Tag Archives: journalism

A Farewell to Mr. Burke

21 Apr

The timing was somewhat tragically apropos.

On Saturday, my best friend from middle school and college called to tell us that his dad had died. When we got the call, we had just reached the 6th floor of the Newseum in Washington. My friend’s dad had been, at one time, the Vice President of ABC News and the President of CBS News. My love for politics and journalism is due, in large part, to David Burke. He led an incredible life and welcomed some sarcastic, obnoxious fat little Republican Croat into his home as if he was a member of the family. 

Mr. Burke was brilliant and inspiring. He attended Tufts University, and later received an MBA from the University of Chicago. He came from a blue collar background, and had a great passion for labor issues. He worked with later Secretary of State and of Labor, George Schultz, to produce “The Public Interest in a National Labor Policy” for the Committee for Economic Development. This report laid the foundation for national labor relations policy. His work on these matters led to Mr. Burke being named to President John Kennedy’s Labor Advisory Council in 1960. 

He led a life that could fill volumes of memoirs. After working for the White House, Mr. Burke became Chief of Staff to Senator Edward Kennedy.  Interviews that Mr. Burke gave in the 1970s about his time working with President Kennedy and with Robert F. Kennedy are available here and here

He spent time at the Dreyfus Corporation in New York before becoming Chief of Staff to Governor Hugh Carey, and was instrumental in saving New York City from an imminent bankruptcy in the late 70s. In the 90s, President Clinton appointed Mr. Burke to be the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, overseeing the Voice of America, and he was named to the New York Daily News’ Board of Directors during the paper’s bankruptcy, and helped save it. 

The Broadcasting Board of Governors gives an award in journalism in Mr. Burke’s honor every year, and Tufts’ Tisch School has a Media and Public Service internship named after him. 

Mr. Burke helped to spark my interest in news and journalism. My friend, Terence’s birthday party in December 1980 involved us kids sitting silently on the floor next to Sam Donaldson doing the nightly news – the top story was John Lennon’s murder a week earlier. I was staying with the Burkes on the Cape when ABC correspondent Charlie Glass was about to be released from captivity in Lebanon. Mr. Burke arranged for me to meet with the executive producer of World News Tonight when I was considering a career in broadcast journalism. He was a big believer in the importance and power of journalism in a free society. When CBS started to cheap out on its news division, he left. When Senator Kennedy faced a tough re-election campaign in the mid-90s against some Romney fella, he arranged for me to meet the Senator, and I watched a barn-burner of a speech in a Waltham IBEW hall. 

Mr. Burke was most recently a member of the Board of Directors of the John F. Kennedy Library, where he was also a member of the Profiles in Courage Award committee. 

Mr. Burke led a life that was intimately intertwined with his roots and the turbulent times.  He was talented and fortunate enough to have intimate involvement with the political and social upheaval of the 60s, the economic stagnation of the 70s, the international turmoil of the 80s, and was an elder statesman by the 90s. He was the behind-the-scenes negotiator, leader, and fixer.

My family and I send all our love to the Burkes as they say good-bye to this giant of a man.

Esmonde’s Exceptional Ethics

19 Sep

Let’s get something clear, here. Donn Esmonde is a hypocrite. He is a semi-retired former-and-current City/Region columnist for the Buffalo News. Donn Esmonde thinks your kid deserves a quality education, including (but not limited to) charter schools; however, that right to a quality education miraculously ceases to exist, in his mind, at precisely the borders of the city of Buffalo. To Donn Esmonde, there is no greater sin in the world than the sin of “choosing to live outside Buffalo city limits.” The evidence for this was most starkly measured when he devoted two or three columns specifically to convince Clarence taxpayers to do genuine harm to the quality of that town’s school district. He succeeded in this mission. 

Make no mistake – the “Donn Esmonde is an ass” series stems directly from that, and if I wasn’t writing for Artvoice it would be named something profoundly more profane. Esmonde went on and on about the evil, greedy teacher’s union while failing to disclose that his wife belongs to one. He went on and on about how unconscionable it is for union workers to enjoy good wages and benefits, given that he and his wife have enjoyed union benefits for most – if not all – of their work-lives. He went on and on about these things without disclosing his own conflicts and biases. 

I don’t write about stuff in which I have a personal financial interest without disclosing it. 

Part of Esmonde’s shtick has been to promote the advent and growth of charter schools within city limits. In some instances, charters help kids in underperforming traditional schools to get a good education. In some instances, charters help the wealthy and well-connected families living within the city to provide their kids with a suburban school experience without packing up boxes and renting a U-Haul. In some instances, charters simply fail

Whatever. You do what’s right for your kids and their education if you care enough and have the means to do it. There’s no second chances, and you don’t have the luxury of waiting around for stuff to get better. You move to where schools are good, you apply for a charter school, you get your kids to take entrance exams for schools that need it, you go parochial or private, or you just stay put and try hard to make sure that your kid’s education – and every kid’s education – is as good as it can possibly be.  These are not just personal choices, but societal ones – as a general rule, we want well-educated kids because the alternative is horrible. For everyone. 

I don’t begrudge any parent’s choice regarding what he thinks is best for his kid. So, what does undisclosed bias have to do with anything? 

In 2000, Esmonde wrote a column about the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s effort to help charter schools in Buffalo start up.  

The Tapestry Charter School was one of Buffalo’s three finalists, but didn’t make last month’s final cut. Tapestry’s Steven Polowitz said their grass-roots effort could have used a Partnership loan fund.

“I can’t say for sure it would have made the difference (in getting a charter),” said Polowitz. “But it would have eliminated a significant question.”

In 2007, he wrote a column blasting a tax incentive given to big-money waterfront condo owners

“This is not a marginal neighborhood where you’re trying to induce people to buy [with tax breaks],” said community development attorney Steven Polowitz. “How do you reconcile giving away the store for high-end condos in a coveted area?”

In 2011, Esmonde again pimped the charters as a way to bypass failing Buffalo schools. 

“Charters are the only option that lets you make the fundamental structural changes that give these schools the best chance for success,” Steven Polowitz said.

Polowitz is a longtime charter advocate who 10 years ago co-founded the successful Tapestry charter. He is now with Chameleon Community Schools Project, a nonprofit that develops charter schools. Polowitz laid out a charter turnaround plan for James Williams just before he left as superintendent. Interim successor Amber Dixon said she is open to the charter option. I think she — and the School Board — ought to be.

These seven schools need more than cosmetic surgery. That translates into — among other things — a longer school day; smaller class sizes; an expanded school year; more classroom aides; social workers and counselors on staff; and keeping the building open for everything from after-school tutoring to child care. It will not happen in a district where contract rules stifle options and slow-track change. It only comes with restriction-lite charters.

“You can interchange parts,” Polowitz said, “but if the fundamental structure remains, it won’t make much difference.”

In fairness to Buffalo teachers, counteracting the baggage of broken homes and battered neighborhoods these kids carry into the classroom is a near-impossible job. Schools, to some degree, don’t “fail”; they simply get overstuffed with desperately needy kids. Which is why it makes sense for hurting schools to be taken over by the academic version of a SWAT team: flexible, fast on its feet and able to use every educational weapon, from alternative curriculums to business partnerships.

If schools are reinvented as charters, kids stay in the same building. Teachers either move to another school or reapply for their jobs, likely with similar pay and benefits — but without seniority and job protection. Granted, charters are only as good as the people running them. But if you need change — and these seven schools are at cliff’s edge — charters are the Extreme Makeover.

In 2012, Esmonde effectively dedicated an entire column to Steven Polowitz hagiography

“We are concerned about education in the city,” said Steve Polowitz, “and have been for years.”

Polowitz is part of the pack of reformers who are trying – against all odds – to transform two of Buffalo’s 28 failing schools into public charter schools. The folks behind the nonprofit push are taking fire from a Board of Ed that has yet to grasp the enormity of its failing-schools crisis. On the other parapet is a teachers union determined to protect its ever-shrinking turf.

If every verbal blow the reformers have taken were a punch, Polowitz would be a walking bruise.

He is 61, a rail-thin attorney with silvery hair and impeccable school-reform credentials. Eleven years ago, he and four others founded Tapestry Charter School. It is arguably the most successful charter in Buffalo. The public charter school, which since expanded through high school, last year got 1,200 applications for 200 spots.

Here’s a dissenting voice

After all Polowitz and Co. are all ready running Tapestry Charter School, you know the one with the fewest students receiving reduced price lunches of any school in the city limits, the school whose students must have private transportation, wink nudge, and we know who that’s going to keep out of the lottery don’t we ? Essentially this guy and his crew are running a private school full of middle to upper middle class kids with the ever present charter spectre of “counseling out” a.k.a. “expelling” any kid who shows a learning, emotional or behavioral issue. If you can shoot fish in a barrel your aim doesn’t have to be all that good.

Who is Steven Polowitz? Damned if I know, except from these Esmonde columns, a guy who helped start Tapestry Charter School, and someone who is a “community development attorney.” Just, y’know, random school advocate guy. 

Random guy? 

Donn Esmonde and Steven Polowitz (and their wives) are co-owners of a property in Spring Hill, Florida, just north of Tampa. 

While Esmonde touts his city-resident cred, he co-owns a very suburban, very sprawltastic single-family home in a subdivision outside of Tampa, Florida. It’s unit 12 in that particular subdivision, and has a market value of around $86,000, but possibly as low as $75,000 – it’s okay, though – the mortgage is for $66,000. With an area of just over 2,000 square feet, the house was placemade in 2004 and began to matter for Esmonde and Polowitz in 2010.  The annual property taxes are a low $1,400, and the home has 3 bedrooms. Here it is: 

Could use some better landscaping. Maybe some flowers or something. 

Sadly, the previous owners bought the place for $210,000 – Esmonde and Polowitz got it for a steal, and the prior owner took a hit of $130,000 at the time – in fact, Deutsche Bank moved to foreclose on the property in 2009.  The previous owners were a husband and wife from Buffalo who owned a paving company here, and their 2005 mortgage was for $168,000 – twice what the property is now worth. 

I don’t care about Donn Esmonde’s sprawly vacation home, or that his kids went to an exam school (away from the riff-raff), or that he is a massive hypocrite who harbors a geographical animus towards children. But one would suppose that, if I was to write a glowing blog post about someone with whom I co-owned a vacation home, I’d let you guys know about it one way or another.

Donn Esmonde hates the suburbs, except when he lives in them.  

Paladino, Higgins, and McCarthy

4 Mar

In an article that appeared in Sunday’s Buffalo News, Congressman Brian Higgins and his cousin-by-marriage Carl Paladino exchanged metaphorical f*ck yous. Frankly, it’s hardly news that a Democratic politician is at odds with opportunistic tea party figurehead Carl Paladino. 

But in Bob McCarthy’s article, it was revealed that the rift became irreparable after Chris Smith, Marc Odien, and I reported on Paladino’s happy forwarding of ugly racist and pornographic text and images to political figures and developers around the region

Release of the emails

Paladino’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign seemed doomed after a Buffalo website revealed his practice of emailing racist and pornographic jokes to friends.

At the time, Caputo (who has since broken with Paladino) told reporters he had been approached by a Higgins “emissary” who promised “everything would come out” if Paladino ran for governor.

Though he sent jokes to many friends on his email list, Paladino then and now blames Higgins’ staff for the leak.

“That was the end,” Paladino says now. “I knew he did it. And it only caused more anguish in the family than we already had.”

Typical narcissistic tween stuff, that. Paladino doesn’t blame himself for sending out images using the word “nigger” or showing the President of the United States and his wife as a pimp and whore – it’s someone else’s fault that he got found out, causing “anguish” to his family.  Had he kept his racism and pornography to himself, Mr. Paladino could have saved his own family all that “anguish”. 

[Rus] Thompson said the Paladino campaign engaged investigators to track the email trail.

“So we know where it came from,” he said.

I publicly challenge Rus Thompson – Paladino’s driver and errand-boy – to release the “investigation” that “tracked” the email trail. I would like to see proof in some form to back up what he’s talking about. Does Rus really think, for instance, that if he forwards one particular chain e-mail that Microsoft and Bill Gates will pay him money

Higgins denies that he or his staff leaked the emails, pointing out that Paladino’s email list included dozens of people who could have released the jokes.

Here’s a question – at any point do you think that the Buffalo News’ Bob McCarthy contacted Chris Smith, Marc Odien, or me to ask us to confirm or deny whether we received the Paladino emails from Brian Higgins or his people? Do you think that the author of this article made the effort to take to Facebook, Twitter, this blog, Artvoice, WNYMedia.net, or asked one of his colleagues for our numbers to see what we had to say about this particular matter? 

At no time did McCarthy ask the people who published the emails where they came from, or whether they came from a Higgins source. Think about it – the emails were sent to a long string of people. They were not secret – many, many people knew about them and former campaign manager Michael Caputo has stated that he knew about the emails, that he knew they were an issue, and that they focus-grouped them, finding that the racist ones were particularly problematic. 

When your campaign knows that the emails are an issue, and that any one of the recipients – or the recipients’ recipients – could have leaked them to the press, pointing the finger at the local Congressman who disagrees with your conclusion that Obamacare is worse than 9/11, to maintain a feud over them is idiotic. 

In the end, Carl Paladino is unable and unwilling to acknowledge that his own behavior is his own fault. These are things that normal people learn before they enter middle school. And journalists learn to check their sources – if Paladino and Rus Thompson say they know how the emails got to Chris, Marc, and me, you should probably check with one of us. 

McCarthy’s Quote of the Week: Roll Call

18 Nov

Why won’t Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy cite his sources?

In Sunday’s column, he writes

• Quote of the Week comes from Congressman-elect Chris Collins, who while in Washington a few days ago mistakenly found himself in a caucus room with people like Nancy Pelosi – and not John Boehner.

According to one congressional source attending, Republican Collins – breakfast plate in hand – suddenly rushed over to him and asked: “Wait … what meeting is this?” – only to be told he was in the Democratic caucus.

“Oh s***, I’m in the wrong meeting,” Collins was quoted as saying. “Where are the Republicans meeting?”

New Chief of Staff Chris Grant seems to be getting the hang of Washington spin.

“Congressman-elect Collins believes very strongly in reaching bipartisan solutions to fix this country’s problems,” Grant said. “What better way to accomplish that than introducing himself to his colleagues on the other side of the aisle?”

Quoted where? To whom? Why did McCarthy so cavalierly write this up without mentioning his source; that it was printed online several days ago? The way in which he writes it for the News, you’d think it was his story – that some source of McCarthy’s provided him with these quotes. 

Well, if you read AV Daily, you’d have known on Thursday that the story came from the “Heard on the Hill” section of Roll Call. The byline for that story is Warren Rojas, and every single quote that McCarthy co-opts as his own come from Rojas’ story posted last Wednesday. An NYU handbook for journalism students explains

“Sources” may also be defined as research material, including newspapers, magazines, books, research reports, studies, polls, radio, television, newsreels, documentaries, movies, audio podcasts or video from the Web. All such sources, particularly secondary sources, should be carefully vetted. Good journalists don’t simply extract information, or claims, from written or broadcast material; they check that material against other or similar material for accuracy. Just because something is published doesn’t mean it’s accurate or fair. Wikipedia, for example, is not always an accurate source and should not be cited as such. 

The reporter must clearly indicate where information comes from. Failure to disclose your reliance on someone else’s work is unethical, and can leave readers or viewers in the dark about the legitimacy of the information. This does  not hold true if something is a well-known fact that is beyond reasonable dispute. For example, it would not be necessary to cite a source for “John Adams was the second president of the United States.”

McCarthy’s quote of the week comes from Roll Call, not Chris Collins. Omitting the source for his material is unethical. 

McCarthy's Quote of the Week: Roll Call

18 Nov

Why won’t Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy cite his sources?

In Sunday’s column, he writes

• Quote of the Week comes from Congressman-elect Chris Collins, who while in Washington a few days ago mistakenly found himself in a caucus room with people like Nancy Pelosi – and not John Boehner.

According to one congressional source attending, Republican Collins – breakfast plate in hand – suddenly rushed over to him and asked: “Wait … what meeting is this?” – only to be told he was in the Democratic caucus.

“Oh s***, I’m in the wrong meeting,” Collins was quoted as saying. “Where are the Republicans meeting?”

New Chief of Staff Chris Grant seems to be getting the hang of Washington spin.

“Congressman-elect Collins believes very strongly in reaching bipartisan solutions to fix this country’s problems,” Grant said. “What better way to accomplish that than introducing himself to his colleagues on the other side of the aisle?”

Quoted where? To whom? Why did McCarthy so cavalierly write this up without mentioning his source; that it was printed online several days ago? The way in which he writes it for the News, you’d think it was his story – that some source of McCarthy’s provided him with these quotes. 

Well, if you read AV Daily, you’d have known on Thursday that the story came from the “Heard on the Hill” section of Roll Call. The byline for that story is Warren Rojas, and every single quote that McCarthy co-opts as his own come from Rojas’ story posted last Wednesday. An NYU handbook for journalism students explains

“Sources” may also be defined as research material, including newspapers, magazines, books, research reports, studies, polls, radio, television, newsreels, documentaries, movies, audio podcasts or video from the Web. All such sources, particularly secondary sources, should be carefully vetted. Good journalists don’t simply extract information, or claims, from written or broadcast material; they check that material against other or similar material for accuracy. Just because something is published doesn’t mean it’s accurate or fair. Wikipedia, for example, is not always an accurate source and should not be cited as such. 

The reporter must clearly indicate where information comes from. Failure to disclose your reliance on someone else’s work is unethical, and can leave readers or viewers in the dark about the legitimacy of the information. This does  not hold true if something is a well-known fact that is beyond reasonable dispute. For example, it would not be necessary to cite a source for “John Adams was the second president of the United States.”

McCarthy’s quote of the week comes from Roll Call, not Chris Collins. Omitting the source for his material is unethical. 

Political Soothsaying

5 Jul
Chris Collins 2010 Summer Green Series Speaker

Photo by Flickr User KVIS

What I do here is offer my opinion on issues and events. I seldom cover actual news, and on the rare occasion that I do, I still do it from a particular point of view, and will ultimately tell you what I think about it – and what I think you should think about it. 

What the Buffalo News does is report the news, except in clearly defined columns, and on the op-ed pages, where the author’s own opinion is proferred. 

What nobody does is enter psychic mode and extrapolate what an interviewee actually meant to say, and then offer up an amended version of a quote. 

The Batavian is a website that mostly reports the news. It has occasionally delved into opinion writing, but for the most part it reports on goings-on in the courts, sports news, development, entertainment, who got arrested at Darien Lake, and what happens on the scanners. It’s small-town reporting at its purest, and it’s a great resource for Batavians who until recently had only a single local paper. It also covers local, state, and federal political races that are relevant to its readership.  It’s a straight news outlet. 

Earlier this week, I highlighted an interview that the Batavian’s Howard Owens conducted with congressional candidate Chris Collins, where he made some outrageous statements about the survivability of breast and prostate cancers. The quote was as follows: 

The healthcare reforms Collins said he would push would be tort reform and open up competition in insurance by allowing policies across state lines.

Collins also argued that modern healthcare is expensive for a reason.

People now don’t die from prostate cancer, breast cancer and some of the other things,” Collins said. “The fact of the matter is, our healthcare today is so much better,  we’re living so much longer, because of innovations in drug development, surgical procedures, stents, implantable cardiac defibrillators, neural stimulators — they didn’t exist 10 years ago. The increase in cost is not because doctors are making a lot more money. It’s what you can get for healthcare, extending your life and curing diseases.” [Emphasis added].

Later that day, the Erie County Health Commissioner issued a statement challenging Collins’ assertion, and urging people to get tested and to be vigilant for breast and prostate cancers. Almost at the same time, Collins’ opponent, incumbent Congresswoman Kathy Hochul released this

“Chris Collins has demonstrated a stunning lack of sensitivity by saying, ‘people now don’t die from prostate cancer, breast cancer, and some of the other things.’ Tragically, nearly 70,000 people will die this year from these two types of cancer alone.  We can disagree about public policy without making these kinds of outrageous and offensive statements.”

Good statement – concise, pointed, properly angry and scolding. The quotation was verbatim from the Batavian’s piece.  
 
However, The Batavian’s Howard Owens was not happy, and he expressed his displeasure in a novel way. Without differentiating his post from the straight reporting the Batavian otherwise usually engages in, he posted a pure opinion piece which, I think, crossed a line. After printing Hochul’s statement, Owens opines, 

That’s the statement, with no reference to the source nor the full quote so people could judge the context for themselves.

The original source is The Batavian (both as a courtesy to The Batavian and as a matter of complete transparency, the Hochul campaign should have included this fact in its release).

I’ll be the first to admit that I get pissy when I don’t get proper credit for something, but is this more a fit of pique than anything else?  After all, Collins’ statement about cancer survivability stands on its own, and speaks for itself.  If there exists any doubt about the pure meaning of Collins’ words, then it’s up to Collins to explain them and expand upon them, no? But here, Owens goes on to reproduce the entire paragraph in which Collins’ cancer quip is contained, and continues: 

On its face, the opening part of the quote from Collins sounds outrageous, but in context, clearly, Collins misspoke. More likely, he meant to say. “Fewer people die from prostate cancer, breast cancer and some of the other things.” [emphasis added].

First, Owens supposes that Collins simply misspoke. Well, what Collins said seems outrageous because it is outrageous. Context? The context about which Owens is so concerned is open to interpretation, I suppose. But isn’t that conclusion solely within the province of the utterer of the words, or the reader of the article?

Is Collins grossly misinformed about cancer survivability, or is he just a clumsy politician who was trying to embellish a point about how Obamacare is horrible and health care is expensive, and should be? That’s my call – not Owens’. 

Propriety aside, I don’t see any evidence that Collins “misspoke”. There was no follow-up, and he didn’t correct his statement. Collins didn’t go on to further explain or expand upon what he said about breast and prostate cancers. He just went on to assert that some 40 year-old medical technologies like TENS machines and implanted defibrillators “didn’t exist 10 years ago”. 

The whole paragraph is a load of semi-informed nonsense. The whole paragraph is Collins’ politicization of health care to persuade readers to maintain the status quo. Yet Owens argues that it’s important for voters to consider Collins’ BS about cancer within the context of all the other falsehoods and lies he excreted during that portion of the interview. 

The real outrage, though, is Owens’ second assertion – suggesting what Collins must have meant to say, and completely re-stating what Collins said, in quotation marks.  That’s not how journalism works. What else exists in that paragraph to help reach the conclusion that Collins really meant something different from what he actually said? After that first ridiculous sentence, Collins utters not another word about cancer

If Owens thought Collins “misspoke”, he could have asked a follow-up; for example, “wait, you just said no one dies from breast cancer or prostate cancer, you didn’t really mean that, did you?” But there was no such follow-up. There was no explanation; there is no relevant context to further explain what Collins meant. Owens is playing psychic and ex-post-facto trying to repair a Collins gaffe. Hey, Howard, what did Collins “mean” when he repeatedly called Shelly Silver the “anti-Christ”? What did Collins “mean” when he invited a female Republican bigwig to give him a “lapdance”? 

Allow me to divert from the underlying point by asking, why? 

Why do WNY media and their personalities and writers bend over backwards so regularly and consistently for Chris Collins? Is it because Collins demands that kind of treatment in exchange for access? Is it because they’re enamored of his money and success? Is it because of campaign ads?  I’m asking seriously. This guy gets away with so many lies, so often, and he gets a routine uncritical pass. 

Think I’m kidding? Just this past Sunday, Bob McCarthy wrote the same bunch of brown-nosing BS about Chris Collins that he’s written at least twice before. “[Collins] had done everything he said he would do. His administration was scandal-free. And he lost.”  In November 2011, McCarthy wrote, “How did a county executive who fulfilled all his promises with minimal effects on taxes and no scandals manage to lose?”  Then again in December 2011, McCarthy wrote, “This time, the defeat seems to genuinely hurt. Collins struggles to grasp how he lost after keeping all his campaign promises of 2007 while running Erie County without a hint of scandal.”  I addressed the blatant inaccuracy of the “scandal-free” / “promises kept” assertions here

That’s a lot of identical puffery of one guy, multiple times in one year. The same reporter did a story on this Collins cancer kerfuffle , and Collins basically said he knows people with cancer. Having politicized cancer by suggesting that, thanks to America’s unsustainably expensive health care system, “no one dies from” certain types of the disease, Collins issued this: 

As the brother of a breast cancer survivor, I am grateful for the medical advances that saved my sister’s life, which would not have been possible a generation ago,” he said. “I find it troubling that Kathy Hochul would politicize the seriousness of cancer.

Hey, Chris and Howard – where in that extended Batavian quote did Collins mention a single, solitary medical advance, treatment, or medication that has anything to do with improved breast and prostate cancer survivability over the past generation? I’ll answer for you: nowhere. Perhaps reporters shouldn’t try to play soothsayer and, weeks later, divine what their interviewees “mean” to say, and then create phony “amended” statements, complete with improper quotation marks.  

Owens concludes,  

That’s not what he said (I taped the interview and the original quote as published is accurate), but the rest of the quote clearly explains the larger point he is trying to make, which is that medical advances have driven up the cost of healthcare.

To rip this quote out of context and try to use it to paint Collins as some sort of insensitive boob is the kind of below-the-belt, negative campaign tactic that keeps people from being engaged in the process and casting intelligent votes. Frankly, I think of Kathy Hochul as somebody who is more dignified than this sort of mudslinging.

Well, actually, it is precisely what he said, isn’t it?  I mean, if the original quote as published is accurate, then Collins said exactly what you wrote. Does it “clearly explain” some uninformed point Collins was trying to make about Obamacare-is-bad? Not really.
 
Is it mudslinging? By whom
 
Do I think that Chris Collins really believes that breast and prostate cancers don’t kill people anymore? I don’t really know, but I’m willing to accept that he’s a reasonably intelligent, reasonably well-informed person who would know that these cancers remain quite lethal.  So, do I think he “misspoke”? Not really – “misspoke” implies inadvertent error. So, what’s going on? 
 
I disagree with Owens’ crystal ball about what Collins “meant” to say. I think Collins said exactly what he meant to say; that people, generally, don’t die from prostate and breast cancers as much anymore, thanks to innovation and technology.  But he never properly expressed his point, and certainly didn’t back it up.  He politicized cancer and medical advances in order to make a point that we should maintain the current, unsustainable, unfair, over-expensive and under-performing system of private health insurance we have today, and that Obamacare (and, by extension, Kathy Hochul), are bad.  He was doing what politicians do – embellishing facts to score a political point. To suggest otherwise; to suggest that Hochul’s statement was an egregious horror whilst Collins’ was an earnest mistake, is utter nonsense.
 
Politicians are engaged in a competitive system and have to differentiate themselves through persuasion. Collins made a factual assertion, and his opponent criticized it. If Hochul crossed some arbitrary Owens line of propriety, so did Collins. 
 
Owens suggested on Twitter that I was being hypocritical, because I cheered him when he embarrassed Jane Corwin last year.  The facts beg to differ.  In 2011, Owens was doing his job as a reporter – asking Corwin pointed questions about the second videotape that would have shown her staffer Michael Mallia harassing Jack Davis.  He was committing journalism in the first degree – pretending to be a Lily Dale psychic with respect to Collins’ “meaning” isn’t the same thing. 
 
In 2011, Owens didn’t fire up the Batavian posting machine to specifically fisk a statement that Corwin made, accuse her of a “slur”, and suggest that the verbatim transcription of what someone said wasn’t really what they meant to say, and then create and publish a fictional amended quotation to reflect that “meaning”. 
 
Owens is entitled to his outrage at Hochul’s rather mild reaction to Collins’ politicization of cancer, but to accuse her of a “slur” for repeating what Collins said, and criticizing it, is ridiculous. To create an opinion piece specifically to call her out for it is silliness. To – without any factual evidence – condescend to the reader by explaining Collins’ meaning and amending his statement, and surrounding it in quotation marks, is outrageous. 
 
Maybe what Owens misspoke. What he meant to say was, “Hochul’s statement was quite tame, and I’m genuinely upset that she didn’t cite the Batavian.
 
Sucks, doesn’t it? 

The Morning Grumpy – 1/23/2012

23 Jan

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

Flo Rida, “Low

1. The Buffalo News story about 97 Rock’s morning show left me asking a few questions.

Since late 2008 — Norton has been broadcasting most of his morning show — announcing school closings, celebrating Bills victories and bashing local leaders — from Florida.

“We were hesitant to talk about this story because I don’t want to offend listeners who think that somehow I’ve given up on Buffalo,” Norton, 55, said over the phone from his home in southwest Florida. “That’s not the case at all. I came down here for good reason.”

What’s his reason for being in Florida?

For years, Norton’s father Wallace “Wally” Norton lived in Cape Haze, Fla., where he had moved after losing his wife, Bertha, to cancer in 1995.

“[Barb and I] had been going down here almost every month checking on him, getting him to the doctor. He asked if we could take care of him, because he didn’t want to go into a nursing home,” Norton said. “It’s what I had to do. He was my father.”

Well, I know I would do the same thing if I were in Larry’s shoes. Family always comes first with me as I’m sure it does with you, but that isn’t the issue.

Larry’s father passed away nearly two years ago, but Larry is still in Florida. Noting the emphasis I put on Larry’s quote at the beginning of this story, why didn’t the reporter ask him why he is still there? Why has Larry not moved back to the city “he hasn’t given up on”?

Norton may very well have a good reason and I suppose he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation about his residency. However, if a reporter is going to do this story, asking why he isn’t back here full time seems like the logical followup, doesn’t it?  Since Larry tried to assuage concerns of his listeners who might be upset that he doesn’t live here anymore, the reporter should ask why he doesn’t. Half-assed reporting annoys me, even when it’s a silly little story like this.

2. The intellectual dishonesty by the executives featured in this story is simply breathtaking. In short, why does Apple make the iPhone overseas?

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.

Really, I wonder what they mean when they say “flexibility, diligence and industrial skills”? Oh, here it is!

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

Ah, yes, the lament of America’s wilting middle class. If only we were willing to live in tiny dormitories, working in hostile conditions, exposed to unregulated and dangerous chemicals, paid less than $17 per day, forced to work 16-18 hour shifts six days per week and forced to sign a pledge to not commit suicide due to the live/work conditions…we’d all have jobs from our benevolent corporate masters.

I guess we’re just not “flexible” or “diligent” or “industrious” enough. America’s new motto should be “Maximizing Shareholder Value”.

3. Next time you hear Newt Gingrich talking about Barack Obama being the “food stamp President” or hear other Republican candidates imply that the unemployed are lazy, maybe watch one of these videos. People waiting on lines for hours on end for the chance to apply for a job. This is America. People with real problems, living lives of quiet desperation in search of their piece of the American Dream. Yes, Newt is running for President on a platform of ridiculing a program which kept people from starving during a recession they had little part in causing. GOP 2012!

4. The fruits of abstinence-only sex education in schools.

A new government study suggests a lot of teenage girls are clueless about their chances of getting pregnant. In a survey of thousands of teenage mothers who had unintended pregnancies, about a third said they didn’t use birth control because they didn’t believe they could pregnant.

Nationally, teen pregnancy rates have been falling, but they are up significantly in the south and southwest regions of the country. Broadly speaking and due largely to religious influences on school curriculum, these regions are leaders in the promotion of abstinence-only sex education in schools. Where kids are taught about birth control and STDs, pregnancy rates are lower. Big shock.

5. Respected journalism professor and media critic, Jay Rosen, linked to a story the other day which highlighted the polarized media that now influences elections and politics.

With just hours remaining before South Carolina’s Republican primary, it’s clear to campaign strategists and voters alike that the revolution in how Americans get their news has dramatically altered the political process. There’s more campaign news and commentary out there than ever before, but more and more citizens are tucking themselves inside information silos where they see mainly what they already agree with. The result, according to voters, campaign strategists and a raft of studies that track users’ news choices, is an electorate in which conservatives and liberals often have not only their own opinions but also their own sets of facts, making it harder than ever to approach common ground.

The reporter rarely, if ever, asks the $64,000 question. What role did we play in this and why? Did we drive them away? Until editors ask themselves that question rather than blaming the audience, newspapers will grow increasingly irrelevant. If Marc ever puts my WNYMedia archives back online, I’ll link to the dozens of articles I’ve written about his issue over the years. It merits serious discussion in this one newspaper town.

Fact of The Day: Keep buying that cheap shit at Wal-Mart, if you hate America. The world’s biggest retailer, U.S.-based Wal-Mart was responsible for $27 billion in U.S. imports from China in 2006 and 11% of the growth of the total U.S. trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2006. Wal-Mart’s trade deficit with China alone eliminated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs in this period.

Quote Of The Day: “The business of government is justice” – Millicent Fenwick

Song Of The Day: “Girls In The Backroom” – Ike Reilly

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chrissmithbuffalo[@]gmail.com

The Morning Grumpy – December 8th

8 Dec

All the news and views fit to consume during your “morning grumpy”.

 

America, F*CK YEAH!

1. The future of journalism is on the web. That may seem like an odd statement for someone who plies his trade for an outlet primarily known for its print product, but it’s not some dirty little secret. Print will always have a place, especially alternative weeklies that focus on feature reporting. But day-to-day transactional beat coverage? It will be web-based. Covering events and beats and reporting them the following day in a print product is a wasteful and expensive proposition. I’m roughly the 351,450th person to write this on a blog in the last year, so I’m not going to pretend this is some big revelation.

Print coverage of local events is expensive and lacks timeliness. Local broadcast television coverage is typically shallow and glib. Radio coverage is nearly non-existent, with the exception of local non-profit, public radio. Ah, wait, I sense a point coming!

Ten NBC-owned television stations across the nation will team with nonprofit news outlets in an attempt to beef up their enterprise and analytical reporting, the network announced Monday.

NBC affiliates in Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia will work with work with non-commercial outfits in those cities — KPCC public radio, the Chicago Reporter and WHYY public radio and television, respectively — while all of the network’s owned-and-operated stations will get early access to investigative reports from the independent, nonprofit newsroom Pro Publica.

Television outlets doing enterprise coverage? Wow, that would be refreshing around these parts, eh? Now imagine extending this idea to a traditional print daily. What if  The Buffalo News partnered with a local non-profit web outlet on beat coverage, enterprise projects, and multimedia stories? It would extend the newsroom, better inform the public, and create a better product. Seems like a natural fit.

The best online, non-profit journalism is found in San Diego.

We try to go beyond the press releases and press conferences to bring you the stories that our leaders and powerful don’t want to announce — the kind of stories that result in positive change, uncover vital information for San Diegans, and bring us together as a community. And we put perspective and analysis into the things they do announce. We don’t report with any right- or left-wing agenda. But we are inspired by passion to expose what is right and wrong, to drive reform and to spur solutions for the best of the community as a whole.

Damn, that sounds excellent! I want this to happen right here in Buffalo. It seems that an enterprising group of young reporters in this town might want to think about partnering up with some of the quality talent The Buffalo News has laid off in recent years and copy the San Diego model. I know I’d like expanded and timely coverage of local news events, dedicated fact checking, and “explainer” articles.  I’ll put some money on the table to make this happen, anyone else want in?

2. Want to buy a federal election? Let Mother Jones show you how!

3. “Tweet” from McSweeney’s. Caused a bit of introspection at Chez Smith last night…

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by brevity, over-connectedness, emotionally starving for attention, dragging themselves through virtual communities at 3 am, surrounded by stale pizza and neglected dreams, looking for angry meaning, any meaning…

4. Hey America, looking for a solution to the jobs crisis and a sputtering economy? Corporations have the answer for you!

Corporate America is sitting right on top of the solution to the nation’s employment crisis, according to a new report from a group of University of Massachusetts economists.

If America’s largest banks and non-financial companies would just loosen their death-grip on a chunk of the $3.6 trillion in cash they’re hoarding and move it into productive investments instead, the report estimates that about 19 million jobs would be created in the next three years, lowering the unemployment rate to under 5 percent.

In fact, according to the Federal Reserve (Table L.109, line 28), banks are sitting on $1.6 trillion in reserves — about 80 times the $20 billion they held in 2007.

Meanwhile, non-financial companies are keeping their profits liquid, rather than plowing them back into investments, to the tune of about $2 trillion.

Together, that amounts to almost a quarter of the U.S. gross domestic product.

Let’s get it together, fearless corporate barons. Spend some money, hire some people and get this fucking train moving.

5. I like the way Ron Paul looms.

Rep. Ron Paul rarely makes news, and his candidacy is frequently ignored by Beltway reporters. But headlines, his aides say, are overrated. In fact, the Texas Republican’s low-key autumn was strategic. As Paul’s competitors stumbled and sparred, he amassed a small fortune for his campaign and built a strong ground operation. And with January fast approaching, his team is ready to surprise the political world and sweep the Iowa caucuses.

While several GOP candidates have taken their turn at the front of the pack, Ron Paul and his ill-fitting suits have hung back, waiting to strike. He has a rabid base of supporters and the race will inevitably give him and them their moment once Newt Gingrich steps on his arrogant dick in the next month or two. While those rabid supporters are a blessing for Paul, they’re also a curse. One of the least appealing things about Paul is the glib assholes who scold America for not agreeing with them. If he can overcome the Jim Ostrowskis of the world and positions himself as the reasonable fallback/compromise/not-Mitt-Romney option, Ron Paul just might end up the nominee.

6. How many times can a Christian be “born again”? Good question.

Bishop Eddie Long, the Atlanta-area Baptist megachurch leader accused of sexual misconduct with several young men, announced on Sunday he is taking time off to focus on his family. His church, like many evangelical Christian churches, exhorts sinners to be “born again,” accepting Christ as their savior on the path to redemption. If a born-again Christian like Long has already been reborn, can he later become born again again?

It’s hard to say. Though more than one-third of U.S. Christians characterize themselves as “born-again,” the phrase isn’t clearly defined in the Bible.

Blow some coke, smoke some meth, sleep with a prostitute, sleep with young men, it’s cool. Just apologize, condemn others for doing the same, and get born again…again. No wonder Americans like this christianity thing so much.

Fact Of The Day: On this day in 1980, Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon. John was only 40 years old.

Quote Of The Day: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

Song Of The Day: “Beautiful Boy” – John Lennon

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chrissmithbuffalo[@]gmail.com

Internets & News

11 Apr

Tonight at Hallwalls, I’ll be participating in this panel discussion, hosted by Talking Leaves Books:

The Business of Media in the Age of the Internet

Talking Leaves…Books, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, and the Media Law Resource Center (MLRC) are pleased to announce a collaborative event to discuss some of the critical issues of media and law today. Panelists Mike NimanAlan Bedenko, and Joe Finnerty will convene in the Cinema at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center on Monday, April 11, at 7 pm to focus attention on “the business of media in the age of the internet” looking at some of the many changes the internet has wrought on the media, including issues like citizen journalism, user-generated content, personal and corporate liability, the definition of “journalist.”. We’ll look at recent developments like the Newsweek/Daily Beast merger, the AOL purchase of the Huffington Post, the downfall of Congressman Chris Lee, and New York Times attempts to initiate a paywall. After brief presentations from the panelists (we may add a fourth, a current Buffalo journalist), we’ll open the discussion to the audience.

 

Buffalo News Peddles Rumors About Chris Lee

12 Feb

Since our inception in 2004, we have received several public and private admonishments from writers and editors at The Buffalo News about the way we report and opine on the news of the day.  The undercurrent of all those critiques has been that they were “responsible” journalists who did not traffic in rumors, innuendo, or off-the-record allegations.  Implying, of course, that WNYMedia and other online outlets were irresponsible and amateurish. The tongue clicking and “tsk-tsks” which have emanated from One News Plaza over the years have entertained us.

Today, we return the favor.

In this morning’s edition, Jerry Zremski and Steve Watson wrote what is essentially a hit piece on Former Rep. Chris Lee (R, Chippenfail).  It reads like a “story” one would find on the execrable Joe Illuzzi’s website, or in a cheap tabloid.

About halfway into the article titled “Alleged womanizing by Lee has a history”, Zremski writes,

No concrete evidence has surfaced that Lee, a Republican from Amherst, has cheated on his wife, Michele, with whom he has a young son.

However, that did not stop the writers from giving us a full story of unconfirmed and unsubstantiated rumors about the man.

And funny pictures...

WNYMedia has a reputation as a left-leaning website known for taking on Republican politicians and public figures, but we simply do not publish personal rumors or blind items on this website.  If we did, dozens of local politicos (Democrat and Republican alike) would be reading the things we hear about their personal lives.

We only publish stories if someone is willing to go on the record or we have two direct sources confirming the story, not some collected hearsay curated from various media sources.  Furthermore, we’d only do so if it’s remotely newsworthy – that we’ve engaged in an analysis where we’ve balanced the likely harm that might come from publicizing the information versus the public’s right to know, and how relevant the information is to something of public – not just prurient – interest.

Not one name is mentioned. Not one concrete allegation is made, or verified.  At least the New York Post’s article got a little specific. In fact, this spoof website is a nice interpretation of Zremski’s article.

It is clear through reading Zremski’s meta-story about the various allegations other media outlets have alluded to, that neither he nor Watson have direct sources on Lee’s personal proclivities.  Rather than drumming up the story themselves with some feet-on-street reporting, this article serves as a “Help Wanted” piece soliciting locals to share their stories about Lee banging cocktail waitresses and hairdressers, which can then be reported on the record.  It rehashes off-the-record rumor and unsubstantiated hearsay from a long-ago failed candidate’s oppo research.

If we had published something about Chris Lee similar to what the Buffalo News put out on the newsstands, we’d be rightly pilloried as smut-peddling internet hacks, and the pro journos at the News would look down their collective nose at us as being further evidence of how untrustworthy those online outlets like WNYMedia.net or Gawker are.

Yet, the two biggest political scandals of the past twelve months involving local politicians – Carl Paladino’s and Chris Lee’s weird emailing proclivities – were broken by those very online outlets.

What the News did today was cheap, lazy journalism – a backhanded attempt to solicit a scoop – and Margaret Sullivan should be embarrassed that it was published by her newspaper.