Archive for the Media Category

Leftist Media Critic Jason Salzman Declines My Offer to Pay for His Gun Safety Class

Leftist media critic Jason Salzman is “scared of guns” and ignorant about  them. Given he has taken to writing about gun safety—and given he routinely writes about gun policy—I offered him an opportunity to learn what he’s talking about by attending a gun-safety class at my expense. Unfortunately, he has declined.

Yesterday I Tweeted to Salzman, “I offer to pay for your gun safety class we both agree to.” He replied, “You’re very kind, but I don’t own a gun and I dont want to spend the time on a class right now. Already too busy” (capitalization corrected).

I reiterated my offer to Salzman by telephone and mentioned that his lack of a gun wouldn’t be a problem, as he can use a loaner.

In short, although Salzman has the time to work toward the violation of the rights of gun owners, he does not have the time to learn about how guns operate or about gun safety.

My offer remains open, and Salzman knows how to reach me should he change his mind and accept it.

* * *

This morning I appeared on Peter Boyles’s radio program to discuss my Complete Colorado article, “Will Senator Morse Clarify His Remarks on Gun Owners Having ‘Sickness’ in Their ‘Souls’?” (You can find the audio file on the KNUS web page or on Podbean, July 30, third hour.) I discuss Salzman in that article, and Boyles discussed him extensively on his show; thus, I wanted to add a few additional notes about Salzman here.

Boyles spend much of the hour discussing a “fraudulent” contest in which Salzman played a role. I didn’t know anything about this (or I had forgotten whatever I’d heard about it), so I was not prepared to discuss the topic. After the show I did a bit of digging.

Westword‘s Michael Roberts confirms that Michael Huttner and ProgressNow “promised to give away a trip to Hawaii to the person with the best idea to improve America,” and Salzman was involved with this project. That prize was never awarded. Roberts writes that Salzman “was a contractor to ProgressNow’s national organization and had no role in the Hawaii contest beyond helping to publicize it.”

I asked Salzman if he wished to comment about the Hawaii prize or about his work now. He replied:

On the record, the Westword article is accurate about my role. Mike Huttner was my client, and I’m not authorized to talk about the project beyond what I’ve said.

I regularly post my work on ColoradoPols and Huffington Post. I used to post on Squarestate.net, which seems to have folded. Sometimes I post on other progressive outlets, and I try to get op-eds published in real-life newspapers.

As for the debate about Morse’s comments, I’ll have more to say about that at a later time.

The photo shows Jason Salzman, and I hereby release the photo under a “Creative Commons” license, with attribution and a link to this web page. —Ari Armstrong

Denver Post Publishes Misleading “Assault Weapons” Story

Note: Commentary originally preceding the article below now appears in a separate post, “Entering the Gun Debate.”

Dear Ms. Sherry,

Readers of the Denver Post are well aware of your newspaper’s political agenda to pass more restrictive gun laws.

However, I would hope that the news pages would refrain from editorializing, offer relevant context, and seek to inform rather than mislead the reader.

I read with interest your article of today (December 18), “Perlmutter to lead assault-weapons ban effort in the House in next Congress.” Congressman Ed Perlmutter represents my district, so I am keen to hear what he is up to.

Unfortunately, your article was misleading in two important ways, and biased in an additional way.

First, although you discuss “assault weapons,” you give no indication of what that means. Traditionally, the term “assault weapon” applied to fully-automatic guns. Now advocates of restrictive gun laws use that term to refer to semi-automatic guns with arbitrarily defined cosmetic features that are irrelevant to the gun’s basic operation. A rifle arbitrarily categorized as an “assault” rifle functions the same basic way as any semi-automatic rifle. It is unfortunate that your article gave no indication of this context.

Second, although you mention Perlmutter’s proposed “assault-weapons ban,” you offer no direct indication that what he has in mind is a ban on the sale and importation, rather than the possession, of so-called “assault” guns. You indicate this only by referencing the expired “assault weapons ban” that banned sale and importation, but many readers are unaware of what that expired law covered. As should be obvious, there is an enormous difference between banning the sale and importation of “assault” guns, and banning their possession. The latter involves the confiscation by police agents (probably themselves armed with “assault weapons”) of people’s guns.

Third, you use biased language with respect to Representative Diana DeGette’s proposed “ban on high capacity ammunition clips.” (This is aside from the fact that that what you actually mean to refer to here is a “magazine,” which is very different from a “clip.”) What Ms. DeGette regards as a “high capacity” magazine, I usually regard as a “normal capacity” magazine. For example, many semi-automatic handguns owned for self-defense readily and naturally (due to their size) accept a magazine that holds more than ten rounds (which is the arbitrary cut-off I presume DeGette has in mind). The appropriate term for a magazine that fits naturally and easily into a given gun is “normal capacity.” I suggest that, rather than use the evaluative terms “high” or “normal” with respect to the size of gun magazines, you simply report what the law in question proposes.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Ari Armstrong

Correcting the Denver Post’s Errors About Guns

On the whole, the Denver Post—along with the Colorado media in general—has done a valiant job covering the difficult and horrifying story of the Aurora murders. Honestly, I’d have a very hard time reporting a story like that on location due to the emotional trauma of it all.

Yet, while most of the Denver Post‘s reporting on the Aurora murders has been good, its writers have made a couple factual errors related to guns and offered some imprecise commentary. Here my aim is to correct those problems.

Please note that this article is quite limited in scope; for my general discussion of gun policy, see my article published by The Objective Standard.

The “High-Capacity” Magazine “Ban”

A July 23 Denver Post editorial states:

We also know the high-capacity magazine [the murderer] is accused of using would have been covered under the federal assault weapons ban. Had the ban remained in place, that magazine would not legally be available. . . . A handful of states have laws placing limits on the number of rounds that magazines can hold. Under the assault weapons ban, such magazines were limited to 10 rounds.

The Denver Post‘s statement is factually misleading. The ban pertained to the manufacture and sale of new “high-capacity” magazines (excepting police), and to the possession of illegally manufactured magazines. Pre-ban magazines remained available, though granted, they were less available and more expensive.

The ATF explains:

The LCAFD [Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device] ban was enacted along with the SAW [semiautomatic assault weapon] ban on September 13, 1994. The ban made it unlawful to transfer or possess LCAFDs. The law generally defined a LCAFD as a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device manufactured after September 13, 1994, that has the capacity of, or can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition. (emphasis added)

To state the point differently, two identical magazines, one manufactured on September 12, 1994, and the other on September 14, 1994, were treated totally differently under the law; it was perfectly legal to sell, buy, or possess the former, but not the latter.

Apparently federal politicians did not savor the idea of attempting to confiscate factory-standard magazines from millions of Americans. The Post, on the other hand, thinks “federal lawmakers ought to outlaw . . . high-capacity magazines,” apparently completely. How the Post envisions the enforcement of such a law—door-to-door sweeps of the homes of the hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who possess such magazines?—the paper does not mention.

The Post editorial also neglects to mention that the murderer first opened fire with a pump-action shotgun. If a future criminal uses only pump-action shotguns, will the Post then call for their abolition as well?

The Type of Semiautomatic Rifle

The Post‘s David Olinger, along with the paper’s editorialists and many other reporters, refers to the semiautomatic rifle in question as an “AR-15.”

Actually, the rifle is a Smith & Wesson M&P15, as the Post‘s Danielle Kess points out. The AR-15 is manufactured by Colt. This is a minor confusion; they are different brands of comparable guns.

Update: James Dao writes for the New York Times that the Smith & Wesson “belongs to a class of weapons broadly known as AR-15s, after the original civilian version of the rifle.” Wikipedia, on the other hand, claims, “The name ‘AR-15′ is a Colt registered trademark, which refers only to the semi-automatic rifle.” So this seems to be a case of applying a particular brand to a general category of item. As I noted, it’s a minor issue.

The Theater’s Gun Policies

Olinger writes:

On its website, Gun Owners of America, a group opposed to stricter gun laws, blamed Holmes’ ability to shoot so many people on the absence of guns in the audience.

“The gunman used a movie gunfight to cover his actions and further surprise the innocent patrons. Worse, the theater in Aurora reportedly has a ‘no guns’ policy,” the group stated. “Despite gun control’s obvious failure, the calls for more restrictions have already begun.”

According to various reports, theaters in the same chain as the one in Aurora prohibit people from carrying concealed handguns on their premises. But I have as yet seen no definitive evidence regarding the Aurora theater’s policies.

Perhaps somebody at the Post (or someone else) can track down the answer definitively.

The “Gun Lobby”

Twice the Post editorial refers to “the gun lobby” as that which “Congress [needs] to beat back” in order to pass more gun restrictions. Obviously, that’s not an error, but it is a cheap shot intended to demean rather than illuminate. A more accurate term is “gun-rights advocates” or “civil arms advocates.”

By referring to a “lobby,” the Post hopes to draw readers’ attention away from the fact that that “lobby” is quite simply the millions of Americans who support the right of gun ownership. It is also the millions of Americans who would have to live under the gun laws that editorial writers and disarmament advocates wish to arbitrarily concoct.

Those who wish to restrict the gun ownership of peaceable Americans often refer to “the gun lobby” in order to bring to mind some money-driven conspiracy (about which those on the left tend to obsess). No doubt gun manufacturers and sellers enjoy their profits, as they should. But “the gun lobby” in the sense of those who defend the right to own guns is, overwhelmingly, the mass of Americans who own guns or support that right.

But I will happily don the term “gun lobbyist” if the Denver Post editorial board will concede to being part of “the gun-restriction lobby”—or to state it more negatively, “the victim disarmament lobby.”

With such an overwhelming amount of detail to sort out quickly, it is understandable that a reporter might miss a detail or two. The editorial is just sloppy; my TOS article addresses the matter of “high capacity” magazines in more detail.

I want to end on a positive note and offer my sincere gratitude to the law enforcement officers who responded to the call, the medical teams who treated the wounded, and the reporters who keep the community informed about this horrible crime and its victims.

Denver Post Publishes Two Misleading Headlines

The headline is part of the story. A misleading or factually incorrect headline is just as bad as an error in the text (if not worse, as it’s more visible). Today, the Denver Post published one ridiculously misleading headline and another arguably misleading one.

The following headline, “Colorado hospitals warn legislators that push for pricing transparency would ruin finances,” flatly contradicts the reporting by Michael Booth.

Booth explicitly writes that the fundamental concern is not “transparency,” but rather price controls. He writes, “Hospital officials from across the state said that they agree with more transparency in their charges and charity policies but that Aguilar’s bill amounts to price fixing that will ruin many facilities.”

Booth confirmed in an email that he did not recommend the title.

I contacted John Ealy, an editor with the Post, to get a better sense of how headlines are produced. “Reporters don’t have anything to do with it,” he confirmed. He said that, after a reporter files a story, that story moves to a copy editor, who writes a “web headline,” ideally “search-engine optimized.” Then the same editor or possibly a different one writes a headline for print. (It’s unclear to me how often a print headline varies from a web headline.)

In addition, Ealy said, “We have a copy chief. After the copy editor writes the headline and edits the story… it moves to another status, and a copy desk chiefs comes in and vets that headline, looks at it for accuracy.” Then “another copy editor” looks at page proofs.

So it does seem to me that considerable oversight goes into a headline. I wonder, though, whether it might make sense for the Post to bring the writers back into the process at some point, say, by allowing reporters to authorize or flag headlines. After all, the reporter is most familiar with the facts and nuances of the story. My guess is, that had he been asked, Booth would have recommended something more accurate.

The second misleading headline is the following: “Anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce handcuffed, sent to jail.” My complaint is about the description, “anti-tax.” To my knowledge, Bruce has never voiced support for the abolition of taxation. As an activist, he has worked for lower taxes, not no taxes.

In this case, though, the headline corresponds to the reporter’s text. The reporter, Jordan Steffen, describes Bruce as a “tax opponent.”

It is true that Bruce has tried to eliminate certain types of minor taxes, and it is true that generally his goal is to cut taxes. Yet still I think the headline and the copy offer readers a distorted view of Bruce’s activism. Ideologically, there is a huge difference between advocating lower taxes and advocating no taxes. I know true “anti-tax activists”—people who advocate the complete abolition of taxation (and I myself am interested in radical, long-term alternatives to financing government)—and their views ought not be confused with the views and activism of Bruce.

Certainly the Post should make every effort to avoid publishing blatantly misleading headlines, as in the case of Booth’s article, but I think the Postshould make the extra effort to avoid publishing headlines that are even arguably misleading. The fact is that Bruce is a “tax-cut activists,” not an “anti-tax activist.” I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the Post make the extra effort to achieve accuracy and clarity in its reporting.

Perhaps some consider my complaints trivial; after all, don’t the two headlines “sort of” get to the gist of what’s going on? Indeed. But I think we should strive to clarify our thinking as much as possible, not rely on approximate “truths” and vague understanding. In fact, there’s a difference between transparency and price controls. In fact, there’s a difference between somebody who advocates lower taxes and somebody who advocates no taxes. No doubt I too have slipped on comparable matters, but I think it’s worth stepping back sometimes and recommitting ourselves to pristine accuracy. (For example, for the headline of this piece, I added the word “Two” to clarify my meaning.)

One question I neglected to ask Ealy is whether the Post ever runs corrections for faulty headlines. Perhaps he will let me know.

Joey Bunch Misstates Gun Statistics in Denver Post

[Update 6:31 pm: The Denver Post has issued a revised correction for the online article in question.]

[Update December 29: Joey Bunch related that he takes responsibility for the mistake and apologizes for his initial reaction. For my part, I am satisfied with the way the Post has handled the issue.]

In their article for today’s Denver PostJoey Bunch and Kieran Nicholson claim, “More than 500 children in the United States die in gun accidents each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2007 report, which estimated 1.7 million children live in homes where guns are kept.” However, there seems to be no factual basis for that claim.

As Bunch is listed as first author and his contact information appears below the article, I contacted him to see where he got his figures. Unfortunately, in a series of emails (see below) he flatly refused to provide me with a citation. Apparently that is because no such citation exists.

CDC provides a search page for reviewing mortality statistics. The results for unintentional firearm deaths for 2007, ages zero through seventeen, is 112. Notice that the anti-gun Brady Campaign reports comparable figures. (Of the estimated 2,436,652 deaths in the U.S. in 2009, a total of 588 for all age groups resulted from “accidental discharge of firearms.” Final figures for 2007 show a total of 613 deaths. Please see pages 19 and 39 of the linked CDC report, and notice that I provided an actual citation for my claim.) To get figures as high as Bunch claims, one has to look at decades-old data. (Note that, in this article, I am concerned only with Bunch’s factual claims. I will address the “big picture” issues elsewhere.)

So how did Bunch get from 112 to “more than 500?” I don’t really know, given he refused to tell me. I do have a guess, however. A top Google hit for “kids die guns” is a 2008 article from MomLogic. That article includes the same numbers as Bunch uses — “more than 500″ and “1.7 million households.” My guess is that Bunch cribbed these figures (from this web site or a comparable one) without bothering to verify them or even review their meaning.

Here’s what MomLogic has to say: “More than 500 children die annually from accidental gunshots. … Last year, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded and unlocked guns.”

What is similar between this article and Bunch’s article is that both include the same year for the CDC claim (2007), both include the phrase “more than 500 children,” and both include the phrase, “1.7 million children live in homes.” One important detail to notice is that the MomLogic article does not cite the CDC for the “more than 500″ claim. Also notice the important qualifier in the MomLogic article about the 1.7 million households: these are “homes with loaded and unlocked guns.” Bunch offers no such qualifier, rendering his statement wildly inaccurate. (Neither MomLogic nor Bunch actually cite a specific CDC publication.)

I did find some support for the claim about 1.7 million households, but this comes not from CDC but from the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Perhaps there was some association between CDC and the Academy.) (Update: As USA Today relates, the authors of the study did have a direct relationship to the CDC.) That 2005 article states, “Findings indicate that ~1.69 million (95% confidence interval: 1.57-1.82 million) children and youth in the United States <18 years old are living with loaded and unlocked household firearms.” USA Today offered a popular summary of the study. However, the study is based on survey data, so its conclusions are suspect. (Please notice again my actual citations.)

At this point, then, the Denver Post either needs to come up with an actual citation supporting Bunch’s claim, or else issue a correction.

And, in general, I encourage reporters to a) actually have real citations backing up their claims (see also my write-up of a 2008 incident), and b) make those citations available to those who ask for them. Anything less constitutes journalistic negligence.

Following is today’s email exchange between Bunch and me:

Ari: Dear Mr. Bunch, You write: “More than 500 children in the United States die in gun accidents each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2007 report.” Please send [me] your citation for that claim. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: CDC. I cited my source.

Ari: I see that you wrote down CDC in your article. The problem is that when I look at the CDC web page, I find very different numbers than the ones you claim. So what I’m asking you for is the actual citation for a specific document that backs up your statement. Please provide that, and stop being coy. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: It took me all of about 3 minutes to find that report. With all due respect, Ari, you’re a columnist for a competing newspaper, do your own work.

Ari: Joey, If you found it, then please *send me the cite*. The fact that I write for the Grand Junction Free Press (hardly a competitor to the Post) is entirely irrelevant. I did my own work, as I mentioned, and I found different figures. So now, again, I ask you to back up your claim with a specific citation. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: I told you the name of the report and the year it came out. Would you like me to print it out and drive it to your house? I’ll pick up coffee and doughnuts on the way. Good luck with your story, Ari.

Ari: No, I would would like you send me the link to the relevant document, or, if the document is not available online, the title and authors of the printed document. That will be trivially easy for you to accomplish, so please, again, send me the citation. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: I do freelance work sometimes. I’ll send you a bill for research, and when it’s paid I’ll spend my time doing your work. Failing that, you could call the CDC and ask them to send it for you. There could be a per-page fee for that, however. Have a nice day.

Ari: Dear Mr. Bunch, According to your own claims, you’ve *already done the work*, and it took you “all of about three minutes.” If you’ve already done the work, and found the citation that informs your article, then it will take you about ten seconds to send me the relevant link (or title with authors). As a writer for the Denver Post, you have a responsibility, both to your readers and to the owners and managers of the paper, to back up your factual claims with specific citations. Please do so at this time, and please stop acting so evasive and frankly unprofessional. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: One more time and the last time I’m saying it: do your own work. You work for a newspaper. You are a journalist. Do your own work. Conversation over.

Update: Apparently the conversation is not yet over. After I sent an email to several representatives of the Denver Post linking to this write-up, Bunch again responded, claiming (among other things), “I told you the name of the report.” I wrote back noting that he has not, in fact, provided me with the title of the report or anything like a verifiable citation. I will update this article when and if Bunch provides me with an actual citation to the alleged report in question.

Update: Kevin Dale, news director for the Denver Post, states via email, “We are correcting the statistics. Page 2 in tomorrow’s paper. We’ll be correcting the online story shortly. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. We take our accuracy very seriously indeed.”

Update 5:03 pm: I sent a follow-up email to Dale:

Dear Mr. Dale,

Thank you for promptly following through on the matter of the claimed gun statistics published in today’s Denver Post.

Unfortunately, the Denver Post’s online “correction” also is in error [as of the time of this update].
http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_19628941

The “correction” states that in 2007, 138 children died due to “fatal shooting accidents.” But that figure is for ages 0 through 19. Last time I checked, the legal age of adulthood is 18. Therefore, the correct figure is for ages 0 through 17, which is 112 (as I mentioned in my write-up). (While the figures vary only slightly in this case, I still think the Post ought to get its basic facts straight.)

I invite you to see for yourself here:
http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_sy.html

Moreover, the online article continues to falsely state, “The CDC also estimated 1.7 million children live in homes where guns are kept.” The Post’s claim here is wildly inaccurate. The figure actually pertains to children “living with loaded and unlocked household firearms.” The number of children living in homes “where guns are kept” is many times that amount.

Again, I invite you to see for yourself here:
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/3/e370.full

(Anyway, that article relies on survey data, which are notoriously unreliable in these matters.)

Thank you for your attention to this matter.
-Ari Armstrong

Update 6:31 pm: The Denver Post has issued a revised correction for the online article in question.

Belated Apology to Littwin

Back during a September GOP debate, Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if “society should just let” people without insurance die. A handful of people in the crowd cheered. When Paul explained why that’s not his position, the overwhelming majority of the crowd applauded enthusiastically.

I was irritated, then, when various commentators mentioned the reaction of the few but not of the large majority. A Talking Points Memo video in particular went out of its way to misrepresent by omission the crowd’s reaction.

In explaining this lack of context, I wrote, ”If ‘half the truth is a great lie,’ then Talking Points Memo, [Curtis] Hubbard, and [Mike] Littwin are great liars.” In a column, Littwin mentioned the reaction of the few in the crowd (which he characterized as a Tea Party crowd) but not of the many. However, as any decent writer takes seriously his responsibility to report the truth, I ought not have brought out the “l” word with respect to Hubbard or Littwin, and I apologize for doing so. Even though I used the term in a very delimited context (regarding “half the truth”), it’s just not the sort of word that one should swing around lightly. I should have reviewed the same factual material without making my criticisms so personal.

Littwin assures me that he was trying to establish that the crowd was spirited in order to set up his discussion about Rick Perry, not otherwise characterize the crowd or the Tea Party as a whole. Especially given that I’m asking for more charitable interpretations of the motives of Tea Partiers, I too should be more charitable in interpreting the motives of others. Even when they irritate me.

Denver Post Covers Liberty On the Rocks

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the Denver Post is trying to woo the center-right slash conservative slash libertarian slash free-market readership. What else explains the appearance of the Post‘s Kurtis Lee, recently a transplant from the District of Columbia, at this evening’s Liberty On the Rocks’ event?

The real purpose of the evening’s festivities was to celebrate the third anniversary of the People’s Press Collective (to which this post will feed). Allow me to add my congratulations here, and to thank the organizers of PPC for creating a wonderful platform.

But Lee attended to gather reactions to the GOP debate (which I could barely hear on the bar’s echoing television sets). Lee wrote up an articlethat mentioned the event’s drinking game (with the word “jobs” acting as the trigger) and that included some substantive and interesting comments.

Regina Thomson told Lee she’s looking for a “constitutional conservative” and would favor Herman Cain if he had a chance.

I loved Santiago Valenzuela’s response. He said he’s looking for real immigration reform “that allows peaceful people” to work here and eventually earn citizenship. I agree with his position, as I’ve writtenelsewhere.

Valenzuela is a friend of mine, by the way, and he writes some great posts for Mother of Exiles. Interestingly, I also met a very nice fellow at the event who worked on Tom Tancredo’s campaign for governor. And one thing that amazes me about Liberty On the Rocks is how well it facilitates social mingling and networking among people with such diverse views. (I should also note here that I run Liberty In the Books, a project of Liberty On the Rocks, and got paid a bit to do so.)

Valenzuela’s reply about jobs was classic: “I’m also looking for a jobs plan that gets the government out of our busisness to allow job creators to do their thing.” He added that he dislikes Romney because he is the Father of ObamaCare.

Lee’s appearance is not unprecedented, however; last year, the Post‘s Chuck Plunkett actually spoke at a Liberty On the Rocks event — something that perked up the ears of talented leftie blogger Jason Salzman.

The Post needn’t worry; it’s left-leaning credentials remain unchallenged. But I do appreciate the Post‘s willingness to broaden its coverage and its readership, and I think it’s a much better paper for making the effort.

My Newspaper Paywall Plan for Dean Singleton

Today the Denver Post sent its minions to my local grocery store, and they hooked me into a discussion by offering a drawing. This reminded me that“Denver-based MediaNews Group announced… that it has launched an online subscription paywall at 23 of its newspapers in five states but not in Colorado.” I figure we’re next.

So if a paywall is going to happen, I’d like it to happen the right way. (And I wrote about this back in 2009.)

Obviously a monthly subscription is the most standard model. The problem with this is that many readers — especially those who live elsewhere — may want to read an article only occasionally. This is especially true for a big paper like the Denver Post. So a subscription-based paywall should be only part of the approach.

Ideally newspapers will offer two additional ways to read an article online: pay per view, or watch an advertisement.

Here’s how I envision the pay-per-view model. The paper reveals the first bit of an article, then offers the option to read the rest by clicking a pay button (say, for anywhere from ten cents to a buck, depending on the sort of article). I purchase credits through the system (say, $30 at a time), log in, then spend my credits however I want (and they never expire). I have no idea how to work the technical side of this, but surely it’s possible. Indeed, a robust system could allow other players (including bloggers) to join the same system (for a percentage).

The third option is to view a video (say, 15 seconds) advertising a specific product as “payment” for reading the article.

Readers get the content they want, they have flexible payment options, and journalists earn a living. Does that not make everyone happy?

This “Ethics Advocate” Calls AP’s Outrageous Bias

Apparently the Denver post thinks it’s perfectly fine to publish ridiculous nonsense as long as it was written by the Associated Press.

A couple of days ago, the Post published the AP’s fact-devoid article about a new wind farm. Today the Post follows up by reproducing an absurdly biased article from the AP about proposed ballot changes.

The issue, according to the AP, is this: “Secretary of State Scott Gessler is proposing changes to election rules that would bar clerks from counting ballots with write-in candidates if voters fail to mark the box next to that choice.”

That part is accurate. I just called Rich Coolidge from the SOS’s office to verify, and he added only that the matter is “going through the rule making process.” It’s “a consideration that the secretary’s going to have to make,” he said, and “no decisions have been made at this time.”

My problem arises with another sentence from the AP’s story: “According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (http://bit.ly/pkZ80r), ethics advocate Jenny Flanagan says a voter’s intent should rule…” (I did not read the Sentinel article as it’s behind a pay wall.)

The problem is describing Jenny Flanagan, in an allegedly straight news article, as merely an “ethics advocate.” Is she a moral philosopher? No. Instead, she heads the Colorado chapter of Common Cause. To describe her as a seemingly neutral “ethics advocate” in a news story is ludicrous. An equally biased but opposite description would be “shrill partisan hack,” but somehow only the former occurred to the AP.

I do not doubt that Flanagan believes she advocates ethics. But so does every source cited by the AP. Can you imagine the AP describing a Tea Party activists as an “ethics advocate?” Or Jon Caldara? Or me? Gessler too thinks he is advocating ethical rules.

Let’s review a couple of background items about “ethics advocate Jenny Flanagan.” In a debate with me earlier this year, she said the First Amendment is “not part of the conversation right now” regarding campaign laws.

Flanagan also attended a rally a couple months ago in Aspen, joining the hard-left ProgressNow to protest the Koch brothers. You can see Flanagan in this photo holding her Common Cause Sign, joining others who want to raise taxes and toss Clarence Thomas off the Supreme Court. (Also check out Kelly Maher’s excellent video about the protest.)

But, hey, apparently “ethics advocate” is good enough for AP work.

Perhaps, rather than just toss up AP articles onto its web page, the Postshould first check to see whether the articles are in fact worth a damn.

For what it’s worth, I actually tentatively agree with Flanagan on this particular issue. If a voter does not check the box for another candidate, and actually writes in some other name, the intent seems to be pretty clearly that the voter wanted to cast a ballot for the write-in. However, I can definitely see the problem of ambiguity. It seems to me that a better solution would be a reformulated ballot that makes that particular mistake impossible.

In general, I advocate computer-assisted paper ballots. The computer assist would make them easier to cast, and the paper would remove the problem of computer glitches and hacking. (I advocate counting up the votes from the paper, rather than from the digital vote.) Surely a well-developed ballot could simply avoid the problem in question.

But just because Flanagan seems to make a good point on this particular issue doesn’t mean the AP should refer to her as some sort of seemingly neutral “ethics advocate.” To do so violates journalistic ethics.

Why Not Signed Editorials, Denver Post?

I sent the following letter to the Denver Post:

The Denver Post‘s editorials fluctuate noticeably in style, tone, and ideological bent, because they’re written by different members of your editorial board.

I like the fact that the Daily Camera and the Colorado Springs Gazetteoffer signed editorials. Ideally, the Denver Post would note the author (or authors) of each editorial and the board members in agreement. That would provide transparency, help readers track the views of particular writers, and encourage writers to offer their best work.

Politics and Media in Harry Potter

How time slips by! Back in May my book Values of Harry Potter got a little media attention — and now the final film of the series opens next week!

Over at Big Media, Jason Salzman, a left-leaning bulldog of an investigator, discusses my chapter, “News Media in Harry Potter.”

Salzman has some criticisms. He doesn’t like my mention of Paul Krugman’s article on the Gabrielle Giffords shooting as an example of bad journalism. Salzman thinks I “could have come up with better examples from the spectacular archive of journalistic foibles.” He’s probably right. However, I just picked some examples basically at random that happened to be well-known to me. I don’t think readers will have much problem adding to the list.

But Salzman thinks I basically make my point that the series presents both a negative and a positive conception of media. He grants, “There seems to be an obvious lesson in the dangers of state control of the press here…”

But Salzman ends on a pessimistic note:

I noticed that Armstrong did not say the truth “will” prevail without quality journalism [though it "can"], and he’s right. You have to wonder today, with serious journalism struggling, whether enough of the truth will get out there for our experiment in democracy to have a happy ending.

So maybe the lesson in the Potter series that Armstrong lauds isn’t the one we really need. We need more books showing how the truth doesn’t prevail in the end when journalism is forsaken or corrupt. That’s where things look to be heading to me.

I, on the other hand, am thrilled and excited by the many new opportunities made possible by the blogging and social media for citizens to engage with journalists, correct reports, and even report the news. For a great example of this, one need look no further than Salzman’s own accomplishments.

For May 31, Denver Diatribe invited me to join the weekly podcast. We discussed the political themes of the novels, especially the corruption of the Ministry of Magic and the tyrannical rise of Voldemort.

A Koch Protest and a Smile

The leftists were out in full silliness mode protesting the Koch brothers near Vail on June 26. Both Progress Now Colorado and Colorado Common Cause promoted the protest, as did Colorado Pols and ColoradoIndependent.

I love the Denver Post’s headline: “Koch brothers hold secret GOP business retreat in Vail.” It was so secret it drew coverage in the largest regional newspaper. An alternative term for “secret” is simply, “private.” Apparently, whenever free-market advocates meet in private, that’s ominously “secret,” but whenever radical leftists meet in private, that’s just a fun little gathering.

I do like a comment from a Koch spokesperson quoted by the Post: ”The purpose of this conference is to develop support for the kind of free-market policies and initiatives that can get our country back on the path to economic prosperity and sustained job creation.”

I hope the Kochs are immensely successful in this mission, as it is precisely what the country needs. (As I have noted, because I already held free-market beliefs, I actually worked indirectly for Koch money one summer. I spent most of my time fighting unjust sentencing that disproportionately harmed African Americans.)

So what could one find at the rally? In Kelly Maher’s excellent video, one can hear a Progress Now representative claiming that Paul Ryan’s entitlement reforms “will basically throw Grandma out on the street.” That is a bald-faced lie, which is perhaps why another protester cleverly blocked Maher’s camera so that she could not continue to record the speaker making a complete fool out of herself.

Or consider the photo of a sign uploaded by Alan Franklin, which says, “Create American Jobs for Americans! Pay Your Taxes!” Because, you see, when the Kochs build a successful market business, that doesn’t “create jobs.” Only when they pull money out of their productive enterprises and hand it over to politicians and bureaucrats do they “create jobs.”

And leftists wonder why most Americans think they are absolutely bat-guano crazy.

Another sign says the Kochs are “Wanted for climate crimes,” apparently because the Kochs produce, among other things, energy to run our cars. Because, as we all know, the leftists all walked to Vail rather than drive a vehicle. (My guess is that all of the protesters use some Koch product or other.)

Finally, consider a couple of posts from Progress Now’s Twitter feed. AP reporter Kristen Wyatt Tweeted, “Koch bros. fire back at protesters headed to Vail, point out that ProgressNow doesnt disclose all its donors either.” Progress Now retorted, “It’s all about consent. … Our donors knowingly give to a political cause. Koch Bros $$$ comes from consumers & shareholders who didn’t consent.” Because, you know, the Kochs literally hold a gun to their customers’ heads and force them to buy their products. And, if Progress Now is going to play the “consent” card, what about the customers who made some of their own donors fabulously wealthy? Did they consent to indirectly funding Progress Now? Some rich leftists give to leftist causes, some rich conservatives give to conservative causes, and some rich free-market advocates give to free market causes. The only thing surprising about any of this is Progress Now’s self-righteous hypocrisy on the matter.

My only complaint about the Koch brothers is that they do not currently direct any of their money to me.

Denver Post and NREL, Meet Bastiat

Let’s play the game of “spot the economic fallacies” in today’s editorial by the Denver Post, which essentially advocates corporate welfare. (This follows a slanted news story on the same topic.)

The Post claims that the tax-funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden has created “efficient” solar film, windmill blades, and office buildings. What’s the fallacy? A more technically “efficient” gadget is not necessarily economically efficient to produce; often it is not. If solar and wind were cheaper than alternative sources of energy, then they would not need subsidies and mandates to “succeed.” And if companies can save money through greater energy efficiency, they’ll be more than happy to spend their own money figuring out how.

But the Post’s main argument is that subsidizing NREL creates jobs. What’s the economic fallacy? It’s what Bastiat and Hazlitt refer to as the problem of the unseen. What is seen are the jobs associated with NREL spending. What is unseen are all the jobs lost by forcibly transferring that wealth. When people pay higher taxes, and when the federal government sucks money out of market investments through deficit spending, that money is no longer available to fund what consumers want and investors see as the more productive opportunities. The result is that jobs shift from more-productive to less-productive ends, destroying wealth.

The wrinkle is that cutting federal spending only for Colorado would screw Colorado taxpayers more by forcibly transferring their wealth to less-productive jobs in other states. The solution to that is to cut spending in every state — or to simply stop forcing Colorado taxpayers to finance corporate welfare in other states. As I noted earlier this year, on net Colorado gets screwed in the wealth redistribution game, which costs the state net jobs.

There are obviously some people on the Denver Post’s editorial board who are not utterly ignorant of basic economics. Why not let them formulate the articles pertaining to economics?

Prendergast On the Media

In preparation for a Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership event June 4, I askedseveral regional journalists about their successes and their views on whether the media report or make the news. Westword’s Alan Prendergastadds his comments below.

Hi Ari,

Sorry I didn’t reply to this sooner, but last week was pretty crazy. Too late for your presentation, but maybe not for your blog, I would simply add to the pile with this:

1. Success can be measured all sorts of ways, but I’m particularly proud of our Columbine coverage from 1999-2005 or so, because it was an ongoing effort to provide answers to families that were being lied to or simply ignored by public officials and their lawyers. By the same token, I consider much of our prison coverage a success because it shines a light where few journalists choose to go, and at least lets people running the system know that somebody could be watching. Links would be the Crime and Punishment and Columbine Reader archives on our site.

2. I don’t think there’s much “making” of the news, in a strictly manufacturing sense. But it’s also naive to suggest that reporters are mere conduits of information who don’t consciously shape (and possibly redact) the information they present. I like to think of journalism as a demonstration of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, or at least that part of it which suggests it’s impossible to observe an event without altering it in some fashion, the way shining a light on electrons changes their behavior.

Alan Prendergast

On Making the News

Yesterday I discussed media with the students participating in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program. This is a group of very smart and articulate kids; the idea is to gather together nearly 200 students from across Colorado for a weekend of talks and leadership activities.

I must say I found this group to be a tough and even slightly intimidating audience. I was a fill-in speaker (as somebody else had to cancel), so I signed up only late Wednesday night. I had a busy schedule the next three days, limiting my preparation time. (Brad Beck, whom I know from Liberty Toastmasters, drafted me; he’s on the board of the organization.) When I walked into the room about half an hour early, the students were cheering and playing some sort of game, and I realized I had not correctly envisioned the setting. This was more like a pep rally, not a lecture hall.

But I gulped and took the microphone, determined to make the presentation as interactive and engaging as I could. Before my segment I saw several students stand to offer their views on a couple of topics, and this gave me the idea to simply ask them to answer the question of the day, “Do media report the news or make the news?” Hands quickly shot up. Three students arose to offer their views, and I was struck by how similar their answers were to those of the professional journalists who had replied to the same question. The first student talked about the selectivity issue; the second argued that media both report and make the news. More hands went up, but after the first three I decided to plow ahead with my own notes.

(I do encourage people to read the interesting replies I posted Friday from Jason Salzman, Michael Sandoval, Ed Quillen, Ken Clark, and David Harsanyi. I even tried to get Salzman to come out to the event, but he had a prior engagement, so I thought that I could at least bring in a variety of views.)

So, do the media report the news or make it? As an example of simple reporting, I mentioned the Denver Post’s story of the police hunt for a man who kidnapped and assaulted a Denver girl. Some sorts of stories are more amenable to straight reporting, and they’re difficult to slant.

However, the media certainly do “make the news” in a couple of different ways. They can make the news in the sense of pushing a story into community discussion, as by reporting an instance of political corruption. And they can make the news by pushing a story into wider media coverage (as Salzman did with his reporting of Scott McInnis’s water articles).

Then I added a third category: journalists can sometimes “make up” the news as well, and that’s uniformly bad. They can either skew the reported facts, or they can omit obviously relevant facts.

The problem is (and the students pushed this point pretty hard in the question-and-answer period) that journalism inherently involves judgment calls both in the selectivity of what to report and of how to present a story. I used as an example another Denver Post story: “Rep. Lamborn backs bid to unplug National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden.” I noted that story selected the following source as its first quote: “‘NREL is a crown jewel in the world of renewable energy,’ said Leslie Oliver, a spokeswoman for Perl mutter. ‘It’s providing a lot of jobs; those are things we need to be fostering.’” I pointed out that this would have been a much different story if the headline had emphasized the effort to trim federal spending, and if the first quote had pertained to saving our children and grandchildren from a crushing national debt. So definitely this story is slanted, but is that bad?

One great thing about the modern internet age, I pointed out, is that we have unprecedented access to alternative media sources. With this comes the ability to interact with the media, and even join the media, in remarkable ways. If we don’t like what a paper is covering, or how they’re covering it, we may interact with journalists, write blog posts, etc.

I had a forty minute time slot, and the idea was for me to talk for half that time. But immediately after I finished with my (more or less) prepared remarks, I realized I should have shut up much sooner to allow for more questions. Maybe twenty kids lined up to pepper me with tough questions, and the moderators had to turn some students away due to time constraints.

One student asked me whether the media should be more positive. I wasn’t sure what that meant, I answered; is it being “negative” to hammer a corrupt politician? The student clarified she was asking about selecting more positive stories from among all the many possible stories. I answered that, yes, I’d like to see more reporting about interesting people in business and the nonprofit world. I mentioned a Wall Street Journalarticle about George Mitchell, who has dramatically expanded U.S. production of natural gas, as an example of something I found very positive and inspiring.

I got a question about libel; does that not solve the problem of “making up” the news? I answered that libel laws can protect people against the most egregious cases of malicious lying, but if the bar is set too low everyone will cry “libel” over any alternative interpretation of the facts. Plus (though I’m not sure I explained this point well) a story can be technically accurate in every detail but still fundamentally distort reality by dropping context and omitting the relevant facts. (Elsewhere I made this point by invoking Rita Skeeter, the corrupt journalist from the Harry Potter series. I was pleased to see the students are Potter fans.)

At one point I mentioned censorship ultimately remains the greatest threat to a society’s future, but I didn’t explain this as well as I might have. The essential point, as Ayn Rand pointed out, is that so long as we retain freedom of speech, we have the ability to fight for the ideas we believe in. There’s always a chance, always hope, so long as we remain free to articulate our views. Moreover, censorship invariably accompanies various other governmental abuses, and, by blocking criticism of the government, makes greater abuses inevitable.

I suggested the students take the time to fully appreciate the advantages of the modern internet age. Their parents, I pointed out, were born before the age of home computers. Now most of the students have the ability to browse the internet on portable devices, putting the world’s newspapers — and many alternative news sources — at their fingertips. I suggested that the students think seriously about how they can engage the media in order to help direct the course of the culture. These students certainly have the informed eloquence to do so.

***

Bradley Craig Beck commented June 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM
Ari,
Thanks for a great presentation. The HOBY Ambassadors enjoyed your information and perspective on the media. Your posing the question to others helped broaden the conversation. Great examples and an excellent closing, focusing on freedom of speech and the issue of censorship. As young leaders our Ambassadors need to understand the importance of articulating their views. Your call to action on engaging and participating as a citizen journalist was well received and helped to connect all the dots. Best regards,
Bradley Beck – HOBY Colorado

Do Media Report the News or Make the News?

I was invited to address participants in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program in an upcoming event. The topic: “Do the media report the news or make the news?”

My invite came on short notice (as I’m replacing a speaker who had to cancel), and I wondered how much time I could free up for preparation. But then it occurred to me that it would be both easier for me and more useful for the students if I simply asked some of Colorado’s journalists what they thought. While I was at it, I figured, I might as well compile the answers for the web page.

I contacted around twenty people, expecting only a few replies (especially given the short notice). I’ll update this page if I get additional responses. I asked journalists to mention their top media successes and to answer the question about reporting versus making the news. (By the way, if you’re a Colorado journalist and I did not contact you, feel free to send me your answers anyway.)

Please note that the text beneath a writer’s name was written by that writer, not by me, and I may not agree with all the comments.

*** Jason Salzman ***

“Do the media report the news or make the news?”

Both. Media outlets are not passive transmitters. They are run by people who make decisions about whom to investigate, what to feature, how to allocate staff time. The staff at mainstream news outlets reflects prevailing values and norms, so the decisions of media staff, on what to cover, are often in line with prevailing opinion of what might be considered news.

Here are a few successes.

1. BigMedia Investigation Leads to Release of McInnis Water Articles. In May, BigMedia pointed out that Scott McInnis divulged, in a radio interview, that he’d received $150,000 from the Hasan Foundation to write a series of articles on Colorado Water issues. It was known that he’d received Hasan money, but what he’d actually done for the foundation was a mystery. BigMedia called on reporters to ask McInnis and the Hasans to release the articles. Journalists didn’t do this, so BigMedia wrote a series of articles, like this one, trying to find the missing articles.

BigMedia was almost certainly first media entity to interview the Hasan Foundation and the McInnis campaign about the articles and to ask for their release. BigMedia was the first media entity to report that McInnis was paid $300,000 to write the water articles, not $150,000, as had been previously reported in the Denver Post. The early BigMedia investigation, pushing for the release of the articles, was cited by the Denver Post’s Ed Quillen, whose June 3 column contained the first mention of the water articles that appeared in The Denver Post:

“Scott McInnis, a Republican candidate for governor… received approximately $150,000 from the Hassan Family Foundation, for which, as he explained on a radio program, ‘I wrote a series of in-depth articles on water’ that ‘could be used in a series for education on water in Colorado.’ I follow water stuff fairly closely, and I never saw the work. Jason Salzman, former media critic for the Rocky Mountain News, talked to everybody who might have reasonably encountered this hydrologic epic, and came up empty; McInnis’ office did not respond to his questions.”

Aliya Hasan, daughter of Malik Hasan and board member of the Hasan Family Foundation, told BigMedia that she didn’t think McInnis’ water articles, which later were found to be plagiarized, would have been released without the media criticism from BigMedia. [Editor's Note: See my article about more recent developments in the case. -AA]

2. BigMedia Pushes Media to Illuminate Buck As Extreme Social Conservative. BigMedia had been monitoring talk radio shows and pressuring the hosts to ask tougher questions of conservative guests. So, when Ken Buck won the GOP primary and little was known about his social agenda, BigMedia was positioned to report what Ken Buck had been getting away with saying on talk radio and to push the mainstream media to report on Buck’s virtually unknown right-wing agenda. In August, two days after Buck won the primary, in a blog post titled, “Talk Radio Does Great Job of Illuminating Buck as a Deep Social Conservative,” BigMedia was the first media entity to lay out, for mainstream journalists, Buck’s positions on social issues and to call on major media to inform readers of his right-wing views.

When the media refused to do this, BigMedia documented that major media, including the Denver Post (as well as local TV news), had ignored Buck’s position that, for example, abortion should be banned, even in the case of rape and incest. BigMedia continued to push journalists to report views that Buck had expressed on talk radio early in the year versus the views he articulated later in the campaign. And when the media claimed that Buck’s critics were the only ones talking about social issues, BigMedia corrected reporters, pointing out the fact that Buck talked about themearly and often during the primary.

3. BigMedia’s Report, “Jane’s Free Ride,” Pushes Denver Post to Quote Norton More Often. In April, the project spotlighted the Denver Post’salmost complete failure to quote U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton directly. This report, and subsequent updates, led to more frequent and direct quotations of Norton.

4. Associated Press reports that co-speaker at Palin event had history of bigotry. In April, the project called on the media to report that Sarah Palin would be appearing in Denver with a retired general, William Boykin, who had a history of making bigoted statement about Muslims. Subsequently, the Associated Press reported, ”Sarah Palin is used to drawing opposition, but it’s someone else on stage with her Monday in Colorado that has people talking.” That person was Boykin, who said that America’s Islamic enemy was “Satan,” the AP pointed out, using research that appeared in the project’s blog postings.

5. Business Journal reporter agrees to investigate State Rep. Conti’s false claims in newspaper. In February, after the Denver Business Journal ran an article reporting Rep. Conti’s assertion that vending companies lost jobs due to legislative action, the project researched the topic andshowed Conti’s claim was not supported. The Journal’s reporter agreed to investigate, time permitting, but the issue never surfaced in the legislature, so follow-up was not called for.

*** Michael Sandoval ***

Successes include:

Ariel Attack and “smashtroturfing” from 2009.

National blogosphere exposure of the Danny Dietz memorial controversy – beating the Denver Post.

Sen. Michael Bennet and “nothing to show for it” – two attack ads and above the fold on Drudge.

I consider these the top media successes given the legs that each had in their respective category. The “smashtroturfing” story had national implications (it was the summer of townhall angst against Obamacare) and Dem Chair Pat Waak blamed Tea Party “hate” for the incident, when in fact it was a far left transgendered anarchist paid $500 in 2008 to canvas for Democrats by an SEIU-front 527 supported by CoDA donors Stryker and Gill. This combined on-the-fly investigative reporting and social media crowdsourcing.

The Danny Dietz memorial story was a barely a blip on the radar until national-level bloggers, steered by my original blog post, began to swarm on the issue, prompting a story in the Denver Post, reaction from then Rep. Tancredo, and a general consensus that the memorial was entirely appropriate. This story was a combination of news gathering from various sources before the FB/Twitter era, and pushing the story out to national level bloggers who could force local media to react.

As for Sen. Bennet, merely calling him on something he had said at campaign events all year but failed to get much notice by local media was a big story — here’s an appointed senator saying that for $14 trillion in debt, the USA had little to show — and I found the audio that confirmed him saying it. The impact was at least two separate attack ads on Bennet — independent and certainly not coordinated — after the story made it to Drudge. Numerous other articles and coverage followed.

Regarding the nature of the media:

A good journalists finds or undercovers the real story, whether through meaningful questions, hard-nosed investigative reporting, or by ferreting out angles or themes that might be missed by an average “beat” reporter. When it comes to political news, it is often less a question of “making” news than it is a question of story choice. The criticism of media, both left and right, is not “commission” of making the news or manufacturing outrage — though that is often the case. It is more a question of what is “omitted” — the unflattering stories that go unreported in favor of one side or the other. Good journalists do more than simply chase the ambulance, they try to find the smoking gun, the critical witness, or the key evidence to a story, eschewing a simple regurgitation of he said, she said press releases. If they “make” the news, it is in the sense that they give a story legs, and drive the news cycle until the next story replaces it.

*** Ed Quillen ***

Two recent columns may have affected public policy. One criticized Scott Gessler’s request for more authority to investigate the almost non-existent prolem of non-citizens voting (the legislature did not act) and another hit on the proposal to make pseudoephedrine available only by prescription (the notion died, and I think was the only one to write about it).

Going back to 2003, as best I know I was the only columnist, at least in a Denver paper, to oppose the Referendum A water grab, and it went down by a 2-1 margin. It’s rare that I feel that good about an election.

Regarding the media, there’s a common saying in the trade that “Newspapers don’t tell people what to think, but they do tell people what to think about.” I can’t say much about other media, as I’ve never worked outside of print.

The correct answer is likely “both.” There’s lots of news you don’t make — police blotter, public meetings, courts, the routine stuff you cover. And there’s some you generate with investigative reporting or good feature-writing, bringing something new to public attention.

These days, so many events are not spontaneous, but more or less staged and scripted and you’re not doing your readers any favors if you just report the event — in that case you’re being manipulated by the choreographers.

My personal attitude, when I’m practicing journalism instead of punditry, is that if I encounter another reporter, I should look for a different story. I abhor pack journalism, and I can see why Sarah Palin has so little respect for the business when there are so many folks assigned to follow her bus around. Of course, if you ignored her, you’d get angry phone calls about how you were conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to silence a great patriotic voice or whatever.

So a lot of the crap you find in the news is there because squeaky wheels get greased.

*** Ken Clark*** 

I have only been in the media a very short time; so far my biggest success has been pulling off the “Grass Roots Radio Colorado” contract with Crawford Broadcasting. I was told that it could not be done, especially by two guys with zero radio experience and more importantly, in a “major market.” Well, we proved them wrong by hosting the show for over six weeks straight (an audition if you will), after which Crawford agreed to a contract. Now Jason Worley and I are permanent fixtures on 560 KLZ.

Beyond that, we are gaining quite a following by attacking issues that no one else on radio will go after. Now, I’m told, all of the elected officials holding state office either listen to the show or assign staffers to keep them informed of the issues we dissect. Our success is attributed to the fact that we stand on principle and will carry the water for no party or elected official. We are equal opportunity attack dogs. That being said, we much prefer going after progressives, it’s just sad that some of them are on “our side.” Plus, we like to have fun.

Second, although Liberty Ink Journal is no longer in print, this was my first venture into media. Stephanie Anderson and I decided that there was a need for a publication that actually spoke the truth about issues and could help inform the masses as to what was happening to them. In that regard we were a huge success as we had quite a following and people still remember the magazine, and we still have the online version.

Regarding the media: The “media” neither make the news nor do they report the news, or should I say facts. They decide what the best way to “sell” their position is and that is what they report as news.

If the media reported the news the way that it was intended to during our founding and the drafting of the First Amendment to the Constitution, we would not be in the mess that we are, our society would not be made up of 47 percent takers, and there never would have been a need for the “Liberty Movement.”

The media are every bit as corrupt as the Federal Government and they have morphed into what I like to refer to as the “Ruling Class” along with elected officials in both parties. [Editor's note: presumably Clark is referring to the major print and television media. -AA] They decide what we need to know, they decide what the truth is, they decide what society should think, and the sheep swallow it hook line and sinker. …

That is why it is imperative that the internet and sites like the PPC, talk radio, blogs, etc. remain engaged and continue to get the truth about what is happening to this country out. This is the only way we will ever win back our Republic. The truth is out there, we just need to find it and make the masses understand it.

*** David Harsayni ***

Does media report or make the news? Both. But there is no such thing as “media” or at least there is no such thing as a media that acts as one voice. It’s too democratized. So, sometimes it makes it, sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on the sensibilities of the outlet.

TV Reporters to Register with the Federal Government

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 1 by Grand Junction Free Press.

A menace stalks our society, contributing daily to panic and untimely death. Irresponsible television reporting whips the public into a passionate frenzy and leads them to make imprudent decisions, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Clearly there should be a law. Congress should require reasonable, common-sense television controls to register all reporters with the federal government and require background checks to purchase cameras and other sensitive equipment. After all, it’s for the children.

Yes, that’s our attempt at an April Fool’s joke. But our point is quite serious: the First Amendment and the freedom of speech protects the rights of journalists, even though some journalists act irresponsibly and contribute to harmful and even deadly behavior.

Similarly, the Second Amendment and the right of self-defense rightly protects peaceable gun owners, even though a tiny fraction of people with guns handle them irresponsibly or even commit horrific crimes.

Apparently Don Coleman’s idea of news reporting over at KJCT Channel 8 is to lie to law-abiding, peaceful gun owners by calling them under false pretenses to harass them about existing gun laws. Coleman reports that his station called people making private gun sales and asked them about background checks, knowing full well that private sales are not subject to such checks. Coleman’s resulting report is a barely-disguised editorial masquerading as news.

The background check system is riddled with problems, to which we’ll return. First we want to demonstrate that irresponsible journalism can in fact help to kill people, something journalists might care to remember when they advocate forcing people to register with the federal government to practice their Constitutional rights.

Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus, writes the “media seized hold of the story” about the bogus link between vaccines and autism and “helped to launch one of the most devastating health scares ever.” This “led to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough.”

* Gary Taubes argues in Good Calories, Bad Calories that the media contributed to the demonization of saturated fat in favor of high-carb grains, promoting more obesity and diabetes.

* “The media are much more likely to do scare stories about plane crashes than car accidents,” John Stossel points out, leading some people to avoid planes in favor of risker car travel.

* While much of the media have sensationalized the risks of nuclear power in the wake of Japan’s earthquake, Lachlan Markay writes for Newsbusters that “wind energy has killed more Americans than nuclear energy.” Science writer Matt Ridley adds, “Compared with coal, oil, gas and biofuels, nuclear energy is pretty harmless and its environmental footprint is minuscule.” Tom Zeller of the New York Times points out that most nuclear reactors in the world are even safer than those in Japan. Yet media fear mongering may encourage Americans to utilize relatively dangerous forms of energy.

* What about guns? John Lott writes in The Bias Against Guns, ”Though not always intentionally, the media and government have so utterly skewed the debate over gun control that many people have a hard time believing that defensive gun use occurs — let alone that it is common or desirable.” This media bias discourages some from considering the benefits of gun ownership, leading to more criminal victimization.

Yet, even though “pens don’t kill people, bad journalists do,” we fully endorse the First Amendment and its protections for all writers and speakers. The law should not punish good journalists for the irresponsibility of a few.

Likewise, the law should punish criminals who misuse guns, not responsible gun owners who help keep society safe by discouraging crime. But punishing the responsible is precisely what background checks are about.

Properly they are called “background registration checks,” because they register gun owners with the federal government. No, the names are not kept in a central database; they are kept on file by gun sellers, accessible to federal agents on request.

Under a demagog, such information easily could be abused. Those who want the global history of how gun-owner registration can lead to gun confiscation (and far worse) should see Death by ‘Gun Control’ by Aaron Zelman and Richard Stevens.

There is no magical, all-knowing Santa Claus who checks his list during a background check. The lists can be wrong, or somebody with a similar name may be wrongly delayed. When it comes to buying a tool for self-defense, delays can matter.

At Colorado gun shows, private sales must go through licensed dealers for a background check, adding to the costs of the gun.

Meanwhile, we have little reason to believe that background checks stop crime. Usually a criminal has easy access to black-market guns, or he’ll pass a check anyway. Meanwhile, we’re paying state and federal agents tax dollars to sit around running checks rather than chase down actual criminals.

Remember that nothing is so dangerous to our lives and the future of our nation than unjust, abusive laws.

The Whole Story On Norton’s Jobs-Bill Comments

As much as it humors me to be quoted by Colorado Pols and the Colorado Independent, those leftist publications are failing to tell the whole story behind Jane Norton’s comments on the jobs bill. They are trying to score political points rather than get to the truth. While I seek to hold politicians from all parties accountable for their statements and votes, Colorado Pols and the Independent are beating up Republicans while giving Democrats a free ride.

On February 24, in the course of a Fox interview discussing her television ad attacking President Obama over the budget, U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton said the Congressional jobs bill “was too small.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by this, because the jobs bill contains two major elements. The Associated Press explains:

First, it would exempt businesses hiring the unemployed from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax through December and give them an additional $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year.

Second, it would extend highway and mass transit programs through the end of the year and pump $20 billion into them in time for the spring construction season. The money would make up for lower-than-expected gasoline tax revenues.

The “jobs” bill, then, is part tax break and part “stimulus” spending. Which part of it did Norton think was too small? To find out, I called up her office and asked to speak to Cinamon Watson, Norton’s Deputy Campaign Manager. The reason I asked for her is that my dad and I have communicated with her previously about Norton’s campaign and the Armstrong Survey at http://tinyurl.com/cosurvey10. Watson said I should instead talk to Nate Strauch, Norton’s Press Secretary, who called me back later in the day. (This all took place on February 25.) I didn’t ask to speak to Norton directly, because I figured I’d never get through to her, and I figured I could get the relevant information out of her staff.

Here’s what I wrote about my conversation with Strauch:

Nate Strauch, Norton’s Press Secretary, said that what Norton meant was that “the impact was too small, not the price-tag was too small.”

But that implies that she did favor some sort of jobs bill, just one with a larger impact, does it not?

Strauch said “she supported a number of different measures,” such as “suspending the payroll tax for small businesses.” So Norton wants to cut taxes without touching spending levels? That’s not much of a policy.

Norton’s comments about the jobs bill were brief and off hand. Strauch’s clarification of her remarks fits perfectly with the nature of the bill. I’m satisfied that I now know Norton’s basic position on the bill. (I don’t think it’s a very good position, as I indicated, because tax breaks without corresponding spending cuts don’t help.)

Enter the Independent. In his article today, John Tomasic said, “Colorado GOP frontrunner for the U.S. Senate, Jane Norton doesn’t talk to the press–not even to the conservative bloggers at People’s Press Collective.”

Tomasic’s characterization is wrong for several reasons.

First, I’m not a “conservative blogger.” I advocate individual rights. I advocate gay rights, legal abortion, free speech, and an end to the drug war. How is that “conservative?” I do not seek to “conserve” the status quo, I seek the significant social and political changes necessary to fully protect individual rights.

Second, I am not “at People’s Press Collective” (PPC) in the sense that Tomasic seems to intend. By mutual consent, PPC republishes some of my articles. I recognize that PPC tends to lean more conservative and Republican friendly, but I am neither a conservative nor a Republican. (I am registered unaffiliated, and I voted for Democrats Bill Ritter and Mark Udall, among others. I have not yet decided how I will vote this year for governor and U.S. Senate.) I am not a writer for PPC in the same sense that Tomasic is a writer for the Independent; it’s just not that sort of relationship.

Third, Tomasic wrongly implies that I asked to speak directly with Norton; I did not. I was fine speaking with Strauch.

Tomasic adds that I supposedly “joined the chorus of writers mocking Norton’s commitment to communication with the people she aims to represent.” Yes, there was some definite mocking going on when I pointed out that Norton has yet to reply to the Armstrong survey. However, I will note, as Tomasic should also note, that neither Michael Bennet nor Andrew Romanoff has replied to that survey. Indeed, getting through to Bennet’s office was like pulling teeth, and one receptionist I spoke with was exceedingly rude and dismissive, though another representative was helpful. By comparison, Norton’s office has been a joy to contact.

If Tomasic wishes to act like a real journalist, rather than a partisan hack, he will join me in asking Bennet, Romanoff, AND Norton to respond to the Armstrong Survey and other tough questions, and he will report the views of all candidates fairly. Until he does so, he should be dismissed as nothing more than a Democratic lap dog.

Tomasic’s claim that Strauch’s clarification of Norton’s brief comment on the jobs bill somehow differs from Norton’s intended meaning is unwarranted. (That said, I would very much like to hear more of Norton’s views about “stimulus” spending and tax breaks absent spending cuts.) Colorado Pols’s similar criticisms are likewise misplaced.

Look, there is not a single person in the state of Colorado, who, in the rough and tumble of an extemporaneous interview, will always state every point with perfect clarity and precision. I certainly could not always meet that standard. If we are to remain intellectually honest, we must put a speaker’s comments in context and allow room for reasonable clarifications.

Is our goal to figure out what Norton’s true views are or to play partisan “gotcha” games? It is the left that most vociferously complains about big money in politics, yet the only alternative is honest debate. I ask Colorado Pols, I ask John Tomasic, I ask the writers for the Colorado Independentand the People’s Press Collective to join me in pursuing intellectually honest evaluation of the candidates, regardless of their party affiliation.

I’m sure there will be plenty of substantives points on which to criticize Jane Norton (for me, including her support for Referendum C) without Making Stuff Up about the meaning of the phrase “too small.” We’re bigger than that.

NYT Smears Tea Partiers

I was initially baffled by a New York Times article on the Tea Parties, until I realized that the left, with its worship of command-and-control, literally cannot conceive of true grass-roots activism.

Do nuts and conspiracy theorists ever show up at leftist rallies? Obviously. All the time. But, because such rallies are officially organized by some recognized leftist group, the nuts can be ignored, and the leftist media need only report the official views of the organizing group.

But there is nobody organizing the Tea Parties. There are many amorphous, loosely organized groups, and in some cases some of these groups have developed more or less formal leadership. But there is no official spokesperson for a Tea Party. Somebody announces their intention to rally, and other people join in for their own reasons. In some cases some major group, such as the Independence Institute, has sponsored a rally in Colorado, but even then the individual participants came for their own reasons.

Obviously the Tea Parties have been spurred by annoyance with the way things are going in the District of Charlatans. But beyond that, there is no official doctrine of the Tea Parties. The only thing that can be said of the Tea Partiers is that they are upset about current trends, and beyond that they have their own ideas. Tea Parties are a collection of individuals, and that is something the leftist media simply cannot understand.

The approach of David Barstow of the New York Times, then, is to point out that some Tea Partiers are nutty, and smear all other Tea Partiers by implication and guilt by association.

I have attended a number of rallies loosely fitting into the Tea Party movement. I have spoken at a couple of them. I have interviewed many participants. Sure, I’ve seen some nuts. I’ve seen the anti-abortion zealots, the anti-immigrant bigots, a few with tasteless Nazi signs, and the conspiracy theorists. But they are certainly not representative of Tea Partiers.

Instead, based on my interviews with numerous participants at these rallies, I have found basically thoughtful voters who generally favor Constitutionally limited government and freer markets. Quite a number of people I’ve interviewed have expressed an integrated and sensible ideology of liberty, while others have given me confused doctrines offering a mish-mash of freedom and political controls.

Here are links to some of my coverage of these events:
Pork Roast Rally in Photos
Meet the ‘Mob:’ Longmont Protests Obamacare
Denver 9/12 Rally: Freedom Forever
Pro-Liberty Health Rally Draws Hundreds
Denver Tea Party Ralliers In Their Own Words
Coloradans Speak Out Against Obama Care
July 4 Tea Party Arvada Colorado

Barstow claims that “Tea Party members joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, the John Birch Society, and Oath Keepers, a new player in a resurgent militia movement. … These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.”

At least Barstow does not claim to be describing all participants of the Tea Parties. He merely taints the rest by associative guilt.

It is true that there are some people who would claim all the labels that Barstow vomits onto the page. It is also true that many Tea Partiers would reject all those labels. Many libertarians who want to abolish the Federal Reserve also advocate open immigration.

As for me, I reject libertarianism (though I used to be a Libertarian), I am part of no “milita group” save the one defined by Colorado’s Constitution, I think Glenn Beck is often a clown but that he sometimes gets something right, I think the Birchers are flat-out nuts, I have no idea who the “Oath Keepers” are, I favor open immigration, and, yes, I think the Federal Reserve should be abolished in favor of a free market in currency.

And I refuse to let some idiot newspaper reporter guilt me out of civic participation because a few nuts or (gasp!) people who disagree with me happen to attend the same rally. I will speak for myself. “I will not be labeled, cataloged, filed, or coded.”

I will advocate liberty and individual rights by whatever just means I can, regardless of what the New York Times thinks of it.