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Archive for March 2008

Booting the boys off the bus: Coverage costly, newspapers whine

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Timothy Crouse’s book gave us the overused phrase “boys on the bus.” Now, it seems, the boys (and girls) are being yanked off the bus in droves. Fewer and fewer reporters for the nation’s major dailies are riding the campaign bus and flying on the press plane to regularly cover the remnants of the pre-convention presidential race.

That bodes poorly for both the survival of the print press and the level of political knowledge of the electorate the print press decreasingly serves.

Jacques Steinberg of The New York Times reports that 650 journalists parachuted into Cleveland, Ohio, in February to cover the debate between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. “But,” Mr. Steinberg writes, “early the next morning, as the two candidates set off for engagements across Ohio and Texas, representatives of only two dozen or so news organizations tagged along.” [emphasis added].

Newspaper managers say they have reasons for pulling the boys off the bus.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 30, 2008 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Once elected, whom will next president appoint? To what? Why?

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I still do not know whom I will vote for as president. That’s because what I wish to know, candidates will not tell me — whom they’ll appoint to office. It is through appointments to judgeships, cabinet posts and other executive branch positions that presidents implement their policies and impress their will upon government and therefore the governed.

Alan Pergament of The Buffalo News, in his review of PBS’ “Bush’s War,” said it well:

At a time in which America is preparing to elect a new president to deal with Bush’s war, it reminded me of something I learned from my college courses in political science: It doesn’t so much matter who becomes president as it matters whom he or she chooses to put in his or her Cabinet. [emphasis added]

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Quotabull

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If it was the Marlins, you wouldn’t see people in Florida getting up at 5 a.m. And if it was the Yankees — well, their fans aren’t real. They just buy the hat.

— Helio Rocha, a restaurant manager who stayed up all night in anticipation of watching the Red Sox’ Major League Baseball opener (played in Toyko) at 5:30 a.m. in famed Boston watering hole Cask ’n’ Flagon; March 26.

Adam Smith’s invisible hand has a puppeteer: the Federal Reserve. In case there is any confusion about who was pulling the strings behind the scenes of JPMorgan Chase’s acquisition of Bear Stearns, the curtain was lifted Monday. By raising its bid — with the grudging approval of the Fed — to $10 a share, from $2, JPMorgan exposed what had long been whispered about but no one dared to say aloud: the Fed is officially in the deal-making business.

— from Andrew Ross Sorkin’s “Dealbook” column in The New York Times; March 25; emphasis added.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 28, 2008 at 11:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

I-35W bridge and the nation’s infrastructure: Little has changed

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If someone dumped 99 tons of sand on you, and you weren’t in good shape, you’d collapse, too.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its fifth update of its investigation of the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., that killed 13 people and injured 145. The NTSB says it has not yet identified a specific cause for the collapse, only contributing factors. NTSB chair Mark V. Rosenker (speaking as cautiously as federal officials everywhere), said only “significant progress continues to be made in the investigation.” The board expects to issue a final report by year’s end.

What is known:
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 20, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Quotabull

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It’s fair to ask whether a college kid should have to wash dishes in the dining hall to pay his tuition when his college has a billion dollars in the bank.

— Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, “the ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees tax policy, [who] has written to the nation’s 135 leading universities, asking them to explain what they do with their tax-free endowments“; according to The New York Times, “Last year a record 76 American colleges passed the $1 billion mark in total endowments”; March 18.

I liken N.C.L.B. to a mile race. Under N.C.L.B., students are tested rigorously every tenth of a mile. But nobody keeps track as to whether they cross the finish line.

— Bob Wise, a former West Virginia governor who is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a group that seeks to improve schools; according to The New York Times, “… many states use an inflated graduation rate for federal reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law and a different one at home. As a result, researchers say, federal figures obscure a dropout epidemic so severe that only about 70 percent of the one million American students who start ninth grade each year graduate four years later”; March 20.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 20, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

And the news the media say is most important these days is …

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Newly minted New York governor David Paterson and his wife had extra-marital affairs. Former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey says he and his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, engaged in three-way sex with his ex-aide and driver; Mrs. McGreevey says they didn’t. Meanwhile, the McGreeveys’ high-profile, salacious divorce case remains nightly news in the Garden State.

The dissection of disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, continues. On “Larry King Live,” a 15-minute, 47-second segment discusses how to catch cheating spouses.

CNN’s “Quick Vote” question today asks: “If a politician is unfaithful in his or her private life, do you think that impacts their ability to be honest in public life?” (At this writing, 54 percent voted yes.)

And it’s ho, ho, ho everywhere as “serious” journalists interview prostitutes, including discussion of their high-tech improvements and former Hollywood madam Holly Fleiss proclaiming, “Dude, these are men.”
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 18, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

So why are gasoline prices going up?

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Today oil hit $110 a barrel and the national average cost of regular per gallon reached $3.246.

Now, I’m not an economist; I only play one at S&R. But like most of you in the U.S., I watch those gasoline prices ratchet higher and higher, and I’m ticked off. How come they’re going up so fast? How come they’re so high? And why isn’t someone explaining this to me?

I wish the press would spend more time telling me why prices are climbing. Yes, the press appropriately stresses the consequences of record gasoline prices on those who cannot absorb the increases. But it too often fails to point to the bad guys (we all need someone to blame, right?). Somebody’s gotta take the fall for this, many of us think.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 12, 2008 at 7:52 pm

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Where am I supposed to find another political hero?

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It is bitterly disappointing on so many levels when a hero develops feet of clay — or, in Eliot Spitzer’s case, a penis of clay.

The rawness of my chagrin and dismay is difficult to express. But it begins with covering Massachusetts politics as a journalist in the ’70s and ’80s. My newsroom godfather taught me to be skeptical of politicians. Always ask, Neil said, about the motives for their actions. Is it fame? Is it power? Is it access? Is it because we can? Is it because we won’t get caught? The motive rarely seemed to be because it will benefit my constituents, not me.

I know my attitude expresses cynicism far more than skepticism. But Gov. Spitzer began to smell more like a dead cod at low tide long before Client No. 9 needed to purchase the professional attentions of a young woman named Kristen to fully erect his ego.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 11, 2008 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What journalists can do: The AP’s water story

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You probably haven’t heard of Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard. But because of them, you may be thinking twice about the water you drink — especially if you live in Philadelphia.

Mr. Donn, Ms. Mendoza, and Mr. Pritchard wrote and reported the story that reveals “[a] vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.” (Elsewhere at S&R, my colleague Martin discusses what this all means.)

The three reporters did extensive work on this story:

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation’s 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.

Journalists broke this story. Not a government agency. Not a corporation. Not a whistleblower. Not a blogger. Well-trained, experienced journalists did — with the backing of a news organization willing to dedicate resources to do for the public what governments and corporations can’t, won’t or don’t.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 10, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One letter can highlight hypocrisy; more letters should follow

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Daniel Kester of Williamsville, N.Y., believes some actions of his representative in Congress are hypocritical. So, fed up and using information available online, he sat down and penned a letter to the editor of The Buffalo News:

Last year, Exxon-Mobil made a profit of more than $40 billion. This is the highest profit any American company has ever made. While I congratulate Exxon on this achievement, it does make me wonder why my congressman, Tom Reynolds, found it necessary to vote to continue to give tax breaks to Exxon and other oil companies (House Bill 5351). At the same time, Reynolds voted against tax credits for wind, solar and other alternative energy sources that could actually help reduce global warming.

I can see the sense in giving tax breaks to struggling Western New York companies. But tax breaks for Exxon? What was he thinking? This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that he has received more than $165,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry, would it?

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 8, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized