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The Lawyer, the Cross & the Supremes

September 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The Los Angeles Daily Journal-
–the publication that lawyers and judges read—has an interesting article about attorney Peter Eliasberg and the unlikely case about a cross on an out of the way piece of public land, that will heard before the Supreme Court in October. (Chapeau tip to the always excellent How Appealing)

Here is the opening:

When Los Angeles-based American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Peter J. Eliasberg first heard about a controversial cross erected on federal land, it didn’t seem like a case that would end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

They never do.

But 10 years later, Eliasberg is frantically preparing for his first argument
before the high court in an Establishment Clause case that is one of the highlights of the term that begins Oct. 5.


The case that will bring him to the Supreme Court on Oct. 7 grew out of a long-running religious dispute over a cross in the Mojave Desert that was erected to commemorate war veterans but has instead sparked years of debate about the proper roles of church and state.

At issue is whether the 9th Circuit was correct to bar the federal government from transferring to the Veterans of Foreign Wars a parcel of land in the Mojave National Preserve on which the cross sits in exchange for another parcel of equal value.

Further details of the case-–Salazar v. Buono—may be found here.

This case has roughly a zillion implications, so will be worth watching.

Posted in Free Speech, Religion, Supreme Court | 26 Comments »

Pete Caroll Tweets for Stafon Johnson

September 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


A small moment of community in the big city fostered by Twitter
that folks are busy Retweeting:

Below are USC Coach Pete Carroll’s Tweets for the 24-hour period following popular Trojan running back Stafon’s Johnson’s injury. (They are, as is customary, in reverse order, with the most recent messages on top.)

Stafon is gonna join the tweeb world tomorrow once he’s set up promise you all will be good to him as he reaches out..thanks I know you will

This is stafon…thank you all 4 the prayers and love I truly feel it… We ride 2gether we die 2gther umma TROJAN 4 LIFE….

I’m visiting with stafon…he wants to say…he’s coming back and through his yrs as a Trojan he’s learned to be strong and fight on!about 3 hours ago from Echofon

just visited stafon in the hospital… he’s looking good and his spirits are very high… thanks for your support

#SOTD lean on me by bill withers

thanks to everyone for your support during this difficult time… please continue to keep stafon in your thoughts & prayers

please keep stafon johnson in your thoughts and prayers… still in throat surgery after weights accident this AM

Posted in Life in general | 6 Comments »

Ed Chronicles: Yes, But Are They Learning to Read?

September 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Yesterday, a lot of LA’s activist Teachers were emailing and Tweeting a link to the open letter to US Education Secretary, Arnie Duncan, by veteran educator and author turned US senator, Herbert Khol. It speaks to the question of why American educators who love teaching hate No Child Left Behind.

Here is the opening clip:

In a recent interview with NEA Today you said of my book 36 Children,
“I read [it] in high school … [and] … wrote about his book in one of my college essays, and I talked about the tremendous hope that I feel [and] the challenges that teachers in tough communities face. The book had a big impact on me.”

When I wrote 36 Children in 1965 it was commonly believed that African American students, with a few exceptions, simply could not function on a high academic level. The book was motivated by my desire to provide a counter-example, one I had created in my classroom, to this cynical and racist view, and to let the students’ creativity and intelligence speak for itself. It was also intended to show how important it was to provide interesting and complex curriculum that integrated the arts and sciences, and utilized the students’ own culture and experiences to inspire learning. I discovered then, in my early teaching career, that learning is best driven by ideas, challenges, experiences, and activities that engage students. My experience over the past 45 years has confirmed this.

We have come far from that time in the ’60s. Now the mantra is high expectations and high standards. Yet, with all that zeal to produce measurable learning outcomes we have lost sight of the essential motivations to learn that moved my students. Recently I asked a number of elementary school students what they were learning about and the reactions were consistently, “We are learning how to do good on the tests.” They did not say they were learning to read……

Read the rest here.

Posted in Education | 7 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts

September 29th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



This past Friday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped into the budgetary breach with a plan to miraculously rescue 100 state parks from closing (the same 100 he had personally and unilaterally elected to close, but okay. A niggling point).

The story is that the governor brought out his budget crunchers and told them to go forth and find enough savings elsewhere to be able to keep the parks open with minor cutbacks and partial closures to a few parks. Not a perfect solution but much better than shuttering 100 of California’s precious public wildland spaces. That, Arnold! Such a problem solver!

But what, one wonders caused this sudden change of heart?

Could it maybe have been the looming threat of nasty lawsuits and the possible loss of millions of dollars in federal grants?

Yep. Looks like it. In another one of his excellent essays on state and national parks, civil rights lawyer and City Project head, Robert Garcia, pointed out rather presciently, just before Arnold had his come-to-Jesus cost cutting session, that it had been recently been brought to Schwarzenegger’s attention that closing the parks would cost a hell of a lot more—in legal bills and funding losses—than keeping them open.

Here’s a clip:

[The National Park Service] told the governor in June that state park closures would violate the contracts the state signed to receive $286 million in federal funds for 67 parks under the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and could jeopardize hundreds of millions more in future funds. The land for another six state parks could also revert to the federal government. (Read the NY Times article.)

Months after the plan to close state parks was announced, the department’s lawyers finally got around to analyzing the law earlier this month in a memo that was promptly leaked and posted on the Internet. (Read the Mercury News Article on the memo.)

The memo outlines about eight reasons why closing state parks would raise serious problems under contract, property and environmental laws…..

[Here's the rest of Garcia's essay.
And here's the memo.]

PS: Try to catch Ken Burns series on the National Parks before it’s over. It’s fantastically good.


In Monday’s LA Times, David Savage gave a preview
of the case that the Supreme Court will consider in November to determine whether or not life without parole for minors who didn’t kill constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

At issue is whether it is cruel and unusual punishment to imprison a minor until he or she dies when the crime does not involve murder.

According to Amnesty International, “The United States is the only country in the world that does not comply with the norm against imposing life-without-parole sentences on juveniles.”

Nearly all of the estimated 2,500 U.S. prisoners serving life terms for juvenile crimes, the group said, were guilty either of murder or of participating in a crime that led to a homicide. But 109 inmates are serving life sentences for other crimes committed when they were younger than 18.


The question will be an early test of whether Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a former prosecutor, will align herself with the court’s tough-on-crime conservatives or join with its liberals to strike down prison policies perceived as going too far.

Here, by the way, is a past look at California’s LWOP kids.


Okay, he didn’t say those words exactly, but in last week’s NY Times interview, University of California president Yudof said some things that were a bit flip sounding given how drastic the cuts have been at the state’s UCs.

For instance there was this:

.Being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: there are many people under you, but no one is listening. I listen to them.

(“…like being a manager of a cemetery?” Okay, so faculty and staff are either dead to him—or the undead. Hard to tell.)

And, regarding his salary (Yudof makes $540,000 plus $228,000 a year toward his pension plan, plus an annual $120,000 housing allowance, totaling: $888,000 a year), when asked what he thought about the suggestion that no administrator at a state university needs to earn more than the president of the United States, ($400,000), Yudof said:

Will you throw in Air Force One and the White House?

Yudof may or may not be good for the UCs (there are a lot of people lately weighing in on the NOT side of things)—but, given the hits the university system, its employees and its students are taking, a little diplomacy would go along way, dude.


This isn’t a social justice issue, but many people—myself included— are sending positive thoughts the direction of USC running back, Stafon Johnson, who went though 6 hours of surgery Monday after a weight room accident in which a weight bar fell on his throat.

Posted in California budget, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, environment, juvenile justice, social justice, Social Justice Shorts | 11 Comments »

Chasing Roman Polanski: A Prosecutorial Reality Check

September 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


What can Steve Cooley’s office be thinking?
First Deborah Peagler, then Bruce Lisker, and now this bizarre, off the rails chase after Roman Polanski.

But before we talk about the great public safety threat posed by film director Polanski, here are some of the threats to public safety that actually occurred Los Angeles over the weekend:

A six-month old baby and his mother were shot in the head on Sunday in Van Nuys. The father was wounded too, but not as seriously. The baby died.

A 26-year old man hit and killed a pedestrian in a Woodland Hills crosswalk after the man took off following an attempt by CHP to pull him over on a routine traffic stop. The man also fired on officers and was eventually taken into custody by SWAT.

There was a double murder in Canoga Park on Saturday morning.

There was a fatal hit-and-run in Boyle Heights on Friday night in which a woman was killed.

A 25-year-old South LA man was shot and critically wounded
at his birthday party on Saturday.

Sunday morning a dead person was found hanging from a tree at Hollenbeck Park.

And this was a comparatively quiet weekend.

So, in this bad budget season when every city, county and state agency is in a fiscal crisis, where is our city’s prosecutorial effort and money going?

Obviously, you know the answer: The DA’s office is spending the big bucks extraditing Polanski from Switzerland on a 31-year-old U.S. warrant charging that he had sex with a minor, a case that has already been badly compromised by alleged judicial misconduct and possibly by prosecutorial misconduct. Moreover the victim, Samantha Geimer—now a mother of two in her 40′s—has asked publicly and repeatedly for the charges to be dropped—not for Polanski’s sake, but for her sake.

Just to remind you of the facts: in 1977 Polanski allegedly drugged and raped then 13-year-old Samantha Geimer.

However, in order to avoid putting the young teenager through any more of the invasive media circus that a celebrity rape trial would have brought, her family agreed that her interests would be best served by the plea bargain that had been worked out between Polanski’s attorney, Doug Dalton and the Assistant DA prosecuting the case, Roger Gunson. Polanski would be sentenced to a 90-day psychological evaluation at the state prison at Chino. In return, Polanski agreed to plead to the lessor charge of “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor,” and all seemed ready to move ahead toward a resolution.

But then Judge Laurence Rittenband thought things overand decided that the plea bargain wasn’t what he had in mind—and rescinded the deal. The judge also reportedly talked over possible sentences with a reporter, and supposedly made public remarks about his intention to see that Polanski was locked up for the rest of his life. It is also alleged that an LA prosecutor who was not on the case, pressured Rittenband to yank back the deal.

In reaction, to what appeared to be a life-sentence coming his direction. Polanski fled the country.

In the years since, several efforts have been made to settle the case by dismissing the charges. Gunson, the original prosecutor, and Samantha Geimer, Polanski’s victim, both pushed for dismissal of all charges so that the matter could be put behind everyone.

There was one unsuccessful attempt at a settlement in 1997.

In 2003, Geimer wrote an impassioned Op Ed
for the LA Times asking for an end to the case.

Again, in early 2009, Geimer filed a very strongly worded declaration that urged the charges to be dropped in the clearest of terms—for her sake.

What does the DA’s office imagine is going to be accomplished for the public good with this expensive spectacle it has triggered?

What Roman Polanski did was morally reprehensible and a crime.

But the DA’s Javert-like pursuit of the director across the world all these years later—when the victim has pleaded for him not to—is starting to seem worse.

PS; As I was preparing to post this material, I read Patrick Goldstien’s Column One story for the LA Times on this same subject.

He writes:

“….at a time when California is shredding the safety net that protects the poor and the unemployed, not to mention the budget of the public school system, you’d hope that L.A. County prosecutors had better things to do than cause an international furor by hounding a film director for a 32-year-old sex crime, especially one that Polanski’s victim wants to put behind her.”

Yes, we would hope.

Posted in crime and punishment, District Attorney | 112 Comments »

Should a 16-year-old Arsonist Be Tried As an Adult?

September 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


While there have been no suspects arrested yet
in the deadly Station fire, Wednesday police had a press conference to announce they had a suspect in the recent (and still burning) fire near Yucaipa. Here’s what the LA Times said about the arrest:

A 16-year-old boy seen riding a bike away from a brush fire
near Yucaipa on Wednesday is suspected of starting a dozen fires that ravaged the area over the last three years, including two large blazes earlier this month.

San Bernardino County prosecutors are trying to figure out if they should try the 16-year old as an adult. (Answer: No. You shouldn’t.)

But the rather mind boggling thing is the fact that the cops believe their teenage suspect may have set between 12 and 14 other fires in the past three years.

Really? 12 to 14 fires?
Where were the adults when this adolescent firebug was striking matches? This boy has been setting blazes since he was 13-years-old and no one has thought to intervene until now? And, now, of course, we want to send him to adult prison?

If I were an editor with reporters to assign, I would put someone on the boy the minute that his name is released. Who is this kid and why has he (allegedly) been setting fires? And who else should have known about his arsonist’s proclivities? The answer is bound to be telling.

[NOTE: Light posting this morning. Back with more soon.]

Posted in crime and punishment, Fire | 24 Comments »

The UC Strike….and a Teachable Moment

September 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Today, Thursday, September 24,
is the first day of classes for nearly all University of California students. (UC Berkeley for some reason started earlier.)

It is also the day of a system-wide strike in which a great many faculty, students and UC staff plan to walk out in order to protest a bunch of the policies and cuts of that have been instituted by the University of California President Mark Yudof and the UC Board of Regents in the wake of California’s ghastly budget cuts, which snipped 4 percent out of the the University of California’s budget. (To kick things off, UC Davis held a “naked” protest yesterday, pictured above.)

In order to balance the budget, 100,000 full-time UC employees got a 4-10 percent cut in pay, plus mandatory furloughs.

This has meant fewer classes offered to students and pared down educational services while at the same time students are being hit by a 9.3 percent increase in tuition—with more tuition hikes slated.

Plus there is the little matter of some upper echelon UC employees getting raises rather than cuts.

Bottom line: although everyone understands that cuts were necessary, students, staff and faculty are pretty unhappy at the way those cuts have been done.

The Bay Guardian and the SF Chron have additional details. (For the striker’s POV there this much forwarded open letter from UC Berkeley professor, Catherine Cole.)

I teach at one of the UCs. To be specific, I drive to UC Irvine to teach a journalism workshop that meets once a week for three hours. My first class of the Fall quarter is not until Friday so thankfully I am not faced with the unholy choice of either not supporting my striking colleagues (not good) or yanking away from my 20 students of one tenth of their ever-more-costly instructional time. (Really not good. Ten weeks isn’t long enough as it is.)

The novelist Susan Straight was not as fortunate with her schedule. Susan is a longtime faculty member at UC Riverside. Unlike me, her first class is September 24, the day of the strike. In Wednesday’s LA Times she wrote about how she intends to resolve the dilemma. And because Susan is wonderful Susan, she also wrote about writing and teaching in general and about life.

You’ll be missing out if you don’t read the whole thing, but here’s a clip from the middle of the essay:

….Over the years, some people have said to me that it’s frivolous to teach writing — compared with a practical skill like auto mechanics or biology or engineering. But I say that each of my students who learned to tell a story, who taught someone else how to tell a story, who read a story and thought about it and kept it inside until its meaning was clear, learned something vital. The world runs on stories. It is how we humans survive.

What I tried to give them, and what I hope to give my students this fall, is the power that comes with the freedom to write about themselves, to tell their own stories and the stories of their communities, populated by people they know, real or imagined.

My students are like me: Often the first in their families to attend college. I say to them, you have stories no one else has, and you write about places no one else does, and you give voice to people no one else knows. Don’t let anyone tell you that a Huntington Beach surfer’s story doesn’t deserve to be told (that student went on to teach English in Japan). Don’t ever let anyone tell you a migrant farmworker picking grapes in Coachella doesn’t deserve poetry (that student teaches at the New School in New York City).

What to do tomorrow, then?

I agree passionately with the demands behind the strike. My sister-in-law is a custodian at UC Riverside, a single mother of three. Close friends work as clerical staff or in food service. Anyone who makes less than $40,000 a year should be insulated from the cuts. The faculty, the students and all of us who “own” UC should know precisely how it is spending its money. The faculty should not be powerless, and the latest tuition increases — 50% by the time this academic year is over — only make it all worse.

And yet, what is the right thing to do?

Read her solution here.

Photo by Renée C. Byer for the Sacramento Bee

Posted in academic freedom, California budget, Education | 16 Comments »

California’s $1.1 billion Dropout Rate v. Arnold’s Tantrum

September 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


According to a new study released Thursday by the California Dropout Research Project,
dropouts cost the state of California $1.1 billion annually in juvenile crime costs alone. The study also concludes that cutting the dropout rate would prevent thousands of juvenile crimes in California.

Los Angeles County has a dropout rate of 21 percent—higher than the state average of 18.9 percent, according to data from the California Department of Education. And in 2007, there were more than 60,000 juvenile arrests in Los Angeles County.

In today’s economy when our undereducated young are the most likely to be unemployed, the drop out/crime connection cannot help but worsen.

As Thursday’s LA Times notes:

The California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara found that cutting the dropout rate in half would prevent 30,000 juvenile crimes and save $550 million every year.

“This study demonstrates the immediate impact dropouts have on both public safety and the economy,” said project Director Russell W. Rumberger. “If California could reduce the dropout rate, it could subsequently reduce the juvenile crime rate and its staggering impact on the state budget.”

With these numbers in mind, State Senator Gloria Romero cosponsored a billSB 651—which provides what is basically a diagnostic tool that makes smarter use of existing student data in order to “shine a spotlight on dropout prevention, promote public accountability, and encourage timely interventions for students showing early warning signs of dropping out.”

SB 651 would also make it harder for schools to mask their dropout rates (and raise their by shoving low-performing or at risk kids into continuations schools, then failing to track them, as many school districts presently do.

While it is not a complete solution, the bill is a great jump start. And what is even better, it costs exactly zero in its first year. For every year thereafter, it costs $150,000.

(In other words, it will set back the state approximately the amount that Arnold Schwarzenegger allocates for his annual cigar budget.)

A string of local law enforcement leaders who were shown the research—including Sheriff Lee Baca and a list of So Cal police chief’s—have signed on to the campaign under the banner of a group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, California to persuade the governor to sign AB 651, which flew easily through the California state legislature with strong bipartisan support.

Unfortunately, those I spoke with in Sacramento report that Mr. Schwarzenegger is still in the throes of a girlie-man hissy fit (although I don’t believe they used those precise words). It seems that state lawmakers didn’t pass some of the recent bills he wanted passed. So he has vowed (again) to veto any and all legislation that lands on his desk—even if it’s legislation he likes.

This means SB 651 is right now in limbo.

Let’s hope the governor stops his tantrum soon.

(Honestly, is this really the only negotiating tool
the man has in his repertoire? So, far, by my count the threatening-and-fit-throwing ploy has worked exactly zero times.)

In a conference call on Tuesday, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer spoke in strong terms about the pressing need for the bill’s passage. “So often we look at the numbers,” said Dyer, “we don’t look at what drives those numbers. Kids are allowed to drop out of the educational system and be forgotten about. We need to do more. Unfortunately we start remembering them when they commit crimes in our communities.

“We need to do more than count our children as casualties,” Dyer said.

Posted in California budget, Education, juvenile justice | 5 Comments »

In LA, Crime Pays…..At Least for Global Tel Link – UPDATED

September 22nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE: I’ve just had a long talk with Zev Yaroslavsky’s office and it turns out I had part of this story wrong. Yaroslavsky he did know about the usurious Global Tel Link deal, and he has been fighting the renewal of the contract. Moreover there is a very interesting back story to this issue that I’ll be reporting on next week. Bottom line for today: Zev was aware, and is working to do something. (And I’ve got the paperwork to back that up.)

More next week.

Once again Los Angeles leads the nation—except not in a good way
—and LA County supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky, for one, is suitably aghast.

It seems that Global Tel Link, which has the inmate pay phone contract for the LA County Jail system (and I believe for the state’s prison system), is making obscene piles of money by charging the mothers and fathers and wives and husbands and sisters and brothers—and children—of jail inmates usurious rates to talk to a loved one inside any of the county’s jails.

To be specific, GTL charges $3.54 per minute for the first minute of an inmate’s collect call to his or her family, and 10 cents for every minute after that. (Since half the time when inmates call, the phones they use are broken and static-prone, one suspects that GTL is not spending a fortune on maintenance.)

So, how much money is Global Tel Link making by overcharging for calls to those LA residents who can least afford it? Well, enough that they can easily fork over a tidy $14 million per year to the county as a kind of kick back–er—fee for the privilege of overcharging. Global Tel Link’s cushy contract was to have been up last spring with an RFP offered so other companies could come up with a less appalling fee structure. But GTL dangled another $2 million in front of county staff to persuade them to extend the contract for two more years. The ploy worked.

The only reason that Yaroslavsky and his fellow supervisors
even noticed the existence of GTL’s money making scheme is that, for the last few days, they have been sifting through the county’s various funds and revenue streams in an effort to find an additional $25 million for the sheriff’s budget—the amount needed to prevent Sheriff Lee Baca from having to close one of this jails. In any case, as the Sups trolled through various money pots they found the GTL numbers.

“It’s a scandal. This is an indefensible kind of charge that we’re assessing,” Yaroslavsky said regarding the very, very profitable contract, according to NBC, (which was the only LA news outlet other than WLA that seems to have covered the story).

Not to be mean, but the fact that this contract is in any way startling news to the Sups is a tad hard to take. (Read your job descriptions, guys!)

(Some of us—ahem—have been hollering about this issue for quite some time.)

It also might also be good to note here that, according to studies on recidivism dating from 1954 to the present, the amount of contact an inmate has with his or her family and community is among the top predictors determining a parolee’s success. Inmates who remain in contact with family and loved ones are less likely to pose a threat to prison staff or to re-offend once they’re released..

That’s “contact,” as in phone calls.

Nice you could join the party, dearest LA County Supervisors. Now DO something!

Posted in criminal justice, jail | 38 Comments »

Journalism Versus the Quest for Ammunition

September 22nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


In this month’s issue of Atlantic, Mark Bowden,
(the author of Black Hawk Down among other worthy pieces of work) has written an examination of what is going on contemporary journalism. As is usual with such articles, there is much bemoaning of the terrible, awful, no-good, very bad influence of (gasp) bloggers and the news media destroying horrors of the democratizing web.

Bowden, however, is a smart man and an excellent, often inspired journalist. So, in his case, his overall thesis went deeper. The result is both dead wrong and utterly right.

For instance, the subhead for the article is the following:

With journalists being laid off in droves, ideologues have stepped forward to provide the “reporting” that feeds the 24-hour news cycle. The collapse of journalism means that the quest for information has been superseded by the quest for ammunition.

Well, no. And yes. “The quest for ammunition’ is a great phrase—and exactly what much of TV journalism, in particular, has become. But this “quest for ammunition” ethic was ramping up well before the news business began bottoming out. In fact, it is one of the elements that is part of the cause of it.

Bowden wants to blame this zero-sum news trend on blogging and the web. But he’s aiming at the wrong target. There are more and more bloggers working on either a local and/or a national level—plus many of those who run niche news sites—who are digging after truth, not deadlier bullets. To choose a very few examples, Scott Henson’s Grits for Breakfast, Doug Berman’s Sentencing Law and Policy, Andy Rotherham’s Eduwonk, Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, come randomly to mind. And there are many in the mainstream media who have replaced a search for truth with an idiotic notion of “balance”—or worse, with a cynical quest for readers and viewers, whatever that takes, no matter what the sacrifice in terms of integrity.

The most recent and repellent demonstration being Time Magazine’s cover story on Glenn Beck. (No, it’s not the fact that Time put Glenn Beck on the cover. As others have noted earlier than I have, he was a rather appropriate choice, actually. It’s the cloying dishonesty with which that story is written. One need only read the first paragraph.)

If, on the other hand, one reads these paragraphs snipped from the end of Bowden’s essay and, simply deletes the word “blogger” and substitutes some phrase like…say…zero sum commentator then Bowden is smack on.

I would describe their approach as post-journalistic. It sees democracy, by definition, as perpetual political battle. The blogger’s role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement. There is nothing new about this. But we never used to mistake it for journalism. Today it is rapidly replacing journalism, leading us toward a world where all information is spun, and where all “news” is unapologetically propaganda.


There’s more here than just an old journalist’s lament over his dying profession, or over the social cost of losing great newspapers and great TV-news operations. And there’s more than an argument for the ethical superiority of honest, disinterested reporting over advocacy. Even an eager and ambitious political blogger like Richmond, because he is drawn to the work primarily out of political conviction, not curiosity, is less likely to experience the pleasure of finding something new, or of arriving at a completely original, unexpected insight, one that surprises even himself. He is missing out on the great fun of speaking wholly for himself, without fear or favor. This is what gives reporters the power to stir up trouble wherever they go. They can shake preconceptions and poke holes in presumption. They can celebrate the unnoticed and puncture the hyped. They can, as the old saying goes, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. A reporter who thinks and speaks for himself, whose preeminent goal is providing deeper understanding, aspires even in political argument to persuade, which requires at the very least being seen as fair-minded and trustworthy by those—and this is the key—who are inclined to disagree with him. The honest, disinterested voice of a true journalist carries an authority that no self-branded liberal or conservative can have. “For a country to have a great writer is like having another government,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote. Journalism, done right, is enormously powerful precisely because it does not seek power. It seeks truth. Those who forsake it to shill for a product or a candidate or a party or an ideology diminish their own power. They are missing the most joyful part of the job.

Yep. But about that last. Because I teach, I get to see first hand that there are plenty of young journalists who do get it—who want that “most joyful part of the job.”

So, yeah, it’s the worst of times. But also the best of times. Journalism is crashing and burning. Journalism is being remade.

Anyway, read Bowden’s piece. Let me know what you think.

Posted in media, writers and writing | 24 Comments »

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