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Newspapers Puzzled About Their Failings: part 1

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The mainstream press gets a lot of criticism ~ outside journalistic circles ~ as more and more information emerges showing an American public losing faith in "The Fourth Estate." Yet the press doesn't seem capable of figuring our why.

This compilation of old and new press sins may provide some clues:

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation made an arrest in the notorious Unabomber case in early 1996, Political Righties were quick to blame their favorite targets to explain the perceived behavior of bomber Theodore Kaczynski. Bob Dole took a shot at Harvard University, implying that institution was responsible for the Kaczynski's antitechnology convictions because Kaczynski had received his bachelor of science degree at Harvard more than 30 years earlier. Other Righties blamed the University of Michigan, where Kaczynski earned his Ph. D., or the University of California at Berkeley, where he taught mathematics for a brief time. A few blamed his family life, although it was a relative who did the detective work that led to the arrest.

Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez, as printed in USA Today, blamed the environmental movement for the Unabomber. She targeted the most-committed environmental group, Earth First!, claiming that it's publications, teachings or leaders had planted suggestions in the mind of Kaczynski that led to 18 years of bombings that killed three people and injured 29. Chavez wrote, "The Unabomber may well have taken his inspiration from the writings of Earth First!'s radical fringe."

Chavez showed herself to be a buffoon. She rightfully put the formation of Earth First! as 1980, two years after the Unabomber's reign of terror began ~ so even by Chavez's weird calculation of time, Earth First! could hardly be the inspiration for his actions. And, it was shown that Kaczynski had a wide range of reading matter, especially publications appealing to scientific or technological readerships. Kaczynski also abandoned a promising teaching career at the University of California to move to Montana's wilderness about 15 years before the first bombing incident, indicating his antitechnology psyche was well established years before Earth First! came into existence. That was proven later by Kaczynski's writings in which he penned the statement that, "I act merely from my desire for revenge." He added, "I believe in nothing, . . . I don't care or even believe in the cult of nature worshipers or wilderness worshipers." Kaczynski's writing ~ made public just before his sentencing ~ was written in 1971, seven years before he began his bombing and nine years before Earth First! was founded.

But fools like Chavez don't let facts or reality get in the way of a good attack and editors nationwide didn't bother to note that, when they published this, it was a piece of junk.

An article in The New York Post entitled "Does Democracy Have a Prayer?" was indicative of the ignorance and foolhardiness of many modern "journalists" who feel they need not know or understand any particular issue before issuing a condemnation. It also points out a serious problem in publishing that a major American newspaper would print something so lacking in knowledge or understanding but would not print anything pointing out the article's errors or nonsensical statements. The writer, David Gelernter, based his argument on the statement that "...the Supreme Court has beat up remorselessly on religion in public life" for several decades.

In a USA Today column Gwen Daye Richardson committed a sin that should never be tolerated by a responsible journalist and the editors of USA Today did a disservice to their readers by publishing her discourse. Her sin was not knowing what she was talking about. Their disservice was printing a column that was completely unreal. Richardson's statement that, "This desire to purge religion from all spheres of the public arena started three decades ago with the removal of prayer from public schools. Since then, in just one generation, almost all references not only to God, but to anything like a moral code have been removed from public schools."

That's garbage.

The truth is that the Supreme Court had never beat up on religion; it had constantly ruled to get government involvement in religion out of our spiritual lives and leave such matters up to us, the individuals. That's called religious freedom. Prayer has never been removed from public schools, government involvement was removed from children's praying.

Mr. Gelernter and Miss Richardson would do themselves a great favor if they would read the Supreme Court decisions concerning church-state relations to see that all prohibitions have been placed on governments and Proverbs 18: 13, which basically says one should know what one is talking about before issuing a condemnation.

Editors of the newspaper also should know what reality is when they decide to publish such false and utterly ridiculous crap.

Another USA Today columnist reported meeting up with famed atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair at a convention and lambasted her as the person who had prayer removed from public schools.

On a PBS program on religion in public life hosted by a Gumble and an Ifill last year, the Ifill repeated the lie that Mrs. O'Hair got prayer banned from schools. So much for journalistic research, because Mrs. O'Hair had nothing to do with the school-prayer decision, Engle v. Vitale. That case originated in New Hyde Park, NY, and was brought by a group of religious parents who objected to the state of New York mandating their children pray as the state wanted and observe a form of religion that may not be in agreement with their own. Mrs. O'Hair lived in Baltimore at the time, so couldn't be a plaintiff in a New York case. She was involved a year later in a minor case involving Bible reading, in which the court said schools could teach about religion, they just couldn't practice religion. The court decision was a sound judicial ruling but socially problematic because of the distortions religions have placed on biblical stories such as Adam and Eve and Noah's Flood and the misunderstanding religion has of the 666 mystique. But those are concepts for future articles.

A Los Angeles Times columnist dismissed concern over the Pledge of Allegiance promoting religion by saying that kids in school who didn't want to say "under God" could just remain silent when that part came up. The Times refused to even print a letter to the letter explaining how that reasoning was total nonsense. The logical and constitutional position is that the law-required phrase should come out of the pledge, but kids who wanted it included could just insert the two words on their own when the time came, and without government instructions to do so. If schools prevented them from saying "under God," the schools would be prohibiting free exercise of religion, just what the Constitution prohibits governments to do.

When the case went to the Supreme Court, the Associated Press, Arizona Republic and Denver Post chipped in with nonsense concerning the dispute that had been ruled on by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Quoteth the AP: "The Constitution says the government may not establish religion."

The Arizona Republic of Phoenix asked for divine help preserving government involvement in religion.

The Denver Post claimed the decision was "misguided."

A complete discussion of this case, and how the Supreme Court judges chickened out to vacate the appellate court ruling on procedural grounds when they knew they couldn't do it on constitutional grounds is a subject for a future article.

The Denver Post, in railing against SCOTUS decisions that protected religious freedom from government encroachment, said in an editorial that the Constitution protects "freedom of religion" not "freedom from religion," whatever that moronic statement means. It doesn't say either and the Post dummies were incapable of reading the First Amendment to see what it says about religion, just as they couldn't read the 11-paragraph Engle decision on school prayer to see what it said, but would babble on in ignorance about something they knew nothing about.

The "establishment" clause of the First Amendment may be the most-distorted clause in the Constitution. The religion clauses say: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The word "establishment" may be the most-misunderstood word in the Constitution. That word is not the verb "establish," as the AP used it ~ and as some Supreme Court judges use it ~ it is a noun meaning "something established." Or perhaps the word "of" is misunderstood. In the phrase, "the city of Washington," it means "which is" and in the phrase, "that dog of mine," it denotes possession.

That means "an establishment of religion" is anything established by, or belonging to, religion; including religion itself.

Church was established by religion so it is "an establishment of religion" just as is a synagogue or a mosque. Prayer, baptism, heaven were all established by religion, so they are "establishments of religion." The Bible, Koran and Talmud are all "establishments of religion" as are Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukkah and Easter.

The concept of a spiritual being, whether called God, Yahweh, Allah or Jehovah was established by religion ~ it was not established by science, by literature, by entertainment, by journalism, by government or by any other institution ~ so it is "an establishment of religion" which the Constitution specifically and clearly says may not be subject to law, neither for nor against.

If journalists wish to continue pontificating on this matter, the least they could do is learn how to distinguish verbs from nouns and how to use them properly. James Madison, who headed the committee that wrote and proposed the Bill of Rights, knew how to use the proper words to say what he wanted to say; modern journalists should be as astute.

As ignorant as the Post is about constitutional issues, it is on a par with its main competitor, the Rocky Mountain News. A Rocky columnist whined in his printed soup that the city of Denver wouldn't spend taxpayer money for a Christmas event. But the Constitution says all expenditures of public money must be done under authority of law and the First Amendment say no laws concerning religion. Then the 14th Amendment says states must honor this "immunity" of religion from government action, encroachment or law. That means no public money for religious events; it doesn't mean the city was, is, or will be hostile to religion, but this columnist couldn't understand the simple coupling of two or three clauses to produce one concept. Then, before the columnist died, The Rocky News obtained a name change for one block of a street at the side of the building where the paper does business to honor its anti-constitutional writer.

During the 1970s, The Denver Post reported extensively on the travails of anti-government Soviet dissident Alexander Solzynitsin; or was it Alexandr, or Aleksander, or even Aleksandr. It was hard to tell because all four names were used in less than one week making the Post look the fools they were. And never mind that the Post employed a reporter born, raised and educated in Russia and an ex-US intelligence agent who knew a few Russian words.

The Post also had words to say about 7-foot-2 basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar, or was it 7-foot-4 Kareem Abdul Jabbar? Not only were the NBA star's height different in two different stories, the two stories were published the same day, on the same page and right next to each other.

The Post also reported that the Rio Grande River flows through downtown San Antonio, Texas. Strange not to know the route of a river that originated in the mountains just to the west of Denver.

The Free Press, is a book-publishing firm that seems to have an affinity for right-wing authors who have disdain for America. We have seen this firm publish racist nonsense ("The Bell Curve" and "The End of Racism") and character assassination ("The Real Anita Hill") among other dubious tomes.

What may be its silliest was, "Those Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts That Built America ," which distorts or outright falsifies America's taxing authority, therefore is short on credibility. The book, written by a "history-minded tax consultant" for the right-wing Cato Institute, got a review in USA Today, in which some inaccuracies were pointed out, some not. The newspaper quoted the author for writing that the Senate "almost impeached" a judge. The reviewer corrected him saying, "The House impeaches; the Senate convicts or acquits." That's an easy-to-check constitutional provision contained in Article I, so there's no reason for the author not to know that or to check it out by looking at the Constitution. There's also no reason a Free Press editor can't look at the Constitution. It's evident neither the author nor the editor know the Constitution and were careless about what it says.

USA Today also said that the author "... blasts the Supreme Court for failing to uphold the mandate that taxes be 'uniform' ..." The author again showed no knowledge of the Constitution and his Free Press editor again proved to be incompetent. Article I, Section 8, paragraph 1, says, "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises ... but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States...". The Constitution does not require "Taxes" to be uniform as anyone who can read may plainly see. The author, the Free Press editor and the USA Today reviewer were all incapable of detecting what such a plainly written sentence says. For a "tax consultant" such ignorance is monumental.

In a 1997 news report by The Associated Press about the Son of Sam killings in New York, USA Today published the statement that, "The death penalty had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court ..."

The death penalty has never been declared unconstitutional. What the Supreme Court did in 1972 was suspend the authority of states to impose the death penalty because the death-penalty laws that allowed unequal application of capital punishment were declared unconstitutional. The laws were unconstitutional; not the death penalty. The death penalty being declared unconstitutional is frequently reported in the American press, both print and electronic.

The image of the press having any form of integrity was not helped when the Tribune Company ~ owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune ~ fired the publisher of its subordinate Los Angeles Times this year because he refused to slash the news-gathering and reporting operations to increase profits at an already-profitable newspaper. Nor is the entire industry looked on admirably by the public when it pretends the war against Iraq is a legitimate endeavor or that the Bush presidency is just a normal regime experiencing a tad bit of bad luck.

A compilation of sins of the press must also include the Washington Post's episode with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Janet Cooke, who won her prize on a story she completely made up and presented as fact. Then there's the New York Times fostering Jayson Blair off on its readership even though Blair made up most of his stories, but at least, he didn't win a Pulitzer. The Times's Judith Miller helped lead the nation into the worst war-crimes conflagration since Hitler's Germany invaded Poland by acting as a stenographer for the Bush administration. We also have the role the press played in the illegal outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame in a lame attempt to discredit the truth by the administration of Bush, who dreamed of being a modern version of Alexander the Great but turned out to be a new Caligula.

Newspaper executives claim they want to recapture the trust they have squandered with the American public over the past few decades.

In the April 12, 1998, edition of The Seattle Times, then-executive editor Michael R. Fancher devoted a lengthy column to discussing the deteriorating credibility of the American newspaper. His column was headlined, "Editor says high road/may be way to regain/readers' lost trust."

According to Fancher, editors at a convention evidently thought their credibility problem involved reporting on the so-called Clinton White House sex scandals or the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Or, as a visiting professor said, printing stories once rejected as "sensationalistic, too intrusive, too slipshod, too damaging to individuals and institutions."

They were wrong. The problem involves publishing ignorant propagandists like Chavez and other biased syndicated columnists who disseminate misinformation and anti-America political rants. Being incredibly sloppy on that which isn't propaganda doesn't help either. Newspapers's problems are the crap they print and not knowing what they are talking about or even caring to know. The Seattle Times is also the newspaper that unleased right-wing freak-show columnist Michelle Malkin on the world of journalism, but can't figure our why it is held in such low esteem. Choosing shrill attacks over thoughtful discussion may be one reason.

But don't expect America's news organizations to change anytime soon. What they claim to be changes usually involve nothing more than public-relations campaigns to create warm-and-fuzzy feelings among their readers. Journalists, who make a habit of lecturing others how to do their jobs, such as telling mayors how to run cities, governors how to run states and presidents how to run nations won't let anyone point out problems in their newsrooms or with their product, nor will they ever print anything that sets right what they have made wrong. They are some of the most-thin-skinned people on the planet, so thin-skinned you can see right through most of them.

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***************************************************** Thomas Bonsell is a former newspaper editor (in Oregon, New York and Colorado) United States Air Force cryptanalyst and National Security Agency intelligence agent. He became one of (more...)
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