Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Dysfunctional Proposition, Media as 'the first rough draft of history' Leaves Consumers of Truth on their Own

"Journalism is the first rough draft of history. Philip Graham, publisher, The Washington Post" (Frankly, it is all I ever really needed to know to understand how important a healthy media is and how damaging an unhealthy media is.)

Summary: There is much that can be said about journalism but my goal here is to briefly point out one example of journalism that misleads and how the average reader can quite easily and very quickly test the veracity of an article and make an informed decision as to how much time, energy and consideration he or she wants put into said article. 

Based on my observation and my experience,
 "not operating properly" works here.

 Typically, as I read, the primary question I have is: Is it true?

Our conversation today actually began with a fairly recent discussion I had with a friend about the article we are going to critique today. She posted it in a shared group and, I confess, the bipartisan word caught my attention. After reading it, I concluded the writer and the editor did a great job of 1. Presenting the piece in a very reputable magazine (Atlantic) 2. Not labeling the message (News? Slanted? Opinion?), leaving readers with a false impression that any bipartisanship was happening in the piece itself and 3. Using a very timely, feel good buzzword under the photograph in the post (the cutline) that is not so prominently displayed in the body of the article: Bi-partisanship!

I strongly encourage reading the piece: "How to Fix America's Infrastructure/What if Republicans agreed to pay for major projects in exchange for Democrats agreeing to cut red tape?" so the excerpts I choose to note and to comment on will make sense to you but, of course, that's up to you. 

I am going to proceed in the fashion in which I act out this process every single day because it merely becomes repetitive, otherwise, so if any questions linger, please feel free to leave them in the comments section and I will be happy to try to answer them for you.

This is what I saw posted on a social media platform. As noted earlier, the bipartisan word caught my attention -- it's so rarely true and I know that.

This is what I saw when I opened the actual article ~ no cutline with the bipartisan word in it.

At this point in time I was suspicious at the use and the non-use of the bipartisan word but I'd still like to see bipartisanship in the maintenance of the country so I decided to scan through and look for clues that will tell me if this piece is a fair and balanced piece based on facts? Opinions? Persuasive arguments? Any work brought to the level of production via media needs to have standards and if not I close it and move on.

Here we go, some favorite highlights:

(A & bold = article excerpt; Italic print = my comment):

A: "Fixing America’s decrepit infrastructure shouldn’t be controversial—it enhances competitiveness, creates jobs, and helps the environment. … After years of dithering, Washington is finally showing a little life for the task." 

Is it Washington that “is finally showing a little life for the task.”? Names need to be named or I am left wondering what is being avoided and why. And, for the record, a district really can't take any action -- people take action.

A: "But these two failures—meager funding and endless process—may actually point the way to a potential grand bargain that could transform the U.S. economy: In exchange for Democrats getting rid of nearly endless red tape, Republicans would agree to raise taxes to modernize America’s infrastructure." 

It is beginning to sound more partisan to me right now. Bad Democrats and their red tape and if they just mind good Republicans will raise taxes to get the job done ??? 

(Honestly, I would be done right now due to bait and switch with the bipartisan word; due to the sloppy naming of "Washington" as the culprit and; due to the subtle accusation that Democrats and their red tape are culprits in conjunction with Washington but because I wanted to have a discussion with my friend about this piece I kept reading.)

A: "Because tolls and other user charges, where applied, rarely cover all the capital costs, the federal government often must subsidize public works if the United States wants modern interstate transportation, water, and power systems. As a matter of party ideology, however, Republicans have steadfastly refused to raise the gas tax and other taxes needed to fund infrastructure. This line in the sand was drawn in the 1990s because of the Republican conviction, widely shared by the public, that government is wasteful."

Republicans are of the mind that government is wasteful and their thinking is widely shared by the public ??? Is that true ??? I can not know because they do not give me any sources to back it up. Again, I am left wondering what is being avoided and why.

Now the piece begins to get into the red tape issue which for the writer seems to primarily revolve around environmental protections processes.
And for the first time, gives the information that the writer is connected to the group that can fix the whole thing.

A: All of this process is expensive. The nonpartisan group Common Good (which I chair) recently published a report on bureaucratic delays...

So now I am going to check out Common Good because who they are will determine if I will finish this piece and or consider their thinking.

Let me keep this simple, okay?

I will not be considering their thinking.

I am of the mind that the article, alone, defies the claim of non-partisanship.

Just a snippet of the author's organization's recommendations sounds like the organization is working really hard to not only streamline a process but to cut The People out of the process if they take too long to decide. 

For example, and I except heavily from here, they say: "Duplication re environmental review is contrary to the public interest and should be avoided. The Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality shall coordinate with states to eliminate the need for such review. Nor should any state or jurisdiction delay approval of projects of interstate or national significance. For interstate projects, the Chief Permitting Officer shall be authorized to grant final permits if state and local permits are delayed more than six months past issuance of federal permits.  For interstate projects, in the event that the coordination specified does not achieve a final determination on review and permitting under any applicable state, local, or tribal law by the respective state, local, or tribal agency within 6 months of the issuance of a final Federal permit, the lead agency, in consultation with the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, shall be authorized to make a determination regarding any outstanding environmental review and authorizations."

What? That reads to me like ~ get The People out of the way of the development process, which I do not believe to be a bipartisan point of view.

And, last but not least, I don't know everyone in the GOP world but I do check names on organization staff lists boards and when I see former senators Newt Gingrich and Alan Simpson, as I did for Common Good , after reading what reads to me as a GOP inspired piece, I'm done with them! 

Truth in media matters to me and, often times, I am annoyingly purist about it because I do hold messengers of news/information to a high standard and if they don’t meet those standards the truth of their work is suspect – most notably, standards established by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

 Some of my favorites are: 

Aside from being the 1st draft of history, as noted above, I expect journalists to believe “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.” 

I expect journalists to seek the truth and to provide fair, accurate and comprehensible accounts of that truth. (And, for me, that means if you don’t have the truth don’t report.) 

I expect journalists to source their information (and that would be from more than one source, thank you very much). 

I expect journalists to identify sources and to grant anonymity sparingly. (Speaks for itself.) 

I also expect journalists to disclose conflicts of interest. 

Having said all of that I, of course, know such standards are not being met by many in this country which brings us back to the original point ~ it's up to the consumer to confirm if he or she has been given the truth or not...

Thank you for reading!

G., aka Partisan Democrat

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