Category Archives: media

DIY Business News: How to stop yelling at the TV screen and get some real news

Stock Ticker Old

Spare me the whining about Americans and their financial illiteracy.  It’s not like they are getting any help from institutions which ought to be assisting them. 

Media bashing gets a bit cheap at times, but in this realm the broadcast media isn’t delivering anything close to real “business news.”  For starters, most of what passes for “business” news on the cable TV outlets is nothing more than financial sector gossip and stock market reporting.   When everything is said and scrolled across the screen, what the consumer has gotten is information of the stock markets, by the stock markets and for the stock markets.  

If we take the most generous definition of an investor possible – one including individual investors, investors in retirement 401(k)’s, IRAs, mutual funds, and ETF’s – then we can claim that 48% of the adults in the U.S. have money invested in “the market.” [CNN]  Meaning, 52% of Americans have no investment in “the market” at all, and one could question how carefully those who have funds in the retirement accounts are attending to the investments made on their behalf.  Drilling a bit deeper into the numbers we find that only 13.8% of all U.S. families held any individual stock. [CNN] “Ownership of savings bonds, other bonds, directly held stocks, and pooled investment funds sustained sizable drops in ownership rates between 2010 and 2013, although none of the four types of assets are commonly held, with ownership rates in 2013 varying between 1.4 percent (other bonds) and 13.8 percent (directly held stocks).” [FED pdf]

The best face we can put on this is that what passes for business news in this country is stock market information of direct interest to at best 14% of the nation’s adult population.  Why? We can guess — (1) It pleases the managerial types who are focused on short term gains in stock prices? (2) It’s cheap to produce?  Reporting on stock prices is really easy, especially if the big driver is something accessible like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (3) It gives executives an opportunity to tout the value (whatever that might be) of their companies, thus moving their stock prices up?  However, what it doesn’t do is give anyone a clear overall picture of business in the United States of America.

Do It Yourself

If business news isn’t what’s on offer from the news channels which purport to provide it – then where to find it? 

The Federal Reserve has all manner of publications available online which will inform the inquisitive about consumer and personal finance.  Auto and Student debt is up at the moment, while the home ownership rate is falling, but not as many homeowners are now in default.  Interested in income inequality, or wealth gaps? Information is available from the FED on those topics as well.  Look and one can find all manner of information and analysis, unfettered from political punditry, on the subject.  In fact, one can discover that the way we talk about income inequality may be a function of how we measure it.

The San Francisco Federal Reserve is pleased to highlight its blog, with features ranging from how the FED recycles old currency to how Medicare payments may be curtailing inflationary trends.  If more generalized information is the target, then the Beige Book is as good a source as any:

“Commonly known as the Beige Book, this report is published eight times per year. Each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its District through reports from Bank and Branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by District and sector. An overall summary of the twelve district reports is prepared by a designated Federal Reserve Bank on a rotating basis.” [FED]

Think of the Beige Book as “one stop shopping” for general economic news in each of the FED’s regions.

 Hard Hat

Labor:  A steady diet of cable business news might leave a person with the idea that labor news doesn’t exist except so far as it concerns minimum wage issues, or the latest protest of less than living wages. It’s more difficult to find than information about economic trends, but it’s there.   A person might want to start with Labor Press.OrgLabor Notes, is another source.  Union labor issues are well publicized in AFL-CIO sites.  There’s more information available from the SEIU, and AFSCME.

Those cable shows – and they are just ‘shows’ – could fill a goodly amount of their time just from Department of Labor information.  They won’t because they’re too busy tossing softballs to CEOs, but they could for example offer the investor’s side of the argument about fiduciary responsibility and financial advisers from DoL information.  If it’s numbers that are wanted, there’s a whole bureau for those – the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Want the current consumer price index, the unemployment rate, payroll employment figures, average hourly earnings, the producer price index, productivity statistics, or the employment cost index? All these are available from the Department of Labor.

Doing Business:  Republican presidential candidates Cruz and Kasich both proposed eliminating the Department of Commerce.  This is taking the Tea Party Express right over the edge into the Silly Swamp.  One excellent source of information about our economy is the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles data regarding personal income and outlays – read: income and spending – what could be more “economic” than that?  Want information concerning the Gross Domestic Product? Consumer Spending? Corporate Profits? Fixed Assets?  Balance of Payments? State and Metropolitan GDP? Quarterly GDP by industry? It’s all available from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

When thinking of broadcast media it’s important to remember that what keeps the cable ‘business’ news going are advertising sales, and a commercial which might cost $2,000 to $3,000 for a network broadcast sponsorship could be as cheap as $175 on cable.  Little wonder their business seems to be limited to softball interviews and streaming the DJIA numbers on the screen – which you could do at home on any computer monitor.  Those shows are relatively banal because they probably can’t afford anything else.

Enterprises like Bush’s Baked Beans, Chef Michael’s Canine Creations, and Slap Chop are right in the mix with Ford, Chevrolet, and Wal-Mart sponsoring what passes for business and news reporting. [HuffPo] We’d be better served to Keep Calm and Do It Yourself.

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Filed under Commerce Department, Economy, labor, media, Tea Party Express

Candles, Fireworks, and Failures: The Colorado Springs Killings

candles

There is purity in light.  Light illuminates all it touches.  We light candles in hope, in celebration, in reverence, and all too often in sorrow.  There will be candles in Colorado Springs, Colorado, some in the festive spirit of the season, others in sorrowful remembrance of those whose own light expired before its time.

French author Jean Paul Satre said of words: “Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.”  Words created the darkness that descended on Colorado Springs.  Silence created the darkness that descended on Colorado Springs.  Words and silences with consequences.

Anti-abortion radicals provided the words.  Edited words in the smear propaganda videos produced by the nefarious Center for Medical Progress. [C&L]  Provocative words from radical politicians in Congress as they launched five investigations into the activities of Planned Parenthood. [NYT]  Incendiary words, generating as the saying goes “more heat than light,” from Republican presidential candidates. [NYT] Manipulated, provocative, incendiary words created the darkness instead of providing illumination.  Worse still those manipulated, provocative, incendiary words were spread across the nation without filtration. [C&L]

It was almost as if the journalists and broadcasters who amplified these words had forgotten the power of the pen, or in these days, the pixel.  Someone decided that the “heavily edited words” in the propaganda videos counted as “news.”  And the words were unleashed before any illumination took hold. Yes, the tapes were edited for effect, certainly not for edification.  Yes, the tapes were controversial. However, no, the tapes were not authentic, truthful, or informative.  And  the message was further enhanced by the failure of editors and publishers to require that what they broadcasted and printed was authentic, truthful, and informative.

It  seems as though the editors, producers, and publishers were content with fireworks – ephemeral bursts of gaudy light, instead of a steady but less glamorous illuminating candle.

Words can challenge or comfort us.  Those manipulated, provocative, and incendiary words caused some to remember that since 1977 there have been eight murders, seventeen attempted murders, forty-two bombings, and one hundred eighty six arsons against abortion clinics and providers. [Vox] Others noted that in just the last four years states have enacted two hundred thirty one pieces of abortion restriction legislation. [Guttmacher]  Those manipulated, provocative, and incendiary words comforted and validated not only the radicals among us but also the  murderers, the bombers, and the arsonists.

Our words are our own. Once uttered they are released forever, and in the case of some media outlets may be repeated almost endlessly, looping along with stock footage and graphics.  There is a vast difference between freedom of speech, and freedom from criticism which is not always evident in the reactions to radical hyperbole.

The Center for Medical Progress, the creator of the propaganda videos, denounced the attack on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center, but without any acknowledgment that the attack may very well have been informed by the very videos and controversy it created. [HuffPo]  The attack began and ended at the Planned Parenthood center.  Three lives were extinguished there.

Are the radical anti-abortion advocates asking us to please don’t think ill of them because they never intended their words (and pictures) to inflame the murderers, the bombers, and the arsonists?  We’re cautioned about using scatological language in case “small ears” might be listening; do we take as much care when it’s possible small minds might be attending to the messages?

Words can’t be deflected easily.  Most of the Republican candidates sought refuge in generalizations — “everyone should tone down the rhetoric.” But whose rhetoric called abortion providers, “exterminators,” or “a criminal enterprise,” or “killers?”  [NewYorker] No one is arguing that all members of the so-called “pro-life” movement are murderers, bombers, or arsonists – only that the heated verbiage of the radicals provides inspiration and validation for those who are inclined in that direction.

And then there were the silences.

When those 231 pieces of anti-abortion legislation were being considered in State Legislature – how many voices were heard in opposition? How many pro-choice advocates crafted letters to members of those assemblies? To local editors? To local media outlets?  How many legislators decided it was safer to “go along to get along” with radicals rather than risk their wrath?

When the controversy over the video tapes flamed into the news, how many editors and producers succumbed to the temptation to air what was dramatic, flashy, and provocative before vetting the material for authenticity?  We might ask how many times news organizations must get “used” by political groups before they realize that the words and pictures they are disseminating are  propaganda and not really newsworthy?  How many times are these outlets cowered into the shallows of self referential exculpation, as in the convenient “both sides do it” narrative?

The best feature of a candle is its capacity to provide continuous illumination, without flares and flashes.  It may be dim in comparison to electric bulbs, but no illumination is without shadows.  However, to paraphrase Satre: Every candle has the capacity to illuminate. Every darkness the power of destruction.

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Filed under abortion, media, women, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

When there’s nothing new about news?

Issue Attention Cycles “Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution in the 1970’s began observing what he called “the issue attention cycle” in the American media.  The cycle is:  the news media and public ignore a serious problem for years; for some reason, they suddenly notice, declare it a crisis and concoct a solution; next they realize the problem will not be easily fixed and will be costly; they grow angry, then bored; finally, they resume ignoring the problem.” [DailySource]

The original Issue Attention Cycle was partially modified by Karen K. Petersen in her article for the Journal for Strategic Security in 2009.

Issues Attention Cycle modified Technical adjustments aside, there’s little to challenge the original assumption that modern American media is Alarmed, in Crisis mode, and then realizes the problem (usually of long standing) is not easily addressed much less immediately and cheaply solvable – and then we move on.

It may be time to resurrect the Issue Attention Cycle and give it more consideration as the news organizations plow onward and downward into more trivial and less informative media  which passes for “news.”

One problem which we ought to think about is that of manufactured news.   A media savvy group launches a “dramatic” press conference or releases sensational information.  The press picks this up, charges into print or air, and when the dust settles there was really very little Gertrude Stein-ian “there there.” We have some recent examples.

Consider the assault on Planned Parenthood.  A highly questionable group, organized for the purpose of attacking an organization which provides women’s health services (including abortions), releases heavily edited videos purporting to show illegal or immoral actions.   We assume that news organizations will provide some filtration – some background research – on the origin, credibility, and trustworthiness, of information selected for print or broadcast.

In the Issue Attention Cycle the attack took on the aspects of “alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm” as breathless headlines and TV teasers touted new “discoveries” about Planned Parenthood activities.  Those who were paying attention to some of the less sensationalized coverage quickly observed that the headlines didn’t match the reporting, which noted the lack of credibility of the accusers and the dismal nature of the video editing.  The initial phase of the Issue Attention Cycle is bad enough, combined with the lack of filtration (or even fact checking) by the media makes it even more susceptible to manufactured news.

The obviously political and almost perfectly partisan coverage of the Clinton E-mails offers a second example of manufactured news.   A bit of filtration by news media would have easily discovered that yes, Secretary Rice did use State Department e-mail – when she used e-mail at all, which was rarely [BusInsider]; and, Secretary Powell used a personal e-mail account in much the same way as did Secretary Clinton. [Media] However, there’s nothing like a perpetual fishing expedition to encourage the continuation of the “alarm and euphoric enthusiasm” stage of media attention.  Other stories related to the use of e-mail by government officials weren’t covered in quite such a dramatic fashion.  For example, the Bush White House “lost” some 22 million e-mails from 2003 to 2005:

“The e-mail controversy dates back to the Bush administration’s 2006 firing of the top federal prosecutors in nine cities. After congressional committees demanded the administration produce documents related to the firings, the White House said millions of e-mails might have been lost from its servers. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive sued over the issue in 2007, arguing the Bush administration violated federal laws that require presidential records to be preserved.” [CNN 2009]

However, without relatively constant references to the Bush e-mail issues – some related to the firing of 9 federal attorneys – the issue hit the “decline of intensity of interest” phase fairly quickly.  Other e-mail and records controversies have not received the unfiltered attention the current media assigns to Secretary Clinton.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s e-mail record has key points in his timeline missing, such as during the 2000 election, the voter purges, the Elian Gonzales Case, and the Terry Schiavo controversy. [MJReuters reported in 2011 that former Governor Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in an effort to keep his records private in 2007.   In short, we might logically conclude that the “alarm and enthusiasm” phase will give way to the “decline of intensity of interest” stage proportionately to the willingness of the media to reprint or rebroadcast statements from interested politicians.

Now a warning?  Remember, the issue cycle often begins with a situation presented as a full-blown crisis but actually represents a set of conditions which may have existed for years, or decades.  This is illustrated by the discussion of police use of force, especially against people of color. Pro Publica reports:

Our examination involved detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. The data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments across the country, confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force.

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater…

Pro Publica did the analysis, which raises the question why didn’t this analysis come from national broadcast or print media?  As of August 2015, NBC raised the white flag and asked why nobody knows exactly how many people are killed by police officers.

The topic of police use of force necessarily gets into the sticky nettles which trap an issue into the “decline of intensity of interest” and the “realization of the costs” territory.   The sub-topics range from local issues of police recruitment, training, and equipping, to national debates about race relations and voter participation in local and state elections.  In some cities, perhaps like Cleveland, OH which have had multiple allegations of excessive force, and notable and duplicated interactions with the Federal Department of Justice, the discussion trails into general issues of local government reform.

Once the glamour of The Crisis is over we’re into the part in which it’s realized that reforming the application of our laws, especially in minority urban settings, is going to be complicated, expensive, and time consuming, the cameras and reports are on to other “more pressing” (i.e. more dramatic) issues and the “post problem” stage begins.

Angry and bored?  These may be two of the more significant features of the issue attention cycle.  The attempts at comprehensive immigration reform may illustrate this portion of the issue attention cycle.  The public generally realizes this country does need to pay attention to immigration issues, indeed a bill passed the Senate only to languish in the GOP controlled House after the last mid term elections.   One of the key themes of the Trump Campaign taps into the anger portion of the formula. 

There are those who still believe that the solution to the “immigration problem” is mass deportation and the construction of a physical barrier between the US and Mexico.   In terms of the Issue Attention Cycle, these people supporting Trump’s rather vacant rhetoric are still in the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage, and haven’t yet made the intellectual excursion into the details of the issue, and the protracted, complicated, and expensive nature of the administration of immigration policy.  They can be informed that Trump’s “solution” will cost somewhere around $200 to $300 billion dollars, and perhaps take 20 years. [BusInsider] However, having not gone beyond the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage, his supporters cling to the generalized notion that the candidate will assuage what’s making them angry, somehow, by doing something…without serious consideration of the expensive implications and policy alternatives.

Continual press coverage of Trump’s litany of generalizations about immigration policy simply serves to extend the life of the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage without assisting the public in understanding the complex nature of the issue.

Heaven forefend we get bored. One unfortunate aspect of contemporary media coverage of almost any topic is the “both sides” format in which there are assumed to be two sides to each and every issue.  Welcome to the highly complex and extremely important debate about climate change.

Scientifically speaking there’s one side.  Global climate change is happening, and we’re responsible. However, the advocacy format, roughly analogous to the media version of a civil trial, lends itself to the presentation and publicizing of “alternative” theories, most of which are associated with energy corporation interests.   This is, for all practical purposes, a formula for the insertion of mis-information into public discourse.  It’s more obvious in the climate change discussion, but it also allows some absolutely astounding pronouncements on women’s health issues.

We’ve been treated to presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s statement that Planned Parenthood doesn’t do women’s health – which utterly dismisses 97% of what Planned Parenthood does.  What wasn’t “women’s health” about the 378,692 Pap tests, 487,029 breast health exams, 1,128,793 pregnancy tests, 18,684 prenatal care services, and 4,470,597 STI/STD tests and treatments in 2013? [Politifact]

The intense debate over the Affordable Care Act gave us one of the more poignant moments in the media’s view of its charge.  Chuck Todd, NBC news, told viewers in 2013 it wasn’t the media’s task to correct the record. [TPM]  It was, Todd asserted, the White House’s job to “sell” the ACA.  In simpler terms, by Todd’s lights the media should report what anyone says, without filtration or fact-checking, and the “other side” would have the responsibility for a response.  Nothing quite so dramatically describes the “advocacy format,” or serves the American public quite so poorly. The “advocacy format” can be used to effectively perpetuate misinformation because policy proposals are to be “sold,” and the sales will be made evident in “our latest polling.”

The Cycle and Foreign Policy:   If ever there were topics which lend themselves to the Issue Attention Cycle they exist in the category of foreign policy.  When discussing the labyrinthine politics of the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, eyes glaze over, and participants in the discussion can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and the team membership depends on which country’s foreign policy is being promoted by what other country’s diplomacy.  The Iranians are our enemies – except when they’re propping up the Iraqi government, supporting our efforts in Afghanistan, and helping fight elements of ISIS.  The Syrians are our friends? – except when the government is barrel bombing its own citizens, and we need help from the Russians to get the Nukes out of Syria, and it’s fighting with some elements of ISIS.  The Kurds are our friends – when they are fighting with ISIS but not so much when they attack our NATO ally Turkey…. 

This situation illustrates Petersen’s modification of the Issue Attention Cycle by highlighting the “key event re-ignites debate” element.  The Middle East is off the screen and the front page until there’s  atrocity (which ISIS seem to be very good at), and the issues between and among the US, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen usually raise up in the wake of a drone strike or Saudi Air Force attack.  Until the “re-ignition” there’s nothing much in the analysis and explication department unless we elevate the “Benghazi” syndrome to rational status; the attack on the consulate being reduced to  short-hand  for “I’m angry about US foreign policy in general and I want somebody to do something I like about it.”   Or, make it simple, make it dramatic, make it receptive to an easy and cheap solution, so I can comfortably ignore it?

And the cycle goes on.

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Filed under media

Cut the Pro-Life Blather and Come Back to Me When You’re Ready to Talk About Real Life

Bronte Quote

Now the phony outfit which produced one bit of propaganda video smearing the work of Planned Parenthood has released others – albeit without so much fanfare after the first one was thoroughly debunked as beyond heavily edited and well  into the realm of sick fiction.  Sad to say, there’s a market for this stuff.

If we combine religious convictions with partisan politics the result is a rationalized*, but not necessarily reasonable, audience for all manner of propaganda which supports the world view of the anti-choice activist. Further, if we combine a media intent on publishing superficial coverage of policy with an emphasis on the politics of the subject matter and not the substance, then we get the breathless “debates” which pass for discourse in national media.

And the anti-choice activists are playing the media like a cheap tin whistle.  This is relatively easy in a media environment in which facts don’t matter all that much.  The anti-choice activism attracting national attention is as artificial and sensational as it is formulaic.

Step One: Attract Media Attention.  Marches on Washington, D.C. have become rather common place, the one planned by March For Life back in January 2014 was attended by “thousands.”  That would be “hundreds of thousands” if we count attendance at all the marches from 2003 onward.  The event will continue to be on the calendar as long as speakers are ready to sign on, such as Jesse Helms,  Rep. Chris Smith, Randall Terry,  Rep. Patrick J. Toomey,  Rep. Eric Cantor, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy.   However, as this event becomes more illustrative of the close relationship between religion and politics, it doesn’t command attention onto single targets.

Step Two: Make Your Own News.  This is the point at which the phony videos come into play. Planned Parenthood has come under fire before, and as a target for anti-choice activists who seem to be disturbed by the 3% of its medical care in the form of abortions, but also enraged by the “planned” part wherein the clinics provide contraceptive care.  In my opinion, it’s necessary at this part of the discussion to separate segments of the anti-choice audience.

If we look at the Gallup Polling for trends, since presumably they’ve asked the questions the same way over the course of their reporting, the number expressing support for abortion under any circumstances has ranged from about 21% in the 1970s to about 29% today.  Those who expressed the view that abortions should be illegal in all circumstances has never achieved more than a 23% level.  Gallup has been tracking opinions of “single issue” voters, asking if the candidate must share the prospective voter’s views, and in this instance among registered voters only 19% self identified as ‘abortion single issue voters.’

Americans are generally in favor of having a physician inform women of alternatives, but are opposed (57%) to having a law allowing a pharmacists or physicians  to opt out of procedures which could induce an abortion.  61% were reported as opposed (61%) to the idea that a Constitutional amendment should be enacted to prohibit abortions with the exception of an immediate threat to the mother’s physical health.

What these numbers show us is that the anti-choice influence as currently voiced by Governor Scott Walker, is a function of the fringe of the “pro-birth” advocates, a group identified as opposed to abortion in almost every circumstance, and agreeable only if the woman’s health is in immediate danger.

So, how did this this rabid minority grab the headlines?  (1) Television needs pictures, (2) and Television needs to fill air time.  Therefore, the strategy, as practiced by the erstwhile Center for Medical Progress is to create the pictures and edit the narrative to get media attention. It did: on Fox, on ABC, on NBC, and in the Washington Post, among others.

Step Three: Provide a Distraction.  Now we have the confluence of political strategy and conservative social activism.  A Republican Party, currently engaging in intriguing internecine warfare between its establishment and Tea Party ranks, has struggled to get a message out to voters on crucial issues, and has to deal with the Trump’ed Campaign which is long on bluster and short on policy.  CNN polling from this month indicates the top issue for Americans is the economy at 44%. Issues at 20% and below are: health care, terrorism, immigration, and foreign policy.  If the GOP opts for health care then it has to present a full blown policy alternative to the Affordable Care Act; if the GOP opts for terrorism then it has to present a unified vision of exactly who in the Middle East is going to be supported by whom.  If the GOP opts for trailing along with Donald Trump on the immigration issue, then it needs to offer a viable alternative to the Senate comprehensive immigration policy reform bill languishing in House committees.

In short, the anti-abortion issue is extremely attractive as a distraction. The media is enraptured with its latest shiny object “Celebrities talking about something scandalous which can be simply stated and opens the possibility of endless speculation.”   The Perfect News Story.  Let the lambent divagation begin!

Step Four: Enter the Opportunists.  Once the assault was given credibility by a credulous media, the politicians immediately pounced.  For example, Missouri politicians could be addressing the fact that the median household income for that state ranks 44th in the nation. [Census]  However, it’s ever so much easier to launch a state Senate investigation into Planned Parenthood.  Tennessee politicians could be evaluating information about the potential $1.4 billion “Insure Tennessee” could bring to the state, [UTecon] but no, they’d prefer to wail on about Planned Parenthood.  Florida politicians could be addressing how to deal with an influx of people from Puerto Rico’s lamentable economic situation [Orlando] but the publicity seekers prefer to call for an investigation of Planned Parenthood. [NBC2] And, one more example:  Washington state Republican leaders want an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s activities, [King5] instead of discussing further why it was necessary to cut $10 billion in basic services from the state budget? [WABPC]

Step Five: Lather Rinse Repeat.  Once conservative politicians discover that media attention can be drawn by magisterially announcing an Investigation into the Scandal, I Say Scandal!, and reporters chime in by asking those pro-choice politicians What Do YOU think? the great game can continue.  Meanwhile, the Missouri economy can lurch along, the Tennessee insurance options can be put aside in the wonky category, Floridians can contemplate what can go wrong when there’s an influx from the economically devastated  Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and Washingtonians can muddle through a sparse budget while trying to renovate and redevelop waterfront properties.

The unholy alliance of shrill advocates, all too many of whom don’t much care what happens to the child after its birth (No food stamps for you, you little grifter, you’ll just learn to be dependent), combined with a sensationalist and shallow press – not well known for its fact checking, and added to a partisan farrago of opportunistic and camera seeking politicians, yields a recipe for political cynicism at its finest.

Come Back To Me When You’re Ready To Get Serious

Bluntly stated, I don’t much care for this brand of politics, or the attendant perfunctory press which nourishes it. Come back to me when there’s a real scandal – like the 16 million children in the United States who are now living in poverty.  [NCCP] – like the 18,000 children and teenagers who are killed or injured in gun violence each year in this country [Brady] – like, for how many years now have we been discussing the number of children who attend school in substandard buildings? “National spending on school construction has diminished to approximately $10 billion in 2012, about half the level spent prior to the recession, while the condition of school facilities continues to be a significant concern for communities. Experts now estimate the investment needed to modernize and maintain our nation’s school facilities is at least $270 billion or more…” [ASCE] – like, when you want to talk about the 49 million Americans, 15.8 million of whom are children, who are living in food insecure households. [FAO]

Until then, I will continue to hold the opinion that the radical anti-abortion advocates who are adept at playing the Grab the Microphone Game, and the politicians and members of the press who are delighted to play along, are little more than shallow opportunistic attention seekers.  Attention seekers who can’t differentiate between being Pro-Life and being in favor of Forced Birth.

Recommended Reading and References:

*Dissertation: University of Iowa, “The Violent Transformation of a Social Movement: Women and Anti-Abortion Activism,” Karissa A. Haugeberg, 2011.  Iowa Research Online. JSTOR: “Movements, Counter Movements, and the structure of political opportunity,” American Journal of Sociology, Meyer & Staggenborg.

Media Matters for America: “Factcheck.Org debunks deceptively edited video smearing Planned Parenthood,”  July 22, 2015.  “Unspinning the Planned Parenthood Video,” FactCheck.Org, July 21, 2015. “Second Heavily edited Planned Parenthood Attack Video is Also A Big Bust, Slate, July 21, 2015. “Debunking the Planned Parenthood Video Hoax,” RH Reality Check, July 20, 2015.  “What the Planned Parenthood hoax really proves: Right Wing Extremists have no qualms about destroying people’s lives, “ Salon, July 16, 2015.  “Here’s how the anti-abortion movement plans to modernize its approach,” Huffington Post, January 22, 2015.

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Filed under abortion, media, Politics

Planned Outrage and the Right Wing Smear Machine

PParenthood

Yet another “undercover” sting operation has targeted yet another organization which does good work for good people, and it’s high time this stopped.  The Center For Medical Progress, which appears to have no other visible function than to attack Planned Parenthood, launched it’s O’Keefe style assault with pathetically predictable results.  These attacks are no accident, and the ways they are used are not coincidental.  Let’s review.

The ACORN Example

Nothing so engages the attention of the powers that want to be as an organization which promotes voting rights, civil rights, community action, and advocates for living wages.  And ACORN did just that.  For its trouble it was vilified for “voting irregularities” although the organization flagged its own suspected forms, and was only in trouble with Nevada law because it paid its temporary employees to gather forms – not because there were any real actual voting irregularities  involved. [NYT] Then came the deluge, the O’Keefe “videos,”  and the myth of the ACORN pimp.  In both instances, which ultimately led to the organization’s demise, the story was picked up and slathered all over Fox News. 

Then conservative voices bellowed that the story wasn’t being covered by major broadcast networks because they were “librul.”  This scene was followed by another in which conservative members of Congress called for investigations! Defunding! Running out of town clad in tar and feathers!  And… then members of Congress and other politicians who had supported voting rights, civil rights, community action, and living wages were asked to “respond to the comments from conservatives.”  The grand finale consisted of smearing those progressive and liberal politicians with “ACORN supporter” labeling.  Members of Congress were so enamored of their fight against organizations promoting voting rights, civil rights, community action, and living wages that they voted in 2014 for a budget defunding ACORN – an organization which by that time didn’t even exist. [HuffPo]

There they go again!

This time it’s Planned Parenthood, the object of fury for the fringe anti-abortion crowd.  The fact that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services involve abortions doesn’t faze this batch of whackies.  They’ll not be pleased until every abortion provider is out of service, every pregnancy is carried to term no matter how dangerous, every progeny of rape and incest is born –wanted or not.  It’s the “not” part which is problematic.  They frankly remind me of the men who brag about their virility in terms of the number of children they have fathered … not necessarily the number of children they have raised.

But, here we go again… a sting video – heavily edited, which doesn’t match the transcript, which doesn’t even match reality, and even less conforms to the laws and regulations surrounding fetal tissue handling and fetal tissue research – which is picked up by Fox News and treated as if it were a real story,  and then the peanut gallery chimes in demanding, I say Demanding, that Democrats respond – I say Respond – to the “damning video.” The peanut gallery has already sounded off in Virginia. [WaPo]  Nothing could be more blatantly political.   All that remains to repeat the cycle are the “calls for investigations,” and the public pillorying of those who support the medical services provided by Planned Parenthood clinics.

Enough!

Here’s some unsolicited advice.

  There is no need to respond to the allegations in a video which doesn’t match its own transcript. [MSNBC] [Politifact] Or, is so edited as to obscure the fact that what the organization is doing is perfectly legal, heavily regulated, and in many cases essential to important medical research.   All that may be necessary is to say, “I understand that the video is highly suspect, doesn’t present facts, and uses statements taken not only out of context, but out of realityIt’s anti-choice propaganda and should be treated as such.”

  There is no need to take Fox News seriously.  It is not a news organization, it is simply a propaganda outlet.  There is also no reason to join in the Fox litany of complaints merely because they bring up specious topics.  Let them say, “We cover it here because no one else will.”   There’s a perfectly sound reason no one else is carrying some of their stories – they aren’t news. Some are manufactured “poutrage,” [Latte Salute] others are simply allegations with no factual support, [Did Scientists manufacture climate change data?]  and still other examples  are merely hyperbolic hypocrisy. [Bergdahl flap]

The Problem Won’t Go Away

The right wing conservative pattern of attacking organizations and agencies which seek to help Americans in need isn’t going to disappear unless the ‘real’ news organizations stop being duped by what appears to be superficially interesting and later turns out to be either a nothing-burger or actually embarrassing – remember CNN and the dildo flag?  Here’s a suggestion: How about doing just a bit of research about the origin and intent of those who make “news items” available before hitting the air?

Nor will the problem of misinformation be alleviated until the media understands that click-bait isn’t the reason for its existence.  Besides the latest shark encounter, there are news stories which aren’t being covered very thoroughly on American television and in American newspapers.  Might we suggest: Refugee problems in Austria; or the issue of Uber in Spanish courts; or political trouble in the Transnistria region (anyone heard of that one?); or European funding of illegal logging in the Central African Republic?

Unfortunately, while cable news is infatuated with sharks and sting videos, the refugee issues in Europe could be reaching crisis proportions; new business models like Uber raise significant legal and economic questions; Transnistria could be the next European breakaway state; and, why do European corporations need to fund illegal logging in culturally, politically, and environmentally fragile areas like the Central African Republic?

We don’t even have to list under-coverage in international news to see the problems – there are gaping holes right here at home.

Meanwhile:

SatNews seems to be one of the few places we might learn “the 2014 Satellite Communications Strategy Report did not identify the appropriate future mix of military and commercial SATCOM; rather, it outlined a plan that, if successful, may allow DOD to do so at a later time. Second, the 2014 Mix of Media Report based its predictions of future SATCOM requirements and demand on DOD’s SATCOM Database, which DOD officials acknowledge lacks comprehensive usage and demand data.”  In short, might it not be useful to know that we really don’t have much of a handle on the mix of military and commercial demand for communication?  Esoteric as this might seem it could have implications for everything from national security to movie broadcasts. Just asking?

Then, there’s the issue of how drugs given a “340B” discount may be over prescribed.  The GAO says this is possible, and the hospitals fired back saying the GAO methodology was flawed and this isn’t the case.  The GAO report came out on July 5, 2015.  I fancy myself a fairly good consumer of news reports – but I can’t say I’ve heard word one about this issue in any cable or major news outlet – although it has a real bearing on health care costs in the United States.

And, while we’re speaking of the GAO, the agency just released its report on the DoD integration of the Armed Forces by gender opportunities.  That report indicates the military is expanding combat opportunities for women, but there is a need to monitor long term progress.  This didn’t make the headlines this morning. However, there is a connection between combat service and promotion in the military and that alone should have alerted someone somewhere in media-land to this report.

Remember all that flap and flutter about the SEC’s Reserve Fund and how that might be used under the terms of the Dodd-Frank Act?  Probably not, since it didn’t get much play initially outside of the general squealing about putting too much burden on investors and letting the SEC have a fund Congress couldn’t sequester – however the SEC’s Inspector General’s report came out on July 6, 2015, and the IT modernization at the SEC seems to be kosher. Crickets.  There was some more good news from the IG report on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the “prudential regulators,” saying the coordination was good, and could be better if they’d develop a standard process for notifying regulators of federal consumer finance law violations by institutions with $10 billion or less in total assets.  More crickets.

Okay, there’s no blood on the floor with any of these topics.  However, since all too much blood has been spilled in Charleston and Chattanooga recently someone in the editorial offices might have noticed the GAO report issued on June 19, 2015:

“Nationwide, estimates using 2008-2013 data indicated that approximately 17 percent of low-income, uninsured adults (3 million) had a behavioral health condition, defined as a serious mental illness, a substance use condition, or both. Underlying these national estimates is considerable variation at the state level.”

Think we might want to pay some attention to this news? Or, in retrospect at least to this July 16, 2015 report: “DOD Should Improve Information Sharing and Oversight to Protect U.S. Installations?”  Chattanooga was bad, and we certainly don’t need a repetition of Fort Hood.

I should live so long to see the major news outlets in this country print and broadcast news which actually informs our population, and see them leave the shark attacks, politically pandering pundits, idle speculation, silly polling stories, and sting videos to Fox Noise.

Do they even wonder why more people are now getting their news from the Internet?

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Filed under abortion, conservatism, media

Venus Rising?

girls soccer One of the ESPN documentaries which deserves another look now is “Venus Vs,” the 2013 film narrating how Venus Williams took on the titans of tennis – the financial titans – and won.  It took until 2007 for women to receive the same prize money at Wimbledon as men, and it required Venus Williams to draw the line at what was acceptable in her Times op-ed.  Now, the parade for the US Women’s National Team is over, and presumably the cake’s been eaten and the ceremonial key to the city handed over. However, when the debris from the parade is cleared the economic prospects for women will be essentially the same as they were before the ride through Manhattan began.  Nor are we close to training and coaching the young people we need to develop the talent required to maintain our rankings.  We could use another Venus rising.

We’re Number One!

The disparity in men’s and women’s financial support in athletic endeavors is in too many ways illustrative of our perspective on sports in general: We expect to win, but we really aren’t all that excited about financially supporting youth development programs.  The parsimonious way in which we support after-school activities in general (for both boys and girls, academic and athletic) contrasts sharply with our expectations of the national teams which later represent us.  Since we’re speaking of soccer, let’s look at those statistics.

In 1974 there were 103,432 youngsters enrolled in youth soccer programs, and as of 1995 there were 2,388,719.  55% of that number were boys, 45% were girls. [usyo]  Somewhere in that 2209% increase in participation were members of the 1999 World Cup winning women’s national soccer team.  Further, if we drill down we find the members of that trailblazing crew came from collegiate programs – including Portland, UMass, Cal, Notre Dame, Central Florida, Stanford, and of course UNC.  Title IX worked.

As of 2014 there were 3,055,148 youngsters participating in youth league soccer, and we’d have to guess the breakdown was close to the 2008 reporting – 52% boys, and 48% girls.  Again, from this group came the ladies who enjoyed the parade in NYC.  School programs, youth/community programs, and collegiate programs contributed to the talent pool from which this team was drawn.

TV commentary made much of the “16 year drought” since the ‘99 World Cup match in women’s soccer, and when the US men’s basketball team placed 3rd in the Seoul Olympics (1988) one might have expected the sky to shatter at any moment – a problem corrected by sending the Dream Team to Barcelona the next round.  When the 3rd place finish repeated in Athens (2004) the response was to send in the Big Guns again in 2008.  We expect the national men’s team to excel, to win, – to crush opponents. We expect the women’s soccer teams to rank in the top five – and we expect to win.

However, we don’t necessarily DO what it takes to expand the talent pool from which we derive these teams.

Penny Wise Pound Foolish

We’ve left some after school programs in general languishing on the vine, both for academic and athletic interests:

“In the Afterschool Alliance’s 2012 survey, although a majority of afterschool program providers revealed that their program’s budget is inadequate to meet the needs of the students and families in their community, this number is even higher among Latino majority programs and African-American majority programs.  Additionally, African-American majority programs and Latino majority programs were more likely to report that their funding is down from three years ago.” [asall]

Not only is funding strained for after school programs but we’re not addressing a crucial factor for African American and Latino youngsters, safe transportation to and from program venues.

“Transportation, safe transport in particular, is a significant hurdle to enrollment in afterschool programs in African-American and Latino communities.  African-American parents and Latino parents were both much more likely to cite that their children did not have a safe way to get to and from afterschool programs as a barrier to enrollment than parents overall.  Additionally, approximately half of African-American and Latino parents of kids not enrolled in an afterschool program indicated that transportation to and from afterschool programs factored into their decision not to enroll their child, compared to less than two-fifths of parents overall.” [asall]

All too often we’re pleased to lecture parents on how their children need more exercise, more academic assistance, more Story Hour, more Anything After School – but we’re obviously not willing to invest in the transportation which would enhance those enrollment figures.   If we drill down to athletic activities, the money issues become ever more evident.  Consider the implications of the following ESPN graphic:

Age entry sports graph The single largest factor in establishing when children start participating in youth activities is whether or not the parents are earning over $100,000 per year.

Here’s another ESPN graphic which sheds a bit more light on the subject.  Whose children are more likely to participate in a variety of after school exercise/athletic activities?

most likely playing on teamsIf you noticed “Suburban/Affluent” across the “most likely groups” and urban/low income across the graphic for “least likely groups,” you’ve gotten the point.

Should we continue to constrict the talent pool to suburban/affluent families, to those families which can afford transportation, to those families which can come up with the cash for equipment and other necessities, then we’ve artificially constrained our own cohort of prospective talent – and yet we still demand that the outcome in world competition be the same – we crush opponents in soccer and basketball.

Was Title IX supposed to fix all this, especially in women’s sports?  The law itself can’t fix the disparity in resources illustrated above.

“Most importantly, Title IX hasn’t managed to extend the enormous social and health benefits of sports to all girls equally. In 2008, a national survey of third- through 12th-graders by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that 75 percent of white girls play sports, compared to less than two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic girls, and about half of Asian girls. And while boys from immigrant families are well-represented in youth sports, less than half of girls from those families are playing.*The gender gap is also worse in urban schools and among kids from low-income families.

These disparities in youth sports persist at the collegiate level. African-American women are underrepresented in all sports except Division I basketball and track and field, and Latinas make up just 4 percent of female athletes in the NCAA. As Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, an Olympic gold medalist in track and field, recently explained to the New York Times, “[I]n the grand scheme of things, Caucasian girls have benefited disproportionately well, especially suburban girls and wealthy Caucasian girls.” [MJ]

The disparities we find in programs for very young children continue through collegiate competition.  And, here we go again – the gap is wider between the affluent suburbs and the urban, less affluent communities of color.

Thank you from a grateful nation….

And here we return to the money question.  If we can expand the talent pools for our national teams, and if we can get more youngsters involved in healthy activities at earlier ages, and if we can get more young girls involved, and if we can get more young girls from less affluent neighborhoods – what happens?

“This year’s (World Cup) tournament featured a generation of American women who have not lived in a world without Title IX and did their jobs elegantly and professionally: They won the game, defeating a longtime rival in Japan; and as they did during the 2012 London Olympics, they won with high-caliber athleticism, class and sports-womanship along the way.

Yet the total payout for the Women’s World Cup this year will be $15 million, compared with the total for the men’s World Cup last year of $576 million, nearly 40 times as much. That also means that the Women’s World Cup payout is less than the reported $24 million to $35 million FIFA spent on its self-aggrandizing fiction film, United Passions.” [Politico]

Yes, and two members of the USWNT were living with Jeff Van Gundy and his family because the salaries paid in the professional leagues make finding accommodations a real problem. [USAT]  The salaries in the US for women players range from a measly $6,000 to $30,000. [STFAnother graph may tell part of the tale:

Air timeAt this juncture we have a Chicken and Egg argument of sorts – do we have to have air time before people get engaged sufficiently to attract more corporate and advertising sponsorship? Or, if we have more corporate and advertising sponsors will the women’s side of the ledger get more public interest? What will crack the egg or chase down the chicken?

“Most of us have been socialized to accept men’s sports as dominant, and somehow automatically more interesting. The problem is that once society has internalized this falsehood — and let’s face it, it’s a falsehood that’s millennia in the making — it’s not so easy to correct it. Women have been fighting for decades, centuries, to be seen as equals to men both on the playing field and off of it.” [BusInsider]

There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon.  EA Sports will include women’s soccer in its products, Fox Sports did a good job of broadcasting this latest World Cup tournament and was rewarded with high ratings for the final game, and advertisers dipped their toes in the water – even Clorox got into the act. Nike sold jerseys, and no doubt other firms will find ways to capitalize on the market.  However, it may not be all sexism and short attention span theater issues, there’s also the problem of longevity.

As long as investors in women’s sports leagues continue to demand immediate returns there will be problems – just as there are with short-termism in other markets such as our financial ones.  Even a league as formidable as the NBA has had its problems – remember the original Denver Nuggets? Few do. Or, the end of the ABA in 1976? Or, the much traveled Hawks from Moline, to Milwaukee, to St. Louis to Atlanta?  Or, the struggles and travels of the Philadelphia Warriors and the Syracuse Nationals?  Obviously,  some patience is required.

Now What?

While it would be nice to have some powerful voice like that of Venus Williams championing more compensation for female athletes, we probably can’t afford to wait for that day.  Instead, if we truly want to see continued top level, world class, performances by our players and teams we need to:

  • Invest in after school activities for young people, and not just those in the affluent suburbs, with attention to such quotidian problems as transportation for the children so they can participate safely.
  • Encourage the development of youth programs, both academic and athletic for urban and rural youngsters, and be willing to staff and maintain these efforts.
  • Encourage and invest in programs for youngsters from ethnic minority groups – leave No Child’s Behind Left on the Couch.  To accomplish this we’ll need to invest in creating safe public spaces for kids to play on safe grounds with adequate and up to date equipment.
  • Get over the idea that a game between East Deer Breath State’s men’s team and the Wolverines of Western Boonie U. will automatically be more interesting than a match between the University of Connecticut and the University of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball teams.  Or, South Carolina? Or, Tennessee? Or, Stanford? Or, UCLA? Or LSU?
  • See some heavy-duty marketing campaigns establishing a positive brand for women’s teams in local and regional areas.
  • Develop some patience – no league (or any other enterprise) will yield immediate returns.

Finally, it will be a fine day when we stop perceiving children as an “expense,” and start visualizing them as “investments.” Every after school activity, every sports team, every youth league, every school extracurricular activity, every neighborhood playground, every city park, every local library is an investment in healthier more productive future citizens.  Yes, kids are expensive – but they’re well worth it.  We have proof of that in the eloquent words of one Venus Williams on June 26, 2006:

“I believe that athletes — especially female athletes in the world’s leading sport for women — should serve as role models. The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message: 128 men and 128 women compete in the singles main draw at Wimbledon; the All England Club is saying that the accomplishments of the 128 women are worth less than those of the 128 men. It diminishes the stature and credibility of such a great event in the eyes of all women.” [Williams]

We can add some stature and credibility to our interest in athletics by adding a few more blows to that glass ceiling, and allowing more youngsters to dream of playing at Wimbledon, at Maples Pavilion, at BC Place, or Madison Square Garden….

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Filed under basketball, football, media, sexism, Title IX, Women's Issues, youth

Something to Celebrate July 4th: Young People, Old People, and the CNN Poll

Fail News Channel

In perhaps haste to show “relevant” news concerning the battle flag issue, CNN concentrated on a poll question about whether the CSA battle flag was a symbol of pride or a symbol of racism.

“The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education.” [CNN]

And just as certainly, the views were divided along ethnic/racial lines:

“Among African-Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, just 25% of whites agree. In the South, the racial divide is even broader. While 75% of Southern whites describe the flag as a symbol of pride and 18% call it a symbol of racism, those figures are almost exactly reversed among Southern African-Americans, with just 11% seeing it as a sign of pride and 75% viewing it as a symbol of racism.” [CNN]

Thank you CNN for once again concentrating on the perfectly obvious and missing the much more interesting.

For example the poll also presented results by age.  A point not emphasized in the coverage, and those results were interesting in themselves.  One of the questions asked was if the crime in Charleston should be considered terrorism. The results by age:

CNN poll terror q 47% of individuals 18-34 saw the act as one of terrorism, compared to only 37% in the 35-49 cohort, 39% in the 50-64 group, and 37% of those over 65 years of age.   Since the CNN results and reportage invite speculation, let’s engage in some.

Most children by age four are aware of major national events, if not entirely capable of explaining them.  By seven the gears are clicking such that the young person can at least form an emotional reaction to the events, situations, and ideas being presented to them; ideas which are more fully informed when they reach eleven years of age.  In simpler terms, what happens before a person is about 10 is history and what happens afterwards is current events – none of us willing to perceive ourselves as museum relics.

Thus a person who is 34 years old now was 12 years old when the first attack was made on the World Trade Center in New York City (1993) and saw “terrorism” on the television set.  A 34 year old person was 14 years old when the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred, 1995.   For an individual born in 1985, that domestic terrorism bombing happened just as they were capable of a better understanding of the event.  That person is 30 years old this year.

Perhaps terrorism has a broader definition for those who are old enough to remember the Khobar Towers (1996), the African embassy bombings in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole (2000), the WTC/Pentagon Attack (2001), the Madrid train bombing (2004), and the attack on the London underground rail system (2005).  We might contend with some rationality that for those under 34, if an attack of any sort includes multiple victims, in significant places, for particular ideological reasons then it’s terrorism.  That the Charleston attack is not perceived as “terrorism” by more than half the respondents may be a function of the media’s tendency to attach “Muslim” to any and all assaults, hence it’s not terrorism if it isn’t associated with the followers of Islam.

The hate crime question seemed a bit less divided.  CNN asked if the attack on the Charleston church was a hate crime:

CNN poll terror 2 Every age group overwhelmingly categorized the act as a hate crime. What’s intriguing in this question is the 5% difference between the younger group, who were more likely to classify the act as terrorism, and the over 65 group 90% of whom categorized it as a hate crime.

A person now 65 years of age (born 1950), one now 70 (born 1945) will more likely have a frame of reference tilted toward classification of attacks as hate crimes because they witnessed these during the modern Civil Rights Movement.  A person born in 1945 would have been aware of the murder of Emmett Till (1955), Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963, and the iconic image of the carnage, the Birmingham Church Bombing took place in September 1963.  A person now 65 was 13 years old when that happened, and one 70 was 18 at the time.  The bombing of the Church and the murders of Civil Rights Movement advocates are within the ‘current events’ time line of those over 65.  Little wonder they would slot the Charleston Church attack into the hate crime category.

It would be interesting to see the results of an academic study that tests how individuals categorize insidious attacks perpetrated for ideological reasons, and if the nature of the reporting and publicity given to the event at the time informs their classifications as they age.

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Filed under anti-terrorism, media, racism