Media

Redundant Headline

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Click bait? No not really, but maybe in the way it was written.

It’s a sad story and says a lot about the state of our society in general. Obviously, not a situation anyone would like a relative or friend to be in.

Poorly written, yes, definitely.

“Drown to death” is redundant. It may be grammatically correct, but when using the word drown, death is already understood. There is no need to put the definition in the headline, unless of course you are trying to get more clicks, because then it is more dramatic.

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Spicer: Inarticulate and Ineloquent

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Many of you won’t want to hear this, but Sean Spicer was TECHNICALLY correct.

Press Secretary Pressure

Before we get into that though, let’s pause for a second and think about this guy and his very difficult job. How many of you would be able to stand up in front of a hostile crowd of reporters, get asked questions you haven’t prepared for, about subjects you aren’t totally knowledgeable about? What if those questions were about something you knew well, like your job? Would you be able to produce thoughtful and coherent responses on the spot, as you are grilled by the press? My guess would be no, probably not. That is a lot of pressure!

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not a fan of Sean Spicer. I haven’t been impressed with his performance thus far and there have been many other press secretaries who have impressed me by doing a much better job. When I say much better, I mean they were articulate and eloquent, nearly always. Remember, this is a tough job! So, who comes to mind? To name just a few during my “knowingly aware” time paying attention to politics, I would say Dee Dee Myers and George Stephanopoulos (both for Clinton), Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan, and Dana Perino (all for G.W. Bush), as well as Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney (both for Obama). All of these former press secretaries stand out in my mind because they handled the job well, articulately and eloquently. The press secretary shouldn’t be the story, which Spicer clearly doesn’t seem to grasp.

Difficult Comparison

The subject at hand, however, are Spicer’s comments regarding a comparison of Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons amidst his civil war and Hitler’s use of chemical weapons during WWII and the Holocaust. He was TECHNICALLY correct when he said, originally, and in other interviews as clarification, “[Hitler] didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons…[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing…[I was] trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers.”

Granted, this is a tough comparison without some context. Context, as journalists should know, is important but many in the room that day (and many others for a week or so thereafter) jumped into the fray and condemned the remarks Spicer made, whether they had done their research for context or not. Therein lies the problem, many (especially in social media circles) jumped on a bandwagon they knew very little about or cared to get clarification about because they were shouting from the mountain tops about how gross an injustice his statements were. And, like usual, there was enough public outcry to cause yet another person to come back with their tail between their legs and offer an apology for something that didn’t really need to be apologized for.

It’s a sensitive subject, I know that. I had taught for years, very passionately, about the WWII and the Holocaust in my own history classroom. My students knew very well about the Holocaust and the personal stories of Jews killed by the Nazis, as well as survivors of the Holocaust. I even included some personal family history in my class. My students would often make comments about how much they learned and how the subject impacted them, about how reading personal accounts and watching movies or viewing images made them feel. Many expressed confusion about how the world could let something like the Holocaust happen, let alone not take direct action to stop it.

So, when I heard Spicer’s comments, I had some context and I knew he was TECHNICALLY correct.

Context, TECHNICALLY Speaking

Context is always important. Taking something out of context can really exacerbate an issue if people don’t understand the topic. This is one of those cases.

Yes, the Nazis and Hitler used chemicals to exterminate Jews. Again, no dispute there. It is well documented history. However, chemical weapons were never used in open combat, to kill combatants or civilians indiscriminately (see the CWC link below or visit A Brief History of Chemical Warfare: Timeline). This is the context to which Spicer was referring. I don’t believe, in any way, was he trying to downplay what was done to the Jews nor was he denying chemicals weren’t used on them.

The Jews were captives, rounded up for the express purpose of killing them in large quantities. Under the liberal and broad definition of chemical weapons, as defined by the Chemical Weapons Convention (signed in 1993 and enforced in 1997), the extermination could be seen as using chemical weapons. However, the CWC is based on the first understanding of what chemical weapons were, as defined by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. To be clear, the standards by which we define chemical weapons today, didn’t exist during WWII. The extermination of Jews wasn’t open combat. It was targeted, deliberate, controlled, and contained. It was horrible and can’t/shouldn’t be forgotten, but it shouldn’t be judged using the same standards as to what Spicer was actually referring to.

Fact Checking

Fact checking has become a must today, not only for politics/politicians but it seems it is seriously needed for media outlets as well. The fact is, not all fact checkers are equal and media outlets that provide fact checking should be suspect from the start. Context : fact checkers pick and choose which facts to check and thus can add to biased information. In general, only one source has been reliably reliable – Factcheck.org . When looking into this issue I found that two fact checking websites that I use often addressed the issue. While one offered a mostly unbiased assessment, the other did not. Fact checking should only present the facts and not offer opinions in order to skew the reader’s opinion.

Unfortunately, what I found when I visited politifact.com left me flummoxed and irritated. What I found was a fact checking sight that seemed to be swayed by public opinion and bandwagon riding. It was spinning the facts in order to join the errant public outcry. Their claim of “Pants On Fire” is a misuse of historical record and their standard for such a claim is based on a definition that didn’t exist at the time of crime.

On the other hand, Factcheck.org addressed the issue with more in-depth research and historical review, as well as more context. In “Hitler and Chemical Weapons” they didn’t say Spicer was wrong, per se, but (probably for fear of liberal backlash) they didn’t say he was right either. Instead, they merely tried to explain why Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons in combat.

Searing Double Standard in the Media

While doing research on this topic, I discovered an incident I didn’t recall or ever even remember hearing about. Interestingly enough, it came from a member of the liberal media while talking on a notoriously liberal media outlet. Also not so surprisingly, I can’t find anything showing he faced a backlash because of his comments. To his credit, however, he stood by his comments and defended Spicer.

The original incident was from Chris Matthews on MSNBC. As far as I can tell, he is still employed (NBCUniversal and Comcast) and there were no calls for his dismissal at the time of his statement. As such, there have not been any calls from the liberal media to fire him as a result of his defending of Spicer either. There have been cries from conservatives for him to be fired, but only to show the double standard the media has when one of the people is their own. He hasn’t been fired, but then neither has Spicer. It would appear the biggest reason for the outcry would be because of the dislike for the president and anything or anyone associated with him, not because someone was disrespecting the victims of the Holocaust or that he got his facts incorrect.

Final Thought

Thankfully, Spicer wasn’t fired over this episode and cooler heads prevailed. He is likely being pushed out of the press secretary’s seat because, as I said at the beginning, of his inarticulate and ineloquent handling of his job. He clearly wasn’t suited for the job from the beginning.

Care should be taken to not redefine and rewrite history simply because it doesn’t fit into today’s newest interpretation of the facts. History is messy and sometimes even offensive. We should be wary of people who try to make it fit their agenda so they can browbeat the unsuspecting into their point of view. Social media is the favorite avenue these days, but the media seems to be participating wholeheartedly.  This needs to stop. Verify, and report. That is all.

NOTE: I realize this blog isn’t being posted in a timely manner (I have been working on it for a long while) and the topic has likely passed from the minds of most readers, but I wanted to get it out there any way.

 

 

 

Anonymous and Unaccountable

The news media, apparently, doesn’t need to be held accountable these days. There is a lot of writing, publishing, reporting, and broadcasting based solely on “anonymous” sources. This is a troubling trend that has taken hold and has become acceptable, whether it is good practice or not. It appears that we, the consumer, have gotten so far away from a reliable media that we rarely question where the information came from and the motives behind the release or reporting? We just assume now that it’s true and that’s that?

It’s been happening for a long time, but two recent stories have dominated the never-ending news cycle these days. The stories pertain to a meeting between President Trump and some Russians, as well as a memo written by former director of the FBI, James Comey, after a meeting with President Trump.  (Yeah, yeah, I can hear all the eye rolls from the people with an ax to grind for one reason or another against Trump. This isn’t to defend him so much as to question the integrity of the information we are being spoon fed…)

What we know about the Russian meeting:

(1) A meeting took place between some high level Russian officials and some high level American officials in the Oval Office. (2) There were a very limited number of people, from both delegations, who attended said meeting. (3) We don’t know what was discussed at the meeting.

We don’t know what was discussed? Wait, what, how can that be? But the people who first reported it, the Washington Post, and the people who have highly cited that original article, The New York Times (and every other news agency), say we know what was said at that meeting. How can you say we don’t know what was said?

The original article published by the Washington Post cites two people, both of whom were not at the meeting. The article’s cited sources were “current and former U.S. officials…” and they said “‘This is code-word information,’ said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies.” These supposed sources were never named and thus can’t readily be held accountable nor can the information be verified to any degree. Simply relating there were two sources doesn’t simply mean the information is true and we shouldn’t believe it as such.

Based on what was reported, we are to assume that these “sources” talked to people who were at the meeting. If that is the case, as they are having us believe, then that would mean someone from the small group of people who DID attend the meeting is talking outside of the meeting. This seems like a rather small group of people to track down and found out who talked. However, everyone who attended the meeting, has said what was leaked to the media wasn’t actually discussed at the meeting.

Additionally, that would lead us to believe the people leaking the information were fully briefed and fully knew for themselves the information President Trump shared was highly classified. Should that happen to be the case, well, then you have people who are not authorized to share classified information sharing classified information (a crime). If the president chooses to share something, the president can choose to do so if he wishes.

What we know about the Comey memo:

(1) Comey was the director of the FBI. (2) He made several controversial moves before the election. (3) Trump is the president and has the ability to fire government officials within the Executive Branch if he deems it necessary. (4) There was a meeting between Comey and Trump after Trump became president.

Again, like the previous meeting, we don’t know what exactly was discussed. We don’t know the tenor of the meeting. We don’t even know the understandings that may or may not have been taken from the meeting. The only thing we supposedly have from that meeting is a memo (or personal notes), supposedly written by Comey, about his interpretation of the meeting. And, again, like the previous issue we have people who have no direct knowledge of the meeting (because they were no there) talking about something they have no firsthand knowledge of.

This time it was reported in a New York Times article. The NYT article reports “…according to two people who read the memo…Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.” The article makes several other assertions with only “…the two people said” and “…according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.”

Did these “associates” write this stuff down? Take a copy? If not, we’re just going off of their recollection. The quote above says the associate read part of it to a times reporter. Why? If the memo existed, why not just hand it over so it could be published in its entirety? Was this person just cherry picking portions? Again, we have NO IDEA if the memo even exists!

The REAL issue(s) at stake

Reporters/journalist/the media reporting with little to no verification or hard facts.

The Washington Post’s slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” just so happens to be contributing to the death of democracy as well by hiding many of it’s sources in the dark, not allowing for scrutiny of the source or the motives of the source.

These days it seems pretty easy for a reporter to find someone who has an ax to grind, promise said person anonymity, and then publish whatever the person says, sometimes with minimal to no corroboration. As long as it generates site visits (hits or clicks), sells advertising, or generates viewership, the integrity of reporting is lost. We should never accept reporting based solely on anonymous sources, ever. What we have instead is a lack of accountability, both from the source and the reporter.

The video, “Can You Trust the Press?,” is a great video about journalistic integrity and standards, discussing how they have steadily gone downhill from past best practice. This is a good place to start to see the problem Americans are facing these days. We can’t just wholly accept information, from any source, as truth without questioning it and then holding that source accountable for making sure the information is both accurate and complete.

Another issue, which is again showing what was discussed above, is the leaking of classified information simply to justify someone’s point of view, grind an ax, or just because they disagree with policies of the government. Some media outlets are starting to get the picture on this one, but it there hasn’t been much said about it with either of the subjects mentioned previously. The media seems to want to ignore the issue since it is generating increased exposure for their outlets.

Just today, the NYT has published yet another article that involves sensitive information and the questionable citing of sources. This time the article involves both the Russians and Comey. This new article should be questioned because it uses anonymous sources, “…according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official…” and the leaking of internal documents, “The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.”

We need to hold our press/media/journalists/reporters to a higher standard than we have been and we need to do it soon.

 

History: In Living Color

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Every once in a while I come across a website that piques my interest. Some are cool, some are strange, and some are just down right fascinating. This one was both fascinating and frustrating, so I thought I would share and see what your thoughts are on it.

The website is for Marina Amaral, an artist who uses Photoshop to painstakingly add color to historical photos that were taken in black and white. To see her work, click on the link and then either click into the “Portfolio” or “Blog” pages. She does a fantastic job on the transformations through research to try and match the reality of the time the picture was taken.

It is cool to see photos that I have only seen in black and white come to “life.” It is fascinating to see the life flow through the people and places in the image. That part is cool and adds a sort of unknown depth to the photo.

HOWEVER, that is also the frustrating part as well!  One thing we have to be careful of is not letting these photos stand alone to become part of the historical record. I believe they are best viewed with the original photo, side by side. The reason is that we, in our search to “know” everything, tend to let changes to history go without challenging them. When we stop challenging them, they actually become the history we wanted to view through a different lens. Whether it is intentional or not, there has to be caution in such recreations of history. We can’t let the historical record change so that the only pictures we view in the future of these subjects are the ones that have had the color added.

Let me offer an example from personal experience. In the past, I have shown historically based films in my classroom. The first caution I have always gave before showing the film was that it was someone’s interpretation of the history, not the actual history – regardless of how well the movie was done and tried to follow the historical record closely. I always encouraged the students to study the subject further to find out if what they saw was accurately portrayed or not. The students used to complain, complain that the film was in black and white. “Why is it in black and white…”, “Isn’t there a film about this in color…”, etc etc. Their first inclination was that it was boring if there was no color, even if the film was a modern film but done in black and white for theatrical purposes (such as Schindler’s List).

Our students (and maybe our society as a whole) has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction, so studies show that Americans (and probably others) tend to think that what they saw in a historically based film is true. They accept it as fact. Thus, when we look at photos that have been colored in such a realistic and beautiful way, I am afraid the original photos will lose relevance in a world where “reality” and “facts” mean so little.

Does that make sense? Do you worry about the same thing? Or, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? What do you think?

What the Legislators Aren’t Doing

This is a great visual representation of what the Washington state legislature IS NOT doing in regards to funding schools in Washington. The state supreme court found the state legislature in “contempt of court” in September of 2014, yet the state legislature continues to make little progress towards the goal they set in their testimony during the trial. This chart shows, quite obviously, that the state isn’t living up to their promises and that ANY money being added to education this year is only “catch up” money, NOT additional funds as they claim in their press releases and speeches to the media.

Don’t you think it’s about time to fund education fully?

ISIS: Who Is Responsible?

Want to know where ISIS (IS, ISIL) came from? Want to get a better picture, the whole picture, of their history? Want to know more than the 30 seconds to three minute blurb you get on the evening news?

I would advise you to watch the FRONTLINE episode, “The Rise of ISIS.” (see link below) Published back in October of 2014, this program brings the issue into focus, gives you an excellent idea of where we are at the moment, and where it is going in the future if something isn’t done soon. **Warning: There is very graphic violence in the report**

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rise-of-isis/

The conflict is much larger than the evening news (or government) would have you believe. There is lots of good, relevant history in this reporting. Definitely an eye opening report. Beyond that, there are other very informative reports regarding this topic as well.

Most of all, what needs to be done to resolve it?

Current Favorite Version of Christmas Music

Every year we are treated to a month (plus or minus) of Christmas music. For most people, that is about all they can stand. For others, they can’t get enough and play it all year round.

I am mostly in the first group because of the fact that there are very rarely new Christmas songs and the old ones get played over and over, just with someone new singing them. I mean, really, how many different versions of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” can there be? 5,279?? I don’t know, but it seems like a lot (and that’s only in English…) Every singer, it seems, has done their rendition of it. I swear there are times where you can hear the same song six times in an hour, just done by a different artists.

So, each year I look forward to Christmas music (typically played AFTER Thanksgiving) in my house with a little trepidation. However, this year there was a new entry into the Christmas music catalog and I have to say that it might be my new favorite version of a classic song.

I include it here for your listening pleasure. Turn up the sound and sit back.

I hope you enjoyed it. Check out some of their other stuff too. I am not being paid for advertising, I just happen to like their stuff – especially this song.

I am not an Idiot: Celebrity Endorsements

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Dear Capitol One (or any other advertiser),

I am NOT a idiot, though you keep insisting that I am.

Why do you keep running ads with a celebrity endorsement that you had to pay too much money for? Do you think I am that weak minded enough to run out and get your product just because a celebrity holds it in their hands?

Just recently I saw your ad, “Musical Chairs,” with the likes of Jennifer Garner praising the merits of your travel miles credit card. Why, oh why, do you think this would compel me to get your credit card? She isn’t going to sell it to me any better than Samuel L. Jackson, or Alec Baldwin. I didn’t get your credit card then, so what makes you think I am going to do it now? Really? Like those two are gonna sell anything to respectable adults.

How much money do you have to pay these celebrities to hock your wares? Does Jennifer’s husband, Ben Affleck, not make enough money so she is out earning a living again?

Why don’t we make a deal? How about we agree to leave each other alone? You stay off my television/computer, stop clogging up my online shows with your stupid commercials (and my mailbox for that matter) and in return, should I need a credit card, I’ll seek you out. I’m sure I know where to look if I need you. Deal?

And to you celebrities, knock it off! Has your shine worn off enough that you prostitute yourself to any company that will pay you? It doesn’t matter the product, or even if it is a charity. I DON’T CARE! Entertain me. That is all. That is what I pay for. Not your opinions or your endorsements. You only show how desperate you are to stay in the limelight that faded long ago.  Stop. Please.

Please, Capital One, if you are going to run lame commercials, don’t employ B-list (or any other list) celebrities.

Not so sincerely,

Smartus Assimus

Social Media Faux Pas

I admitted it.

I apologized for it.

I promptly deleted it.

It’s slightly embarrassing since I have been known to rail against it in the past.

The other day I made a mistake by falling for a news story from a satirical “news” website. The article was titled, Newly-Found Document Holds Eyewitness Account of Jesus Performing Miracle. Man, oh man, did I blow it on this one!

Being a history teacher, and a Christian, I was excited to see a story like this. What could be better than historians proving what I already believe to be true? However, I was skeptical so I went to the website’s home page and looked at other stories they had posted. Seemed fine (granted this wasn’t extensive). I even went to the “About” tab, seemed legit. What I failed to notice was the tab labeled “Disclaimer” to the right of all the others. Yeah, there was proof. How did I miss it? I really don’t know.

I normally don’t like to “share” stuff on my social media site because I am often bombarded by massive amounts of stuff my friends have shared, much of it not worth looking at. For that reason, when I do share stuff I tend to make sure that it is accurate, worth reading/viewing, and has a purpose. This particular post managed to make it past my own filters.

Time to recalibrate.

Have you ever fallen for a FAKE news story and what made you believe it? What was the story about?