Equity is another word for fairness (image credit: King County)

What is a liberal? Fairness is my core value

Liberals should talk about our values. And we should start with fairness.

Equity is another word for fairness (image credit: King County)

Equity is another word for fairness (image credit: King County)

Over the last few years, I’ve read liberals saying that we need to talk about our values more openly, to own them, to assert that they are just as much American values as conservative values are. But I’ve never been comfortable talking about my values. Partly that’s because I’m an introvert. Partly because sharing such important stuff about myself feels a bit like everyone’s nightmare of showing up to give a presentation and realizing you’re naked before the crowd. And partly it’s because some of my values have shifted over the years as I’ve matured and experienced more of life, and I’m sure that some of them will shift again in the future.

But since Donald’s election I’ve been thinking about my values a lot. I’ve already chosen to fight for my values via my writing, and I’m prepared to fight for my values by putting my personal safety on the line if need be. So I figured that, if I’m going to be willing to risk my career or my physical well-being, I’d better be damned sure I know what my values are.

After a great deal of thought, I’ve finally realized what my core value is. The one value that matters more to me than any other. The one value against which all my other values are weighed, and from which most of my values spring. The one value with which I weigh the character of everyone I encounter.

Fairness. Continue reading

twin_towers_getty

I wept for America this morning

twin_towers_gettyI wept for my country this morning.

To say I feel sucker punched by Trump’s win is an understatement. “Sucker punched” falls so far short of how I actually feel today that it’s absurd.

Let me try to describe how I feel.

Remember at around noon on September 11, 2001, after all the planes had crashed, both towers had fallen, and the Pentagon was in flames. Remember how you felt a sense of dread, of horror, of unfathomable grief that seemed like it might never fade. That’s how I feel today.

But worse. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

The time a source has to respond to request for comment? Virtually none.

The deadline is now.

Thirty years ago, I faced a deadline once a day. For any reporter today, the deadline is … well, now. The technological leap into the Internet era that changed the notion of deadlines has consequences, as I wrote three years ago:

Speed kills. Accuracy dies when hordes of people, each with an electronic device capable of transmitting a story, strive to be first to tell the world what they found out — without necessarily checking its veracity.

Context dies. Because speed is the premium of the Internet era, the patience for explaining what does this mean is vanishing.

Tweets kill. Successive waves of 140-character messages are unlikely to carefully convey context, meaning and depth and breadth of description. It’s ironic that a generation branded with a short-attention span waits breathlessly for a succession of tweets — about what? And why?

But there’s another, far more subtle consequence on the notion of fairness. In my dinosaur era of once-a-day deadlines, I’d call a source on Monday afternoon. If an answering machine greeted me, I’d leave my name, my affiliation, my reason for calling — and my deadline. I might even place a second call Monday evening and a third Tuesday morning. If she had not returned my call, I would write:

Jane Doe had not responded to three phone messages seeking comment by deadline.

Today, however, the time within which a source has to respond to a message is, well, now. A reporter may begin a story at 1 p.m. and expect to post it online within minutes (see context dies above). Consequently, a phone call (tweet, Facebook message, email) to a source may not draw an immediate response. Not everyone, even seasoned PR pros or institutional information gurus, checks FB, Twitter, or email phone messages minute to minute. (If they are, how often do they have opportunities to actually think on behalf of their employers?)

So the reporter, in the spirit of fairness, writes:

Jane Doe did not respond to a message seeking comment.

So, is this actually fair in the digital era?

In online news media large and small, I have seen did not respond and failed to respond. Both suggest an assumption that the source had received the message and chose not to respond. The phrase had not yet responded does not carry that same nuance of receiving and choosing.

It may be argued that in the digital era that sources sought by journalists must be able to receive and respond to requests for comments at a moment’s notice. Well, argue away: That does not mean that it is fair for a journalist to expect source callbacks within minutes just because the deadline is now.

I wish, in these stories written on deadlines of mere minutes, reporters would tell us more about their messages left for sources. Recall, please, that stories posted online usually have a time stamp: “Posted at 1:37 p.m.” If that were the case here, then I’d like the reporter to write this:

Jane Doe had not responded to a tweet (FB, email, phone message) left at 1:15 p.m.

That would allow the reader to determine whether Jane Doe has been fairly treated. After all, in this Age of New Media, Jane obviously should have responded to the reporter’s bidding within 22 minutes, right? Surely the reporter’s message explained that’s all the time she had within which to respond?

Yes, I know: When (or if) Jane returns the call, the reporter can always update the online story. But there’s no guarantee that all who read the copy posted first will return to check for updates.

The more I examine online journalism, the more examples I find of the dictum speed kills — and what speed kills. Fairness is becoming one such victim.

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Re-examining the axioms of modern liberalism – an introduction

When one looks at the US Constitution, it’s abundantly clear that it’s a product of a bygone era. The outlawing of slavery and universal suffrage are perhaps the most obvious examples, but there are other, less obvious examples. Would the authors have written the Second Amendment as they did if they knew the public might have had access to machine guns or military-grade explosives? Are bloggers worthy of “free press” protections accorded to journalists? And how would they have looked at the rise of corporate personhood and power? We can look to what the Constitution’s authors wrote and said in their own time for guidance, but ultimately we are reduced to guesswork. Furthermore, if we always rely on the brilliance of the past, we ignore our own brilliance in the present.

An argument can be made that it would be a good idea to reassess the totality of the US Constitution in a new Constitutional Congress in order to make our government responsive to modern realities. Given the political stagnation in the US today, the form and content of any new Constitution is probably impossible to predict and could easily be much better, or much worse, than what we have today. But even if you think an open Constitutional Congress is a terrible idea, the process of examining the modern shortcomings of our governing Constitution would still be a valuable endeavor.

I think it’s time to similarly re-examine the many axioms (a statement accepted as true as the basis of argument or inference”) of liberalism and how they relate to the modern world. Continue reading

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, pt. 2

Part 2 of a series; Previously: What Bell Labs and French Intellectuals Can Tell Us About Cronkite and Couric

The Signal-to-Noise Journey of American Media

The 20th Century represented a Golden Age of Institutional Journalism. The Yellow Journalism wars of the late 19th Century gave way to a more responsible mode of reporting built on ethical and professional codes that encouraged fairness and “objectivity.” (Granted, these concepts, like their bastard cousin “balance,” are not wholly unproblematic. Still, they represented a far better way of conducting journalism than we had seen before.) It’s probably not idealizing too much to assert that reporting in the Cronkite Era, for instance, was characterized by a commitment to rise above partisanship and manipulation. The journalist was expected to hold him/herself to a higher standard and to serve the public interest. These professionals – and I have met a few who are more than worthy of the title – believed they had a duty to search for the facts and to present them in a fashion that was as free of bias as possible.

In other words, their careers, like that of Claude Shannon, were devoted to maximizing the signal in the system – the system here being the “marketplace of ideas.” Continue reading

Meanings, pt. 2: a crisis of prevailing values

by Michael Tracey

It isn’t just that there is an appetite for scandal, sex, sleaze, death narratives, it is also that feeding such appetites can be very profitable. The fact is that an essential problem with today’s media, one that has been gestating for many years, even decades, lies with the families and trust-funders that own media chains, and with the media moguls that, like great beasts, roam the landscape of a new grim cultural ecology, gobbling up this and that tasty morsel, a television station here, a newspaper there, forever seeking to sate their own insatiable appetite. Continue reading

A child’s guide to Iran-US relations

There’s no denying that Iran is an unsavory state. It funds Hezbollah. Its record on women’s rights is abysmal. It hangs citizens — including gay teens — in public. Also, new evidence suggests that not Libya, but Iran, was responsible for the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.

But, contrary to the administration’s claims, no hard evidence exists that Iran ships arms to Iraq. Nor does the International Atomic Energy Agency believe it’s capable of developing nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future. While only a fool would put such behavior past Iran, as pretexts for war they’re at lest as threadbare as those the administration used on Iraq.

After all, why attack Iran now when we didn’t in response to more obvious offenses, such as the hostage crisis, the Marine Barracks bombing or Hezbollah’s campaign against Israel in Lebanon? Continue reading