House Cameras Should Have Full Rein, Democracy On Parade Good For Nation

Politicos had the week of their lives as the House of Representatives slogged through a 15-ballot process to determine a Speaker, an epic-sized drama with a cast of characters and plot twists that famed author Allen Drury (Advise and Consent series) would have had a hard time creating. It was an adrenaline rush, that once concluded very late Friday night, allowing for the nation of television watchers and social media followers to lean back deep in their sofas and truly exclaim “Wow!”

There was no way for even casual viewers or the most lackadaisical of citizens not to have been aware history was being made.  The nation soon was talking about the fact it had been nearly a century that a Speaker election at the Capitol required more than a single ballot.  Tension mounted so that reporters spoke openly and even somewhat thrillingly that no one knew how the events would play out.  This was after all, why they wished to join the journalism profession. Soon those in the land who thought they were not interested in history started talking about Nathaniel Prentice Banks, who in 1855 required 133 ballots over two months to secure the gavel. It was that type of week.

As the politics were playing out with spirited nominating speeches on the chaotic House floor, while the ratings for all news channels increased, Americans realized something truly quite fascinating was occurring in front of their eyes. Gone were the stale and formalized offerings from the C-SPAN cameras that only allowed for the House member speaking to be viewed, or the chair of the Speaker to be focused upon.  Rather there was a freewheeling display for the citizens to watch, as the cameras caught every angle of the story and made sure the main players and the supporting roles in the drama had plenty of air-time. On the first day, there was lonely George Santos, who got a break in his highly troubling running narrative due to a much larger headline overshadowing him. There were animated discussions where Matt Gaetz was the focal point for viewers. Friday night there was nearly a brawl that was captured by the cameras.  Though this was not legislative sausage being made, the nation was better understanding what was happening so as to elect the main meat grinder.

Congressman Mike Rogers was physically restrained by another member while going after Matt Gaetz Friday night.

Needless to say, there are news stories to be seen and told regarding the working coalitions of House members via the interactions on the floor.  Accounts that can only be presented fully to the nation if House cameras are allowed to record such moments. But all that was lost again once the House passed its rules and again abides by the most outdated and self-protecting rules in Washington.  (Other than at the Supreme Court.)

Brain Stelter, former anchor of CNN’s Reliable Sources is a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. He made a very compelling argument for the cameras to operate in an open and transparent fashion in a must-read column in the Boston Globe.

But consider what the public is usually unable to see: The joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, was not deemed deserving of independent TV coverage. So when the proceedings were adjourned due to the mob at the doors, the cameras were immediately turned off. Viewers should have been able to see the attack as it happened on the House floor — and the imagery would have made it harder for hard-right media personalities to deny the reality of that day.

But the desire to treat the House as a private workspace is superseded by the very public nature of the job. As a compromise of sorts, congressional leaders should allow a pool of journalists’ cameras for major news events and legislative debates — and the news media should determine what counts as major, not the government.

Sound journalism demands that the cameras operate for the benefit of the public’s right to know and better understand how their government functions. Or fails.  There really is no better or more sound argument to be made.  What politicos and everyone else were able to see and react to, be it with a partisan tinge, a historic perspective, or just from a ‘can not take my eyes off the crash scene’ mentality’ is that having more information is always a better route to take.

The fortunate lack of rules at the start of the year in the House allowed the cameras to give our nation insight into how a legislative body actually looks, feels, and reacts to the minute-by-minute tumult. It may not be pretty, but it is our government ‘working’. It is, for better or worse, democracy on full parade.

Judy Woodruff To Depart PBS’ NewsHour, Diversity And Generational Change in 2023

Judy Woodruff is soon to depart from the PBS NewsHour and another chapter in this decade’s long news show mainstay on public television will unfold.  It has been my pleasure to tune in Woodruff over the many years, first on CNN’s Inside Politics with cohost Bernie Shaw, a reporter I simply could never say enough good things about in his career. Woodruff proved repeatedly with interviews and her professional grinding down of a story to the essential ingredients why she was ideally suited for the NewsHour. I so respect her work and will miss her being a part of the ones we invited into our home via television.

Bernie Shaw

What the public knows now as the best one hour in broadcast news on television started when I was just a year away from entering my freshman year in high school.  In 1975, The Robert MacNeil Report, a week-night half-hour news program provided in-depth coverage of a different single issue each evening.  When I was a teenager dinner would be over in our Hancock home and the evening network news and the local news would have come to an end.   It would be 6:30 P.M. and time to change the channel (by walking to the set and manually turning the dial!) to Wisconsin Public Television for the half-hour program which devoted itself to one news story each night.  It might be the reason for a major jet crash or diving into the religious turmoil in the Middle East.  The show was informative and so well done with insight and professionalism.  And I learned so much.  It piqued my interest to want to know even more.  I suspect some of my wonkiness about details and policy was formed by this show and its reporters.

Now that iconic nightly news program has alerted us that Judy Woodruff will sign off from the anchor desk on Friday, December 30. And with equal interest, we want to know what follows. 

Taking Woodruff’s place at the anchor desk will be Amna Nawaz and Geoff Bennett. It goes without saying that this change is more than a new anchor and managing editor taking charge, but also a true generational shift and more diversity for a large tumultuous nation that is growing more multicultural. Bennett, 42, is Black and Nawaz, 43, is the first-generation American daughter of Pakistani parents.

Geoff Bennett and Amna Nawaz

The solid center of viewers to this program really demands continuity with a deep dive into hard news and serious analysis. The background of new anchors will add a fresh layer of understanding and questions about the topics of the day, and that is to be applauded.  We gain much by listening to others and having fresh perspectives.  It is reported that one change to the show which will begin at the top of the new year will be avenues opened to allow younger viewers to access the news in ways that mesh with their daily use of social media.  For decades-long viewers such as myself, we are promised to have the same journalistic professionalism that was the reason we started our journey with the program back when President Carter was in the White House.   

A Weekend Read Of History And News Reporters, Harold Holzer Delights (Again)

Looking for a weekend read that is timely, filled with history and press relations galore? Governing on the one hand is very important while understanding at the same time the absolute necessity of having a Fourth Estate as the ultimate “guarantor of freedom”.

President George Washington had the nation’s longest honeymoon in the White House, but with his second term the press, in part, turned their ink towards him in ways that stunned and scarred. He mostly stayed above the fray, above the articles, as opposed to how later presidents, who were even more thin-skinned would rebuke reporters and snarl on camera at them, such as with President Richard Nixon. “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

The press was rash and fresh in 1792 and just as the executive branch took root and gained power and federal reckoning over the decades, so too did the journalism profession mature and strengthen into what can only be correctly termed, as the British do, the Fourth Estate. I am finding the book perfect as I have a long and deep interest in the dual rise of the American presidency and the media that shaped it. As I am reading it I just know that Bill Safire, the wordsmith and media-oriented writer, would thrill to the book. There is no way not to feel drawn back into the time when Abraham Lincoln made use of the new “instant communication” technology of telegraphy. No way not to smile and read on and just warm to the narrative.

If you know Harold Holzer from his Abe Lincoln and Civil War books you are most aware of his keen intellect, a research knack that shows in his works, and a narrative style that draws a reader into the pages. I very much think for the history and media types who are readers of this page The Presidents vs. The Press will be a real delight.

Another Angry White Male And The Right-Wing Conspiracy Media

Once again we have a narrative that, sadly, fits the profile of so many others about angry white men. The lunatic who is fed continuously the fascist offerings from conservative media acts out, but then the ones who pour the gasoline through the airwaves pretend they had nothing to do with the dreadful outcome.

David DePape attacked Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. With a hammer. To the skull. Once again strong evidence exists of his personal history of online radicalization. DePape’s online postings included a range of false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, (shocked!) Jan. 6, (shocked) coronavirus vaccines, (shocked) the war in Ukraine (shocked), and QAnon. (shocked). Where or where would one find a daily…no, hourly…diet of these bat-shit crazy offerings in America? Hmmmmmm…..

A native of Canada, DePape was once a Green Party-registered public nudity activist in San Francisco but time shows that his dive into conservative conspiracy theories was where he thrived. He railed about pedophilia, elites, transgenders, and anti-whiteness. His blog contained bigotry against a wide range of groups and topics like “Holohoax.” WordPress, correctly, removed one of his sites Friday. (This blog also uses WordPress)

I am not sure what it will take to wake up the Republican Party to the dangers they are creating among their base and using right-wing media to spread the disease. The untenable attack on Pelosi is just the latest tragic and telltale sign of what is happening in the land due to the corrosive and thuggish people who listen to the rhetoric from conservative media. Sadly, we have, yet again, the outcome of a litany of absurd and ridiculous far-right looney conspiracy theories that took root in the mind of someone who believed it was time to act out on behalf of all who share his views.  The GOP must reckon with the fact that their embrace of lunacy does have consequences.  They can not pound over and over—year after year–false narratives about the 2020 election and vaccines and rants about transgender people and the insanity of the ‘white replacement theory’ and fail to understand that is does inevitably incite violence.

I have been consistent and continuous about the need to consider the grave dangers our democracy faces, as it slides towards embracing autocracy and fascism. The rhetoric and programming from AM talk radio to FOX News are aimed at white males, and stirring their resentments about a growing list is the goal. Stoking the fears of the undereducated and lower economic strata is proving to be a violent and dangerous path for the nation.

The Republican Party needs to turn off its self-created madness.

Joseph Lindsley Is Modern-Day Edward R. Murrow, Listen To Ukraine Reporting From”Edge Of The Free World”

“Not even for a second could I imagine abandoning the country in that moment, especially as a journalist,” Joe Lindsley said.

If you know of my deep respect for the wartime reporting of Edward R. Murrow on the radio it will be clear that I do not place the headline on this post lightly. Having first listened to the recordings as a teenager of Murrow painting epic-sized images over the airwaves of the carnage and fear from WWII, and then over the past decades as I studied various aspects of history allows me to properly conclude that Joseph Lindsley now walks in Murrow’s shoes.  If you know of and listen to the Ukraine-based reporter you already likely agree with my assessment.  If you are not aware of Lindsley’s work, please continue reading.

The reason I write today is due to Lindsley’s latest on-air coverage provided this morning on WGN radio’s Bob Sirott morning show. Listen to it here. The obvious nerves and stress and fast pacing of his words and details are a stark reminder of the work that today placed him in the heart of the battle.  The bombed and shelled buildings which are rubble around him and the warnings that are given about when to stay indoors are underscored by his descriptions from “the edge of the free world”.  Safety in Ukraine is termed by this reporter as “Russian roulette, if it hits your building it hits your building”.

Like most people who were born after WWII, it is hard to truly understand the fear and uncertainty that was engendered from that international calamity, or the way radio news announcers like Charles Collingwood, Bill Shirer, and of course, Edward Murrow reported the grit and hardness of scenes in Europe as Germany destroyed the social fabric. Many of us likely recall the scenes from the television show The Waltons, sitting around the living room radio hearing about Hitler’s military might and the rise of Nazism. Their dread and powerlessness were best registered on the face of Grandma. But that same sense of over-powering emotions has come through the radio over the past six months as Lindsley gives his accounts of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Listening to Edward Murrow’s recordings at least 25 years after they were reported from Europe while enjoying my larger bedroom back home after my brother left home, further confirmed why radio enthralled me. Now many a weekday morning as I listen to Lindsley from Ukraine on WGN I find that same intimacy with the medium to be again as strong as I know it was for the listeners around the world who heard Murrow from London.

Journalists and reporters are the reason our democracy thrives.  That has long been a point made on this blog. But their professional role in providing a world with news and facts on a daily basis, as Lindsley does, requires we honor and salute their intrepid efforts.

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.

Donald Trump Refused To Condemn Putin In Fox News Interview–Ronald Reagan Would Not Recognize Today’s GOP

During a call-in interview on Fox News Wednesday night, Donald Trump would not condemn Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. Simply disgusting and morally vacuous. This is just the latest example of the fusion between Putin’s backside and Trump’s face.

Sean Hannity simply asked Trump “If the Russian attacks on Ukraine amount to evil in our time?”. What followed was a most tortured, absurd, illogical, and bone-headed response. Take a look at this transcript of the interview if you can bear to do it. It is seriously painful.

“Morning in America,” was the theme of the Republican Party under the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Today conservatives wallow with Trump in their muddy twilight while too many of them have no sense of history, facts, or sadly, even common sense. Proof of that is the lack of Trump’s fellow Republicans who will not respond today because they don’t want to antagonize his angry white male constituency.

But, then, this is also the same party where more sitting GOP congressmen voted not to certify the 2020 election than those who voted for a resolution to support NATO.

On Morning Joe, the panel weighed into Trump’s “grotesque” behavior last night. It is worthy of a listen.

And so it goes.