Why Journalism And Anonymous Sources Matter, Supreme Court’s Draft On Roe V. Wade Makes Point

We are told by some partisans that news sources are to be distrusted, reporters are not integral to democracy, and that there are even ‘alternative facts’.

Late Monday evening, all those lines fell faster than Russians on the Ukraine battlefield.

It was reported by Politico the Supreme Court has voted to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, according to an initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito.

The ramifications of this story are enormous. Not only for health care rights for women, but also for privacy being understood, for decades, as an unenumerated right. Privacy has been a foundation for several large court decisions from the right to use contraception, to engage in private consensual sexual activity, and to marry someone of the same sex.

Make no mistake about how the legal weight of this abortion ruling could move the court going forward.

While all these issues and many more will be debated at length starting with Tuesday morning coffee in homes around the nation, I wish to give credit to the journalism profession, and specifically two reporters.

Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward.

We all should be proud of how they did their job with this story.

It needs to be noted that these journalists not only reported the story but also gave the full rounded coverage by writing that “it’s unclear if there have been subsequent changes to the draft” since February. They were not aiming for going beyond the fact the draft is a product from February.

They also fully grasped the gravity of the story surely being one of the newsroom’s biggest scoops and surely the biggest headline of their lives. They wrote that “No draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending.”

The news about the court draft was able to be reported by the reporters due to the role of an anonymous source. It is these sources who are vital to a fuller understanding of what our government does and journalists are doing their job by then reporting on the information once it is firmly understood to have validity.

I understand that most people are not sitting around their living rooms contemplating anonymous sources. I can imagine how conservative media will be apoplectic today and feverishly disdainful of this news story, and how it was obtained.

To those who do not understand the role of anonymous sources, I have one name to add to this post.

Mark Felt.

It is absolutely true to say that had Felt not been an anonymous source there very well would not have been a Watergate story as we have come to know. It was “Deep Throat’ who alerted Bob Woodward in those parking garage conversations that presidential abuse was running rampant in the Nixon White House.

The pursuit of news, facts…the truth… is what reporters do. And anonymous sources are very much a way to allow the public to know what their government is doing.

And so it goes.

Sean Hannity, Fox News, Tarnishes Actual Reporters And News Operations

I was not surprised by the news that landed this morning concerning Sean Hannity and Fox News, but it was dismaying. While the politics of the story is concerning in relation to the 2020 election, the underlying theme of a major news operation linked at the hip with the Republican Party is most worthy of more public attention.

The central story concerns CNN obtaining 2,319 text messages that Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows sent and received between Election Day 2020 and President Joe Biden’s  January 20, 2021, inauguration. Meadows selectively provided these messages to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Among the trove of texts are more than 80 from Fox’s Sean Hannity.

Hannity spews and hates in equal measure in the text messages, which is his true character, as we know from his on-air broadcasts to these now-public texts. He writes that “Biden is a semi conscious corpse”, uses Michael Corleone as a reference point, and clearly demonstrates how he is as much a partisan huckster as a blow-haired bloviator during his evening program.

“Also if this doesn’t end the way we want, you me and Jay are doing 3 things together. 1- Directing legal strategies vs Biden 2- NC Real estate 3- Other business I talked to Rudy.”

The fact that Hannity both blatantly gives advice on White House politics and strategy and asks for direction and guidance so clearly obliterates the lines between Fox News, his show, and the Trump White House that it leaves a citizen almost breathless.

The sole purpose of Fox News is not in doubt. News has always been an alleged function of the network. It is an active echo chamber in the media for all things Republican and conservative. The undermining of facts and any sense of journalistic responsibility for the presentation of actual news and holding to journalism standards is the last concern of Fox News. It is also about their partisan interests.

Which then undermines the rest of the news world which does strive to do the job of journalism.

History-minded readers might recall the name Philip Freneau. When Thomas Jefferson became so piqued with Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists he turned to Freneau to form a newspaper that would publish views of the opposition. The National Gazette was not unlike most of the papers of the time—and there were scores of them–in that the content was abrasive and politically toxic.

So the idea of amassing resources and creating a ‘news source’ has long been a feature of our nation. But over the centuries the standards for journalism have evolved, and we better understand the vital necessity in a democracy created of an informed electorate. Fox News has turned back the calendar to the days of Freneau. And that does not serve the best interests of the nation.

While Hannity is–well, what he is–it does need noting that there must be an ethical aspect to the role he plays at Fox News. While no one would term him a journalist, he still has an ethical obligation to not participate in the issues he rants about. Even Hannity should be able to understand that point.

Admittedly, I come from the ‘old school’ where it was not acceptable or professional for a news organization, or any of their faces or voices as the case may be, to actively engage with the newsmakers and especially with politicos to alter the page of history that is being written. Such behavior would be blatantly unethical. (This very reason is why Chris Cuomo needed to be jettisoned from CNN.)

Such behavior from Hannity and others of his stripe has sadly added to the public mistrust and lack of regard for the actual news reporters and ethically bound journalists who do strive to maintain standards. The latter are the majority among the media, but of course, it is the ones who break the bonds of trust with the public who gets the headlines.

And so it goes.

Gun Madness In America, The Way We Must See It

It was Tuesday in America, so of course, there was going to be gun violence. Like on Monday, Wednesday, and every other day of the week. As such the bizarre behavior from a mentally unstable and angry person who was still able to purchase a deadly gun and plenty of ammo are par for the course. We read and see the outcomes of such shootings every day.

But Tuesday something was different.

What caught my attention was how most of the media brought the information to the public. Newsrooms made the decision to show the true horror of gun violence. Though faces were blurred in pictures the blood ran red and loud for everyone to see. The bodies on the ground were in pain, and the tourniquets were a sign of the medical emergencies at hand. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal placed the photo below on their front page coverage today of the shooting. (I applaud that newsroom judgment.)

Injured people are seen in the subway station on Tuesday, photo from Armen Armenian

At least 29 people were injured, including ten people shot, when the attacker donning a gas mask deployed a gas canister on a subway train and started shooting. Miraculously no one sustained life-threatening injuries. Today Frank James, 62, the prime suspect in the rampage was arrested.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the dastardly crimes being committed through orders from President Putin’s generals, have placed the most horrific and troubling images on news programming 24/7. So perhaps newsrooms just felt the level of violence that played out in Brooklyn was not so much different from what we have already been seeing over the past weeks.

But I trust there was more to it than an acceptable level of what the public can handle. I trust there was an awareness in newsrooms of being franker about what is actually occurring many times each day when guns are fired at other people in this nation.

This is what it looks like, and the public need to see images like this to allow them a better understanding of the news about gun violence which happens daily.

Injured people on the platform of the 36th Street subway station Tuesday. This photo was taken by photojournalist Derek French.

The graphic images of gun violence through the powerful lens of photo-journalism simply must be used far more often in our nation. To read about shootings is one thing but to see the blood and wincing of faces in pain is another. The consequences of pervasive gun violence should be used in news reporting as it is very much a part of the whole story.

Not for the first time do I use this blog to give voice to the frustration among a wide segment of our nation about the deadly and violent role guns currently have in our society. I deplore the all-too-often frequent glorification in the media of guns, especially through movies. I reject, of course, the twisted narrative about gun ownership being an ‘American value’, or that it is cemented in the Second Amendment. I abhor the NRA.

So it is vital that the real impact of guns get front-page coverage, with the gore and blood from news photos for all to see.

After all, it was Tuesday in America.

And so it goes.

Tribute To Benjamin Hall

When people talk about intrepid reporters, the need for news to be gathered and disseminated to the public, and the risks reporters take to do that job, Benjamin Hall can be said to epitomize the best in journalism.

The Fox News reporter posted on Twitter Thursday his condition following a massive injury while covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

To sum it up, I’ve lost half a leg on one side and a foot on the other. One hand is being put together, one eye is no longer working, and my hearing is pretty blown… but all in all I feel pretty damn lucky to be here – and it is the people who got me here who are amazing!

The loss of journalists in Ukraine is truly heart-aching. Hall was wounded in March near Kyiv during an attack that killed Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and local freelance producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova.

Too many people mock reporters, news operations, and even work to undermine the concept of a free press in our country. Hall demonstrates, along with Zakrzewski and Kuvshynova, how tenacious and determined reporters do their job, even in the face of dangers and possible death.

When I think about what constitutes heroism…..well, it looks like this.

And so it goes.

Many Wisconsin Newspapers Homogenized, Journalism Suffers

One of the upsides with layovers when flying is stopping at the business in the airport which always sells newspapers and candy. It is of interest to note what lands above the fold in various locales as it gives an insight into what local news operations understand to be pressing news, or what concerns local readers.

But with the downsizing of newspapers and the desire by some owners to place profits above the call for serious journalism and information, there is a truly sad outcome taking place for this profession. And for the readers.

Wisconsin is not immune from the problem.

Take a look at six newspapers from Wednesday, April 6, 2021, published in central and Northeastern portions of Wisconsin. You can click on images to make them bigger, but it does not make them better.

The above newspapers are owned by either USA Today Network or Gannett. That combination owns more than 100 newspaper and digital properties across the United States. If you think the front pages of the newspapers are repetitive you can be assured the same is true for their digital side, too.

What is equally sad is the skeletal OP-Ed pages that have long been a place for community dialogue and strong editorials from the newspaper. When local voices are not given space to opine means that only the ones with a larger platform or microphone are heard.

While investors in the companies that buy up newspapers reap financial rewards the newspaper industry suffers. What constitutes local news and the neighborhood feel and tone of small-market papers shrinks as fewer reporters are employed and too few inches for local news are provided. Cookie-cutter operations, as seen from the examples above, can far too easily spread across a state.

I would strongly argue that such undercutting of newspapers weakens our democracy. Keeping local officials in check with diligent journalism, allowing for the local voters to know what is happening at the school board or county level, and investigating concerns that are at times, not a visual story for television all are reasons we should have robust newspapers.

I would argue that traditional news sources, where facts and standards are applied to the profession, are needed more than ever. Social media, where too many inaccurate and misleading stories abound, requires an antidote. And when it comes to local news there is an absolute need for more coverage and higher standards.

What we are witnessing in too many communities with hollowed-out newspapers is really sad. Is it any wonder there are fewer newspaper readers?

And so it goes.

Ginni Thomas Proves No Limit To Absurdity

Never think things can not be worse. More absurd. More delusional.

They most certainly can be far direr than we can imagine.

Enter Ginni Thomas.

Famed journalist Bob Woodward–a reporter I have admired since my teenage years–along with powerhouse Robert Costa made for lots of late-night reading Thursday. It was after midnight when James started to read me some news coverage from The New Yorker, but I stopped him to ask if this was a parody from Andy Borowitz. He assured me it certainly was not.

Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in a series of urgent text exchanges in the critical weeks after the vote, according to copies of the messages obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.

The messages — 29 in all — reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.

On Nov. 10, after news organizations had projected Joe Biden the winner based on state vote totals, Thomas wrote to Meadows: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

Part of me wants to snicker at the best schooled and ‘brightest’ conservative minds in the nation wallowing in the slimy pits of voter conspiracy theories. After all, Ginni and Clarence Thomas willingly walked down a very slanted floor and surely now think it is the rest of us who are naive for not using the hose to slide the rest of the way down the drain with them.

The collision of logic and preposterousness can not be played out in more stark terms than to read the emails of Ginni Thomas. Leave aside, for the moment her lack of regard for the Constitution or laws of the nation.

Consider the fact there is no darker or more sinister aspect to this seemingly Shakespearean tragedy that is the life of Donald Trump, than the news from the past 24 hours. It is irrational to read of Thomas, a person who entered Trump’s orbit and trashed herself for someone who would spit on her should she but deviate one iota against him. Thomas is as expendable as everyone one else in Trump’s infantile world. That she was not able to discern this truth paints her as being addle-minded.

When it comes to craven ambitions and low standards of behavior Ginni Thomas has recorded a new record. Considering I truly felt we had seen and heard just about everything possible when it came to the 2020 election this news story did make me aware there is always a new basement being dug.

We just need time to learn which conservative Republican is holding the shovel.

We should be angry and demand full accountability for this dangerous and unreasonable behavior from Ginni and Clarence Thomas. In the newsrooms, one thing is not in doubt. This story was legs.

Promoting sedition and undermining a presidential election is not probably what Ginni’s parents wished for her as a legacy. But they probably did not imagine she would cozy up to a man who would be accused of a violation of the Code of Conduct while sitting on the Supreme Court, either.

And so it goes.

Fond Memory…CBS News’ George Herman

While reading today I came across a name too many young people do not know, and folks my age have long forgotten. But when George Herman was written about in David Brinkley’s Cronkite a genuine smile came over my face. (I am glad to have a space like this blog to highlight this newsman.)

Our home did not have a television until I was in the 6th grade, but one of the first faces I came to know each weekend was a rather serious sounding and low-key newsman who had the most important people in the nation stop by for a conversation. (Who would not want a job like that?) It did not take me long to get hooked on George Herman and CBS’ Face The Nation.

The sound of his broadcasting voice stood out to me. I just liked how he sounded. Having grown up with radio the voices of news reporters either connected or not, and the favorable ones I never forgot. In later years I would come to better understand it was the modulation of Herman’s even pacing when talking that connected with me. Today, I would phrase his television presence as unflappable, a solid journalist on air.

Here is what I mean, from a snippet of Herman from CBS. Herman died February 8, 2005, at age 85.

Local Newspapers Vs. Hedge Funds, Damaging Democracy

As a lifelong reader of newspapers, (starting as a boy with the Stevens Point Journal which came to our home via the mail) and with a firm understanding that reporters and journalism are a foundation of democracy comes this story from Sunday’s 60 Minutes.

I have been posting for years about the woes of the newspaper industry in the digital media age. I have written about the revenue from the industry being cut in half between 2008 and 2018 because of a ruinous decline in print advertising. And to the gut of the matter that means during that same time frame newsroom employment declined 25%. (Pew Research)

We are in fact going to suffer tremendously for the loss of accountability that the papers provide to insure our government has journalistic oversight, a loss of a daily record of events that makes for historical documentation, and a sense of commonality that allows us to have some overall reference point as a nation.

I say this because daily morning newspapers that ferret out corruption and investigate issues untouchable to the average citizen is an essential component for how we are made aware of the world.

Sunday evening this overall story was all brought home to the nation with a segment on the nation’s longest-running newsmagazine type television show.

Newspaper industry in state of decline: not exactly a stop-the-presses headline. For two decades now — owing largely to the loss of advertising revenue to Facebook and Google — fewer and fewer Americans get their news, comics and sports from all those gazettes and tribunes and journals. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s an additional threat: hedge funds and other financial firms that now own nearly a third of the daily papers in America.

And these new owners are often committed not to headlines and deadlines, but to bottom lines. One fund, in particular, has been called by some in the industry a “vulture,” bleeding newspapers dry. It all prompts the question: as local newsrooms and local news coverage shrivel up, to what extent does democracy shrink with it?

Behind the marching band and baton twirlers, at the annual 4th of July parade in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, you’ll find a one-man band: reporter Evan Brandt, snapping photos, taking notes, and gathering quotes.

For the last 24 years, he’s chronicled this community of 23,000 for the local newspaper, the Mercury, which at one time had dozens of reporters. Now, Brandt is literally the last reporter standing in Pottstown.