100 Swan Song Editorials

The American newspaper industry has responded to an appeal for 100 newspapers to write editorials on the same day attacking President Trump for being critical of the news media. This act is an admission of the extent to which the national media has lost power and credibility. It may just be their swan song––a last minute attempt to regain status and authority. My bet is that it will fail. It will fail to sway any members of the public who aren’t already Trump haters and it will fail to restore the national media’s position as the arbiter of right and wrong in America. That horse left the stable years ago and is not coming back.

Why do I claim the media has lost its power? First, you need to concede that once upon a time everyone counted on newspapers for national and local news. Even with the emergence of radio and TV, newspapers held their own, funded by advertising, as the primary source of not only in-depth coverage, but by reporting on a greater number of stories each day than the broadcast media.

The handwriting signaling the end of their monopoly came with cable TV. Now people could hear about breaking news immediately and didn’t have to wait for the morning or afternoon paper to learn about it.

P.S.: Yes, there were afternoon newspapers. In my hometown––population 20,000 there were morning and afternoon newspapers until well into the 1960s.

But the largest nail in the newspaper’s coffin was the arrival of the Internet. The Internet is cable TV on steroids. It not only enables people to learn about breaking news within seconds, but it offers both scope and depth of coverage from a variety of official and unofficial sources.

The newspaper industry responded slowly and poorly. Why? Because of the huge capital investment required to produce a daily newspaper. That’s why newspapers have shut down and some dailies now publish twice or once a week, and why all but a few major newspapers print many fewer pages than they did just a generation ago. Union domination of newsrooms also made it difficult for newspapers to adapt.

Newspapers found they had to compete by offering web versions. Some have been able to charge subscriptions; many find they lose more money doing so than offering free access and selling ads on those pages. Either way, newspaper websites are not the only source of news. Millions rely on other sources. Some of those are poorly vetted and over time followers figure that out and abandon those outlets.

But that’s just the structural story. The rest of the story is that what was once an industry where views varied widely from conservative to liberal, has on the national level, pushed aside the conservative outlook, and united to become not just the reporter of news, but the maker of news created on behalf of a liberal-left ideology.

Consider how papers like the New York Times and Washington Post transformed their editorial outlook of the CIA and FBI. In the 1960s, both papers were highly critical of those agencies, seeing them as emblematic of a nascent police state––above the law and accountable to no one. Today, however, those papers love those agencies because they did exactly what they were accused of doing in the 1960s. They took sides in a national presidential election, acting outside the law on behalf of one candidate to the detriment of the other candidate. Further, their illegal and unethical behavior continued after the election to the extent they tried to subvert the Trump administration. They created false evidence, suborned perjury and leaked classified information to the news media.

I don’t think I’m being naïve in suggesting that the national media today is different than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Yes, some media organizations in those days had greater access to power than others and they used their power on behalf of certain parties and candidates. The difference is that there was competition in those days. The fact that 100 newspapers today (out of 1200+) are willing to act in unison is testimony to the lack of competition for viewpoints and scope of coverage, which is why subscription numbers are down and editorial pages are not read by the majority of subscribers.

One hundred editorial writers will be claiming they are defending freedom of the press. This self-indulgent, holier than thou, attitude doesn’t fly with me. Mr. Trump’s criticisms focus on the reality that some media are out to get him, and he has that right. It’s called free speech.

The President’s criticisms have not resulted in any reporters being personally attacked, or newspaper offices being bombed or burned down. (The incident in Annapolis had nothing to do with national politics.)

The national media is mad, but they are not telling the truth about why they’re mad¬––which is that millions of Americans agree with the President. Long before 2016, millions came to view newspaper coverage as biased against them. They read stories that made the average American out to be deplorable, racist, misogynist, bigoted, and a despoiler of the environment. How many of you like being attacked on a daily basis with the chance to defend yourself?

Newspapers have not learned the lesson that they don’t represent the majority of Americans. Acts like 100 editorials attacking the President make that clear and will likely hasten the day when the number of dailies sinks below 1,000.

Is the News Media above criticism?

The national news media has been engaged in a battle royal with Donald Trump that began the day he declared his candidacy. I doubt any major newspaper has failed to post an editorial attacking Trump for criticizing the news media, arguing their reporting is above criticism thanks to its Constitutional protection and that his attacks encourage or at least give permission to others to do so as well which threatens this vital institution.

There is a red line in all criticism that should not be crossed––namely advocating violence to people or property, but Donald Trump has not crossed that line nor have the people who are accountable to him. I’m not saying you might not be able to find some nut job who has advocated violence against the media, but according to my philosophy professor one example of anything does not make that thing representative. There was also the case of the man who killed journalists in Annapolis, but there’s no evidence he was motivated by national politics.

Those who feel the media has not just been unfair, but has engaged in a concerted campaign against Donald Trump and his administration, can feel somewhat justified at the announcement that the New York Times has added an avowedly racist Asian woman to its editorial board.

Sarah Jeong has posted on Twitter statements like “Dumba— f—ing white people marking up the Internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants” and “It’s sick how much joy I get from being cruel to old white men.”

How do you think the Times would react if it discovered a white male it had hired had said the same thing about Asian women while a teenager and now admits it was stupid and wrong? He would have been shown the door faster than Clark Kent changed into Superman. Yet Sarah Jeong is not recanting her racist comments and the Times and others defend its choice telling white people to stop being so sensitive.

What we have is a clear case of hypocrisy. It’s okay if I attack you for something even when I can’t prove it, but you are not allowed to attack me even when you have proof.

But it’s worse than that because the Times is saying it’s okay to be a racist as long as you attack white people. So, racism is only wrong when it’s practiced by white people. It’s okay if you’re a Black, Latino or Asian racist.

This country was built on a different set of principles––the notion of equality before the law. The New York Times may claim to still support that principle, but actions, as someone once said, speak louder than words.

Bigotry in the name of Fighting Racism

A letter to the (Albany, NY) Times Union printed August 27 typifies how any excess in the name of fighting racism has become acceptable in today’s America.

Tony Emanatian of Watervliet, NY wrote “We all knew President Donald Trump was a racist before he decided to run for president,” basing his conviction on Trump’s being “the leader of the birther movement.”

He goes on to charge “every politician or voter who supports Trump is by extension also a racist.” (my emphasis)

Ignoring the faulty logic of both assertions, that the Times Union would print such a letter without an accompanying editorial comment distancing themselves from Mr. Emanatian’s accusations is testimony to how far the mainstream media has departed from the once recognized standard of ethical journalism.

As a former editor, I would have printed Mr. Emanatian’s letter, but used to occasion to point out the danger of his faulty logic––not just in the fact that he smears 60 million plus people who voted for the President last November, but the implications of the letter in today’s climate¬¬: to wit, if everyone who supports the President is a racist, doesn’t that justify firing Trump supporters from their jobs or as the CEO of Camping World said not serving customers who are Trump supporters? Doesn’t such bigotry in the minds of the antifa supporters justify preventing speakers they consider facist from speaking on college campuses? Doesn’t it justify destroying the property of companies they consider not demonstrating sufficient opposition to the President?

The sad consequence of this letter’s bigotry is that it undermines real efforts to fight racism by making the term meaningless since it now can be applied to anyone you don’t like whether their words or actions justify that label or not.

I don’t dispute Mr. Emanatian’s right to hold and express such distorted views, but for any newspaper to print such a letter without distancing itself from those views is an invitation to additional attacks on rational discourse both verbal and physical. For shame.

NPR’s Ideological Echo Chamber

Monday August 7 saw the firing by Google of a senior engineer for positions articulated in a memo entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” By Wednesday, NPR echoed in full throat. Ben Johnson called James Damore’s memo a ‘misogynist manifesto’ while guest Nicole Sanchez attacked Google for only having only 30 percent women in their workforce.

Sanchez, CEO and founder of a diversity consulting company, attacked Google for failing to put as much effort into solving its employee mix as solving technical problems. Ironically, policies advocated by people like Sanchez can be responsible for businesses violating Federal Discrimination Laws by creating hiring and promotion practices based on race and gender rather than job appropriate criteria.

Sanchez also claimed Damore’s memo presented factually incorrect statements about gender differences, but Damore admitted bias was a factor in the numerical disparity along with biological differences. Was Sanchez claiming there’s scientific evidence that biology plays no role in gender disparity in human social institutions?

Unreported by NPR was the fact that Damore was objecting to unrecorded meetings during which Google executives encouraged employees to discriminate in favor of women and minorities in hiring and promotion practices. Meetings at Google are usually recorded, except for “diversity” sessions, which suggests the higher-ups know they are asking employees to violate the law.

NPR’s coverage of Damore’s firing is an example of the kind of unrealized bias Damore was protesting at Google. Did anyone at NPR bother to read Damore’s memo? If so, why didn’t they tell listeners what it contained instead of summarizing it like Ben Johnson did inaccurately reporting that Damore claimed “women weren’t cut out to be engineers.”

Damore’s memo was aimed primarily at practices that repress discussion of biases that he believes could harm Google in the long run. Here’s how he began his memo:

“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.”

What Damore criticized at Google was the lack of discussion of moral biases. “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.” After laying out his primary concern, he examined the possible “non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech” and offered “non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap.”

Damore criticized Google’s discriminatory approach to achieving greater gender and racial diversity, which he argued is based on “false assumptions” that can “actually increase race and gender tension.”

In an essay published Friday August 11 in the Wall Street Journal, Damore re-enforced his position that his primary objective in writing the memo was to advance discussion, not to argue that women don’t belong in tech. Ironically, his memo met no opposition until it went viral outside the company. That resulted in attacks on Damore from the diversity community which resulted in Google’s CEO firing Damore for advancing “harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

In the end, James Damore hoped his memo would help create a culture at Google that treats people as individuals rather than members of their group. Sadly, that seems further from happening today than it did a week ago with the help of biased coverage from NPR and other media outlets.

When motive not fact becomes the basis for discourse

People complain a lot these days about the divisions in our society. Some put stickers on their car bumpers in favor of civility and say the world needs more love in the face of terrorist attacks and political infighting.

What’s odd, however, is how so many of those who preach compassion refuse to debate the merits of an issue and dismiss others on the basis of their motives.

Take for example, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords. Rather than respond to his stated rationale, which was that the agreement was damaging to the U.S. economy without doing very much to improve the environment, people attributed his decision to his being a “climate denier.” In other words, they say we shouldn’t look at what Trump said about his decision, but conclude his remarks are a cover for his true motives.

This is not an isolated instance, but represents a pattern by people on the Left when they don’t like something someone who is a Republican, or worse a conservative, does or says. By labeling their opponents greedy, bigoted, misogynist, or racist, critics don’t have to deal with their opponents’ actual positions or behaviors.

The same tactic is used against those who defend the existence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank). Critics call those who defend the so-called settlements “colonialists” who engage in apartheid, but in doing so they refuse to take into account why they exist in those locations––their origins and history. To some, a Zionist––someone who supports the existence of a Jewish state in the land where Judaism was born––is a racist, end of story.

Attacking someone’s views by claiming their motives are impure is an attempt to avoid having to deal with the fact that all individuals are imperfect and that people can change. Those on the Left can’t accept the possibility that while Mr. Trump has faults, he might be giving us his honest beliefs about something like Paris. Isn’t dismissing his or anyone else’s every statement itself a form of bigotry?

A perfect example was the media’s attacking Trump for bumping into an official from Montenegro in Geneva. It was cited as evidence of his boorishness, when calmer reflection suggests it was the kind of incident that has probably happened to many of us in certain social situations. Attribution of motive replaced rational explanation.

The unwillingness of people to take others at their word suggests a defensiveness about their own positions. For example, why won’t those who support Paris respond to Mr. Trump’s assertion that the agreement would accomplish little at such a great cost? Could Mr. Trump be correct in claiming a better agreement is possible––i.e., one that would do more to reduce pollution without blackmailing the U.S. to pay for others to clean up their problems? His critics can avoid such a discussion by doubting his motive, which protects them from having to defend their own logic and their facts.

With regard to the Jewish communities in the West Bank, their existence only represents an impediment to peace if one ignores the fact that no Palestinian leader has been willing to concede the existence of a Jewish state where Israel currently exists much less one that includes traditional Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians won’t accept any boundaries that thwart their demographic majority. Instead they rely on the fact that they can create millions of Palestinians at a moment’s notice by recruiting residents of five or six Arab countries to overwhelm the Jewish population, create an Islamic caliphate, and kick any Jews who won’t convert into the sea. To object to such a scenario is not up for discussion if opponents can be dismissed for having “colonialist, racist” motives.

That so many people who know better––academics, journalists, and elected officials––engage in motive blaming or fail to challenge it, suggests our culture is infected with a form of ideological insanity. What people who claim to want peace and to save the planet really want is for those who hold views antagonistic to their own to give up their positions and go away. They need to believe in the purity of their own motives and therefore assume that when one is pure of motive the facts are on your side. It’s time to give up motive blaming and go back to traditional rules for resolving differences––focusing on evidence and demonstrable fact.

 

Declining newspaper circulation in a divided society

Despite the early, national interest to the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the circulation and advertising revenues of daily newspapers in the U.S. continued to drop precipitously over the past year according to the Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2016” report. The question is what’s causing the accelerating circulation decline and will owners do anything about it?

Let’s look at the numbers first: Weekday circulation fell 7% in 2015 while Sunday circulation dipped 4%. Further bad news is a decline in advertising revenue of 8% between 2014 and 2015. Even digital ad revenue declined, although only by 2%.

These numbers contrast with world media data, which show booming circulation, especially online. Print circulation worldwide grew just under 5% in 2015, confirming a trend that shows 21.6% increase in print circulation over the past five years. The majority of that increase comes from China and India. Print circulation for North America declined 10.9 percent during the same time period.

I doubt anyone has the data, but I suspect the percent of print and online newspaper readership among supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is much lower than the national average. Both groups are disaffected with the mainstream narrative as demonstrated by their support for candidates who challenged that narrative. If they do subscribe to a mainstream newspaper, my guess is the majority access that publication online and few receive the print edition.

One can’t blame these citizens from giving up on large daily newspapers. Much of the news they are interested in can be obtained faster and cheaper online or from the TV. Further, the editorial pages of most daily newspapers largely ignore the issues Trump and Sanders supporters feel important or present positions that contrast with their own. Further many editorials and columnists disparaged dissident voters as racists, homophobes, and worse.

Will owners make course corrections in light of the above data or tweak their current game plans? I’m convinced we won’t see any major changes. Why? The newspaper industry has already responded to projections of declining circulation by seeking revenue from its online product, by consolidating operations, and by generating revenue from other sources. Hence, they have no incentive to change their papers’ editorial focus, which today makes many columns and editorials appear as if they were written by the Democratic National Committee, if not by White House staff.

Buying into the Democrat/Liberal national narrative is the safest bet for media owners. They don’t need a crystal ball to see that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive winner and that little will change in Washington. Therefore to listen to dissidents or challenge the national narrative would only invite unwanted scrutiny and probably alienate their current readers, most of whom agree with their editorial outlook.

Media owners are probably correct in assuming being more critical of Washington would not result in disaffected citizens taking out subscriptions. All they need to do is print the occasional column by a conservative or an elected Republican, and they can maintain the appearance of neutrality.

There is an unfortunate consequence of the world of today’s newspaper industry, which is that they are playing a major role in dividing our nation in two. On one side with the newspaper industry is what we can call the Washington elite. These people are committed to increasing government’s reach into every aspect of daily life. On the other side are the average citizens whose views are not taken into account––people who resent Washington’s intrusion into every aspect of their lives, including which bathroom their children use at school. These are the people who lost their jobs or had them reduced from full to part-time by Obamacare, the war on coal and other environmental dictates, and by overregulation of every aspect of business practice. These are the people whose taxes provide more in cash and services to illegal immigrants than they can bring home from a $50,000/year salary.

From today’s divided society we got Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Many Sanders supporters feel he was robbed by undemocratic provisions of the Democratic Party’s primary system. They will stay home in 2016, but they will be looking for the next Bernie to run in 2020. Trump’s ego may have prevented him from having a realistic chance to win in November. I’ve talked to people who hate the Democrats, but will not vote for The Donald due to his failure to stay on message, but those people will also be around in 2020 looking for someone to challenge the mainstream narrative. All bets would be off if those two groups ever teamed up. Meanwhile, newspaper editors might do themselves a favor by listening to disaffected Americans instead of dissing them.