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.

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.

James Reflects on People’s Press Collective

People’s Press Collective, which aggregates conservative and free market writings in Colorado (and on which this post will appear), started with the idea of covering the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Thomas James, a cofounder of the project, reviewed its history and goals at a recent Liberty On the Rocks event.

James said of the DNC, “We were going to show what was really going on on the street, with protests and riots, and who knows what… the things that the media really didn’t want you do see.” (At the time, various organizers and pundits discussed the possibility of riots.) The organization’s coverage of the event runs through August of 2008.

And, for those who missed it, James also discussed the new hard science fiction novel about Mars he coauthored, In the Shadow of Ares:

Harry Potter’s Lessons for Journalists

The following article originally was published August 6 by Grand Junction’s Free Press.

Harry Potter’s Lessons for Journalists

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Journalism plays a critical role in a free society. However, just as politicians and private individuals sometimes do the wrong thing, so can journalists sometimes get their facts wrong or act unethically. Consider a few examples from recent headlines.

After internet writer Andrew Breitbart released a video of Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, showing Sherrod making apparently racist comments, she was fired. But the video edited Sherrod’s comments out of context; her actual story was about how, many years ago (before her government job), she overcame bias to assist people regardless of race.*

During brief remarks at the Independence Institute’s Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) party, U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck said people should vote for him because he does “not wear high heels.” Many took his comment out of context, calling him sexist. In fact he was telling a dumb joke in response to unrelenting gender-based attacks from his primary opponent, Jane Norton.

Colorado pundit Ross Kaminsky initially reported that he could not find college records of governor candidate Dan Maes; it turned out the school’s database was faulty. Admirably, Kaminsky quickly updated his account and apologized to Maes.

Even good journalists sometimes get things wrong, and some journalists act unethically, recklessly or intentionally distorting the facts.

Fortunately, some great advice about journalistic ethics may be found in the Harry Potter series of novels, soon to gain another round of publicity from movies due out this year and the next. Journalists would do well to read the series, particularly starting with the fourth book.

In the character of Rita Skeeter, the Potter novels offer a great example of how not to do journalism. Skeeter makes up quotes, takes comments and events out of context, and illegally listens in on people’s private conversations. She cashes in on Harry’s popularity by writing distorted, sensationalistic stories — just as many media outlets do to real-life celebrities.

In the fifth Potter book, Order of the Phoenix, the Ministry of Magic grows corrupt, controlling Hogwarts school and manipulating the Daily Prophet, the major newspaper for wizards. The Minister of Magic becomes paranoid, fearing Harry and his allies while ignoring the real threat of the evil Voldemort. Thus, the ministry leans on the press to vilify Harry and ignore Harry’s evidence about Voldemort.

During this period, Harry and his friends learn to read the manipulated media “between the lines” for tidbits of real news, and Harry also reads the Muggle (non-magical) news for hints.

Over the final two books, the Ministry falls under the control of Voldemort, a vicious tyrant. It is during this period that the controlled media function as the propaganda arm of a dictatorship. Harry’s allies use pirate radio to communicate news of the resistance.

Many of Harry Potter’s lessons for journalists, then, are negative: don’t be corrupt like Rita Skeeter, and fight government censorship and control of media.

However, the Potter books also offer a constructive vision of journalism as a means to tell the truth. During the period of Ministry corruption and censorship, the editor of the Quibbler, a usually-unreliable tabloid paper, agrees to publish an interview with Harry, a first-hand witness to Voldemort’s return to power. Harry’s friend Hermione Granger conscripts Skeeter to write the account and for once report the truth.

When Skeeter complains that nobody takes the Quibbler seriously, Hermione replies that many readers are smart enough to tell the difference between good reporting and bad, whatever the source. She points out that the Prophet’s stories have “gaping holes” in them, leaving readers hungry for “a better explanation of what happened.”

Thankfully, in our part of the world, media remain mostly free from government manipulation. Citizens can help keep journalism honest by doing their own research and writing letters, op-eds, and blog posts. Citizen journalists need only recognize that they are ethically bound by the same rules of fair play and contextual reporting of all the relevant facts.

Ironically, despite the Potter novels’ constructive view of journalism, a 2008 paper in the American Communication Journal blasts the novels for their allegedly “extremely negative depiction of journalism” that “could have an adverse effect on child readers.”

The paper takes quotes out of context and omits important facts about the novels, thereby committing exactly the sort of errors the Potter novels warn against. You can read Ari’s complete rebuttal of the paper at http://tinyurl.com/pottermedia, located at the web site about Ari’s book, Values of Harry Potter.

The ultimate message of the Harry Potter novels is simply this: the truth matters. To get at the truth, we must consider all of the relevant facts, avoid temptation to omit uncomfortable facts, and consider the full context of a story. If we pursue the truth, whether we are professional or citizen journalists or consumers of the news, we can help build a better, more just society.

* The original video released by Andrew Breitbart does include a segment from Sherrod about changing her mind about not helping a white farmer. Breitbart’s post also includes the following addition: “Correction: While Ms. Sherrod made the remarks captured in the first video featured in this post while she held a federally appointed position, the story she tells refers to actions she took before she held that federal position.”

Harry Potter’s Constructive Journalism

A 2008 paper from the American Communication Journal argues that the “extremely negative depiction of journalism” in the Harry Potter novels “could have an adverse effect on child readers.”

Nonsense, I reply. The Potter series actually offers critical lessons about journalism, including how it can be subjected to government censorship.

I have published my new essay, “Harry Potter Series Maligned by Media Article,” over at the web page devoted to my book, Values of Harry Potter.

I hope you’ll read the entire article. Here I want to briefly excerpt the piece. The background is that Hermione Granger (Harry’s friend and ally) wants Rita Skeeter to write up a truthful interview with Harry for publication in the Quibbler, a publication Skeeter mocks:

Hermione persists in her view that journalism can and properly does serve to tell the truth to the public. She tells Skeeter, “Well, this is your chance to raise the tone of it a bit, isn’t it?”

Skeeter replies that nobody will take an article in the Quibbler seriously.

Hermione’s reply is noteworthy:

Some people won’t. But the Daily Prophet’s version of the Azkaban breakout [in which Voldemort’s followers escaped from prison] had some gaping holes in it. I think a lot of people will be wondering whether there isn’t a better explanation of what happened, and if there’s an alternative story available, even if it is published in… an unusual magazine — I think they might be rather keen to read it.”

… Hermione’s views of journalism are precisely the opposite of what Sturgill’s paper claims the series promotes. While Hermione rightly recognizes the dangers and shortcomings of government-controlled media, she also recognizes the crucial role journalism can play in relating the truth to the public. …

Without Skeeter’s assistance, Hermione could have found another writer to cover the story, or she could have written it up herself. In our world, citizen journalists often write letters, op-eds, and blog posts to advance a story. While [the cited] paper claims that Skeeter is the only “journalist of any consequence” named in the series, this is wrong: Hermione also functions as an important journalist — a citizen journalist — in this case.

Read the entire essay.

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.