Category Archives: Journalism

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?

This BitesIn surveying the myriad assaults on freedom of speech and thought, there appears to be a unifying culprit: Groupthink. Borrowing from George Orwell’s 1984, the principle is simply that enormous pressure within a particular group or political party stifles independent thinking or alternative viewpoints.

One of the most honorable aspects of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is that the organization will defend the right for individuals and groups to speak their minds — regardless of how abhorrent they may be (i.e., the KKK).  This basic freedom is under assault from all quarters.

The left and right and media continue their march to the extreme fringes of discourse. They are all complicit in this disgusting trend, which feeds off controversy, fear, emotion, hyperbole, the demise of civility and power of social media. The results are as shameful as they are sickening:

  • In the nation’s capital, Sen. Elizabeth Warren if yanked off the floor for reading a statement by widow of Martin Luther King.
  • Last week in Sacramento, the Democrats did the same thing by removing Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) as she sought to deliver a speech criticizing the late Tom Hayden for his anti-war activities.
  • Panel discussions on both CNN and Fox News are nothing but forums for bias and shouting under the guise of journalism.
  • President Trump bans news outlets from news briefings in retaliation for unfavorable coverage.
  • Universities – including UC Berkeley (birthplace of the free speech movement) cancel speeches from controversial figures.
  • Protestors disrupt town halls with no intention of finding common ground.

What is happening, America?

We have become a state and nation of thin-skinned people who already have their minds made up in lockstep with their peer groups and according to their respective Groupthink labels. In this type of environment, anyone holding a different view is public enemy number one and a target for attack.

This is especially damaging to moderates, who often find themselves in a no-man’s-land that seeks to balance and find   valid elements of opposing views in an effort to reach consensus or compromise. One would think this approach would prevail because most people want solutions. Yet extreme Groupthink drowns it all out. This reality only confirms the adage that the only things in lying in the middle of the road are dead.peace-love

Enough with the labeling. Enough with the intolerance. Enough with hate.

About the only silver bullet the Blue Dog can come up with is to change our national anthem to Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” as performed by Elvis Costello.

Since this song was written by a Brit, maybe everyone can agree to this. Go ahead and laugh. Got any better ideas?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Congress, Donald Trump, Freedom of Speech, Journalism, Media, Politics

Panetta: Partisanship A Major Threat to National Security

Bone

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci had a nice profile recently on Leon Panetta, a native Californian and statesman par excellence.

I’ve always thought of Panetta, who recently retired from a long and distinguished career, as someone who always viewed his responsibilities the way all elected officials should: as public servants. From congressman and White House chief of staff to director of the OMB or CIA, here is a man who has always seemed to act and speak with a profound respect for our nation and its democratic institutions. Pragmatism over ideology. Policy over politics. Respect over vitriol. Duty over personal aggrandizement.

What really jumped off the page of Marinucci’s piece was Panetta’s concern over extreme partisanship and how it poses one our country’s most serious threats to national security. This, remember, is coming from a guy who was in charge of the CIA and Department of Defense. He knows a little bit about what the United States is up against. When he says one of our greatest dangers is ourselves, that bears attention.

Leon Panetta

 If you wonder why we need more people like Panetta in government, check out this passage from the Chronicle piece:

“The avuncular Panetta gets deadly serious when he talks about what he believes is one of the greatest dangers to America’s future – political partisanship that, he said, has never been more divisive or discouraging.

Washington “has really become dysfunctional,” said Panetta, who began his political career as a Republican, “and when that happens, in many ways that becomes a greater national security threat than almost anything else.”

“I’m sensing that – for whatever reason – we’re in a testing period now as to whether some of this can change,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think this is a time when change is going to happen – not from the top down – but from the bottom up.”

His mission now, Panetta said, is “to get young people who are not trapped by partisanship to recognize that things can be different – if they’re willing to take the risk involved with getting elected to public office.”

He’s encouraged, he said, because the new crop of students who hope to become public servants is less attached to “strong ideological edge” of their parents’ generation.

“They’re much more pragmatic; they’re much more willing to see if problems can be solved,” he said. “I don’t see them as being tied to the kind of party label as you see playing out in Washington – and in Sacramento for that matter.”

Let’s hope Panetta is as successful with this mission as he was throughout his career. We need more leaders like him.

1 Comment

Filed under California Legislature, Congress, Journalism, Media, national security, partisanship, Politics

461 Days & Counting

Bone


While the BlueDog has been away for the past few weeks tending to some family matters, he has been keeping mental notes of things we will be catching up on in the next few posts: juicy hypocrisy, the elevated status of moderates in DC and, if we can stomach it, our new state budget.

Today let’s circle back on a wonderful cover story in the New York Times Magazine a few Sundays ago profiling the 2010 race for California governor. Not only is it a great, albeit highly subjective, read, it provides a refreshing and sharp brand of insight that only a perceptive outsider can offer.  How Mark Leibovich, a reporter in the paper’s Washington bureau, and his editors, portrayed the candidates was fascinating, as was the respective candidate views on Governor Schwarzenegger and California’s battered condition. CalBuzz weighed in a while back with its take on the story. Here are some of the BlueDog’s top-line impressions from the article (in alphabetical order):

Jerry Brown: Comes across as the elder statesman. A far cry from the Moonbeam days. “An unlikely grown-up in the field, Jerry Brown recently dubbed himself as the Apostle of Common Sense . . .  Brown delights in deflating overblown rhetoric,” Leibovich writes.

Tom Campbell: Glowing appraisal of his resume [“immaculately credentialed policy marvel”] and his stance as a socially liberal Republican with strong acumen in government finance. “The perception lingers that he will be seriously outgunned” but could benefit from the entry of a social conservative candidate, who would siphon support away from Whitman and Poizner.

Dianne Feinstein: While not a focus of the story, the Senator’s towering presence was mentioned in passing. No insight into her plans, just the usual: If she gets in the race, she is the immediate front runner.

Gavin Newsom: Suprisingly big play for the SF mayor. He garners a nice cover photo as the “Gavinator.” Inside he gets similar star treatment with another full-page photo on the beach. You’d think he was the heir apparent to Arnold judging from all the fawning and attention. In terms of content, the SF Mayor’s struggle with dyslexia humanizes him in an endearing way. But he ultimately comes across as a flakey lightweight trying to claim he isn’t a liberal. A description of a Newsom visit to the Central Valley is pretty comical. And the fact Newsom (he who reigns over the self-proclaimed greenest city on earth) zooms away in a gas guzzling SUV is a classic image.

Steve Poizner: Strolling through what appears to be the Capitol Rose Garden, Poizner’s photo is flattering and he looks like a governor. But Leibovich suggests that he is dead in the water. “Poizner faces many obstacles. For starters, he is the state’s insurance commissioner (bookish, with a beakish nose) and is little-known, and his name sounds like poison.”  Ouch. That hardly seemed necessary.

Meg Whitman:  While she got a fair amount of ink, Whitman was the only one of the five profiled candidates with no photo in the story. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Unless the former queen of eBay declined a photo session, this was a major slight and an inexcusable omission.  After all, she is the only woman in the race, and many consider her a highly formidable candidate. Like Poizner, she was the recipient of snide editorial comment. It’s not like the NYT is going to decide the 2010 election but she got glaringly short shrift; her campaign consultants should still be steaming at the treatment. NYT editors should know better.

A winner on this early national media stage?

Newsom if you just glanced at the pictures and scanned the piece; Brown and Campbell if you were looking for substance and took time to read the story. Come to think of it, the latter two would make for an interesting race in November. Brown has aged in way that appears to bring him closer to the center as a visionary pragmatist. Campbell brings many of those same qualities to the table as a seasoned, moderate Republican.

But take time to read the piece and decide for yourself. By the way, no one really answered the big question boasted in headline: Why do the candidates want the job? We have 461 more days to find out.

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Journalism, Media, Politics

Comfortably Numb in Neverland

Main Dog

“After the ecstasy, the laundry,” goes the Zen adage.

Or in Sacramento terms: “After Independence Day celebrations, the grindstone.”

And it looks like the grindstone is still winning. Big 5 leadership noses rubbed raw. Budget gridlock continues. Tough, impossible choices are delayed. No news here.

And really, does anyone really care outside of Sacramento? Isn’t it totally plausible that our elected officials are getting more calls from constituents wanting help getting tickets to the Michael Jackson memorial service than are grousing about the budget? Our legislators have got to be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the Michael Jackson Saga is sucking so much media and public attention from away from the impasse. Nothing like a good soap opera to relieve the pressure.

For a minute, let’s suspend reality and dream of a world when Californians and the media gave even a fraction of the attention and energy into our dysfunctional government as is going into the King of Pop’s funeral arrangements and second coming [The Blue Dog, swear to God, actually saw a newscast this evening devoting coverage to some local guy who says a knot in his birch tree contains the face of Jackson].

One percent of that kind of interest in the Capitol and we’d have a budget. Five percent, a revolution . . .

Yeah, Independence Day is a time for feeling good about our country, state and freedoms. But that is only half of the bargain. The other piece is that we all possess a responsibility to be passionately engaged in our Democracy. When we pay obsessively more attention to birch trees and dead celebrities we shouldn’t complain too much about the government we get.

The contrast between what is going on in LA and Sacramento over this past Fourth of July and well into the foreseeable future is almost too much to bear. Meanwhile, we’ve got a lot of laundry piling up.

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Journalism, Media, Politics, Reform

Hating Conditional Outrage Over Hate

dog_snarling

A core moderate value is fair play. We bristle at double standards and identity politics. The PC Thought Police are getting on our nerves, and we wish they’d burn their energy pursuing culprits of an under-appreciated and highly insidious crime: Hypocrisy. Nothing rankles us more than when one person or group conveniently operates two sets of books – one for them, and one for everybody else.

Or, as Sacramento’s civil and measured morning AM radio duo of Armstrong & Getty so beautifully call it: exercising “conditional outrage.”

On this front, we’ve had a lot of fodder the past few weeks both in Sacramento and nationally.

Across the fruited plains, the Blue Dog has noted a surprising number of blanket accusations being tossed around by liberal commentators (especially Paul Krugman) in the New York Times that the conservative media is somehow responsible for the violent murders of a Kansas abortion doctor and a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum.

Really?

The Blue Dog never bought into the liberal media conspiracy, and he’s not buying into this mush-headed attack on conservative pundits either.  These killers are hateful, ignorant whack jobs. Period. If we’re really playing this sophomoric blame game, then we will have to blame liberals for the breakdown of the American family, the welfare state, AIDS, drug abuse and teen pregnancy.

The latter topic, of course, serves as a rather tidy transition to the David Letterman controversy.  The comedian’s foot-in-mouth joke about the promiscuity of Gov. Sarah Palin’s daughter(s) has been fascinating to watch, especially how it raised some interesting challenges to women’s groups, who one imagines weren’t exactly walking precincts for her in November.

While the Blue Dog doesn’t think much of Palin and is a lifelong Letterman fan, personal favorites or what side of the partisan boundary one is on should be irrelevant. The comedic Hoosier deservedly ended up in the crosshairs because he crossed way over. That was obvious. But what wasn’t so self-evident was how strong a backlash he would get. To its credit, the National Organization for Women (NOW) eventually stood up by inducting Letterman into the NOW Hall of Shame.

As an aside, did anyone notice if the City of San Francisco is now moving to become a Letterman Free Zone? Has the California Legislative Women’s Caucus put together a resolution to show their solidarity with the Palins?

Didn’t think so. If the joke had been doled out by a conservative about a Democrat’s gay or transgender child, the outrage meter would have broken the needle compared to what Letterman is getting.

Which helps make the point: Respect and common decency isn’t about right or left or middle. It should transcend all those artificial labels. Situational rules are confusing, hypocritical and ultimately a disservice to serious, legitimate issues.

We may wonder why President Obama gets a free pass on gay marriage, but the former Miss California is held in contempt and is fair game for her views when they basically mirror Obama’s. Shouldn’t she be accorded the same respect as the transgender community, which was on the receiving end of a recent Sacramento shock jock attack?

Although their formats and subject matter differ, why is Letterman merely a comic, but Rush Limbaugh somehow the voice of an entire party – and not simply the bombastic entertainer he really is? And if the N word is as despicable as the Blue Dog was raised to believe (the most offensive word in the English language his parents always told him), then shouldn’t it be so across the board?

Outrage becomes suspect the very moment we start hedging, making exceptions, parsing and partitioning our outrage to fit one given ideology, ethnicity or lifestyle.  It cheapens the respect we all ought to have for one another.

If we can’t figure this out and live by the Golden Rule, then we need to pass a law that says even feeble attempts at humor cannot be considered hate crimes.

If we can’t figure this out as human beings, we need to make every joke or comment about any subject socially acceptable again. Get respectful, or get thicker skin.

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Journalism, Media, Politics

npr: National Prosperous Radio

Bone While we watch helplessly as many newspapers struggle to stay afloat, it is encouraging to know that at least one serious purveyor of in-depth news is thriving: National Public Radio.

Before anyone tries to gore the station as a bastion of liberalism, consider  independent market data that draws a very different and eyebrow-raising conclusion: 34 percent of NPR listeners define themselves as conservatives. That’s nearly equal to the 37 percent who say they tilt far left. The rest, or 29 percent, say they are middle of the road (us blue doggies).  

An NPR insider explained there remains a strong appetite among the radio’s demographic (typically college-educated with good incomes) for substantive programming regardless of their political viewpoint. And just for fun, even if it were it to be documented that NPR is massively liberal in its content, wouldn’t this suggest conservatives are more open-minded than liberals? After all, can you imagine 34-percent of The O’Reilly Factor viewers identifying themselves as liberals?

But we’re chasing a tangent. What is fascinating about NPR is that it is running counter to the trend we’re seeing with the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span (ISAS) throughout our society. Get this: There actually are people out there who prefer five and ten-minute segments as opposed to 30-second snippets . . . People who are gravitating to calm, thoughtful voices rather than the political rants and raves that infect the AM band and the cable TV talk shows.

And while the downturn in the economy has impacted corporate underwriting, the Blue Dog is told that donations from listeners are way up, as is the overall listenership locally, statewide and nationally, which has seen a 47-percent jump in the past seven years. More than 34 million people listen to NPR each week. More people tune in to “Morning Edition” than watch NBC’s “Today Show.” And can  you wrap your mind mind around the fact NPR has more bureaus (38) nationwide than CNN?

In Sacramento, Capital Public Radio’s KXJZ 90.9 FM has catapulted from the 16th ranked station in market to number two, only behind KFBK, according to Arbitron ratings comparing Fall of 2005 with the same time frame last year. Listenership has nearly doubled in that time. It is remarkable that contributions from just 10-15 percent of its listeners can sustain the enterprise. 

Some media watchers toy with the idea of developing a similar non-profit funding model for the newspaper industry. Free it from the shackles of Wall Street. That may be a stretch, but certainly anything should be on the table to save print or transition it safely to digital terra firma. Should we get to that point, the Blue Dog will be first in line with a contribution. In the meantime, stay tuned in to public radio.

Leave a comment

Filed under Journalism, Media

No Moderate Is An Island

Pay AttentionSometimes, the Blue Dog would rather have someone else do the barking about the state of Moderate Nation. Some good mind chow in CNN.com’s “No One Represents America’s Center.”

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Journalism, Politics, Reform

Death By 1,000 Cuts & Tweets

dog_snarlingA state media insider tells the BlueDog that the Los Angeles Times has issued an edict to cut down the length of its front-page news stories. The new policy mandates that no A1 news story shall run more 28 or so column issues — a cut from the previous maximum length of 35 column inches.

This is a 20 percent cut, and is in keeping with a business goal of achieving a 50-50 balance of advertisements and news. Page A3 — the showcase for California and Capitol news — is a meager shadow of its former self. Consider the Thursday, May 7 edition, which contains just one article and a weather photo.

The Times has always considered itself a national paper — a claim increasingly suspect given erosion of interest in state news. Some speculate the short shrift stems from the fact the Times’ top two editors are alumni of its business page, which has now replaced the once robust California section’s mix of local and state news as the B-section of the newspaper.  With that shift, news from the state Capitol, matters of public policy, politics or state issues of import are now crammed into the A-section. Meanwhile California goes to hell. 

This internal news from the Times is hardly earthshaking. But it’s a another disconcerting symbol — not only of the amazing shrinking newspaper, but the anorexia Californians (leading the nation again) seem to have when it comes to substance in its media and information diet.  

Earlier this year, the Sacramento Bee eliminated its Monday morning commentary page, which now runs print advertisements opposite editorials. The op-ed is evolving into the ad-ed.  There is just something unseemly about this, even if it is sincerely designed to stanch the bleeding. 

The once derided USA Today even looks robust against the inevitable trend toward morsels of democratized, digital media. We are now compressing sound bites into nano bites; decentralizing news from established sources to random blogs (yes, even fairly credible ones like this one), Twittering “tweet”communiques maxing out just over 100 characters (not words or inches).  Against this benchmark, the 28 column inches in the Times is a veritable encyclopedia that warrants continued reverence. But the ink continues to ooze quietly from the newspaper industry like a shaving nick that refuses to coagulate. And we’re running out of band aids.

Leave a comment

Filed under Journalism, Media, Politics, Social Networking