Tag Archives: media

When is a loophole not a loophole

13 Feb

In this morning's Kaimin (UM's student newspaper), there is a story entitled "Loophole found on student aid application" that examines the loss of eligibility for federal student aide for people convicted for using drugs.  The story claims that the lack of verification by the Department of Education of student's self-reported answers to a question on the FAFSA is a "loophole."  I took considerable offense to this and emailed the editors:

Dear Kaimin Editor,

I was very annoyed by your inaccurate headline for the story "Loophole found on student aid application."  According to my dictionary, a loophole is "an ambiguity (especially one in the text of a law or contract) that makes it possible to evade a difficulty or obligation."  Lying on your FAFSA about past drug convictions is not a "loophole," it is in fact lying.  If a murderer were to avoid punishment by lying to the police, would you consider that a loophole in the statute against murder?  I am pretty confident that most people wouldn't.  Breaking the law to avoid the consequences of a law is not a loophole.  It is breaking the law.  The law may be unjust and/or stupid, and breaking it may be an act of civil disobedience, but you're still breaking the law not exploiting a "loophole."  Thus, a better headline would have been "Lying about drug use on FAFSA rarely caught."  It's only one character longer and much more accurate.

By the way, your story also failed to mention that lying on the FAFSA for any reason is a federal crime punishable by jail time, a fine of $20000, or both.

Eric Hines

The main reason this headline and the story itself bothered me is that is a reflection of a growing sense of entitlement among members of our society that fundamentally threatens our civilization. That is not hyperbole.  The same process of rationalization that justifies calling the act of lying on the FAFSA about a drug conviction a "loophole" because you probably won't get caught is the same  process of rationalization that holds that the President is above the law because Congress won't hold him accountable.   If we stop following the rule of law to follow the rule of men (i.e., the law is what we say the law is no matter what the law actually says), we are no longer a democratic society.

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‘Spokesman-Review’ Begins Webcasts of Editorial Meetings

20 Jun

Spokane, Wahington's local paper, the Spokesman-Review, is now webcasting their twice daily meetings editoral board meetings.   The paper's editor, Steven A. Smith, is trying out this rather shocking experiment in media transparency to build a relationshop with the community:

The whole idea, Smith says, is to engage the readers in the editorial decision-making process, while not necessarily ceding the authority of the editorial board.

"I think too many other groups think of the word 'involved' as suggesting that we feed some of our authority and responsibility to the readers," says Smith. "I don't think that's what we're talking about. We're still in charge, but now we're inviting the readers to become engaged, offer suggestions, and criticism." Smith said he hopes the webcasts will "produce a quality civil dialogue [about the] kind of journalism we do."

This blows my mind, seriously.  It's awesome and I hope more newspapers do the same thing including the big papers.

Link: 'Spokesman-Review' Begins Webcasts of Editorial Meetings (HT: The Thicket).

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SCOTUS vs. Journalists

28 Jun

Today the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of journalists Matt Cooper and Judith Miller. The blogosphere is having a tizzy, especially on the left where there is sharp disagreement about what should be done with the two journalists. It seems, at least on the left, that everyone wants Judith Miller to go to jail because she is a bad reporter. However, there is some significant disagreement about Matt Cooper.

Over at the Washington Monthly, they seem to be in love with Matt Cooper. In fact they pled, "DON'T SEND MATT COOPER TO PRISON". Over at the Talent Show, Greg pleads the opposite: "PLEASE SEND MATT COOPER TO PRISON". It doesn't take long to see that even if you are a card carrying member of the ACLU (like me), that Greg is right.The argument made by the Washington Monthly is simple:

Matthew Cooper is threatened with jail for refusing to reveal a source. The special prosecutor does not have to recommend jail, and even if he does recommend it, the judge can ignore it. Although we believe Matt is right in refusing to identify his source, that is not the argument that we make here. Our concern is to keep him out of jail. Matt is not only a fine reporter, he is a caring husband and father, a kind and thoughtful friend, and an all-round good citizen. And he has a marvelous sense of humor …

Now, this set me off a little. Read the rest of the post for more of the same with a little rationalization for their attitudes. However, Greg makes the best rebuttal for why Cooper should pay for his refusal to reveal a "source:"

Okay, I totally agree with the statement that "The protection of sources is critical to the free flow of information in a democracy." and I support the passage of a federal shield law for journalists, but can we try to narrow down what constitutes a "source"? It was my understanding that Matt Cooper and Judith Miller were among the reporters tipped off about Plame by the White House traitor, but didn't write about it (apparently Bob Novak was the only person in Washington sleazy enough to take the bait). If the illegal leak of a White House traitor wasn't the basis of an article by Miller or Cooper, what makes this person a "source" that requires protecting? By this definition, can anyone who talks to a reporter be considered a "source"? Or perhaps the person in question leaked information earlier for an unrelated story. Even then, shouldn't a reporter's loyalty be based on the specific stories rather than a blanket protection for any criminal wrongdoing that may occur? It's incredible to me that these two reporters would go to such extremes to protect their relationship with a leaker when the anonymous "source" in question was trying to exploit his/her relationship with the press in order to seek revenge against a political foe. These two are covering up for a criminal on the basis of shielding a source to stories that were never written. Yeah, todays SCOTUS ruling may be a bad precedent, but I can't help but agree with it in terms of this specific case.

The only thing I can add is that there is no possible reason for protecting this source even if you are Bob Novak and you published the story. It served no public interest, which should be the standard for shield laws. Reporters want to be able to decide when they should reveal sources, but that is not their prerogative. So, please send them both to jail, please. It will establish a better precedent: You can't use the press as a partisan tool without facing the consequences.

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What kind of ending is that?

1 Apr

At the very end of a the New York Times' supposition about who might replace Ted Koppel at ABC, was the following two paragraphs:

But any choice the network makes to replace Mr. Koppel, in news or entertainment, entails risk. The wrong choice could be disastrous for ABC. A failing show at 11:35 might leave the network vulnerable to losing the time to affiliated stations, which could make more money with syndicated programming in that hour.

ABC has no interest in that possibility.

Was it really a strong possibility that ABC wants a failing show at 11:35? What the heck is that supposed to mean? That is what I call bad writing.

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Crispy students or how to sell the local news

6 Jan

A local news station in Maryland ran a story on emergency evacuation procedures at a local high school. The hook for the story was that two wheelchair bound students were "abandoned" in a second floor stairwell when everyone else was evacuated. The web version of the story says:

When a Carroll County, Md., high school had an emergency evacuation, everyone got out except for two students who were confined to wheelchairs.

They were abandoned in the stairwell on the second floor.

WBAL-TV in Baltimore said there is a policy at Westminster High School for what to do with the two students in wheelchairs in case of a fire. The policy said because their classrooms are on the second floor, teachers are to lead them to the second-floor stairwell and leave them there and wait for the fire crews to come to their rescue while everyone else evacuates.

Now, it happens to be standard procedure for those who are unable to escape a building without using an elevator to wait in the stairwell. Many buildings have designated areas with emergency phones for this purpose. While I think that the justification for having the students on the 2nd floor is a little weird, the safety procedures for these students are in line with the realities of being disabled. Fire fighters will know where to look and rescuing these students will be the first task they perform. So please stop trying to sell the local news with horror stories about students being trapped in a building because of "school policy." It's standard policy in tall buildings.

Link: TheKSBWChannel.com – Education – School Emergency Policy: Leave Wheelchair-Bound Kids Behind

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This is America Baby

12 Dec

What do you do when you return a Supermodel's dog because she is offering a "no questions asked reward of $5000," but she has you arrested anyway and, even though the police clear you of any charges, she never gives you the money? Well, in America we issue a press release and out her on trial in the court of public opinion. Take that evil supermodel.

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Sixth grade reading level

9 Sep

At first the biggest thing that struck me in this article about Serbia reversing its ban on Darwinism was this comment:

"I have come here to confirm Charles Darwin is still alive," said deputy education minister Milan Brdar.

His boss, Ljiljana Colic, who had announced the controversial policy, had gone "away on business", he said.

It seems like the sort of thing that a Russian minister would say about his predecessor, knowing full well he'd been sent to the gulag or to a firing squad. However, I then was struck by the concluding paragraphs of the story:

Creationism accepts the Old Testament account of the beginning of human life, in which God created Adam and Eve.

Darwin's theory of evolution is the dominant explanation of man's origins within the scientific community.

His theory is that life evolved over billions of years through natural selection, from microbes through apes up to man.

Apparently, a sufficient number of readers of the BBC's website don't know what Creationism or Darwinism are. I guess this is an example of the press writing to a sixth grade level.

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