Tuesday, March 31, 2015


The Indianapolis Star today boldly went where newspapers rarely go.

Under the headline "FIX THIS NOW," the newspaper published a full-front-page editorial calling on Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly to move immediately to undo the damage that has been done to the state's reputation and the already evident damage to the state's economy caused by Indiana's newly adopted Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The placement, the content and the clarity of the editorial can leave no doubt in anyone's mind where the newspaper stands. Here is a link to the well-written, easy to understand editorial: http://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/2015/03/30/editorial-gov-pence-fix-religious-freedom-law-now/70698802/.

The law -- which, despite statements to the contrary by Gov. Pence and the other key Republican lawmakers in the state who pushed for its passage -- encourages, enables and legalizes discrimination against gay people under the thin guise of protecting business owners' rights to refuse them services based on the religious beliefs of those business owners. Simply put, the law endorses bigotry and, to my way of thinking, is a total violation of the intent -- if not the specific wording -- of the federal government's Civil Rights Act of 1965 which bans all forms of discrimination.

Almost immediately after Pence signed the RFRA into law on March 26, the Hoosier state found itself the focal point of a storm of controversy and protests that have gone far beyond the outcries of just the LGBT community.

Businesses such as Walmart, Apple and Salesforce and, even more importantly, the homegrown, Indianapolis-based pharmaceuticals maker Eli Lilly lodged strong condemnations of the new law. Saleforce, a large and growing cloud computing company, even put some serious teeth in its protest by immediately cancelling all of it's already scheduled events in Indiana.

Other national organizations, such as AFSCME (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees), condemned the law and began cancelling conventions and other events scheduled in the state -- particularly in Indianapolis which stands to suffer millions of dollars worth of economic damage. AFSCME immediately withdrew its national Women's Conference which was scheduled to take place in Indianapolis this year and said the event will be moved to another state where is members need not worry about being discriminated against. In a statement released shortly after Pence sign the law, Lee Saunders, the union's president, said "This un-American law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights. It is an embarrassment and cannot be tolerated."

A wide variety of entertainers cancelled show they'd scheduled in the Hoosier state and even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis, briefly considered moving the men's basketball Final Four which is to take place in the city this weekend. Although NCAA officials decided it would not really be feasible to try the move the Final Four location on such short notice, they did threaten to not only decline to schedule future events in the state, but also to move the national headquarter elsewhere.

Then, yesterday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who had spoken out against the law numerous times before its passage and warned of the adverse impact it would have on the state's reputation and economy, came out with his strongest public condemnation of it. Here is a link to the coverage of Ballard's press conference by the NBC affiliate Indianapolis TV station WTHR, Channel 13: http://www.wthr.com/story/28652260/indianapolis-mayor-greg-ballard-denounces-religious-freedom-law.

This morning's Indianapolis Star front page is the perfect punctuation point for what Ballard had to say yesterday.

The editorial opens saying:

"We are at a critical moment in Indiana's history.

And much is at stake.

Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.

All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.

The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.
Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage."

The editorial goes on to demand in no uncertain terms that the governor and state lawmakers move to immediately shore up the damage by passing a state law "to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity." The editorial says that such a human rights law, which would be similar to an Indianapolis city ordinance adopted a decade ago, could coexist with the RFRA, making an obviously contentious and drawn out attempt to repeal it unnecessary.

"Only bold action -- action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens -- will be enough to reverse the damage," the editorial contends.

In closing, the editorial states:

"We urge Gov. Pence and lawmakers to stop clinging to arguments about whether RFRA really does what critics fear; to stop clinging to ideology or personal preferences; to focus instead on fixing this.

Governor, Indiana is in a state of crisis. It is worse than you seem to understand.

You must act with courage and wisdom. You must lead us forward now. You must ensure that all Hoosiers have strong protections against discrimination.

The laws can co-exist. And so can we."

As someone who grew up in Indiana and is giving serious thought to moving back there when my wife, Gail, joins me in retirement, I thank and commend The Indianapolis Star for it's strong and well-reasoned stand against discrimination in any form.

And, as the retired editor of daily newspapers, I fully understand the courage it took for the Star's editors and publisher to write and/or approve this strong stand and to defy convention by making it the paper's full front page under a straight forward, no-nonsense headline.


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Friday, March 20, 2015


OK, I'll admit it right at the outset -- I aggressively avoid watching Fox News. I also avoid, but to a lesser degree, watching much of what's on MSNBC.

I guess I am one of those old-fashioned U.S. journalists/editors who just can't grow accustomed to a supposedly "professional" news organization engaging almost exclusively in point-of-view "news" reporting and presentation.

So, to find out what's going on those two networks, I pretty much rely on some of the websites that I trust and regularly visit, one of which is mediamatters.org, the website for Media Matters for America, my favorite site for watchdogging and being enraged over what Fox News is doing.

In the two years that I've been writing this blog, I have seldom referred to Media Matters or made mention of the things for which it criticizes Fox News. In large part, that has been because, after all these years, few of the outrageous things that are "reported" by or discussed on Fox News truly surprise me anymore. This is because I realize everything they do and say comes strictly from a right-wing perspective and, as I have freely acknowledged before, I consider myself a liberal.

However, Media Matters yesterday (Thursday, March 19, 2015) reported on something that came up on the Fox program "Outnumbered," that I find so disturbing that I just have to say something.

I was frankly flabbergasted to learn that the show's hosts spent a segment of their program on March 19 actually urging people to NOT vote. This was done in response to President Barrack Obama's recent speech in Cleveland in which he said it would be "transformative" if every eligible voter in the United States actually turned out to cast his or her ballot. Here is Media Matters' link to that Fox "Outnumbered" segment: http://mediamatters.org/video/2015/03/19/outnumbered-hosts-tell-unengaged-americans-plea/202964

Although there has been a rush by some media outlets -- particularly Fox -- to twist what the president said into him calling for "mandatory voting," that's not what he did.

What he DID do was mention that in numerous countries, voting is mandatory and then went on to say that in the United States "it would be transformative if everybody voted" as a means of countering the wave of corporate and billionaire dollars that have flowed into political coffers in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. That action by SCOTUS lifted the limits on campaign contributions made by corporations and individuals -- a decision that has left many, including me, feeling that elections in this country are now basically a commodity for sale.

From a personal standpoint, I would be just as opposed to any effort to make voting mandatory as I am to the Citizens United decision, neither of which is what democracy is all about.

I do, however, believe that it is every U.S. citizens responsibility and duty to vote because the right to vote is what has kept our democracy in tact for more than two centuries and is the key to its continuation.

Throughout my career as the editor of a daily newspaper in several different cities, I wrote an editorial for every election calling on people to get out and vote, pointing that the anyone who doesn't do so essentially surrenders his or her right to later bitch about the results of that election or about those who are elected. I was not alone in this. Every other editor I knew wrote, or had their editorial writers write, similar editorials for every election because we all realized that voting is an important part of maintaining freedom of the press.

This is why I am particularly dismayed that the nitwits (yeah, there, I said it) on "Outnumbered" had the audacity to suggest that people not vote. OK, to be more specific, they quite lamely called for people who are "not engaged" to not vote. Sorry, but that is not the answer -- especially since I suspect that what they really mean is that anyone who is not "engaged" in believing what Fox News wants them to believe and might not cast a vote that has the Fox News seal of approval should not vote.

If Fox was a what I would describe -- in my old-fashioned ways and thought mode -- as a valid news organization, those hosts of "Outnumbered" would have urged people, regardless of their political persuasion, to become engaged, to learn what the issues are and where candidates stood on them and then get their lazy, apathetic butts to the polls and vote for the candidates who best represent their interests.

In my view, to urge anything else is thoroughly and blatantly un-American.


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Thursday, March 5, 2015


On the bottom right hand corner of Page 3B in this morning's edition of The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, and on the newspaper's website, www.themonitor.com, is a story that should be garnering a lot more local media attention than it apparently has so far.

The story involves Alexander Correa, 23, of Edinburg, one of McAllen's numerous neighboring cities, who, on Monday morning, plowed into the back of a school bus with, according to the newspaper report, 10 students on board. Fortunately, no students were injured.

If that was all there was to the story, it, frankly, wouldn't be all that big of a deal. Accidents in which there are no injuries, even ones involving school buses, happen everyday and most go without so much as a passing mention in the media.

But this accident was not that simple because police ended up arresting Correa on charges of driving while intoxicated -- his sixth such charge in less than two years, the paper reported. Here is the link to the story posted at 7:16 p.m. on Wednesday on The Monitor's website: http://www.themonitor.com/news/local/edinburg-man-gets-sixth-dwi-in-years-after-crashing-into/article_fd0f16f4-c2d5-11e4-85e7-177a259d7b63.html.

The story was reported earlier in the day by the area's English-language Fox affiliate TV station KXFV, which even had video of Correa's arraignment in Edinburg Municipal Court before Judge Terry Palacios. Here is a link to that report: http://www.foxrio2.com/repeat-drunk-driver-slams-into-bus-filled-with-middle-school-children/.

To their credit, The Monitor and KXFV were, as of 8:30 CST this morning (Thursday, Mar. 5, 2015), the only area news outlets reporting this story.

I suspect that by the end of the day, this could wind up being the news story that is the most talked about by Rio Grande Valley residence once the news departments at the area's other English-language TV stations -- KRGV, KGBT and KVEO -- finally get around to looking at The Monitor's Page 3B and KXFV's website and begin playing catch up.

I hope that all of the local media take out after this story the way they should and don't -- as is so often the case here and in far too many other communities around the nation -- just let it drop until Correa's trial, which may or may not be covered live by any of the local media outlets.

My old friend, Bill Marimow, editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, alerted me to a story his paper published in September that could serve as a great guide for Rio Grande Valley media to follow if they want to do a high impact followup story on this accident. The Inky story deals with Pennsylvania's pretty abysmal record for keeping repeat drunk drivers off the roads. Here is the link: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140907_Despite_tougher_Pa__DUI_laws__many_repeat_offenders_stay_on_the_road.html

Hopefully, The Monitor, or one or all of the TV stations, will very quickly follow up by giving the details of Correa's other five DWI cases, one of which was dismissed and the other four of which are yet to be adjudicated. The Monitor's and KXFV's reports mentioned the other cases but gave no details regarding when they occurred,  where they occurred, what was involved or where exactly they stand in the judicial process.

Beyond that, there are still many questions to be answered with regard to this incident, which I am still rather surprised was not played at least on the front of the Valley & State (B) section of The Monitor.

I think the question that will be most on the minds of those area residents who take note of the story is why in the world Correa, with five prior DWI arrests, continues to have driving privileges. That's an important question that must be put to the area law enforcement agencies that have arrested him and to the judges and prosecutors who are handling, or in the past have handled, the cases against him.

Jeff Allen Lindau, who commented on the story on The Monitor's website quite rightfully and fairly said, "the media could probably trace the reasons this person is still driving and hasn't been convicted on any of his previous 5 charges of DWI. The question is will they get to the bottom and expose it?"

In another comment on the story, Lindau said: "All one has to do is research DWI's in Hidalgo County and you'll see our county has one of the highest rates of DWI incidents with one of the state's lowest rates for prosecuting DWI offenders. The local media half heartedly has looked into these numbers in the past but never fully held the DA's office accountable." Although he is substantially correct, Lindau failed to mention that the area's judges who handle drunk driving cases should perhaps be held even more accountable than area prosecutors since, in the final analysis, it is up to them to determine the punishments handed out to first- and multiple-time DWI offenders.

Lindau is also on point with his offhanded bash at the local media for only "half heartedly" looking into the drunk-driving issue in the Rio Grande Valley, where it seems to be a serious problem considering the number stories on DWI accidents, many involving multiple injuries and fatalities, that are reported here every year by The Monitor and area TV stations.

As much as I hate to admit it, even I have to plead guilty to Lindau's charge of media half-hearted reporting on the area's drunk driving problem.

There were several times during my nearly 12 years as editor of The Monitor -- usually after a particularly horrendous DWI accident -- that I considered having my reporters launch a full-scale examination into how drunk driving cases are handled, or mishandled, in the Rio Grande Valley, but failed, for whatever excuse, to not follow up on.

In retrospect, I consider myself particularly remiss in not having done so since I had considerable experience with such projects at papers where I had previously worked. As the courts reporter for The Louisville (Ky.) Times in the early 70s I produced a several-day series of stories on lenient handling of DWI cases by judges in the area's municipal courts. As managing editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.; and later The Cincinnati Post; and then as editor of The State Journal-Register, in Springfield, Ill., I directed examinations of how drunk-driving cases were handled by the courts and even identified the top 10 to 20 repeat DWI offenders in those cities. In fact, our drunk-driving series at The State Journal-Register resulted in me being invited to speak at that year's national convention of Mother Against Drunk Driving (MAAD) in Washington, D.C.

I urge my former area media colleagues to not follow my lead. Don't let this opportunity to take a serious look at how the many drunk driving cases are handled by the judicial systems in the Rio Grande Valley. Let this case be the impetus for an in-depth look into the issue by one or all of our area media outlets because lives are at stake and law enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial feet should and must be held to the fire and repeat offenders, in particular, need to be exposed and prevented from killing themselves and/or innocent potential victims.

Thanks to the expansion of computerized record keeping by area courts, the task should be much easier now than it was in the past, when reporters had to go through the tedious task of reviewing hundreds of pages of sometimes handwritten court dockets to identify and track such cases. That's the upside.

The downside is that due to the fees public agencies are allowed to collect under Texas law, accessing those records could cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars -- a factor that has put a serious crimp in investigative reporting by all but the state largest newspapers and television stations.

That considered The Monitor and one or more of the local TV stations might want to think about joining forces to not only devote the sort of reportorial resources need to produce a meaningful and game-changing examination of the issue, but also to share and defray the costs of the undertaking. As leery as I am of the concept (see my Feb. 13, 2015 post "NEWSPAPER ETHICS: MAINTAINING (OR NOT) THE LINE BETWEEN DOLLARS AND SENSE) this might just be one of those rare instances when one or more media outlets might consider seeking crowdfunding from readers and/or viewers to help finance a project that is -- or certainly should be -- a matter of significant public concern.


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