Journalistic Faves On The Move

Two of the solid class of what I term intrepid reporters are on the move. Both men are also what I know to be essential reads as they have the pulse of the political world and a growing institutional knowledge of the governing world they cover. They each are landing in solid journalistic territory–just as from where they came. The Washington Post has lost two heavyweights.

Robert Costa, the high-profile political reporter, is leaving his longtime home at The Washington Post to become a full-time television journalist at CBS News, where he will serve as the network’s chief election and campaign correspondent.

The move, announced on Thursday, is notable as much for Mr. Costa’s stature as a sought-after chronicler of national politics as it is for his decision to depart one of the more prominent roles in print journalism. Mr. Costa, 36, gained attention for his congressional coverage at the right-leaning National Review magazine before joining The Post in 2014.

He is also the second well-known correspondent to exit The Post in recent days. David Fahrenthold, a 21-year veteran of the paper and a Pulitzer Prize winner for his investigations into the Trump family’s charitable donations, joined The New York Times this month.

Fox ‘News’ Nothing More Than Extension of Right-Wing Republican Party

Apart from Fox ‘News’ not really being a news network with actual journalistic standards or that a large segment of the aging white men of the nation turn into the network as it confirms their biases about our diversifying society, comes the latest evidence that demonstrates the network is nothing more than a political arm of the Republican Party. The right-wing of the once GOP.

I know my readers are shocked. “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”

But apart from the obvious understanding that FOX is nothing more than a partisan operation comes the additional weight as to how the most illogical, and way outside the ballpark thinking from some of the hosts on that network, had access to the most important officeholder in the world.

Stephanie Grisham, former press secretary to Donald Trump, remembers the challenges that came from so many Fox News hosts having the direct number to reach Trump in the White House residence.

“There were times the president would come down the next morning and say, ‘Well, Sean thinks we should do this,’ or, ‘Judge Jeanine thinks we should do this,’ ” said Grisham, referring to Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, both of whom host prime-time Fox News shows.

Grisham said West Wing staffers would simply roll their eyes in frustration as they scrambled to respond to the influence of the network’s hosts, who weighed in on everything from personnel to messaging strategy.

Can you imagine Dwight Eisenhower or Harry Truman taking such calls or allowing truly deranged personalities to think, even for the length of a phone conversation, that they had any input or pull within the power structure of the White House?

I admit to being ‘old-school’ about the standards reporters and news operations should employ. And I have been over the many years a critic of the citizenry when it comes to their news consumption capabilities. We know that the Founders desired a nation of educated and informed citizens, knowing such a base was essential for the very survival of a democracy.

History shows that around 90% of whites in colonial America were literate by the early 18th century. We also know there was a bevy of newspapers and pamphlets that were not only published but widely read.

Consider the following and frame it within the context of white men now slumped back into the sofa watching a continuous conservative loop of misinformation on Fox News. When they might have last read a book goes back to the year they graduated from high school.

In 1791, Madison remarked that Congress had an obligation to improve the “circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people”. He helped champion the Post Office Act of 1792. The act included a provision for the delivery of newspapers by the Post Office at extremely low rates for delivery of newspapers. For the century following the passage of the Post Office Act, newspapers often accounted for more than 95% of the weight of mail transported by the post office, but never made up for more than 15% of the revenue. The result of this large indirect subsidy of the fledgling industry was enormous. In 1790, before the passage of the act there was less than one newspaper produced for every 5 citizens. By 1840 there were almost three papers printed per person.

Too many Americans in the 21st century gave up reading a newspaper and slipped further into intellectual decay by believing Fox is a newsgathering operation. It is not. Real reporters and journalists have been replaced by echo chambers of far-right lingo that further prove Fox is not in any way a legitimate news-gathering and reporting operation. The only purpose of the network over the past six years is to play to the absurdities of the Donald Trump base.

News reports over the past few weeks show the tight bonds and familiarity between Fox News hosts and the Trump White House. The fact that Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham were even texting White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows while violent and vile insurrectionists were storming our national Capitol underscores the ease and accessible nature of such communications between Fox and the White House. That line of reporting adds further gravity to the news coverage of how much influence Fox had, and used.

And so it goes.

Defending Reporters In Hong Kong

The right of reporters to do their job and the fundamental importance of the work they do are guiding principles of Caffeinated Politics. It is not enough for anyone to pick up the newspaper off the front steps of their home and think they are doing enough to promote the work of journalists. We all need to be mindful that the trend of intimidation against journalists is gaining steam.

Today that fact is reported from Hong Kong.

Citizen News, a small online news site in Hong Kong known for its in-depth coverage of courts and local politics, said it would stop publishing on Monday night, deepening concerns about the collapse of the city’s once-robust media.

Just days earlier, another independent online media outlet, Stand News, closed after hundreds of police raided its offices and arrested seven people. Two former senior editors at Stand News and the publication itself were charged with conspiracy to publish seditious materials.

The latest closures are the final chapters in the demise of independent media in Hong Kong, a city that once had some of the freest and most aggressive news media in Asia. Now, as Beijing continues a sweeping crackdown on the city, the journalists who once covered the city’s protests and politics are increasingly either under arrest or out of work, without anywhere to publish.

“What’s happening is not just another closure of a media outlet,” said Lokman Tsui, a former journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This is part of a larger project by the government of dismantling all critical media, of all independent media in Hong Kong.”

Let us be clear about what is at stake. The reporters and press in Hong Kong are able to help maintain the city’s endowed civil liberties, including rule of law and free speech. That is in very sharp contrast to China’s tightly controlled press and lack of open and accessible reporting and distribution of information to the citizenry. 

That fight has been a losing one over the past year, but that does not mean the international resolve should cease at pressing China on their totalitarian actions and dismal record on press freedom.

And so it goes.

Pat Cassidy Steps Away From Chicago Radio Microphone

When I was a youngster my brother had a yellow car that at times we would drive to one of the local towns for this or that errand. I recall the car radio was tuned to WMAQ from Chicago and country music would play over the speakers. But what most caught my attention was the voice of a broadcaster who would often be behind the microphone.

Pat Cassidy.

Over my life, there have been certain voices from broadcasters that resonated and impressed me so much that there is a vocal recall that can be quickly brought to mind when thinking of them. Orion Samuelson, Earl Nightingale, the legendary Paul Harvey, and my personal favorite as a teenager, “Chicago Ed” Eddie Schwartz.

The perfect tonal quality of Pat Cassidy stayed for many years at the NBC powerhouse in Chicago, until it was sold. WMAQ (AM 670) was the oldest station in the city, and I would argue simply iconic. In 1922, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover created the station’s call letters to WMAQ. The calls originally had no meaning, but went on to form the motto: We Must Ask Questions.

WMAQ.

The ‘voice’ then moved to WBBM (AM 780), the famed all-news radio station from Chicago. My dad would listen to that station while mom shopped in Steven Point stores. It does amuse me how the touchstones of my life often are the radio stations and broadcasters who made such fond memories.

Cassidy not only worked at WBBM for 21 years as part of the morning team but he was a driving force that allowed the time slot to reign in the ratings. He was akin to a rock star of the radio world.

The broadcaster ended his career at the end of 2021 and noted that “On January first I’ll hold a private ceremony to destroy my alarm clock!

Pat Cassidy is part of a long list of Chicago broadcasters and famed announcers who impacted my life such as Wally Phillips, a professional I so admired and respected, and when a young man wanted to emulate. There is also on the list Bob Collins, Spike O’DellMilt Rosenberg, Steve and Johnnie, and Roy Leonard. These were heavy-hitters that drove the ratings.

So much in radio has changed over the years. Walking into a broadcast studio today is a far cry from WDOR, where I worked in Sturgeon Bay.  The age of digital broadcasting has taken over.  And I know that is progress.  But I also know there is something missing.   No more albums and turntables.  No more cart machines that might eat the tape.  No more splicing reel-to-reel tape.  Granted things are easier and faster with the modern conveniences of better equipment. But still…

Here is a photo of how I looked in those heady days of radio broadcasting at ‘The Big 94-FM’ in the 1980s. ‘Let’s get to that live remote and help open the new supermarket!’

We can be heartened with our memories of the many radio friends we felt so comfortable with that we continually invited them into our homes and cars. Early in the morning or late a night they were our sources of news and entertainment.

With the end of Pat Cassidy’s career, we now have one more voice that will be heard only in our fond recollections.

Caffeinated Politics wishes Pat a memorable retirement. But do broadcasters ever really stop doing what they love? There is always an outlet called podcasting….just saying!

And so it goes.

Denny Hamlin Cursed, With ‘F’ Word, On NBC Sports Sunday

The use, and misuse, of our public airwaves is a many decades interest of mine. Simply put I believe in standards of good taste. Such a bottom line is not political or old-fashioned. It is not about censorship. It is simply about a firm belief in what should be regarded as an accepted way of behaving in polite society.

I seek that in my everyday conversations and absolutely expect it when listening to programming from our public airwaves. I suspect many others desire the same thing.

Until today I was not even aware there was a Denny Hamlin who races cars for a profession. I wish I could forget him, and what he said on national television. Other than his cursing he does seem utterly forgettable.

With the DVR set to record local news Sunday evening on NBC, and with the sports program running long, meant I heard Hamlin using his fourth-grade mouth to answer questions from a sports reporter. There was apparently some dust-up with another driver that prevented Hamlin from bringing his adult side to the interview.

So Hamlin first called another competitor a “hack” and from there cursed twice with the final verbal assault being the ‘F’ word. With pure red-neck eliding, though I am certain Hamlin is not aware of the term, he even left the ‘g’ off so as to better connect with his base of fans.

Hamlin cursing on national television was a pathetic moment. If one cannot converse in appropriate ways with an interviewer perhaps getting a tutor in language skills would be a place for him to focus this week. Between his giving the finger to another driver, and then his lack of a broader vocabulary so as to express himself, it is clear Hamlin’s lack of driving skills is not all that limits his upward reach.

And so it goes.

Madison TV Sports Report Receives Fair Criticism For Racial Symbol Used Twice

This blog often comments on the media, both to praise and also to offer words for needed improvements. It is that last point which a reader made an effort in conveying with the following comment sent to Madison’s Channel 15, WMTV. He also sent his concerns to me, knowing that it would register here.

I am outraged!  I watched the CW news at 9 and couldn’t believe when the sports anchor reported the Brewers’ score and there was the caricature of Chief Wahoo representing Cleveland on the screen!  So I watched at 10 and the same damn thing!  The team retired this graphic as the racist, demeaning symbol it is years ago.  And yet WMTV uses it twice!  

Welcome to 2021!  

WMTV should apologize on all of your broadcasts tomorrow.  That graphic should be retired from your library.  By the way, I’m not suggesting we erase Chief Wahoo from our history.  We need to learn how things, ignorantly can perpetuate stereotypes.  But you don’t put them on a damn newscast!

For whatever it is worth, WMTV has one of their top anchors, John Stofflet, in a promo closing his laptop, loosening his tie, and talking about how their news team only gives the facts, and not opinions. But after this troubling news from a viewer one has to ask if racist symbols, intentionally or by sloppiness, are to be condoned?

Why Most Americans Did Not Know Of Problems In Afghanistan

The assessment of what happened in Afghanistan over the past year, and how that translates into the chaos at the Kabul airport or the headlines being reported hourly is most worthy of our attention. There is no way to watch the bedlam and misery being unleashed following the Taliban takeover and not wonder what was missed leading up to the past weeks? Americans are asking how could the White House and Defense Department not have responded ‘more appropriately’?

The images from Afghanistan are gripping, the many questions have merit, and they absolutely require detailed responses. Some of those issues will start to be examined with Capitol Hill committee hearings this coming week.

But it also must be asked of the American public, “Where were you during the past 15 months when this removal process was being crafted by the Donald Trump Administration?” That is not a partisan jab, but rather a pointed reminder that the role of a citizen of this nation must include staying current with the affairs of the country.

While I understand the nation grew, rightly so, weary of a two-decade-long war it also needs stating the end of the American footprint in that war should have elicited more than a passing glance at how its conclusion was going to proceed.

The brunt of my question does not land solely on the average American sitting on their sofa, but in equal measure to the main television networks which did a most miserable job of reporting what the Trump White House was proposing for the military withdrawal. Additionally, the public needed to have been aware of the snail pacing of the application process so as to move certain Afghan citizens (and their families) out of that nation for their safety.

International publications such as The Economist were constant and probing with their reporting on Afghanistan, the BBC without doubt ‘on top’ of each development, and monthly offerings such as Foreign Policy examining in-depth the options and policy proposals in that nation. BUT the majority of the nation receives their news from network evening broadcasts.

The networks, however, proved to be simply embarrassing with their coverage of this international story.

Out of a combined 14,000-plus minutes of the national evening news broadcast on CBS, ABC, and NBC last year, a grand total of five minutes were devoted to Afghanistan, according to Andrew Tyndall, editor of the authoritative Tyndall Report, which has monitored and coded the networks’ nightly news each weekday since 1988. 

Those five minutes, which covered the February 2020 Doha agreement between the United States and the Taliban, marked a 19-year low for Afghanistan coverage on the three networks’ newscasts. They compared to a high of 940 minutes the networks devoted to Afghanistan in 2001, all of it following 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. intervention, as shown below.

While the pathetic amount of coverage of the conflict last year can be partially explained by the virtually total dominance of the news agenda by the COVID-19 pandemic, the three networks devoted a total of only 362 minutes to Afghanistan in the preceding five years, or just two hours of coverage per network, or an average of only 24 minutes per network per year.

My pointing out this lapse in reporting from the networks does not absolve the responsibility of a citizen to stay informed. PBS News Hour is a weeknight offering and is thoroughly substantive concerning events of the day. Not seeking such news reporting can only be placed upon the individual.

Many Americans now weighing into the ‘whys’ and ‘what-ifs’ regarding events in Afghanistan are doing so mostly blind. That will result in stilted hearings, with certain politicians playing to the under-informed base. That is not the way to make for a true and complete analysis of the events leading up to the headlines of the recent past.

This is just one more example as to why an informed citizenry is a must for a working, competent republic.

And so it goes.

Vicki McKenna And Maxine Waters

This has been a week where lessons have been demonstrated as to why self-regulating First Amendment rights are necessary. In this politically fraught nation, the lessons came from both ends of the spectrum. In each case, a poor decision was made. Whereas, neither Vicki McKenna nor Maxine Waters would ever think they had anything in common, after this week they can no longer make such a claim.

At the start of the week, we heard about Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a Democrat who represents southern Los Angeles, making comments to protesters in Brooklyn Center as the jury was about to hear closing statements in the highly charged murder trial for Derek Chauvin.

“I hope we get a verdict that says guilty, guilty, guilty,” Rep. Waters said. “And if we don’t, we cannot go away. We’ve got to stay on the street. We get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”

There is more than ample evidence to prove that police reform in this nation is required and that Black Americans have received a disproportionate share of the abuses from unprofessional officers. But Waters is an elected official who took an oath to uphold our laws and support our democratic institutions, such as the judiciary. The jury process is central to the framework of that system. To make inflammatory statements at that moment of national tension and to in any way aim the comments at a jury for a specific outcome is not acceptable.

Period.

This week Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson was interviewed on Vicki McKenna’s radio show. True to form, Johnson, aimed the conversation for the most ridiculous in the listening audience.

Johnson stated he sees “no reason to be pushing vaccines on people,” arguing their distribution should be “limited” to those most vulnerable to coronavirus, and asking, “if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?”

I heard the interview online–certainly not as a listener to conservative talk radio–and was taken aback when McKenna did not interrupt Johnson and explain “herd immunity” is necessary to end the COVID-19 pandemic, As such, it is absolutely necessary that higher numbers of people get vaccinated. Such vaccinations are not to be determined if one does, or not, consider themselves “vulnerable.” 

One can make a most compelling argument about the low level of intelligence that is housed inside of Ron Johnson. While Vicki McKenna is a harsh conservative I think she is intelligent but knows how to make money by pedaling her rhetoric for conservatives.

McKenna made a huge mistake by not interjecting facts and needed direction for her listeners, which polls and data prove are the ones most susceptible to being fearful and leery of getting the vaccine. In not using her smokey voice–as a former broadcaster my sense is her voice has been roughened from tobacco–she misused the First Amendment by allowing false and dangerous words from Johnson to go unchallenged.

Period.

This week two separate stories, and two politically divergent women, have proved why it is important to know how to use the freedom of the First Amendment when speaking to the public. Judgment is essential when we express ourselves. McKenna and Waters, in equal measure, have shown us what happens when that is lacking.

And so it goes.