Fixing Israel’s Broken Electoral System

An Israeli friend asked the other day how Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden could be in the same party. It’s not surprising that this seems odd to him. It reflects the difference between America’s two-party electoral system and Israel’s parliamentary model.

In a multi-party parliamentary system parties tend to be ideological in nature. In other words, they’re strongly committed to a specific set of principles and goals. On the other hand, because there are only two parties with a chance of winning presidential elections in the U.S., both are only moderately ideological. U.S. parties are informal coalitions of interest groups that have come together for a common goal. This system enables each interest group to achieve some of their goals without being able to blackmail their party after the election, which is what happens in Israel.

Israel needs to move to a system where coalitions are built before elections not after. To accomplish this, the percentage a party needs to gain seats in the Knesset should be increased from the current 3.25 percent to as high as 7.5 percent. If that were in place this past September, six of the nine parties that won seats would have been shut out. Knowing in advance that would be the likely result would have forced each of them to negotiate with the two major Jewish parties—Blue and White and Likud––before the election. They would have had to join one or the other or lose all influence in the election’s outcome.

Ideological purity has its pluses. In Israel, it means minority viewpoints are represented, and that’s good, BUT it also means those parties have inordinate power beyond the percentage of the public that supports their positions. Yisrael Beiteinu with only seven percent of public support is blocking the formation of a government the consequences of which can be disastrous.

Ideological purity is the enemy of coalitions. Ideological purity explains why the left-leaning Labor Party would not join in a coalition with Bibi Netanyahu’s right-leaning Likud Party. Their voters would be outraged if they were to do so. To abandon the platform they campaigned on would guarantee their supporters would never vote for those individuals in the future.

The two major parties in the American system are much less ideological than those in Israel or other parliamentary systems. In the American system coalitions are formed before the election not afterward as in Israel. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put together a coalition that lasted decades. It was made up of large city political machines, labor unions, white Southerners, and ethnic minorities including Jews and blacks. Barack Obama imitated F.D.R. and won twice easily.

Because coalitions in the U.S. are built in advance of elections, interest groups are confident of gaining some, but not all, of their goals if and when their party prevails. That keeps their members happy because there’s hope they’ll gain more of their platform if they keep coming out for their party.

The weakness of the American electoral system is the process of choosing presidential candidates. Candidates know primaries attract the most committed voters and thus are motivated to take extreme positions during the primary season, forcing them to move to the center if they win their party’s nomination.

Donald Trump stood out and easily won the nomination in 2016 despite his lack of political experience. This year the field of more than twenty Democrats seeking their party’s nomination is shrinking fast as candidates with moderate views find it hard to gain media attention and support.

Neither electoral system is perfect. In Israel, reforms will need to be passed after the current crisis is over in order to avoid a repeat. I recommend increasing the minimum percentage vote to 7.0 or 7.5 percent in order to reduce the number of parties with a chance to gain seats and gum up the works. This would force parties to form coalitions BEFORE the election instead of afterwards. This would reduce the minor parties to influence groups while still enabling them to gain some, but not all of the platform outcomes they desire. Combining the best of both systems can help Israel avoid future stalemates.

How America’s Mainstream Media Operate

When Adolph Ochs purchased the nearly bankrupt New York Times in 1896, he added a motto that demonstrated his marketing genius. “All the News That’s Fit to Print” became the industry standard and before long the Times became the most trusted newspaper in the country––a status it retains one hundred twenty years later. Yet, the evidence is clear that the Times violated that standard continuously while pretending to engage in objective, unbiased journalism. I will demonstrate my thesis through a review of how newspapers work, which I’ll follow up with by reviewing two books that prove my point.

Every newspaper is the product of a set of procedures whereby an institutional bias determines what stories are covered, how they are covered and what appears on the paper’s editorial pages. In theory, that bias reflects the staff’s professional objectivity and conscientious impartiality, which is the case for a large percentage of the stories each paper generates. Where papers depart from that professional journalistic bias is in the coverage of issues that owners and their top editors view as especially important.

Ironically, the notion that ownership influences a paper’s coverage is accepted when talking about papers owned by conservatives, but not when referencing papers such as the L.A. Times, Washington Post or New York Times. Yet as I shall demonstrate, ownership influence is just as strong at those papers as in the others.

The owners of major newspapers rarely provide direct instructions on how to cover a topic. They don’t have to. Their influence is more subtle and is the result of long-standing policies that determine who is hired and who is promoted to decision-making editorial positions. As a result, their views influence how issue-critical stories are covered, editorial positions, and who is invited to contribute columns on editorial pages.

The Selection of Reporters Re-enforces a Paper’s Bias

Reporters who get jobs at large daily newspapers have proven themselves to be worthy of that responsibility. For the most part, they have graduated from highly rated colleges and held positions where they’ve demonstrated that they hold the kind of values the hiring newspaper requires. Those values include an understanding that they must stay within the boundaries of the views expressed in that paper in the past.

Reporters who get promoted to editorial positions have demonstrated an advanced degree of loyalty to a paper’s traditional practices and outlooks. If, for example, the top editors of a paper have determined that climate change is a threat to civilization, a reporter who has expressed doubts about that theory will not advance professionally––even if s/he has only expressed that viewpoint in private.

This all sounds very conspiratorial except two recent close examinations of the coverage of the New York Times of critical news stories demonstrate the validity of my thesis. In his 2019 study “Print to Fit,”[i] Jerold S. Auerbach details the Times’ coverage of Zionism and the state of Israel from Ochs’ purchase of the Times through the present day.

Auerbach documents how the Times consistently engaged in coverage decisions that conveyed opposition to the founding of a Jewish state and then, after the state of Israel came into existence in 1948, the Times has consistently blamed Israel for its problems with the region’s Arab population while minimizing the responsibility of Israel’s enemies.

Auerbach had the unenviable task of reading through more than one hundred years of the Times’ news stories and editorials. He documents story by story how the Times’ coverage reflected the view of its owners. Although the Times occasionally publishes the views of those who disagree with its coverage and has retained columnists who voiced other opinions, those exceptions have been rare.

How Owners’ Views Get Implemented

The Times’ owners’ antipathy to the notion of a “Jewish state,”[ii] was reflected in the selection of reporters and bureau chiefs sent to the Middle East. Each followed the party line, which they demonstrated in their coverage of decades of attacks on Israeli civilians by Arab nationalists. Again and again, post-killing stories featured the murderer and his family, suggesting the bombings, knifings and other methods of shedding Israeli’s blood were justified by the conditions they were living under and/or by Israel’s refusal to give the “Palestinians” a state of their own. In contrast, the stories of the Jewish victims are minimized or ignored.

On the other hand, actions by the Israeli government to counteract this violence were criticized by the Times’ columnists as a departure from adherence to democratic values while the support by the leaders of the Palestinian organizations for suicide bombings was “understandable.” Never did the Times’ admit to this double standard––asking Israelis to turn the other cheek while not expecting Arabs to be capable of restraint.

You might ask why the Times was opposed to Zionism and why it has been antagonistic to Israel for the past seven decades. Their attitude can be explained by the fact that the Times’ Jewish owners did not want to appear that their ownership resulted in undue positive coverage Jews, Judaism or Israel. But the truth is more complicated. It began with Ochs’ connection to the Reform Movement in Judaism.

Why The Times Is Hostile to Israel

The Reform Movement in the U.S. gave Jews permission to see Judaism as a religion divorced from the history of the Jewish people and from the notion of Jews as God’s chosen people. As a result, during the first half of the 20th century Reform Jews opposed the movement that sought to return to the land from which the Jewish people were exiled two thousand years ago. Even today, many Reform Jews prioritize being comfortable as Americans free from the accusation of divided loyalties, which Israel’s existence threatens.

That outlook was carried over in the personage of Ochs’ son-in-law and successor, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. Sulzberger was even more hostile than his father-in-law to the notion of Jews as a distinct people to whom other Jews owed an allegiance. Sulzberger demonstrated his rejection of that allegiance in his relations with top officials in the Roosevelt administration during World War Two giving them cover for their failure to offer sanctuary to Europe’s Jews or to engage in efforts to stop the Nazis’ slaughter. His editors reflected his view in terms of their news coverage or lack thereof of what we today know as the Holocaust.

Laurel Leff analyzed the Times’ WWII coverage in great detail in her 2005 expose “Buried by the Times.”[iii] While, like Auerbach, Leff carefully read through the pages of the Times to justify her thesis, she also had access to correspondence and other sources. Studying the Times from1933 through the end of World War Two, she documents the Times’ downplaying the dehumanizing policies of the Nazi government towards Jews and the paper’s failure to recognize evidence that those policies had metastasized after 1942 into the Final Solution and the death of six million.

Sulzberger did not instruct his editors how to cover the crisis facing Europe’s Jews. He didn’t need to do so. He made his feelings known in hiring and promotion decisions, and by his refusal to bow to pressure from Jewish groups to tell the story of the Jews’ plight. Sulzberger also conveyed his outlook by the organizations he belonged to, such as the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, which received coverage in the Times beyond its import in terms of size and influence.

Perhaps the Times is clean except for its coverage of Zionism and Israel? Believe that and I’ve a bridge in Brooklyn . . . The Times and the rest of the mainstream press decided early on that it wanted Barack Obama to be America’s first “Black” president and it covered his campaign and presidency from that outlook. It subsequently decided Donald Trump was unworthy of being president and has done everything it could to reverse the 2016 election and make sure he doesn’t serve a second term.

Expressing editorial opinions on one’s editorial pages is not a problem because readers understand there is a difference between news stories and editorials. Yet, today a paper’s

editorial outlook leaks into the selection and placement of stories on sports and life pages as well as in the news section. Adding editorial columns to those pages is a relatively new phenomenon that I’m not certain readers have caught on to. What is clear is that you won’t have a pro-Trump lifestyle page columnist writing for the Washington Post, New York Times, et al. Rather, what those papers are saying is the more angles from which Trump can be attacked the better.

From the days when news of Jews being slaughtered in Europe were buried at the bottom of news stories on inside pages to the present, papers like the Times have not been neutral, objective or unbiased in their coverage of the major topics of the day. You may agree with their bias, but if so, know facts and opinions in opposition to their views will not be featured despite the occasional guest columnist whose presence satisfies the papers’ need to appear fair.

It is incumbent upon Americans who are concerned about being led by the nose by media giants like the New York Times to get their news from a variety of sources. The Internet, though subject to ‘fake news,’ offers contrasting opinions and researched coverage. Those sources are also biased, but readers willing to put in the time can find sufficient information to make their own decisions about the issues of the day. In sum, we must recognize no source can be trusted––particularly the New York Times.

 

[i] Jerold S. Auerbach, “Print to Fit.The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2006,” Academic Studies Press, 2019.

[ii] Deborah Lipstadt points out in her review of Auerbach’s book that as late as 1986––nearly forty years after the founding of the state of Israel, the Times would still not allow Israel to be described on its pages as a “Jewish state.” See Deborah E. Lipstadt, “The Gray Lady and the Jewish State,” Jewish Review of Books, Fall, 2019, P. 22.

[iii] Laurel Leff, “Buried by the Times. The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper,” Cambridge University Press, 2005.

 

The Politically-Motivated Scold: “He’s a Liar”

Apparently one of the worst things you can call someone is a ‘liar.’ That accusation is thrown around repeatedly by President Trump’s critics and opponents. But it’s not only said of Trump. When Brent Kavanaugh wouldn’t confess to operating a gang rape fest in college, he was accused by many of lying despite no evidence backing the accusation.

Accusing someone of being a liar is a cheap way of attacking them. The accusation is taken as proof––no evidence needed. It is assumed the accusation must be true; it’s too serious to be levied on a whim.

Let’s look at the accusation that Donald Trump is an inveterate liar.

Differences of Opinon

A large number of the lies attributed to Donald Trump are differences in opinion, not fact. If he says his administration passed the largest tax cut in the country’s history, is it a lie if someone claims the numbers don’t back his claim? First, one has to establish that Trump is wrong; second that he knew he was wrong when he made the claim. But what if discrepancy between the fact checker’s calculation comes down to a difference in what is being measured? Changes in the tax code affect people differently depending on tax bracket. Thus, it’s easy to cherry pick numbers and accuse your opponent of lying about the facts. This technique of calling a difference of opinion a lie is politically motivated. It’s not designed to get at the “truth.” The goal is to skewer your opponent.

Hyperbole

The President uses hyperbole as a rhetorical devise. To some critics, his exagerations are lies, but it’s not that simple. If someone consciously exagerates to make a point, is that a lie or simply a means the speaker is using to get his point across? The speaker might admit he exagerated a point, assuming the listener is smart enough to distinguish between hyperbole and an intent to deceive.

When the president says his administration has accomplished more in two and a half years than any other president is that something that can be disproved? It can be challenged, but it’s a matter of opinion, not fact.

Can Someone Lie without Intent?

A core problem with accusing someone of lying the accuser should be able to prove that the accused knew his facts were wrong when he made the offending statement. Trump has been accused of having lied about the size of his inauguration crowd versus Obama’s, but can you prove he knew the facts and intentionally lied about it? What’s his obligation in terms of obtaining the facts? What if someone gave him the incorrect information? What is his obligation in terms of correcting an error? Doesn’t it depend on the issue. Since the size of a crowd has little bearing on anything of import, can it be held against Trump for not issuing an apology if indeed he was wrong?

Does Context Matter?

Does whether someone can be accused of lying depend on the context? If a reporter button-holes a politician with a question, does his answer demand the same level of accuracy as testimony in court or when submitting prepared remarks? President Trump likes to play games with the media. He says things to get their goat. One of the examples of how his opponents have tried to make him out to have colluded with Russia in 2016 was his remark that someone should ask the Russians if they know the whereabouts of the missing emails from Hillary’s server. Is it his fault that his tease was taken seriously and used as justification for his being investigated as a traitor?

The Problem That Comes from Accusing Someone of Lying

The danger of accusing someone of lying when you aren’t distinguishing between rhetoric and fact is that it provides a justification in the mind of those who buy the accusation to ignore evidence to the contrary. If you think someone lies all day long, you probably believe everything that person says is a lie. Then you stop listening and paying attention to what that person does, which in the end is the goal of the accuser. The accuser wants you to buy their lies and stop using your reasoning powers to make judgements based on facts. Sadly this technique seems to be working on a lot of people.

Permission to Carry a Gun May Not Be Granted in Maryland

Has the future of gun ownership arrived? In Maryland, a Handgun Permit Review Board  denied the application of a Washington, D.C. resident to be able to carry a handgun when he travels into Maryland. They rejected his rationale that he is in potential danger of hostile encounters due to the fact that he is a Republican congressional staffer.

Did you know that you need a special permit in Maryland if you wish to carry a gun you legally possess outside your home? To do so, you must file an application with the State Police, pass a criminal background check, take a handgun-training course, and provide a “good and substantial reason” why the application should be approved.

The D.C. resident’s application was denied, as was his appeal. The Handgun Review Board ruled that he provided no evidence of threats that would justify approval. That is despite recent attacks on Republicans, including the shooting at the Republicans softball practice that nearly killed Congressman Steve Scalise. The applicant is now in front of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals hoping for a reversal of the Review Board’s decision.

Not to get too legalistic here, but you should know that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that Maryland has the right to require this justification procedure. Perhaps they failed to consider that an applicant’s politics might one day become one of the criteria for denial. Are we looking at a future where members of only one party will be granted carry rights? That’s not a preposterous possibility given that the state Review Board is currently made up of political appointees. But should such a procedure even exist?

The D.C. applicant, who is being represented by a group entitled Maryland Shall Issue (www.marylandshallissue.org), wants the state court to grant the application. While the state court can do so, it cannot overturn the 4th Circuit. That can only be done by the U.S.Supreme Court, which is where this and similar cases are heading.

The president of Maryland Shall Issue rightfully argues that the U.S. Constitution provides equal rights to all of its citizens––not just members of a special class. How the Supreme Court will rule will determine whether states can decide which citizens who legally possess handguns are permitted to carry them for protection outside their homes and which may not. Stay tuned.

Socialism: The Impossible Dream. A review of Bernard K. Johnpoll’s 1981 study, subtitled, “The Rise and Demise of the American Left*”

I was fortunate to have taken a class with Professor Johnpoll in the 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University at Albany. He was sui generis––a cigar smoking, iconoclastic, child of Communists who admired people who flirted with the Left while despite concluding that their dreams can never be achieved.

Why never? The conundrum socialists have been unable to solve for two hundred years is how to get from present circumstances to the “cooperative commonwealth.” Further, they have not and never will reach a consensus on what the cooperative commonwealth looks like. Each person has his own vision of utopia, which makes it easy for the leaders of the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions to get away with calling their un-cooperative societies socialism and imposing their totalitarian rule on their subjects.

In The Impossible Dream, Johnpoll dissects the history of the socialist leaders, movements, and organizations in the U.S. from the early nineteenth century to the 1970s. Based on extensive use of primary and secondary sources, he documents his thesis that these organizations and movements were bound to fail despite their high ideals.

The Long History of Protesting Capitalism

In the early days of industrial capitalism in England and the United States people chafed at the negative side effects of the “industrial revolution”––the lack of restraints on working conditions that chewed up people in the name of profit.

Not that pre-industrial societies lacked poverty or suffering, but what prevented the rise of reform movements in that era was an absence of a clear path to a better world. Once technology, starting with steam engines, introduced the possibility of a world where you were not tied to your previous station in life, reformers and reform movements sprouted like dandelions.

The primary critics of early capitalism were craftsmen whose skills were becoming irrelevant in the face of a new competitive environment where products could be produced in large numbers and sold for less than hand-crafted items. Combining religious images like the golden rule with visions of how industry could be re-organized, Robert Owen and others preached the coming of a society built around cooperative communities. Although the model communities Owen and others set up invariably failed––and did so very quickly by the way, they planted seeds which others sowed in the fertile fields created by early capitalism’s destructive excesses.

The goal of socialism––whether Marxian, Christian, or communitarian, is to take over ownership of the “means of production” and put it in the hands of the workers. The problem socialists have never solved, according to Johnpoll, is how one gets there. Nowhere was that more evident in the reformers’ dealings with the working class.

Labor Unions versus Socialism

In the nineteenth century, while reformers were preaching their individual variants of the total reformation of society, workers who couldn’t wait for the arrival of the cooperative commonwealth, began to form labor unions. For a time the interests of socialists and unionists were allied because owners backed by the police and legal system of the state resisted––often by force––all efforts of workers to organize.

Once the unionists demands began to be translated into law, however, their leaders broke with the socialists. When he expelled the socialists from his American Federation of Labor in 1903, Gompers said, “I want to tell you, Socialists, that I have studied your philosophy; read your works upon economics, and . . . I have heard your orators and watched the work of your movement the world over . . . Economically you are unsound, socially you are wrong, industrially you are an impossibility.”

For Gompers and others, socialists wanted to revolutionize all of society, while unionists were satisfied with improving the present-day lot of their members. This caused huge problems for socialists––some eschewed ameliorative gains while others saw reforms as the path to God’s kingdom on earth. Either way they failed again and again to win over the working class.

Socialist leaders, most of whom did not come from the working class, had an even harder time when it came to the problem of whether or not to participate in the electoral process. Some felt socialism could be brought about democratically, while others felt the owning class would never allow that to happen and only through an uprising by the working people of the world could a revolution that overthrew capitalism be accomplished.

Throw in conflicts born of ethnic differences and leaders personalities and you have a history of organizations being formed, making temporary gains, and then failing apart. It happened over and over again. Each generation of leaders thought this time will be different: this time the workers will vote for us or respond to our call for a general strike or join our socialist labor union. When that didn’t happen, they always had fellow socialists to blame.

Johnpoll clearly admires the reformers of the nineteenth century more than those of the twentieth with a few exceptions. Early reformers didn’t have experience to guide them and they paved the way for positive changes in society once social opinion or historical circumstance convinced the political party in power to implement reforms. They didn’t achieve their dream, but we take for granted many of the reforms they called for, from an end to child labor to unemployment insurance, from compulsory education to the right to collective bargaining.

Are Today’s Democrats advocating Socialism?

In recent years, the rhetoric in the Democratic Party in favor of some form of socialism has escalated. Bernie Sanders came close to winning the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016 and remains one of the favorites in the 2020 race. This time around nearly the entire cast of presidential candidates is advocating one or more programs that amount to increased governmental control over various aspects of the production and distribution of goods and services. Health care and the environment are the most prominent areas where socialistic policies have won favor with the Party’s activist base, but except for Sanders none of the others seem willing to go full bore and denounce capitalism.

From a historical perspective what the Democrats are moving towards is more like the system that ruled the Soviet Union than the cooperative commonwealth envisioned by nineteenth century social philosophers––including Karl Marx. The Soviet Union was a totally statist society in which the state apparatus controlled everything, including personal choices in many areas. (There was nothing communistic about it.) We’re not there yet, but that’s the direction we’re heading in––namely, the sacrifice of personal liberties on behalf of the “common good.”

The problem is who defines what’s good and proper. In the Soviet Union, it was the Communist Party. In the US today, the federal bureaucracy has assumed the responsibility for defining specifics of vaguely wording legislation, often going against the will of the current chief executive.

The fact that we still elect the president is a critical difference between the U.S. and the Soviet Union because it offers the possibility that the power of the state can be restrained. Yet, to the average citizen, there’s little difference when waiting to get an appointment with the VA hospital in the U.S. or the poor quality of socialized medicine in the former USSR.

Ultimately, most reformers are totalitarians. They don’t like conditions in the present. Fine. They see a better world. Fine. They want to impose their vision of a better world on everyone else. Not so fine. We only have to look at Russia, China, and Cuba to understand what happens to the individual when reformers grab the power of the state. The individual becomes acted upon, not an actor. That’s the danger we’re facing in the U.S. in 2019. Reading Johnpoll’s Impossible Dream can help elucidate why the future world painted by today’s reformers is impossible to achieve no matter how appealing the picture.

Coda: Marx’s scientific socialism predicted the most advanced capitalist societies would be the first to undergo a conversion to socialism. Clearly that prediction was wrong. Lack of economic development where the elements of a capitalist system are non-existent or weak, is often coupled with a non-democratic political system, while in the US, where democracy while not perfect, is nevertheless deeply embedded, capitalism has raised the standard of living of the entire society even under the restraints of social legislation. Like democracy, capitalism is the best option available on a list of imperfect choices.

* An earlier version of this review was posted on Amazon and Goodreads in 2014.

 

What journalists do: My thoughts

Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union, informs us “a journalist who just passes along what is said is a fancy stenographer, failing at the task of truth telling.” That in a nutshell describes where journalism has gone off the rails and why it’s audience represents only one segment of society.

When I was a cub reporter with the Oberlin College student newspaper, my first assignment was to cover a talk by the poet Stephen Spender. I was asked to take notes so that people not able to attend would get an accurate idea of what he said. I certainly was not expected to judge or evaluate Spender’s presentation.

Later I became a sports editor. The closest I came to “truth telling” was writing a headline that told readers the extent of the victory or defeat. The story itself was a recapitulation of the events of the game or match told without editorial input. Today sports stories rarely report on the game itself; instead they purport to tell us what the victory or defeat means, taking away our pleasure as fans coming to our own conclusions.

When it comes to politics, journalism today is agenda driven. What that means is that the newspaper’s point of view on all major topics is pre-determined. All a reporter needs to do is fill in the details that support the paper’s view. If that’s truth telling, my name is Bill Clinton.

If you need evidence, consider the revelations that discredit the New York Times from being an objective source of information on the issues of the day.

With the election of Donald Trump, the Times resolved to focus on the assumption that he stole the election with help from Russia. “We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well,” said Dean Baquet, the Times’ current executive editor. I would question that conclusion. There was no collusion, but the Times reportedly gained 600,000 digital subscriptions telling its readers daily for more than two years that the evidence was mounting. Mission accomplished.
Today, Baquet has decided to shift to another story: racism. His goal is to reframe the entire history of this country to make it a function of slavery. They want us to believe that the history of the United States of America began with the arrival of the first African slaves at Jamestown in 1619. Slavery taints all and cannot be erased. Not even reparations will satisfy.

It’s easy to see how this game plan accomplishes the Times’ current political agenda. It not only appeals to the descendants of slavery, but it enables the Times to undermine black support for President Trump, which could be a factor in the outcome of the 2020 election.

What should newspapers do?

In its long history on this continent, newspapers evolved from being a voice for owners to express their views on the issues of the day ala Ben Franklin to becoming a platform for political parties, which meant tarring opponents with whatever calumny was handy. In the early 20th century reformers sought to hold papers to a set of principles that included separating news stories from opinion. That was the prevailing ethic until Watergate—the expose of President Nixon’s involvement in trying to undermine George McGovern’s campaign by planting false evidence in a Democrat campaign office.

After that, the big newspapers got swelled heads, feeling their job was not just to report on, but once more to influence the outcome of the issues of the day. If that means reporters inserting their views in news stories, so be it. If that means having an agenda which all stories on a topic such as climate change or tariffs have to adhere to a set position, so be it.

Professional journalists should not just be stenographers, but neither should they couch a news story to follow a political agenda failing to report facts that conflict with those that support the company’s view.

Jill Abramson, Baquet’s predecessor at the Times, wrote a book, Merchants of Truth, in which she argued that newspapers are kowtowing to advertisers in the face of declining revenues. What has turned things around economically for some has fast news distribution via social media, using Twitter for example, to release partial stories ahead of print publication. The danger she sees is a lack of oversight and a rush to judgment. That is exacerbated when the paper has an admitted agenda.

In a democracy, readers ought to be given adequate information to make up their own minds. Newspapers should provide a balanced coverage of the issues, such that reporters tell us what people say on both sides of an issue without editorializing. If they want to express their own opinions on the issues, save it for their personal Twitter account. The arrogance of those who think they are in possession of the truth contributes to the public’s distrust of the media. Fox has it right: their job is to report; ours is to decide.

Wake Up People: Stop Fear Being Called a Racist

A self-defined Black caller to a national talk show today made a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time––namely, that the term racist has become bastardized to the point where it is meaningless. Still many people fear being called a racist, and as long as people act stupid to avoid that label, there are those who will bring it out and slap it on.

Race to start is an artificial category. It came into use centuries ago by those who wanted to oppress others on the basis of artificial distinctions, such as religion (used by Christians to define non-Christians as heathens), use of language (non-English speakers were considered inferior) and oh, yes, skin pigmentation. Over time, the effectiveness of that practice came to be diminished as overwhelming evidence showed that not all Jews are money-grubbers, not all Irish are drunkards, and not all people of African origins are incapable of higher learning.

That there are still a tiny number of idiots who buy into the notion that there are groups of people all of whom share certain negative physical traits is unfortunate, but their number is infesimal and they are powerless as a group.

Now, let’s examine why some people still throw the term racist around at their political enemies. First, they do it because the media will report it without questioning it the way they would question they would if someone accused a political opponent of being a satan worshiper. Second, it elevates the accusers in their own eyes, justifying their willingness to by-pass traditional rules for discourse on the floor of the House of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi), and to their willingness to make accusations without feeling obligated to provide evidence or answer questions explaining the basis of their charges (Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar).

The mainstream media plays a sad role in this spectacle. For instance, when President Trump criticized four female Congresswomen for their anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric, he was accused of being a racist even though he didn’t refer to the women’s race or even mention them by name.

On a side note, it’s interesting how it’s possible today to self-define yourself as a person of color. Rashida Tlaib comes from an Arab background. Arabs don’t normally define themselves as people of color, and what about Ocasio-Cortez? Her parents are from Puerto Rico, but does that make her a person of color? Is everyone with a Hispanic surname a person of color? Yet both claimed they were victims of Trump’s racism. Again, the media seems to fear being called a racist since they never challenge anything these women say––not matter how absurd.

The only way to put a stop to the irresponsible use of the term racist is to stop being afraid of being called one. That doesn’t mean you have to have been pure of thought throughout your entire life. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever have used the “N” word or had a momentary negative thought about a whole group of people on the basis of their religion, national origins or eating habits. You’re not a racist if you don’t believe that there are groups of people who share negative physical characteristics that justify their being treated as second-class citizens. Pure and simple.

Once people stop being afraid of the term, those who love to use it will find their power diminished and they’ll move on to something else. Meat-eater perhaps?!