Friday, August 24, 2012

The Decline of Journalism

In the "Golden Age of Journalism" (long-since past) reporters were expected to confirm stories with two reliable sources willing to go on-record about the truth of the story. No newspaper editor worth his or her salt would accept as fact any story that was not so substantiated at a minimum. No newspaper writer would be allowed to rush to press with any story, no matter how sensational, unless some serious fact-checking had taken place...enough to satisfy the paper's editors that they were not risking their reputation by printing a story that turned out to be wrong. This rigorous process helps to prevent rumor and gossip from being presented as fact. Virtually all responsible newspapers followed the "two-source" rule because the consequences of not doing so were just too serious.

Sadly, that rigorous standard for confirming truth and accuracy has given way to the newspapers' new policy of "if it sounds salacious or negative, rush it to print; we can always apologize later." Any juicy tidbit, especially if it's about a celebrity, a political scandal or is race-baiting, finds its way into the headlines. Newspapers like the National Enquirer operated this way for years. They had more lawyers than reporters on their staff, but they couldn't care less; sensationalism sold papers to bored housewives and conspiracy theorists waiting in line at the supermarket checkout. This certainly was never the modus operandi of respected papers like the New York Times. They were known as "the newspaper of record" precisely because they were so careful in fact-checking their stories. 

Maybe the shift has to do with newspapers' fears that they are becoming irrelevant. Online news services are quickly stealing their readers; subscription and advertising revenue is dropping like mad. Rather than always being scooped by AOL and Yahoo, perhaps newspapers decided to abandon their age old process of searching for the truth and instead just rush every rumor to print in an effort to compete. It is unfortunate that the end is probably inevitable for them. Younger readers prefer to get their news on their computers for free rather than get out of their pajamas to walk down to the news stand for a paper. Stooping to the level of the rumor mongers is probably the wrong strategy. They might be better served to adopt a new strategy; others might get it fast, but we get it right!

Perfect example: This past weekend a group of Muslim worshipers had congregated in a park on Staten Island to celebrate the end of the Ramadan holiday. Someone found pieces of bacon on the ground, and the next day the headlines blazed: "HATE CRIME!" Muslims and all of us were led to believe that someone had left the bacon bits to defile the ground on which the worshipers were praying. Since Muslims consider pork unclean, the leap was made that someone deliberately was sending a message of hate. Politicians were outraged. Investigations were called for. A few days later, a scared man came forward and timidly said he had found the bacon in his car trunk, that it must have fallen unnoticed out of a grocery bag, and since it had gone bad, he left it in the park for scavenging animals. The guy sounded genuinely frightened that he was about to be put in jail.

Now I can't say what the truth is here, but if the guy's plausible story holds up, the inflammatory story run in the newspapers could have precipitated riots in the street. As it is, it didn't do much for Staten Island's reputation as a place where diversity is not welcomed. 


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association  

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I had a conversation the other day with someone who was having problems with an individual at work. It's common for all of us to encounter people in life that push our buttons. The best of these circumstances occur with people whose feelings matter nothing to us and, if we choose, we can unload on them without guilt. I always start out pleasant in my exchanges with anyone, but if they fire the first salvo, I feel empowered to fire back. I don't especially enjoy confrontation, but I don't shy away from it either. I much prefer dealing with people nicely. I will bend over backwards if I feel someone is trying their level best regarding whatever business stands between us. It's when I hear that smart-ass attitude that the Brooklyn in me rears up.

I come by whatever restraint I have from watching my mother. She could smile sweetly and get along with anyone. Even people I knew she despised, Mom could have them eating out of her hand by just being nicer than they were. If they said something nasty, Mom would find something in their statement to agree with, or skillfully turn the conversation to another topic, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I'm not sure she ever confronted anybody, and at times that meant taking more guff than I ever would have, but that was Mom's style and I admire her for it. People would confide in her because they knew she could listen without judging, and always have something positive to say. People always left a conversation with my mother feeling better than when it started. 

When I think back on the gift that made her so easy to talk to, it was that she was such a wonderful actor. I'd watch her in the presence of the most mean-spirited people whose company I know she detested, but Mom would be all smiles and have these louses laughing out loud. You might think this made Mom a hypocrite, but that was not the case at all; she wasn't buttering these people up to get anything out of them, she was merely employing her acting skills to get through what might have become an unpleasant situation if she didn't have the ability to defuse it. Others who spoke to these idiots were soon arguing with them because they took the bait and reacted to some of the spiteful things they said. With Mom, they bounced off like bullets off Superman.

When you think about it, Mom was an intuitive genius well ahead of her time. I remember going to seminars on human behavior and listening to overpriced consultants telling me that others did not have the power to make you angry; only you could do that by buying into what they were saying. They taught us techniques to deflect criticism or acknowledge it without agreeing with it...that's exactly what Mom was so adept at. I remember thinking: Why doesn't she tell this hatchet-faced cousin what she needs to hear, and actually getting angry by proxy on Mom's behalf. Soon I was steaming but Mom was smiling and moving off to talk to someone else with a look of great serenity on her face.

When you get into situations that might become confrontational, or you're about to be in someone's company whose presence usually aggravates you, take a page out of Mom's book. Slip into a role that will allow you to act your way through any unpleasantness. You won't antagonize your button-pusher, and more important, you won't elevate your own blood pressure because of a jerk who's just not worth it. If you finally get tired of smiling, rather than drop a bunch of F-bombs on your tormentor and thereby stoop to their level, put them down with your rapier wit. You might say something like: "You're a wonderfully modest person and you have so much to be modest about." This will make you feel better and your victim might even take your remark as a compliment, poor fool.


Children's Craniofacial Association 


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bring Back the Old America

 The values that made America the envy of the world seem to be slipping away. The America captured in dozens of iconic Norman Rockwell paintings is fading. It is being replaced with a second-rate nation growing more and more dependent on government to survive. Rugged individualists willing to risk everything for a chance at success are few and far between. Leaders who understand and advocate for the people are being replaced with those who advocate for special interest groups including their own political parties. So many of our citizens go through life with their hands out, taking from those who worked for what they have and instilling in their children a sense of entitlement and the habit of idleness with the assurance that all will be someone else.

In the "old" America people recognized the value of education and sacrificed to get it, if not for themselves, then surely for their children. The first step to success is acquiring the knowledge to make something of yourself. Schools were places where learning was expected and routinely took place. Classrooms were orderly, students were respectful, and teachers were competent. The role of parents was to see that the kids did their homework; they had no say in curriculum development, teacher hiring, or how education budgets were spent. The system worked. In new America, classrooms lack discipline, students are out of control, and parents are free to waste precious education dollars on stupid, feel-good programs that are of no value. Administrators cheat to get test scores up, and despite this, expectations from the school system are at an all-time low.

Old America understood the idea of a work ethic. Once an education was secured, people moved eagerly into the workplace to prove their worth. Starting at the bottom and moving up on merit was the formula that made America's workforce among the most productive in the world. In new America, greedy unions have buried so many industries and driven others overseas. Greedy banks and executives have embezzled the life savings of hard working people to line their own pockets. Workers have become lazy and are put to shame by their counterparts in other parts of the world. America is now one of the world's biggest importers of foreign goods and our balance of trade is growing worse every year. Programs like Affirmative Action were eventually recognized as flawed, but not before doing irreparable damage to the economy and the people they were supposed to help.

In old America there were always political parties who fought tooth and nail, but when the smoke cleared, would line up behind whoever won for the good of the country. Discourse and debate were part of the system but carried on in a civil tone with some recognition of decency boundaries that were not crossed. The media were more balanced and objective in coverage of political candidates. In new America, candidates go for each other's throats. If one party loses an election, it does it's best to hamper the progress of the winner, with the American people being the losers in the end. Media coverage of candidates is a joke...there has been such a wild swerve to the left in media coverage that people have no chance of ever getting the honest truth anymore.

In old America, capitalism was the engine that drove the country toward prosperity; now we are slowly but surely creeping toward socialism. Self-reliance was the credo of independent Americans who trusted to their wits and willingness to work hard; now one family in four in the U.S. receives government assistance or welfare payments of some sort. Freedom of religion was one of the fundamental liberties for Americans; our founders based many of America's laws on Christian principles of tolerance and charity. Now people go out of their way to remove any traces of the acknowledgment by government of a higher power in the universe. Morality is for the other guy. I want as much as I can grab with both hands and I don't care how I get it. Finally, patriotism was rampant in old America; now our President apologizes to foreign powers at the drop of a hat, and it's hard to find a few people willing to attend a Veteran's Day parade.

I know, I know, old America wasn't perfect but it was a damned sight better than where we're headed today.


Children's Craniofacial Association