It’s called full disclosure. Real journalists would support the truth and not want to disguise it. If you feel that disclosure of the truth about RT is a “bad precedent,” that says more about you than the legislators who wrote the law.

You imply that you want the US to ignore the law because RT is a Russian government operation. That my friend is “playing into their hands.”

We identify callers on our phones, broadcasters, advertisers, and even senders of mail but somehow foreign propaganda operators should not disclose who they really are too?

Your assertion that RT’s “role is to expose Western hypocrisy” should have given attribution to its real author, Mao. That being said, let’s not forget the hypocrisy of a Putin controlled so-called news channel or the hypocrisy of political activist academicians claiming to be seekers and teachers of the truth.

It is sad that your article so blatantly mischaracterizes this issue.

Jerry Kenney


Four facts every journalist should know when covering the opioid epidemic

Kenneth Feder and Noa Krawczyk do everybody a disservice by obfuscating the simple term “harm reduction” in point three of their article on what journalists should know about the “opioid epidemic.”

Contrary to their wordy description, “The goal of addiction treatment is to restore a person’s ability to lead a meaningful life, function productively, and stay alive,” it can be summed up as a subset of the bigger thing that needs to be understood: harm reduction.

Here in New Mexico, where I work as the cops and courts reporter for the Rio Grande Sun, in the county that Forbes once called the heroin overdose capital of the world, we know what harm reduction is, what it means, and why it’s so important.

Recently working with a group of journalists on the issue of substance abuse, time and time again I had to explain why harm reduction does not mean getting people off drugs, it means keeping diseases at bay and keeping people from dying. Unfortunately, it did not matter how many times I explained the difference between harm reduction and treatment; the two were sadly conflated.

Harm reduction is just as important as treatment and is sadly maligned, something that the authors have done nothing to alleviate. There is so much more we need to be talking about when we talk and write about opioids. An elaborate definition of treatment is simply not sufficient.

Finally, the authors seem to be coming at addiction from the lens of the upper-middle class. Addiction, as I write about every single time someone in this county of 40,000 dies, and in 2016, that was 31 times, is not just about overcoming the “chemical deficit that develops in the brain of a person with an opioid addiction.” Addiction is about social circles, about the community, and it is about the underlying reasons that people want to get high in the first place.

Time and time again I talk to families that sent their son or daughter away to rehab, and child does fine, up until the point when they come back into the same environment that got them addicted in the first place. Sometimes that’s even because of inter-generational drug use.

Finally, I must express how frustrating I find the lack of a comments section to be. It forces me to write a letter rather than have an open dialogue.

Wheeler Cowperthwaite, Reporter at the Rio Grande Sun in Española, New Mexico


Right too soon: the Orlando Sentinel on opioid epidemic

Your story about the Orlando Sentinel‘s 2003 series on OxyContin hit the mark. I was a policy and press advisor to then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal at the time and talked extensively with reporter Doris Bloodsworth for the series. Bloodsworth sought out Blumenthal because he was an early critic of the firm’s hyper-aggressive, irresponsible marketing efforts, and she quoted him in at least one of her pieces.

It was very disturbing to all of us in the office when the series collapsed under an all-out attack by Purdue (Pharma). I was struck at the time by the company’s utter ruthlessness and amorality. That said, the reporter and her editors made serious mistakes that allowed Purdue to take her and the series down.

I agree with the story’s conclusion that the reckoning over OxyContin might have happened sooner if the series had stood up. In spite of the stories’ major flaws, much of what Doris reported was later confirmed.

Chris Hoffman, freelance journalist and former Connecticut Attorney General Policy and Communications Advisor


Is the quest for profits and clicks killing local news

I am a little behind in my reading and am generally the last person to come to the defense of the Philadelphia Inquirer, as a lifelong reader who is both saddened and angered by my hometown paper’s sad decline, but I think you took a cheap shot at the Inquirer in your spring issue when you wrote that “The (Philadelphia) Inquirer moved its headquarters—once the biggest building in the city—to an abandoned department store.”

The building the Inquirer left was mostly empty because it had primarily been occupied by its presses, and those presses had been moved years earlier. Also, that facility’s distinction as the largest building in Philadelphia ended before the 19th century drew to a close. As to the argument about moving farther away from its readers, the Inquirer’s move actually brought it closer to the action in Philadelphia. The new location in the abandoned department store is a five-minute walk to Philadelphia’s city hall, as opposed to the 20-minute walk required from the older building. The new location, while in the central business district, is in an area at least as densely populated as the old location. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians work in immediate proximity to the new location or travel on mass transit that runs directly under the new site, bringing people into and out of the central business district from other parts of the city and both near and far suburbs—including suburbs across the river in New Jersey that are closer to Philadelphia’s central business district, and the new Inquirer headquarters, than some locations within the city itself.

Joseph Steinbock

ICYMI: The story the NYTimes, BuzzFeed didn’t want to publish

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The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.