The Boss Who Fought for the Working Class

by Walter Brasch

He was born into poverty in New Hampshire in 1811.

His father was a struggling farmer. His mother did most of the other chores.

He was a brilliant student, but the family often moved, looking for a better life-a couple of times so the father could avoid being put into debtor’s prison.

At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and became a printer’s apprentice, sending much of his wages to help his family.

For several years, he worked as an apprentice and then as a printer, his hands covered by ink, his body ingesting the chemicals of that ink.

He worked hard, saved money, helped others achieve their political dreams, became the editor of newspapers, and soon became an owner.

In the two decades leading to the Civil War, Horace Greeley had become one of the most powerful and influential men in America. His newspaper, the New York Tribune, was the nation’s largest circulation newspaper.

But instead of becoming even richer, he used his newspaper as a call for social action. For social justice.

In 1848, as a congressman fulfilling the last three months of the term of an incumbent who was removed from office, Greeley introduced legislation to end flogging in the Navy, argued for a transcontinental railroad, and introduced legislation to allow citizens to purchase at a reduced price land in unsettled territories as long as they weren’t speculators and promised to develop the land.

The Homestead Act, which Congress finally passed 13 years later, helped the indigent, unemployed, and others to help settle the American west and Midwest.

But in his three months in office he also became universally hated by almost everyone elected to Congress. The social reformer in his soul had pointed out numerous ethical and criminal abuses by members of Congress; his party didn’t ask him to run for a full term.

He called for all American citizens-Blacks and women included-to be given the rights of the vote.

In 1854, Greeley became one of the founders of the Republican party. For more than two decades, he had been a strong abolitionist and now the new political party would make the end of slavery one of its founding principles. He was one of the main reasons why his friend, Abraham Lincoln, whom he helped become president, finally relented and two years after the civil war began, finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

More than 225,000 Americans (of a nation of about 35 million) bought his relatively objective and powerful history of the civil war, making the book one of the best-sellers in the nation’s nine decade history. In today’s sales, that would be about two million copies.

Unlike some editors who pandered to the readers and advertisers, he maintained a separation of editorial and advertising departments, and demanded the best writers and reporters, no matter what their personal opinions were. Among those he hired were Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Karl Marx. And at a time when newsrooms were restricted to men, he hired Margaret Fuller to be his literary editor.

He believed in a utopian socialism, where all people helped each other, and where even the most unskilled were given the opportunity to earn a living wage.

He demanded that all workers be treated fairly and with respect. In 1851, he founded a union for printers.

When his employees said they didn’t need a union because their boss paid them well and treated them fairly, he told them that only in a union could the workers continue to be treated decently, that they had no assurances that some day he might not be as decent and generous as he was that day. The union was for their benefit, the benefit of their families, and their profession, he told them.

In 1872, Horace Greeley ran for the presidency, nominated on both the Democrat and Liberal Republican tickets. But, his opposition was U.S. Grant, the war hero running for re-election on an establishment Republican ticket.

Weeks before the electoral college met, Horace Greeley, who lost the popular vote, died, not long after his wife.

The printers, the working class, erected monuments in his honor.

And everyone knew that the man with a slight limp, who usually dressed not as a rich man but as a farmer coming into town to buy goods, who greeted everyone as a friend, who could have interesting conversations with everyone from the illiterate to the elite, was a man worthy of respect, even if they disagreed with his views. For most, Horace Greeley was just a bit too eccentric, his ideas just too many decades ahead of their time.

On this Labor Day weekend, when not one Republican candidate for president believes in unions, when CEOs often make more than 100 times what their workers earn, when millionaires and billionaires running for office pretend they are populists, when even many in the working class seem more comfortable supporting the policies and political beliefs of the elite, the nation needs to reflect upon the man who knew that without the workers, there would be no capitalism.

[Dr. Brasch has been a member of several crafts, arts, and trade labor unions. He proudly sees himself not as among the elite but as a part of the working class. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster]

 

The Boozy, but not Newsy, Mass Media

by Walter Brasch

The Big Story this past week was the Golden Globes awards.

The Golden Globes, sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and broadcast by NBC, drew 21 million viewers for the three-hour ceremony, preceded by a one-hour Red Carpet gush-fest hosted by “Today” show personalities. There wasn’t one TV or film personality the hosts didn’t fawn over.

Tamron Hall several times excitedly told the viewers that last year she watched the Golden Globes on TV, and now was so thrilled to be on the Red Carpet to interview fellow celebrities.

Hosts praised the gowns of the women; the women returned the compliments to Hall and Savannah Guthrie.

No one said anything about the spiffy tuxes that Matt Lauer or Carson Daly wore. However, more than just a few viewers noted that Lauer began the telecast watching celebrities through a pair of sunglasses. Lauer, who long ago transitioned from journalist to $25 million a year celebrity, justified the Jack Nicholson look by saying the sun was in his eyes. It’s possible the director, producers, lighting technicians, and camera operators couldn’t figure out how to position Lauer and the pulchritudinous multitude without having the sun affect them. It’s also possible that someone from the Honey Boo Boo family will become a five-time “Jeopardy” champion.

To make sure the viewers knew the Golden Globes were not the staid Oscars, the hosts and some of the celebrities referred to the amount of drinking before, during, and after the presentations. There is, apparently, a correlation that the Golden Globes are a looser, much more fun ceremony because the stars can sit at dinner tables and shine all night long. Some of the TV and Golden Globes staff, and probably some of the stars, may have even chosen to get a Colorado high before the ceremony. Cate Blanchett, who won a Golden Globe for “Best Actress in a Drama,” navigated to the stage and declared, to no one’s surprise, “I had a few vodkas under my belt.”  By the time Jacqueline Bisset got to the stage to accept her award, the orchestra had already begun to play the “Your time is up” music. Emma Thompson, seeming to bond with college sorority girls, came onto the stage with her shoes in her right hand and a martini in her left hand. She was there to present the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, proving that actors will always upstage writers.

Boozers Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford stayed in New York, preparing whatever wine or other liquor they would feature in their one-hour “Today” show gab-fest the next day.

The day after the Golden Globe awards, newspapers ran innumerable color pictures of actresses, making sure to identify whose designer gown they were wearing. There is nothing wrong with that. The people in the TV and film industry, whether star or gopher, work hard and are every bit as professional as any doctor, lawyer, or cosmetologist. However, there are questions about the professionalism of the news media.

During the week of the Golden Globes, there actually was some hard news.            Forty-five homes were evacuated in New Brunswick after a 122-car Canadian National train derailed. Seventeen of those cars, carrying propane and crude oil from North Dakota, burned. Only because the wind was blowing away from a populated area was a major disaster averted. It was the sixth major derailment since July of trains carrying the toxic and highly flammable crude oil from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota.

In West Virginia, Freedom Industries spilled almost 8,000 gallons of the chemical Crude MCHM into the Elk River near Charleston. That spill caused more than 1,000 residents to go to emergency rooms for a variety of ailments, including rashes and breathing problems. The 300,000 residents who were affected had to rely upon bottled water for at least a week. The contaminated water, which traveled down the Ohio River, was too toxic even to be boiled, cooled, and then used.

In Chicago, four persons were murdered this past week. In Baltimore, there were 16 murders in the first two weeks of the year. Across the country, more than 200 Americans were murdered last week.

There are several ways to determine news media priorities. You can count column inches or air time; the Globes easily won in that category. You can check placement of a story, whether on a page or in the TV line-up. Chalk another win to the Globes. But there’s also another way to determine what the media think are important. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed out more than 1,200 press credentials. This would be probably at least 10 times more media personnel than those who covered the train derailment, the chemical pollution, and America’s preoccupation with guns.

More than 4,000 media credentials were issued in 2005 to the press to cover the celebrity trial of Michael Jackson in ocean-beautiful Santa Barbara, Calif. The International Olympic Committee is issuing 2,800 press credentials for the Sochi winter Olympics; about 6,000 press credentials were issued for the 2012 London summer Olympics.

It’s just a reality of the entertainment-driven news media that thinks it’s being relevant by splashing soft puff and entertainment news all over its good-for-one-week porous sheets of newsprint or the air time it leases from the FCC.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the environmental, health, and economic effects of horizontal fracturing to capture natural gas. The book also includes extensive analysis of the collusion between corporate interests and politicians.]

America’s Uncivil Phone Manners

by WALTER BRASCH

Wednesday, I called the newsrooms of Pennsylvania’s two largest newspapers.

All I got were disembodied voices telling me no one was available and to leave a message.

It was 11 a.m., and I thought someone-anyone!-should have answered their phones. But, with publishers doing their best to “maximize profits” by cutting news coverage and reporters, I figured they either didn’t have anyone capable of answering a phone or figured no one would be calling with any news that day.

So I left a message. It was a routine question, specific for each newspaper and related to verifying information from their papers for a book I was completing.

I left another message the next day. I would have called individual assignment reporters, but unlike the websites of many smaller newspapers, the metros’ websites didn’t have that information. Apparently, they don’t want readers to know who does what at their newspapers.

Nevertheless, no one called back. I wasn’t important enough.

Calls and emails to an agent for an actor, who I was trying to get for a public service announcement for a national organization, a few weeks earlier weren’t returned. Nor were calls and emails to a national talk show host I was trying to secure for a paid speech to a different national non-profit organization.

Nor were several calls and emails to the producers of pretend-folksy “Ellen” ever returned. In that case, I had a “straight-A” student, who was a mass communications major with minors in marketing and dance. She was one of the best students I had ever taught. She wanted to be an intern. You know, the kind who don’t get pay or benefits but get experience. There were jobs available. It took several calls to others who were affiliated with the show just to find out the names of producers or contacts. But no one from the show returned any of my communications, whether by email, letter, or phone calls. Not even to say my advisee wouldn’t be considered.

Celebrities and their companies get thousands of emails and phone calls. To the average citizen that would be overwhelming. But, to corporations, especially those who deal with the public, there should be sufficient funds in an operation that makes millions a year to hire staff to respond to viewer communications.

Most of the smaller media take pride in returning phone calls or responding to letters from readers and viewers. But something must happen when reporters and producers move into the rarified atmosphere of large media.

It’s too bad. Big Media show arrogance to the people, and then spend countless hours wondering why the people don’t trust them.

Unfortunately, the loss of civility isn’t confined to those who are celebrities or part of the Big Media Morass.

A call to a company that installs home generators went to voice mail, and then wasn’t

returned. A call to an individual who advertises that he cleans out gutters and water spouts also wasn’t returned. A call to a university department was answered. The receptionist said the lady “isn’t around.”

“When will she be around?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” came the response.

“Do you think she’ll be available later today?”

“Maybe. You could call back.”

In many cases, the people are left with the belief that others just don’t care. Or, maybe they’re too busy. Or maybe they just forget. Or maybe they’re too busy texting and tweeting to have time to deal with people. Unless, of course, they think we’re at least as important as they are.

Then, they fall all over themselves to talk with us.

Even with these annoyances, most calls are answered; most times, I (and I would hope others) are treated with respect. Most times, receptionists and staff take extra time to try to solve problems.

Nevertheless, more and more we see a loss of civility by people and organizations that may think they’re just too important to deal with the people. For the large corporations and the celebrities that have multi-million dollar budgets, perhaps their PR and marketing efforts should first be focused on dealing with the people rather than splashing us with large-scale media campaigns to convince us that they matter. Failure to do so will leave us believing that they, not us, are the ones who don’t matter.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author, and former multimedia writer-producer and university professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

 

The Fluff Factor: Today’s Journalism

by WALTER BRASCH

Will someone please buy gags for Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford?

It makes no difference what the color is.

Plain or polka-dotted.

Painted or sequined.

Scented silk, Egyptian cotton, or an auto mechanic’s oil-soaked rag.

Just as long as it can be stuffed into their mouths.

When their mouths are open, the personality-drenched hosts of NBC’s fourth hour of “Today” are swilling cocktails, blathering about themselves, or interrupting their guests.

It makes no difference who the guest is. Cookbook or romance author. Relationships or nutrition expert. A-list actors. No one gets more than a couple of seconds without cross-talk with one or both of the hosts. They may think it’s funny. Or, maybe, like authors who are sometimes paid by word, or doctors who are given bonuses for scheduling myriad lab tests, these babblers have to justify their seven-figure annual incomes by the jabber rate of words per minute. It may be time for NBC to move all four hours of the “Today” show from the news division into the entertainment division.

Almost as bad as the GabFest at 10 a.m. is what has happened to news shows. At one time, news anchors, assisted by newswriters and producers, went into the field, got the news, wrote it, edited it, and then broadcast it. They sat in anchor chairs because they were excellent journalists. But broadcast journalism-and those two words should seldom be put next to each other in the same sentence-with a few network and regional exemptions devolved into yet another mess of Reality TV.

The co-hosts, known as anchors, are usually a tandem of a wise middle-aged older man and his pretend trophy wife, both of whom spend more time in Make-up and Hair Dressing than they ever spent in journalism classes. Their reporters and correspondents may have studied journalism in college, but their interests were undoubtedly more focused upon voice quality, delivery, and personality than source building, probing, and fact checking.

On air, the anchors open with something serious. A fire. A mugging. A supermarket opening, reported by freshly-scrubbed 20-ish field reporters and recorded by videographers with digital cameras and almost no knowledge of what video is. In all fairness, it’s hard to know what videotape is when your best friend is an iPad.

If a story doesn’t have a “visual,” it probably won’t air. That’s one of the reasons why stories about the foolishness of state legislatures aren’t broadcast. The other reason may be that Public Affairs Journalism isn’t usually a required course for college students majoring in Broadcast Journalism. By the end of the first news block, the co-hosts lighten up. Coming back from commercials-there are eight minutes of them in a 30-minute news cast-the co-hosts may have more news or a script that directs them to “throw it to Weather.”

For four or five minutes, a college-educated meteorologist or a “weather girl”-on some stations it makes no difference-using the latest visual technology tells us the highs, lows, barometric pressure, storm fronts, and the history of weather.

One of the responsibilities of the weather people is to make sure they get names into the broadcast, probably because some overpriced media consultant told them to do so. A simple sentence like, “It was in the mid-80s throughout our region” is replaced by telling us it was 84 degrees in Snowshoe Falls, 85 degrees in Dry Gulf Junction, and 84 in East Swamphole. To make sure our bodies can tolerate the whimsies of Mother Nature, weathercasters predict what will happen a week away, usually with about the same success as a drunk with the Racing Form.

Time for more commercials.

At least twice, the anchors “tease” the viewers with some celebrity scandal they will tell us all about if we just keep watching until the end of the show.

Next up is about four or five minutes of Sports. The latest fad in sports reporting is to be a part of the story. So, we see sportscasters doing push-ups with the football team, learning how to shoot an arrow, or reporting from inside a race car. Apparently, they believe that gives them credibility, something they probably learned from anchors’ ride-along on fire trucks and Blue Angels flights.

By the end of the newscast, the co-hosts, weather people, sportscasters, and field reporters have turned the news into the Happy Time Half-Hour Aren’t We Wonderful Show. They wasted our time chatting informally among themselves, tossing one-liners they think are cute and might get them work in a Comedy Club-as a cook. Take away the Happy Talk, tighten up their reporting-how many times do we need to hear that a “community is in shock” about a fire, death, or that the fireman’s carnival had to be cancelled-and the 22 minute news show might be only 15.

At the National Conference for Media Reform four years ago, Dan Rather-who for more than a half-century has been everything a news journalist should be-explains what has contributed to the decline not just TV news but all journalism as well: “Media consolidation, the corporate news environment, ‘message discipline,’ media cowardice, news-for-profit, celebrity fluff, ‘so-called human interest stories,’ sensational trials, gossip, ‘news you can use,’ [and] partisan shouting matches.”  

There are a few journalistic highlights, like “60 Minutes” and Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” which he modestly calls fake news, but which makes far more sense than anything else permeating the airwaves. Nevertheless, most news operations-local, regional, broadcast or cable-have been compromised by exactly what Dan Rather said.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to join Hoda and Kathie Lee and drink our way through what passes as the news.

[Walter Brasch proudly calls himself a journalist, and has been for more than 40 years, in radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines. He was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, which looks at the establishment and alternative media, as well as the public relations industry.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

The Sanctimonious Scavengers of the Penn State Scandal

by WALTER BRASCH

There is nothing the media love more than a good celebrity sex scandal.

Since the story of Scarlett Johansson’s purloined nude pictures had run its course, and the media squeezed every drop of ink it could from the Kim Kardashian/Kris Humphries engagement/wedding/marriage/divorce, they had to find something else to feed the beast with the insatiable appetite.

Something else was Penn State. Neatly packaged for the media was the trifecta of what passes as journalism-sex, scandal, and celebrity. And so the media circus rolled into State College, salivating at their good fortune.

The “sex” part of the story was that Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator of the Nittany Lions, was accused of 21 felony counts of sexual abuse of boys. A 23-page Grand Jury report, released Nov. 4 following a drawn-out three-year investigation, detailed some of the specifics. However, this story, no matter what the media say it is, is not about sex. It is about child molestation, child abuse, and endangering the welfare of a child. Big difference.

The “scandal” is that it appeared that high-ranking Penn State officials, although they restricted Sandusky’s access to campus, didn’t contact police or child protection services, possibly believing they were protecting the university’s image.

The “celebrity” part is Joe Paterno, who listened to a graduate assistant who says he saw an act of sodomy by Sandusky, and then, disgusted by what Sandusky may have done, reported it the athletics director and senior vice-president for administration. Paterno met his legal responsibility, and isn’t under any criminal investigation. Questions to Paterno in court would probably result in the defense objecting to hearsay testimony since Paterno never witnessed the act.  

Almost every Pennsylvania TV station and dozens of networks sent camera crews into State College. As the number of TV crews increased, the quality of reporting sank, as almost every on-air reporter seemed to feel a need to ask even dumber questions and make dumber statements than every other reporter. These are the TV stations that send camera crews to out-of-town football games, Spring training in Florida, and bowl games, yet have downsized their news staff, plead economic poverty, and failed to adequately cover critical news stories. In Pennsylvania, it has meant little original reporting about conflict-of-interest and ethics scandals in the state legislature. Sports, apparently, is “sexy”; the public’s money and legislature integrity aren’t.

These are the same members of the media who for many of Paterno’s 46 years as head coach had filed stories that he should step down after any two losses in a row, or during a losing season, or even a season that didn’t have enough wins. The media had also layered comments that Paterno was everything but senile, that he was too old to be coaching. But, Paterno, known in the media as “JoePa,” kept winning, and kept demanding academic and athletic excellence in addition to moral integrity from his players. The university’s library, not any of its athletic buildings, is named for him. America’s best-known coach was building not a place for future NFL stars, but a place where college students could supplement their education to become productive members of society. His graduation rate is among the highest in Division I athletics.

However, based upon the amount of newsprint and air time given to this story, you would swear that Paterno was guilty, arrested, and probably already convicted. The media almost forgot about Sandusky as they began piling on to Paterno. Six column headlines and five minute network stories dominated the news agenda. Like sharks, they smelled blood and circled their prey, a towering figure about to be toppled. With little evidence, these sanctimonious scavengers called for one of the most ethical and inspirational coaches and professors to resign, claiming he didn’t do enough, that he should have personally called the police rather than follow established protocol.

.

Many of the media horde, who had never written any story about Penn State’s excellent academic and research programs, soon began pumping out ludicrous statements that Penn State’s reputation would be tarnished for years. Despite their self-righteous denials, the screeching of “Joe Must Go” in one-inch bold black headlines undoubtedly influenced the university’s board of trustees, which was constantly proving that incompetence isn’t just a media trait. Their attitude seemed to be not whether what Paterno did was a terminable offense, but that to terminate him would somehow save the university’s tarnished reputation-and maybe preserve the value of their own luxury seats at Beaver Stadium.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, three days before the Penn State/Nebraska game, which was to be the last home game of the season, the Trustees, with a push from Gov. Tom Corbett, fired Paterno, thus justifying all the ink and air time spent by the media that seemed distracted from the real story-Sandusky, not Paterno, was arrested.

That night, thousands of students staged a demonstration of support for Paterno. The media called it a riot and almost universally condemned the students for exercising a First Amendment right of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. What little damage done-the highest estimate was about $20,000-was by a relatively small number of participants.

On game day, the media camped in front of Paterno’s house. ESPN coverage of the game, which drew about twice as many viewers as expected, was constantly punctuated by the “scandal,” and what Paterno did and didn’t do. Tragedy had suddenly become a sport.

Contributing to the media’s shameful performance were mountains of crocodile tears, dripping with moral indignation. Had the media spent even a tenth of the time before the Penn State scandal to publish and air stories about child welfare problems, and what could be done to protect the most vulnerable of society, their myriad comments would have been credible.

In contrast to the masses, several reporters did credible reporting, including the hometown Centre Daily Times. But the best reporting might be that of Sara Ganim, who had begun her investigation first at the Centre Daily Times before moving to the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Three years after graduating from Penn State, she broke the story in March that the Grand Jury was investigating Sandusky and others. Her story at the time didn’t get much traction. But, for several months she meticulously gathered facts and wrote news, not opinion and speculation, which dominated the work of many of her colleagues, many of whom showed they were incapable of even reaching the journalistic standards of reporting at the National Enquirer.

Perhaps Joe Paterno should have done more; perhaps he should have called the police or at least followed-up with his earlier concern. But, we don’t know yet the facts.

One concern remains. Today, these Monday Morning Quarterbacks of the media and a pack of largely anonymous self-righteous fans all say that unlike Paterno they would have done “the right thing.” How many, if faced by the same set of circumstances, would have done “the right thing” a month ago?

[Assisting on this story was Rosemary Brasch. Dr. Brasch had begun his journalism career as a sports writer and sports editor before moving into public affairs/investigative journalism. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist and retired journalism professor. His latest of 17 books is Before the First Snow, a story of the counter-culture, set primarily in Pennsylvania.]

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

Former Editor Sues Philadelphia Police for Constitutional Violations in Her Arrest

Editor’s note:  The owner of OpEDNews Rob Kall, is a personal friend.  John

by Walter M. Brasch

A former managing editor for the online newspaper, OpEdNews, has sued the city of Philadelphia and eight of its police officers for violating her Constitutional rights.

Cheryl Biren-Wright, Pennsauken, N.J., charges the defendants with violating her 1st, 4th, and 14th amendment rights. The civil action, filed in the U.S. District Court, Philadelphia, is based upon her arrest during a peaceful protest Sept. 12, 2009, at the Army Experience Center (AEC) in the Franklin Mills Mall.

According to the complaint, Biren-Wright, who was not a part of the demonstration but at the mall as a reporter-photographer, was arrested and charged with failure to disperse and conspiracy, second degree misdemeanors. The charges were subsequently dropped by the Philadelphia district attorney.

The Philadelphia police also arrested and charged six protestors with conspiracy and failure to disperse-Elaine Brower, 55, New York, N.Y.; Richie Marini, 35, Staten Island, N.Y.; Joan Pleune, 70, Brooklyn, N.Y.(one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961); Beverly Rice, 72, New York, N.Y.; Debra Sweet, 57, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Sarah Wellington, 26, Piermont, N.Y. Two months after Biren-Wright’s case was dropped, the six protestors were found not guilty in Philadelphia Municipal Court.

Paul J. Hetznecker, who represented the six defendants in the criminal trial, and Biren-Wright in her civil suit, believes that police over-reaction to protestors, as well as their lack of knowledge or appreciation for Constitutional protections, may be “a systemic problem throughout the country.” Hetznecker says under Constitutional and state law, “There can not be an arbitrary and capricious decision to end the civil rights of the protestors.”

The civil suit complaint charges that police violated Biren-Wright’s First Amendment rights to “gather information . . . to cover a matter of public interest including the law enforcement activity in public places.” Actions by the police deprived her of 4th and 14th amendment rights that, according to the complaint, protect against “unreasonable search and seizure,” “loss of physical liberty,” and “freedom from excessive use of unreasonable and justified force.”

The suit lists six separate counts:

         * Abridgement of her rights under the First Amendment to observe and record news in a public place.

         * False arrest and imprisonment

         * Use of excessive force by the police.

         * False arrest under state law

         * Common Law Assault under state law

         * Failure of the City of Philadelphia to adequately train and supervise its police. The complaint charges that because of accepted practices, the defendants may have believed “that their actions would not be properly investigated by supervisory officers and that the misconduct would not be investigated or sanctioned, but would be tolerated.” The policy, according to the complaint, “demonstrates a deliberate indifference on the part of the policymakers of the City of Philadelphia, to the constitutional rights of persons within the City, and were the cause of the violations of the Plaintiff’s rights. . . .”

Named in the suit in addition to the City of Philadelphia are Lt. Dennis Konczyk, officers Tyrone Wiggins, John Logan, Robert Anderson, Donald West, William Stuski, and two unnamed John Does.

The Philadelphia Police Department refused to comment about the suit as a matter of policy regarding “issues in court,” according to Jillian Russell, Department spokesperson.

In August 2008, the Army opened the AEC, a 14,500 square foot “virtual educational facility” with dozens of video games. The Center, deliberately located near an indoor skateboard park, replaced five more traditional recruiting offices, and was designated as a two-year pilot program. The initial cost was $12 million.

Army recruiters could not actively recruit children under 17, but could talk with the teens and answer any of their questions about the Army. Among the virtual games was one in which children as young as 13 could ride a stationary Humvee and shoot a simulated M-16 rifle at life-like video images of Muslims and terrorists.

Because of the emphasis upon war, and a requirement that all persons had to sign in at the center, thus allowing the recruiters to follow-up as much as four or five years later, peace activists began speaking out against the AEC.

To counter what was quickly becoming a public relations problem, the Army sent out news releases, picked up by the mainstream media, and established a full social media campaign to explain the “benefits” of the AEC. The protests continued.

Elaine Brower, whose son was in Iraq on his third tour of duty, told OpEdNews a day after her arrest: “The AEC is giving guns to 13-year-olds, drawing them in with violent video games. As more and more Afghan civilians and U.S. military are being killed in the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, we’re saying ‘no’ to these wars. We’ve got to stop the flow of youth into the military, where they’re being used to commit war crimes in our name.”

With a police permit, and escorted by officers from Philadelphia’s Civil Affairs Unit, about 200-250 protestors-most of them middle-aged or senior citizens, many of them veterans-had come to the AEC, believing their First Amendment rights were being protected. The protest, although noisy at times, was peaceful; the counter-demonstration wasn’t.

According to the complaint, “The counter-demonstrators [members of an organization known as The Gathering of Eagles] yelled, jeered and taunted the AEC protestors. At no time did [the police] direct, or attempt to limit the First Amendment activities of the counter-demonstrators,” nor were they ever told to disperse.

Throughout the demonstration, the protestors had not given any indication that they posed any physical threat to others. However, about 45 minutes after the demonstration began, the police, under direction of Lt. Konczyk, ordered the protestors to disperse.

At that point, Biren-Wright, according to the complaint, “placed herself outside the immediate area . . . so as not to interfere with the police activity.” She continued to photograph and report on the demonstration. The complaint charges that Lt. Konczyk, “without just cause or legal justification,” directed several officers to arrest her, walking past several protestors and counter-demonstrators. She says she told the officers she was a member of the press. At no time, she says, did she participate as a demonstrator nor verbally or physically threaten anyone. The officers, says Biren-Wright, arrested her without any warning. The arresting officer’s “degree of anger-he was clearly red-faced-was inappropriate,” she recalls. The police, says Biren-Wright, “were clearly targeting me, trying to keep me from recording the demonstration and their reactions.”

One officer, says Biren-Wright, “unnecessarily twisted my arm.” Another officer seized her camera and personal items. One of the officers put plastic cuffs on her wrists “so tight that it caused significant pain, swelling and bruising, and an injury that lasted for several weeks,” according to the complaint.

Biren-Wright’s 15-year-old daughter was shopping in the mall during the protest, but had reunited with her mother shortly before the arrests. Her daughter, says Biren-Wright, “came closer upon the arrest and I told the officer she was my daughter and a minor and would be alone.” The officer, says Biren-Wright, snapped, “You should have thought of that before.” At the processing center that police had previously set up at the mall, Biren-Wright told several officers that her daughter was alone in the mall and was from out of state. “None of them did anything to ensure her safety,” she says. The daughter, unsupervised, eventually found Rob Kall, OpEdNews editor, who drove her to the jail to take her mother’s keys and then drove her home, where she spent the night alone.

Outside the mall, counter-protestors shouted obscenities as those arrested boarded the police bus. “They were standing at the door to the bus,” says Biren-Wright, “and posed a safety issue to us since we were in handcuffs.”

The six who were arrested and Biren-Wright were initially taken to the 15th District jail. Richie Marini, the lone male arrested, was kept at the district jail. The six women were transferred to the jail at the jail of the Philadelphia Police headquarters, known by locals as the “Roundhouse,” where a nurse took each woman’s vital signs and asked if there were any injuries. “I showed him my wrist and thumb that were already red and swollen” from the restrictive handcuffs, says Biren-Wright. His response, she says, was “That doesn’t count.”

Biren-Wright, along with the other five women, was held for 14 hours. At 5 a.m., she says, they were released from the “Roundhouse” onto a dark and barren street-there were no taxis anywhere near-and locked out of the police station. Although the women had cell phones, they had not been allowed to call for rides while in the jail area. Outside, they called friends, but waited until help arrived. Marini was released from the district jail later that morning.

The only reason Biren-Wright’s pictures of the demonstration survived is because she had secretly removed the memory chip during the arrest. When the camera was finally returned, “all of the settings were messed up and the lens was not replaced properly.”

The Army closed the AEC at the end of the pilot program. It had claimed that because of increased enlistments nationwide, the Center was no longer needed. It never acknowledged that the protestors and the public reaction may have been a reason for the closing.

In an unrelated case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in October 2010 [Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle] that recording police activity in public places is protected by Constitutional guarantees. This month, the ACLU settled a case, for $48,500, in Pittsburgh when a University of Pittsburgh police officer arrested Elijah Matheny and charged him with felony violation of the state’s Wiretap Act for using a cell phone to record police activity. Matheny spent a night in jail following his arrest. [See: Matheny v. County of Allegheny, et al.] The ACLU charged that the district attorney’s office “had engaged in a pattern of erroneously advising law enforcement that audio taping police officers in public violates Pennsylvania’s Wiretap Act.” Following the Third Circuit’s decision in the Kelly case, a conviction against Matheny is expected to be overturned.

The arrests in Philadelphia, Carlisle, and Pittsburgh underscores two major problems, both prevalent throughout the country. The first problem is a lack of understanding and respect for the Constitution by a large number, although not a majority, of police officers. For that reason, all police forces and district attorneys offices, from small isolated rural communities to the largest urban departments, need to have constant education about civil rights and Constitutional guarantees-and the penalties for violating those rights.

The second major problem is inherent within the mass media. Reporters need to know how and when to challenge authority to protect their own and the public’s rights. A camera crew from the PBS “Frontline” series was at the protest, but abruptly stopped recording the demonstration after Brower was arrested and either before or during Biren-Wright’s arrest. Rob Kall later said that a member of the “Frontline” crew told him the police informed them they would be arrested if they continued to film the demonstration.

Police threats, which violate Constitutional guarantees, place a “chilling effect” upon the media to observe and record actions by public officials. Even without a direct order by a public official, reporters may do what they perceive to be what others want them to do. The media, like police and public officials, also need constant education to know when police orders are lawful and when they are not. An order to move away from a scene may be lawful. An order to stop filming a scene upon threat of arrest is not.

In federal court, in the case of Biren v. City of Philadelphia, et al., these issues, and others, will be raised. But had there been an understanding of the Constitution by the police, the case would never have gotten to the point of a federal civil suit.

 

New Hampshire or Bus: Sarah’s No-Campaign Campaign Tour

Speeding along city streets, going from somewhere to somewhere else, was the Sarah Palin “One Nation I’m Not Running for Anything But Follow Me Anyhow” bus chase.

Following her were about two dozen reporters and photographers from the national news media, and now and then some local news teams, many of whom violated traffic laws in order to keep the Palin Convoy in sight.

The news media told others how much they were suffering. Sarah wouldn’t tell them where she was going. She didn’t issue press releases. She wouldn’t give them interviews when they wanted. The media had to call, text, and radio each other just to get information. They couldn’t even get proper bathroom breaks because they had to chase that danged bus and the two Sarah SUV escorts. They believed their lives were more like those of combat correspondents under heavy incoming fire, and not the celebrity-chasing paparazzi they had become.

What little information they got, they had to go to Facebook and Twitter, where Team Sarah posted nightly updates. And, oh yeah, if you have a few bucks, please contribute to Sarah PAC, which was funding the trip.

On the second day, 10-year-old Piper Palin had sarcastically told a photographer, “Thanks for ruining our vacation.” Of course, it wasn’t the media who “ruined” what Piper thought was a family vacation. Sarah Palin’s own website claimed the purpose of the tour was “part of our new campaign to educate and energize Americans about our nation’s founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America.” To “promote” that education campaign, Piper’s mother commissioned a luxury bus, and wrapped it in a professionally-created design, complete with a Sarah Palin signature larger than anything John Hancock could have written. Since Mother Sarah always emerged from the bus wearing ready-for-prime-time campaign makeup and conservative “glad-to-meet-ya-but-I’m-not-really-running” conservative suits, it was questionable just whose vacation it was.

In Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day, Sarah put on a helmet, black leather jacket and, still wearing high heels, jumped onto the back of a Harley, and seized the spotlight from thousands of Rolling Thunder bikers who were in the capital to honor POWs and MIAs. Sarah was in the capital to honor Sarah.

In the nation’s capital, she wore a large cross. In New York City, the fundamentalist half-governor whose church believes that Jews will never get to heaven unless they are baptized as Christians, wore a Star of David.

At Fort McHenry, Mt. Vernon, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and several other historic sites on her six-day erratic trip up the eastern seaboard, she stopped for minutes here, minutes there, in an attention-deficit span of pseudo-patriotism, long enough to make sure the media saw her, that there was ample opportunity for photo-ops, and then moved on. Where? No one really knew. It was as freewheeling as her own political style.

At Gettysburg, she stayed long enough to take advantage of numerous photo-ops. In New York, the media breathlessly told us about Sarah and newly-incarnated birther Donald Trump having pizza in a restaurant on Times Square.

On I-90, near Worcester, Mass., her caravan rolled into a storm, just behind a tornado, not stopping for either their own safety or to help those affected by severe damage from the tornado.

In New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney was announcing his campaign for the presidency, Sarah managed to have her own show about five miles away, drawing the national media to her star power, and then claimed she didn’t mean to upstage Romney. It was just an accident, she said in the state where the nation’s first primary for the 2012 presidential election will be held.

At Ellis Island, she misinterpreted potential immigration law. In an interview with Fox News reporter Greta van Susteren, the only reporter allowed on the bus, Sarah mangled the truth about Social Security, the Obama stimulus plan, and the foreign aid package to Egypt.  

In Boston, she reinvented history and complained about “gotcha” journalism. You know, like the “gotcha” question Katie Couric asked in 2008 about what she read. This “gotcha” had come from a Boston reporter who had thrown an even easier puff ball-“What did you learn in Massachusetts and what did you take away from it?” Apparently, she didn’t learn much. Instead of spending enough time in Boston to learn about America’s revolution, she informed the nation that a bell-clanging Paul Revere went out to warn the British not to mess with America’s right to bear arms-or something to that effect. When historians politely disagreed with her curious interpretation of history, she steadfastly maintained she knew American history, and that everyone-including, apparently, Paul Revere’s own notes and letters- was wrong.

Some of the Sarah Zealots even tried to manipulate information in Wikipedia to parrot what Sarah believed was the reason for Paul Revere’s ride, thus giving revisionist history an entirely new dimension.

Although Sarah thought the media were into “gotcha journalism,” the truth is that the wily politician, who tiptoed into broadcast journalism after college, now assisted by a media-savvy campaign staff, managed to do everything right to manipulate the mass media to give her more coverage than a Puritan in a clothing factory.

Her handling of the media was the ultimate “gotcha.”

You betcha, Sarah.

[Walter Brasch, a journalist for more than 40 years, has reported on almost every presidential campaign since 1968. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com]

Note from John:  I refuse to cover this moron any longer.  Unless she formally announces her candidacy for president this is the last mention of Sarah Palin here.

Toothless: The Watchdog Press That Became the Government’s Lapdog

Toothless:  The Watchdog Press

That Became the Government’s Lapdog

PART II: The Lapdogs Get Some Teeth

by Walter Brasch

In May 2004, the New York Times, while claiming it was aggressive in pursuing stories about the Bush-Cheney Administration, slipped in an apology for acting more as the mouthpiece for politicians than as a watchdog for society. “Coverage was not as rigorous as it should have been,” the Times admitted. Part of the problem, the Times acknowledged, was that “Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.” The Times concluded it wished “we had been more aggressive.”

           Almost three months later, the Washington Post, one of the most hawkish papers for invading Iraq, finally acknowledged its own pre-war hysteria and lack of journalistic competence and courage. “We were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn’t be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration’s rationale,” wrote Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.

           During President Bush’s second term, especially after his popularity had begun to sink, several major newspapers, including the New York Times and Washington Post, became more aggressive, publishing several major investigations into the War in Iraq, the government’s use of torture and apparent violation of the Geneva Accords, violations of due process, extensive spying upon Americans, the failure to provide combat troops with adequate body armor, the silencing of government scientists who disagreed with Bush-Cheney beliefs and values, the classification of 55,000 documents in the National Archives that had previously been declassified, the use of propaganda to support doctrine, and problems at Guantanamo Bay.  

A New York Times investigation by Tim Golden and Don Van Natta Jr. revealed “government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.” That same investigation also revealed a CIA report in September 2002 that questioned the arrests. Most of those picked up in Afghanistan and transferred to Guantánamo Bay, according to the CIA investigation, were low level recruits or innocent men.

           Among other reporters from the Times who broke major stories were Elisabeth Bumiller, Douglas Jehl, James Risen, and Eric Schmitt, who wrote about secret prisons and rendition; and James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, who wrote several articles about the government’s illegal spying upon American citizens. Times editors, however, had kept the stories about the government’s spying out of the newspaper for about a year, in deference to the Administration’s hysterical claims before the November 2004 election that breaking news about unconstitutional activities might somehow be aiding and abetting the enemy; the reality was that the Times was duped into protecting the Administration against a vote drain.

           For the Washington Post, Stave Fainam wrote about abuses by extramilitary private contractors in Iraq; Dana Priest wrote about secret prisons and controversial parts of the Bush-Cheney counter-terrorism tactics; Jo Becker and Barton Gellman investigated the growing influence of Dick Cheney into national policies; and Dana Priest, Anne Hull, and Michael duCille in several articles exposed the medical and psychiatric neglect of returning combat soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Although the Post’s Bob Woodward fully believed Bush-Cheney Administration claims about the need to invade Iraq, he still produced the most in-depth reporting about Bush and his decision-making process. His four books in six years were all best-sellers.

           The Los Angeles Times published a series in 2006 about Iraq’s descent into civil war following the U.S. invasion. Outstanding reporting about the impact of the war upon soldiers and civilians was done by several reporters, including Borzou Daragahia  and David Zucchino of the L.A. Times; and Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman of the Hartford Courant. However, for the most part, reporters accepted what they were given. Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the London Independent, condemned much of the American press corps in Iraq for “hotel journalism,” writing stories based upon what they were told in press conferences without going into the field.

            At the Boston Globe, Charlie Savage did solid reporting about President Bush’s use of signing statements to bypass federal and constitutional law.

           Much of the best in-depth reporting about the Bush-Cheney Administration, especially its fixation upon invading Iraq, was done by reporters for national magazines.

           Seymour Hersh’s powerful series about the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and several articles about the war in Iraq first appeared in the New Yorker. Hersh had broken the story about the massacre at My Lai and its cover-up during the Vietnam War; it was this willful murder of civilians by the U.S. military that other reporters knew about but didn’t report that earned Hersh the Pulitzer Prize. However, after Hersh’s series was published, the establishment media could no longer ignore the story. Not much changed in the four decades since then. Perhaps Hersh’s greatest honor is that a senior Bush advisor called him “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.”

           Among several outstanding hard-news reports about the Bush-Cheney Administration, especially its fixation upon invading Iraq and of subsequent constitutional violations, were those of Michael Isikoff in Newsweek, David Corn in Mother Jones, Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, and James Bamford in Rolling Stone.

           With a few blips for courageous reporting, the American press, according to media critic Norman Solomon, continued to blindly accept the Bush-Cheney doctrine as truth. “The American media establishment,” wrote Solomon in August 2007, “continues to behave like a leviathan with a monkey on its back- hooked on militarism and largely hostile to the creative intervention that democracy requires.”

           However, reporters for one establishment news agency consistently represented the highest ideals of an uncompromised press.

           John Walcott, the Knight Ridder bureau chief in Washington, and bureau reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, were aggressive in publishing well-documented stories that challenged Bush-Cheney claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the need for the invasion. When McClatchy bought out Knight Ridder in 2006, Walcott continued as bureau chief, and Landay and Strobel become senior correspondents. They continued to challenge the propaganda, and proved that their organization was doing everything the Founding Fathers demanded when they said the primary function of the media is to act as a watchdog on government. When other media disregarded the anti-war dissidents, Walcott’s reporters interviewed them; when other media gave Guantanamo Bay coverage little more than “he said/she said” coverage, the McClatchy bureau dug into the story to present the truth and not the spoon-fed lies. When other media took down what they were told at press conferences and private meetings with senior Bush-Cheney officials, Walcott’s reporters listened, but went to innumerable professionals and lower-level staff in the Defense and State departments to get the truth.

           “Journalism is not stenography,” says Walcott, winner of the first I.F. Stone medal for journalistic independence. The role of the journalist, he says, isn’t to record what people say, but to question it in the search for the truth. “One of the reasons we pressed so hard for the case for the war in Iraq,” says Walcott, “is that what they [the Administration] said simply made no sense.” The primary focus for Walcott’s reporters was “how were the decisions being made in Washington, [by] many who had never been to war, would affect the men and women” in the military.  

            “On the whole, the Bush Administration did not put out the welcome sign for us,” says Roy Gutman, McClatchy foreign editor. On even routine stories, the White House planted its leaks with friendlier organizations, and tried to isolate the Knight Ridder/McClatchy bureau from the other media. Publicly, the Bush-Cheney Administration issued no retort; by maintaining silence, the Administration knew the establishment media would also ignore a competitor’s reports.

           “We were alone at the beginning,” says Walcott, “and are still fairly lonely at the end.”

Forthcoming: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, The alternative press, and establishment commentators.

[Walter Brasch continually challenged Bush-Cheney claims about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. He wrote about the shredding of civil rights under the PATRIOT Act, including violations of free speech, due process, and the rights of privacy. He and Rosemary Brasch, two years before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, wrote about disaster preparedness and concluded that the U.S., because of political incompetence and the deployment of troops and resources to Iraq, wasn’t prepared to deal with a natural disaster. The establishment media ignored their reporting.]