Letters to the Editor

HERE IS A SELECTION OF LETTERS AND EMAILS we’ve received since March, including in response to the Perception Issue of our magazine. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, address, and any relevant affiliation.

 

Confrontation and giggles at Jacob Wohl press conference, by Jared Holt (May 9)

It’s worth noting that this lie blew up on Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman before it could even get started. Too often, the debunking happens too late, and their lies are allowed to circulate. The result is their lies never go away. Journalists must do better at calling out their lies earlier.

JJ Mulvey, via Facebook

 

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Should the media quit Facebook?, by Mathew Ingram (May 9)

Journalists ought to be where the people are. Speculations like this are dangerous, even taking full account on the arguments in your article.

Filippos Dizen Otinanoglou, via Facebook

 

Should broadcast outlets quit Facebook? Yes. Individual credentialed journalists? No. The social media presence of a broadcast outlet should be represented by individual pages administrated by individual journalists. The broadcast outlet itself, as an entity, should be contained to its own web page.

Amy Pachla, via Facebook

 

As NewsGuild holds election, members say union has been too passive, by Lyz Lenz (May 6)

This piece should have been labeled “Opinion,” because it doesn’t come close to objective journalism. I’m a longtime NewsGuild member and veteran of several leadership elections, and all I see in this piece is a slanted and limited view of how the election process works and who’s running and why. I also see cherry-picking in who’s quoted and how.

Take this vague statement, for example: “Journalists also say that NewsGuild hasn’t had a cohesive and organized response to the new unions.” What journalists? A lot of LA Times people are quoted in the piece, who are colleagues of one of the candidates. There’s also a reference to “other journalists of newly organized newsrooms.” The implication of both statements is that all or most journalists have a common view of the Guild and its leadership. But not all NewsGuild members think the same way—about this election, or anything else. Nothing in this article shows any attempt to express the opinions of journalists (from newly organized newsrooms or longstanding Guild units) with different points of view.

Kathy Wilmore, NewsGuild member

New York, New York

 

As chairman of the NewsGuild election committee, I feel compelled to try to explain that just because someone chooses to ignore, or resent, the rules of the NewsGuild Constitution does not mean they do not apply.

Throwing out a phrase like “independent oversight” may sound very democratic, but it means little when there are already rules providing for just thatrules which cannot be set aside, on the eve of an election, to implement some undefined alternative which has never been approved by Guild members.

The committee I chair, which has complete control over this election, was not appointed. It was elected by delegates at the same Guild Sector conference where Jon Schleuss [who is challenging the incumbent NewsGuild president, Bernie Lunzer] was nominated. It should also be noted that anyone who supports Schleuss could have nominated someone else to sit on the committee had they wished. They did not.

The election committee is independent of the Guild leadership, although it does sometimes direct and rely on senior Guild staff and the executive vice president. Those staff members and officers have in no way interfered with or compromised the ability of the committee to do its work; their assistance has in fact ensured that all those who are eligible to vote have the opportunity to do so.

It is not for me to comment on various claims by Schleuss or his supporters. They are trying to win an election and using whatever means they see fit. But I do resent claims that this elected, all-volunteer committee is in any way failing in its duty to provide independent oversight of the democratic process that has served NewsGuild members for decades.

Scott Edmonds, chairman of the NewsGuild Sector Election and Referendum Committee

 

The Media Are Complacent While the World Burns, by Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope (April 22)

The mainstream media deserve credit and respect for their significant and growing attention to global warming. Press coverage has focused on two key elements of the problem: the peril of delaying meaningful restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions and the fact that, even now, the consequences of climate change are evident in blighted croplands, coral bleaching, advancing desertification, frequent forest fires, glacial melt, and sea-level rise. But while much newsprint and online resources have provided sophisticated copy on the need for carbon taxes, narratives have been largely descriptive. I’ve seen little in the way of quantitative specifics about the conditions taking hold and the people impacted. I’d vote for greater press attention to the dilemma of meeting the needs of ongoing climate-impacted people around the world.

Joel Darmstadter

Chevy Chase, Maryland

 

There are two main threats to civilization: climate change and nuclear proliferation. The latter is also barely mentioned in the press. A nuclear war can start at any time, with the president’s finger on a button. With saber rattling and with a $1.3 trillion increase in our nuclear arsenal, this threat should certainly be mentioned more frequently in the press.

Ronald Kaprov

 

The Crisis in covering Indian Country, by Jenni Monet (March 29)

The dearth of media attention to issues affecting indigenous people has been going on for decades. Lately, though, I have discovered a number of indigenous sources of Indian Country news, some originating in Canada and some from reservations in the United States, which I’ve shared on social media.  In this manner I was able to pass along some coverage of the floodings taking place on Pine Ridge and in other Indian Country territories in the United States. I also posted contact information regarding assistance available in these areas. Reparations and respect for the indigenous people are long overdue. Further, it’s my belief that the restoration of our environment cannot be accomplished in this country, let alone in the rest of the world, without the inclusion of our indigenous populations.

Anonymous

 

Devin Nunes accidentally stumbled on the truth about social media companies, by Jared Schroeder (March 20)

While I respect my friend’s well-argued opinion, I argue that Professor Schroeder has it wrong on Section 230. The provision is functionally protecting speech, and in the Nunes case, it is providing vehicles for the most important speech in our society: the criticism of public officials. Like all legal mechanisms that function to facilitate speech, 230 has created some speech that people object to, but the First Amendment protects even political speech in the gutter

In many legal battles over free speech, the effort to suppress offensive speech sometimes results in magnifying it. This fundamental lesson in the operation of the marketplace of ideas, which Devin Nunes’s lawsuit has refreshed, is as true today as ever.

Section 230 was included in the Communications Decency Act, which was passed in 1996, in part to help regulate online pornography and “indecency” by then-Nebraska Senator James Exon; in fact, the heavy-handed effort to regulate and control online pornography, once tested in court, actually helped create an environment for it to flourish. Whether you like online speech or hate it—or whether your view depends on who is speaking—there is little doubt that the internet we use today was shaped by the existence of Section 230. Providing liability protections to platforms which host third party content, such as YouTube and many others, also enables social media and the corresponding opportunity to freely engage speech and ideas.

Critics of 230 protections often fall into the first trap of First Amendment law by engaging in viewpoint-based discrimination. Yet Section 230 is not speech itself; instead, it creates the park for speakers, whatever they believe, to have their say.

Other criticisms of Section 230 revolve around protections provided to “bad platforms.” The poster-child for bad behavior by a website, Backpage.com, spurred a series of legal battles which resulted in the first significant chink in Section 230’s armor. Specifically, efforts to limit advertising by sex workers resulted in several websites shutting down and others removing content, rather than face liability for third-party ads. In reverse, this showed that Section 230 works to facilitate online speech.

It is easy to imagine how platforms might be sued now for content they did not create. After all, if I tweeted something defamatory, you’d be foolish not sue Twitter rather than me, because Twitter’s pockets are much deeper than mine.

Christopher Terry, University of Minnesota

 

As You Like It, by Lauren Smiley, in the Perception issue (Winter 2019)

You are the first person in the years of Yellowhammer News’s existence to report that Republican lobbyists owned it from the start. Also, you are the first reporter to have examined Yellowhammer for what it is and what it represents in broader terms. It’s nothing short of shameful that Alabama media didn’t do a story along these lines years go.

As a journalist myself, I assumed, but never proved anywhere near to my satisfaction, that Howe’s firm in some sense financed Yellowhammer. But outright owned the thing? I don’t think I even suspected that. These might be just details for you and CJR. But for my purposes, and for many followers of Alabama politics, what you found was big.

Eddie Curran

 

Journalism’s Bad Reflection; Honolulu, Hawai‘i, by Sophia Yan, in the Race Issue (Fall 2018)

The Fall issue of CJR focused on the continuing failure of newsrooms to reflect the diversity of the communities they cover. Ten cities were examined where the mismatch seemed “particularly notable,” and Honolulu topped the list, with a profile of Civil Beat, an investigative news website.

In a city that rightfully prides itself for multiculturalism, Civil Beat’s lack of diversity is shameful. Furthering the injury is the rationale given for its hiring decisions: that local job candidates lack the talent for its style of journalism and show problems with objectivity. As Civil Beat editor Patti Epler says in the piece: “The local media here sucked. And one of the reasons they sucked is they’re very ‘go along, get along.’ We don’t want to do just press releases; we want to go deeper.”

Epler seems to think good journalism began in Hawai‘i when Civil Beat was established in 2010 AD. Her comments ignore a long history of watchdog journalism in Hawai‘i, which I experienced firsthand when I was a newspaper and television reporter here.

In the days when there were competing newspapers, The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin regularly published stories about government and corporate malfeasance. Their staffs were as aggressive as they were ethnically and culturally  diverse. Reporters hired from outside Hawai‘i worked side-by-side with reporters born and raised here, like myself, who went to public schools and who had an intimate understanding of the community and the people who live here.

Now, as Chad Blair, Civil Beat’s politics and opinion editor, says in the profile, “As I look out at the newsroom, I see white people.” Epler acknowledges the criticism, but her response rings hollow when she tells CJR: “We just can’t find people here locally—Civil Beat does a specific kind of journalism—we do a harder edge, an aggressive thing that people aren’t used to here.” It doesn’t seem as if Civil Beat has made much of an effort looking because there are a lot of talented and experienced Hawai‘ian men and women journalists out there, as well as young journalists graduating from the University of Hawai‘i every year. Epler’s comments are shockingly backwards and seem a throwback to Hawai‘i’s plantation era. In fact, I suspect Civil Beat would be the first to denounce such paternalism if was being practiced by any other institution.

I’ve seen the lack of newsroom diversity at Civil Beat and depth of community knowledge emerge in its coverage. In 2011, for instance, it published a story on data from the US Census Bureau showing that Filipinos were had overtaken Japanese as the top Asian ancestry group in Hawai‘i. The story used the phrase “the flip is coming,” which subsequently resulted in this correction: “The word (flip) can also be used as a slang to refer to persons of Filipino descent.” But “flip” is not just “a slang,” it is a slur against Filipinos. Use of the word in the first place and then the failure to acknowledge it as a slur illustrates the problem.

I don’t mean to be altogether glum in my assessment. Civil Beat provides an important public service in Hawai‘i, especially at a time when there’s only one statewide newspaper, the Star-Advertiser. But good journalism requires diversity in hiring, training, and promoting journalists. Civil Beat would be wise to heed the comments in CJR by former Governor John Waihee: “The richness of the news, of the content itself I think is enhanced by the diversity of reporters. You’re much more capable of, first of all, recognizing where news may exist, and secondly, by understanding it from a different point of view.”

Gerald Kato, Chair of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s School of Communications, and a former reporter

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.