The Zimmerman trial — three takes

July 15, 2013

More than 90 years ago, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) adopted a code of ethics for the practice of journalism. Many journalism organizations adopted the entire code, or pieces/parts of it, to govern their practices.

Below are the four major tenets of the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, SPJ. They are taught in journalism courses in college, and reviewed in seminars at newsrooms all over the country. Graduate-level students write research papers on these four tenets. They are:

Seek the Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

How did your favorite news media outlets score on this when it came to the George Zimmerman trial?

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

How did your favorite news media outlets score on this when it came to the George Zimmerman trial? Was everyone involved treated with respect?

Act Independently
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.

Did the journalist and media outlet act independently, or did it show any conflicts of interest?

Be Accountable
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

How would you rate your favorite journalist and media outlets during the Zimmerman trial on this part of the code of ethics?

If you are unhappy with a news organization’s coverage of Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman, don’t simply place a negative post on Facebook.  Write a letter. Or find out the name of the editor or producer of the media outlet, and email them a note asking them to follow these tenets in their reporting.

Fine … but an opportunity missed

President Obama issued a statement on Sunday about the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.  It was good, but it did not cover any new ground.

There is now a tremendous opportunity for President Obama. He can call for and create a National Commission on Race Relations, and leverage what’s happened with Martin – Zimmerman to help bring about positive change in racial attitudes and relations in this nation.

Something positive, something unifying, needs to come out of this 17-month ordeal.  A Commission that makes numerous recommendations on ways to improve race relations in our land would be an excellent start in a positive direction. Consider doing more, Mr. President, before some of the demonstrations and protests turn violent.

Finally … most sense of all

Rev. Marlon Johnson, a 31-year-old African American pastor in Cleveland, perhaps deserves the “last word” about the Zimmerman trial. In a blog posting, Rev. Johnson points out that’s really happening in America today is a spiritual and moral issue. “…Human leadership must first surrender to the authority of Christ,” he writes.  See the link below for more.

Why I’m reducing my social media profile.

June 16, 2013

In World War II, one of the byword phrases on the home front was “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” It meant that both military and civilians should not talk about construction details, fleet sailing dates, or any other specifics that could inadvertently give useful information to the enemy.

In the 21st Century and the Global War on Terror, the new phrase is “Loose Tweets Sink Fleets.”  This reflects a reality – terrorists and their U.S.-based allies are keeping tabs on the social media postings of our military contractors, our service members and their spouses and loved ones.

loose tweets

Case in point: Soldiers based in Iraq took photos of some Apache AH 64 Apache helicopters that arrived at a base there in 2007.  The geotags (geographic locators embedded in smart phone photography, keyed to GPS satellites) from the pictures, posted in social media, contained the precise coordinates for the helicopters.  Iraqi insurgents attacked and destroyed four of the helos. Here is the story.

My son joined the U.S. Marines a while ago. As I’ve learned about what the military calls OPSEC – Operational Security – I quickly realized that lives, those of thousands of our military members, could be jeopardized via an accidental Facebook post, Tweet, or other social media miscue.

There is still a war on, and one need only to look back to this April’s Boston Marathon bombings to remember that evil forces are obsessed on destroying our nation and the freedoms we cherish.  These forces have no regard for human life or the rules of civilization. Their sick minds would employ any scrap of information for ill.

In this environment, my choice is clear. I would much rather refrain from saying or posting anything about my son and his unit’s whereabouts than run a risk of disclosure, even an accidental one. So, I’ll be lowering my social media profile.

Additionally, my thanks to you, if you know my son or other Armed Service members, if you also follow the military’s OPSEC rules.  Please continue to pray for our military personnel and those from allied nations who are still in harm’s way, fighting on the front lines of the Global War on Terror. May God protect them, and bring them home safely. May they do what’s just and right to protect our world.

“Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil.”  – Ephesians 6:10-12


Back to the broadcast chair!

February 13, 2013

Can’t remember when I did it last, might have been the 1990s, but on Saturday at 3 p.m. I’ll be sitting down at Tri-C Metro’s gym to broadcast basketball play-by-play of the Tri-C Challengers vs. the Edison Community College Chargers.

I “broke into” radio doing play-by-play for high school and college football, and basketball, while I was a college student in the 1970s, and continued on for a few years afterwards.  You haven’t lived until you’ve broadcast the games of the Crawfordsville Athenians, Southmont Mounties, the Western Boone Stars, and other high schools in Western Central Indiana.

Then there were the college games.  I broadcast on WNDY for Wabash College, which back then played against teams such as Butler (yes, THAT Butler), Valparaiso, Evansville and DePauw.  Favorite place?  Probably Rose Hulman, where the “Fightin’ Engineers” had a mini-cannon they would fire in their field house.

Joe Tait also broadcast games from Rose Hulman prior to coming to Cleveland. And that’s about all Joe Tait and I have in common.  He’s the consummate pro, and I’m way down in the amateur ranks of announcers.

However, what makes this special is that I’m returning to the broadcast table as part of Cuyahoga Community College’s partnership between its outstanding Recording Artist Technology (RAT) program and our Journalism/Mass Comm. (JMC) program.

Tri-C is developing an internet radio station. I’ve been listening to it, and the quality is quite good.  It will “go live” with student DJs for two hours a night (evening drive) four days a week, come Monday.

In the meantime, Chris Beeble (my partner, and soon-to-be play-by-play broadcaster) and I are gearing up to do the first-ever broadcast for the station of a college sports event. I’m looking forward to this, and hoping that Chris will be ready to “take over” the reigns and handle the play-by-play for the rest of the season’s broadcasts.

Radio play-by-play is a grind, but it’s a good one.  You have to describe the action to those who aren’t seeing it on video or TV.  You strive to bring the game to life for the benefit of those who are listening.

It should be fun. If you want to listen in, check out the Tri-C station, called RAT Radio, here:

Hope you’ll tune in on Saturday afternoon and listen!

Stop with the lies

January 21, 2013

Nearly 100 years ago, journalism organizations adopted principles of conduct for the profession.  The American Society of Newspaper Editors and SPJ, the Society of Professional Journalists, have similar codes of ethics.  Both organizations advocate for seeking the truth, and reporting it.  Below is an excerpt from the SPJ code:

“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:

  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
  • Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.

Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently.”

So the news emerging last week about Manti Te’o’s non-existent “girlfriend” means that Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and other media outlets have become more obsessed about telling a good story than they are concerned about accuracy and correct sources of identification.

I’m sorry, media apologists, but any 12-year-old who knows how to use Google images could have figured out that Manti Te’o’s girlfriend simply did not exist.

Don’t muddy the water with discussions about hoaxes. Read the actual interview notes. Mr. Te’o, along with his father, said things that simply cannot be true.

Here’s just one small example: Imaginary girlfriends don’t visit the house.  Check out the stories for yourself.

Until and unless the media starts taking responsibility, follows its own rules, and makes accuracy a high priority once again, journalism will continue in its downward spiral.  Journalists should never accept lies.

*     *     *

Today we remember the life work of civil rights advocate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  One of the many profound things Dr. King said was this: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Professionals who practice journalism in 2013 should heed his words.

Eric Metaxas — coming to Cleveland, November 8

October 7, 2012

Here’s some information about ERIC METAXAS, who’ll be speaking at Grace CMA church on “Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce and the Gospel”  on Thursday, November 8, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The talk is FREE and open to the public.

Best-selling author, passionate speaker, social commentator, steadfast advocate for God and good: These are just some of Eric Metaxas’ many attributes. Metaxas ranks with Tony Blair, Bono, and Mother Theresa — all four were keynote speakers at the National Prayer Breakfast. He’s written for The New York Times, Chuck Colson, and VeggieTales, three things not ordinarily mentioned in the same sentence.

Metaxas came to national prominence recently after writing the New York Times #1 bestseller, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which was named  “Book of the Year” by the Evangelical Christian Press Association.  Bonhoeffer also won the 2011 John C. Pollock Award for Biography awarded by Beeson Divinity School and a 2011 Christopher Award in the Non-fiction category.  Called a “biography of uncommon power,” Bonhoeffer appeared on numerous 2010 “Best of the Year” lists and was featured in the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, The New Republic, Harper’s, Kirkus (starred review), NPR, FoxNews, C-SPAN’s Book TV, Christianity TodayThe Weekly Standard, and First Things.

President, Bonhoeffer

President Barack Obama admires Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC

Here’s a link to a story and video about Metaxas’ talk at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast:

Like many other authors, however, Metaxas’ “overnight sensation” status came only after decades of toil. Before Bonhoeffer, he’d written the definitive biography of William Wilberforce, the 19th century abolitionist who worked ceaselessly for decades to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery was published by HarperOne in 2007, and was the “official companion book” to the feature film, also titled Amazing Grace. The book appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, and was lauded by Stanley Crouch (”…a superb history of the British fight against slavery”; Former NYC Congressman Floyd Flake (”magnificent… will stand as a living landmark…”), John Wilson (”a crackling bonfire of clarity and truth.”), Rudy Giuliani (”better than the movie!”), and many others.

Metaxas is also the author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask), which  came out in 2005, Those praising the work include Ann B. Davis, Alice on The Brady Bunch (”I am absolutely smitten with this book!”), Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (”The difficulty is not to gush.”) and Dick Cavett (”Metaxas deserves a prize.”).

Metaxas’ career as a writer spans more than two decades. From 1988 to 1992, he received acclaim as editorial director and head writer for Rabbit Ears Productions, writing more than 20 children’s videos and books narrated by such actors as Mel Gibson, Robin Williams, Sir John Gielgud, Danny Glover, Sigourney Weaver, John Candy, Michael Caine, Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Jodie Foster, Emma Thompson, and Raul Julia. His Rabbit Ears videos have won numerous Parent’s Choice Awards and three Grammy nominations for Best Children’s Recording; they all aired on  Showtime and as popular audio programs on NPR’s Rabbit Ears Radio, hosted by Mel Gibson and Meg Ryan, whose radio scripts Eric has also written. Parenting magazine and others have called Metaxas “the unsung hero” of Rabbit Ears and a “children’s author nonpareil.”

Metaxas’ The Birthday ABC was chosen as a 1995 “Pick of the List” by the American Bookseller’s Association. Reviewers said the book’s light verse “sparkled” and “sizzled,” comparing it with Odgen Nash, Edward Lear, and Lewis Carroll. Metaxas has authored many other children’s books, including the Angel Award-winning Prince of Egypt A to Z, a tie-in to the Dreamworks film; and the acclaimed Uncle Mugsy & the Terrible Twins of Christmas. Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving was awarded an “Number One Bestseller” Award in 1999.

In 2011, Metaxas was the 17th recipient of the Canterbury Medal awarded by the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom.  Previous medalists include Mitt Romney, Chuck Colson, and Elie Wiesel.  Metaxas is currently the voice of BreakPoint, a radio commentary that is broadcast on 1,400 radio outlets with an audience of eight million.

Metaxas attends Calvary/St. George’s Episcopal Church, and lives in Manhattan, New York, with his wife and daughter.

Setting the agenda, framing the message

August 11, 2012

As soon as Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced his choice for Vice President, Cong. Paul Ryan, the Democratic National Committee changed its main web page. If one clicks on, you would see a box of a grim-faced Ryan next to the words, in reverse type, “He could be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.” Beneath the box are the words “Get the Facts on Paul Ryan” and response boxes seeking your email and zip code, above the words, “Tell Me More.”

Minutes later, prominent, media-savvy Democrats all were talking, Tweeting, Facebooking and propagating five main “negative facts” about Cong. Ryan all over the U.S. Here in Ohio, long-time politician and Democratic State Representative Robert Hagan was part of the “Pile on Ryan” chorus.  Like Ryan, Hagan is of Irish descent.  He’s also Catholic. But neither commonality deterred him from following word-for-word the Democratic “attack on Ryan from the get-go” strategy. His very first Facebook post on Ryan, sharing a graphic from the Obama “Truth Team” Facebook page, began with these words: “Who could vote for something so radical?”

AP PHOTO:  M. Spencer Green

Over on the other side, at, just the opposite was happening. “Meet America’s Comeback Team,” screamed a headline next to the picture of Romney with Ryan.  The web site pitched contributions to the Republican National Committee, and also sought out opinions about the Republican Party platform.

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, reporting at the site of the Vice Presidential nominee announcement in Virginia, criticized it on the air, saying, “This is Not A Pick For Suburban Moms, Not A Pick For Women.”  Syndicated columnist and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer reacted in just the opposite manner. Interviewed live on Fox News just before the announcement, he said, I think they are vastly underestimating Ryan and also vastly underestimating…Ryan has that Reagan-like quality.” 

Republicans and Democrats, and their media allies, were all engaging in what’s know in mass communication studies as ts the agenda-setting effect. Something that’s been studied for nearly 50 years, agenda-setting is the result of the decision-making process in newsrooms all over the country. News director and editors make decisions about devoting time and space to competing newsworthy stories.

Two assumptions behind research on agenda-setting are:  The media do not reflect reality — instead, they filter and shape it; and media concentration on a few issues and subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than others.  In 1963, Bernard Cohen, writing in his book The Press and Foreign Policy, said, “The press may not be successful much of the time telling the people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”

What makes 2012 such a fascinating election year is that due to the meteoric rise of internet news and social media, combined with the continuing decline of readers and viewers in virtually all of the mainstream media, there will be countless research studies done to measure whether agenda-setting is less prevalent and less powerful than in past presidential elections.  One example: CNN now has fewer views than it has in 1991. Will influence wane as readers and viewers diminish?  We will see.

Framing – President and allies are hard at it.

Virtually every “Fact Checker” organization in the U.S. has lambasted the Priorities USA Super PAC attack ad that falsely links Mitt Romney to a woman who died of cancer. The woman’s husband had worked for a Bain Capital company, but she received health insurance from her own employer and hadn’t sought insurance coverage through her spouse.  She was also diagnosed several years AFTER Romney had already left Bain.  Those two facts were ignored, of coruse, in the attack ad.

President Obama’s re-election campaign and his allies are busily engaging themselves in a mass communication strategy known as framing, the general way the media treats a news topic. It’s pretty straight forward: if the media focuses on a negative ad, even a false one, that’s less time and attention that the media will devote to another topic – such as unemployment, the national debt, the budget deficit, health care mandates now taking effect, etc.

Nationally and locally, media consultants are decrying this ad and the practice of negative ads in general. Mary Anne Sharkey, former director of The Plain Dealer’s editorial pages and now a principle with Sharkey and Dirck consulting, posted a quote from a media interview on her Facebook page that reads, “I opined that they have lost all credibility and effectiveness with absurd, beyond the pale attacks.”

The real tragedy is that when campaigns engage in framing maneuvers of this nature, they deprive the voters of an opportunity to learn more facts about the candidates and their stand on the issues. There is a terrific opportunity for the MSM – mainstream media – to prove its worth in our society by providing in-depth coverage on genuine issues in the 2012 Presidential campaign.  There are huge differences between the two main candidates on many different issues. Yet here in Ohio, perhaps the No. 1 battleground state in the 2012 election, more than 80 percent of all of the television ads we’re seeing are of the negative, attack-the-other-candidate variety. Let’s hope directors, editors, and reporters in newsrooms in Ohio and across the country get past the negativism and do interpretative reporting that explains in detail what a Romney presidency or second Obama administration would mean to the average Jane and Joe in America.

The media truly needs to rise to this challenge, because Americans’ hope for the future is at its lowest point ever.  According to this week’s Rasmussen Poll, only 14 percent of Americans think today’s children will be better off than their parents. That survey alone should give plenty of opportunities for the mainstream media to write compelling stories, simply by seeking the answer to WHY Americans believe we’re heading downhill.

  *     *     *  

Kudos once more to the student journalists at my college! In late June the team did a superb job of covering President Obama when he spoke at Cuyahoga Community College.  Stay ready – if the Presidential election comes down to Ohio, there’s little doubt that the major candidates will be back in Cleveland, and you’ll have more opportunities to gain valuable reportorial experience.  To see how well these students did last month, click:

 *     *     * 

For the past three days I’ve been privileged to attend the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Conference in Chicago.  I belong to AEJMC and its Community College section, called CCJA.  Our section also collaborated with our friends in the Small Program Interest Group (SPIG) and Critical Cultural Studies (CCSJA) to present some terrific panels and workshops at the Conference in Chicago.  CCJA, under the leadership of Mount San Antonio Professor Toni Albertson, has revamped its web page and is firmly into 2012 with frequent Twitter feeds and updates.  Check them out here:

Here is the AEJMC web site:


Media violence begetting violence in our culture

July 26, 2012

As we bury the victims from the August 20 Colorado movie theater murders, ponder this: Have you heard about the guy who awakens to alarms coming from a branded smart phone? He showers using branded soap, shaves with branded shaving cream, eats a popular cereal for breakfast, and hears 150 radio advertisements while driving to work in his branded car. He sees about 1,000 internet ads a day, then drives to a nationally-franchised fast casual restaurant to have dinner with his wife and kids.

In his scant spare time, the guy sees about 500 Facebook “likes” a day for branded products and services. How much of an impact do you think this amount of branding and marketing will have on what he thinks? On HOW he thinks?

PUT-In-BAY: Flags at hall staff in memory of Aurora, Colorado, shooting victims.

Multiply that one man by 320 million, and you get a glimpse into the impact that advertising and branding are having on our national consciousness. It’s beyond dispute:  The cumulative effects of these bombardments are changing us in ever more frightening ways. Here are some examples:

Six of the top ten best-selling video games in 2011 are known as “first person shooter” role playing games.  The No. 1 video game in 2011 in sales was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. It earned $400 million in sales on the first day of its release, and netted more than $1 billion worldwide in 2011.

Of all the theatrical releases in Hollywood so far in 2012, 94 movies have earned an “R” rating from the MPAA. There have been as many “R” rated movies coming out this year as movies rated “PG” and “PG-13″ movies COMBINED. Movies rated “R” have earned 51% more revenues at the box office compared to 2011, with more than $1.5 billion in box offices tickets in the U.S. sold to patrons attending “R” rated movies already this year. In the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, Hollywood distributed an average of about 10 “G” rated movies per year.

A Ball State University 2009 study found that most Americans now spend at least 8.5 hours a day looking at a computer monitor, TV set, or mobile phone screen, frequently doing two or three at once.  The typical 25 to 34 year old is in front of a screen of some sort (TV, computer, other) at least 63 hours a week.  That same typical 25 to 34 year old is reading only 49 minutes a week If you do the math, it averages 3,780 minutes a week on screens versus just 49 minutes a week of reading

Speaking of television, research on violence and television by the Parents Television Council estimates that by the time an average child leaves elementary school, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence.  By the time that child is 18 years-of-age; he or she will witness 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders.  One 17-year longitudinal study concluded that teens who watched more than one hour of TV a day were almost FOUR TIMES as likely as other teens to commit aggressive acts in adulthood.

That’s correct. About 50 years ago, psychologists advocated the social learning theory. By showing young children televised violence and then watching their behavior afterwards, researchers learned then that children learn by what they watch. They become far more likely to imitate, and even initiate violent behavior when they watch violence on a TV or other screen.

Lt. Col. David Grossman, author of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, explains: “Violence is like the nicotine in cigarettes.  The reason why the media has to pump ever more violence into us is because we’ve built up a tolerance.  In order to get the same high, we need ever-higher levels.”

Add it all up: We’re now a society that is becoming more pervasively violent than ever before. Each medium is in a quest for profits, and if turning up the violence in television, movies and videos will result in more revenues, then it becomes the “right thing to do” in the eyes of executives and shareholders.

“Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle,” 93-year-old Rev. Billy Graham wrote recently.  He pointed out how Christian chaplains serving in the police department in a Southern city were ordered to no longer mention the name of Jesus. “Similar scenarios are now commonplace in towns across America. Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone—except God, “ Graham added.

“Yet the farther we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control.”

Rev. Graham is right. Somehow we need to hold Hollywood movie-makers, network and cable television executives, and those creating and developing our media to a higher standard. If violence become a common brand in all of our media, we’ll see more Chardon and Aurora, Colorado-type shootings in the years ahead.



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